There are an almost infinite number of options when it comes to deciding on a vehicle to live in. Unfortunately there also seems to be an infinite number of questions that need to be answered to reach the correct solution. This article is based on the research I did when I first started looking into vehicle living. Hopefully it can help you in your quest too.
Some of the more popular options are:
Living in a car is rough. There’s no way around that. Most basic functions (like cooking, bathing, and going to the bathroom) have to be done outside the vehicle. Storage is extremely limited. Privacy and security are minimal. On the plus side it’s cheap, gets better gas mileage than other options, it’s extremely stealthy, and is better than living on the streets.
* Mini-van/SUV/pick-up with a shell
Living in one of these vehicles is a step up from living in a car but not by much. These vehicles have slightly more room than a car but the same advantages and disadvantages. A single person could live indefinitely in one of these vehicles if it was extensively modified and they were willing to sacrifice quite a bit of comfort.
* Truck camper
The RV (camper) is carried in the bed of a pick-up truck. Many are designed so they can be detached from the truck. A 4-wheel drive truck will allow you to get into some pretty remote locations. Due to the size and weight restrictions the camper will be smaller than most RVs and have fewer amenities.
Vans come in a variety of flavors. There are cargo vans, passenger vans, and conversion vans. All of these can be modified to provide adequate (yet small) living spaces for a single person. Two people would be very cramped.
* Class B Recreational Vehicle
Class B RVs are basically tricked out large vans. They have most of the features that larger Class C and A RVs have but are more compact. Class B RVs are usually tall enough to have standing headroom. Class Bs have a little more room than a modified van but cost a lot more.
* Box truck
An example of a box truck is the Uhaul rental truck. Even the smallest one can be converted into a fairly comfortable home. Of course they don’t get the best fuel efficiency.
* Class C Recreational Vehicle
The section that extends over the cab distinguishes class C RVs from class A. Class C’s are also usually smaller and shorter than Class A but there are exceptions. Class Cs can be a terrific home for a single person or a couple. Even a family if they don’t mind being in each others pockets.
* Converted bus
These are basically a Class A RV. The only difference is that these were not originally built as an RV. The shapes, sizes, and features of converted buses are endless. Yellow school buses, retired Greyhound buses, and even double-decker buses are all possibilities.
* Class A Recreational Vehicle (Motorhome)
Class A RVs look like a bus but they were built from the frame up to as RVs. They are usually the largest and most expensive type of RV. Motorhomes offer plenty of storage and living space.
* Pop-up trailer (also called a camper trailer)
The distinguishing feature of the pop-up trailer is the fact that the top can be extended when not traveling. This is possible because the sides are fabric. While great for camping, pop-ups have some serious limits. These trailers have no insulation so cold weather can be uncomfortable.
* Travel trailer
Travel trailers come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The two features they all have in common are that they all have hard sides (they aren’t camper trailers) and they all attach to the back of a tow vehicle with hitch. Cargo trailers can be modified into quite comfortable living spaces.
* 5th wheel
Fifth wheels are large trailers that attach to the bed of a pick-up truck (or an actual semi-truck) instead of the back (this coupling is sometimes called a gooseneck). This design allows greater maneuverability and makes the overall length of the combined tow vehicle/trailer less than a standard trailer. Most modern 5th wheel trailers have multiple slide-outs to maximize room. These are usually the largest and most expensive type of trailer.
Boats come in a variety of flavors. Sailboats, powerboats, trawlers, and houseboats are all options. Selecting the right boat to live in is a huge topic in itself and will be covered in a separate article.
Each vehicle will be covered in detail in individual articles.
There are a lot of questions you need to answer before you can rationally decided on what type of vehicle would work for you. Everyone has different needs so don’t let anyone tell you what would work for you. Making sure everyone involved truthfully answers these questions will help prevent unpleasant surprises down the road.
The basic equation comes down to this:
The basic decision you need to make is how much you’re willing to pay for comfort. Of course there are lots of other variables involved. Every vehicle is a collection of compromises. No vehicle can do everything.
