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Is RV Life For You? Try Before You Buy

Updated: Jun 20

Thinking about transitioning from your house to a recreational vehicle? Then, this is for you!

Try before you buy; this will help you know for sure if RV life is for you! I believe it’s a disservice to yourself if you don’t prepare for a new lifestyle before jumping into it. I think everyone can fall in love with RV life, just as I have, but being realistic about it will put you ahead of the curve.

RV Life in North Carolina

Photo by Amy Freeman, Freeman Fotographics

For me, the transition from my “sticks and bricks” life to RV life was easy but that certainly isn’t the case for everyone. I’ve always been able to easily adapt when it comes to living situations. I’ve lived many different lifestyles from the beautiful house I grew up in to a dorm room, a short period of being homeless in my 20’s, followed by a few small apartments. Though I have bounced around a lot, I settled down for 8 years in a large house with my ex that I ultimately chose to leave behind to start a new life. Yes, it took a lot of yard sales and giving things away, but I also realized that I never really needed all that “stuff.” Turns out, those things were just fillers for an unhappy life.

Fast forward a few years and I couldn’t be happier as a full-time RVer. However, after talking with other RVers and seeing a lot of opinions in RV forums, I’ve realized RV life can be a challenging transition for some folks. I’ve decided to share some ideas to assist people thinking about making the lifestyle change to test their ability in living full-time in an RV prior to taking the plunge. My goal is to encourage this lifestyle without disillusioning people of the realities of RV life.

Disclaimer, this doesn’t apply to every single camper or person. Every person is different as is every camper but these are things to think about. And! I would be negligent as an RV Renovator if I didn’t also mention that a lot of these things can be upgraded and/or fixed. So give me a call if you want to make some changes to your RV (any and all recreational vehicles are welcome) to make your life easier!

  • RENT AN RV: Live full-time (with no exceptions) for at least a week. Preferably, two to four weeks. I understand this may not be an affordable option for everyone but I highly encourage you to try it before you go all in. Maybe even borrow a camper from a friend.

  • COOK IN SMALL SPACES: Learn to cook in tight spaces and/or only use 2 burners at a time. Additionally, experiment with alternative options--toaster oven, air fryer, microwave, grill out or use the campfire…besides, isn’t being outside, enjoying nature the whole point of RV life?

  • COUNTERSPACE: You will never have as much counter space in an RV as you do in a house or even an apartment. There are options to maximize or add more counter space such as pop-up extensions or pull-out cutting boards, etc. But, it’s still going to be an adjustment and practicing in your current kitchen is a great way to prepare. Choose a designated (smaller) section of your counter for practice and only use that space for food prep, cooking and serving.

  • GROCERIES: The fridge and pantry are smaller than what you may be used to in a house. We upgraded our refrigerator to have plenty of room, but it’s still smaller than a residential fridge. Some campers will offer residential-sized refrigerators but the majority do not. Side note: Always open the fridge with caution after a road trip. I’ve been hit in the head and foot on multiple occasions after opening the refrigerator door upon reaching a new destination. OUCH!

As for the pantry, some campers lack a designated area for the pantry, while others have it built in. Regardless of the pantry situation, you’ll have to get creative with food storage and keeping it organized…especially while you’re on the road as you don’t want things to slide around. Be prepared to buy fewer items at a time, while also making more grocery store runs. On the other hand, you’ll save money and could possibly lose a few inches, haha!

  • DAILY DISHES: Most campers don’t have a dishwasher and the sink is typically small with a basic faucet. Getting accustomed to washing and drying everything by hand is imperative. However, there is another option! Replacing your sink and faucet can make a massive difference and it isn’t a huge job. There’s also potential to install a small dishwasher depending on the space. These are things I can do for you if you don’t have the capabilities to do it yourself.

  • ICE: Most RVs don’t have ice makers. Obviously, you can buy ice trays and/or an ice bin. You can also buy an ice maker but keep in mind that you’re going to have limited counter space and you’ll need to plan on where you’re going to house it. Typically, we just buy a bag of ice and keep it in the bottom of the freezer.

