The Life of a Boondocker: Living alone in Vans, Trailers and RVs

Susan Shumsky isn’t your average weekend camper; in fact, for the last 30 years, Susan has lived alone in either a van, a trailer or an RV. And when we say that she isn’t your average weekend RVer, it’s probably an understatement.

It is very rare for me to stay in an RV park or camping ground. I can probably count the number of times I’ve done that in the past 30 years on my ten fingers. That’s because it’s a silly thing to do.

Oh yeah, did we mention she’s 70 years young and still traveling the country full-time in an RV?

Here is Susan’s Story…

Boondocking in an RV

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your RV lifestyle?

I am 70 years young. I am an award-winning best-selling spiritual self-help author with 14 books in print, a public speaker, a tour operator to sacred destinations overseas, and a producer of unique holistic themed seminars-at-sea on cruise ships.

I have lived full time, alone, in a van, a trailer, or an RV since 1989. That is nearly 30 years. I have no home base. I try to stay in places where the temperature is higher than 32 degrees F, for obvious reasons. Or maybe it’s not so obvious to people who don’t travel in RV’s. The water freezes at 32 degrees, and you always need to fill the water in your tank if you are a boondocker (someone who never stays in RV parks or campgrounds). So you have to get water from someplace (such as a truck stop, RV dealership, or gas station). Places that provide water are those where the water isn’t frozen. Plus you have to make sure the water in your tank and in your water station in the basement of your RV doesn’t freeze.

No, I have no pets. No, I have no husband. Yes, I have a couple of plants. I have quite a few large crystals and other minerals that I’ve collected in my travels. And I have a number of knick-knacks from around the world that I place on the dashboard of the RV, which you can sort of see in the photo.

Can you tell us about your RV and if you’ve had to customize it to fit your lifestyle?

RV with Slideouts

I have a 2008 39-foot Newmar Ventana with four slide-outs. I bought it in 2011. I love love love it. It has a beautiful interior, and it has two huge wardrobe closets. One is in the hallway and the other spans the entire back of the coach. It is the only coach I know of that has this much wardrobe and shelf space. It has a slide-out tray in the basement storage also. I’ve done no customization. For me, it’s perfect exactly as it is. It has a rear back-up camera and also two side back-up cameras.

Can you tell me about your setup? How do you power your RV, what do you do for water, heat, and communications?

In the daytime, I use my solar panels, which I’ve had for decades, and which travel with me from RV to RV. In the night I use the generator to charge the batteries, or I turn on the diesel engine, so it’s idling, and then I push the cruise control lever up to 15 RPM’s, which charges the batteries faster than the generator. I get water at truck stops, dump stations, camping grounds, gas stations, rest stops, or people’s private property with their permission.

I have a really kick-ass propane heater in my RV. It heats the entire space really quickly. I have two air conditioning units in my RV, which can only run when the generator is running, or when I’m plugged into 30 or 50 amp electricity.

I have two different kinds of hotspot devices for Internet access. One is a Jetpack from Verizon and the other is a Sprint Pocket WiFi. If one doesn’t work, usually the other will. I have 2 because I have lots of websites I’m managing, and a couple of businesses I’m running, so I need Internet access always and everywhere. I’ve tried the WIFi Ranger and other things, but I don’t think they work. I would imagine that satellite RV would work, but the last I checked, that was expensive.

There’s also the mobile phone. I have an iPhone.

I don’t have satellite TV connected. I don’t see the point in paying for that expense. I can get up to 180 stations with my regular Winegard TV antenna, depending on where I happen to be staying at the time. And I can get any entertainment in the universe on my MacBook Pro laptop computer.

When you’re not driving, where do you park and how long do you typically stay?

I only have one vehicle. It’s my RV. So I live in it, drive it, and park it. I park on the street (mainly in industrial areas), in truck stops, in rest stops, in large parking lots of big stores like Walmart, Target, Costco, Sam’s Club, Office Depot, grocery store lots, shopping malls without security guards, Casinos, on the road, and at people’s property who invite me to stay with them. When staying at lots of businesses, I don’t stay long in one place or on one lot. I move around.

Does anyone ever bother you out on the road or when you’ve set up a base camp?

If I try to stay in a residential neighborhood, people invariably phone the police, so I try to avoid that. But no matter where I park, I sometimes get a knock on the door from a security guard or the police. I think that’s unavoidable. Sometimes it’s just a security guard telling me to move to a different part of the parking lot. If it’s the police, they just tell me to leave. So I do.

Do you have emergency backup plans in place for bad weather or anything else that may go wrong?

I try to avoid bad weather. I try to stay in places that don’t flood or have tornadoes or hurricanes.

Can you provide some tips for people who are thinking about doing the same thing?

Living in an RV is NOT romantic. People think it is, but it isn’t. That’s why I suggest that you rent an RV and stay in it for quite a while before you buy one. That way you’ll get a sense of what the lifestyle is like before spending a lot of money.

Never buy a NEW RV, travel trailer, or fifth wheel. Only buy them used. Otherwise, the minute you drive the thing off the lot, you’ve just lost thousands of dollars. And it’s easy to find a used one that has less than 5000 or 10000 miles on it.

If you are a full-timer, and maybe even if you are not, it is ESSENTIAL to get an extended warranty on your RV. Otherwise, you will go broke fixing the thing. I have literally saved tens of thousands of dollars with my extended warranty. I recommend the Platinum version of Extra Ride warranty that includes all the bells and whistles.

What effect has the mobile lifestyle had on you and your family? Is it easy to make friends or still have a social life out on the road?

I live along in the RV. There’s no family with me. Since I often park my RV on various friends’ property as I travel around, I get to know my friends very well.

What are some of the challenges associated with living in such a small place?

Inside of an RV

Small place = not enough space to store things. And I have to rent a storage unit to keep other possessions that I can’t fit in the RV.

What kind of challenges have you faced, and if you had to start over is there anything you would do differently this time?

Sometimes I’ve had collisions with poles, trees, shrubs, brick walls, etc. It’s important to learn how to drive a vehicle that’s as big as my RV. You need to take very wide turns. I’ve had lots of tire blowouts. Make sure to check your tires often.

How do you work from the road? Do you have any tips for people who are looking to take the plunge but are worried about how they can finance the lifestyle?

If you’re really a full-timer and you don’t have the additional expense of a home or apartment, and if you don’t have an additional vehicle and use your RV as your only vehicle, you’ll find that RV living is less expensive than living in a home.

Do you have any final words of advice for those looking to either go off the grid or do something similar to what you are doing? What should they expect, what can they do to prepare for the change in lifestyle?

Expect that it’s not romantic. No matter how luxurious your RV is, you will still be roughing it. You’ll be dumping crap, filling water, filling batteries, and adding oil to the chassis and generator. You’ll be filling tires. These are all dirty jobs.

Also, I am a bit leery that now all the new RVs are built with no propane, which means you are totally dependent on electricity and most likely you would have to plug your RV in all the time or run the generator all the time. I haven’t traveled in one these new models, but I would be interested to find out what it’s like to boondock in an RV that has no propane heat, no propane stove, and no propane refrigerator. I don’t know if it would even be possible to live in those new RV’s without an electric hookup.

Susan Shumsky is an author and runs the websites www.drsusan.org and www.divinetravels.com

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