Life in the RV

We have been home now for a few weeks after our snowbirding trip to Arizona in our RV. We did not know what to expect, but after living in the fifth wheel trailer for two months I have some thoughts on how it worked out and what we might do differently in the future.

I have looked at many tiny and small house plans, and fun shed ideas online. I am always interested in reading about people who sold their houses and moved into a tiny home on wheels, are full time RVers, or are living with a smaller carbon footprint. I was never thinking about living in one for my main residence, but they are just so cute and would make a nice guest house or she-shed if one has unlimited funds. My husband says he would be happy living in a very small home permanently. I like the concept, but the problem is where would I put all my yarn and fiber stash and craft supplies? In addition to needing more space for my stuff, I spend more time inside than he does and there is something to be said for having some private space. For us, the RV is a way to live smaller on a part time basis.

In preparation for our winter trip to Arizona I had to think carefully about what clothes would fit in the RV. I packed a basic mix and match wardrobe including a limited number of long and short sleeve tee shirts that could be worn alone, or layered under a hoodie sweatshirt or polar fleece pullover, with navy blue shorts and pants in various lengths for warmer or cooler weather. There were also a couple more pairs of shorts, hiking pants, a quick dry wrap-around skirt, and two swim suits. I brought a few more clothing items and accessories for variety and in case we needed to get “dressed up”. I never wore the tee shirt dress, although the weather was starting to get warmer and I might have if we had stayed longer. I might as well have skipped the linen collared shirt, the cashmere sweater, and the cotton fashion scarves. We never went anywhere that required anything other than the most casual clothing. And it was cool enough in the evening that I needed layers which would have covered up a nicer outfit anyway.

You have to be vigilant about putting things away in the RV. It is easy to slack off and end up with clothes, jackets, and shoes laying around, dirty dishes piling up, and paperwork scattered around. I had places to keep all my clothes, but sometimes Wayne tossed clothes and shoes in the corner behind his recliner chair, which was not a good system. I am not sure if he was being lazy and not putting things away, or whether he did not have any other place to put them.

It hardly takes any time to clean in the RV. We brought a small stick style vacuum cleaner that comes apart into a hand vacuum. Making the bed turned out to be a bit more of a chore than I was expecting. There is space on each side of the queen size mattress, and even my six foot tall husband can stand up at the end of the bed. However the head of the bed is over the truck bed and one cannot stand there, so you have to lean way over in an awkward way to get the corners of the sheets on or to adjust the blanket and bedspread. In addition, there are night stands and cupboards butting up against each side of the mattress which are very useful, but also make it harder to make the bed.

Making the bed is not as easy as I expected

Some bigger RV’s and motor homes have a washing machine and dryer. We used the laundry room at the community building. Sometimes on laundry day I looked like Santa Clause walking a few blocks over to the building carrying a big bag over my shoulder. A few times if there was an especially big load I used the car.

I brought a travel size iron but I only used it once. A couple of times I wore something wrinkly rather than bother with the iron. There are ironing boards and irons at the community building laundry area, so that is an option if I decide not to bring the iron here in the future. However it does not take up much room so I might as well have it available.

When we were looking at RV models and floorplans, one of the features I liked was a fireplace. They are fake electric fireplaces, but still provide ambiance, and throw out some heat. When we found the slightly used RV that met our criteria, it did not have a fireplace. In the spot where the fireplace would have been was a cupboard. I was disappointed, but we found out that you could install one later. Wayne thought a fireplace was unnecessary, but I knew that I would use it and enjoy it. I conceded that we should wait and see how badly we needed that cupboard space before deciding to replace it with a fireplace. While we were preparing for our first time using the RV, Wayne watched many YouTube videos with tips for setting up and using the trailer. One of the suggestions was to have an electric space heater in the RV, since we would be hooked up to electricity at the RV Park, and then we would not use up the propane as quickly for powering the furnace. Both electricity and propane cost money, but when the propane tank is empty it is more of a chore to get it refilled. In this light, the electric fireplace became a practical useful feature rather than a frivolous luxury. We did bring two space heaters that we used regularly. We also used the cupboard space where the fireplace would be if we had one. Maybe Wayne needs that cupboard for some of his clothes.

In the next photo you can see the cupboard under the TV where the fireplace would go if we had one.

