To Each Our Own Type of RV

Apr 9, 2014

I was inspired to write down a few of my musings tonight while sitting here in our 7 foot by 26 foot travel trailer, observing that we’re the smallest rig in this RV park by many linear feet and flaunting considerably less width and height as well. You can even see for yourself how tiny we are (by comparison) in the picture above!

There’s a 45-foot luxury bus next to us that’s likely worth a half million dollars, and yet people were strolling around taking pictures of our trailer tonight while we sat inside eating dinner. We’re getting used to the RV park paparazzi the longer we’re on the road, but it’s still odd to be the campground equivalent of a circus freak show most places we travel!

When people stop to talk to us, we hear a lot of “Ooh I could never live in such a small space” after telling them we’re fulltimers. Sometimes it’s “I could never live in this with my husband/wife/life partner/traveling companion. We’d kill each other.” Their intent is innocent and lighthearted enough for us to let it roll off most of the time, but it can become quite insensitive when it’s assumed we live this way because it’s all we could afford. We’ve even had people hint that when we’re retired we’ll want to have the finer things they do and “really do RVing right.”

Lifestyle choices, just like RV choices, are not “one size fits all” – everyone finds different meaning and happiness for themselves.

By pushing personal preferences on others as the only/best way to live, we’d be making a lot of assumptions about why someone is traveling in the first place, and what makes them happy. Now, I’m not saying all RV owners are like this. It’s true that all of us judge others initially by their chosen RV/vehicle to some degree. There can be snobbishness over brands/types of RVs, to the extent of immediate discrimination at times. RVers are not immune to the old sticks ‘n’ bricks neighborhood feeling of “keeping up with the Joneses.”

No matter what size RV you live or travel in, we all gave up a lot of things to embark on this grand lifestyle experiment of existing simplistically, pushing our own limits of how radically we can change our habits while still being comfortable and, in our case, making a living while chasing a different dream than most people.

So as the jabs sometimes hit from other RVers about how small our trailer is, how often we spend in “cushy” commercial campgrounds versus “roughing it” out in the wild, how much battery power/water capacity/solar wattage we have, the tow vehicle we use, or why we chose to do _____ instead of ______, I wish they’d consider that for us, at this point in our lives, this works for us. We’ll change it if/when it doesn’t. Life is about growing, learning, and evolving.

We didn’t take on a vintage Airstream because it was all we could afford, so we certainly don’t want anyone’s sympathy. We picked this trailer because we fell in love with it and it was a blank canvas to make our own work of art. We were unquestionably drawn to the style of it, the history, the slice of Americana it represents, the ease of towing, and the freedom it gives us to have a smaller tow vehicle that we enjoy driving after we unhitch.

We rebuilt this old trailer to be our home together, with our own four hands and the loving help of many friends and family members over that long, exhausting year, to serve our needs for a while, but not necessarily forever. While we hate it sometimes for sometimes being finicky, parts being so hard or impossible to come by, not being able to call someone when something breaks, or all the time and energy we gave up to do the remodel ourselves, it’s ours through and through.

In return for all that hard work, we can look around and laugh as we remember the day we rested on the newly-installed toilet together, drinking a beer, because there was no other furniture inside. There was the day we installed the new subfloor and thought about sleeping on it that night because having a solid floor in our trailer seemed like the most luxurious thing in the world. We laughed, cried, froze, sweat, bled and cursed in this trailer, and while I don’t ever want to do a renovation again (at least in the same way), I cherish the experience and how we grew from it.

floor2

Before we think, imply or say to another RVer that their home on wheels is too large, small, old, new, or any number of other nit-picky factors, we need to take a moment to consider that the variety of options out there is exactly what keeps this lifestyle, whether full-timer or vacationer, within the grasp of so many. It’s the reason we get to meet such an amazing variety of folks every day, and what makes some of our most precious nomadic friendships possible.

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15 comments

  1. Comment by Kerensa

    Kerensa Reply Apr 9, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Well said, Kristin. Sometimes we feel like the jerks with a larger RV, at least among our working contemporaries, but it works for us. Although we feel like we could do a smaller one, we jumped at the desk space we could build into this one and it has worked out so far.

    We met some retirees the other night who had a 45ft towing a large trailer. Turns out that they carried a full tool set in the back because he was a builder and that’s what made him happy. To each his own.

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Apr 9, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      Thanks, Kerensa! You’re not jerks at all. We all have different needs and we have no ill feelings against people in much larger rigs – except when they block our wi-fi signal! 😉

      Making a living working out of an RV or having a hobby that necessitates more space completely changes our needs over the typical retiree or vacationer. While nobody “needs” a 60″ tv, many of us need desk space and storage for the tools of our trades. Thankfully ours is just a couple computers and other devices, and we have a desk that folds up. For now this works for us, but someday we may need an office. We’d love to have fixed-position desks that aren’t also our dining table, but it’s worth the trade-off for now to have a little more flexibility in where we can travel. 🙂

  2. Comment by Gary in Alaska

    Gary in Alaska Reply Apr 9, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Hi Kristin,

    Well written piece. It is funny how things are always relative. Before getting our Airstream we owned a small A-Frame style pop up (Chalet Apline). It was cool in its own way and different enough from the other styles of pop ups that we often had curious folks wanting to see inside. The key issue for us with that setup was lack of storage space. When we stepped up into our 26 foot Overlander we were overjoyed with the amount of space we gained, yet many people feel that Airstreams are small and limited in storage. You guys are following your hearts and have a freedom that is not easy to come by. You have to work at it, but you have chosen the path that calls to you. I love the photo! What a great illustration of the contrasts you are commenting on. You have the wisdom to not take the strange comments personally, and are way ahead in not judging others.

    Shine on Tin Can!

    your friend in Alaska,

    Gary

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Apr 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks, Gary! What you said about the storage space is perfect – it’s always relative to something smaller, and we become incredibly adapted to our environments, small or large. After 8 months of living like this, being in anything larger would feel so strange! I’m not sure we could go smaller at this point, as much as we’d like to. We love the A-frame popups and really considered one of those, had we not needed space for the three dogs and an office. Someday we may do that (or a camper van) just so we have more flexibility in where we can park.

      Your kind words are so appreciated!

  3. Comment by Greg

    Greg Reply Apr 10, 2014 at 2:28 am

    Nice article Kristin! Unfortunately, there are always going to be those folks that know the “right” way for everyone else to live, work, raise kids, blah, blah, blah…I’m glad that you guys brush those comments off and know that you are choosing to do what many only think or talk about. Besides, how many of those people have had the exact same set-up as you? Probably very few if any, yet they are all experts 🙂 Just get a sweet bummer sticker that says “Eat My Gas Mileage” and roll on 🙂

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Apr 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      Thanks, Greg! I can guarantee there’s not another person out there with the same set-up as us! When you renovate from scratch like we did, the items we painstakingly chose to put in our home are a lot more personal than just buying an RV off the lot. We made a lot of difficult decisions based on presumptions of how we’d want to use it – decisions that we still question and tweak. We welcome suggestions for improvement from those with more knowledge than us, but flat-out criticism is a great way to lose our respect. We do our very best to nod and smile and just go about our merry way! Maybe we need a bumper sticker though.. 🙂

  4. Comment by Amanda

    Amanda Reply Apr 11, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    Great post. Our AS is about the same size as yours – 25 X 8 – and we too get a lot of comments and assumptions about the why we chose the the size we did. Some people get it (often other Airstreamers), but many who travel in larger RVs just think we’re crazy. It can be frustrating because we see our size as freeing, not limiting. We can go more places, we lug around less un-needed stuff, and we spend less money on gas and maintenance. Wins all around. We’ve met some really awesome people out on the road, but we also have come across some awfully judgmental folks who can’t see outside their own tiny box to realize that everyone lives, and RVs, in their own way. You’re absolutely right when you say that if your set up works for you, that’s all that matters!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Apr 13, 2014 at 4:27 pm

      Thanks, Amanda! You guys have been a huge inspiration to us as we remodeled ours and hit the road, and continue to be! We bookmark places you’ve been that we’d love to visit and you’ve given us some great tips for AS living. We really hope to meet up with you at some point this year!

