8 Reasons Not to Live in a RV

gas prices in SF are nuts

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.
2) Showering
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.

29 thoughts on “8 Reasons Not to Live in a RV”

  1. I’ve lived in both a college town and in Austin, both where I had a few friends who loved having me over to cook and shower occasionally and even park there for a while, so I’ve had it easy. I’ve also done a lot of pet/house-sitting lately too. I think we have solutions for all of those problems listed.

    1. Find a friendlier city for parking. Urban camo (make the rig look like a utility van); strip the graphics and get a cheap white paint job (or do it yourself).

    2. Make friends, a girlfriend, heat a pot of water on the stove for sponge bathing, propane water heater, and here in Austin, we have a public swimming hole (Barton Springs) with showers that is free after 9pm year round. The RV’s shower water can easily be routed to silently drain to the street; so can your piss, but it gets a bit rank in one spot for too long without rain washing it away (maybe I’ll route the shower to drain at the urinal drain spot).

    3. Yeah, cell phone amplifier antenna should boost 3G reception (4g amps for phones might exist now). Maybe start here: http://3gstore.com/solution/5_improve_3g4g_signal.html I think Verizon has better coverage, but Sprint’s LTE should be MUCH more effective than their WiMax.

    4. 12V Marine fridge, we’ve been over this, bro. Cookware is a cheap, dollar-store-cheap if ya need. Also, it’s nice to make friends that let you cook in their kitchen, cooking in the RV in summer is brutal. Guess you could cook outside with a tiny camp stove or at a public park grill.

    5. Curtains and tools don’t need to be bought online. Get a shotgun with pistol grip; I’d say pistol, but you do more cross-country travels in states that might not honor CC.

    6. Idk man, guess you have to commit to it a couple years before it pays for itself over rent. Lots of other non monetary benefits too.

    7. Meh, I guess you could save the AC, fridge, generator, and furnace if you can talk family into storing it. Hopefully you sold some of those items; you can afford to knock some off resale price.

    8. Wave catalytic heater; we’ve been over this too! In summers, migrate or seek out A.C. during the day (girlfriend, get a job, library, bookstore, cafe’s, …). Maybe get a small 400 watt A.C. and power it with a quiet Honda generator if it’s a must-have.

    You’re lucky to have a job you can work remotely with 🙂 Much love, Peter!

  2. well I was getting all bummed out til i realized you were talking about stealth urban rv living. i plan on moving to portland this fall and buying an rv to live in. i’m worried about the rain and water damage but i’m gonna do it anyway. i can’t take the minnesota winters anymore. and i hate being a renter and having people tell me i can’t have cats or have to pay extra, etc. (i own my own house which i am selling.) plus i am just SICK of living a traditional life, i think living in an rv will be an adventure. and maybe i’ll end up in a boathouse somewhere down the road.

  3. Sounds like you are living in the wrong RV brother. I have none of those problems with mine and it is a 35 ft bumper pull. Hot shower headed by gas or electric, stove, oven, refridge, so cooking is easy indoors or outdoors. The gas central heat will heat the rig cozy, and a single ducted a/c will freeze you out. An enclosed heated underbelly will take care of any frozen tanks or pipes. I have a confy queen bed, and a good bit of storage. Not bad for a keystone outback toyhauler. And I can use the toyhauler space for, storage, extra refridge, or whatever. Again, sounds like you should get another RV…. Just sayin.

  4. Been free in my “78” 25 ft Itasca in Portland for 2 years now. No major issues encountered. “Betsy” has been very dependable-10,000 miles and only have had to replace a fan belt-$4.77. Yes some people do not appreciate my life style,but for everyone of those,I encounter 3 who are supportive or just don’t really care,”A.K.A. tending to be cool and minding their own business. I do of course try not to draw attention to my self as much as that is possible in a 25 ft R.V. I dump my waste legally,there are places in Portland.I am fully self contained with batteries,propane. I can cook,shower.There are plenty of laundry facilities so there is no reason to be unclean. Yes parking can be a trick,but in the 2 years I have been doing this the police have not bothered me other than running my plates 2 times.Never been asked for my I.D. or proof of insurance,although I am completely legal in all departments. What I am saying is that if you are cool about it you can be free in your R.V. in Portland.But if your a jerk, and I have met a few of those,you are going to have problems.

  5. I just recently bought a 1978minnie winnie. I’m going to fix it up over the next 2 years. The motor is strong and in awesome shape. But it does have nearly 100,000 miles on it. The motor as well as the entire rv has been well maintained. With proper oil changes and tune ups. Could it go another 100,000 miles.

  6. I love the desert Southwest and have spent many years there…but I am trapped in Pittsburgh,Pa.UGH…serious medical situation
    However,I am leaving the ominous,year round cloud cover for Arizona RV life with my GSDog.
    I must say that the article is depressing..but I am gone.

  7. I hate to say this but the person who wrote the article sounds like an uncreative idiot. they’re all sorts of gadgets small miniaturized appliances that will do the trick for every need. You can park next to parks in cemeteries and if the city is and friendly you leave it and go to another one. The point right quality, quality. The whole purpose of an RV is that your setup of the fraud and extortion and the slave labor that you’ve become to fork over all your work to some fool. Thats why people live on boats and tree houses and cabins and barges in shipping containers and trash compactors all converted and off the grid completely.. I don’t know about you but if I can cut these clowns are these con man out from creating legitimate robbery which is sanctioned by the government for the likes of a few or 1% I would flip the finger at everybody hard and high and do it. I think the guy in the article is still trying to participate he has one foot in one space one place and one for another place that’s why he’s not satisfied. I think writer of this article has a big decision to make a different outlook to change otherwise just sell the RV get an apartment and jump back into the rat race.

  8. We are now on our second year of RV life. We have a 40′ Amercian Tradition pusher diesel and several dogs. The RV came with automatic heating controls, 2 AC Units and 2 heating furnaces, plus a dishwasher, washer drier, big bed, extra sleeping room up front, convection microwave, residential size fridge and freezer, 12000 kw generator, a vanity in the bathroom, electric and propane water heater, big closet, even a china toilet bowl and a ton of storage and multiple televisions and a satellite system and cellular alarm system. Its maintenance and repair costs are very low. We live in RV parks/resorts full time starting from 550$ a month, there’s a reason why it’s illegal to live on the street. I’m a car salemen, you dont need to be self employed, rich or retired, you just need to know what you’re doing. I plan on passing this coach onto my daughter this year and buy another one for myself, it’s not traditional living but no one ever said it was. You bought or rented a weekender and thats exactly what you got.

  9. i have a sunrader…..thawt about living in it…people call living in toyota sunraders living the toy life…its nice too read these comments about hard ship…nice to kno im not alone… God bless you all.

  10. Wow! I am really surprised at this article and sad to see your motorhome experiences have been so negative. Bummer! But, for those of you willing to read on, it’s not that way all the time. I agree finding a quality long-term place to park can sometimes be challenging but the fun is in the hunting! I’ve never had a problem showering because I conserve water whether I’m in the RV or not. I have mobile mi-fi on my cellphone so I never miss an email and I can surf pretty much wherever I want. I rarely eat out because I actually enjoy the challenge of cooking a nutritious meal in a small galley and I love the money I save doing it. I’m most puzzled by the paranoid comment? Campers are some of the nicest and most considerate folks on the planet so I’m just shaking my head on that one. I conceded their are expenses and repairs to an RV but then there are expenses and repairs to a stick-built home. Expenses in an RV are indeed lower than expenses for a properly maintained home. Regarding high/low temps, most RV’s today offer a “sub zero” package that provides greater insulation in roof, walls and flooring. Whether you’re in the north or the south of Florida, it’s worth every penny to have that. The savings over the life of your rig will more than pay for it. And, last is that nasty depreciation. Like anything on wheels, RV’s do depreciate pretty quickly but they level out pretty quickly as well. As with anything in this world, you get what you pay for so if you want cheap, that’s likely what you’ll get. I am neither self-employed nor wealthy but I decided I was going to have “ENOUGH” and be happy. And, I do thanks to my Dachshund road warriors! I’m sad your RV experience was so negative, but I hope it won’t deter other folks from getting out and trying it. I’m not on the road full-time yet, but when I retire … I’ll see you on the backroads! 🙂 Peace!

  11. When I read the first article, it makes me felt very hopeless, but after read most of others what they wrote, I think I will living in a RV some day. A major reason why I’m going to live in a RV because I don’t make enough money for monthly rent(about $950-$1000). Anybody may give me some idea how to buy a used RV or bumper pull? I am not a person can fixes car at all,it means I have to pay someone to fix if the car has a problem. I hope I could buy a RV or bumper pull that I don’t need to fix some problems right after I bought. Thank you!