There are large and rapid temperature swings in Arizona inside and outside the RV. It can get down in the 30’s and 40’s at night. We turn on the space heaters in the morning to warm the place up and take the chill off (or if we had a fireplace I would turn that on!). Then only a short time later the temperature outside is warming up, and sun shining in the windows starts to heat up the inside of the RV so that we have to open the windows. By mid afternoon on a warm day it is starting to bake inside the RV, especially in the bedroom. After only a few hours of slightly too warm air inside the RV, it starts to cool off rapidly outside and we are closing the windows for the night. There is an air conditioner but we only used it a couple of times near the end of March when the daytime high was 90 degrees.

Wet bath towels, beach towels, swim suits, and dish towels dry very fast in the desert climate, in contrast to more humid summer weather at home when your beach or bath towel is often still damp the next time you want to use it.

When I was outfitting the RV kitchen, I had to imagine what items were most important and useful given the limited cupboard space. We had some obvious things already on hand from our old house such as a toaster, coffeemaker, and kitchen utensils. Other things I was not sure about. I brought my old hand mixer, because what if you want to make a cake? I never used it. I brought two flexible silicone baking pans from my old kitchen. Only one can fit in the oven at a time, and they are kind of too floppy for some things. I may swap one of them out for an aluminum 9×9 pan that could be used for a small cake or bars. I also wished I had a lid for the frying pan, so I will look for one before the next trip.

At home we have two refrigerators, one in the kitchen and one in the basement. The basement fridge has backups of products I don’t want to run out of such as milk, butter, and orange juice, bulky produce that I am not going to use right away, whole wheat flour that is supposed to be refrigerated, and Wayne’s stash of soda and beer. The RV fridge is eight cubic feet which is a decent size but small compared to the cold storage space we have at home. I cannot stock up on anything in the RV. Also, there is not enough room in the refrigerator and cupboards for all the condiments and seasonings I keep on hand at home. The counter space is limited, so it is best to keep the cooking simple. Fortunately there is a nice full service grocery store only one mile away.

At home we usually leave the butter dish out on the counter. On a warm Arizona day in the RV you cannot leave the butter dish on the counter unless you want melted butter for a recipe.

Counter space for cooking in the RV

There are orange, lemon and grapefruit trees in the RV park. Sometimes people will pick some fruit off a tree at their site and put them in a box on the side of the road for the taking.

Fresh Arizona grapefruit

The first time we came to Gold Canyon Golf and RV Resort two years ago we drank the water from the tap with no problems. The second year we noticed that everyone was filling plastic gallon milk jugs with purified water from a machine for a quarter, so we started doing that too. It was kind of a hassle to have to keep going over to the main building almost every day and lugging the gallon jugs back to our unit. This year I bought a Brita water filter pitcher which worked great. We filled that from the tap in the RV and always had filtered cold water on hand. I am not sure if there is really a problem with the water directly from the tap, but it makes sense to have the pitcher for future camping trips when we won’t know the status of the water.

Our Canadian neighbors in the RV park had a smaller size Coleman grill that runs on a one pound propane tank, and collapses for storage. They showed it to us while cooking some shrimp which looked delicious. After setting the smoke alarm off in the RV twice, we decided getting a grill was a priority. We bought the same one as the neighbor at Camping World. After Wayne had assembled it, it was clear something was wrong as it was leaning over to one side. It seemed like maybe one of the parts was wrong, which resulted in another trip to Camping World. It turned out to be user error after all. I neglected to get a photo of the grill in use after Wayne got it assembled correctly.

While in the RV it feels OK to spend more time relaxing. I have some regular activities I do on my computer whether at home or in the RV, such as blogging, updating Quickbooks accounts for my yarn sales and the extended family cabin, as well as other duties for the cabin. I also have my knitting and craft projects. At home there are endless other chores and tasks to do inside and outside that I could or should do. It is easier in the RV to not do anything for a few minutes, or just enjoy some time knitting without feeling like I should be doing something else. I brought a deck of cards and a travel size cribbage board. I am not surprised that we never used those either. My husband does not like playing cards, but we had extras at home so I figured they might come in handy for future guests. Wayne enjoyed his morning coffee while sitting outside the RV almost every day.