  • DINNERWARE: Go ahead and plan on switching all your plates, cups, baking dishes, etc over to non-glass (melamine can be a good option). Glass items have a tendency to break when you’re on the road.

  • CLEANING: One of my favorite things about living in an RV is having very little to clean! I can clean my entire camper from top to bottom in an hour or less. One of the best purchases we made for our RV was a Roomba. I love being able to turn it on when we leave the house and come back to a dirt and fur-free home. On the other hand, I should point out that you have to pick up after yourself! If you don’t, that small space will quickly fill with clutter. And, in my opinion, this is another reason why living a minimalist lifestyle has its perks.

  • “FUN-SIZED” FURNITURE: The majority of furniture in an RV is smaller. If you don’t already, fall in love with snuggling! Typically, you have 1 couch, 2 chairs, etc. If you have pets that take up a lot of space, they might not fit on the loveseat with you. Go ahead and get a nice, plush bed for them in their very own space (which, conveniently won’t be too far from you in any RV).

  • MAKING THE BED: This challenge doesn’t apply to all campers. For instance, our master bedroom is in a slide-out, giving us more space than most when making the bed. But! I hear this complaint a lot from other RVers, so let’s talk about it. Most RV bedrooms are small or at least, smaller than in a house. There can be little to no walking path around the bed; prepare to do a gymnastics routine to get those sheets on. I’m kidding, but in all seriousness, it can be a struggle having to climb on the bed to get to the corners. My previous camper was like this but I wouldn’t have considered this to be a deal-breaker. Personally, I don’t make my bed like a pro every day. I pull the blankets towards the head of the bed and call it a day. So, I’m strictly talking about putting clean sheets, blankets and comforters on. Beddy's are a great option for RV mattresses.

  • SHOWERING: For us, this isn’t an issue because we installed a tankless water heater during our remodel to never run out of hot water (highly recommended). However, most campers do not come with a tankless water heater and it would be a good idea to prepare for quick showers and/or learn to shut the water off when you’re lathering up and only using it to rinse off. It’s not a fun way to shower but it is doable–this is what I did in my previous travel trailer. I won’t lie, that can suck… but sometimes you do what you gotta do.

On another note, if you’re running off your pump rather than being hooked up, the water pressure might be lower. Additionally, depending on the size of your holding tank, you will want to make sure it’s empty before stepping into the shower. The last thing you want is to be mid-shower and have to run outside in a towel to dump your tank due to water backing up in the tub. Or, there’s usually the alternative of using a bathhouse if you’re staying in a campground.

  • TOILET PAPER: This topic always ends in debate amongst RVers.

Some say…

  1. You can absolutely flush the TP

  2. You can flush TP if you follow it with plenty of water

  3. Never flush any TP

One thing that everyone agrees on is to always use 1-ply TP. Personally, I choose to flush as little as possible just to be safe. A clogged black tank might be one of my worst nightmares. So yes, I flush TP on occasion (for #2) but keep a small trash can in the bathroom to throw away all the #1 TP.

  • CLOTHING: Where are you going to put all those clothes?! Most people in an RV struggle with storage, but this has not been the case for us–we also learned we don’t need as much as we did in a “sticks and bricks”. However, having worked in the fashion industry for 7 years, I do love clothes. I had to get creative in order to keep everything I wanted in our camper. My recommendation is to only keep the things you wear often and a couple “special occasion” outfits in your camper at the most. We have the benefit of having our workshop to store additional things like seasonal clothing but a lot of people don’t have alternative storage options. You can store your seasonal clothes under the bed if you have room and/or vacuum seal them to minimize the space they take up. Personally, I couldn’t do it without my cascading hangers. They hold up to 6 regular hangers at a time and I hang 3 tanks per hanger. I hang my tops and a couple dresses in the closet and I fold all my jeans, shorts, sweatshirts, delicates, bathing suits and comfy clothes and keep them in drawers. Shoes go under the bed as well as extra sheets and towels. I clean my closet, drawers and the space under the bed at least twice a year and I only buy a new item if I absolutely LOVE it.

  • LAUNDRY LIMITS: If you don’t have a washer/dryer in your RV, you’ll need to either get used to the laundromat, washing your clothes in a sink, or washing them outside in buckets (girl scout style). While most campgrounds have laundromats, they’re not always the best. Another important note: If you do have a washer/dryer in your RV, load sizes are typically smaller than what you’re used to in a house. So, start practicing!

  • NO PRIVACY: If you’re living with a partner or kids, this is something to really consider. There’s normally only 1 bathroom and it’s not going to be very private. Get used to sharing everything in your small space. Heaven forbid you have a disagreement on a rainy day because there’s nowhere to escape to in a camper other than the not-so-private bathroom. Try working on your communication skills beforehand to make sure your relationship will work in a much smaller footprint. If you have kids and/or pets, make sure they have their own designated areas and space–this is particularly helpful in the kitchen as having little ones under your feet can be dangerous. It’s good to go ahead and set those boundaries from the get-go so everyone can be spatially aware. There’s also the issue of adult private time when you have kids in your RV. I’ve heard some hilarious stories on this topic.

  • MOVEMENT: The camper will rock! I hear this a lot from parents that have to explain to their kids why the camper is rocking. Some use laundry as the reason if they have a washer and dryer in their camper. Others make up some really funny excuses. You can always say that you’re having a dance party or wrestling. Even if you don’t have kids, the neighbors will know when you’re “getting down.” So, go ahead and make them jealous! The bottom line is RVs don’t have a foundation. You are literally on jacks and even with stabilizers, the camper is going to rock whether you’re playing games inside or having adult time.

  • NATURE’S SOUNDTRACK: Do you like the sound of rain on the roof? Try standing outside under a tin roof or tarp when it rains. This is what it can sound like living in an RV when it rains. Personally, I love the sound of rain on the roof; I find it soothing. I also enjoy a good thunderstorm. However, I realize this isn’t the case for everyone, making it something to think about. Finding joy in nature’s soundtrack is important. If the AC isn’t running, RV walls are thin and you will hear a lot more than you would in a brick and mortar home. Crickets chirping, bees buzzing, kids playing outside, your neighbors chatting, squirrels hopping around on the roof, etc.

  • NOISE: The AC unit(s) are going to be loud, about 60 decibels (a whisper is 30 db and normal conversation is 60 db). However, the AC makes more of a humming sound and I actually prefer the white noise for sleeping. It blocks out any loud neighbors or traffic depending on where you’re camping. Keep in mind that this is a noise you only have to live with for part of the year. The heat doesn’t make nearly as much noise as the AC. Additionally, don’t forget to consider the competition between the AC and your TV as a lot of campers don’t have surround sound for the TV. If you're hard of hearing (like me), consider getting a separate speaker. Or, get a projector and and watch movies outside from an inflatable mattress or hammock. Fun right?! If this continues to be something you can’t adapt to, you can always move somewhere cooler where you don’t need the AC.

  • PROPANE/HEAT: Propane is essential in a camper from hot water to heat. It’s also extremely efficient. For us, being in North Carolina most of the year, there are only 3 months that get a little pricey for propane. We typically spend $120/month on it January-March, while the rest of the year is about $15/month when you break it down. Our campground has a propane filling station as well as a company that comes to refill your tanks on site. A huge convenience! If those aren’t available to you, make sure you know of a place close by that will refill them and always have an extra tank just in case. It’s one thing to run out of heat and bundle up with a heated blanket but not having hot water to wash your dishes is no bueno! We opted to get a 100 lb tank that sits on our annual site and it has made life much easier during those cold months and keeps us from constantly having to refill the 30 lb tanks or go out during colder weather to switch the tanks around.

