Let’s just say you’ve escaped from the People’s Republic of California and are heading to a more civilized state where you can live like an American. You sold your home for whatever equity was in it, and managed to buy a nice piece of property someplace like Utah or Idaho. You’ve got some income stream lined up, but you need a place to live while you set up your ultimate prepper retreat. Going into debt to build a new home is out of the question. You are ready to set up your survival homestead or prepper retreat. What do you do?
If the answer was “buy an RV,” then you are like many preppers who for whatever reason have been drawn to these wonderful self-contained vehicles. With everything seemingly fully self contained, they seem like a great option. If you can’t hook up to water and power, they’ve got a battery lighting, onboard water and waste tanks, propane oven and range, and sometimes even refrigerators that run off battery or propane. Some will have a built in diesel generator, making your life that much easier. The self contained nature of RV living seems perfect for an emergency preparedness lifestyle doesn’t it?
Regardless of why you are looking at living in an RV, there are pros and cons that can make your turnkey rolling prepper home into something comfortable…or a real nightmare.
Why Choose An RV?
I’ve been living on the grid in an RV for about five years. I’ve just given it up, but that is more because I was given a chance to rent half of a duplex at a price I just couldn’t refuse. Like any “alternative” lifestyle (and who is to say what life you choose is alternative? Alternative to what? Meh.) there are any number of reasons a person might gravitate to the choice of an RV.
- They can offer a lower initial investment. If you really want to rough it and are single, you can often find liveable small travel trailers or older motorhomes for a couple thousand bucks, or free sometimes. Make sure that they are in good repair and you’ll be fine. Even buying nicer RV’s can be affordable, with costs in the low thousands or several tens of thousands. They beat the price of a house in most areas.
- They are self-contained. I already touched on that, but it bears repeating. Many larger motorhomes even feature onboard diesel generators and small RV washer/dryer units are available for motorhomes and trailers alike.
- They don’t take up a lot of room. If you are off gridding on a small plot of land, the footprint of an RV is smaller than even some cabins.
- Cheap rent. If you have to rent, it is usually possible to find a cheap RV park to stay at, or even rent a place on somebody’s property or at their house. Local laws vary, and some parks will only accept RV’s ten years old or newer.
- An RV is easily moved. If you tire of a place and can move on, you can quickly pack up your home and do so.
- In an emergency situation, with enough advance warning, you can take your RV and get out of the area while the gettin’ is still good. Be careful though, in an evacuation, having a trailer or motorhome is going to be more difficult on crowded streets.
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons why an RV might be appealing to a prepper – on, or off grid. This presumes though, that you don’t have a large family, or a lot of pets. That adds to the complexity, and I’m writing from the perspective of a single man with a cat who comes and goes as he pleases. I’ll touch on the negatives of RV living in a minute. But first, you might wonder just what is it like to live in an RV?
Types Of RV’s
There are four common types of RV’s that you might consider, although really only three are practical for most preppers or off gridders, and of those three, two are going to be the easiest choices. All have advantages and disadvantages though.
- Motorhomes – Perhaps the ultimate RV for the Prepper. These rolling homes can be fully self contained units that do everything. Ranging in size from tricked out vans, to giant bus like monsters, there is a motorhome for every budget and need.
Other motorhomes vary based on size and original intended use. A single person out of high school might relish off grid van living. A couple with a child will want something nicer, but probably won’t need a big, complex rig.
- Travel trailers – These are perhaps the most common RV in America. Ranging from tiny little things that provide basic shelter and amenities, to gloriously plush rigs that rival the highest end motorhomes, a prepper can make great use of a travel trailer. You’ve probably already got a tow capable vehicle, so buying a travel trailer might make a lot of sense.
Like any RV, the more you pay, the bigger and more comfortable you get. However, there are a lot of older travel trailers that can serve the prepper well. As an added bonus, if you are transitioning from a home to RV based life, you can make use of a lot of stuff you already have. Generators, water barrels, solar panels and batteries and such, all go a long way to making your travel trailer fully self contained.
- 5th wheels – These are like travel trailers, only somewhat better. Because they have an extended “second story” that extends over their gooseneck hitch, some of their living space can be moved around, allowing for more floor space for kitchen, bathroom and living rooms. They often have one or more slideouts as well, which allow for even more room. However, they require special modifications to your truck to tow them, and you lose the carrying capacity of your pickup truck bed.
However, some folks really like their 5th wheels. And they can also sometimes be had really cheap due to the difficulties in moving them. For that reason they are a great prepper choice if you plan to move them once, and park them.
- Tent trailers – These light, compact trailers can be towed with many cars, and offer very little other than some expanded sleeping and cooking accommodations. You’ll be roughing it for sure with one of these.
However, they can be inexpensive, and are a quick way to provide shelter. Some might value them as a bug out shelter, or auxiliary sleeping quarters on their land. Unless you are really hardcore and into giving up most benefits of modern life, you really don’t want to live in one full time.
I didn’t mention pickup campers – those shells that slide over the back of your truck, and sometimes over the cab as well, for the simple reason they are such specialized pieces of equipment, they probably justify their own unique look. However, they offer roughly the same amenities as a tent trailer, while offering better protection from cold weather, and are great for hunting trips. Again, they aren’t a full time option for all but the most hardcore, or desperate of people.
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Living In An RV
Now I’ve got very little off grid RV living experience. It was a fun few weeks, and frankly a no brainer. I ran a generator when I needed AC power or to charge my batteries, and I had plenty of propane for everything else. I was hooked up to a well for water, and my waste went into a septic tank. It was so easy as to be boring – which is exactly what we want. An off grid living experience should be crafted to be as smooth functioning as possible. You can get this experience in a well equipped RV, or you can have a miserable time. It’s all about how you have things prepared.
As far as the day to day living in an RV goes, it generally isn’t bad. By the time this is published, I will have said goodbye to several years of RV living, but am generally not opposed to going back to it if circumstances change again. You will notice a few things living in an RV that are very different from living in a house or apartment.
For one thing, it is a lot smaller inside. RV’s have to conform to pretty strict height and width restrictions to be able to legally move on roads, and that means that the inside of your prepper RV will have to work within those constraints.
Now some trailers and motorhomes feature one or more slideouts that add much needed space to the inside, and that is certainly something you should consider when looking at living in an RV. Even if you buy an RV that doesn’t have slideouts, you don’t have to be uncomfortable. Now granted, if you have children, any RV will feel very crowded very quickly.
When I was 9 years old, my parents bought undeveloped property in rural northwestern Washington State. By virtue of their poor planning and failure to properly secure employment before moving up there, our family of five found itself living in a 26-foot travel trailer on this land. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t very nice. Especially with a 2-year-old toddler in the mix.
Unless you’ve got a nice big 5th wheel, or motorhome, pretty much everything in your RV will be scaled down. This includes your cooking facilities. However, none of it is insurmountable. Unless you are an overly tall person (like I am), or have a family and animals, you shouldn’t find any real inconvenience with the space in an RV.
Most any RV will have a master bedroom or large bed somewhere. Many will have a double or queen sized bed in the back, a pullout couch that sleeps two, a the table breaks down into another sleeping area. Outside of the larger RV’s, the bathroom is going to be… minimalist. The shower will be small, and the sink and toilet won’t be much to go on either. But they will all be functional, albeit crowded.
RVs are notoriously hard to keep warm or cool. Outside of the higher end units, they don’t lend themselves well to maintaining a stable temperature. This means running the air conditioner when it is hot, and burning a lot of fuel or electric power to keep warm when it is cold. I’ve used as much as $150 a month in electric power during the coldest winter months, and might have been worse off using propane given the low efficiency of my furnace. Shop carefully for a tightly built RV with an efficient furnace and you’ll be better off.
Speaking of propane, don’t expect a lot from your kitchen, unless again, you have a larger motorhome or nicer quality trailer. You’ll have a gas range and stove, and you can probably cook a modest turkey in the oven. Your fridge will be smaller, and might be a three way system running on DC, AC or propane as you need. This is great for the prepper going off grid – as long as they can keep power or fuel going.