Wayne relaxing outside the RV

One of the main reasons for going to Arizona in the winter is to be active outside, or just go outside without fear of slipping and falling on the snow and ice. We used our bikes and hiking boots on a regular basis, and on warmer days swam in the pool, and relaxed in the hot tub. Wayne played a lot of golf. I went to a morning water exercise class once at the very end of our stay when it was finally warm enough for me. I liked it and would go again, except that most of the time we were there it was too cold for me at 9:00 or 10:00 am when the classes were held.

One of many hikes in the Phoenix area
Biking in a residential neighborhood near the RV Park
Pool time

We were lucky to have a visit from our daughter, and later from our son and his wife.

A visit from our daughter
A visit from our son and his wife

I had to plan ahead what knitting and other projects I might want to work on so I would not run out of projects (that would be terrible), and so I would have some variety and choice. For each potential project I also had to bring any necessary supplies or tools. I did not bring my rigid heddle loom which turned out to be a good decision. I brought yarn and patterns for socks and baby sweaters, as well as the potholder loom and stretchy loops. I spent most of the time we were away from home working on one pair of socks I started in the car on the way. I brought more supplies than I needed, but I knew that I would want options.

I worked on this one pair of socks for most of the time we were gone
Yarn and supplies I brought to Arizona

After we were in Arizona for one month two years ago, we encouraged Wayne’s sister Marlene and her husband to come to Gold Canyon too. Based on our recommendation they came last year for one month. This year they came for six weeks, but only overlapping with us for two weeks of our two month stay. We have both put in our reservation requests for three months for next winter. That is because we do like this experience a lot, because winter in Minnesota was especially severe this year, and because it is hard to get a reservation. If you request three months, you are more likely to get a spot.

So different than at home

The RV refrigerator can run on the battery which charges when you are towing it behind the truck. I had envisioned that we would be able to leave food in the fridge, and also use the RV instead of hotels, on the way to and from Arizona. It turns out there are a couple of problems with that during colder months. For one thing when the two living area slides are retracted, you cannot access the refrigerator. More importantly, the RV water system needs to be winterized when you are not using it if the temperature might go below freezing. Our fifth wheel was winterized when it was sitting at home in the winter before we left for Arizona, during the journey through cold states to get to Arizona, and again before we left Arizona to head for home. Also, campgrounds are only open in the summer in the northern states. At another time of the year we could stop at campgrounds or truck stops while en route to a destination, open the slides and use the water. However some of the camp grounds are almost as expensive as a no frills hotel.

The next morning after we got home Wayne had to drive to Minneapolis to catch a flight for a four day trip. He was planning on dropping the RV off at the dealer on the way, as they had told us we could leave it there for six weeks until a scheduled maintenance appointment. This was a good plan since the spot where we would normally park the RV at the side of our driveway was buried in a big drift of snow. Unfortunately the next morning it was very icy on the road near our house, so instead Wayne left with our other car, leaving me with no transportation. The RV was still attached to the truck in the middle of the driveway. Wayne left me a note on the counter “do not move the truck since the RV stabilizer feet are down”. Um, no way would I try to move or drive the truck with the RV attached. As it turned out, I did not really want to go anywhere since we ended up having three days of mixed precipitation with 30 mph winds. It is nice to be home again, but the weather reminds me why we went to Arizona in the first place.

I can remember recent winters when I hardly ever wore my boots or warmest jacket, but this year was brutal. Last April when we got home there was not any snow left and the lake was open. We helped with the family maple syrup harvest in shirtsleeves. This year the lake is still frozen and the weather is wintery. That can be beautiful too.

The truck and RV blocking the driveway back at home
Winter is pretty too
The lake is still frozen

Published by Meg Hanson

Hello. I am a recently retired empty nester. My husband and I moved to Jewett Lake in Otter Tail County, Minnesota, after living most of our lives in the Minneapolis area. I have no trouble keeping busy with knitting and spinning of wool, selling yarn and handmade goods, reading, walking, watching movies, surfing on the internet, traveling, doing bookkeeping for our family cabin, and spending time with family.

24 thoughts on “Life in the RV

  1. Very interesting post! It sounds like you did very well with your planning and that you enjoyed your time in Arizona. That grapefruit looks really good! It is hard for us to be active sometimes during winter, too. Did you miss winter weather? And I also wondered about Wayne and his clothes behind the recliner – does he put his clothes away at home? Thanks for sharing your experience.