  12. The Elks lodge will let you park for a small nightly fee. They also have a dump site to legally drain your tanks.
    Many casinos will let you park for 7 days for free.
    My hubs and I have an ’84 southwind. We moved in and decided to see this beautiful country and all our pals we’ve not seen in years. We and our dog are “Living before we die”. Safe travels, y’all

  13. In response to John D., you nailed it! I live in Austin and have a full size converted bus that I moved here with from Chicago. Basically, what you wrote is what I do everyday, including swimming at Barton Springs. The only trouble that I have had is landlords!! Ahhh! I hate them. What happens is you find someone that allows you to stay on their land, land that they rent from the owner. From my experience everything is fine until one day theres a leaky pipe, an electrical problem or general property maintenance that the landlords eventually come to fix. When they see that there is someone else on the property, and in a bus for that matter, then 9/10 times they generally get pissed off at not only you but their tenant as well. And then you get kicked out because the actual tenant doesn’t want to get evicted and because you have no choice from the owner. My advice is to find someone that owns their own land, tell them your situation and sell them on letting you stay there. Then you cut out the above situation from becoming reality. Once you’ve done that, don’t bring attention to yourself and avoid all authority figures and under no circumstance say that you live in it. Sometimes a small lie can be the difference between a small problem or a big problem. Just make sure you can back up your lie with small doses of truth here and there. An example, Cop: do you live in here? A: No, I just park it here with the land owners permission. Cop: Where do you live? A: I live at (Your best friends address that you can go to in crisis situations)

    There, a simple little lie just prevented you from incriminating yourself. Anyways, I hope part of this rambling was useful to you and keep the dream alive.

  14. Come to Texas, its perfectly legal to live in an RV and with your family. There are plenty of RV parks that will charge you by the month, electric and water is included, and there are more nice community of other RVr’s too. There are some parks that are a little run down or not kept but living this lifestyle has made it possible for us to not only choose the jobs we want but also save money. I don’t know anything about being rich but I do know that eating out every day isn’t going to save you money. My family and I live in a fifth wheel and we have to pay someone to move it for us seeing that having a truck that is capable of moving it, in our perception is expensive to say the least. As for mainenance, yes there is maintenance and it pays off in the end if you take the time to read your RV manuals and educate yourself on the home that you live in. You’ll find that the majority of the maintenance you can do by yourself. You’ll be surprised with the accomplishments you make too. We aren’t exactly off the grid but we’re not tied down to any town unless we choose to be. I feel that I have more of a choice in what town I want to live in. Some people aren’t meant to be gypsies, then there are those that know how to live like a Queen and King even though that castle is able to move to another location. 🙂

  15. I have a Ford Transit Connect, a small enclosed truck that is quite roomy inside. Plenty of space to sleep and store stuff… super easy to drive and park with 4-cyl economy. I livein San Diego… laws against sleeping in a vehicle, all that. But when the vehicle looks like a little delivery truck, you are under the radar.
    Places to sleep? Business hotel parking lots, like Marriotts and Hiltons. Golf course parking lots… lots of golfers are there at night to get a tee time early in the morning. All-night restaurant lots, like Dennys. Hospital parking lots, even if you have to pay a few bucks… there are always folks visiting the sick, staying overnight. And, parking lots by all-night supermarkets or pharmacies.
    Where to avoid? Here, along the beach… at night. But daytime’s are OK, and it’s also worth $100 for a year’s daytime pass to our state parks… many have showers; all have toilets… open at dawn, closed at sunset.
    Or, once a week, spend a bit on a motel room to get a good night’s sleep and shower. BTW, all the business-hotels have a free breakfast… as long as you look halfway-normal, eat up!

  16. Im sorry you have had such a bad experience. It doesn’t have to be that way. I have been living for about a year in a tiny T@B trailer(15ft!). Because my tanks are so small I tend to stay in rv parks most of the time. Prices vary, but I’ve seen it as low as $350 a month in NV with full hook-ups. I have heat and AC, a bathroom and a kitchen. Everything you could need. I started out with intentions of doing this while crossing country, but I loved it so much I stuck with it. It’s an inexpensive ecofriendly lifestyle.

  17. I too want to find an alternative to traditional living, mostly because I am sick of other people’s agendas, schedules, rules, and general b.s. (read: landlords, neighbors, neighbor’s kids, and roommates.) I also have pets and am tired of being told I can’t have them or that I have to pay “pet rent” to live in some hole that the guy’s dog before me urinated all over everything…there’s got to be a better way, so I’m exploring the net, too.

  18. I make what should be considered a healthy middle class income working for a municipality, yet won’t be able to afford rents in the SF Bay Area the way they’re skyrocketing. I would love to buy a van conversion rv that’s self contained, yet small enough and easy enough to park and live in on any street without drawing attention.

  19. Truly you have no clue where to go to live in an RV. There are parks for people with RV’s to stay and live in. It is a simplistic way of life. First you need to prioritize what you need and what is a want. Downsize, Downsize, Downsize. That is one of the best things someone can advise you on. That and organization. There’s so many places in California that you can go to. Some cheap and others really expensive. You have to look it up.

