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The Pros and Cons of Living Homeless Vanlife Full-Time

Charles is a US Army Cavalry Veteran from 1993-2005. He has served stateside in support of several missions throughout his military career.

The New-To-Me RV: My 2004 AmeriLite 21MBLE

Full Time RV and Vanlife

Full Time RV and Vanlife

How Did I Get Here?

Nothing in life has ever come easily for me. I say this all the time. It's true. I finally gave up trying to live a conventional life. Apartment, heat, electric, renter's insurance, water, and sewer in New Jersey were costing me $1,600.00+ per month. My monthly take-home pay was $2,000 per month. For all you math wizards out there, that left me $400 per month for a $378 car payment, $100 car insurance, food, and miscellaneous expenses. I don't know about you, but that system was not conducive to living a prosperous life. Every month was a juggling act to pay everything and feed myself and my loved ones. I had to come up with a plan, and quickly!

The Plan!

My plan was to find a way to avoid renting for 6 months until I could purchase a condo or townhouse which would actually cost less monthly than renting. This would allow me to save roughly $1500 per month. I had about $6,000 in the bank in October. I wanted to move out before November. I had about 30 days to come up with something. I spend a lot of time watching YouTube and had recently been fascinated with tiny homes and #vanlife videos. I thought either of these options might be the answer. After careful consideration, I determined that full time van life wasn't an option for me. I needed a shower and room to get dressed for work every day. I am a professional and require dress clothes in the office. The tiny home thing looked great, but required property, permits, and an initial cost that I couldn't afford at the time. What was I going to do?

$4000 Or Less For An RV?

The clock was ticking and I needed to find a place to live quick! Winter was coming and I had to find an RV in my price range, move all of my things into a storage space and go to work every day. This wasn't going to be easy.

My search for an RV started on Google with a search for RV dealers in my area. The internet is great for price comparisons. I found about 6 or 7 RV's for sale within driving range. What I wanted was something 23' or less. I wanted something I could tow behind my vehicle. I have a 4,000 lb towing capacity so I was limited in my choices.

I live in the Northeast. There are tons of RV dealers within driving distance. My search took me from Hamburg, PA to Trenton, NJ.

First Option

My first choice was a tow behind camper RV from the Trenton, NJ area. It was a 2004 21-foot couples camper with a queen bed, dinette, and full bath. The unit was CLEAN! The camper had no leaks or soft spots and was well taken care of. The dealer was asking $4400.00, a little over my budget but this RV was NICE for the PRICE! I used this particular RV as my gauge when looking at other RV's in my price range.

Second Option

My second choice was a 2006 23' RV in Hamburg, PA. This RV was listed as a "great starter camper" and the photos from the dealer looked great. They were asking $3,600 and I figured I could offer $3000 because it needed new tires. When I got to the dealer, this RV was toast. It was flood damaged and the entire unit smelled of mold and mildew.

After visiting two more dealers in the area, I decided that my first choice was going to be my best bet. Time was moving quickly and I had a lot of preparations that had to be taken care of before the big move.



My New Home!

Interior, rear queen bed

Interior, rear queen bed

Rear Bath, Mid Kitchen

Rear Bath, Mid Kitchen

Better Than Expected

Back to the Trenton area I went. I was able to purchase the 2004 AmeriLite 21MBLE by Gulf Stream for $4,000, $400 less than the asking price. The RV came with a new battery, new charge controller, electrical panel, power tongue jack, and a weight distributing hitch. These things alone would have cost me well over $1000.

Finding a Place to Park an RV

So after making the deal, transferring the title and registering the RV, it was time to bring her home. Living in the Northeast, most campgrounds close for the winter and weren't an option at this time of year. I really only had two choices of where to park my new home. The first choice was my best friend's yard. He had a concrete pad behind his garage that I could use. There was 15 Amp power, water, and a septic tank available. This location would increase my travel time to work considerably.

My second choice was my ex-wife's side yard next to the pool. This option had a 20 Amp dedicated power supply and water. My travel time wouldn't change so I chose this location.

NOTE: The "ex" has been really supportive in this whole ordeal. My surprise. I can't thank her enough. I am able to see my daughter every day now instead of every other weekend. There are many positive effects as well as negative ones in this transition. The biggest one is reinvigorating the relationship with my Daughter since the divorce.

OK, back to the story. Selecting the spot to park was important. I wanted something as close to level as possible and I didn't want any dead trees or limbs near or hanging over the RV. Location selection is important. I also needed to be close to the water/sewer and electric. I finally settled on a spot that was 100' from the water supply, 25' from the power supply, and 50' from the septic system access cover. Luckily the septic tank had an inspection hole that was an exact fit for my sewer hose! Very important. I purchased: 2-50' Camco drinking water hoses and insulated them with 3/4" foam insulation and Gorilla tape to prevent the hoses from freezing. When the temperature dips below freezing, I have been leaving a faucet running slightly to keep the water moving and prevent freeze ups. Only one freeze up in a month because I shut off the faucet by mistake. Duh!

