When it came time for me to strike out on my own after graduating from college I pondered what the best use of my money would be since I was about to move to a town with sky high rent prices. I came to the conclusion that I’d like to own something, but I wasn’t ready to buy a house in that town… So almost on a whim I ended up buying a Jayco Whitehawk 31ft. bumper pull trailer that my husband and I (along with our kitty and gecko) have been calling home for the past two years! Here is everything you need to know about tiny living and the nomadic lifestyle.
I thought I had researched for hours on end and I felt prepared right up until we pulled out of the Camping World and we were on our own for the first time. We were lucky though, our first trailer park neighbor was Bob – a full-timer who worked on the oil pipelines and has lived in a trailer for the past 5 decades. Bob guided us through the very basics of tiny living and set us up well for a life on the road.
After living out the last month or so of our college experience in the brand new trailer; we headed westward! The freedom of life on wheels is the most exhilarating feeling ever, even if you choose to base your tiny life in one place, the minimalism and the feeling that the world is your oyster is so freeing for the soul.
Are You Ready to Be a Real Minimalist?
One of the hardest aspects of transitioning to tiny living was purging my material possessions to fit into approximately 240 sq ft. My little home on wheels actually has lots of storage nooks and crannies so I’ve been able to keep things like my skis, book collection, stuff like that. Although I had to vet my closet which was tough, but now that I’m on the other side it feels good!
Nomadic life in general is easier if you minimize the amount of stuff you have to drag around with you however, so if you are really attached to your creature comforts I would consider small road trips instead of a lifestyle change.
What Type of Wheels Suit You?
Step one to a transition into nomadic life on the road is deciding what kind of rig you’d like best! There are tons of options depending on your personal goals, financial situation, preferred lifestyle, and travel dreams. I’ll give a quick overview of the pros and cons of the best vehicles to live out your gypsy life.
Camper Vans (#vanlife):
These bad boys are the smallest option on the list, usually with only enough room for a full size bed and sometimes a little cooktop. They have the ~ potential ~ to be a really low cost option BUT to have a van conversion under $5k you’d have to be a really handy DIY type person (or learn!). Another aspect to consider is your water situation – will you add black and gray water tanks to your van or will you be reliant on public showers and toilets? If you love tent camping and being truly one with nature the van will be worth it!
Fifth Wheels and Bumper Pull Trailers:
These guys are the typical “camper” that you’d see a family taking a trip to the Grand Canyon in! There’s endless sizes, types, price ranges, etc. and dealerships that can help you find the right one. If you’re really looking for a low budget option there are plenty of used trailers as well, just beware of the condition of the trailer, it might need a lot of work!
These can be the biggest bang for your buck if you’re not up to the challenge of your own van build. Keep in mind however that you’ll need a pickup truck to tow one of these with so if you don’t already have a truck or vehicle with towing capacity, you’ll need to add that into your budget. Fifth wheel trailers are bigger and require bigger trucks to pull than a regular bumper pull.
Motor Homes (Class A/Class C):
If you’re wondering what Class A means, these are those big motorhomes that are self propelled (not towed) that old people will often retire to. You’ll have plenty of space if you go this route, but gas will be a major expense and they aren’t quite as mobile as a bumper pull or van so you’ll probably want to stick to just RV parks.
School Bus Conversion (skoolies):
In my opinion, school bus conversion homes are one of those classic cases of “Instagram vs. Reality”. I say this because I’ve never actually seen one in the wild… But they sure are cool to look at on Insta! Similar to the vans, if you are thinking about a skoolie life, you’re gonna want to learn how to use a jigsaw and power tools.
How Are You Going to Make Money?
As much as it sucks, we are stuck in capitalist society and if you want to make travelers life on the road sustainable, you do need a source of income. Luckily online work in this day and age is not hard to find! Although this does limit you to wandering only to places with a good internet connection (at least during the work week!). Most overnight RV parks will have wifi, some make you pay for it, but I would suggest getting an unlimited data phone plan so you can hotspot from anywhere with LTE.
I have seen people take a “year off” to live out their van life; or similarly people will have a home base where they work odd jobs and save up for a few months before hitting the road for the next few months until they run out of money and the cycle starts again.
However you choose to plan your escape from stationary lifestyle, you do need to consider the $$$. Life on the road can be cheaper depending on how you do it but you will need to shell out LOTS of money in gas, propane if you’re needing heating, parking expenses, public shower fees, etc. etc.
Will You Be a Park Person or Off the Grid-er?
If you’re thinking about traveling to the most remote places of the globe in your tiny home, you’re gonna to think about a few extras. “Boondocking” is the RV term for camping/going places that don’t have water or electrical hookups (aka not an RV park).
Some things to consider if you’re going to be boondocking: how much fresh water storage do you have and will you be able to replenish it anywhere? What is your battery capacity and how much electricity will you use (solar panel packs for RV batteries are great for this!). Are you going to need propane for heat or cooking? Do you have black and gray water tanks?
Staying in RV parks makes all those questions a lot easier, you can also usually pay for just “dump and go” if you need to empty and fill your tanks but you don’t want to stay overnight.
Full-timer or Weekend Warrior?
If reading this article has scared you away from tiny life, don’t forget this doesn’t have to be a full time thing! You can have the thrill of life on the road and still be back to your beloved hometown by Monday morning. Committing to tiny living full time is not a decision that should be taken lightly, there have been times when I’ve been down the YouTube rabbit hole for hours trying to fix my city water connection valve and I’ve said to myself “why did I think this was a good idea”.
But there have been so many more moments where I wake up to a new sunrise and there’s no doubt that the tiny living life is the life for me! Possibly someday we’ll be domesticated and choose just one place to call home, but for now we get to call everywhere home.
Find Your Community
I cannot stress enough that this is the most important part of the journey! Whether you find kindred spirits on Instagram, online forums, or your neighbors at the trailer park, having a community is essential. Not only could they become your lifelong friends, but odds are if you’re having a problem they might have encountered the same problem already. Or maybe they have a tool you need. Whatever it is, it’s always nice to have people to help you through your tiny living adventures.
About the Author