The Basics of RV's, Bus Conversions, Vandwelling, and the Mobile Lifestyle
“Full-timing,” or living 24/7 in a vehicle, is a very attractive and popular means of evading the chains of the traditional housing system. There are generally three different vehicles used for this lifestyle, each similar, yet distinctly different in their own way: Recreational Vehicles (RV’s), skoolies, and vans.
RV’s are the most conventional mobile homes. They have a high initial cost, but this is because they are already homes: they have electrical systems, beds, a kitchen, air conditioning/heating, running water, showers, and toilets. They’re designed to head right out on the road as soon as you buy them.
Living in a school bus, also called a “skoolie,” is not just for hippies. Yes, you may be thinking about the stereotypical Volkswagen bus with rainbows painted on the sides, curtains lining the inside, and a mysterious vapor coming out of the cracked open windows. But converting a school bus into a home on wheels is much a different thing. Good for those who want to avoid the steep cost of an RV, but are willing to put in a lot of time and dedication into creating their mobile abode.
Vans are the most frowned upon by the public, yet are the hardest to spot. The strategy for living in a van is perhaps the trickiest to master. Usually meant for one person, the smaller size of the van prohibits the prospect of running water and leg room. For vandwellers, sticking to a water source is crucial, and the ability to be an effective packer and minimalist is just as important. Vandwelling is best for urban camouflage, as a van would naturally blend best in a parking lot. Many people are the most satisfied with vandwelling because of their maneuverability and potential for secrecy.
Mobile vs. Stationary homes, Upfront vs. Recurring costs
With the increasing cost of living in America and around the world, many people are turning to alternative means of inexpensive living. You may be thinking, “But buying a bus or RV is expensive—people take out loans for that sort of thing!” I would say yes, you are very correct; the average cost of a new, Class A diesel RV is upwards of $100,000, and new buses being anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000. That definitely is quite a sum. There are two key concepts here: buying used, and upfront vs. recurring costs.
A reliable used Class A RV can be purchased on Ebay for about the cost of a new school bus, or even less, depending on the year, model, and specifications. And RV insurance is a good thing to have too. Used school buses are much cheaper, though, selling on Ebay for under $2,000 in some cases.
Rent is the single most detrimental recurring cost to your bank account. And the worst thing is—it’s taken out every month, without fail. And if you don’t pay rent, a new house can cost about 3x as much as a brand new RV, not including mortgage payments and land taxes. The major obstacle for mobile homes is the upfront cost—for the vehicle itself, and the furnishings. But once you’ve covered those, the rest is smooth sailing.
Pros and Cons
The advantages of living in a mobile home are nearly endless. But, nevertheless, like living by any means, there are disadvantages too.
- Freedom- to go wherever you want, whenever you want, without anything permanent holding you in one spot. It’s kind of like a permanent vacation, yet it’s not. A vacation is a getaway from your home, yet you’re living in your home wherever you go.
- From Location- you aren’t wearing a leash, as you would if you lived in a stationary home.
- From Time- because of the lower cost of living, you’ll have to work less and therefore have more free time.
- From the World- because you’d be working less, you’ll be more able to see the world. Many vandwellers work for a month, then use those earnings to take a month-long vacation. Go camping in the Great Smoky Mountains, or the Grand Canyon, or Yosemite National Park. The whole continent is yours to behold!
- Fuel Flexibility- yes, you still need fuel to keep you moving, but many restaurants would be more than happy to give you their waste cooking oil. They normally have to pay another company to take it from them, so you’d be doing them a favor. A word of caution, though—engine alterations have to be made in order for it to actually run 100% on vegetable oil.
- Work from Home- many people dream of being able to make money from their own beds in their pajamas. Living in a mobile home gives you the opportunity to do so, as long as you have a reliable computer, as well as internet access. Luckily, nearly every McDonalds has free wifi, as well as libraries, book stores, and even some grocery stores, though I don’t know where you’d be able to sit down and relax there.
- Reduced Living Expenses- living in your mobile home, you cut out rent (unless you rent out a plot of land), electricity, cable, and most other common household expenses. Your electricity bill is in the form of a one-time payment for a generator, unless you are plugged in. Your water bill is mostly cut out; you can fill up your drinking water tank at RV stops, and you can dispose of your waste and grey water for a small fee (usually about $10) at RV campsites.
- Reliance on Fuel- the one thing in the entire world you still depend on is gasoline for your vehicle. Also, some restaurants have already partnered with a local to take their waste oil, and may not give it to a traveler. CAUTION: Do NOT use synthetic cooking oil, ONLY pure vegetable oil, for synthetic will ruin your engine. A lot of fast food restaurants use synthetic, so be sure to ask.
- Tight Space- if you’re going alone, it’s not bad at all, but if you’re traveling with a friend(s), girlfriend/boyfriend, or even your whole family, it may get a little cozy. Just make sure that 1) you interact well with the person you’re traveling with, and 2) that you make sure to make plenty of stops and get fresh air and space. That’s the whole point of the adventure anyway, right—to be outdoors and enjoy the fresh air?
- Maintenance- every vehicle needs maintenance, like you drive your car to work every day. A lot of people just take it to a mechanic when something is wrong, or even for a routine oil change. Out in the forests of Washington, the plains of Kansas, or the tundra of Canada, you’re not going to be able to make a pit stop and have your friendly, neighborhood mechanic come and take a look at it. These skills need to be learned and practiced before you go. Or, at least have a good manual of sorts to refer to.
- Hygiene- RV’ers don’t have to worry much about this one. Running water is crucial to looking presentable, because the police like you more when you’re well kempt. Even if you’re primarily living in the wilderness, most likely you’ll need to make stops into town occasionally to pick up food and supplies. If you convert the bus/van well enough, you’ll have a shower. If not, stick close to the ocean 1) because the natural minerals in ocean water are extremely good for your skin and hair, and 2) because there are free public showers galore on the beach. Granted, you’ll still have on your bathing suit, of course, but that’s no problem.
- Living Expense- there is only one major living expense as a full-timer: Gas. With soaring gas prices and the impending depletion of oil in the Middle East, this will be your #1 cost. There are many alternative fuel solutions to make use of, however.
Though the disadvantages outnumber the advantages in quantity, though I certainly haven’t listed every single one of each, the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages in quality.
A Few Other Things to Consider:
- Home Base- it’s always a good idea to have a place to fall back to if all else fails. More practically, though, a reliable home address is required for receiving mail, as well as for proof of residence documentation.
- Convert to Online- request as many of your services (banking, bills, etc.) as you can to be handled online, rather than through paper mail.
- Minimalism- this is the crucial strategy to every mobile lifestyle. Not everything will fit in your vehicle, and bottles of water will always be more important than miscellaneous paraphernalia (which you can store back at your home base).
Whether you’re a brave soul seeking adventure and new experiences, a 9 to 5’er stuck in the city with meager, if any, vacation days allotted to you, or just someone who wants to travel the world searching for the meaning of life, then the mobile lifestyle is right for you.