I get lots of people contacting me who are considering living in a motorhome who have questions about the practicalities of doing so. In my first year of motorhome ownership I pretty much lived in mine 24/7 including a 5 month tour of Europe. These days I’m away with my travel business most weekends but I still spend about two nights a week in the Hymer so I feel qualified to give advice on what living in a motorhome is like. Hopefully the following will help others who are considering living in a motorhome.
Living in a motorhome – 10 Commonly Asked Questions
- 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. Getting post delivered via such a relative is not a problem but you will not be able to list yourself on the electoral roll at this address. You need to ask yourself if voting is important to you. Personally I’ve lost faith in politicians and not being able to vote is a small price to pay. Your motorhome insurer will need an address to send you the documents. Some insurers understand that some people are living in a motorhome and have special policies for fulltimers. The address you quote for them to send the documents seems to have no bearing on the quote price so don’t 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, if you want something badly enough you will find a way to achieve it.
- Don’t you freeze in winter? There are a few things to consider here. When living in a motorhome your choice of vehicle can be important. Most motorhomes are well insulated and are double glazed. The cab area can be the exception and I would close the air vents. If you wild camp most of the time you will find that you use much more gas in winter than you do in summer. For this reason fulltimers often use campsites more in the winter so that they can heat their motorhomes with electric rather than gas. Being warm inside your vehicle is only part of what you need to think about. Your motorhome will have a freshwater tank and a waste water ‘grey’ tank. The level of winterisation on motorhomes varies and if your waste water tank is situated under the vehicle and open to the elements it can freeze in winter. For this reason you might want to consider a vehicle with a double skinned floor where tanks are protected. My Hymer’s freshwater tank is under a dinette seat so protected, the waste water tank is underneath and it does not have a double skinned floor. When I use the motorhome’s own gas heater some hot air is piped down to the waste water tank to prevent freezing. At campsites since I’m paying for electricity I use a portable electric heater, the two popular types are electric fan heaters and oil filled radiators. If you are worried about it some people leave a bucket under the waste water drain tap which they keep open so that no water is stored in the tank. Panel van conversions are generally harder to insulate. They have large sliding side doors which are hard to insulate, something to consider if you plan living in a motorhome over winter.
- I like the idea of living in a motorhome but what about TV? I’m not the best person to ask about this since I don’t have a TV but I do know about the options available and I have friends who I will ask to comment on this post. 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 and most of their checks are likely done by looking at what addresses don’t hold a licence. 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 and turned off the old analogue signal. Like in a normal house you will either need a set top box or a TV with digital tuner built in. If you don’t want to be tied to a contract with Sky TV or Virgin Media then you will be looking at Freeview (most modern TV’s have built in Freeview tuner). To receive the signal for freeview a decent quality normal TV aerial will work and one might already be mounted on your motorhome’s roof or some people attach one to the side of the vehicle once they have parked up. Directional aerials are usually preferred to omni directional ones but it can take time position it for best signal and you need to consider that campsites are often in places where the TV signal is weak. For ‘satallite TV’ you will need some form of dish and the options open to you vary from 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 satellites 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). As I’ve already said I don’t watch TV and so I will ask a friend to comment on this topic. However if TV is important to you there are lots of solutions for anyone considering living in a motorhome.
- What about the internet? Now this is something I do know about. Living in a motorhome without having access to the internet is something I could not accept. I need to be online to keep up with emails and to update my websites. 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). I consider myself to be a high user of the internet but if your needs are more modest you might even find the data allowance on your mobile phone is more than enough and modern smartphones can be ‘tethered’ to become a modem either via a USB cable or more frequently these days via wifi as a mobile hotspot. My current dongle is the Huawei E586 Mifiwhich is wireless, has HSPA+ technology and is such a versatile gadget! For a PAYG phone deal I would recommend GiffGaff. They use O2 cell towers and do ‘goody bags’ that cannot be beaten by any other network provider. For £10.00 a month you get 1GB of data and for £12.00 you get unlimited data. Both deals have unlimited text messages and very generous voice minutes. 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 who don’t seem to have unsecured connections.
- 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 the dryers seem to work better than most home dryers. I know a few motorhome owners who prefer to own their own washing machine. Because of weight issues people usually use a Mini Portable Washing Machine or a Mini Portable Twin Tub Washing Machine.
- Do you wild camp or stay at campsites? I do both. If I was still living in a motorhome 24/7 the cost of campsites would mount up. In the early days I mostly did wild camping with a stop at a campsite once a week to empty the toilet, empty grey water tank and charge leisure batteries. These days I wild camp less, typically using a campsite 2 nights a week. There are websites and forums where wild camping locations are shared. My advice would be to use your instinct as to whether it feels a safe area and only stay a night or two in each location. I know some who just don’t feel safe wild camping. If you want to use a campsite every night you might want to look into seasonal pitches or using certified locations to reduce cost. Most campsites close for winter just when the fulltimer wants to use them the most. Before making the jump to living in a motorhome you might want to check your local area to see if you have any sites open all year.
- What about going to the toilet and having a shower? Living in a motorhome does not mean you have to compromise on personal hygiene. When viewing motorhomes you will notice that sometimes the shower is part of a wet room and sometimes it has its own cubicle. My Hymer is the latter type and I think I prefer it this way. The showers in a motorhome are not like the very best power showers that you sometimes see in a home but they are perfectly adequate. If you find the the shower is like a trickle you might want to look at the 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.
- I am considering living in a motorhome but is it really possible to 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.
- Is living in a motorhome safe? This is a question I only really get asked by women who are thinking of doing this alone. 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.
- 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 but less common on continental motorhomes where European housewives don’t want to be cooking or where the climate is more suited to outdoor cooking / BBQ’s. Newer motorhomes also 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 and 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 and be powered in 3 ways. When the vehicle is moving you can power them via 12V. When you are at a campsite and connected to electrical hookup you can run then via electric and when you are wild camping they will run on 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: