One day, a middle-aged divorcee decided to try out music festivals in her life. She had a great time until the morning after the first full night. At around 8 a.m. some campers a few spots down turned on, "Who Let the Dogs Out?", and things went downhill fast. She spent the rest of the festival sleeping curled in a ball in the back of a Toyota Yaris. That weekend, she decided that no matter if it was a cheap RV with no running water or power, anything was better than sleeping at a festival without protection from the noise.
Now, whether you are into camping, festivals, travel, sports or all of the above, there are things you need to know before you get yourself a cheap RV. These days, there are thousands of people who choose to live a cheap RV life instead of paying rent or a mortgage. It's easier now than it has ever been to check out of the grind of bills, rent, housing associations, and mortgages and start a life of travel and adventure. Here is the ultimate guide to living the cheap RV life.
Let's Talk About Why a Cheap RV Is a Good Idea
Before we get into the benefits of owning a cheap RV, let's define cheap RV. Today, we are talking about vans, old campers, trucks with camper caps, pop-up campers, and aged-RVs. Pretty much all the stuff that costs $800 to $8000. Moreso towards the bottom of that spectrum.
While we used to hear Chris Farley speak of, "living in a van down by the river" as a bad thing, that's not the case anymore. There is a fast-growing community of people who live in cheap RVs in the United States, and their numbers continue to rise. They are called van-dwellers. Because of technological advances, van dwelling has become a viable alternative for many. Now, you don't have to be ready to sell your stuff and move into a cheap RV to get some benefits from owning one.
Many Reasons to Buy a Cheap RV
There are many reasons to own a cheap RV. Hotel rooms are expensive, first of all. Festivals can be much more relaxing when you have some walls between yourself and humanity for sleep. And it's much easier to camp during those winter months when you have something a little warmer than a tent. It's far less expensive to sleep in a van than pay for a hotel at a ski resort. Even camping during the summer is much more enjoyable with something more substantial than a piece of fabric between you and the world.
Visits to family or out-of-town friends become much easier when you don't have to trouble anyone else for a place to sleep. Just think of all the extra traveling you can do if you don't need to worry about somewhere to stay. Long weekends at the beach no longer need to be a fantasy; they could happen every weekend if you stay in your little camper. Going to see your favorite band on the weekend is entirely an option, and you won't need to room with friends. Frankly, we can go on and on, but it's time to learn some stuff.
Top 7 Things to Remember Before You Get a Cheap RV
Now we will get into the good stuff and talk about some of the things you need to consider before you enter into the cheap RV life. First and foremost, whatever model of vehicle you get, find the manual. Haynes makes a manual for nearly every vehicle on the market. If it's a type of cheap RV that Haynes doesn't make a manual for, there's always the internet.
There are a ton of groups for van dwellers, and those are great for technical information, as well. And, yes, there's also an app for that. It's called Driftr, and it connects you with a community of van dwellers in real time.
1. Structural damage
In case you don't have one, let's talk about something you need to watch out for when you are shopping for a cheap RV. No matter what you are looking at, check it for structural damage. If it's a van or something similar, it's not as big of a deal as if you are looking at a pop-up or something with wooden walls. Check those particular items carefully for signs of leaks and damage from the elements. Beware if you see signs of damage because that can be incredibly costly to repair. Not only that, but a leak in the roof can eat away at the walls from the inside and that's never good.
2. Can you work on the cheap RV yourself?
It's time to be honest with yourself -- can you do the work that a cheap RV will require? Because let's face it, mechanical issues are going to arise and you need to be sure you can do the work. Either you need to know how to do it, or you need to know how to figure out how to do it. Not only that, but there are all sorts of things you can do to make the camper more livable, and it's way cheaper to do all that yourself. We already spoke about the manual, and that's important. However, consider how mechanically inclined you are before taking this leap. There won't always be someone there to help you in person.
Next, we will talk about something that's of utmost importance -- showering. Keeping clean on the road is vital, of course, and you have a lot of options. You can get a handy solar-powered camp shower, first of all. In the warmer months, you simply hang the bag outside full of water, and by the end of the day, it's ready to go. There's even a portable shower that will heat your water for you using a propane tank. But, that won't work for everyone.
