Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let…fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but..two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means
King of the road.  ~Roger Miller

A friend is contemplating moving her family from a house that has become too much of an expense in these days of reduced work hours, to a 2-bedroom apartment.  She has four kids and a husband so a 2-bedroom apartment will be a real change.  She thinks they will have to give up their cat but hopes to keep their little dog.  She knows of our situation, but until I mentioned it, hadn’t even considered downsizing to a trailer or RV!  I suspect she’s not alone, in fact I’ll bet most of you reading this blog would also list this option pretty close to the bottom, if not consider it a last resort!  So let me offer some arguments in favor of full-timing in an RV.

Surprised to hear me extolling the virtues of this lifestyle, given my frequent complaints about lack of space?  Granted, I would suggest you do your very best to find a trailer or motor home appropriate for the size of your family! Although, as an aside you must check out the blog of the family of 13, yes, they have 11 children, traveling the country in first a 30-foot travel trailer, and currently in a 40-ft toy hauler! But once you’ve done that, there are a lot of advantages to this life-style, particularly if you desire, or are forced, to live more frugally and if you like to be independent and are comfortable with flexible arrangements.  Here are some of the pros and cons.

It’s CHEAP!  We own our trailer outright (it is a 2004 Terry Dakota ultra light model that cost me about $7500).   First, last and a deposit on an apartment would have cost me at least that much here.  And we wouldn’t own anything but would again be at the mercy of landlords and property managers. While a larger trailer would be (will be) more, even our ‘dream’ trailer will likely cost less than 6 months of apartment rent (we don’t need a brand new trailer).  We didn’t need first, last and deposit to reserve our space, and our pets didn’t incur any additional expense (although that varies by park). Our monthly rent is under $700 and that probably includes more utilities than most apartment rents – electricity, sewer, water and trash.  Granted rent is likely to go up in the next month or so as they are planning on trenching to put in new electrical connections as well as cable and telephone lines but we’ll face that when we have to (or move).  I pay for cell phone and internet (another ~$110 a month).  We rent a mailbox at a UPS store for $15 a month. We don’t have television services and just use ours to watch movies rented for $1 a night at Red Box or DVD Play on weekends.  We use propane to cook and heat on rare occasions that it gets cold enough to justify it (the AC is in use more than the heat as the trailer heats up fairly easily and can get quite stuffy).  Because we aren’t driving around, towing this house of ours, it is less expensive than if we were on the move.  Parks also tend to cost less per day on a monthly basis than on a daily or weekly basis – another reason to stay put for awhile, even if you don’t have children in school.

It’s probably easier for an RV’er to adjust expenses than it is for those of you living in a house.  If we had to we could move locations, looking for lower rent.  This article, while seemingly aimed at the retired couple rather than the family, outlines some of the economic advantages of living in an RV full-time, noting that if you needed to you could pull out of the full-service park and stay at a state park or ‘boondock’ for a few weeks to save money.   And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, if you can land a host position at a campground (wish that had worked out for us) you can stay rent free for as long as 6 months in exchange for 20 hours of work per week.

Another benefit is the independence. This is important for me.  The attitude at the RV Park is pretty much live and let live (although, again, from what I’ve read that varies from park to park).  We pay our rent, keep our area relatively clean (aside from the Legos strewn everywhere), and pick up after the dogs.  We have amicable nodding relationships with most other park patrons, and have developed low-key friendships with a few others.  The children know and abide by our number 1 rule- they are not to go into anyone else’s trailer.  We currently live next to an anti-social fellow who has lined the windows of his Airstream trailer with aluminum foil.  We don’t bother him.  He doesn’t bother us. But if he did… we could move a lot easier than if we were in an apartment downstairs from a person who had loud parties all night or was involved in other objectionable behaviors.  And had I opted for the transitional housing for down and out folks, we would be a lot more hemmed in by well meaning but patronizing rules and regulations.

