Is It Smart to Live in a Camper: 3 Step Guide

You might be considering alternative living arrangements like tiny homes or building with shipping containers, but have you thought about the possibility of living in a camper? Is it smart to live in a camper? “Smart” can be defined in a variety of ways depending on a person’s perspective, but regardless of your views, three important factors are crucial to enable you to make a smart decision when considering living full-time in a camper: Financial, Mental (Emotional), and Practical considerations.

It is smart to live in a camper if an extensive examination of the financial, mental, and practical aspects of camper life are weighed prior to making the decision. Many who live full-time in a camper find the benefits far exceed the drawbacks.

To determine if it would be smart for you to live in a camper, you would need to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of the 3 major factors by following the 3 Step Guide below. If done properly, you will arrive at an intelligent decision.

Let’s examine the following decision components that form our guide:

  • Financial
  • Mental (Emotional)
  • Practical

Combining and evaluating these 3 elements and then candidly assessing your personal preference thresholds will help you decide if it’s smart to live in a camper.

Step 1: Financial Guide

Camper financial

Financial: adjective; pertaining to monetary receipts and expenditures; pertaining or relating to money matters;

Is it financially smart to live in a camper? It depends on the person’s situation and the camper.

Let’s assume you buy a used camper for $19,800 like the example in a previous post HERE. We know the monthly loan payment is $250. The average insurance for a camper is $42 per month, This brings your monthly camper fees to a minimum of $292, regardless of where it is located, whether sitting in your driveway*, traveling on the road, or parked in a campground.

*Note: Some homeowners associations do not allow parked campers, so you may incur additional storage expenses prior to transitioning to full-time living. You will have to make a choice about the camper’s mobility and location.

Important financial comparisons and considerations to make regarding the camper:

  • Stationary – Park the camper in one residential type RV park or…
  • Mobile – Travel and visit multiple parks throughout the year

As a general rule, parking the camper is far less expensive and provides greater financial benefits.

The lot fee to park a camper with a yearly lease at a nice RV resort in the Tampa area averages $500 per month.

From my experience, plan to spend an additional $100 monthly in total for propane gas and electricity, depending on the season. Summers bring higher electric bills due to the air conditioner while winters bring greater propane bills due to the heater.

So, a minimum monthly fee of $292 (loan payment + insurance) + $500 (lot fee) + $100 (gas/electric) = $892 per month. The total fee for a month’s stay in this campground is $892 monthly for campers with a yearly lease. Maintenance fees will be minimal as long as you rotate the tires every 3-5 months and treat the camper roof.

The main cost that will increase dramatically is where you will park the camper while traveling.

The short-term lot fees for the same RV resort above, which charges an average of $500 per month on a 1-year lease, have the following rates:

  • $1,215 per month during the high season
  • $588 weekly 
  • $84 daily

Let’s assume our people like to travel and visit a new campsite each month:

So, the minimum monthly fee of $292 (loan payment + insurance) + $1,215 (short-term month lot fee) + $100 (gas/electric) = $1,607 that month. The total fee for a month’s stay in this campground for a short-term rental is $1,607.

Let’s assume there is $588 weekly rate at a different resort without a monthly discounted option. To stay there a month, the monthly lot fee would be $2,352 as calculated by $588 x 4 weeks. So, the minimum monthly fee of $292 (loan payment + insurance) + $2,352 (short-term month lot fee) + $100 (gas/electric) = $2,744 that month.

Lot Price Difference: Stationary vs.Mobile 
Difference of  $715 ($1607 – $892) between per month rate for traveling and parking your camper.
Difference of  $1,852 ($2744 – $892) between 4 weeks at the weekly rate and parking your camper.

This illustrates longer stays generally produce more financial savings. If you were to reserve a campsite at this same place for 3 weeks ($1764= 3 x $588)) instead of 1 month ($1215) you actually lose $549 ($1764 – $1215). In this case, it’d be financially advantageous to reserve the month, and if desired, leave after 3 weeks…or you could stay and enjoy the “free” last week at the RV resort campground.

Other Traveling Expenses: 
Traveling means you will have gasoline expenses to haul or move the camper. The camper weighs more than a car, so it will use more gas to move it. As gas prices can sometimes be high or volatile, this expense can result in substantial gas costs depending on the distance to be traveled.

If you don’t have a truck to tow your camper, transport company fees can add significant costs depending on the distance. Not every truck can accommodate the weight of a camper.

In general, you will have more wear and tear on a camper and its tires while traveling, which will increase repair and maintenance expenses. It is difficult to estimate a specific dollar amount, but whatever budget you decide for general maintenance on a stationary camper, at least double that amount for a camper that will travel frequently.

