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Living In A Van Down By The River

Somehow I missed this SNL sketch.  To be honest, I haven’t watched Saturday Night Live in, well, I have no idea how long.  But my RV searches always seemed to turn up this skit, so I figured I had to share it.

Full Video Skit Here

So, those of you who are connected to me on facebook, etc., have no doubt seen some chatter about getting an RV.  I’m thinking less about world travel at the moment and more about a little wandering here.  I don’t know for sure that will stick, but if I should find the right RV, it would be more likely.  I figured I’d test the powers of  crowdsourcing and pass along what I’m generally thinking about and if some magic people out there connect me to the right deal, well then it was meant to be.

It’s actually been a sort of evolution of searching.  It started out with great interest in small portable houses like these:

Tumbleweed Tiny House – Credit to Jay Shafer

That’s a Tumbleweed Tiny House on the move down the Highway. They are designed by an architect who first lived in an Airstream trailer before he began designing and building houses on small trailers.  I still love them, but for me personally, I don’t want a trailer and big tow vehicle.  I want something more all in one.  They are also not per se cheap, but you can buy the plans and build them yourselves and you would be literally amazed at how many blogs I’m following where people are doing just that.  I’m sure the numbers are still cultish but it’s quite interesting to follow.  But imagine a home that costs what an upscale American SUV costs and you can understand the appeal to some.

For a time I considered a very small travel trailer.

Scamp Travel Trailer
Scamp Travel Trailer – 16 foot

And I still think these Scamp Travel Trailers and their various fiberglass brethren are awesome.  The appeal beside the cute factor was their lightness meant I wouldn’t need a mammoth truck to tow it.

There are two lines of thinking with the RV life, one that a travel trailer (or camper shell) and  a tow vehicle are the perfect fit since you can leave your “home” behind at a campsite and have a vehicle for getting around at your destination.  Then there are the people who would rather not have to deal with trailers and towing and all that.  I can see both sides of the equation but I find I come down on the side of just wanting one vehicle where I can turn around from my drivers seat and wander a few steps to bed.  For some reason, that variation makes me happiest.  Still, feel free to convince me that I can make do with a used fiberglass egg and my old blazer.  I’m not past discussion.

The next phase, however, was finding the little Toyota based campers that exist out there.  Long out of production, but some are as small as 17 feet long!  Wow!

Toyota Motorhome

So, that was the next phase of thought.   It may not be entirely eliminated from thought but it’s less favored now.

I discovered the world of camper vans.  At least that’s what I’d call them.  Where the above is a “Class C” RV, a camper van is a “Class B” RV.  They are built out of a van of course, but some have all the amenities, just much smaller.

the van
Dodge Explorer 1977

Believe it or not, these little camper vans have full-time beds (rather than a dinette that folds down or a sofa that folds down as many RVs do.  I discovered an older model than this on Ebay that I watched with interest.  And believe it or not, I found a newer one (1983) for sale in South Carolina that I went to see with my Dad this past Thursday.  It was not the one, but I did like it conceptually.  I like that they are low profile little creatures and were I to take off my traveling shoes it wouldn’t be a chore to store it if I didn’t want to divest myself of it.  I think I would still want to hold onto it for weekends and vacations no matter what.  I haven’t entirely written off the larger B’s like this:

95 Ford Intervec Falcon 190
Intervec Falcon on a Ford Chasis

There are actually quite a few variants on this design, but this particular one is a Ford van converted by Intervec.  Pretty much all the companies that made this design like Intervec are defunct.  None of these have full time beds.  There are variations, but likely if you could peer in, you’d see a pull-out sofa and up above a slide out full bed with a ladder – sleeping in the bubble at the top.  I like the design, but I’m not convinced I’d like having a 10 foot tall van. Most of these do have a separate seated tub/shower where-as the ones like the Dodge above tend to be a wet bath where the bath is the shower and all in one.  I’ve experienced this phenomenon in a hotel once – it’s maybe not the most convenient set-up in the world but not the end of the world.  Anytime you combine everything a house would have into something the size of a van, there will be trade-offs and it’s a matter of finding those you can live with.  I’d likely give up a separate shower (but not a shower altogether) for a full-time bed so that I didn’t have to close up my bed over and over.  I lived with a futon in a one room cabin for two years of college, I know about having to fold away my bed over and over.

