I ran across a story of a couple who converted an old airport shuttle into their mobile living quarters. An airport shuttle was a good choice because they’re wide and you can stand up in them without hunching over. It’s also got a stand up folding door, which is a nice convenience. Their shuttle had a diesel engine and they discovered that diesel is expensive, a lesson we also learned the hard way.
In my opinion a shuttle works better than a regular van conversion but they ran into the limitations of living in 80 square feet of space they designed themselves. They’re limited to five gallons of water and a porta potty for going number one and number two is an outside job, which sometimes means going in the woods when they were camping. Now that’s dedication. My wife would divorce me before she’d take a dump in the woods, she just wasn’t socialized to the camping life when she was a kid.
I’ll give vandwellers the edge on convenience. It’s awesome having such a small and mobile living space that will fit in a standard parking space. For traveling it’s hard to imagine a more carefree lifestyle. Van living is also stealthy. Vandwellers can camp in Walmart parking lots and quiet side streets. Yet their experience highlights my criticism of van living which is that, while it’s cheap, it’s not fun.
The advantage to a real RV or camper, even a small one, is they’re built for being able to live in them for days at a time. Even small campers have a shower and a bathroom that can accommodate a number two, one of my wife’s personal lower limits of functionality. While a self-contained home does offer advantages, in my experience being able to drop your house at a campground and take the truck in town is pretty awesome. The downside is you can’t just stop anywhere with a truck/camper combination. You have to get to the RV park or campground, get set up, then go explore. Van dwellers and people in Class B RVs can just go and stop wherever they like. You can still overnight at Walmart, truck stops and sneak in naps at rest areas but you eventually have to get somewhere with hookups you can stay for a few days.
That points up a consistent theme here at My House Has Wheels and that is you have to make compromises to shape your life on the road. If spontaneity is critical, being able to just stop and spend the day anywhere, then a small, self-contained RV, van or shuttle conversion is the way to go. That’s provided you’re willing to put up with the downsides all the time. For us the downsides outweigh the advantages. Instead of going wherever the wind blows, we tend to go to a place and stay there a while, exploring and getting to know the area before moving on. We might parking lot surf getting from Point A to Point B but we don’t make it a habit. We’re RV park people and we tend toward 4 and 5 star RV parks at that. The kind of campground with a pool, workout center, bathhouses, laundry facilities and nighttime security. I tend to blame the wife for our rather luxurious lower limits on our mobile lifestyle but the truth is I’m pretty okay with that extra layer of comfort. I’ve done a lot of wilderness camping and it’s just not fun, especially as you get older.
If you’re handy, you can buy small travel trailers cheap and fix them up. Live in that rehab camper as long as it suits you and then sell it for what you can get for it. The reason I’m stuck on travel trailers right now is many are light enough to tow behind a half-ton pickup. Even our 6 cylinder Tacoma can tow 6,500 pounds and you can sport a fairly roomy and comfortable travel trailer with that weight budget. Our mistake was going too big and definitely too heavy out of the gate. Today I’m more content with a little less room in exchange for a lot less weight.
Whether you’re living in a converted van, travel trailer, 5th wheel or diesel coach the one thing we all have in common is the realization that a house is just a box to keep the rain off your head. For a lot of people putting wheels on that box and dragging it around them is a great lifestyle. Pick the qualities that are most important to you and make your vehicle choice fit that life.