I get lots of people contacting me who are considering living in a motorhome permanently. Most are thinking about doing something similar but they have lots of questions. One of the most common questions is ‘what’s the best motorhome to live in?’ People are also curious to know if it’s legal and have questions about having an address, a doctor or dentist. Some are considering how to live cheap in retirement, others are just attracted to a more nomadic, simple way of life.
The aim of this post is to list the 10 most common questions I get and address them. I started living in a motorhome early in 2010. With lots of experience in the UK and a 5 month tour of Europe I feel I’m in a good position to give some general advice. So whether it’s class A motorhome living, living in a 5th wheel or any other fulltiming in a vehicle, I hope you find this article and the comments below it useful.
Living in a motorhome – 10 Commonly Asked Questions
1. What about an address for things like post?
It helps if you have a friend or family member who will let you use their address. In my case some relatives live alone and pay the reduced single occupancy council tax. I can get post delivered to such an address but I cannot register at this address for electoral roll purposes. If more than one person lived at that address then chances are they would allow you to register it as your address for voting purposes too.
Your motorhome insurer will need an address to send you the documents. Some insurers understand that some motorhome owners live in their vehicle. We are known as fulltimers and there are policies aimed at this lifestyle. Comfort Insurance in one company who specialise in such policies. The address you quote for them to send the documents seems to have no bearing on the quote price. So no need to worry if your relative or friend lives in a ‘dodgy’ postcode!
Some worry about having an address for things like a GP and the dentist. In my experience if you already have a doctor and dentist you can carry on using them. I’ve also not found it a problem opening a bank account and getting a job, as long as you have an address where you can be contacted. Like most things, all obstacles can be overcome if you want to follow this lifestyle.
2. Don’t you freeze in winter?
There are a few things to consider here. Your choice of vehicle is important if living in a motorhome year round. Most motorhomes are well insulated and double glazed. The cab area can be the exception. In cold conditions you might want to screen off the cab area and you should also close the air conditioning vents on the dashboard. For those wild camping your gas usage will increase greatly in winter. Indeed campsites where electricity is included in the pitch fee can look like good value in the winter! If your boiler is an older type that runs on gas only then consider heating your vehicle using either an electric fan heater or electric oil filled radiator.
OK so that’s your comfort taken care of but what about your vehicle? You need to think about where the freshwater and grey water tanks are located. Most freshwater tanks are inside the vehicle, often under a seating area. Grey tanks though are commonly situated outside the living area, under the vehicle. In many modern motorhomes there is a double skinned floor that is heated to prevent freezing. If your motorhome does not have a double skinned floor then you might want to leave the grey water tank tap open to prevent water freezing. A bucket under the tap is all you need. If you are considering a panel van conversion note that they are generally harder to insulate. The large sliding doors are an area hard to heat.
3. What about TV?
I’m not the best person to ask about this since I don’t have a TV. I do however know about some of the the options available.
First the subject of a TV licence. You may own property that you are renting out while you’re living in a motorhome. If you have a TV licence at your main residence then you don’t need another one for your touring motorhome / caravan. The issue becomes muddled if you have no main residence. The official position is that you must provide a ‘care of’ address to obtain a licence and you should do this if you want to stay within the law. If you fail to buy a licence it’s hard to say whether you would be caught and fined. Detector vans are a thing of the past. Most checks are likely done by looking at what addresses don’t hold a licence. I suppose it’s also possible that enforcement officers could visit campsites where they suspect long term residents stay. I’ve yet to hear of anyone living in a motorhome being asked to produce a licence but I would still advise abiding by the law if watching TV is important to you.
Moving on to the question of the hardware you need to watch TV in a motorhome. The UK has now moved over to digital from the old analogue signal. Just like in a normal house you need to decide between a free service like Freeview or a subscription with someone like Sky. To get freeview you just need a TV with a digital tuner built in (most new TV’s do) and an aerial good enough to pick up the signal. A typical roof mounted aerial at home is directional, pointed at your best local transmitter. When living in a motorhome you are essentially moving position all the time. With a directional aerial you would need to know where the local transmitter was and position the aerial accordingly. An omni directional aerial is another option but you need to ensure it’s good enough for freeview.