Finding the answers to these questions will require you to do some research and a lot of thinking. One of the best things you can do is to visit a couple of RV and car dealers. Climb into lots of vehicles and see what you like and don’t like. Take a lot of notes. Try driving different types of vehicles. Renting a few vehicles is an option if you have the money.
How are you going to use your vehicle?
How long do you plan on living in your vehicle?
Duration is in direct relation to size and cost. The longer you plan on living in your vehicle, the more space and amenities you’ll need. Need, not want. Living in a vehicle that doesn’t fulfill your basic needs is a hardship. It will be tolerable for a while but you’ll quickly grow to hate it.
Of course if you’re in severe financial straits then you’ll stay in your vehicle as long as you have to, regardless of how big it is or how uncomfortable it is. Sleeping in a car is far better than sleeping on the streets or a shelter.
Some possibilities include:
* Until you can afford a house or apartment
* Until your house or apartment becomes available
* For a few days or weeks (perhaps a long road trip)
* For a few months (maybe a semester at school)
How many people (and pets) will be living in the vehicle?
The number of warm bodies occupying the vehicle will determine its size. People (and pets) are going to need individual space for sleeping and for doing activities while in the vehicle. Everyone will need a place to sit unless you’re going sit in each other’s laps. Finally, don’t go by the number of people the manufacturer claims a vehicle can sleep. This number of people on board is possible for very short durations but quickly becomes intolerable. A more realistic number for long duration living is half or a quarter of the number claimed by the manufacturer.
The number of people on board will also dictate how fast the black and gray water storage tanks will fill (if you have these), how often you’ll have to refill the propane cylinder (if you have one), and just about any other situation where waste is generated or something is consumed.
One other point to consider is safety. Nobody should be in a trailer while it’s moving. It’s illegal and unsafe. If an accident occurs anyone in the trailer will have very little protection. Everyone needs to fit in the towing vehicle if you’re trailering. Other vehicles (such as motorhomes and converted buses) need to have enough seats with seatbelts for everyone. It’s highly recommended that passengers remain seated and belted in while the vehicle is moving.
Where do you plan to park your vehicle most of the time?
I had originally thought that deciding what you wanted to do while living in your vehicle was a key parameter. After careful consideration it came to me that where you plan to park you vehicle is a far more important question. Driving is about all you can do with your vehicle until you park it. Where to park your home becomes the critical question.
For example, if you plan to spend most of your time visiting National Parks then your parking options are park campgrounds and dry camping (no access to water, electricity, and pump out stations). If your primary reason for living in your vehicle is to save money while working then your parking options include friend’s driveways and stealth parking (since sleeping in your vehicle is illegal in most cities). Once you’re vehicle is parked you can then go about your business or go to sleep.
No single vehicle is good for all parking situations. RVs are horrible at stealth parking because they stand out. Cars aren’t very good for dry camping because they have limited storage. Large vehicles shouldn’t be taken off of paved roads and are not allowed in some parks.
Parking options include:
* City/suburban parking (stealth parking)
- It is illegal in many places. You could get a visit from the local police at 3am.
- Temporary parking. If you stay in one place for several nights you might attract attention.
Vehicle attributes needed
- Stealth – You want a vehicle that won’t look out of place. An RV or box truck would look suspicious parked on a residential street.
- Dry camping – You’re going to want some kind of toilet in your vehicle unless you’re willing to run into a nearby store whenever you need to use the bathroom.
- Security – Part of stealth parking is convincing people that nobody is in your vehicle. Vehicles with large windows are more vulnerable to people looking in and condensation. Trailers are also more vulnerable because you can’t just slip into the drivers seat and drive off.
- Size – Smaller vehicles attract less attention. Smaller vehicles are also easier to maneuver and have many more parking options open to them.
* Campgrounds – in National Parks or private
- Potentially awesome scenery.
- Probable water, sewer, and electrical hook-ups.
