How to Live in an RV: A Smart Guide to Preparedness for Nomads

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It seems like so many people are deciding to live in an RV or van these days. The nomadic lifestyle is gaining popularity as more people retire and others are now able to work remotely. If you are wanting to live in an RV, this guide will help you prepare for whatever life can throw at you on the road.
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Prepping to live in an RV

My husband and I recently retired and did what many new retirees do—we scurried down to Florida in our motorhome for the winter season. This led me to consider all the “what if’s” that could happen far away from home.

  • What if we drove into bad weather?
  • What if we were sick or injured and had no doctor or clinic?
  • What if we had vehicle issues with either our RV or our car?

How could I cover all these bases AND pack for 4-5 months away from home? RV’s may be relatively spacious, but they have their limits!

As far RV’s go, ours was a 38-foot Class A diesel pusher. Definitely an ample size for our travels! However, this was different. This was in the middle of a pandemic, and traveling for an extended period of a few months or more. This was also with five cats! I had to be out of my ever-loving mind. My search for wisdom led me to the Survival Mom Sisterhood and its goldmine of training and checklists. I needed to come up with an orderly way of preparing for our adventure.

Not sure if you want to live in an RV? Here’s an article breaking down the pros and cons of this lifestyle, especially if you are into survival and preparedness.

The Survival Mom developed The Seven S’s as a framework of prepping. This worked for preparing to live in an RV very nicely. The categories are sanitation, sustenance, sanity, shelter, security, strength/health, and survival. Let’s start with sanitation!

1. Sanitation in an RV

The category of sanitation is pretty straightforward. When putting together any kind of plan for emergencies, you always need to be aware of what you will do for going to the bathroom and also how you can keep yourself clean. The beautiful thing about an RV vs. a travel trailer or fifth-wheel is access to my personal potty! We could be driving down the road and if nature called me (which she does frequently) I can shimmy back to the bathroom and take care of things. The RV toilet system is very straightforward. The toilet outlet funnels the waste to a black tank and the freshwater system is connected for flushing.

Fresh water empties into a gray tank and is used for dishes, bathing, handwashing, and drinking. I sanitize it twice a year with a bleach water solution and allow the bleach water to run through all the pipes and faucets to get rid of any bacteria hanging around. We also have an additional water filter that we can install on the water hose at any RV park so we can have clean water without needing the freshwater tank, which has ito0s own whole-house water filter, as well. Just be very wary of water leakage–that is one of the most difficult things to deal with if you live in an RV!

As for laundry, the RV has its own washer and dryer, but we can only use those when we have full hook-ups. That means we are at a park with access to electricity, water, and sewer at the site. That’s why I have a backup plan for doing laundry by hand if we are ever unable to get access to electricity or running water for our washing machine.

You’ll notice I emphasize water a LOT. That’s because we use much more water on a daily basis than we realize! And obviously, humans need plenty of clean, drinkable water to survive. The more redundancy you can build into your preparation when it comes to water, the better.

The sanitation supplies we always keep well-stocked:

2. Sustenance

Sustenance is another big item that is pretty self-explanatory as well. You gotta eat, even when you live in an RV! When we started our travels, we knew we’d be leaving home for over four months. If the power happened to go out while we were gone, the food we left behind would be a spoiled, stinking mess when we got home. Therefore, I needed to take as many perishables with me as possible and clean out old items.

In the end I was able to pack the RV freezer with plenty of meat and other frozen items. We tapped into it all winter long and I checked each hamburger, steak, and chicken breast off my list as we used them up. 

The refrigerator was also cleaned out and I put like items in plastic baskets. Jams and jellies in one, mustards, ketchup, and other condiments in another. I was able to make sure we had the same items with us in the RV that we had at home. The baskets made it easy to transfer all those little jars and bottles from home fridge to RV fridge and back again. Other perishables like milk and eggs just got scooped up and came with us! I purged our pantry as well and brought along plenty of canned goods, dry food, and spices.

Sustenance to-do list:

  • Clean out your fridge and freezer as well as you possibly can
  • Bring perishable food with you, or use it up, or toss it out
  • Organize condiments using plastic baskets (condiments can just come with you!)
  • Organize dry pantry goods (flour, oatmeal, etc.) using stackable food containers that fit your RV or van’s cabinets
  • Bring canned soups, beans, vegetables, and protein for easy meals that require little electricity/heat/water to prepare
  • Purge your collection of oils, vinegars, and spices so you only keep what you actually use, and bring those along with you
  • OPTIONAL: Dehydrated meals. These are very light and easy to store, and are just-add-water.

3. Sanity

The question is–my sanity or my husband’s? 😉 The sanity category involves items or activities that are distracting, comforting, and fun or enjoyable. It’s very important to stay sane during emergencies, and also just on the road! For my sanity, I found a way to bring my sewing machine and quilting fabric (all stowed in the back of the RV). I brought a mini-electronic spinning wheel and fiber, which fits in a small lunch box. I brought my knitting, as well. We also travel with golf clubs, playing cards, DVDs of old movies, computers, and Kindles loaded with books. Adult beverages packed well under the bed. 

4. Shelter

Shelter is one of your main concerns in an emergency scenario. It’s important to not only have a safe place from the elements, but also a home base that is secure and covers your basic needs. Thankfully, if you live in an RV, you have your shelter ready to go! Ours has a large bed, a bathroom, kitchen, and living space.