Now you've got your shower, but you probably also want a little privacy. A portable shower tent will do the trick and double as a changing station and a place to put a portable toilet, should you have one.
If you aren't on the move, you can join a gym and shower there. Additionally, you can shower on the road at truck stops, city recreation centers, and some parks. In a pinch, baby wipes are always a good idea to keep in your kit.
Everyone loves to eat good food. There's no reason to purchase fast food on the road when it's so easy to make for yourself. A few cheap RVs might come with a stove on board. If that's the case, make sure you inspect it carefully before use. However, if you are in a cheap RV with no stove, you have options. Provided you have electric in the vehicle; you could even have a microwave.
First, a portable camp stove might be your cheapest option -- hook up some propane, and you're good to go. Secondly, there's always the option of hooking up your own little cooking stove, if there is room in your vehicle. You can also get an electric stove that doesn't produce as much wet heat as the propane stove would. There are also induction cooktops, single-burner gas stoves, and even a double-burner gas stove equipped with butane cartridges.
Use caution with your on-the-go cooking in your cheap RV. Chances are, your new ride isn't designed with the proper ventilation for cooking indoors. When you buy your cooking equipment for the road, always read and follow the manufacturer's recommendations carefully. Make sure you also have proper ventilation or take your cooking outside.
With all these options and the right combination of cookware, you can eat well no matter where you are. A lot of people build pull out tables with wind-breaks on them for a surface to do their cooking.
5. Cheap/free places you can park your cheap RV
Just so you know, campgrounds, where you have to pay, are not the only place you can park your cheap RV. There are a ton of other options; you just have to know where to look. We could easily do an entire article on just this topic, as it is pretty broad. However, here's the basics.
Safety first is always paramount. If you go to park somewhere and you don't feel safe -- you have wheels all you have to do is drive away. Secondly, let's talk about some places to park. WalMart is an excellent option for those of you on-the-go. Not every WalMart allows overnight parking, but there's a master list if you click here. There are other companies, as well, that will let you sleep there overnight like casinos, Cracker Barrels, and Cabellas -- make sure you ask them first. You can also pay to camp at a state park, of course. However, you can go into most federally owned land and park for free, and it's called "dispersed camping." For a guide on where to go, click here.
6. Electronics and lighting solutions
Ideally, your cheap RV will have a generator. After all, you're going to need some type of electrical power for your gadgets and when the sun goes down. If you aren't keen to spend on the gas or the noise of a generator is a problem, there are other solutions.
One option is to get a marine battery. Using a marine battery like this requires you to connect it to the engine's battery while the vehicle is running. For many people, hooking it up for travel time is a perfect solution. Click here to find out more. You're dealing with electricity here, so use caution. If you decide on a marine battery, read the instructions thoroughly and follow them. When it comes to electrical work, if you have doubts or any confusion, choose safety and leave it to the experts.
Secondly, solar panels are indeed a viable option, as well. Of course, compared to a marine battery this is more expensive. However, there are safety concerns with a marine battery as well as extra work required that don't exist with a solar system. There's a complete guide on how to set that up if you click here. You can also hook up to external batteries if you pay at a campground. Whatever you do, research this topic thoroughly and choose according to what you think you will need.
We already talked about the need for a certain level of mechanical skill. You will need a toolbox to go along with that. Because, again, you never know when you will need something when no one else is around. According to dummies.com, this is an excellent list to begin building your toolbox.
- Screwdrivers, both standard and Phillips head in several sizes
- Offset screwdrivers
- Screw holders: for holding screws in place with something other than your fingers
- Wrenches: check your car to see if you need a metric wrench or the American standard (most vehicles have a combination of both)
- Socket wrenches and socket extenders
- Combination wrenches
- Torque wrenches
- Adjustable wrenches
- Pliers: combination slip-joint pliers work well
- Guages to check air pressure, oil pressure, and water pressure
- Work light
Now It's Time to Hit the Road
And there you have it, folks, the ultimate guide to hitting the road in a cheap RV. There is a thriving community that supports your decision to hit the road, whether it's part-time or full-time. You can quickly find out where to sleep no matter where you are in the country and even reach out for help. There's a reason people choose to live this way all the time and that's because it's not nearly as difficult as you think it might be. And the freedom you attain to visit your favorite places without the expense of a hotel is priceless. Now get that kit together and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.