For those who want more channels than Freeview alone, Sky with a satellite dish would seem the best option. Dishes range from the relatively cheap to unbelievably expensive. At home the installer positions the dish on your house to receive the best signal from the satellite sending the TV signal. The issue with a moving vehicle like a motorhome is that you need a dish that can change position to obtain the best signal. Once parked if you don’t mind doing this manually then you can buy a cheap dish. If you are happy leaving the dish on the floor outside the vehicle then the ones that come in a briefcase from places like Maplins and Aldi might be all you need (Aldi seem to only stock these at certain times). If you want something attached to your roof then the best manually positioned option might be something like the Maxview Crank-up system. Things start to get very expensive when you want a system that automatically seeks out the best position for your satellite. The considerations at this high price point usually revolve around a couple of factors, how far south into Europe do you want to be able to pick up the UK satellite and do you want to be able to watch TV while the vehicle is moving (maybe to keep kids entertained on the move). Your two basic choices will be a traditionally shaped large dish or to watch on the move a dome system like those sold by RoadPro (same manufacturer as the Camos branded ones that are now discontinued). Generally speaking a large traditional shaped dish is better if you want to watch UK TV in Southern Europe but Domes are better if you want to watch TV when the vehicle is in motion and they are also safer in high winds.
A cheaper option for those who already have a laptop might be a USB Freeview Tuner & Recorder or simply watching the programme online (some channels now stream programmes over the internet).
4. What about the internet?
Getting internet access while living in a motorhome is actually really easy. I have a mobile broadband contract with 3 that gives me 15GB a month for £15.00 a month. I am able to get a signal in most of the UK and the speed is perfectly adequate. I think this represents excellent value, especially when you consider I don’t have to pay line rental like I did when I lived in a flat (costs over £10.00 a month). My current dongle is the Huawei E586 Mifi which is wireless, has HSPA+ technology and a 5 hour battery life!
If you already own a smartphone your network provider probably already offers you a data allowance for internet. The problem is that the allowance is rarely enough for high volume users and most networks do you not allow you to ‘tether’. Essentially this means you will not be able to share the phone signal to your laptop.
If you need internet while overseas you have a few options. If your dongle is unlocked you can insert a SIM card from another country. I did this in Italy and it worked brilliantly. The only downside is I don’t speak Italian so topping up was sometimes more involved. If you don’t spend more than a month in one country and move across borders all the time you will want another option. For light users who just need to keep in touch you might find using free wifi at the local McDonalds, restaurant, coffee shop or tourist information centre is enough. If you want to try and rely on unsecured wifi connections for your internet access overseas you may want to boost your signal.
The wifi antenna in laptops has to lie flat due to the shape of the case. This position is not the best. Ever noticed that you when you search for a signal you can usually only see your own home router and maybe a couple of others belonging to your neighbours? How would you like to be able to see signals from a much greater distance away? When I was travelling in Europe the most powerful device which was popular with both motorhomers and boaters was the Alfa Awus036NH Long Range Wifi Adaptor. Using it was incredible! Instead of seeing 2 internet connections the laptop suddenly saw hundreds and signals that were previously weak (1 bar) suddenly became strong (5 bars). Whilst most connections were secured, in most countries I was able to find an unsecured connection easily with this device, the exception being Germany. I believe this is due to a law in Germany about unsecured wifi signals.
Finally another great option to consider for both UK and overseas is the Fon network. Basically with Fon if you share your home broadband signal you are in turn allowed to use Fon’s millions of hotspots worldwide. If you are a BT landline user you will be opted in to Fon by default.
5. What about laundry?
It seems those that are living in a motorhome approach this in a couple of different ways. If you use campsites most of the time then you will find that they usually have washers and dryers. They are not cheap, typically a wash being £3.50 and drying being £1.00. Having said that they are expensive, the machines take a large load and do a good job. The other option is to own your own washing machine. Because of weight issues people usually use a Mini Portable Washing Machine or a Mini Portable Twin Tub Washing Machine.
6. Do you wild camp or stay at campsites?
I do both. In spring and summer I find I only need to visit a campsite twice a week to charge the leisure batteries, empty the chemical toilet and take on fresh water. In winter I use campsites more often to take advantage of the free electricity to heat my vehicle. If this lifestyle appeals then investigate where your closest campsites are. Know what they cost. what’s included and how far in advance you need to book. If wild camping is something you want to do then look at forums and find some recommended locations in your area. Visit them late at night by car to see if you would feel safe there. How noisy are these wild camp locations?