However, the “what if’s” I asked myself were concerned with having to leave the RV for some reason and take off in the car. In that case, our car would become our shelter, but it is obviously much smaller and much less “posh” than our full RV. Using this Super Vehicle Emergency Kit checklist, I gathered all the necessary items to make sure our car would be a relatively comfortable place to stay for a while. This guide to a vehicle 72-hour kit is a much smaller version but just as good! Come up with your own plan (or multiple plans!) for shelter if you are ever forced to leave your RV.

5. Security

Security is an evolving area of preparedness. It certainly involves things like firearms, knives, and pepper spray, but those should be your last resort. RVs and other types of motor-homes are considered a “home” when parked and a “vehicle” when traveling, and this influences the firearm laws that apply to the situation. Be very, very mindful of the firearm laws of the state you are in if you choose to carry them with you, and read up on how they apply to RVs.

However, guns are only a very small part of security measures! Think of them as your very last line of defense behind your commonsense security.

Normal security measures include:

  • Pulling the window shades at night, or use blackout window covers that fit your vehicles
  • Locking up both the car and RV
  • Staying in the safest areas we can — we make sure we stay at state parks, public camping grounds, and RV parks when we travel
  • Keep pepper spray, walkie-talkies, a lockbox or small safe, and other everyday carry security items on hand
  • Mail forwarding so that your mail doesn’t noticeably pile up in your mailbox
  • Practicing situational awareness and learning how to appear intimidating

Security on the home front while we were away also a prepping concern. We left the sticks and bricks home with a security system in place and camera at the front and back doors. We let the local police know we were away for an extended period, arranged for a friend to check on the house once a week, and let trusted neighbors know we were gone. 

Communication is also an important aspect of security. How scary would it be to need help and be in the middle of nowhere without wifi or cellphone service! I am still working on my Ham radio license and have a shortwave radio on the wish list. I did find that cell signals can be iffy in certain areas of the country. One big ticket item we just bought was a WeBoost for the RV

6. Strength (Health)

The strength/health category of preparedness is dedicated to medicine, wellness, and fitness. I am a Registered Nurse by profession, so I take health very seriously. I think I packed enough first aid and over-the-counter medications to open a clinic in a third world country! I cleaned out the hall closet at home and brought most medical supplies from home.

Here’s some of what I brought:

7. Survival

The last category of preparedness is survival. This is the typical equipment that may come to mind when you think of survival and preparedness, but I’ve modified things here and there since we live in an RV. If we needed to leave, I have a small emergency kit in our car stocked with items on this ultimate Vehicle Checklist, and I’ve included some my favorites below. We often camp in state parks and this gives us a great opportunity to practice our outdoor skills, which are our most valuable survival asset.

Here are some of my favorite things in our survival category:

The Cats (these crazy creatures get their own category.)

We have five cats. Three of them are 14-year-old litter mates and two of them are rescues. They stay home when we are gone for short trips, but come with us when we travel for a longer time. They have their own needs, which is why they get their own little section in this article.

A hugely important thing for cats is to keep their environment as familiar as possible–DO NOT change their food, litter, bed, and living place all at the same time, as this will seriously stress them out. You can adjust and customize this list for any pet! You can also check out this article for ideas on good items to bring for your pet if you need to evacuate, or if you live in an RV.

How we prepare our pets:

  1. Sanitation—Kitties need litter boxes. I bought an end table-style litter box but one of the cats did not like a closed box, so we added a second one we tucked behind the driver’s seat of the RV. Happy cats! They require scooping twice a day to keep the odor down.
  2. Sustenance—The cats are used to canned food and dry food. We brought their favorites so they would feel right at home. Their water bowl was on a silicone mat to keep splashes down. One thing I did do was buy the smaller bags of dry food for easier storage and handling, but you could also buy some containers to store your pet food, like these.
  3. Sanity—I bungee-corded a small kitty tree to the top of the litter box/end table. My cat, Munchkin, claimed this as her personal spot. I brought their favorite toys and a scratching pad. They loved to snooze on the motorhome dashboard, so I placed several small rag rugs up there for their comfort. Mostly they slept on our bed.
  4. Shelter—The cats always stay inside. They are not outside kitties. However, during travel days, I put them in their own soft-sided carriers and seat belted them into the RV sofa. They hated that and sang us kitty songs as we drove down the highway.
  5. Security—Each cat has a collar with a name tag and rabies tag. Two of them are chipped.
  6. Strength/Health–Our veterinarian made sure each cat was current on their shots and I travel with their records in my personal bug out bag.
  7. Survival—I have a pet travel bag that has collapsible bowls and places for extra food, water, and grooming tools. Each cat has a carrier and would fit in the car we needed to scoop them up and take off. One other item to have is a disposable litter box for the car if we would need to bug out.

It took a lot of forethought to live in an RV for an extended period of time. If you decide to do it full-time, part-time, or even just on weekends, I know you will love it! It has been such an adventure and I couldn’t have been nearly as ready without all of the information available here on The Survival Mom website and in the Survival Mom Sisterhood

This article was graciously written and contributed by Mimi Skinner.

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I am Mary Sant Skinner (Mary on paper, Mimi in person). I was born and raised in Ohio, lived in Germany, in the Northern Virginia area, and settled in Danville, IL. I am a retired RN who is a nurse educator. In my early adult years, I embraced the “back-to-land” movement of the 1970’s. I had no land other than a small back yard, but learned to garden, can, sew, and other pioneer skills. Now we call this prepping. My husband and I bought our first RV in 2015. I had camped years ago, but wanted the comfort of my own bed and bathroom. Last year we traded up for a large Class A motorhome for extended travel.

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