  • DUMPING THE TANKS: There is nothing fun about this but it’s necessary. If you’re staying in a campground with full hook-ups, it’s not a huge deal. Simply walk outside and drain your black tank first, followed by the others to flush out the waste. We also run water through our toilet and sinks afterward to rinse it with fresh water. If you’re traveling, find a truck stop with a dump. This is probably the worst part of RV life, but again, necessary. Full tanks will add extra weight to your RV and you don’t want that when you’re on the road.

  • MAINTENANCE: I’m unclear on how anyone would ever think that living in an RV is going to be a complete breeze but I hear people talk about this frequently and I want to address it. I thoroughly enjoy RV life but there will be maintenance just like in a “sticks and bricks”. Not only is an RV a TINY HOUSE, but it’s also a VEHICLE. The convenience of being able to take your home with you wherever you go totally outweighs any sort of maintenance in my eyes. But it’s important to remember that you’ll likely travel some very bumpy roads. And, while RVs flex, things can still break. We always travel with a bunch of tools just to be safe.

On another note, it’s extremely unfortunate that the large companies selling RVs don’t show or teach their customers how to maintain the RVs they’re purchasing. Please make sure to do your research prior to buying. The roof of an RV needs to be serviced/resealed every 2 years. Learning and asking questions about your RV is important. This can allow you to maintain whatever you can on your own; having to call a tech every time something goes wrong is costly.

  • DON’T BUY A BRAND NEW RV: RVs depreciate just like vehicles. Therefore, why would you want to buy something brand new that’s been made the same way for the last 5-10 years only for it to lose value as soon as you drive it off the lot? I understand some people’s way of thinking is that newer equals better and you’ll be covered with a warranty. However, newer does not mean better in the RV world and warranties are often not honored because of loopholes in the clauses. Even if you are covered, you will most likely have a long wait to get into the repair shop and another long wait for them to do the repairs. The wait can be anywhere from weeks to months.

I can’t speak for each make and model. But in general, the RV manufacturing industry isn’t the same as it used to be. As with anything, the more the demand goes up (and it has gone up!), the worse production becomes. They have been stamping RVs out since the early 2010s. Mass producing campers to meet deadlines, ultimately does not yield well-built RVs.

I’m not saying this just as an RV renovator so you will buy an older model for me to remodel. That’s great if you do. But, as someone who works on RVs everyday, I’m telling you this from experience. I hate to hear stories from people that bought a brand new, expensive camper and have had major issues since they hit the road. It’s disheartening for anyone that takes the plunge only to have one disappointment after another.

Additionally, I hired an RV tech last fall that worked for the manufacturers in the Indiana area for 19 years. He can tell you without a doubt that they just don’t build them like they used to and that’s one reason he wanted to leave the manufacturing side of the industry.

I always encourage my clients to look for campers prior to 2013 with aluminum bodies and real wood cabinetry. Most people can’t afford to have a completely custom-built camper from scratch as you’d be looking at over half a million dollars for that kind of build. But, if you’re on a budget like I was, try to find a used camper with good bones for under $12K and put the rest of the money towards having it customized to your wants and needs.

I hope this helps those of you who are on the fence or considering RVing recreationally or even permanently. My intention is to always encourage people to try this wonderful lifestyle I have truly fallen in love with and have no intention of changing anytime soon. However, I feel that it’s my duty as a professional within this industry (who also lives it everyday) to be honest about my experience and the knowledge I have on all things RV.

Isn’t one of the benefits of RV Life to get out of the rat race and have more time to stop and smell the roses? Yes, you will have to sacrifice some everyday conveniences like having a dishwasher but you’ll also have less to clean and a simpler and (hopefully) less stressful life.

I once heard someone ask “Would you rather be comfortable or happy?” That’s a tough question and most people would probably say both. But to me, if you’re always comfortable, you’re not improving or challenging yourself. You’re not living life to the fullest if you’re just comfortable. On the contrary, if you are traveling in your RV, you get to take all the comforts of home wherever you go. So, get out there and challenge yourself, have amazing adventures, make wonderful memories and go RVing!

If you’re interested, this is a sneak peek into my RV life:

Alice Zealy, Owner of rain2shine ventures | RV Renovations

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