7. What about a toilet and shower?
Living in a motorhome does not mean you have to compromise on personal hygiene! Whilst its hard to fit a shower into a panel van conversion, most motorhomes do have a bathroom with toilet and shower. Sometimes the shower is a separate cubicle, sometimes it’s just a wet room. My Hymer has a separate shower cubicle and I prefer it this way. If you have a modern power shower at home don’t expect the same pressure from your motorhome shower. They are however generally very good.
If you find the the shower is like a trickle you might want to look at the submersible water pump which might need replacing. This was one of the first jobs I had to do on my Hymer and it was really easy. If your pump is the submersible type that simply sits in the bottom of the fresh water tank then I can recommend the Reich Motorhome 19LTR Submersible Twin Water Pump.
When you want to have a shower you need to heat the water in your boiler which could take 15-20 minutes. The amount of water in the boiler is enough for 1 shower, possibly 2. In a motorhome you do not take long showers. The process is to get wet, turn off the water, clean yourself with shower gel or soap and then turn on the water again to rinse.
The toilet in most motorhomes is the Thetford cassette type. You sit on a regular looking plastic toilet which is connected to the freshwater tank. With a press of a button a pump fills the toilet bowl with water. The cassette sits below the toilet and operating a trap door opens the cassette and the contents of the bowl fall into the cassette after which you close the trap door again. The cassette can then be emptied at chemical disposal points at campsites. In my experience the cassette only needs to be emptied about once a week if you are living in a motorhome alone.
8. Is it possible to really live in such a confined space?
The answer to this really depends on the type of person you are. It’s hard to have your own space in a motorhome so if you are a couple thinking of living in a motorhome it might test your relationship. If however you have decided you want to give living in a motorhome a go then it’s certainly possible to cope with the limited space.
Motorhome manufacturers generally make very clever use of that limited space. I’m 6’2″ tall and I can stand up in my motorhome and sleep very comfortably in a pull down Hymer bed. All my photos, films and music are stored on external hard drives. Belongings that I use regularly are stored in easy to access cupboards whilst things that I rarely use are stored in boxes under the dinette seat. It takes a few weeks but you will soon find the best place for your belongings that works for your way of living. Whatever your personal needs with proper research you should be able to find your best RV for full time living.
9. Is living in a motorhome safe?
I only really get asked this question by women. If you plan to stay at campsites all the time then I would say it’s perfectly safe, no less so than living in a house for example. If you want to wild camp sometimes then I guess your choice of location will have some bearing on this. I have only felt unsafe once and that was on Ealing Common when the London riots visited the area in August 2011. I hear stories of people having their motorhomes broken into in Spain and a lesser extent France but it’s not something I hear about in the UK and certainly I think regular home owners have as much to fear from burglars. There are ways to make the doors more secure on your vehicle but I’ve never had any problems. Having said that I don’t display a very expensive satellite dish or other signs of wealth on the outside of my motorhome. Many women who have contacted me about this are dog owners and a dog barking is usually enough to put off any potential burglar.
10. What about cooking and storing food?
Some who only use their motorhomes for holidays don’t want to get involved in cooking and prefer to eat out. When you are living in a motorhome though, eating out every night would get expensive. Nearly all motorhomes will come with a gas hob and probably a gas grill. Most British people like a proper gas oven too and these are quite common in motorhomes aimed at the British market. An oven is less common on continental motorhomes where European housewives don’t want to be cooking when on holiday. Outdoor cooking is also more popular on the continent where the weather is generally more reliable.
Newer motorhomes sometimes come fitted with a microwave but these are only really suitable when you are connected to a campsites electrical hookup point. What do I use? Well my Hymer has a 3 ring gas hob, a gas grill and gas oven. Ewelina also recently gave me her George Foreman grill for those times when we want to cook outside. The fridges in motorhomes vary in size but are very effective. They are known as three way fridges because they can be powered in 3 different ways. When the vehicle is moving you can power them via the 12V vehicle battery. When you are at a campsite and connected to a hookup post you can switch the fridge to run on electric. When wild camping the fridge can run on LPG (gas).
Living In A Motorhome – Further Reading
Hopefully this has helped you understand what living in a motorhome is like. It’s a lifestyle not suited to everyone but it seems more and more people are considering it as an option. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment on this article. People do read this blog so asking questions on here will often get you a reply. If you have not already done so you might like to read a couple of my other posts on the subject:
The 10 Best Things About Living In A Motorhome – Click here
The 5 Worst Things About Living In A Motorhome – Click here