So, that’s where I am now, thinking pretty seriously about making the leap if I can find the right vehicle at the right price.  Hence why I’m looking at used!  There are people all over living on the road full time, not just retired folks, either.  I’m amazed that every day I encounter more people following that lifestyle.

Tynan – Living In A Small RV

Technomadia – Answers to Common Excuses Not To Travel Full Time

The Nerd Nomad – The RV Loophole

Just a few examples of others who have tried to do something outside the norm.  I don’t think I could mentally commit to what those folks are doing, but I think I could commit some of my “wander” time, my “career break” or “gap year” as it would be known in other parts of the world, to time in an RV.  If I saw I could make such a life work full time, awesome, but for now, I just want the chance to sample it.

So, as to the crowdsourcing part, it took me long enough to get there.  If you happen to know someone with a not outrageously priced class B (or TINY class C), I’d love to hear about it.  I really prefer the B’s because they are not so blatantly RVs.

It should either be in the southeast (a day trip from central Georgia) or it can be further if the vehicle/owner is someone you know well enough that I wouldn’t go see it and discover it didn’t remotely match the description.  That was the problem in some regards to the one I saw the other day.  I wouldn’t say the guy was remotely lying about things, but the photos weren’t that great and the description not thorough.  I was glad I got to see it just to see what one was like, but it wasn’t the one for me.  Reasonably priced , check, he actually sold it for $3k, but  felt like its needs were beyond me.  It needed a paint job in my opinion pronto – visible rust in a few places.  I’m handy enough I could do a lot of repairs and replacements as needed in the coach part, but repainting a van is outside my repertoire.  Actually, doing odd updates around the coach part of an RV is just fine.  That’s my speed.  The little Dodge also had a few mechanical ticks.  Nothing major,  actually if that had been all it needed, I might be driving it now.  But when you added up those things, the paint, new upholstery… You get the picture, I’d rather just pay more for something in less need of attention, than to buy it and sink in the equivalent in cash after.

So, my army of friends and associates, you know something not so far away, let me know.  You know something far away but you would reasonably expect the person wanting rid of it to be on the up and up, let me know.  I’m looking at 21 feet long and below for either variant.

In the interim, hope you are all enjoying the photos from past travels that have been showing up lately.  Hopefully not so terribly long before they are coming from new travels.  Best wishes to all from a potential future guy living in a van down by the river.


  1. Hey Mark,

    Thanks for the link.

    Your instincts on buying a coach (or van) in good condition to start with are spot on. I’m pretty handy, and I did quite a bit of research about buying an older rig for super cheap and fixing it up, pulling out stuff and rebuilding it exactly to my liking, but found that the costs were going to just explode during the rebuild, leading to not only higher costs but a huge amount of labor on top of that. Everything in an RV costs a lot more than you would expect, so replacing or repairing anything usually costs more than the same repair in a permanent home. It’s also often harder to repair stuff in an RV, because it is so tightly packed in; running cable for my solar panels has been challenging, even, and that’s usually a very simple task in a permanent building. Getting access to some parts requires pulling off significant amounts of paneling and then replacing it because it is mostly very thin, not very sturdy wood paneling. Buying a rig in good condition to start with means that you’ll only have to spend a lot of time and a little bit of money on maintenance (because even a perfect RV will need little repairs every week or two, if you’re driving it regularly; in three months on the road, I’ve replaced a valve on the water heater, fixed a bedroom curtain hanger, sealed several leaks, and I currently have a leaky outside shower), rather than a huge amount on major repairs and replacements.

    It’d be very easy to buy an RV that costs more to get in working order than it would cost to buy one a few years newer that’s in good condition, and a lot more than it is worth. Some folks do it for love, like the Airstream fans, and that’s the same sort of thing as owning a classic car…part of the value is in the experience of rebuilding it. But, if you just want an awesome RV to cruise the country in, you should buy one that is ready to roll.

    I was also told several times during my shopping that your first RV won’t be what you settle on, and while I didn’t really believe it, it’s been true. Better to spend less (while still getting a good, working rig) than more, because within a few months you’ll know you want something different. I’m already shopping for my next rig. I’m going to go for a smaller (23′-25′) Class C or B+, as urban camping in a 33′ rig is challenging (not impossible, but it has limitations).

