"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

If you had to, could you live in your camper? Think about it...

by Jim Bessey

It's when you're safe at home that you wish you were having an adventure. When you're having an adventure you wish you were safe at home. ~Thornton Wilder

Camping pool-side at Holiday Hill
What if you lost your house? Could you move into your camper as a fall-back? As we enter Year Two of The Great Recession, this isn't just an idle, round-the-campfire question. When my wife was laid-off last Christmas, we wondered how we would ever pay our $1,000+ monthly mortgage. After all, we'd been spending both of our incomes; how would we get by without her half? What if we had to move out of our home?

Were we only joking when we said, "well, we can always live in our camper"?

First, let me be clear -- this ain't no Class A Motorhome. We have a 30-year-old Shasta trailer, bought used for less than a grand and lovingly restored by all four of us. It's about 19 feet long -- counting the hitch!. Compared to our 2,000 square-foot house, it's a closet. When we're camping, it's quite comfy; but could we live in it full-time?
We do, however, have a kitchen, dining area, living room/pull-out bedroom, and a teeny tiny bathroom with a "bathtub." 

Let's talk about space.

As modern camping trailers go, ours is at the "cramped quarters" end of the spectrum. The actual floor space measures 15' by 7 1/2' for a total of just over 100 square feet. For comparison, our one-car garage is three times that size. (The trailers that FEMA supplies to disaster victims are about twice as big as ours.) We do, however, have a kitchen, dining area, living room/pull-out bedroom, and a teeny tiny bathroom with a "bathtub." We have a lot of cabinet space, considering, but only one closet. My wife would have to "adjust" to that one!

We're talking a distinct lack of amenities here.

We don't have any air-conditioning, though we do have a toasty gas furnace. We boast neither built-in radio nor flat-screen TV; we don't subscribe to Satellite TV. Our only counter space is created by covering the 4-burner stove with a Formica slab. While we do have a booth and a couch, we have no chairs inside at all. Our chairs fold up and slide into canvas bags. When we hang out, it's generally under out camper's roll-out awning, or by the campfire.
No way we could stay here in upstate NY over the winter...

And there are some serious practical considerations, too.

We can't park our rig just anywhere. We replaced our original dual-power fridge (DOA) with an electric one from Home Depot. We've never used our holding-tank water supply. We need hook-ups! That leaves out Free Parking at Wal-Mart. If we wanted to bum around, camping in our friends' or relatives' driveways, most places prohibit that, except for a weekend stay. So much for that idea.

fall evening by the campfire, at KOA
We could have a lovely summer staying at our favorite campground, for about $1,200 (seasonal rate). But that only covers about one third of the year. No way we could stay here in upstate NY over the winter, heater or not. We'd have to move South. As long as at least one of us has a job, that would make getting to work a tad inconvenient.

So what's the real answer?
We'd wake up with the sun, and go to bed earlier.

I think we could do it, for a few months -- and not in winter. We'd save a ton of money, and just have to put up with the tight quarters and lack of luxuries. As long as the weather was decent, we'd spend most of our free time outdoors. We'd have campfires all the time! (Would I get tired of them? Hope not.)

We would spend more time talking to each other, listening to the radio, and reading books. Unless, of course, we decided to spring for a dish. Most campgrounds we like have Wi-Fi, so we could stay in touch with our online friends. We'd wake up with the sun, and go to bed earlier.

I know, I know...sounds sort of idyllic, doesn't it? I'm sure we'd get on each others' nerves long about Week 2. It'd probably rain even more than it usually does. But we'd have a roof over our heads.   There's no place like home...
 Have you ever tried living in your camper? I'm sure some of you big-rig owners do it for a few months out of the year. Anybody else? Could you, if you had to?


  1. We have a plan to hit the road preferably in a Class B when the kids are grown and out of the house. The two of us could easily live in one and still have space for each of us, we've even gotten to the point of listing the must haves.

  2. On a fishing trip to Canada once, we met an entire campground full of people who literally live in their full size RVs year around. They spend the summer (May through October) in Canada and drive south to Florida for the winter. There were about thirty couples, all retired and they called themselves the snowbird club. They all had the big RV, a car and a boat on a trailer.

    But that's nothing like you're talking about. Could I do that? Alone maybe. You mention the electricity issue. How about solar on the roof and possibly one of those home built wind turbines to help out. Gas generator to make up the difference. Fact is though, I just have WAY to much stuff to be happy in a place like that. I'd feel claustrophobic all winter living in that. I think I'd have to move in the winter, but as a full time freelancer, I think I could do that. On the plus side, I would not be tied to anywhere. On the down side, I would not be tied to anywhere.

    Interesting musing...


  3. Jim, when things gets tough, you do what ya gotta do. Could I live in such cramped quarters with little luxury? Yes. Would I grumble? Probably, but if need be, I would do it and not grumble...Tommy would do most of the grumbling for me!

  4. We talk about this all the time, Jim. The housing market has us "stuck" in California, right now, but we are hoping to move back to Oregon, some day.

    We have a lot of practice, albeit one or two weeks at a time :) When we go to Oregon in the summer, we stay at state parks or USFS campgrounds. That becomes our base, as we travel around and see family and friends. It's not always convenient - using the campground showers to get all cleaned-up for dinner, or a night on the town with friends, but it's doable.

    Could we do it for 6 months? I don't know - I bet that would get old, real quick!

  5. It probably would get old, Roy.

    I know there are a bunch of people who used to have homes in the Katrina zone, who're still living in campers. They probably aren't to happy.

    The only way I could see it working was if you treated it as a short-term "adventure" and had a concrete goal at the end -- a house, an apartment, or moving back in with your parents.

    There are also a number of folks who spend their time touring the country in large, luxurious Class A motorhomes. Sounds very inviting -- at first. That probably gets old too, after a while. Just guessing.

  6. Anonymous10:58 AM

    In 1995/6 my family sold our very spacious 4 bedroom home, and bought a 35' Bounder class A motor home. It wasn't out of necessity but for my family's benefit. my parents wanted to spend more time with my sister and I. My dad sold his business that he had built from the ground up, and we took off on a 1 year trip across the united states. I was 8 years old at the time, and couldn't grasp how big of a risk this was for my parents. Long story short, we spent 52 weeks on the road (coming back to our home state of Michigan every once in a while to see friends and family) driving to all 48 continental states, and flying to Alaska and Hawaii.
    15 years later I am now considering buying and renovating a camper to live in for 6 months or so. I guess you could I caught the travel bug from my parents.

    enjoyed your article.

  7. What an amazing adventure! Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  8. Anonymous11:03 AM

    Doing it now. We decided to make lemonade out of lemons and move into our camper when we lost our house at the end of May. Our 9 year old loves it, our friends are supportive, those who don't know us well are appalled and the receptionist at the dentist's office can't understand how we don't have a physical address. While at times, the lack of personal space has been a challenge, it has been the best summer of our lives. We have grown closer as a family and camping has enabled us to dream again. Through darkness came a bright light - a new lifestyle - a blessing.

  9. Dear Camping friend,
    Your story brought a tear to my eye. I can only imagine, while you are DOING it. Your final sentence here is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your story, and God Bless.