- Possible internet access (WiFi or modem)
- Potentially interesting neighbors
- Park fees
- Possibly noisy neighbors
Vehicle attributes needed
- Size – Small vehicles have a better chance of finding a spot. Small vehicles are also easier to maneuver in tight spaces.
- Dry camping – In case there are no hook-ups.
* RV parks
- Full hook-ups and amenities.
- Able to accommodate large rigs.
- Park fees.
- Can be crowded.
Vehicle attributes needed
- Might have a hard time finding a spot if your vehicle is a car or a modified vehicle (i.e. not a standard RV).
- Awesome scenery
- Honestly, I can’t think of any.
Vehicle attributes needed
- Four-wheel drive is needed for true wilderness.
- Dry camping
- Size – Large rigs and trailers don’t do well off paved roads.
- Storage – You’ll have to live off your supplies.
How much time will you spend in the vehicle?
This is directly related to how long you plan to live in your vehicle. If all you need is a place to sleep for a few weeks then a smaller vehicle might fit your needs. A pick-up truck with a shell and an air mattress would do the job. If you’re vehicle is going to be your home for an extended period of time you’ll want more storage and comforts.
The longer you live in your vehicle, the more time you’re going to spend in it. You’ll want to work on your hobbies. You’ll want to entertain. You’ll want to just kick back because it’s cold and raining and you don’t want to go outside.
Write down the activities you do while at home. Think about which ones you really enjoy doing. Those are the ones you’re going to want to do while living in your vehicle. If sitting in a comfy recliner and watching a movie is your idea of bliss then anything less will feel like a hardship. Choosing a vehicle that will let you relax and enjoy “being at home” is critical. Anything less will feel like camping. Nothing wrong with camping except that few of us wants to do it indefinitely.
What are the climates of the areas you want to spend time in?
You’ll need to decide what temperature range and weather you’ll spend most of your time in. Any place can experience unseasonable or abnormal weather so you’ll need to be prepared for that too.
Questions to ask yourself:
* Will you need air conditioning or will lots of ventilation be enough?
I sweat. I sweat a lot. So staying cool is a huge issue for me. We’ve all experienced how hot a vehicle can get during the summer. Now imagine living in that vehicle. People die every year from excessive heat. You need to be prepared.
Air conditioning is the first solution that most people come to. Unfortunately, air conditioning has some pretty high costs. Using your vehicle’s AC requires also running the engine. This is fine while you’re traveling but costly while parked. This technique burns fuel and causes engine wear. Installing a second AC unit (roof or window mounted) will save your engine but they still require a lot of electricity. Most can only be run while you’ve hooked up to external power.
Another option is to have lots of ventilation. Windows that open (with screens) and roof fans work great. Some vehicles will have to be modified to accommodate these. Just make sure you have a plan for when it’s raining or when there is absolutely no wind and it’s hot and humid.
* Will you need heating?
Cold can kill just as well as heat. Cold is probably even deadlier because lots of people die every year due to poor heating choices.
Burning anything in an enclosed space can be dangerous. Toxic gases, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide are some of the dangers. Combustion will also use up the oxygen in the space, which can lead to asphyxia. Any open flame or heat source can be a point of ignition that can quickly burn your rolling home to ashes. If you plan on burning ANYTHING to keep warm make sure your home has plenty of ventilation. Having a carbon dioxide/monoxide detector onboard isn’t a bad idea either. You’ll also have to include fuel storage and costs into your plans.
Electrical heating is safer than combustion heating but requires a large amount of electricity. You’ll have to be hooked up to external power to run an electrical heater though.
Wearing more and/or heavier clothes is always an option. It’s safe and costs lots less than fuel or electricity. Clothes and blankets take up lots of space so you’ll need more storage. They also won’t be enough if it’s really cold. The biggest downside for just piling on more clothes is that it gets old real quick. Being constantly cold isn’t fun and you’ll quickly grow to hate living in your vehicle if you don’t have a plan to deal with being cold.
* Will you need insulation in your vehicle?
