College Student Considering an RV

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New member
Dec 27, 2012
I’ll be starting graduate school this summer and I’m looking at alternatives to dumping money into an apartment. The area where I’ll be attending school has very high rent for a one bedroom (~$1300…high for Texas, at least) and it’s very difficult to get an apartment due to a local boom in the economy.

So, I’m seriously considering getting an RV (a travel trailer or fifth wheel) and living in an RV park. I figure that I’ll have something to show for my loan money when school’s over and it will be a bit cheaper to get an RV, by my calculations. I figured I’d buy it where I live (with my parents), have my dad haul it up to where I’ll be going to school and help set it up at an RV park, and I’d call him when/if I need to move in a year for the second year of graduate school (first year is didactic, second year is clinicals that may be in another town).

I do have some concerns, however, first and foremost among them being that I know nothing about RVs. I’m worried that I may be getting in over my head. For instance, I have no idea how to do basic repairs. I also don’t know how anything in an RV works, period, but I’m willing to educate myself. School will be very intense, though, and I won’t have time for a lot of keeping up with things: is an RV high maintenance? Also, I’m not sure how smart it is to not have my own vehicle capable of hauling the RV and relying on a ride 9 hours away if some disaster were to happen. I don't know much, but I have a feeling my Camry doesn't have much hauling power.

I also am concerned about how safe it would be living in an RV park as a single female that will probably come in late many nights from studying. I understand safety issues may vary from park to park. How do you tell where is a safe place to set up shop?

Any opinions overall? Am I being too ambitious here? Any gross oversights on my part?

Thank you in advance for your advice.
Go for it!

As far as safety, an RV park is probably neither safer nor less safe than a typical apartment in the same general area.

With respect for repairs, if you are at all handy with tools, you can generally come back here and get some pretty good advice about how to fix something. As an absolute last resort, there are mobile RV techs who will do repairs on site.

I wouldn't worry too much about not being able to pull it. It is very unlikely that you should need to move it.

Our son lived in an old Airstream trailer while going to med school for a couple of years. It is certainly a viable alternative. There are some considerations, though. Despite many of the horror stories you may find on forums like this (most posters don't write to say all is well) there can be maintenance issues to deal with. They are the kind of things that need done right away, either by repairing yourself or paying someone. These are the same kind of things you can find in a stick and brick dwelling, but if you own there is no landlord or management company to call.

In addition, there is the liquidity issue. Life circumstances can change pretty rapidly when you are young. Will you have the time and energy to move or sell the unit and still go ahead with your life changes? When our kids were in school we bought condominiums near their university. They lived in them until graduation and then we sold them and took the gains (or losses). All three kids did say later, however, that an apartment would have been easier for them as they would not have had to worry about upkeep and repairs.

Good luck.
Go for it.  If you buy a decent trailer to begin with and not too old, maintenance should be pretty minimal for a couple of years.  Caulking the roof seams is probably the hardest job that will need to be done at least once a year.  But it is not hard to learn.  Other than that it is all about finding propane for heating and cooking, disposing of waste water, when and how and enjoying your own space. There are advantages and disadvantages to both a travel trailer and fifth wheel, so go look at both, and play house in the ones you think you like. That way you will have a good idea how difficult it might be to make a meal, or take a shower,or even do homework.  That would be a big thing.  Where will you study comfortably?
Security and RVing:
We have found the people that RV to be a group of great, helpful folks. Unfortunately, there are good and bad people in every walk of life. Every one of my daughters was given a copy of the P.Q. book. It contains many good ideas to keep you safe.
Go for it. I live full time in an RV and stay in RV parks. IMHO RV parks are considerably safer than any other place one could live. If you buy a trailer and have it placed in the RV park then the maintenance should be minimal. The things in the RV that could need repairs are basically the same things you would need to repair in a house or an apartment. You got a refer, a stove, an oven, a heater, and maybe an A/C.

Now depending on where you live in Texas you may need to make sure you find a unit with an A/C. Not all trailers have one. RVs are not well insulated so if the daytime temps get over 80 you will need an A/C.

The smart move would be to hire an RV mechanic and pay him $100 or so to give any prospective trailer an inspection to make sure you are not buying a lemon.