    BTW-I’m having a blast on the road. I’m in San Diego this week, catching up with a friend from South Carolina (I’m originally from Greenville) I haven’t seen in over a decade, and I’m moving on to The Slabs in a week or so. Hope to run into you and your RV, whatever you choose, some day.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Joe! Much appreciated! I actually only stumbled onto your site a couple of days ago. I’m a bit of a lurker sort truth be known but have slowly been gathering a pile of feeds to blogs of non-retired folks following the nomad way even if only for a time. While I would love to see my way clear to make a living that wasn’t dependent on location, I honestly wouldn’t see myself in a perpetual travel mode forever. I’m not sure anyone actually does expect that? Maybe a few gypsies are among us.

      I do enjoy some general handyman activities, but yes, this is not the time to spend months trying to get an RV ready to roll. And not interested in spending $$ on the process when I could just spend more time finding one that’s already as I want rather than a project. Glad to hear the corroboration of that story.

      Sounds like RVs are like cameras! I’ve done better than some I know with the photog bug, but it is one of those things where there’s always a newer better camera or lens or something out there. I bought a really nice point and shoot when I was first getting serious and then well less than a year later I was getting a DSLR. I would have been better off making that leap to begin with, but didn’t know it then.

      If I were to decide the gypsy life was my thing, I could foresee possibly upgrading from the B’s I’m looking at down the road for sure. For now, I’m just hoping to get something that would let me see the country a bit and could be a weekend thing after if I decide to return to a more mundane life. 😉

      Thanks again and I’ll try not to be just another lurker in the future, please feel free to chime in on my end as well. You have my respect rolling in an A – it would definitely take me time to warm to maneuvering one like yours on city streets or backing it in anywhere!

  2. Thank you so much for the mention, and congrats on exploring this path!

    We did a lot of thinking on the small motorhome vs tow vehicle/trailer options ourselves. As we wanted to stay small and able to fit in standard driveways – we just simply found that the smaller sized motorhomes just were too small for the two of us and our cat.

    And, we really like being able to set up a homebase somewhere and be able to go run errands, visit friends and site see without leaving our spot and having to secure everything down again. For us, making it sustainable long term was all about minimizing fuss. Sure, we could have gotten a tow behind vehicle for that – but then we we’d be compromising on space AND having the towing concerns.

    So.. for us, the 17′ Oliver (sort of a ‘luxury’ version of the Scamp pictured above) with an almost full size truck (Toyota Tundra) tow vehicle is working out great. The tow vehicle gives us plenty of room to carry stuff with us that adds to the journey – such as a small airplane :).

    But really.. it all comes down to what feels right TO YOU. And to concur with Joe above, your first RV will likely not be your last. I don’t think I’ve met many full time RVers who haven’t changed rigs after a bit and really figuring out what works for them after they’ve adjusted to life on the road.

    Best wishes.. and looking forward to following your journey!

    1. Hey there Cherie! I’ve actually followed Technomadia for awhile – even made the odd small comment in between generally lurking. Got to work on that as I said to Joe. But nonetheless absorbing.

      I won’t say no to a trailer, but I’m not there yet. Maybe I’ll surprise myself or maybe it will be phase 2 if and when I get a new RV. Right now, I like the idea of one vehicle, maybe with a small moped or something for getting around in proximity to where I’m parked. I’ve got to sort the RV out before I worry too much about that, but the wheels are a turning. I can definitely see the merits of being able to set down your trailer and not be tied to everything in it. For some reason I can’t quantify, I’m still hesitant to go that route.

      For now, RV#1 is potentially home for awhile and if not home then I think fairly certainly a joy for future expeditions if I return to the regular world. That’s part of my thinking of keeping it compact. Also, I really just don’t want enough room to try to bring the world with me.

      I can imagine full-timing in a class B with another person and a pet could be a bit much, though! I think I’d draw the line there, but it’s just me, so it’s all about me. 😉

      Thanks and I’ll try to be less of a stranger. I read your recent post of the possible watery technomadia coming – looking forward to what may come next!

      P.S. Joined nurvers, but will have to save an introduction for another day!

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