Insulating the floor, walls, and ceiling of your vehicle is a great idea. When done correctly insulation will make any vehicle more livable regardless if it’s hot or cold outside. The lack of insulation is one of the big disadvantages of cars, mini-vans, SUVs, and pop-up trailers. It’s really hard (if not impossible) to properly insulate these vehicles. The same goes for any vehicle with lots of window. Windows are the primary way a vehicle loses or gains heat. Many RVs and trailers also lack enough insulation.
* What weather conditions could I face?
Do you plan on staying in an area that gets frequent blizzards in the winter? Then you’d better have a vehicle that can handle them and a plan. Tornadoes, hurricanes, frequent floods, and high winds are all potential problems that need to be assessed.
How much traveling will you be doing?
How often do you plan on moving your vehicle and how many miles a day do you plan on driving? If you’re constantly making and breaking camp then you’ll want a vehicle that requires a minimum of set-up. Vehicles without trailers seem to be better suited for more frequent and longer moves.
Also think about the terrain of the areas you want to visit. Mountains will require more engine and braking power. You’ll want to make sure your vehicle has enough of both (especially if you’re trailering). Height restrictions can also be an issue, especially in urban areas. You’ll want to be aware of any potential problems before you run into them (literally).
Many people recommend buying the most expensive (and largest) vehicle you can afford. That way you put off trading up as long as possible. My recommendation is to buy the smallest (and cheapest) vehicle that will meet your needs and learn to adapt. The money you save can go towards modifying your vehicle and financing your new lifestyle.
It’s hard to live free when you’re saddled with debt. Making payments on your vehicle makes it worse. Think long and hard about financing your vehicle (or vehicles). Some loans for large motorhomes and trailers can be as long (and as high) as a mortgage. While this may lower your monthly payments, you’ll pay a lot more in interest.
You’ll also have to worry about the initial costs of multiple vehicles if you want a motorhome and a towed vehicle or a tow vehicle and a trailer. Large, heavy trailers require large tow vehicles that can cost as much as the trailer itself. And the toad and tow vehicle can’t be financed with long-term loans like a trailer or motorhome. This can result in a substantial monthly payment for the tow or towed vehicle.
The condition and age of the vehicle will also affect the purchase price. While initial price might be a steal, but the cost to repair and refurbish the vehicle could be crippling.
As a very general rule of thumb the following are ranked from the cheapest to the most expensive:
* Car/mini-van/pick-up with shell/pop-up trailer
* SUV/Van/truck camper
* Box truck/
* Class C/travel trailer
* Class B
* Class A/converted bus/5th wheel
Will you need a toad?
A toad is RV slang for a towed vehicle. It refers to secondary vehicle (usually a car or SUV) that is towed behind the RV (usually a Class A or C). The toad is used for daily activities (sightseeing, grocery shopping, etc.) while the RV stays parked. The benefits of this arrangement are that you can save a lot of fuel, save time by not having to constantly make and break camp, and have access to places a large RV can’t fit into. The downsides are the added costs of an additional vehicle and having to tow a vehicle behind a large RV.
I have repeatedly read that most full-timers (usually people living full time in their RV) replace their vehicle every 4-5 years. Not because the vehicle stopped working but because they felt they needed more space or toys. So the resale value of any vehicle you get could be important if a) you plan on trading up in a few years or b) you’re not sure this lifestyle is for you and you want to be sell your vehicle without losing your shirt.
Some features will affect resale value. Slideouts and diesel engines will increase the value. Lots of expensive toys may help increase the resale value. Extensive modifications may or may not help though. Your vehicle may end up being exactly what YOU wanted but you may find few potential buyers that agree. A one-of-a-kind can be hard to sell. It might also be just what others are looking for. In my book it’s more important to have a vehicle that you enjoy than worrying about it’s future resale value.
Depreciation (the loss of value over time) is another factor to consider. We all know that new vehicles lose a lot of value the instant you buy them. This is a good reason to buy a vehicle that is several years old. The first 3-4 years of a vehicles life sees the most rapid depreciation. Other factors will influence how fast a vehicle depreciates. Motorhomes have a big engine with a limited lifespan so they tend to lose value faster than trailers (which have much few moving parts).
