The Imperfect Reality of Living In An RV – Van Life & Living On The Road
Before I get started, this blog isn’t to bash van life, living on the road or anything of that nature. I do truly love living on the road and getting to see and experience the beauty that the USA has to offer. But… it does have its downfalls at times. I just want to be real and honest about what its been like living on the road full-time for over a year. Also, to show the reality of living on the road that social media doesn’t show you. That being said let’s get into it.
Our 21ft 1977 Chevy Skamper
How it Started – Camper #1
A few summers back (2018) we started thinking about doing van life and bought our first camper. It was a 21ft 1977 Chevy Skamper (picture above) that we got for $650. We had planned to then travel across North America during the summer of 2019. It was completely water damaged so we spent weeks gutting it, redoing the insulation, the walls etc. After a few months of this we realized we were in over our heads and it was too much work to make the camper how we wanted. We ended up selling it and holding off on “Van Life” for a little longer. At this time James was still in the military, so we only had 3 months during the summer to travel anyway.
Since we were no longer going to travel in the van that summer, we decided to backpack around Southeast Asia instead. We made a small profit from the camper and were able to use that money towards our trip. Everything ended up working out because covid came the following summer and restricted international travel. James was also out of the military the next year (2020) which meant we were completely free to live on the road for as long as we wanted.
Our 3 month trip to Southeast Asia in 2018. A beach in Thailand.
Full-time Travel on the Road – Camper #2
Following our trip to Southeast Asia we decided to fully commit to living on the road full-time, but went a different route. While in Asia for 3 months, we kept talking about living on the road once we got back to the US. Since I love jeeps and didn’t want to give that up, we found a travel trailer that we were able to tow behind my Jeep Wrangler.
We had the trailer for around 9 months before going full-time but didn’t even last two months with it once we hit the road. We realized that the space was just way to small for full-timing and that we needed more storage. As you can probably imagine, working full-time inside of the camper was extremely cramped and cluttered. So we sold our Geo Pro 19fbs while in South Dakota to purchase a larger motorhome.
Our 2020 E-Pro 19fbs outside of Badlands National Park
Class A Motorhome – Camper #3
After going back and forth about what camper we wanted next, we went with a 31ft 2004 Winnebago Sightseer Class A motorhome. It had tons of living space and almost too much exterior storage. Plus we were able to tow the jeep behind it…instead of my Jeep towing a camper! We stayed at a campsite in Spearfish, South Dakota and did a complete renovation on it . If you want to checkout our RV renovation click HERE. In all honesty, we wish we would have gone bigger now looking back! A 36-38 foot diesel pusher would have been the ideal motorhome for us on the road.
We’ve been living on the road for a little over a year now. We’ve been through 3 different campers, and this RV is easily the best decision we made. I think we would’ve been miserable if we were still traveling around the country in that small travel trailer, and I am sure James would agree.
Camped outside of Las Vegas with our 1000w of solar on the roof
The Downfalls of Van Life – (Maddie’s version)
The hardest part for me about living on the road full-time is being away from my family. I am very close with my family, they’re my best friends and I’ve never lived away from them. At first I thought it would get easier, but as time went on it just got harder and harder.
I was lucky enough that my parents, and my sister got to come visit and spend a few weeks with me. It gave me something to look forward to when I left. I kept telling myself “only a few more months, weeks, days, till I get to see them. I can do this”. But once those trips were over and they left, all of those feelings of missing them came back.
I HATE not being able to call my sister and ask her if she wants to go the store with me, or get our nails done, or go out to get margaritas with her and my brother in law. Not being able to on a hike or go the gym with my mom. Not being able to hug my dad when he gets home from work or go shooting in the backyard and ride the quad with him. All of those little things that were part of my everyday normal life are now gone.
No matter how many times I call, text, or FaceTime them, it doesn’t get any easier. When I fly home for the holidays or special occasions, I cherish the time I get to spend with them and dread the day I have to leave again. Sometimes I question everything and just wanna stay home. But I have to live to my life and do what makes me happy. I’m constantly torn between traveling full-time and being home with my Family.
Especially now with my sister being pregnant, and having my 1st nephew coming into the world. This makes everything even harder for me. I know when he’s born, leaving is gonna be almost impossible for me to do. I’m gonna wanna spend every day with him, watch him grow up, be there for his first words.
– Anxiety & Depression
That being said, being away from my family made me fall into depression. I would pretty much cry myself to sleep every night or just have breakdowns at least once a day. Plus me having horrible anxiety on-top of the depression just made it all worse. All I wanted when I was having these breakdowns was to be home with my family.
Thank god for Hazel (my pup) she has helped me through so much of my anxiety/ depression while on the road. She could sense when I was upset and would be right by my side comforting me.
