Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A different lifestyle

This post is going to be about how we live while we are on the road. Due to both preference and finances we frequently "boondock", an RVer term for living with no services. Its an amazing way to reduce your carbon footprint, its usually cheap or free, and we get to travel. However it makes for a very different lifestyle than most Americans are used to.

When we are traveling we are self contained in our RV. That means that instead of regular electricity we have a battery bank. We have 40 gallons of fresh water capacity and the RV can store 40 gallons each of gray water and black water. Gray water means sinks and showers; black water is toilet water. We have a 20 gallon propane tank on board which is for the stove, furnace, and hot water heater.
Water is the #1 rationed item. We always use paper plates and bowls. We have a dish pan in the sink which captures all the used dish water. We use some of the dirty dish water to fill/flush the toilet (we don't want to send precious fresh water down the toilet) and the rest of the dish water gets thrown outside so it will not fill up the septic. We usually shower about every 3 days when in conservation mode. When I am going to shower I turn on the hot water heater about 15 minutes before my shower. While boondocking we leave the hot water heater off until we need it to conserve propane. We laughingly call our showers "bird baths". We turn the water off frequently while showering to conserve water and also because the hot water heater is very small - 5 gallons of water. Even when on full hookups a hot shower is going to be limited to a few minutes before we run out of hot water. These are the hot water switches, on the left is electric, on the right is propane.

We do other things to conserve water, too. When washing my hands the water only needs to be turned on to a trickle. There is no need to run water and let it just go down the sink. When I do want hot water for a shower or to wash my face I'll capture cold water in a 32 oz cup while the water warms up.

The microwave and oven only run on shore power. So while we're boondocking I heat my morning tea over the stove. I don't drink coffee anymore because a coffeemaker uses a lot of electricity. I have to plan our meals a little better when we're boondocking because I can only use the stove or a grill. If I really wanted to cook in the oven we can turn on the generator but generator use is limited to certain hours at most campgrounds because it's very noisy. It's so loud it's like having a lawnmower running right outside your window!

That brings me to the next majorly rationed item while boondocking which is energy. Things that are hard-wired into the RV can run on the house batteries. But none of our power outlets work. No crockpot, no charging your computer, no electric toothbrush. No TV. No DVD player. No radio. Also the air conditioner will not run. With time we have learned how to go without some things and found work-arounds for others. My "toaster" is a plate that sits on the stove burner.

We tried an inverter on the TV but it was too loud to be able to enjoy our show. We charge the computers while driving (using an inverter from the cigarette lighter) and plug them in any time we run the generator. Chris is going to rewire our radio to run on 12 volt. We turn off all the lights except the ones directly overhead. We have also purchased some battery operated LED lights that help alot.

It is still always very dim in our house after sunset. We have an energy monitor that tells us exactly how much energy we are pulling from the batteries at any time and we monitor that religiously.

We have an on-board generator that can run all the electric items in the house just as if we were plugged into shore power. The generator runs on propane. The generator refills the battery power when it gets low. With our expanded battery bank we can travel for several days without running the generator.

The last item we ration is propane. Propane use varies wildly. In the winter when we were in very cold areas we burned through a full tank of propane in only a few days! We had to ration our propane pretty severely in the winter and that meant we were frequently chilly during the winter months. If we are using our generator frequently we will need frequent propane fills. The bummer about propane is that sometimes its the most inconvenient thing to find. Very few campgrounds actually pump propane. Some truck stops have propane and so that is usually where we refill.

We don't have to do these things to live in an RV. If we had the money and the desire we could stay in commercial RV parks with full hookups. They tend to be crowded. We would always be only a few feet from neighbors. RV parks do not usually have great views like many of the back country places we've found. We like campgrounds better. Many state and federal park campgrounds have water and electric hookups but no sewer hookups. Many have a dump station you can stop at on your way in or out. Flying J gas stations sometimes have fresh water and dump stations. We're still learning how to find completely free places to stay. We can park in parking lots and rest areas but we really prefer places off the beaten path!


  1. Awesome! I miss yall, but I am so glad to read your wonderful adventures.

  2. Hey! I love this post you made. Makes me not feel like we're all alone out there "roughing it" I guess what can be said is at least we aren't in a tent every single day!!! What does your rig look like? I can't find a pic. You may need to give me a link on my blog so I'm sure to get it!