Do you want a new or used vehicle?
The age of the vehicle was touched upon in the previous section but I wanted to include a few more variables that are dependent on the vehicle’s age.
New vehicles have several advantages. New vehicles potentially are built with the newest technology and have the latest toys on board. Theoretically they are the most efficient and comfortable vehicles built to date. Since everything is new there should be less chance of things breaking. The also have all kinds of warranties to cover the vehicle and its toys.
Unfortunately there are several serious disadvantages that come with a new vehicle. As has been mentioned, a new vehicle will lose value the fastest over the first couple of years. Couple this with the fact that new vehicles almost always cost substantially more than a used vehicle and the loss in value can be severe. New vehicles have also not been road tested yet. Things will go wrong, especially if there are a lot off expensive parts and toys on board. If you’re lucky the warranties will cover the cost of the repairs. But having to hunt down authorized repair centers will cost you time and money.
In my opinion, used vehicles are the way to go. The rate of depreciation will be much less than a new vehicle. Most of the bugs have already been worked out. Any recalls have been taken care of. Previous owners may have already modified the vehicle in ways you like.
Sure, older vehicles can have serious or potentially serious problems. And most likely there are no warranties to cover the costs of repairs. But the money saved by buying a used vehicle can be used to repair or upgrade your new home.
Vehicle operating costs are hard to quantify. There are many factors that contribute to each cost and these factors are usually subject to change.
Fuel efficiency is a perfect example. A certain vehicle is claimed to get so many miles per gallon of fuel by the manufacturer. This may or may not have any relationship to the actual fuel efficiency of the vehicle. Add all the gear, water, supplies, and full holding tanks and that number drops. Trailer something and the fuel efficiency drops further. The website www.fueleconomy.gov is a good place to start. You’ll want to keep an eye on fuel efficiency even if you don’t drive your rig much.
Maintenance and repairs compose the second major operating expense. Factors to consider are:
* How old is the vehicle (usually requires more frequent and expensive repairs and maintenance)?
* How many features does it have (appliances, electronics, and toys all require their own maintenance and repairs)?
* Are the rig and/or equipment covered by warranties? Some warranties aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on so you’ll need to do some research.
* Where are the authorized repair centers for stuff (rig and all it’s components) under warranty?
* How easy is it to repair and maintain? Knowing how to do your own basic repairs can save you a ton of money and time. Make sure to include any specialized tools you might need. Old, “beater” vehicles can be great bargains. Even brand new rigs are not maintenance free.
* If your home has to go into the shop for a few days, do you have a back-up plan? This is one of the great strengths of living in a trailer.
The third major operating expense is insurance and fees. The primary drivers for this expense are age of the vehicle (newer is more expensive), initial cost (more is more expensive), if it’s financed (more expensive), and where your home base is located (costs vary widely between states).
What is your budget?
This may be the last item in this section but it’s the most important. Your budget will define what vehicle you can get. It will define how old it is and what features it has. Like everything else, you’ll have to find a compromise here too. You’ll want to spend enough to get the vehicle you want with the features you want. But if you spend too much on your vehicle you could compromise your lifestyle on the road or how long you can spend on the road. Financing can get you a newer/larger/more expensive vehicle but it also saddles you monthly payments and higher insurance.
How much room do you need?
This is a key question and the answer might surprise you. We’re all conditioned that “bigger is better” but that isn’t usually true. If you’ve never lived in small spaces before it can be difficult to know just how much you really need.
Some people recommend simulating living in a vehicle inside your current home. You can tape off a specific area and try living just in that space. I’ve tried this and found it pretty unrealistic. And a huge pain. If you want to talk yourself out of vehicle living I suggest you do this “experiment”. You’ll quickly decide it isn’t for you.
How tall are you? Sleeping in a fetal position gets old quick. And headroom is nice. You’ll want room to stretch out. You want to be able to sleep comfortably. How well you sleep will affect your entire vehicle living experience. Continuous poor sleep turn vehicle living into an endurance contest.
