Can you live full-time in a travel trailer?
Yes, you can. The main drawback is limited space but with a few simple hacks and downsizing, you can definitely live full-time in a camper trailer or RV. How do I know… I know because I’ve done it and even wrote a book about how I did it and how you can too.
While this article will cover the basics of what you need to know to successfully live full-time in a camper trailer or RV my book goes into greater detail and I suggest that you get yourself a copy of that book as soon as possible. You can click here to see it and read the reviews on Amazon.com.
Why Live Full-Time in a Travel Trailer?
Or course different people will have different reasons for living or wanting to live full-time in an RV or camper trailer, but the most common reason given by people I’ve talked to is to save money by not paying rent. And with the rates for rent going up and the size and included amenities going down choosing to live full-time in a travel trailer makes a lot of sense.
For me, it was out of necessity after a divorce. I already owned the land and the 26-foot travel trailer and it made sense to put the two together and have a paid-for place to live. It worked out great and I lived in that one for over two years.
Living there allowed me to save enough money to pay cash for another property, that was larger at almost six-acres. I sold the other property and camper and bout the one that you see in the photo above for $4600. It was one of the FEMA trailers that had never been used and was in like-new condition.
I don’t think that $4600 for a home is a bad deal at all… do you? Nope! I lived in that trailer for over a year while I saved money and then bought a two-bedroom mobile home and moved it to my property and then sold the FEMA trailer for $4000!
You can do the same. You just have to overcome the stigma associated with living full-time in a travel trailer or RV and learn to downsize your belongings or set up a storage building on your property to keep the things that you don’t have room for inside your trailer.
Choosing The Best Travel Trailer For Full-Time Living
Travel trailers are a lot like automobiles—they depreciate in value over time. From the moment you pull the trailer off the lot, it starts to lose value. In fact, recent research has shown that new travel trailers can depreciate as much as one-third over the first three years of ownership.
I bought my travel first trailer from a local man for $3,500. By comparison, he had paid $28,000 for it 11 years earlier. Folks, that’s a savings of more than $24,000. Buying new is a fool’s game and best avoided. Fortunately, finding a good used travel trailer isn’t difficult if you know where to look.
It is amazing what you can find by driving the backroads. Many people who have travel trailers for sale will park them beside the road in front of their houses and tape a for-sale sign in the window. In fact, I spotted two trailers with for-sale signs attached yesterday on my way to the hardware store.
Keep in mind that these people are typically motivated sellers and will usually take less than they initially ask, sometimes a lot less. It doesn’t hurt to make an offer. Who knows? You could get lucky.
Simply let the seller know that you’re interested but your budget doesn’t quite cover the asking price. I often see used travel trailers listed in the classified section of the local newspaper or community shopper.
Again these are motivated sellers, who will usually sell far below their original asking price. Sometimes it is amazing at the price reduction you can get by making an insanely low offer. Sometimes travel trailers are listed on such Internet sites as eBay and craigslist.
Over the years, I’ve seen some nice ones listed for $2,000 to $3,000, but most are newer models that are out of your price range. As with buying properties online, never buy a travel trailer or RV sight unseen
Be sure everything in the trailer works properly before buying. The last thing you need is to expend all your resources on the land and the trailer only to find out later that your electrical system, plumbing, refrigerator, cookstove, hot-water heater, or furnace doesn’t work.
While some sellers are inherently honest and will tell you about known problems, needed repairs, or other surprises, many are not and have no compunction about ripping you off. The only way to be certain you are getting what you are paying for is to do your own inspection and tests of the essential components.
Start with the 12-volt lights. Simply flipping on the switch can check these devices. If the seller tells you the lights don’t work because the batteries are dead—charge them up. If the trailer doesn’t have any batteries at all in the battery compartment, use the one from your truck.
Next check the cookstove, furnace, water heater, and refrigerator to make sure everything works off propane. If the trailer’s propane tanks are empty, you could take one of the tanks to a propane distributor to have it filled, but preferably you have brought your own full tank to use if needed. Whatever you do, don’t buy without doing your due diligence.
The seller could have used the propane on his last camping trip, but then again he could be trying to hide the fact that some or all the propane appliances don’t work. Don’t forget to check the propane lines and appliances for leaks. You can do this with a spray bottle filled with water and soap. Spray the lines and look for air bubbles to form, indicating leaks.
After you are satisfied that all the propane appliances work, it is time to check the plumbing and water systems. Fill the holding tank and check for leaks. Turn on the 12-volt water pump to pressurize the system and check the sinks, shower, and toilet.
