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Old 12-10-2010, 09:57 PM   #1
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Best "RV" Option for a Woman?

I've been thinking recently about full-timing for a few years. Reading the "newbie" posts here (and blogs elsewhere) has been somewhat helpful, but not with my most basic question: "Should I even consider converting a school bus at all?" I am a single woman, aged 30, with no mechanical experience. I don't actually need a great deal of room. I'm quite small (5' 3" and 125lbs). I also am a major loner, so I do not need/want to add in extra space for anyone else. Ideally, I want to be self-sufficent for at least a few days at a time. My original plan was to park at free or cheap parks/campgrounds as much as possible to conserve money. I'd buy a motorcycle rack for the back and tool around in a Ninja (or something similar) for errands/trips/etc. In any case, I thought about the following options:

Buy an old rv. From my research, I could expect to buy an old rv for around $10,000 if I shop around and find a good deal. It might still need repair work to be serviceable. The gas mileage would suck. If I get in a significant wreck, my "home" would pretty much be destroyed.

Buy an old Dodge van and convert it. I could probably buy one for around $2000. Gas mileage would be better (10-18 city/hwy). I could drive the darn thing without much fuss. Could stealth camp if I wanted. However, I'm female. I like showers and my own bathroom. I've seen a few pro jobs (my grandparents actually owned one). I recall it being too "snug" for me to have positive feelings about full-timing in such a thing (or if it would be self-sufficent).

Buy a school bus and convert it. I could probably buy one for around $2000. I have no idea how much it would cost to convert it though. Gas mileage would suck. I might need a different license to drive it. Might need more driving "confidence" to manage it. Might be a magnet for "chatters" due to the novelty of what I was driving. Might have problems insuring (seems GMAC is an inconstant company with skoolies here). Might have more room than I need (though I'm a horrible pacer so it might be good for me). Might take me FOREVER to convert. Ideally,I'd buy one around the same time I had my savings in order. Then quit my job and work full time on the thing until done.

I've read a few blogs by now of the process, and it all seems very daunting. I am very book "smart" (I was a GT kid, high IQ, taught myself chemistry at 14), but in my mind, mechnical aptitude is a whole different kettle of fish (as disparate as sports ability). Mechanical "smarts" is something I've always considered far removed from books and something I do not have. Not sure I can learn enough from a book to be helpful. My dad does know how to weld, and he fixes up houses. He might be willing to help. As far as breaking down on the road, I can always just unload my bike, lock up my skoolie, and drive to the next town.

I throw myself at the mercy of the readers here. Anyone have a feeling on these options for an odd duck like me?
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Old 12-11-2010, 06:25 PM   #2
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Re: Best "RV" Option for a Woman?

Thanks, smitty, for the reply and for the homework assignment! Also, I'm glad you were able to buy your bus (I perused your site last night).

Strangely enough, I started making lists of what I really use in a living space up to a year ago. A minimalist by nature, I've been interested in the tiny house movement for ages and have kept track of things that I use and things that I do not use. I also moved a few months ago and have a good idea of what I own. So...Things I need (to be content): dependable heating/cooling, bed (full or queen), toilet, hot water, shower, laptop, fridge/freezer (small), microwave, kitchen sink, stove top burner (perhaps two), small washer/dryer (if I can not easily park at a laundry mat). Things I do not need or want at all: TV/DVD (I have my laptop for that), oven (I rarely use it), dishwasher (I never use them), dinning room table/nook (never eat at them), seating for more than one (rarely have guests), coffee pots/blenders/toaster/toaster oven/etc, cold weather traveling (I'm a pansy in the cold and don't know how to drive in snow anyway).

Habits that I have that consume a lot of resources: I like to keep my habitat at around 72 (winter) to 78 (summer), I take long showers. I spend vast amounts of time online. A lot of my food is frozen or refrigerated and then microwaved when I'm ready to eat. I only drink water. I pace a lot (space considerations). Habits that I have that do not consume resources: I do not fool around with tv/cable/sat (that's what the net is for ). I do not have space-consuming hobbies. I also rarely use a hair dryer.

