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Frequently Asked Questions about living full-time in a motor home

We've found we always seem to get asked the same questions when we get talking to people about living somewhat off grid in a motor home, to which the answers seem to spark a dozen more questions! So (to give our voices a rest!) here's the answers to our most frequently asked questions about living full-time in a motor home:

  1. Where Do You Park?
  2. Don’t you get asked to leave?
  3. How do you wash? Or go to the toilet?!
  4. What kind of Heating do you have?
  5. Isn’t it Damp?
  6. How do you get electricity?
  7. What do you use for internet access?
  8. Our Running Costs
  9. What do you do with your Waste?
  10. Food & Storage
  11. Where do you get water from?
  12. How do you get your mail?

If there is anything I've missed feel free to ask us, we'd love to hear from you! Like us on Facebook for regular updates and photos.

1. Where do you park?

Quiet spot near Moffat in Scotland - Living off grid in a motor home FAQ'sQuiet spot near Moffat in Scotland - Living off grid in a motor home FAQ's

During the week, when we were both working mornings together, we usually stayed in a number of large laybys close to where we worked. We prefer the kind with some sort of barrier, or at least raised curb, in between the road and the parking area for safety (and it reduces buffeting from passing traffic) but you can't always be choosy. We’re often neighbours with lorry drivers who often have odd driving hours but it very rarely wakes us, and the same goes for the passing traffic during the night. My main gripe about laybys is the sheer amount of litter and rubbish around them despite generally having bins.

Now that Ryan is working full-time as an agricultural engineer we're renting a parking spot in the yard with storage so no longer have to move every night, this is now what we refer to as 'base-camp'! 

At weekends we can go a bit further afield and explore if we wish, so we could be anywhere really! At the seaside, a campsite, a wildlife reserve, perhaps a by-way car park or visiting friends and family…


2. Don’t you get asked to leave?

We haven’t had any problems from the Police as some people think we might, but then I have to say that if you are attracting their attention then perhaps you’re not doing it right!

Sleeping in laybys seems to be one of those grey areas when we try to research it and believe me I've spent many hours on the subject. Of course there needs to be some degree of law as you don’t want camp villages everywhere diverting the laybys from their main purpose, which is as a respite stop for tired or hungry drivers or as a safety zone to investigate a breakdown.

We’re always careful to make sure that we’re not blocking access to somewhere and to leave room for other vehicles. If a sign says 'no overnight parking' then we respect that and quite simply don’t park there! Similarly, if it’s gated off we don’t open it as it is likely private land. We also always make sure to park in places that are far away from houses so that we don’t bother anyone with our generator noise etc.

There are so many awesome laybys that have been blocked off and abandoned which could be providing a service to all drivers because they have been abused too many times by caravan settlements and fly tipping. We happily pay road tax for fair use of the road system, so hopefully we can see a few more laybys re-opened in the future if other people can learn to use them with respect!

Another thing I think helps is that we try not to ‘spread out’ too much in public places, like leaving anything outside the door. It makes you look rather settled in which worries people, and frankly I don’t want to cause anyone stress in this world! Leaving boxes, rubbish and gas bottles etc outside looks messy and is more likely to attract negative attention. For the same reason we are careful not to overstay our welcome - one night people are OK with, two nights and they get suspicious or start to make comments...

Most importantly, we ALWAYS take our rubbish away with us - and often times even other peoples! At the end of the day if you want somewhere nice to sit, you sometimes have to clean it up yourself. I’ve also seen first-hand what impact litter can have on wildlife so I’m always pleased to get rid of netting and other potentially harmful litter items.


Our beautiful tiny bathroom - 
Living off grid in a motor home FAQ'sOur beautiful tiny bathroom - Living off grid in a motor home FAQ's

3. How do you wash? Or go to the toilet?!

We have a large fresh water tank with pump under the sofa which gives us running water via a filter to the kitchen and bathroom sinks, and our shower.

At 'base camp' we plumb directly into the mains water hose, no filling and carrying required!

For hot water we have a Truma gas/electric water heater which works lovely :) We don’t have the water heater on all of the time so sometimes I simply boil the kettle or put it on the wood stove to warm if we want hot water. Ever the miser, I don’t see the point in wasting gas to heat water when I’m unlikely to use it.

I also keep a couple of bottles of water handy which I refill from clean sources for cooking and drinking. It helps us maximise what we have on board when out and about and sometimes it’s quicker to fill a kettle from a bottle as the pump is a little slow!

As you can see we are fully equipped with a shower which, to save water (and time drying the room after), we tend to alternate use between it and washing at the small bathroom sink, depending on how grubby we are of course! ;)

We have a toilet on board which has a cassette that can be removed through a door on the outside. The cassette is emptied into a sewer or down the chemical toilet disposal points at campsites. It has an electric flush function with it's own water tank so is as convenient and clean as a regular plumbed toilet!


4. What kind of Heating do you have?

This depends on where we are parked, I like to have many options for our basic needs in case something breaks! It’s good advice for any home to be honest - have a back-up!

Wood-burning stove in the motorhomeWe actually have a wood burning stove on board (yes, a wood burning stove in a motor home!) that Ryan made from a recycled gas bottle, amongst other scrap items... see the blog for more details on the stove. That’s our favoured heater as it uses wood from old pallets, most businesses are pleased to get rid of them and we get free fuel. To keep it going overnight or for longer stints during the day, we add a few lumps of smokeless coal usually purchased from our local independent garden centre near 'base camp'.

Next, we have a fantastic little electric convector heater for if we’re on electric hook up somewhere, it’s very compact and keeps us quite comfortable.

If we are somewhere without electric hook up, but don’t want to light the stove, we also have a gas blown air heater. It’s installed under the rear locker and has a thermostatic control in the living room, though it is the noisier of our heating appliances!

Finally, although it’s not a heat source as such, we have ourselves some good insulation. Whilst rebuilding Waki we decided to add a reflective-foil-and-foam-sandwich layer on top of the existing 25mm wall and roof insulation, and we have insulating foil inserts for the windows too. At some times of year, just the residual heat from using the hob or oven is enough up to keep us comfy until bedtime!


5. Isn’t it Damp?

Waki used to be very damp, the wooden battens in the walls were rotted to compost before the refurb but we replaced them and got her resealed! Yep, literally compost - see the original blog post here if you don't believe us!

I think mainly people remember the damp smell from using old caravans for holidays etc that have been in storage all winter but as Waki is lived in all year round she’s never left cold and sealed long enough to get that funky! In cold weather we do get condensation on the cab windows behind the foil insulation but our living room and kitchen windows are double glazed plastic and don’t seem to suffer from it unless we're cooking etc. We’ve been told that having the foil on the outside of the cab windows would stop the condensation altogether but we went for the inside blinds so we don’t have to deal with the bad weather directly and for security reasons.

The wood stove is great for kicking out enough heat to really dry things out, otherwise I think we’d have to work a lot harder at battling with the humidity when drying clothes etc. In fact often during the winter months it's a toasty 25 degrees C on board Waki!

Just in case, I have some great little bags of reusable silicone dehumidifying beads which I put in our clothes cupboards to stop them from becoming damp. They start off orange and turn dark green when they’ve absorbed water, and can be dried out in a low oven to reuse again!


6. How do you get electricity?

Where possible we have appliances that run off 12v battery power rather than mains 240v however there are inevitably some items that must run off mains like our washing machine!

We have a petrol suitcase generator which we run for a couple of hours a day to keep the batteries charged. If we need to charge our phones and other gadgets we usually do so whilst the generator is running, but we do have 12v chargers via a bank of extra cigarette lighter sockets. As yet we don't have an inverter in place to turn 12v into 240v but we still get by. 

We currently have 2 x 90Ah batteries to power our leisure needs which are on a separate circuit to the battery responsible for starting the engine. The batteries can be charged from the engine whilst driving (we tend to only switch it over on long journeys) or via 240v power either at a camp site or via the generator.

We also have a solar panel on the roof that helps keep the batteries topped up and generally provides all the power we need for lighting in the evenings.


7. What do you use for Internet access?

As back to basics as our lives have now become clearly, by the presence of this web site, we do still have access to the internet!

Of course we can always, and often do, make good use of free WiFi locations but we have our own internet as well. We checked around and for us EE offered the best deal at the time via a Huawei WiFi device. It has a great battery life, generally receives good signal and can support several devices at once so we’re not fighting over the connection if one of us has the laptop and the other their phone!

We expected to have to sacrifice good internet speeds when on the road but actually, after doing a speed test, we discovered that we were getting a faster download speed than Ryan’s parents who had Sky broadband at the time. Also if we need REALLY fast internet we can just drive into a 4G area which you can’t do with a house! The only downside is the dreaded data limits...

Of course we will always take full advantage of free Wifi locations where we have access available to us, it would be silly not to!


8. Our Running Costs

Although living on the road is a lot cheaper than owning or renting a house we still have plenty of things to pay for! We have £225 per year road tax, insurance £432 and an MOT to pay for every year. 

The fuel costs of course depend on how far we travel etc but for a usual working week (when we were both working part time together) we tended to spend around £30 in diesel and £10 on petrol for the generator. We do still use the car occasionally which comes to around £20 per week. If we’re going on a long journey we often sub half the tank with vegetable oil as Waki’s old engine can run on it without any problems. Costco sell a 20 litre bottle for around £16 which makes it a lot cheaper than diesel. Legally in the UK you can use 2500 litres of vegetable oil per year as fuel without paying tax, it's best to keep your receipts on file to keep track and just in case you need to prove how much you've used. 

We buy the 7kg refill Calor gas bottles which cost around £20 and last us 3-4 weeks (without using the gas heater) and a 10kg bag of coal currently costs £11.99 and lasts us approx. 1 week in winter.

So our general on-the-road running costs come to around £365.21 per month, plus food shopping and cleaning supplies on top of that. Compare that to £500 rent (+ council tax, water and electricity and still food costs on top) that we had before and perhaps you start to understand why we chose to live this way...

Soon we hope to install solar panels which will bring the generator costs and emissions down, and perhaps we’ll get cheeky and ask around for used oil to filter ourselves instead of buying it fresh!


9. What do you do with your Waste?

Depending on where we are we can either allow the waste kitchen and shower water to run straight out onto the ground (I only use biodegradable washing up liquid and soap anyway) or mostly, we keep the tanks capped and empty them into an appropriate drain when we find one. Most camp sites have a service point that you can drive over and drain the tanks into.

Our toilet cassette of course needs to be emptied into a proper toilet sewer drain, we have access to one at 'Base Camp', friends properties, or again there are specific chemical toilet disposal points at most camp sites. This is generally one of Ryan’s weekly jobs, I’ve found plenty of excuses so he dons the marigolds!

Although I don’t like using harsh chemicals, the toilet is one place that they are necessary. We buy the toilet chemical and add a splash of it when the cassette is empty. We found it far too overpowering a smell (and expensive!) to add to the flush water as well, so instead have switched to using pine disinfectant diluted in the flush water tank.

The Waki Way endorses recycling in all forms, as I’m sure you’ve come to realise already, so of course we try to find a use for everything before throwing it away in the first place. Paper and cardboard helps get the wood stove lit and plastic bottles and containers often come in handy for other uses. Foil trays also are great for filling with wood chips for flavouring meat on the BBQ!

And lastly of course we use the industrial waste bins when back at 'base camp' for non-recyclable waste. We have a rather nifty sliding bin system in our cupboard with both a regular waste bin and a recycling one. The little door-bins you find in the camping shops are fine for using on short holidays, and we have one on our bathroom door, but for full time living they just don’t cut it as you'd need to empty it daily! Most supermarkets have a glass bottle recycling area with other bins for cans, newspaper and general waste and of course there are the council recycling centres (we’ve only ever visited in the car however as we’ve heard there can be a legislative issue with a motor home or van).


10. Food & Storage

We have a small fridge compared to usual standards but then we also have a smaller kitchen! It runs on several sources of power including gas for everyday use and 240V electric when on hook up, and also has a 12V battery option. Our fridge has a freezer compartment which comes in very useful, you can’t fit masses of stuff in it but there’s enough room for a bag of peas, some left-overs and a tub or two of ice cream!

The rest of our food storage is in one large cupboard. It’s much like any other household cupboard full of tins etc except from the addition of telescopic keeper poles to stop everything flying off the shelves when we’re driving! The best thing about those keeper poles is that they can also be installed in the shower room for drying our clothes if necessary, everything must have several uses where possible.

Due to our limited amount of fridge and freezer space I find myself using more dried and canned foods. If we have any excess I dry it myself or make jams etc. I have a pressure cooker that can be used to can foods at home, and plan on trying to can things other than jam like stewing meat and vegetables. Canning is a big thing in America but not so much in Britain.

Preparing wild Alexanders


I also like to forage wild foods which is great because technically nature looks after it for us until we need it! 


11. Where do you get water from?

Back at 'base camp' we have constant access to an outside tap with hose that we use to either fill up bottles or directly plumb in to. 

Most of the time when on-the-road we source our water from the free air-and-water points at petrol stations (not the screen wash!). This goes into our fresh water tank which is then filtered before coming out of the taps. To be on the safe side I regularly add a water purification tablet to the tank to make sure that there is no bacteria that might make us ill. 

Occasionally we come across a fresh water outside tap that we are given permission to use and of course there's always the trusty parents or friends houses... I tend to be fussy about the taste of my water so we now have a super-duper water filter which removes all nasties - even chlorine and fluoride! We do also buy bottled water on occasion, though I try not to for the sake of reducing our plastic waste. I've found that having a couple of spare bottles of water on board however is a good way to extend the time we can spend out in the wilds before having to find civilisation to refill our tanks, or for those times we may have misjudged how much we had left and run the shower out!


12. How do you get your mail?

This is probably the most awkward thing about living full time in a motor home. In theory you could have a PO box address and collect your mail on a regular basis directly from the depot but unfortunately when it comes to insurances they require a registered home address - mainly to calculate the risk of the area you keep the vehicle in. 

Insurance companies, banks and the government can't yet comprehend that some people can live in a different place every night so for now we have been forced to leave our mail registered to a family member we see regularly.

The same goes for voting so until the growing UK nomadic population are allowed a kind of 'roaming' postcode or ID, this is just what we must do...


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So there you are, the most frequently asked questions we get about living full time in a motor home - answered in more detail than I normally manage since the answers often spark even more questions! If there is anything I've missed feel free to ask us, we'd love to hear from you! Like us on Facebook for regular updates and photos.


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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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