One way to increase space without increasing size is through slide-outs. Slide-outs are sections of the vehicle that, not surprisingly, slide out when the vehicle is stopped to increase the interior space. This can dramatically increase the interior space of the vehicle. Slide-outs are pretty much standard equipment on modern RVs.
There are several disadvantages to slide-outs though. The slide-out mechanism adds substantial weight to the vehicle. Some storage space is sacrificed. Many older campgrounds can’t handle the additional width. Weather proofing and structural integrity are more of a challenge. Additional mechanical and electrical equipment increases maintenance and repair costs. All this extra equipment can also increase the demand on the onboard electrical system (i.e. you’ll need bigger batteries).
As a general rule, trailers have more living space than motorhomes and other self-propelled vehicles. Trailers don’t have a driving compartment and all the driving equipment so more space can be devoted to living. The slide-outs in most trailers are wider than those in motorhomes because less interior space is needed when retracted (it’s illegal to ride inside the trailer while it’s in motion). In fact, you should see how much space you have both with the slides in and out.
How much stuff do you need?
We all collect stuff we don’t need and never use. It’s hammered into our brains to constantly buy. This stuff includes clothes, books, tools, souvenirs, gifts, and stuff that may have some use in some undefined future. You’ll need to decide what you can and can’t live without. Some people suggest putting all the stuff you don’t need but can’t part with into storage. This can get expensive though. I figure if I haven’t used something in over a year, I don’t need it. It’s obvious but more stuff = larger vehicle = increased cost.
What are you comfortable driving?
You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get used to driving large vehicles. Still, driving in city traffic in a large RV is hell for me, especially if a trailer is involved. If you’re not sure what your comfort range is, you can go to a few dealers and take a few test drives. Driving courses for the larger RVs are available if you find a vehicle you’re really interested.
Will you need a special license to drive it?
The larger RVs and trailers require more than a standard drivers license. It’s based on the combined weight of the vehicle(s). This varies from state to state and will be determined by whatever state your home base is.
What features do you want?
Some people have to have a washer and dryer. Others have specific medical and physical needs. You’ll need to decide what are needs and what are wants. This is important because if you have to compromise on something you feel you can’t live without then you’re going to feel like you’re suffering and the whole adventure will sour on you quickly.
Do you want to make the bed up every day?
It may not seem like a big deal at first but having to make up and break down the bed every day can get old fast. That’s camping in my book and is unacceptable to me for long-term living. This is one of my deal breakers. There’s nothing like sprawling out on your bed whenever you want to.
How will you go to the bathroom/take a shower?
This is another deal breaker for me. I’m not prissy enough to require long hot showers every day but I am not going to crap in a bucket with sawdust on a daily basis. You’ll have to decide where your breaking point is for toilets and bathing. Larger RVs have full showers and flush toilets. Smaller vehicles usually have more basic facilities.
There are alternatives to full showers. Sponge baths are effective. Camping showers (basically a container suspended overhead with a hose) work but require some privacy and can only be used outside the vehicle. Many people recommend getting a gym membership although I think this could get expensive and have limited usefulness. Truck stops offer showers for a fee.
Going to the bathroom is more problematic. Very few vehicles will have a toilet like you’ll find at home. They use too much water and produce too much waste. Standard RV toilets work a lot like home toilets but are more delicate and easier to stop up. I’ve used marine toilets (which are very similar) and I can say that I hate them with a passion. Anyone who has had to tear one completely apart to clear a blocked hose will understand. Other options include using public bathrooms (if you can find an acceptable one when you need it), the bucket, and the porti-potti (aka chemical toilet).
Other factors to consider are the size of the vehicles water supply and the size of its gray and black water holding tanks (if it has any). These will determine how often you’ll need to resupply, dump the tanks, and generally how long you can dry camp.
How will you cook/eat?
Being able to cook meals is a key factor to feeling at home and is critical to saving money. Not to mention that it’s usually healthier.