If you are going off grid, or want to be better prepared, buy larger propane tanks. A basic 5-gallon tank can last many months just cooking, but if you are heating or running other appliances, then you’ll need more gas. For myself, I could go over a year with ten gallons of propane just cooking. But it never hurts to have a couple redundant spares. I’d get the biggest ones you can mount on the RV itself when travelling, and keep the two that came with it as backups. That should last you for a while. And if you are stationary, you can always consider renting a fifty or hundred gallon tank.
Your bed should be plenty comfortable, and if you have kids, the various bunks and pull out beds that come in any RV will do the job nicely. Privacy will be tough though, and you may want to hang blankets to make little “rooms” for the kids.
Pets are a case by case basis. I have a cat door, and the cat comes and goes as he wishes. This might not work for all people, and if you have dogs, it is a different story altogether, and depends on the number and breed of dogs. Be careful, some RV parks are not very tolerant of dogs, but oddly enough, I’ve never had a problem with cats, except in places that banned all pets.
Rural Off Grid RVing
So far, I’ve been writing from the perspective of urban and suburban RV living. While one should write what they know best, a lot of you have probably been waiting for me to get to the best part. The part where you buy your own land in the middle of nowhere, drag an RV out to it, and start your off grid, rural homesteading adventure.
If you are ready to take that plunge, and disconnect yourself from the increasingly insane world, there are a few things you should be prepared for. I’ve already discussed how an RV is fully or largely self contained. But those obvious prepper benefits come with some not so obvious costs.
- You need a solid plan for dealing with waste. If you don’t have a sanitary on site method of dealing with sewage and greywater, you’ll need to regularly take your RV off-site to dump your waste. Many state parks, highway rest areas and some RV parks offer free or paid waste dumping services. Your off grid water plan may include the ability to treat greywater enough to use for irrigation or toilet flushing. Plan your waste disposal around your existing water plans.
- You’ll need power and gas. Maybe you can get away without electric lighting. Or maybe you’ve got a good solar setup, or a gas or wind generator, or even a connection to the main power grid. However you choose to make power is up to you, and an RV makes it really easy to adapt to whatever method you like. You’ll also need propane for cooking and heat. And if you are heating with it, you’ll need a lot of it, even if you do a good weatherproofing job on your RV. Consider buying or renting a hundred gallon or larger propane tank.
- You’ll need a good water supply. Without a well, or other reliable source of water, you are limited to whatever you can store in your RV water tanks, and the need to move your RV around to refill those tanks. Make sure you have a dependable water supply before setting up your prepper retreat. RV’s pressurize their water either through being connected up to a normal water system, or through electric pumps using water stored in their tanks.
When you get your RV to your homesteading site, be sure to have a location prepared for it. This can be a dedicated concrete pad, or simply a cleared and level area you can park. Make sure you have plenty of natural drainage, and take into consideration how you can use natural features like trees to keep your RV cool in the summer.
You might also consider building a carport around your RV. If done right on a concrete pad, this can even serve as the basis for a future cabin or outbuilding on your prepper retreat. Taking an RV to your rural off grid property opens up a huge world of potential by giving you instant comfortable living quarters, but you have to make sure you are prepared with enough infrastructure to sustain yourself in the long term, or accept the fact you will have to take your RV off your property every couple weeks or so for water, waste dumping, etc.
Ok, by now, it is pretty clear that you can live comfortably in an RV. If you spend the money and buy a ten to fifteen year old motorcoach, you can even have a really nice rolling apartment for under $50,000. If you buy a larger travel trailer or fifth wheel made within the same last ten to fifteen years, you’ll still have a pretty nice setup. Other than an Airstream or other premium brands, RV’s tend to depreciate fairly quick, but see little use. The frugal prepper, buying in the off season can get a pretty nice setup at a reasonable price. So seriously, what is bad about RV living?