Home repairs are easier or cheaper.  Yes, if you live in an RV or travel trailer instead of an apartment, you can’t call the landlord when your toilet gets clogged.  But believe me it’s easier to unclog a toilet in an RV than in a house!  All you need is a long stick!  Tearing up the floor in the trailer this summer and replacing it may be a bit more difficult, but I suspect it will be a lot cheaper than it was to rip out the 10-year old carpet in the dining and living rooms in our house in Colorado and replace it with bamboo flooring.  I have a book – something along the line of RV’ing for dummies – that helps me figure out most of the ‘home repairs’ that I might need to undertake, and can go online for additional information.  Mind you we do not have a motor home – those sometimes need the attention of a mechanic and naturally it’s not easy to leave your home in the shop overnight!

Cleaning is a lot easier and quicker.  And you need a lot fewer cleaning products.

Utilities tend to be cheaper even if they aren’t part of the park rent.  Powering an RV takes less electricity than powering a house of any size.

It’s harder for your teen or pre-teen to get involved in the wrong sort of activity.  Of course the reverse is that it’s hard for your children (or you) to get any sort of privacy.

You are forced to let go of unnecessary possessions.  Painful at first but liberating in the long run.  Seriously, this can really help you to refocus on the important things in life and make you quite nauseous when you realize how much money you spent on unnecessary things like décor in your previous life! All our artwork and knick-knacks, and candles, and potpourri and flower vases and the like are either gone, or, in the case of the best of it, in storage.

If you are really footloose and fancy free and can afford it and take to the road with your family I imagine the learning opportunities for the kids must be fantastic.  The novelty of new sights and places probably help tremendously to keep the family engaged and happy. This is a different lifestyle than ours and in some ways I envy those living it!  I suspect we would feel more of a ‘we’re in this together, team’ if we were on the road.

Downsides – you are much more space constrained and in addition to requiring the culling of possessions, this can be a problem or at least an adjustment in personal relations. If you are used to solitude and privacy don’t expect it in an RV, unless you live alone.  If someone is sick, as my son is tonight, you are privy to every moan and cough.  Bad habits and sleeping patterns are quickly exposed. I recommend families try to get RVs with separate quarters for kids and parents! 

You may not feel established or connected in a community; especially if you are on the road a lot.  It can be lonely and you might feel cut off.  We don’t really have that issue – if you stay in the area and have children in school and sports, or attend a local church, you put down some sort of roots even if they aren’t as deep as those you would have if you lived in the same house for 20+ years.  Anonymity and being the one just passing through aren’t always bad things though – you probably both see the best of a community and see it with clearer eyes.  And if you don’t like what you see, you can move on!  Full-time RV’ing seems to create a community of its own, both in the parks and online (check out FulltimeRVer.com – an online blog for those seeking a lifestyle of ‘freedom and adventure,’ and FOTR (families on the road) a connection resource for families who full-time it. 

There may not be much of a place for kids or dogs to play.  Some parks are better than others in this regard – the more expensive local park has a pool, small playground, basketball court and arcade.  Our park has nothing – nowhere for kids to play.  And your children may not be as safe as they would be living in a house.  Sad to say, but RV parks and mobile home parks do tend to harbor a greater than average percentage of registered sex offenders.  Hence our No. 1 rule!  These issues are part of the reason my youngest are enrolled in the afterschool program (where they have a chance to play, do homework and art projects in a supervised environment) and I enroll the older kids in sports and choir and am willing to drive them to play dates at friends’ homes.  They need time with friends, they need physical activities, and they need to play. 

If you don’t have a lot of savings, or a decent retirement income, it may be hard to generate income while living in an RV – if you are on the road.  Maybe you have the sort of business that can be done from anywhere (life coaching or some other sort of consulting, for instance) or have snagged a fantastic writing assignment about your travels, or have those work/life skills that can find you work in any town in which you land.  Or you migrate from park to park taking on work kamper jobs- host or caretaker positions and it’s easy for you to move on once your work runs out.  But if you don’t fall into these categories it can be hard to support the on the road lifestyle.

Hmm, maybe I should have started with the cons, and ended up with the pros!  I said it before, and I’ll say it again – for those of us who have ended up in rather dire circumstances – unable to find or afford ‘normal’ housing, living in a trailer beats the alternatives – sleeping in tents, or your car, or shelters, or alternating between any of those and a cheap motel just to have a shower and a night’s sleep in privacy and security.  That’s hard!  This is quite doable.

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