Friday, July 12, 2019

Is Long-term, Stationary RV Living Becoming More Common?

Living the Local Life, a long-term, stationary RV family

Are contemporary recreation camper owners living in their tiny homes in increasing numbers, just as John Steinbeck in 1960 discovered large numbers of Americans choosing the mobile home lifestyle? That's the question I've been thinking about and researching since writing my last article about full-time RV living ("Tiny Trailers and Urban Campgrounds of the Future: a Vision"). Does the tiny house movement have its corresponding component in the recreational vehicle community? We know there is a full-time lifestyle RV community--people choosing to live an itinerant lifestyle in their tiny homes on wheels.

There are the snowbirds, driving their RVs south for the winter, many of their RVs so big as to be apartments on wheels. Many of these folks are retired and set up camp in private RV parks. Sun RV Resorts might be a landing spot for such folks who are seeking organized, regulated environments with other like-minded campers. Similar sites of lesser cost may appeal to others.

Fort Pierce/Port St. Lucie KOA
KOA provides a page on their website regarding extended stays, which includes the tutorial "Extended Stay 101," where the word is "If you’re looking for reliability, friendly faces and quality amenities, KOA has you covered." I checked out the Fort Pierce/Port St. Lucie, Florida, KOA for extended stay prices and found the following: "We've got sites from as low as $650/month for most of the year.  With your groceries, restaurants, and pharmacy all within walking distance, its a great place to call home. Off-season rates range from $650-$800/month, plus tax and electric. In-season ranges from $1600-$1800/month, plus tax."

Then there are the vanlife adherents--and not all of them in vans but folks young and old who have chosen to live small--minimalists giving a nod to Thoreau. Many of these folks move every two weeks and seek free or "boondocking" camping spots. Whether they still work for a living or are retired, these tiny campers (and some not so tiny) seek out living spaces less manicured. They live a more frugal life, either by choice or necessity. The YouTube channel CheapRVliving chronicles the lives of such travelers, many of their stories a blend of Thoreau's stay at Walden Pond and the saga of the migrant laborers during the Great Depression.

Cheap RV Living blog

There are also the working folks (of all ages) who are neither white-haired snowbirds nor travelers on a very long holiday; rather, they are people who have chosen to live for an extended time in their small rigs, "houseless but not homeless," as one comment about my last article articulated. Xscapers is an affiliation or club of individuals who have chosen the full-time RV life while also still fully employed. They describe themselves as follows: "Working on the road or raising a family while nomadic is no longer a rarity but a rapidly growing segment of the RV lifestyle. Modern technology has provided new tools to make life on the road easier, making pursuing this dream increasingly possible for many aspiring RVers. Xscapers embraces this change and is ready to be a part of it with you. This isn’t only our way of life, it’s a conscious ideal."

The Xscapers community

Let's add one last group of full-time RV residents to this discussion--those who are long-term, stationary RVers, whom we might call "tiny mobile home" residents. They have jobs and work, but prefer long-term residence in one location for their RV. If there can be houses and "tiny houses," then there can be mobile homes and mobile "tiny RV homes." Where do these folks live, who have no desire to travel with their travel vehicles, who are living small in a single location for long periods of time?

One news article published online by the Columbian, covering the Vancouver, Washington, area, is titled "As housing costs climb, living in an RV park is affordable, if technically illegal." It's a highly readable article about people who for economic reasons are choosing to live in an RV. One individual in the article mentions apartment rent being raised from $600 to $900 a month. "For a growing number of people, it offers a cheaper alternative to a traditional rental. And the RV itself is something people can call their own. RVs vary widely in cost depending on the floorplan, features and age. A used travel trailer could cost just a few thousand dollars while a new motorcoach could easily cost more than $100,000." The article includes an explanation about why permanent living in an RV is "technically illegal," which centers around the different standards of construction for temporary housing and permanent housing. Electrical issues, for instance, were one area discussed.