Don’t forget to check for leaks in the water lines, as well as under the sinks, pump, and tanks. Some of the lines can be in difficult- or impossible-to-reach places, such as behind walls, under floors, and inside cabinets, but check the best you can.
While you are checking for leaks, feel the floor and areas around and under the sinks, holding tank, shower, toilet, and water heater for soft spots and rot. Also, inspect the areas around windowsills and doors. Look for dark spots on the ceiling indicating leaks.
Be sure to double-check around rooftop air-conditioning units. Once you are satisfied with the interior, it’s time to look underneath the trailer. Check for rot, especially where the walls and floor meet the underneath area.
Problems here can often be fixed by replacing rotted wood, but if prevalent throughout, I would pass on this trailer. Inspect the condition of the insulation and weather barrier, but don’t be overly concerned if it is not perfect, as most of this can be easily fixed by adding more insulation and covering with 6-mil plastic sheeting stapled underneath.
Contrary to what you may have been told, size matters. You’ll obviously be spending a lot of time between those four walls, so the bigger the trailer the better. Just be sure you have a way to tow it to the site. Personally, I would not consider a trailer less than 21 feet in length.
Finding Cheap Land to Live On
Some of the best opportunities for buying cheap land come from individual sellers who no longer have use for the land. Heirs, retirees, farmers, timber and mining operations, and other types of owners may have land that they no longer need and are willing to sell for a reasonable price.
You never know unless you ask. “Fragment” properties held by states, counties, municipalities, or corporations are a good option to explore as well. They can sometimes go begging at an auction and be had on a negotiated sale.
After deciding where you want to live, get the word out that you’re looking to buy a small amount of acreage in the area for use as a campsite. No one needs to know that you plan to live on the property full time or use it as a survival retreat.
Run ads in the local paper and place notices at the local post office and area businesses. You might even consider running an ad on the local radio station or TV station. Try craigslist or other online sites. Perhaps the most productive way of finding land is to ask.
If you spot a parcel that you’re interested in but don’t know who owns the property, find the nearest neighbor and ask. This neighbor may own the property, or he probably will know who does. In my area, there are several small logging operations that purchase tracts of property for the timber, and after the timber has been cut they move on to the next tract.
They have no further use for the property after cutting and are happy to sell.
Since most of this land is in remote areas, you can often buy land at a ridiculously low price. And since it has been logged, if you replant some states will give you a tax break as a “tree farm.”
I found my first property by placing an ad in the local newspaper classifieds. After running the ad for several months, I heard from the owner of a small logging operation that had operated in the area. The voice on the other end of the phone explained that he had several hundred acres of land that had recently been clear-cut that he no longer had use for and would sell for a reasonable rate.
I explained that I only had $2,000 and could not afford the entire property. We agreed that if I paid to have the parcel I wanted to be surveyed, he would sell me two acres for $2,000. After paying the surveyors, filing fees, and $2,000 to the seller, I was a landowner.
I haven’t had much luck finding cheap land through real-estate agents. Most make their income through commissions and generally aren’t interested in selling lower-priced properties, but then again, what do you have to lose but a few minutes of your time?
Tell the real estate agent that you are looking for a suitable partial of land to use as a campsite and weekend getaway. Explain that electricity, sewer, and water hookups are a plus but not necessary. Real-estate agents in my state can show and broker any property listed in the state where they are licensed, regardless of the original listing broker.
On the surface, buying land through a land contract arrangement with little or nothing down sounds like a great idea. It’s not. The purpose of buying cheap land is staying out of debt by paying cash, which is easy enough to do because of the quality and measure of the property being discussed here.
The standard land contract allows the seller to hold the title until you make all the payments. If you are late with a payment, even one time after paying on time for the past 19 years of a 20-year contract, the seller can have you removed by court order and take back the property while keeping all your money from past payments.
Another potential land mine with the seller holding your title is that he could have a mortgage himself on the property or he could lose it through a divorce or other court proceedings, in which case you could lose the property and any previous funds invested.
All land contracts are best avoided, as is any kind of mortgage debt if possible. One option, which might work if you would have a seller willing to work with you, is to buy the land incrementally. As in: “I have $2,000 and want two acres now; next year (or whenever) I want an option to buy XXX more adjoining acres for $x more cash.” This is subject, of course, to local ordinances regarding subdivision, etc.
