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Living in an RV: Expectation vs Reality

Having never spent a single night in a caravan, it was a huge step for me, moving from our house in the Cotswolds into a 15-metre-long, 4-metre-high, 3.5-ton fifth wheel, with our 2 children and 2 cats!! The expectation vs the reality was a major wake-up call!
Expectation: I am an eternal optimist and a persistent dreamer, I envisioned trundling along the roads and lanes of quaint European villages, exploring places that have never been seen by British tourists before. Stopping overnight in remote places and opening the blinds to a new and breath-taking view every day.
I had read “RV the world” and this may have skewed my vision for our future, in hindsight. It painted a picture of my dream I had been imagining since I had first laid eyes on the Romany Gypsy caravans when no older than 5.
Reality: Our first day saw us get stuck in a narrow French village with our enormous RV, narrowly escaping being forever stuck in a dead-end lane leading to a beach and open water, being too large to turn into the campsite I’d found on Park4Night (not an app I would advise if you’re in a fifth wheel FYI) and also, being too high to get under the barrier they put across the top of the entrance to prevent lorries from parking in them!
We ended up sleeping on the side of a motorway, facing the wrong direction we were supposed to be travelling, and having come to the crashing realisation, that this was not going to be the idyllic, carefree journey we had predicted. That, was my first night in a caravan – behind the back of a Motorway hotel with the traffic zooming past us, a view of tarmac & cars and the fear that we had just wasted £60,000 on a fifth wheel that we were never going to use again.
I’ll be honest, it was not our finest hour.
"The stress, anxiety, and worry from that first foray into fifth-wheeling was enough to put us off for a lifetime. But we had gone down the rabbit hole too deep and there was very little hope of surfacing."
The next morning, hungry (I hadn’t been able to swallow any food for 24hrs from the sheer fear of the situation) tired (we hadn’t slept because of the noise and the tears and the worry of our greatest mistake ever) & embarrassed, we got back in the truck and turned in the correct direction on the motorway made it back to my parents’ house, said our goodbyes, and embarked on a very different adventure to that which we had planned.


Now, we do things differently:
First off, we don’t use park4night ever. Period. That app is for motorhomes. 
We plan.
Then we check our plan
Then we check it again
Then we drive it.
In other words - I run a spreadsheet of potential stops and campsite stops. I google map them, then I take the street view person icon and I drag and drop him at the start of where the journey turns off the motorway, I then walk him all the way along the road to check our intended route for narrow roads, low hanging trees, bridges, sharp turns or steep descents (there was an incident in  rural Germany where this plan failed us miserably and we were in a similar hot water scenario to France with a 25% descent which we could not do with our weight.) 
I then check the proposed parking site - be it campsite or motorway stop, and I’ll go through Google reviewers’ photos, google satellite, and everything I can do, to ensure the entrance is wide enough (there was an incident on the French Riviera- it was terrifyingly tight on the right turn into the campsite – the stress levels were through the roof) and also to ensure the entrance doesn’t have a low archway (yet another issue in Poland – we got this on film)
We also bought a Truckers Sat Nav at vast expense but worth every single penny. We had been using an app called Co-Pilot that was responsible for the issue in Germany with the steep road, and another issue in Switzerland telling us to get off the motorway and sending us down really small narrow roads. So don’t get that one!!!
Our dream of parking off-road and off-grid is unlikely to happen with our fifth wheel, we need the connection of electricity, access to water and dump stations, so we have resigned ourselves to living in campsites, with views of caravans, motorhomes, bins, campsite toilets… but we are free! Free to travel and explore the area with our car and see the sights and sounds.
Our revelation came when, 6 months in, we had run out of our redundancy money and we couldn’t afford the cost of campsites, we discovered ‘Workaway’. Typically a website for single travellers without their own accommodation, we began contacting hosts and asking if we could park for free, with access to their water & electricity, (this is called ‘moochdocking’ in America) in return for 4 hours work per day. Typically a host offers free accommodation & food in exchange for 4 hours work, so we just changed it up a little bit and it’s worked well! We have met some fantastic people in Lithuania, Latvia & Estonia travelling this way.
We are currently parked up in Lapland in a resort whilst Brett works for a restaurant (he’s a chef) waiting for borders to relax their restrictions.


Reality: Let’s talk Poo!
In my 35 years prior to moving into an RV, I had never once concerned myself with where our waste went once we flushed the toilet. Living in an RV has brought me face-to-face with raw sewage and now I don’t even blink an eye. I could never have imagined towing a massive dump truck full of sewage up a flight of steps before I started full-time RV’ing, yet, here I am!
Reality: Life inside the RV
Living full time and bringing up children in an RV has required adaptation; I am now fully able to block out the screaming and crying of my 2 children and be able to continue with my work as if there is complete silence. If there is silence, I now find it deafening. The small space has created us to think outside of the box to entertain the children, we don’t have television, and we limit YouTube access to 1 hr per day for our eldest. We play card games and board games together to reduce boredom and spend more time outside, even in the Arctic temperatures.
On the positive side, cleaning is so easy, I can actually ‘mop’ the entire RV on my hand and knees with a cloth, getting into all the cracks and edges within 30 minutes! Although cleaning the outside windows did get me sent to A&E in agony having ripped my flesh off the bone on my foot and earned me several stitches… we got it all on film!
Reality: Electricity
Flick a switch; light comes on, plug something in; it works, boil a kettle; tea is made. Simple. Life prior to RV living was carefree and oh so simple!! At least that is how I remember it!
In reality, there are loads, capacities, Amps, wattage to think about, all these things to consider when buying a simple kettle. Different campsites around Europe have different amps, some only have 3 amps which allows for only the bare essentials to work, and we have to switch off every other appliance in the house for it not to trip. The best campsites have 16 Amps, where we can blissfully have the air con on whilst still boiling the kettle and use the electric hob!
Since living in Finland, where temperatures drop to as low as -40ºC we have blown the fuse on the electricity board so many times, that we have gone through at least 120 fuses in one winter season struggling to heat the place, forgetting to turn off the heater before switching on the kettle.
It’s less glamorous than I expected, I am now a dab hand at a ‘navy shower’ when I’d never even heard of one before this journey! I am very conscious of wasting water & never let the tap run when putting soap on my hands, brushing my teeth, washing up. 


It has been a journey in every respect, but none more so than in my self-development. We are mindful, don’t waste food, recycle, avoid all plastics, practise gratitude daily, repeat affirmations and try to live every day in the present.
We have visited a total of 19 countries with our fifth wheel, we have met some fantastic people and every few weeks there is a new view out of our windows, we are closer as a family and much, much happier.


International Travel
Published on 21-10-2020
We are a family of 4, Brett, Amelia, Gabriel, and Grey, oh, and our 2 cats. In March 2019 we both lost our jobs and decided to use the redundancy pay-out to fund a few years travelling around the World. We have always been passionate about travel and exploring new countries. We met in Spain in 2007, Brett coming from SA & myself from the UK and then we were married in 8 different countries around the world! We always spent a month for our annual holiday cramming in as many countries as possible, so it was a natural move to full-time travel. We considered our options and decided that the best way to travel cost-efficiently and easily with our children and our 2 cats was to purchase a motorhome or fifth wheel. After much deliberation, we settled on our KZ Sportsmen 302BHK fifth-wheel with a Ford F150 tow truck.