      We see our small size as freeing too. We have to love and use everything we own or it doesn’t make the cut in this space. RVing is kind of like Survivor for possessions. I think maybe some of the naysayers are jealous that they aren’t brave enough to do what we do? Or that their relationships aren’t strong enough to survive it? I’m not sure, but we’re very happy and that’s all that matters to us. 🙂

  5. Comment by Mike Goad

    Mike Goad Reply Aug 11, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Nice article. We RV part time in a small Navion IQ Class C. In many of the places we camp, there are very few RVs larger than ours. Sometimes, though, our camper seems tiny when we’re camping in one of the commercial campgrounds, though. We are currently in one in South Dakota.

    I don’t know when you were at the North Little Rock campground pictured above. In the DoItYourselfRV.com article, there is another picture that includes an Outback travel trailer and a black truck. I took a photo of the track and trailer parked there on March 31st when we walked across the bridge from the Clinton Library and back on a day trip to Little Rock. I’m pretty sure I saw an airstream parked in the campground that day, too.

    Our little RV is somewhat unique. We get some looks, but I’ve never seen anyone taking photos. Airstreams, on the other hand, have a kind of mystique about them for RVers. We looked at some once, but didn’t want to spend that kind of money, though we, really, really liked them. I wasn’t interested in used RVs at that point. We went with a big 5ver and it didn’t take long to figure out that was a mistake. Now, our little motorized camper is just right for where we go and what we do. We tow a small car for trips to town and to explore.

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Aug 21, 2014 at 12:21 am

      Hey Mike! We actually were just looking at the new Winnebago Trend as a potential new RV after selling our Airstream. The Navions look like great little class C’s too!

      We were in Little Rock March 30-April 3rd…what a coincidence! We’re actually excited not to be the most distinctive RV in an RV park anymore. While being that unique is fun for shorter trips or vintage RV rallies, we get a little tired of our door being knocked on nearly every day while we’re working, eating dinner, etc, and many of the gawkers want a tour. That’s fine sometimes, but we’re not on vacation and it’s also our full-time home, so it isn’t always in pristine condition!

      We’re with you that we want a small motorized RV instead of a trailer next, and we may try to avoid towing a car and have a scooter on a mount on the back or just our bikes. We really don’t want to tow anything again for a while, if at all, so we’ll see if we can make due without. Keep us updated if you’ll be near us – we’d love to meet up!

      • Comment by Mike Goad

        Mike Goad Reply Aug 21, 2014 at 1:07 am

        We are on one of our RVing trips right now, camped at a KOA near Bozeman, MT.

        Our 6 year old Navion has 25,000 miles on it, but it would have a lot more if we didn’t tow. We just left Yellowstone. In 5 days there, the RV stayed parked and we put all of the exploring miles on the car, including a back roads access into the park that I would never to think to take the RV on — I didn’t plan for going on it with the car, either, but we took a wrong turn somewhere.

        I hardly notice the car behind us, except on steeper grades and tight turns. Even on steeper grades, we’ll readily pass loaded trucks, though we won’t be able to maintain the speed limit.

        We’re generally headed in the direction of Glacier NP, but there’s snow forecast later in the week so we’ll explore elsewhere until after the weather system moves on.

        Pleasant travels!

  6. Comment by Debbie

    Debbie Reply Nov 14, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Love this!!! We hope to upgrade one day to a Class A. Can’t wait to see your new one!

  7. Comment by RWL

    RWL Reply Nov 28, 2014 at 8:07 am

    I really like this article. I brings up many talking points. I posted on another of your posts how I went the opposite way of you – from motorhome to Airstream. I know exactly what you mean about the “look, its one of those old things, do they still make those?” or the awe from others as “this is a real camper.” The Airstream has quickly become my conversation starter- like a dog or something. Recently when at Fort Wilderness, two families were across the loop with rigs. The men came over to ask all sorts of questions about it. Do you have to polish it all the time?, etc.