– The Excitement
Before we traveled full-time doing the “van life”, I would get so excited to go camping for the weekend and take road trips to new places. Now, that excitement has faded away for me. Don’t get me wrong, I do still get excited to go to certain places but it’s not like how it used to be. There’s just something about planning a trip, waiting all week for the weekend to come, packing up the car & camper etc. Now it’s just our everyday life, and theres no weekend getaway to look forward too as we always travel.
– The Campsites
There are tons of campsites along our routes but when you do this full-time, the cost’s adds up very fast. We like to “Boon-dock” most of the time. Boon-docking is just free camping usually on BLM Land or Forest land which tons of Van Lifers do. Some of the spots are great, whether its a grass field or a slab of concrete. Those ones I don’t mind. But, a majority of them in Cali, Arizona and Oregon are just spots in woods with sand and dust. Which if you know me and how crazy I am with keeping my jeep(s) clean, this drives me absolutely friken crazy. I clean my jeep just to have it filthy the next day. Not to mention how dusty the camper gets inside from us walking in and out and from Hazel tracking in the dust on her paws and toys.
Our Boondocking spot outside of Yellowstone National Park
There are 3 different apps we use to try to find campsites. They usually work great and we have no problems. But there has been a few times where we have gotten there and it was closed, or we get yelled at by park rangers who say we cant camp there. So you cant always trust the apps. Not to mention if you have what they consider a “Dangerous Breed” , some campsites won’t allow you to stay there… Jerks. Click HERE for tips on how to travel with a dog that’s on the BSL list.
– Getting Packages while Living on the Road
This doesn’t really bother me that much anymore, I feel like I’m just used to it at this point. When you live on the road and move around all the time, obviously you don’t have a home address to get your packages sent to. Thankfully we have figured out a way to still get things shipped to us. You can use Amazon lockers for Amazon packages, or you can get things sent to a post office as General Delivery.
If you stay at campsites, this shouldn’t be an issue as most campsites accept packages delivered directly to them.
The Downfalls of Life on the Road – (James)
– Space & “Home”
Most of my issue’s with living on the road fall in line with what Maddie has talked about. My biggest issue with living on the road is space and a lack of somewhere to call home. The camper is obviously our house but the space around our camper is never ours and is always temporary. It sounds dumb, but I miss walking to different rooms in a house, having a garage for motorcycles and a yard to enjoy and make our own. We generally never stay longer than 14 days in a spot, which means we are moving at least every 2 weeks. So as soon as a place starts to feel like home and are settled in, we are packing up to leave.
Grand Design Momentum 376th
If we were to start over completely I would have preferred a 5th wheel toy hauler as my number one choice. The Grand Design Momentum 376th (picture above) is the exact floorpan I would want. It has a huge kitchen and living room, with a toy hauler for a couple small motorcycles. They are the roomiest option possible for living on the road, and we could have a “garage” for motorcycles, a work station and a place for Maddie to work out.
Currently everything is in our living room… Maddie’s workout room, work area, kitchen, hangout area and everything in between. A 5th wheel would have really helped break everything into separate rooms and give us the space we need. I believe a 5th wheel would have truly felt like a home on wheels.
– Friends & Family on the road
This is not nearly as hard for me, as I am fine being on the road alone… but I do miss having friends and family around. Most of the people we meet on the road that are full-timers are usually 40+ with kids and sometimes even retired. It’s great to talk and chat with people we meet on the road, but haven’t made true friends that we would travel or go hiking with.
Sometimes I feel like an old retired couple or something because it’s just us and the dog in the RV. We are always moving to new spots and don’t know anyone to hangout with. It’s not the biggest issue in the world for me, but it would be nice to have people to meet up with in Colorado to go hiking/off-roading, or Florida to surf.
Maddie and I Hiking outside of Buena Vista, Colorado
– Camping and Boondocking Full-time
There are a few different options when it comes to camping and living on the road. The majority of people will just stay at campsites for a few weeks or even months. Some campsites are really nice and spread out, but the majority are old, overcrowded, run down, tight, offer no privacy and no amenities. We could spend $750-$1500 per month to stay at campsites, but that’s a steep price to pay for a small spot of land. Its not like we are renting an entire house for $1000 per month but rather a piece of land to park our house on.
This is why we choose to boon-dock 95% of the time, because its free (sometimes cost) and we have a’lot more space. Boondocking also generally offers amazing views of mountains or a river while campsites are usually in towns with views of buildings. A huge plus for campsites though is that they are generally closer to town, if not physically in the town center which is convenient.
Boondocking locations are generally 10-25 minutes outside of a town which is not a huge deal, but have had some spots 30 to 45 minutes from any store or gas station. While the privacy and peacefulness is nice for someone on vacation, as people living on the road this becomes annoying at times.
Boondocking 5 minutes outside of Mammoth Lakes, California. Great views and close to town
We generally will try to find a boondocking spot as close to town as possible. Even if the views are amazing at another spot 20 minutes farther down the road, we will opt for the closer spot. Boondocking spots are generally dusty, muddy, rocky and whatever other type of terrain you can think of. We have started staying at more state parks or county parks that are $5-$15 per night that are blacktop, closer to towns and are clean. It’s great too boondock, but we have realized that we do not want to boondock 365 days a year. We have found that we want to boondock when possible and convenient, but if there are no good options we would rather spend money on campsites.
Our Class A motorhome holds 70 gallons of fresh water. When we stay places for 2 weeks we have to be really conservative on our water usage so we don’t run out. We have to take short showers, use minimal water to wash dishes and don’t have any water to spare. We have filled our black tank before while boondocking which meant we couldn’t use the bathroom. Its inconvenient to drive 25 minutes to town and then back if we only have a day or two left in that spot. The small things add up and are certainly used to it by now, but it would be wonderful to not have to deal with all of them.
Our 2004 Winnebago Sightseer 31b
– Work Life Balance on the Road
My biggest internal struggle while living on the road is that I want to go hike and explore everything in a certain area for the small amount of time we are there. This has been an issue that has only started since living on the road. Before living on the road I worked 8-12 hour days in construction which meant I was tired and wanted to relax after work. I also lived in Bucks County, PA for 22 years and didn’t have a desire to go explore everyday.
Now I have too much freedom and time that I mismanage it. I started my own company when we hit the road so I know that my new company + living on the road goes hand in hand. Maddie and I run the website together and also work as videographers in a separate business. I often push off my work responsibilities such as this website, my YouTube and more to go have fun since we are in places a limited time.
Imagine trying to work when you have this view and only 1 or 2 weeks to explore the area. Impossible!
As I stated, we are generally in places for 1 to 2 weeks depending on what there is to do in the area. This leaves me with only a few days to go off-roading, hiking, walk around town and do everything I want. To do all of this, while running two business is tough. I know I am not great with time management, but I seem to often put exploring and having fun over my business. We chose to live on the road to see the world and explore, which is what I often tell myself.
We are also making more money than we ever have while only having to work around 20 hours a week, so I use that as an excuse to have fun. We could easily spend 1 month in certain places as we have before. The downside is that it would take us a year to visit just 12 destinations compare to us visiting 30+ that we get to see now.
Living in an RV – Camper Living Full-time
The entire point of this article is to show some of the struggles or changes that need to be accounted for when living on the road. Living on the road can have a bunch of different forms, as people live in vans “van life”, truck campers, Class A RV’s, 5th wheels, school buses and so many more types. The quality and type of lifestyle changes drastically depending on what you choose. Some people have been living out of small vans for 5+ years with 10 gallons of water inside. Others live in 40ft 5th wheels with 150 gallons of water, three AC systems, washer/dryer, 2 motorcycles and a massive kitchen bigger than some houses.
Our very small kitchen
A-lot of the little things such as laundry and washing dishes are something we had to get used to. Before living on the road we had a dish washer and laundry machine in the house which is something we took for-granted. Having to always hand wash dishes (James does them more often) and find a decent laundromat once every few weeks becomes time consuming. It’s not a huge deal by any means, but it would be a’lot more convenient to have a washing machine or dish washer.
Again, living on the road has so many different meanings. Some people move around every few nights while others might stay at an RV park for anywhere from 2 months to a year. RV parks generally have laundry, mail services, a pool, dog area, games to play and so much more. This can help with eliminating some of the issues we have discussed such as mail, laundry, water and dusty and sandy conditions while boondocking.
Off-roading outside of Buena Vista, Colorado
Living on the road is not for everyone, but I think more people can make it happen with proper planning. Some people don’t mind living in a van, while others are going to want a massive house on wheels. Some people are going to want to move around a’lot, while others take their time and stay put.
When you get to experience amazing destinations and live wherever you want to it at any time there is something special about that. We have been able to see more places and experience more things in the past year than most people will get to in a lifetime.
We have gone to 21 national parks, 20 states, driven over 25k+ miles and seen almost half of the United States in one year. This coming year we are heading to the east coast which will bring us to over 25 national parks and 30 states. We have done all of this while living on the road, creating our business, saving money and creating a lifetime of memories.
Thanks for being honest about the challenges that come with living in an RV. My wife and I have been considering van life for a while now and most of the guides you see make life out to be better than perfect. By the way, is that Thai beach on Koh Lipe? It looks familiar and Koh Lipe was our favourite island for beaches.