The website AOWanders has published the article "Find Cheap RV hookups for less than $200 a month for full time RV Living." The title is a bit misleading because the tips for the $200 sites are buried toward the end of the article. However, the article itself is an interesting read, an extended and somewhat cynical (or at least "eyes open" look) at full-time RV living. One significant point was that many RV parks have a base price but then the park extras are all "a la carte," so monthly costs can add up quickly. "Living in an RV Park is convenient, but obnoxiously expensive and restrictive.  I sometimes break down and submit, but it’s not very often.  Your average RV Park with pathetic Wifi, shower house, and laundry facilities will run you around:  $50/night; $250/week; $450/month.  As well as provide a list of rules at check-in time.  Depending on the park these rules are either strictly enforced like a maximum security prison, or at others, the only effort to enforce them was the time it took to write them." Interestingly enough, the author also mentions living once for six months in a mobile home park. "Mobile home parks generally are hundreds of dollars cheaper a month and aren’t always that organized.  I stayed for 6 months in Ogden, Utah, with full hookups for free because they forgot about me. " The cynicism carries some ambivalence, though, and you'll find the article hot and cold regarding full-time RV living. The reader comments at the end of the article are also both interesting and useful.

One YouTube video provides "pro tips" for the stationary, long-term lifestyle in a camper: "5 Pro Tips for Full Time Stationary RV Living." The tips surprised me, but the focus was on living space without the travel. The video quickly brings home the reality of folks living in their RVs because they have nowhere else to go. This YouTube Channel, Exploring the Local Life, is developed by "a Latino RVing family of four (Robert, Jessica, Daniel, and Nadia) that learns and travels together." They have quite a few videos, and the evolution of their lifestyle can be seen in the titles. And, as usual, the reader comments are highly illuminating.

Many RV Parks and even mobile home parks allow smaller, single axle trailers to stay for long-term visits. The amenities can include showers and restrooms, dump stations, laundries, and recreation centers. The question remains, though, of how welcoming would an RV park be for a tiny trailer long-term stay, where much of the living and cooking is outside, where a utilitent houses a portable toilet and is sometimes also a shower stall. For many of these RVs used for full-time living, the units are large enough that most household activities take place inside. What about the tiny campers where much of the living is outside?

As a test, I sent an email inquiry and later made a phone call to Arrey RV Park, in southern New Mexico. Arrey is a town of a few hundred population, "nestled in the Hatch Valley," about a hundred miles from the Mexican border. This is not a spot one would camp and travel to a nearby job, but it is one that could be a destination for someone seeking a permanent base for a time if one had an internet job. I asked about space availability and cellphone signal strength in the email.  Jan, the manager and owner, responded.
"Hi, Tom, at this time we have no full time space available with electric and sewer. We only have camping with water hookup available. You would be able to set up solar and use a generator between the hours of 6am and 10pm only. We have a full use kitchen and clubhouse, handicap accessible showers and restrooms, and a public laundromat on site. I have Verizon and, yes, I use the mobile hotspot with it with no problem. $150.00 per month is the rate for the water only camping. You can be placed on a waiting list for full hookups. I have 3 people ahead of you for that at present. No reservations needed for [the water-only] camping at this time."
Arrey RV Park
It was during the following phone call that the subject turned interesting in relation to the focus of this article. The reason there are no full-time spaces available for rent is because customers who have previously stayed at the park over the years have now decided to live at the park permanently. Jan said that these full-time RVers had gotten older and no longer wished to be traveling all the time. In other words, they were choosing a long-term, stationary RV lifestyle. The park's few water-only sites that were available were what she called "dry camping," a few sites amid some trees--basically boondocking with the park's amenities available nearby.

I asked specifically about long-term camping with a tiny trailer. She had no problem with that, saying they did not allow long-term camping with tents, however. I provided more information, saying that my "standy" teardrop had no kitchen or toilet facilities, that we almost always cooked outside, and she said that the hard camper was their minimum requirement--that the restroom and kitchen were available for use. Since cooking outside was okay, I imagine erecting the utilitent for showers and nighttime portable toilet  would also be acceptable. Tiny camper owners could live a long-term lifestyle at this park--if it weren't already filled to capacity with permanent RVers.

Arrey RV Park

I'm currently continuing to research the possibilities of tiny trailer living in more structured RV parks, although from my initial searches, these parks are pricey if you are near populated areas. I intend to use some of the sources discovered for this article (the "Cheap RV Hookups" article suggests Craigslist, AirBnB, and Facebook local groups) in order to find out if long-term living is allowed for tiny trailers--even for the tiniest, such as traditional teardrops.

Perhaps some readers have knowledge regarding our "beds on wheels" and their place in RV parks for extended stays. I'd appreciate any input that will facilitate my research, and (if possible) rermember that placing your comments on the blog rather than Facebook page creates a more permanent record. Thanks!

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