Self-sufficiency means that I do not need to rely on hook-ups for power, water, and sewage. I have no idea how much power and water I need and only a dim idea about what is possible since many situations are unique. One person mentioned converting their skoolie to go for two weeks at a time without hook-ups. I have no idea about his particulars though. I've looked at a few charts about how much power certain appliances drain, but I don't know what sort of power solutions skoolies/van conversions utilize and what direction is best for me (which is why my answer above might be a bit detailed and tedious...I just wanted to give a lot of information so I could get suggestions). When I mentioned parks and campgrounds, I meant National and State Parks, not rv parks. I'm speaking about the ones that are free (with no facilities or hookups). I'd like to stay there (quieter, less people, and no fuss). Lonergirl is a loner. Lonergirl is also quite frugal. Plus, I mostly just like to write, read, and study. I need quiet for that. Perhaps maybe I'd stay at one of the parks with hookups once a week to fill up and recharge and such (you can do that right?).

And, meh, I can hold a tool. I haven't really built much of anything. I can use a sewing machine though. Maybe if I thought of each tool as a really loud, angry, and potentially-deadly sewing machine, then I'd be better off.
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Old 12-11-2010, 07:14 PM   #3
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Re: Best "RV" Option for a Woman?

I'm a little biased... go for the skoolie. Join Escapees (they will let your skoolie in their campgrounds) and start talking to the folks on the Solo RVers thread.

I am currently living in an RV (1977 Class C). We've been full-timing since 2006. We have modified it a touch and remodeled it a little to suit us. We repaired water damage. Mechanically.... cleaned out the carborator, put a tune up on it and have replaced all the tires (the hard way ). We bought our Class C in 2006 for $2000 plus David traded out a little bit of labour (which he would have done anyway).

We bought the BlueBird for $1400. We drove it out to NM (1600 miles) and had the radiator rebuilt on the way out (not long after we crossed into TX). The bus cost more than the RV in repairs so far. Had no problems with the Class C on the trip out. As for fuel mileage... the bus gets better mileage than the Class C. But I have no problem getting the Class C up to 80MPH. The bus stops better than the Class C.

We will convert the bus (in the process of doing that now... on a shoestring). We do not consider the RV a good choice. We have torn into enough of it and rebuilt enough of it to know they are unsafe. I would rather my daughter be in a skoolie than an RV. When we finish the bus, she will be in the Class C until we find her a bus and she can move into it.
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Old 12-11-2010, 07:22 PM   #4
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Re: Best "RV" Option for a Woman?

You may want to look into a Road-Trek or something similar..."Class B" motorhomes, they're fullsized vans (RoadTrek has Dodges, GMC's, and Dodge/Mercedes Sprinters) set up as mini-motorhomes.

However, a washer/dryer in anything except a high-end class A or trailer just isn't happening unless you convert one yourself.

Might also want to check out the Vandwellers.
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Old 12-11-2010, 08:03 PM   #5
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Re: Best "RV" Option for a Woman?

But they WILL allow them in their SKP parks when alot of other places won't. I would hope that my skoolie isn't a "real RV"... it will be much much better! Did you ever get that apology?
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Old 12-11-2010, 08:13 PM   #6
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Re: Best "RV" Option for a Woman?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Smitty
lol,
Here's my washing machine:



http://www.laundry-alternative.com/

I've yet to use it, because I'm still doing laundry at my dads....and plan to delay using the little machine as long as possible , I'll hang clothes to line-dry.
I have used mine OFTEN. Line dry and use detergent (low sudsing type for the HE machines) in very small amounts.

