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The Pros and Cons of Homeless Full-Time RV and Van Life

Charles is Section Chief at a psychiatric hospital and a lover of all things adventure. He is glad to be alive and can't wait for tomorrow!

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

2004 Gulfstream Amerilite MBLE

2004 Gulfstream Amerilite MBLE

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 van life videos. I thought, that might be the answer. After careful consideration, I determined that 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 with a Google search for RV dealers in my area. The internet is great for price comparisons. I found about 6 or 7 RV's 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.

My first choice was an RV from Trenton, NJ. It was a 2004 21-ft couples camper with a queen bed, dinette and full bath. The unit was CLEAN! No leaks or soft spots and was well-taken care of. The dealer was asking $4400, a little over my budget but this RV was NICE for the PRICE! I used this RV as my gauge when looking at other RV's in my price range.

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 Trenton 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.

So after making the deal, transferring the title and registering the RV, it was time to bring her home. I 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. In freezing weather, I have been leaving a faucet on 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 in order to have 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. 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 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!

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.

Now that the draft issue was handled, I purchased a mid-sized ceramic heater, I set the thermostat on it at 65 on the low (750 watts) setting and it pretty much keeps the RV at a constant 72 degrees no matter what the temp is outside. With these basic necessities out of the way, the only thing left to do was start living!

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. 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 blog 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 would be nice. I would like to have a bigger bathroom to stretch out in. This RV bathroom is big enough for handwashing and toothbrushing. 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

Questions & Answers

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!

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.

© 2018 Charles Kikas

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