So the first question is “how much cooking do you plan to do?” If you plan to eat out all the time (and spend a ton of money) then you need no kitchen at all. The more you plan to cook, the more equipment and space you’ll need. Things to consider are the floor plan, counter space, food and equipment storage, and all the various appliances and toys you may want. Trailers usually have an edge here with larger kitchens.
Cooking usually requires a way to refrigerate food. Sure, you could live off shelf stable foods or buy your supplies as you need them but that gets expensive and old real quick. Unfortunately, mobile refrigeration has a lot of problems. Conventional refrigerators use a lot of electricity so you could only use them when hooked up to an electrical outlet. Some refrigerators can also use propane to keep the contents cold. The problem with these is that they rapidly consume propane and the open flame is dangerous while the vehicle is in motion. Finally, there’s always a trusty cooler with a bag of ice. This works but constantly replacing the ice is a bit of a drag.
The actual method of cooking is problematic also. There are a number of cooking options available. Electric cooking obviously uses a lot of electricity (more than batteries can provide). Alcohol is inefficient and expensive. Kerosene and wood are just huge pains to deal with. Propane is quick, clean, relatively inexpensive, and lasts a reasonable amount of time. If you’re going to cook a lot, propane is probably the best way to go.
Regardless of the type of fuel you use, make sure you have a lot of ventilation if you cook inside your vehicle. People die every year from cooking in enclosed spaces.
Everyone is going to answer this question differently. The key is to figure out what you truly enjoy doing vs. stuff you do because you’re bored. For example, most of us watch TV. Some people do it because they really like it but others (including me) usually turn on the TV to have something on in the background or to just do something mindless for a few hours. A TV just isn’t worth the cost to me.
The costs involved go beyond money, which can be substantial for some activities. Most sources of entertainment will require space (storage and working), resources (like electricity), and equipment.
Some entertainment options include:
* TV (satellite)
* Internet (satellite, WiFi)
* Outdoor activities (kayaking, hiking, etc.)
Ease of set-up
There are really only a few factors to consider when determining how easy a vehicle will be to set up (and break down) camp.
All vehicles should be leveled to some degree just to make them more comfortable. But some vehicles must be leveled for safety reasons (usually those with refrigerators). How easy the leveling operation is depends on the vehicle, the site, and the leveling equipment. Leveling equipment ranges from blocks under the wheels to legs that automatically level the vehicle with the flick of a switch.
Having to get out into the weather is another concern. Trailers fair pretty poorly here. Motorhomes and self-propelled vehicles allow the option of just parking it and going into the back to sleep. With a trailer you have to leave the tow vehicle.
Finally, vehicles with slide-outs require more set-up. The slides have to be extended and properly supported. The interior might require some rearranging after the slides have deployed.
There are two things to consider when looking at or thinking about a vehicles layout. The most important is the weight distribution. The weight inside the vehicle should be evenly distributed left and right, front and back. Uneven distribution will cause increased tire and mechanical wear. It’s also really dangerous because the vehicle will be harder to handle. Everyone’s seen semi-trucks weaving all over their lane. That’s usually caused by a weight distribution imbalance.
The other factor is comfort. Obviously a large person will not have fun maneuvering in a very tight space. Make sure you can fit comfortably in all the spaces you’ll be using (like the shower, bathroom, bed, etc.). Also ensure that there is enough counter space in the kitchen.
It’s important to feel safe in your own home. Especially if home is a vehicle. This can be hard to do in the middle of the night when all you can think about is how thin your walls are.
In my book, being able to go from bed to the driving compartment without going outside is an important safety feature. One of the best defenses is being able to drive away from a situation. Obviously this isn’t possible with a trailer.
Another safety factor to consider is the vehicle’s wheelbase-to-length ratio. Along with proper weight distribution this is a critical factor in determining how a vehicle drives. The wheelbase is the distance from the center of the front wheel to the center of the rear wheel. Basically convert all measurements into inches and then divide the wheelbase by the length. This will give you a percentage. If this number is 50% then that means that half the vehicle hangs out in front of or behind the wheels. This is unsafe, increases wear, and makes the vehicle more difficult to drive. The higher the ratio, the safer the vehicle is. The number I’ve seen repeated is a minimum of 55%.