Quote:
Oh, and if you'd ever see me trying to use a sewing machine....you'd know infact, they ARE deadly machines Smitty
I used to sew blue jeans (Wrangler & Rustler) for a living. Hard to believe but they had the best insurance in town and David and I had planned to a "A" kid (just one... no more... that didn't happen!). And yes I sewed my finger. I used to operate a "bar tacker" (those long over stitched spots on the pockets and there are two on the zipper) and I was talking and made the mistake of looking up for too long. My other job while there was serging "white pockets". Pay was good but the work was incredibly BORING! I don't sew much now.
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Old 12-11-2010, 08:46 PM   #7
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Re: Best "RV" Option for a Woman?

Hiya LonerGirl! Another woman here to add her thoughts to the fray...

A little over a year ago I was in the same decision loop you're in. After doing a little research online - especially looking at images of accidents involving RV's and some involving school buses - I decided to buy a bus (BOB) and start conversion. Buses are just built SO much better than RV's. I also like the fact I could make my own decision where to put things, or whether to include them at all. Buses are also easier to drive than I thought! Yes, it takes getting used to the extra length, but it is quickly intuitive. They sit higher, which means better chances of getting down a park's dirt road, and the steel construction just makes them feel more secure. Those were the major selling points for me.

Unfortunately, as I was newly divorced and trying to cover a mortgage on a single income at the same time, it cost more to store/license/insure than I could afford, and had to give it up until the housing market improves. However, in that time, there were some "lessons learned" I can share...

1) Don't let the build be intimidating. It's just your first bus. It doesn't have to be your last bus. It doesn't have to be perfect. What you learn in your first build will make the second build better!

2) Don't worry if you can't build a lot of furniture stuff. There's nothing wrong with using a standard futon, or a lazyboy recliner, or premade cabinets from the local hardware store (Lowes or Home Depot around here), or any other bit you find in a recycle bin that catches your fancy. As long as it can be fastened down, you're good to go!

3) Take the time to find a bus in good mechanical working order. I bought BOB on a whim - and to be perfectly honest, at a low point where I really just needed something to work on. I should have taken the time to go over it better, but was just too desperate to care at that point.
If you are not a mechanic, find a truck shop you feel comfortable going to. Take a guy with you the first time you scope the place out if you're afraid they might give you a line of BS. Also, read up on diesel engines and how they work so you'll know what they're talking about. I did that a little after the fact, and while I still don't know enough to fix an engine, I at least understand what a lot of the parts are and what they're supposed to do.

4) I found I really liked the relatively short wheel base of my bus. My next one will be a short little flat nose FE handicap bus (that I've always wanted!) After the bus is built, I'll add a trailer to the back to garage my motorcycle (Nomad) and any extra "stuff" I've not found a home for yet.

5) Be flexible in your design ideas and style of living. Reading your needs, I think your biggest challenge will be the shower and frozen food stuff. But as Smitty suggested, a little compromise doesn't mean you have to give up all the comforts! You may have to have to be hooked up longer than you like, or go out to get supplies more often than you expect, but that's not a deal killer. Just be prepared for them. Some stuff you can already do at home to get you in the habit and psychologically prepared for the final move. For instance, I've effectively moved into only 1 room of my house. I do everything except cook and wash in a 10 x 12 space. And if I put a hot plate in here, or a microwave, I'd cook in here too. But this exercise has taught me that A) I can live in a tiny space, and B) 120 sqft isn't quite enough to do absolutely everything comfortably. I will need that extra space for the kitchen and bathroom. So I'll need at least 20' behind the driver's seat.

You get the drift. I tried. I failed. I learned. I'm experimenting again. I'll try again. I'll succeed.
If it's what you want, go for it. If it doesn't work out, fall back, regroup, and try, try again!
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Old 12-12-2010, 12:14 AM   #8
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Re: Best "RV" Option for a Woman?

My, youíve all been very helpful! Youíve given me tons of stuff to think about!