    Frankly, I am not concerned about the no slides, too small, comments. I will tell you that when I was shopping for something under 30′ I ventured around with a yardstick and notepad measuring actual storage space. I looked at a Winnebago Vista 26E MH and measured cabinets and outside storage. The Airstream 25’11” twin had more inside storage AND the exterior trunks AND truck bed offered more outside storage. The same was found for the View model except considering the option – now gone I believe, of using a drop down bed for storage area.

    I think it is interesting what you said about “keeping up with the Jones” in the RV world. My take is that this is true but it is more related to type rather than size. The low guy on the totem pole is the pop up and trailer while the top is class A or perhaps certain fifth wheels. I say go camping and so what. As a solo camper I have lots of room in my stream. Improvements on bath size could be made- yes, but it comes down to really what you need.

    There is so much to consider, especially if you full time. Fifth wheels, in my opinion, are the most like a condo with their ceiling height and wide slides open area. Those high-end full-timer models are beautiful but, I would not want to haul something that big around unless I was going to one spot for the winter or something. As far as motor homes, hauling a car around is a nice option but then the odometer is ticking away there too and devaluing your other ride- the expenses are the greatest there, not to mention the gas mileage and special servicing. I looked at older gas and diesel motorhomes when the local dealer got in about a dozen or so. Interestingly they were about 8-12 years old and all but one of them had no more than 27K miles, most had around 20K. That is about 2000 miles a year, at most and not a lot of travel for an expensive vehicle now devalued to the 30K-55K purchase range (these were big ones). The point is that I do not believe many MH owners are nomadic/adventure travelers be it for price or other reasons. The bigger you go, the harder it is to travel.

    I do not full time but am prepping for part-timing about half the year. I currently use the camper as a vacationing rig as I am tethered to a local job. My opinion may change in time as other’s do yet as I have thoughtfully considered what I bought, and am working toward, this is what I have found to be the case. Enjoy your travels remembering that motto, “it isn’t the destination but the journey” and best wishes to you whatever you end up traveling with!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 30, 2014 at 1:40 am

      Thanks for the great insight! We agree completely with all your thoughts. It always boils down to what suits someone the best based on their likes and dislikes, and travel style. We just met a couple who have a 44′ fifth wheel and just the thought of something that big made me go “if you need that much room, why are you full-time RVing??”..until they told me their passion is riding their Harleys, and so the extra length is for storing the bikes in the back of their trailer. If that were our passion I’m not sure we wouldn’t do the same thing.

      We only ended up selling our Airstream because we found ourselves wanting more floor and seating space, especially because we work full-time in it and being comfortable is very important to our emotional and physical health, but we weren’t wanting to go with a longer, heavier trailer that would require a full-size pickup. We love our Jeep and wanted to keep it if at all possible, especially since it’s got 4×4 for off-road adventures and is so great for transporting our dogs around.

      Driving a smaller motorhome with the car in tow gives us new options like overnighting at a Walmart or on a city street and being able to quickly detach our car to go on a side trip somewhere. Before, we were stuck in the parking lot all night or couldn’t park on streets because of ordinances against trailers (not really fair, in our opinions). We’re definitely in the adventure travelers category, having towed our Airstream over 20,000 miles in the last year and visiting 35 states, so a big motorhome didn’t appeal to us at all, but some of these smaller ones are easy to drive *and* offer more storage and living space. If we spent months at a time in an RV park (or even more than a week!) we’d have gone with something different or kept the Airstream. Being that we move so often, this is a faster setup/tear down rig for us and that gives us more time to enjoy our destinations.

      They all have their trade-offs, but part of the fun is trying different things to get new experiences! Best wishes in your travels and hope to see you out there one day! 🙂

  8. Comment by Jeff & Emily Smith

    Jeff & Emily Smith Reply Dec 22, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks for the informative articles. My wife and I are selling our 30′ sailboat, which we raced and did summer cruises on, so are used to living in small spaces. We can’t wait to try cruising on land!

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