The bottom line
That’s all the criteria my research came up with. Shoot me an email if you can think of anything else or have any comments.
Below is a brief example of how I answered these questions based on my own needs. You’ll have to make your own list.
* How long do you plan on living in your vehicle?
* How many people (and pets) will be living in the vehicle?
* Where do you plan to park your vehicle most of the time?
Free parking – Wilderness boondocking, friends driveways, stealth parking. So I’ll need some storage capacity for supplies and some stealth features.
* How much time will you spend in the vehicle?
Substantial – While I plan on spending a lot of time exploring I also plan on spending entire days just hanging out working and relaxing.
* What are the climates of the areas you want to spend time in?
Widely variable – I plan on being a bit of a snowbird but I’m looking forward to experiencing a wide range of climates. That said, I’ll need heating and especially cooling options.
* How much traveling will you be doing?
Substantial – I would like to move slowly but pretty continuously. Decent fuel economy will be critical. So will a smaller size so I an get into more places.
* Initial costs
Low – Realistically I can’t spend more than $5,000 for a vehicle. This prices me out of most RVs.
* Will you need a toad?
I dislike trailering so I dragging a toad around wouldn’t be fun. Plus I just can’t afford the costs associated with two vehicles.
* Resale value
Not important – I don’t plan on replacing the vehicle until it completely breaks down.
* Do you want a new or used vehicle?
Used – With my budget it has to be a used vehicle.
* Operating costs
Low – Again, with my budget I can’t afford to constantly bleed money on operating expenses. Fortunately, I’m looking forward to doing most of my own repairs. Plus, an older vehicle will cost less to insure and license.
* What is your budget?
While I’m not going to go into detail, let’s just say I’m far from loaded. I also refuse to go into debt to finance this lifestyle.
* How much room do you need?
Headroom would be nice but I’ve lived without it before. I don’t want the expense of slide-outs. I really don’t need a lot of room.
* How much stuff do you need?
Not much at all.
* What are you comfortable driving?
I’m not happy driving large vehicles or trailering in general.
* Will you need a special license to drive it?
I don’t want to drive anything that requires me to get a special license.
* What features do you want?
I can’t think of anything I need. I want to experiment with some simple, manual laundry options.
* Do you want to make the bed up every day?
No – My vehicle has to be large enough to house a full sized bed that is permanently out (not folded up or used as a couch). I also want enough headroom so sit up and read.
* How will you go to the bathroom/take a shower?
Toilet – There has to be room for some kind of toilet. I’ve done the “running to public facilites” thing and I’m not doing it again on a daily basis. I also want something slightly more elegant than a 5-gallon bucket. At a minimum there has to be room to use a porta-potty. I have a few ideas for a better system that will be described in this website.
Bathing – Able to take a shower outside the vehicle (with a camping shower) and clean up inside (wipes or sponge bath).
* How will you cook/eat?
I want to be able to cook a decent pizza (and basically any meal I want). I want to be able to cook inside my vehicle regardless of the weather. This means I’ll need some kind of stove and oven. I don’t want to deal with a refrigerator so I’ll experiment with an ice box.
Computer, Internet, cell phone, hiking/camping gear, camera, some kind of small workbench and tools.
* Ease of set-up
Not much of an issue.
* Floor plan
Will depend on the vehicle.
I don’t like trailering so a self-propelled vehicle is preferable. I like smaller vehicles so the wheelbase-to-length ratio shouldn’t be an issue.
Based on my answers I think a highly modified cargo van or a very small Class C might work best for me. I need to do a lot more research though.
I can offer no advice on how to buy your vehicle. One tip I have read that sounds reasonable is to find out what the loan value for a particular vehicle is. You might want to contact your bank to get this number. This should be the most you’ll pay for that vehicle because that’s what the bank thinks it’s worth.
RV Consumer Group – Excellent resource for buying RVs.