Lorna: The clincher is that you do not want your daughter in an RV. That gives me pause. The Escapees website is a bit social for my tastes and arenít in the states Iíll probably travel through (Texas to California, then up the coast and into the Pacific NorthwestÖperhaps down to Colorado). Iíll dig up the Solo RVers thread.

Jarlaxle: RA Salvatore fan? Iíve been to the VanDwellers site. Thanks. Iíve also visited the Road Trek web site and studied the floor plans (and my grandparents owned one). They seem to snug for full-timing.

Smitty: I do have a good grasp on my possessions. All my things fit in my dadís work van (and some in my PT). It was mostly furniture and shelving and books (all of which Iím getting rid). Except for that, I donít actually own much. I donít like ďstuff.Ē I enjoy getting rid of it. Iíll probably give away most of my clothes since I only have them for my job. In any case, Iím staying in a guestroom at my folks house (canít find an apartment). The bulk of my stuff is in storage. The closet and bureaus are filled with their stuff, so Iím only able to use about half the room. I donít mind. Iíll probably give away the stuff in storage (since I havenít used it since Iíve been here). Thanks for the info on the Verizon card (been looking into the carriers and wanted more info). I have run the numbers. I like to stream; that is my downfall. Iíll have to save that for wireless at RV parks. Also, I saw your toilet. Not sure if I could be that gung-ho.

Tyger: Thanks for your reply. Iíll look into those crash pics. Also, I did get used to my PTís limited visibility. It freaked me out a little at first, but I got used to it. I might be able to adapt. Also, I wanted to take a basic car mechanic class, but the local community college did not have one to take. Iím also doing a similar experiment, and Iím not phased by it.

Youíve all given me a lot to think about. I donít want to stick to warmer climates, I just want to avoid really cold ones in the winter. I want to get away from the Texas heat during the summer, too. I try to modulate my AC/heat to decrease my electricity bill, but Iím a pansy. I do the best I can. I thought that I should insulate the heck out of a bus so that it would retain the cool/warm air if using AC or heat. Am I incorrect?

In any case, I have reasons for the freezer, but might be able to get around them. I just sometimes get really fussy with food and stop wanting to eat anything at all. The energy to make food Iím not interested in leads me to stop eating much at all, so I go for easy, quick, and novel until I snap out of it. Itís possible I could go without the freezer. Iím not sure about the microwave though. Need to meditate on that one and experiment.

In any case, I do not making trips to town. My only concern is in ease of parking (for the Laundromat). I used laundry facilities for about 12 years, so it wouldnít phase me. The shower might be slightly more problematic, but after a few searches I realized how much you use in a regular shower. Iíd like to cut down on general principle. I probably take a 12 minute shower. I need to bathe every 24-36 hours. Any longer and my hair turns really nasty. I should start timing myself and see how long it takes me. Lots to think aboutÖ
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Old 12-12-2010, 12:18 AM   #9
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Re: Best "RV" Option for a Woman?

Quote:
Originally Posted by TygerCub
Hiya LonerGirl! ... I tried. I failed. I learned. I'm experimenting again. I'll try again. I'll succeed.
If it's what you want, go for it. If it doesn't work out, fall back, regroup, and try, try again!
You did not fail. If you learn something, that is not failure. You just learned a way that didn't work out.

Quote:
Thomas A.Edison
"I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work."
IF, IF, IF you have a place that you can do it, buy a junker RV. Trailer would be your best bet. Make sure the holding tanks are solid along with the toilet. WATER DAMAGED IS GOOD! You want to pay next to nothing for it. Nothing would be better. you just need it to get from where it is currently parked to where you need to park it for stripping (some folks will buy the trailer frame CHEAP after you are done with it). Pull parts off the trailer and use inside your skoolie. Sell off what you don't use. This is probably the cheapest way to convert a skoolie. The first skoolie we ever looked at, we thought was a BlueBird Wanderlodge. It was gorgeous, very professional and loaded with chrome. Guy who did it had picked up a travel trailer thru an insurance company (friend) that had been "totaled" by the insurance company. He used most of the stuff from the travel trailer in his conversion. Over time, he also upgraded a few things. I wish we had bought it back then.