Another financial consideration is depreciation, which can accelerate with constant travel. Evaluate the cost of your camper vs the depreciation pattern you assessed prior to buying from the previous post HERE. Seeing an increase in depreciation or rapid reduction in value from year to year can help you make a smart decision because campers are depreciating assets – just like cars. You may use it as a home, but homes normally appreciate in value each year, whereas campers and cars do not. Plan your purchase wisely.

There are a variety of factors to consider when traveling from gas prices to transport fees, tire pressure and wear, frequency of campsite change, repairs and maintenance, and depreciation. It is difficult to estimate a specific budget, but making an informed and smart decision is based on research prior to making your decision or purchase.

Step 2: Mental (Emotional) Guide

Camper Freedom

Mental: adjective; of or relating to the mind;

How living in a camper will affect your mental state is an important consideration, as there are pros and cons to the lifestyle.

There is a weird sense of freedom and mobility you get when your home is on wheels. Even if you decide to park your camper long-term, you can still decide to leave and take your home to a new city or state. There is not a sense of being tied down or having to sell it as a prerequisite to changing cities or states.

If you sold your home and most of your belongings, you have fewer items to cloud your mind. Hoarding “stuff” negatively impacts the mind, as it has to catalog all you own. Clutter often produces stress. Camper living forces you to keep only that which is truly important to you. It’s cathartic.

Your mental health may improve as you may find it easier to see out of state family and friends. If you travel with your camper, you can stay at local campgrounds when you visit family and friends who may not have the space to host you overnight. It’s easier to visit without worrying about sleeping accommodations.

There can be a life hack sense of accomplishment as you live in a camper and save money to make a purchase, reach a financial goal, start a business, or pay off debt.

A smaller space can lead to annoyance since it is easier to smell everything in that space, including the bathroom next to the kitchen. If you have a cat, you immediately know when it has relieved itself, which means more frequent litter box cleanups. Smells in a small space are not a minor thing.

Small spaces tend to wear on your mind faster and produce cabin fever. It’s more difficult to have quiet time when living in a camper, and everyone needs to have alone time.

Frustration from transitioning from a house or apartment to a small camper is a consideration. The smaller bedrooms and general living area are very different. Even cooking in a smaller kitchen can be challenging; our article discusses this HERE.

You won’t have your own yard. If you enjoyed cutting the lawn or planting flowers, this can lead to a sense of loss. If you have a dog, it will need to be on a leash. Gone are the days of opening the door to your fenced yard and letting Fido out.

Loss of privacy is tough. When you want to sit and enjoy the great outdoors, some of your fellow campers and RVers will see you and approach you to introduce themselves. Vacationers are friendly and chatty. They assume you are on vacation like them; they don’t know you live there and want to relax before going to bed and working tomorrow.

You may feel judged by those you know and do not know. Many people may look disapprovingly at your choice and associate the lifestyle with poverty. Many are unaware that some campers cost more than some houses, and many people living in a camper are financially secure, yet enjoy the lifestyle for a variety of reasons.

There are many emotional considerations that must be evaluated in order to make a proper intelligent decision. If you are honest with yourself and contemplate the pros and cons of living in a camper, most will find it is a smart decision.

Step 3: Practical Guide

Camper maintenance

Practical: adjective; of or relating to practice or action;

Now we’re going to explore the aspects of living in a camper that involves the actual doing or experience rather than theories or ideas.

Maintenance costs and time. Campers are not built for full-time living. The manufacturers don’t invest in couches, cushions and all the trimmings. Campers are made for the weekend getaway or occasional vacation. As a result, they break down more easily. You will find you spend as much or more time on maintenance as you would living in a house you own when living in a camper full time.

Dumping tanks are not for the faint of heart. We found we had to dump our black tank (think pee and poo tank) about every seven days. It becomes part of the weekly routine, but it’s also not something you can put off for more than a day. Though you don’t come into contact with anything, it seems gross, and there’s always a silly fear that there may be an awful mess to clean up if something breaks at an inopportune place or time.

All campers have problems. It just depends on the number and seriousness of the problems. Your camper will need new tires at some point in time. Campers may need maintenance at the shop; where will you stay if it is required overnight or for a couple of days? This is a serious consideration because you have to think about where you would store all your belongings while it’s at the shop for repairs or maintenance.

Our camper had such a problem with a cable connection in the second bedroom, which I used as an office. I was furious because I needed the connection for work, but the dealer would not send a repairman onsite at the RV resort to fix it.

Camping grounds do not have garages. How comfortable do you feel about your vehicle staying in the elements 24/7/365? We were also not allowed to work on our vehicle or wash our car because of the rules at the RV resort. Are you ok with these type of rules?

Laundry is a consideration if you are accustomed to having your own washer and dryer in your home or are not a fan of community laundry facilities.

These are practical considerations that should help you form the basis of your decision. If you contemplate and can accept the practical issues of required maintenance, dumping tanks, situations requiring in shop repairs, your vehicle being in the elements, and communal laundry associated with living in a camper, it is a smart decision you should consider.

The Decision: Is it Smart to Live in a Camper?

We’ve discussed financial, mental (emotional), and practical considerations to decide if it’s smart to live in a camper. You must now evaluate and decide what your main goal is for living in a camper, and if that is what makes it “smart” for you.

If your main goal is for financial reasons, then your decision boils down to whether you feel comfortable parking your camper and staying put, or receiving less of a financial benefit by traveling with your camper.

If your goal is for mental benefits, then you must consider the various advantages and disadvantages we discussed. You should also contemplate other factors that are important to you and your mental well-being.

Practical considerations are where the rubber meets the road. Here you must pull yourself out of the fantasy of alternative living and truly consider the tradeoffs and reality of day to day living in a camper.

Overall, you must evaluate all three considerations, weigh which one is the primary driver, and truly consider if the advantages are enough to make it smart for you to live in a camper. Many people find it is extremely smart and beneficial to live in a camper. We did. To find out more about our experience, read on…

Is it Smart to Live in a Camper

When our last child graduated college, we sold our house. We had lived in houses within subdivisions for decades and wanted something different. What, we didn’t quite know at the time, so we looked at renting townhomes in the same area for $1,400 per month. Compare $1,400 monthly to lot rent and expenses of about $700 per month mentioned previously. We easily saved $700 each month. Living in a camper full-time was financially smart for us while we looked to build or renovate a house with land.

We looked at a lot of campers and finally found a new one that met our needs at a great price. If you’re claustrophobic and hate smaller spaces, living in a camper is not the place for you regardless of price. Why? Because you will find any reason to be away from the confines of a cramped camper.

You’ll couch surf at a friend’s apartment or discover you like spending the night in your childhood home. Why pay for something that makes you anxious? Don’t. It is a waste of money to buy something that you will not use, enjoy, or be comfortable with. Take time to visualize before you buy.

We sat on the couch and at the table, looked out the windows, then closed all the shades to “feel” and see only the inside living space. We stood in the shower, sat on the beds, and walked around with the bedroom doors closed. The bedrooms were tight, but luckily, it was not a problem for either of us. While you’re looking at campers on the lot, spend time inside. Close those shades. How do you feel? Take the time to really feel your reactions to the camper to ensure it is a good fit. Afterall, you can’t take a camper back for a refund months later.

Once we felt we could handle the reduced space of living in a camper, we made our list of potential campgrounds. This is important because the campsites varied significantly! Some we drove through and spoke with staff, some we just drove through, and some we drove by… without even turning into the campground. It was like Santa said; we made a list, checked it twice, and found there were sites that were naughty and nice. Thankfully, we found a very nice, well-maintained, and affordable RV resort.

The people were friendly; they waved and were extremely helpful to us newbies. People volunteered their assistance as you were listening to YouTube how-to instructors. We found full-time campers and RVers were a welcoming group.

Though the full-time campers were nice, we found a couple of brick and mortar home “traditionalists” were not so generous of spirit. A couple of people wrongly assumed we had lost our minds or hit skid row by choosing to live in a camper full-time. If we were not secure in ourselves, it may have bothered us, but we have always felt free to march to the beat of our own drum.

Remember, to thine own self be true. If it bothers you that family or friends may judge you for camper living, then that is a major consideration. Before making your decision, you must be brutally honest with yourself. Otherwise, any financial savings you gained from a low negotiated price will be erased by re-selling the camper you bought weeks or months earlier.

Our camper did not have a washer and dryer; my wife hated that. She was glad the resort’s laundromat was nice, large, and well kept, but she found it inconvenient to go back and forth tending to the clothes. After a couple of weeks, she was grossed out when she saw someone put a muddy dog bed covered in fur inside the washer next to her load of towels. She was disgusted and texted me to find and buy a camper-sized washer and dryer. Within the week the purchases were made – happy wife and happy life. THIS is the washing machine and THIS is the dryer. They made the camper feel more like our old home.

We were new empty nesters and wanted something different. Living in a camper gave us the freedom we needed to explore what the next step was for us. There were many adjustments, but taking into account the financial, mental, and practical matters, living in a camper was an intelligent and excellent choice for us in all these areas. We hope your experience is the same or even better.