RV living has many perks: Travel, freedom, exploration, and the ability to save money. But, there are certainly some downsides to life on the road while in a camper.
So, let’s take a look under the hood: Here are the nine worst things about living in an RV.
#1. Everything Breaks… Eventually.
Regardless of whether your RV is a vintage fixer-upper, or a brand new vehicle fresh off the lot, everything will break.
Caulking around the windows will dry out and lead to unexpected leaks, screws in furniture come loose due to too much movement on the road, pipes will spring leaks or need repair- It’s just the nature of the beast.
All RVers go through a learning curve on how to maintain- and then repair- their camper. As it’s often said: It’s not a matter of if something will break, it’s a matter of when.
So, if you’re getting ready to live in an RV, make sure you have a good tool kit in your camper; You will need it in the not-too-distant future.
#2. Gas is Expensive
RVs are notorious gas guzzlers. Satisfying wanderlust by travelling in an RV is often an expensive proposition, so make sure to calculate and include the new cost of gas in your monthly budget.
Class A and Class C RVs are similar in the size and weight options, with the average mpg for both ranging from 8 mpg to 25 mpg. Class B camper vans have slightly better gas mileage due to their smaller size and weight, averaging between 10 – 25 mpg.
So, before you pull out the map and head out on a road trip, take the time to calculate the approximate costs of fuel for your adventure!
#3. Space is Limited
Living space is limited in most RVs. And the more people that hop aboard, the smaller the space can feel.
Whether RVing as a duo, or with kids, travelling in a small space for long periods of time can grate on even the most malleable of personality types. So, in order to combat irritability and bad vibes, it’s important that everyone has their own space: And area to go to for some “alone time”, or a way to step outside of the RV and take a break.
Having the ability to get away for a little while and decompress helps maintain relationships, and gives everyone some much-needed breathing room. Little places to escape (temporarily) can include the upper bed (if the RV has one), the back bedroom (in larger RVs), going outside for a walk, go outside and sit on a campsite’s picnic bench, go for a swim, take a hike, or lounge on the sand if at the beach.
RVs are small, but they also provide access to some great mini-getaways!
#4. Weird Smells
There’s no avoiding it: RVs can emit some weird smells. Most commonly, the culprit comes from plugged up sink pipes, degraded washers in the pipe systems, mold growth, and worst of all, the black tank.
Pipes under the kitchen and bathroom sink can easily develop buildup, and fill with hair, food particles, and anything else travelling down the tubes. If not cleaned regularly, the buildup thicken inside the pipes, and create some rancid smells. To clear out the pipes, I’ve found that the all-natural Green Gobbler liquid clog cleaner takes care of the worst pipe smells.
Degraded rubber washers attached to sink pipes can also cause quite the caustic smell. Openings in the pipes of an RV- left by worn out washers can pick up smelly air from the old pipes, or even the sewage system. If you have a sewage smell invading your RV, but can’t find the culprit, make sure to check areas like underneath the sink. Check all the washers, and replace when needed.
Mold growth in RVs is a big problem, and make the house smell mildewy. Beyond the unpleasant smell, mold growth is both common and dangerous. If you start smelling something reminiscent of soggy socks, examine your RV for mold, and remove it as soon as possible.
Lastly, black tanks are a nexus for bad smells in an RV. Since the sewage tank is resting underneath the toilet, and depending on the tank size- can hold up to 40 gallons of human waste- black tanks, and toilets can sometimes carry awful scents in the air.
This is especially true when driving down the road with a full black tank: Air catches and carries the sewage scent throughout the RV… it’s an immediate reminder to dump and rinse out the tank!
Toilets themselves, need frequent cleaning as well, to keep gross smells and sewer flies at bay. A little daily cleaning can ensure you avoid the worst of an RV’s smelly toilet issues.
#5. RVs Are Hard to Drive
The bigger the rig, the bigger the learning curve. Driving an RV requires practice, as they differ than regular vehicles in a number of ways. These differences include: Shape, length, weight distribution, brake functionality, turning radius, and visibility.
Class A and Class C RVs require the biggest learning curve, as they’re much different than regular vehicles. Class Bs (camper vans, and van conversions) require less, as they’re modified vans; Many even fit in regular parking spots! To learn more, check out, “Are RVs Hard to Drive?” for a full rundown on driving a rig.
#6. Unreliable Internet
Internet access is one of the most important creature comforts to have while RVing. And depending on where you’re travelling, internet access can also prove the most difficult obtain.
If staying at a campsite, WiFi may be provided, but if travelling off grid, or in isolated areas, getting internet service typically requires something like a weBoost wifi booster that increases the signal for those exploring roads less travelled.
There are plenty of options for doing laundry while RVing: Laundromats, installing a mini washer/dryer combo, energy-saving washer/spinners, or even foot or hand-powered on-electric washers!
For city-dwelling, laundromats are a great option; They’re convenient, just don’t forget to bring change!
But, if you’re not fond of parking in a lot and waiting a couple hours for your laundry to get finished in a laundromat, there are so many other options to choose from- for a full rundown of all the many ways to do laundry in your RV, check out my post “Off Grid Laundry: RV Washer and Dryer Sets” here.
#8. RV Parking + “Cop Knocks”
If you’re not staying in an RV park, living in an RV or converted van is illegal in most of the United States. And if you’re planning to lay low in the city, know that it comes with the risk of being spotted, or reported, to the cops. When you get on their radar, you might be the unlucky recipient of the dreaded “cop knock”.
Cop knocks often occur late at night, sometimes very early in the morning, and this is due to a couple reasons. First, staying in an RV during daylight hours is largely ignored by the public, but once the sun sets, people get more suspicious. Neighbors don’t know who’s inside the strange RV parked near their homes, shops, or public streets, and can feel uncomfortable.
Police are called, or they spot the RV themselves, and normally will give the ol’ “cop knock” to those they think are inhabiting the vehicle and/or sleeping overnight in the RV- both of which normally go against local ordinances.
Although police typically just ask RVers to leave the area, they can also dole out a ticket, and if it’s a particularly bad night, an arrest might ensue (this is uncommon).
There are a few ways to avoid this situation:
- Get a stealth RV like a non-descript van conversion- If it looks more like a plain work van, city dwellers are less likely to pay you any mind
- Arrive to a sleeping area at the latest possible time, and leave early in the morning
- Stay in public parks or the beach during the day; Find parking in a totally different area as to not draw any unwanted attention
- Stay in more rural, off-grid, less populated areas
#9. People Think RVers are “Homeless”
If you’re new to RVing, this one may come as a surprise: Once you leave a traditional dwelling for life on the road, many people- friends, family, co-workers, strangers, and law enforcement- will consider you “homeless”.
While there are certainly those who find themselves in difficult economic times, are forced to leave their sticks-and-bricks home and move into an RV, there are plenty of others who choose RVing as a lifestyle. But no matter the reason, polite society still stigmatizes the more nomadic among us.
For RVers, it’s often said: We’re not “homeless”, we’re “houseless”. And while we might not convince everyone that an RV is a home, we enjoy the freedom RVing brings nonetheless!
Living in an RV comes with its own set of obstacles: Frequent repairs, limited space, odd smells, laundry considerations, and- sometimes- the stigma of being “homeless”.