While most of the RV stuff in kinda junk, you are also limited in what you can use. I would suggest you opt for a residential refrigerator and a freezer. Don't use the RV kind. They have a tendency to catch fire. Sofas/chairs/etc can always be upgraded at some point down the road. You can put a full size bed in the back of a bus with a narrow walkway around it (headboard at the rear exit door). Any larger and you are pushing it up to the wall. Makes it hard to make up with clean sheets like that. And if you share the bed, you have to crawl over the other person. Unless you use a different furnace/heat source, and RV furnace will work okay. Just add a catalytic heater for boondocking. We don't run our LP furnace if we don't pay for electric. If we pay for electric, I run the numbers thru the KWHvrsPropane program that I have. It tells you if LP or the campground metered electric is cheaper. Currently, we are using a little electric heater at night because our site rental includes all hookups (W/E/S/CATV/WiFi). But the old RV furnace in the Class C can flat heat it up in just a few minutes. I plan on building a little solar "can" heater to generate heat during the day. A word of warning. If you plan on installing something Large.. like big refrigerator, freezer or Washer/dryer, don't forget that at some point you will need to move it back out. Allow for it. We decided the rear door will work to move large appliances in/out. So our bed will have to be able to be removed in order to access the rear emergency door. And the partion walls have door openings wide enough to allow my full size range to move from the kitchen thru to the rear of the bus. This is something that you will have to plan ahead for. You don't want to have to tear walls apart (or remove the front windshield) because an appliance craps out or because you have to replace the sofa.
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Old 12-12-2010, 03:05 AM   #10
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Re: Best "RV" Option for a Woman?

Whatever you choose, it WILL need work. If you follow the travels of the "social" types on Escapees, you will find that at least one RV in any group of friends is down for repairs at any given time. I have relatives that were full-timers, and are now part-timers. The last time they were up this way, they told about their best friends who bought a brand-new coach from what is arguably the best manufacturer out there. They mentioned how everybody raves about how nice they are treated when they bring their coaches back to that factory for repair . . . but they all go back to the factory for repair! My relatives' Class A is due for a new rubber roof now.

A ten-thousand dollar RV will probably need a new roof, and will probably have water damage and possibly mildew from the leak. RV refrigerators fail or catch fire, water pumps and battery chargers can go bad, etc. Look at pages 24 and 25 of Elliot's "Millicent Chronicles," where he tears apart his donor trailer with his hands: http://www.skoolie.net/forum/viewtop...1709&start=345 Fixing all the systems in an old one of these might be almost as much work as building a skoolie!

If you build your own wandering home, you will know how it all goes together. You can overbuild or use higher quality parts than would be used in a commercial unit that was slapped together (and some of them are really 'slapped' together). Building a home into a bus, especially with plumbing, is not a small undertaking, but if that is what you choose, when it is done you will know what you are up against should the need for repairs arise. You will not have to be at the mercy of "experts" that require money to be thrown at them whether they know what they are doing or not. Every time I help someone with something as complex as RV systems, i ask myself, "What was the designer/engineer thinking when they put this together?" If you built it yourself, you would know.

You are right about insulation. Good or even "overdone" insulation will save energy on both heating and cooling. Smitty will love you for asking. He has a heating/cooling background, and bangs his wooden spoon on his washtub to preach insulation to whoever will listen.

The showers without hookups will be a problem. I like 5 or 6 minute showers at about 2 gallons per minute, although where I am now I think I use less than 10 gallons because we are at the end of a water line, and the pressure isn't what it should be. It would mean carrying a lot of water when I get my bus, if i want to maintain that part of my "lifestyle."

By the way, good to hear from you again, TygerCub!
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