Taking Care of Water and Sewage
When living full-time in a travel trailer providing for your water needs can the most difficult tasks to figure out and the solution depends of course on where you decide to set your trailer up for full-time living. Travel trailers and RV’s have a water holding tank and pump to pressurize the water that makes it a little easier to get the water into your trailer where you can use it.
If your property or rented lot has water on tap from the utility company or you are lucky enough to have talked a family member or friend into letting you park your travel trailer on their property then you’re in the catbird seat. Simply run a hose from the water source to your trailers intake to fill your tank turn on the trailers pump to pressurize the water and you’ll have a working sink, shower, and commode.
As for sewage, you might be able to empty your holding tank directly into your family members or friends septic tank system. If not then you’ll probably have no other choice but to hook to your trailer and pull it to a proper and legal location to empty your holding tank.
If you’re off the grid (away from public utility hookups), then things get more complicated in a few areas but it can be done. You might have to haul water in to fill your freshwater tank or if you have a suitable water source then you might be able to pump or use a gravity-fed system to keep your water tank full.
You could set up a rain-water catchment system and cistern set up in such a way that rainwater could be fed via gravity directly into your freshwater holding tank. Or you might be able to pump it from a nearby source such as a stream or spring, but this water would need to be filtered and purified before drinking.
Taking care of sewage when “off the grid” can be done by digging in a small “sepic tank” system using buried 55-gallon to collect waste. As detailed in Brian D. Kelling’s book Travel-Trailer Homesteading Under $5,000.
But keep in mind that this probably won’t be a “legal” setup but there shouldn’t be any problem unless you tell your business to someone and that someone then reports you. But as a disclaimer, I have to tell you to check and follow all the laws and codes in your area.
I took a different approach at my first “travel trailer homestead” and I go into detail about how and what I did to take care of waste in my book “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” be sure to pick up a copy of that book as soon as possible if you think living in a travel trailer full-time is something that you still want to do.
Power, Heating, and Cooling
Getting power inside your travel trailer can be as simple as plugging into the source or as complicated as putting in a solar setup if you’re going off the grid. While I don’t have the time or space to go into all of the information on setting up an off-the-grid solar power system (whole books have been written on the topic), I will instead point you to an excellent article that keeps it as simple as possible – Do It Yourself Off The Grid Solar Power System.
You will also find detailed plans about how I did it in my books linked to above and how Brian Kelling did it in his book. There isn’t any certain way to do this… you’ll need to follow the basic principles and safety precautions and figure out what works best for you but that article and those books will give you a great start.
Generators for Campers
One of the biggest mistakes I made was buying a cheap gasoline-powered power generator that after a few months use started giving me trouble and not starting and or shutting off when in use. I suggest that you buy a good power generator from the start.
Two that I recommend are the Honda EU2200i, you can read my full review here, and the Champion 75537i. Get the best that you can afford from the start and you’ll have less trouble and be much better off in the long-term.
To keep the inside of the trailer cooler in summer it’s best to park it in the shade… or better yet, under a shed… think about a carport such as this one on Amazon. Parking your trailer in the shade or under a carport such as that will help to keep the sun off it and thus help to keep it cooler on the inside.
The carport will also help to keep your trailer looking new and also it will last longer covered by the carport because there is less of a chance of a leak developing in the roof of your trailer that could cause water damage inside.
For heating, I prefer propane and propane and a propane wall heater such as this one at Amazon.com will keep you warm during the colder months.
Cooking and Refrigeration
This part is actually the easiest because travel trailers are already set up perfectly for off-the-grid cooking and refrigeration using propane. With the correct adapters, you can easily hook your trailer up to the larger 100lb propane tanks if you want to change out the empty tanks for full ones less often.
Legalities of Living Full-Time in a Travel Trailer
Depending on where you are in the country (or the world) laws differ and there could be some legal hurdles to overcome when living full-time in a travel trailer or RV, however, these are typically easy to find a “work-around” that will keep the paper pushers happy and still allow you to live full-time in your camper, travel trailer, or RV.
Living full-time in a travel trailer isn’t for everyone, and there are a few challenges but it is a great way to save money to buy or build a “proper home” later and be debt-free. I’ve done it so I know it can be done. I hope that this article gave you a few ideas and answered some of your questions.
If this is something you’re interested in doing then I suggest that you get my book “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” and Brian D. Kelling’s book Travel-Trailer Homesteading Under $5,000. These two books will cover everything else that you could need to know.