  20. I think it takes a little bit of resourcefulness to live in an RV on the street and enjoy it. Personally, I’ve had a great experience so far boondocking in Berkeley. I’m a student at UC Berkeley, and living in the RV is what has made it possible for me to attend school here.

    I try to avoid using running water in the RV, so I shower at the gym on campus. I do cook in the RV, but take my dishes down to community kitchens on campus every couple of days to clean. For drinking water, I just keep a couple gallon jugs in the fridge that I occasionally have to refill, also on campus.

    For electricity, I bought a good solar panel on Amazon, a charge controller, and a couple of 6V golf cart batteries, and that has worked perfectly to keep lights on to study with, and to power the DC control board on the fridge.

    Propane is something I keep filled, because I use it to cook, as well as to keep the fridge cold. It’s worth noting that a propane fridge requires both propane AND DC to work…so if you think you can forego electricity and still have a fridge, think again. It won’t work without juice to the control board (sadly).

    The single hardest thing about living in the RV is keeping it clean. In a small place, it doesn’t take long for it to look really unsightly if you’re not organized and diligent about cleaning up after yourself.

    I’ve been lucky to have no problems finding open wifi in multiple spots in Berkeley. And the police haven’t bothered me once. In fact, I’m on a street with 4-5 other motorhomes right now, and I met one of my neighbors recently – he told me that he has been parked in the same spot for several months and no police have ever bothered him or anyone else on the street.

    The key to living in an RV in the Bay Area and staying out of trouble is to keep a low profile, and not do things (like dumping your piss in the street) that would cause people to complain about your presence. If the police ever do come knocking, do not answer if they can’t see you. The city ordinance allows police to cite you for sleeping in a vehicle only if they can actually see you sleeping. If they can’t see you, they can’t cite you. All they’ll do is leave a notice on your windshield that your vehicle appears to be abandoned, and that you have 3 days to move it.

    I think that pretty much sums up my experiences so far boondocking in the Bay Area…let me know if you have any questions!

    1. Hi LivnLarge,

      Are you still living in Berkeley in an RV? I’m thinking about doing something similar, because it would save me thousands in rent a year while I go to UCB. How hard was it to find a street to park on? Is your RV really big? Could you give me some tips? I’d appreciate it so much!

  21. To many, RV living means freedom and flexibility and working around the challenges is worth it for the payoff of traveling and seeing new places. It def takes an adventurous spirit , and probably helps to be someone who is not too caught up with or reliant on technology. Full-time RV’ing appeals most to people who are at least somewhat outdoorsy and self-reliant, and those types are not usually looking to settle in a big city, as they can be problematic in multiple ways, and somewhat less welcoming. I sure hope your situation changes so that you can experience the fun side of it! Maybe just a bit of upgrading of your current power options and such will make it more enjoyable for you! Good luck!

  22. WOW, I GOT WORRIED WHEN FIRST STARTING TO READ THIS. I am 52 and definitely considering living in an RV full time. I was first looking into building a small small home, but the RV sounds better and I can change my geographical location whenever I want. I am looking for a simpler life, time to enjoy the journey and sites, and not be tied down to “stuff”. I am glad I continued past the first part of this article and saw the positive comments. Going to go this summer for a test run in a rental. Hoping in the next 2 to 4 years to be in an RV and living, loving life. Thanks for all the positives!!!

  23. Your experience freaked me out for a moment, but I paid attention and realized that your article was about living in the city in an RV. After reading the comments, I am even more determined for my husband and I to take our show called life on the road within the next two years!! I am researching and taking my time so I can make an educated decision on our future home on wheels. I am very creative and we are excited to live an unconventional life that is going to afford us the opportunity to work, live and travel all at the same time. I hope your situation has improved and you have found the joy and freedom that I am confident RV living provides.

  24. Been living in vans and motorhomes since the 60’s on and off have traveled all over the us in themexept Alaska.Had very little trouble anywhere.A few run ins with cops asking me not to park overnight but that wa pressure from businesses etc not the cops themselves usually.When outside cities I always looked for rest areas where usually tuckers stopped or even truck stop,etc. As a single father I had very little$ for motels etc so no choice. Being poor is no crime and most decent folk understand this, in fact many told me they have been there themselves so appreciate the situation and necessities. I have even lived on boats in Florida and the Bahamas but most people in their wealthy homes resent small boaters being close. I have no problem living this life style, gypsies have survived hundreds of years like this. If you are not well off financially you still have to live somewhere and somehow and most cops understand this. America was the easiest for this because it is a big and very mobile oriented country. THere will always be some mean people but you avoid them, most folks are not like that.

    It’s a great life if you know how to survive and are not too fussy.

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