It’s officially been two months now that we live in our new home. As you might expect, there are a lot of things to plan for while living full-time on the road. Many have asked a lot of questions so far about some of the logistics of our day-to-day lives. So today, I want to provide some insight on living in an RV full-time as a family of five.
Caption: On a cloudy day in Jasper, Danielle is playing LIFE with the kids.
Heat: Now that the weather is warming up, we don’t need much heat. But we rely almost always on an electric space heater for our heat whenever we are plugged in and have sufficient electricity. The space heater is pretty small but it has been strong enough to heat the RV during nights as low as 2-3 degrees celcius. When the temperature drops below that range, we need to turn on the propane furnace. So far in 60 days, we have probably had to rely on propane for heat for about 10 days or less. We have been lucky that we have boondocked on nights that were really warm and didn’t need heat. Our coldest nights so far have always been when we were hooked up.
Being pretty frugal in all the houses we have lived in, we have always gotten used to sleeping under pretty cold conditions. We never heated our house above 17 degrees in Winter overnight so that is our threshold in the RV. When we know the nights will be colder, the kids wear warm PJs and we give them extra blankets. I’m normally the first one up and make sure I turn up the heat slightly so it’s closer to 20 when everyone gets out of bed.
Cooking: We follow the same cooking rules as heating. When we have access to electricity we use it for cooking. We have a double burner electric stove, a kettle and an instant pot, which we use for most of our meals. For the time we have spent without electricity so far, we cook on our propane stove in the RV. When without electricity, we also use the propane stove to boil water to make coffee and tea.
Showers/Baths: We aim to bathe/shower the kids every third night. For the adults, we are flexible and sometimes take advantage of more showers when we have access to nice facilities. So far, we have almost always been at campgrounds with nice showers every time we needed them, so we have been able to shower the whole family except for Quinn in the showers. Quinn (two years old) is terrified of showers, so for now, we let her take baths. We use a Rubbermaid bin that we fill in our RV shower to give her a bath.
We have a propane powered water heater in the RV, however we have always done dishes with cold water whenever we camped before so we decided to stick to that routine. So we rarely turn on the water heater. To give Quinn a bath, we typically boil water with a kettle (assuming we have electricity) and that provides sufficient hot water mixed with some cold to give her a bath. Most campgrounds where we didn’t have hookups had sinks for campers to do their dishes. So we have used these to fill up a jug of warm water to give Quinn a bath. Soon she’ll be old enough to take showers like the rest.
For the few times we’ve had to all shower/bathe in the RV, it worked out. It just requires more planning. With a full tank of water, we could shower the whole family, however the tank is not full often, so we typically have to fill up before and after taking showers. When we turn on our water heater it surprisingly only takes about 20 minutes to heat enough water for one adult and one child to shower. So if we all have to shower, we just make sure we schedule what time everyone is showering. Also, after a full round of family showers, we have to empty the grey water.
Propane: So as you can probably tell, we are pretty efficient on our propane usage. We had two 30lbs propane tanks (60lbs total) installed right before our western Canada trip. It’s been 4 weeks now and are almost empty on the first tank. We can probably go two months without refilling them but we will likely refill an empty one the next time we are close to a spot that does.
Propane is not that expensive at around $1/lbs so that is not what makes us want to be efficient. I just rather limit the amount of times I have to find a propane refill store and unhook the tanks.
Electricity: Like I said, we have had access to 15amp or 30amps for nearly three quarters of our days living in the RV so far. But anytime, we haven’t had access, our new batteries and solar panels have provided plenty of power for our needs. Even with a night of steady furnace use, the batteries have never gone below 80%. And the solar panels have never failed to bring them back up to 100%. Even on days that are mostly cloudy, the sun still peaks through the clouds just enough to charge the batteries by the end the day. As I’m writing this, it’s been cloudy all day with no sun in Jasper, but the solar panels are still constantly drawing between 2-5 amps.
Laundry: We didn’t have the room to keep that much clothes when we moved into the RV so we were not sure how long we could go without having do to laundry. But so far, we have been able to go 7-10 days between washes. Every town and campground we get to, we search to see how close the laundry facilities are and if there is a good option, then it’s laundry day. If not, then we wait. Today, Danielle and Caleb biked 15 minutes into downtown Jasper to the laundromat.
Water/Sewer: This has been pretty easy to take care of. Every campground has access to water and sewer. And with a motorhome it makes it easy to go fill up or empty in between a stay if I have to. We have found many spots outside of campgrounds that offer free dumping and free drinking water on the iOverlander app. Surprisingly, I quickly got used to dumping our waste and it doesn’t bother me at all. I got the best sewer hose I could get at Canadian Tire, which makes sure nothing ever leaks and the process is as easy as possible.
Transportation: I’ve lost track of how much we have spent on gas so far but I will tally it all up when we get back to Ontario. We have been gasing up a pretty high prices but we have been getting better and better at handling all the hills so I think our fuel efficiency is getting better. I think under good conditions we are now getting 800+ km on 200L of gas. For any local travelling within 10km of the campgrounds we are at, we have been exclusively using our bikes and it’s been going great. Caleb bikes really well and can bike over 20km in a day. The two younger kids sit in a bike trailer that also has room for all our things. The trailer can sometimes be heavy to pull on hills and in trails so Danielle and I take turns pulling.
Internet: Since we have mostly been camping in national parks, we haven’t had access to much wifi. So, last month we upgraded our plan with Public Mobile to 10.5gb of data per month (along with unlimited talk and text). The plan is only costs $50 minus $4 of bonuses we receive for loyalty (being with them for one year), auto-payments and a referral. So we only pay $46/month and we have plenty of data for all our internet needs. If anyone is looking for a cell phone provider, I recommend them. Inquire with me about a referral code if you don’t already have one to get a $10 bonus. When we are at a campground with wifi, we download a few movies from Netflix and some shows for the kids.
Groceries: This hasn’t really changed. We pretty much eat the same meals as we used to. We make chilis, spaghettis, stir fries and all our regular meals. We always shop at big grocery stores to get access to all the items we need and get the best prices. We always plan our meals and groceries 6-8 days in advance so we avoid getting stuck needing something in a tourist town.
It hasn’t always been easy, but so far, the minor stresses and planning involved are much smaller than the regular maintenance/repairs, bills and overall headaches that we had from owning an actual house. We never have to pack or unpack. I never have to cut the grass. And my honey-do list of things to repair/check on around the RV normally gets handled in less than 5 minutes per week.
I plan on calculating all our living expenses at the 3 month mark and 6 month mark of living in an RV. I’m very curious to see what the overall lifestyle cost will be from living full-time in an RV versus traditionally living in a house. It will also be a good guide for those thinking of doing the same. As anyone who has followed us knows, we have been living on less than $30,000 of expenses per year. Although our financial situation doesn’t constrain us to this amount I’d like to see if that is still possible under this lifestyle.