November 2012 Addendum: I was having a particularly harsh week in SF with the RV with some huge unexpected surprises. Out of the eight issues I posted below, I would still say that the challenge of taking a shower and dealing with hot/freezing temperatures is still an issue. Freezing cold can be dealt with a propane heater, but the only solution for hot temperatures is not being in the RV or outfitting with one of those truck A/Cs. And all the issues become mute if you have good friends willing to let you use their place regularly. Parking can also be an issue if you live in a very dense city but otherwise fine. And no matter what city, you CAN find parking.
This week in San Francisco has been the true test of living in a RV. I never felt right trying to sell the Rialta before truly living in the RV in a foreign city where I don’t really know anyone nor have I ever been in the city before. San Francisco has been that test.
Boy, there are so many things I would change about the RV now. but I don’t have the tools, time, or shipping address to do so.
If you asked me today should you buy a RV to plan on living in it full time? My short answer would be absolutely not.
Actually, a lot of people live in vans and RVs in California. However, most of them adopted this life because they have fallen on hard times and don’t have any other choice. The local residents hate them and are trying to push them out. There are also a few hippies with old school buses or vans. None of these people are likely your target ideal to emulate after though.
In this short post, I want to go through the difficulties of living in a RV motorhome in the city.
1) City Street Parking
Most cities have laws making it illegal to sleep in a vehicle. SF recently passed a law making it illegal to even park large vehicles on the street (it hasn’t gone into effect yet). Then you have to handle the hassle of street cleaning and parking permits. All of which is to say, it’s a pain in the ass.
Fortunately, every city has streets that don’t have parking permit requirements. However, cities like San Francisco and Berkeley still have street cleaning and 72 hour abandoned car limitation where you basically can’t park for more than 72 hours in a spot.
Often times, there’s only a few prime locations with unrestricted parking allowed, and there are likely either far from downtown, in a residential neighborhood, or have high competition with local residents.
On the other hand, if you plan on living in a smaller city then this might not be a problem at all. I found easy parking in Seattle and Portland. I knew spots in downtown Orlando that I could have parked indefinitely. The same applies to Philadelphia and Boulder. However, if you want to try living in a large, dense city like San Francisco, Boston, or Chicago, you will face a lot of challenges.
Taking a shower in a Rialta has two problems. First, you will quickly fill up your waste tanks and have to dump them. Second, you don’t get any hot water without running the generator or being plugged in. Running the generator is an obvious sign that you’re living in a motorhome and should be avoided. My solution was to sign up for a cheap gym membership at Planet Fitness as well as have a good reason to workout. But it’s a pretty big hassle taking a half hour bus ride to just take a shower.
3) Poor/No Internet
I’m still working full time and require a solid internet connection. Often times, I have to work as early as 6am. But Sprint’s 4G coverage is fickle and I’ve only been able to get a poor connection in SF.
Another option would be going to cafes or coffee shops. Only problem is their store hours, possible lack of seating, and loud customers/babies.
Another option would be hijacking a local router’s internet. It’s pretty simple to crack a WEP secured router and somewhat possible for the more common WPA routers. In a big city though, you’re bound to find at least one WEP router.
A final option would be to signup for a co-working spot however these usually run several hundred a month and kind of defeat the cost savings reason for getting a RV.
Another side solution would be getting a Wifi or Cellphone antenna.
Or if you have a friend or parked near a cafe then you could leech their internet. Or maybe your phone carrier has good 4G coverage that you can tether to.
4) Having to Eat Out
I’ve been eating out this entire past week, and I’m already sick of it. Of course, I could cook food inside the RV, but I didn’t bring any cooking utensils with me, and the default RV refrigerator operates with propane gas on only completely level ground. Not to mention I don’t want to alert others of my presence.
This could be easily fixed though with a efficient DC refrigerator ($600) and a few cooking pans.
5) Being paranoid
Someone robbed my RV in Portland. And since it’s technically illegal to live inside of a RV, I’m very mindful about making any noise or turning on lights. A solution would be putting up blackout curtains but again I don’t have the tools or shipping address to do that now.
My first night in San Francisco, I laughed at the absurdity of trying to sleep and being highly alert at every sound and light that came up. Just the act of trying to sleep was suddenly such an exciting experience.
6) The Expenses and Repairs
Getting a RV to full time boondocking state costs a lot of money. First, there’s the solar panels. The DC refrigerator. And just the general upkeep costs of a motorhome. Every single person I know who has gotten a RV ended up having to pay at least a thousand dollars in repairs within their first year. Broken transmission, axle, engine, or whatever. Motorhomes cost more than a house to fix in some regards because things are just more likely to break faster and sooner.
Of course, if you don’t move your RV very often then you may not end up with any problems.
One solution would be doing a very close inspection of the motorhome before purchasing. Is there rust? Has the transmission been rebuilt? If you can take it to a good mechanic (I only found one in California) then all the better. But realize, unless you plan on living in the RV for a very long time (1 year+), it would probably be cheaper to just rent a place.
7) The Absurd Upgrading Depreciation
The target audience of RV buyers are retired couples or camping people. They want the A/C, the generator, the old school refrigerator. They dislike any upgrades you do for full time living like solar panels. Although you may spend thousands in upgrading your home, all the potential buyers will only see it as less valuable.
8) High and Low Temperatures
Below freezing, and your water pipes will be frozen. Above 75 degrees in the sun, especially in high humidity), is unbearable. A furnace could make winters possible, but there’s no solution for high summers except moving to a cold place.
Now, there are some easy ways to get around these challenges though. These are the ideal conditions:
1) You should already be self-employed or just plain wealthy. My original plan was always to go freelance first and then buy the RV, but somehow, I ended up doing the opposite. Now, I often think, I would rather be working for my future right now rather than sightseeing or trying to handle these random living problems. Things are a lot easier when you don’t have to adhere to anyone else’s schedule.
2) Live in a nearby city where you have family and friends. Ideally I should have first experimented by living in the RV back home on the North East coast so I could make modifications as they became necessary. Now, I’m stranded hundreds of miles from anyone I know and feel comfortable staying at for extended amount of time.
3) Rent a parking/living spot. If you can rent a spot somewhere then most of these problems go away instantly. Maybe someone will let you park in their driveway, be plugged in, and use their bathroom. Then you could run the coach A/C in the summer just fine and never have to worry about parking. There’s no reason to be paranoid, and you got just about everywhere you need including internet and a shipping address. Good luck convincing a stranger to let you do that though.
4) Live in a small town or camping in the woods. You won’t have most of these issues.
Having said all this, I know I would have been miserable if I had never done this trip. It’s been on my mind for over a year now so I’m happy I did it. In some weird ways, I feel like I’ve changed, and I’m free to move on with my life. In a future post maybe I’ll cover the pro side of living in a RV.