Well, a lot. If you are buying on a real tight budget, and find yourself with a twenty, thirty, or even forty year old RV things are going to be different. I’ve been there and done that. When well cared for, they aren’t bad and can be a real bargain. When not cared for, they can be a real nightmare. By comparison, a friend bought a fifteen year old motorcoach for about thirty thousand dollars. Another ten thousand or so in maintenance and repairs, and he had a magnificent well appointed home that was nicer than many cheap apartments. I had a thirty year old travel trailer and well… it wasn’t so nice.
Things break. RV’s are built for casual use. And while they will hold up to regular use, you will need to service crucial systems more often than if you just camped in them. Plumbing can easily burst in winter freezes if you aren’t careful. Furnaces burn out, transmissions go bad. Air conditioners fail, and weird leaks in the roof and windows show up that can be a pain to track down.
In older RV’s, floors can develop soft spots, which if left unrepaired can become holes in the floor. This is literally dry rot in your floors and should be aggressively handled. It is most common around doors where moisture can build up or seep in.
Toilets can fail, hot water tanks can burst around the same time as your frozen plumbing, and electrical systems are usually just “good enough.” Don’t forget things like engines, tires, external awnings, the motors in slideouts, and any other system that can and will eventually fail if it is built into your RV. You need to always stay on top of maintenance. RV’s just aren’t built for 365 day per year living, unless you beef things up or stay on top of your systems.
Don’t forget weather extremes. RV’s can be very cold or very hot, even with proper heating and cooling systems. And they don’t hold up to heavy winds as well as say, a real house.
Big brother government has stuck their unwelcome nose into all aspects of RV life, and liberal nanny staters make it even worse. Many jurisdictions restrict living in RV’s, even on your own land. Parks may be prohibited by law from allowing people to stay more than a certain time. In suburban areas local laws may keep you from living in your RV more than a certain number of days per year. These kinds of intrusions into a person’s life and liberty do little of value, except ensure only the “correct” sort of people are living in an area.
However, liberal cities like Seattle show what happen when drug addicts and the like start camping out in any sort of broken down, shoddy RV that they can find, and fill up public places with real health and safety hazards, while the bleeding hearts just smile and congratulate themselves on their tolerance.
On the other hand, there are plenty of permissive areas that allow for long term RV living. Many rural counties simply lack the manpower or willpower to make sure that Joe and Jane Prepper aren’t “illegally” living in their RV on their 20 acres tucked away out in the middle of nowhere. As long as you aren’t illegally dumping your sewage, few people will care.
Private RV parks may restrict RV’s based on their age. For both insurance and appearance reasons, they often want RV’s that are ten years old or less. It is still possible to find RV parks that will take older RV’s, but sometimes they aren’t exactly the best of locations. I’ve had drug dealing neighbors in an RV park, and dealt with the attendant crime that came with it. Oddly enough I was always left alone. Must have been that stylish leather holster on my hip… or what was inside of it. Funny how that worked.
Even restrictive jurisdictions will usually allow temporary RV living if you are in the process of actively building on your land, but you might have to beg the government for permission to live in your own RV on your own land while you are building a house. Some places will allow RV living in residential areas when parked next to a house. Others don’t care. Others will charge you with a crime for doing so. Isn’t government great?
There is a lot more that could be said about RV living for preppers. Suffice it to say that it is a valid approach for the prepper. Examining the pros and cons of travel trailers, motorhomes, 5th wheels, and even tent trailers is an important consideration when choosing an RV for your prepper or survival lifestyle. There are a number of different RV clubs that allow for unlimited camping as long as you are travelling among their various parks. This can be great for the prepper with the remote income or retirement income that allows for regular travel. And if you have your own land, well, the many benefits of an RV speak for themselves.
Is RV living for everyone? No, of course not. Is it a viable option for the low income prepper who needs a turnkey solution for a self contained home or bugout vehicle? Certainly. And does it do the same for a middle class or well off prepper? Of course. RV living is also a viable option for urban survival. With a little careful effort, the world of the prepper RV is accessible for anyone, regardless of income. And that is what is so great about it.