Winter Living, Cooking and Simply Surviving

I really wish I could have done this in the Spring. It would have provided a little more time to prepare for the quickly approaching Winter. It is what it is. Initially, the RV was comfortable. 40 to 50-degree weather isn't too bad and I was able to keep the camper relatively comfortable. I started with two 30 lb. propane tanks and had hoped to use the RV's furnace as my primary heat source. I quickly found that this was going to get costly. The RV furnace used a ton of propane, was loud and ran constantly. The first time the temps dipped to below freezing, the furnace ran almost non stop overnight. The RV was drafty, the floor was freezing and the ceiling was HOT!

RV Skirting

Off to Walmart I went. I purchased a long, narrow carpet runner for the laminate flooring in the center of the RV as well as two smaller rugs for the entrance door and the bathroom. This helped my cold feet. Home Depot was next for 1" foam insulation board and Gorilla tape for skirting of the perimeter. I think its ugly but it definitely helps keep the floors warmer.

Portable Heat Source

Now that the draft issue was handled, I purchased a mid-sized ceramic heater. Don't waste your money. I set the thermostat on it at 65 on the low (750 watts) setting and it pretty much kept the area in front of it warm. The best heater I was able to find was a portable oil filled radiator heater. The heat provided was warm and steady. It was able to keep the RV warm in the coldest weather. With these basic necessities out of the way, the only thing left to do was start living.

Dining Out vs. Dining In

When I first purchased the RV, I told myself, self, you can just eat out every day. No need to cook in such cramped quarters. That idea didn't last. Expensive and unhealthy. I utilize Pinterest and YouTube daily for recipes and ideas to create RV and camping meals that can be made in the microwave, air fryer, panini press, or as a last resort, the tiny oven that came with the RV. Overall, cooking hasn't been a problem.

Showering Issues

My propane usage is minimal with the major use being the water heater which I keep on all day and night. I figure I will use less propane if the water stays relatively warm all of the time rather than trying to heat up freezing cold water. I do miss a decent shower, long hot showers are a thing of the past when you only have 6 gallons of hot water!

Pros and Cons

Well, I must admit, for being a first time, full-time RV'er, (I do camp in the Spring, Summer, and Fall but only a week at a time and usually at a camping resort.) See my other article for that story...How to Replace the Floor and Restore a Roof of an RV, Camper, or Trailer.


  • I do miss certain things. I miss long, hot showers, I miss four solid walls around me.
  • I miss my closet. I liked to hang ALL of my clothes in one place. I only have room to hang about 20 things now.
  • I miss having more space. I would like my RV to be a little bigger, a murphy bed and a slide out would be nice.
  • I would like to have a bigger bathroom to stretch out in. This RV bathroom is big enough for hand washing and toothbrushing.
  • The cost of propane to run the heater in the winter is ridiculous. Using a space heater was cheaper but not by much.
  • That's it! It's not all bad, I can live with it.


  • There is a great sense of freedom every day. I can hook up and be 24 hours away at the drop of a hat.
  • I'm saving a ton of money every month and that is a good thing.
  • I'm closer to my daughter than I've been in over 5 years. Blessed.

Things really aren't half bad. I expect to be a full-time RV'er until March or April 2019. At that time I will decide whether I continue like this or go back into a more traditional, brick and mortar lifestyle. Only time will tell. Until then, wish me luck and good fortune. I hope to see everyone again soon. C.

Here Are The Savings: The Numbers

RentingMonthly SavingsHomeless RV'ing

Rent $1250


Rent $0

Electric $100


Electric $25

Gas Heat $100


Propane $16

Sewer/Water $33


Sewer/Water $0

Renters Insurance $16


Renters Insurance $0

Total Monthly Savings $1455

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: So me and my husband pay $1534 for a one bedroom apartment. I suggested we buy an RV but we wouldn’t have anywhere to park it, we would be moving it around if we did this lifestyle. These numbers that you put were monthly?

Answer: Yes. Monthly numbers for the Northeast.

Question: So did you go back to brick and mortar?

Answer: Yes, I actually went back to brick and mortar on 5/18/2020. I don't know what to do with all the space. My financial situation improved and I decided to give it a go for the next 12 months. Winters are tough! Especially here in the northeast. Not a lot of options for parking with full hookups. Think long and hard before attempting full-timing. It definitely was fun and exciting when the temps dropped below freezing!

© 2018 Charles Kikas