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      1. Thank you for your comments! The posts about my projects are a lot easier to write, but I understand they are not as interesting to everyone. I will have a post coming up about shearing day that I think people will like.

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    1. We got quite a bit of winter before we left, and more when we got home. And tomorrow we are supposed to get 1 – 3 more inches of snow, so no I did not miss it!! Wayne is messy at home too. Fortunately, we have big enough closet but he just piles stuff on the floor there too.

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  2. Meg – This was so fun to read! I think that is a great way to spend the winter and I hope you get 3 months next winter. It’s nice you could really relax and not things you need or should do! It’s easy to think we should always be productive, but we’re retired!!

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  3. Hi Meg, I had to smile a lot when reading as you talk about some things that we think about, but we only have a camper van and take our two dogs with us. Your RV is a house in comparison. It is amazing what one can get used to. We learned to downsize and pack light when we went traveling around South America for 5 months. I moved from a 4 bed house to two bed. My dining room doubles as my craft room. I see no reason why you couldn’t have taken a small loom with you in your RV. I could happily live in one of those full time. The problem with having big motor homes in the UK and abroad is our roads are not really wide enough and then you have speed restrictions when towing anything. I think should we have to downsize again, I would consider a static mobile home as they are bigger than you would expect. Enjoy your palace, I think it is great!

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    1. You are right it is all relative and one can adapt to many situations. I backpacked around Europe during college for 6 weeks with just a backpack. Our fifth wheel is about 31 feet. Some of the big motor homes are over 40 feet and have 2 bathrooms! One time when I was in New Orleans with some girlfriends, we watched as a big motor home was trying to turn a corner on a very compact intersection in the old French Quarter area. It was having a very hard time and people were outside directing. I could have fit the loom in our RV, but I decided that I would be busy enough with my knitting and the potholder loom. We ended up being busier there than at home with social visits which cut into my craft time!

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      1. People don’t care if you wear the same thing, as long as you are clean! Although I take a craft with me when travelling, I never seem to get anything done as we are always out and about exploring and after a day of that I just want to relax. I really don’t have room for much. We have to pull the bed out every night and there isn’t much storage. Life is mostly lived outdoors and the van is just mainly used to sleep in. I always think it would be nice to have something bigger, but then I think about height restrictions, gas mileage and consumption. Plus, we can just take off easily if we need to and go off grid. I think you are very lucky to have a ‘home’ as big as you have. 🙂

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  4. Meg I enjoy reading your blog. Fun and informative. I don’t expect we’ll ever be RVers but I like and identify with the way you process and plan your experiences. Enjoy your summer at the lake once it unfreezes😁

    Sent from my iPad

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  5. I’ve often thought it would be nice to vacation in an RV, although I’d hesitate to actually drive one. But they seem like a nice alternative to hotel rooms, especially for extended stays. And I agree that living in one permanently would be difficult due to lack of storage. I have too many books and photo albums I’m not willing to part with! I’m glad you were able to to to Arizona this winter, and hope your weather is warmer back home now. Thanks for an interesting post!

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  6. Prior to purchasing our current travel trailer, we were debating between two different floor plans. I *loved* the other floor plan, but when the slide was in we couldn’t get to the fridge or other important areas. So, we went with the other. Even with the slide pulled in, our trailer is still fully functional: we can access the bed, the fridge, the couch, and the bathroom.

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    1. That sounds very helpful to be able to use all those areas with the slide closed. There are many trade offs with various models and sizes. I have heard that many people get a different one after using their first one for a few years. So far we are happy with the one we bought, despite not being able to get at the fridge when the slides are closed. Thanks for reading!

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  7. Dear Meg, I sent this to Jennifer and Julie and all 3 of us enjoyed your article a lot. Julie and I have cabins but Jennifer said she can hardly wait to go camping after reading all the details of your trip and organizing. . Hope next summer we can all get together. We are all in Arizona so it shouldn’t be too hard. Needs. Some planning. Love Barbara

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    1. Barbara…thanks for reading and sharing with your girls! I am glad you all enjoyed the post. We had a great time is Arizona and plan to be back next winter. We will stay in Minnesota during the summer when it is nice here.

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  8. It is always interesting to get different takes on downsizing. I enjoy talking to other fulltime RVers and snowbird RVers. I am truly happy we got the RV with the large kitchen.

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