There are services that will move your trailer for a fee in case your dad would be unavailable to move it. In fact, you could probably find someone on this forum who would move it for little or nothing. There are a lot of Texans on this forum and it is a very friendly state.

OK, so you don't know anything about RVs. You are a college student right? So you do know how to learn. There are plenty of RV 101 books available. Tons of info on the web and this forum is a goldmine of info. The entire reason forums exist is to ask questions. So ask away. Every one here knew nothing about RVs at some point in their life. We are happy to share info.

Here is a web site that lists thousands of RV parks in the USA. At the top menu is a link to a Campground search page. Choose USA, then Texas and then your city. Then in the area below look for Electric Hookups and select Yes. Then you can start investigating RV parks for your area. If there are safety issues in that park someone will mention it. There will be maps and links to the parks websites. Most parks have daily weekly and monthly rates. Some have three month rates. The longer you are staying for the cheaper the rate will be. For example, my current park is $34 per night, $190 per week and $340 per month. Three months would be $900.
one thing about an rv compared to an apartment is if you dont have any furniture.  beds, table and chairs, dressers, appliances ect they all come as standard equipment in an rv. unless you rent an apartment that is furnished , it can cost lots over and above just to outfit it with the basics. the money you will save will pay the cost of the rv and if you take care of it  the value wont drop too much. i suggest buying one that is not brand new so the initial drop in value has been taken by the original owner but not too old as to be a maintenance issue or make it hard to resell because it is too old. i lived in one for 6 months while i built my house. not too bad until canadian winter arrived and made getting house finished asap a big priority. good luck
Sometimes you can find a good deal on parking space on Craigslist. That's how we found our place for winter. We only pay $200 a month and have our own account with the electric co. We use electric heat and the bill is running about $55.

I give these numbers since I know a student usually has to be careful with their spending.
Thanks guys! You're awesome! :)

What I've gathered from y'all is:

-get a used RV, but not too old.
-RV parks aren't any more dangerous than an apartment complex.
-Hire an RV mechanic to check out the RV I'm interested in so I don't buy a lemon.
-You will save lots of money by not having to furnish an apartment.

To answer some of your questions:

Will you have the time and energy to move or sell the unit and still go ahead with your life changes?

I plan on either living in it when I graduate to save money in order to repay my student loans, or share it with my parents. They always wanted an RV.

Where will you study comfortably?

I was thinking I'd be doing a lot of studying on campus, but I kind of assumed that there would be enough room to study comfortably in a travel trailer by looking at some pictures online of the types I'm interested in. Is that a wrong assumption?

Now depending on where you live in Texas you may need to make sure you find a unit with an A/C. Not all trailers have one. RVs are not well insulated so if the daytime temps get over 80 you will need an A/C.

Oh yeah, A/C is a must. Temperatures in my area of Texas in July/August reach somewhere between Volcanic Lava and Hell Fire, and I don't expect West Texas to be any different...except maybe less humid than where I live. I'm glad you mentioned the insulation issue.

That about cover it? I've checked into the apartments in the area again and they have horrible reviews, so I'm about 99% sure this is the route I'm going to go. Y'all have pretty much made me feel better about going in this direction. I'll see if I can get my dad to go looking with me tomorrow.
If you have a dinette, you have plenty of room to study. Back in my college days, I did a lot of studying at the kitchen table and even more slopped out on the sofa. There should be cupboards for storing textbooks. And with internet access, you'll do a lot of research online so you won't need much more than a laptop and internet access, which, BTW, is something you'll need to check on.

Have fun, enjoy your studies. I wish I was back in college.
Yeah, that's pretty much how I had it figured. Dinettes look plenty big to study on. It's never too late to go back to college and take some random classes. ;)

I've been calling RV parks in the area (Midland, Texas) for the last hour or so and essentially there are no spots and the wait list is so long for them that getting a spot by May is iffy, at best. The area has been flooded with oil workers due to the oil boom so housing apparently is impossible to find, and when you find somewhere with a reasonable wait list, the reviews are horrible.

...I'm considering living out of my car at this point.
You know, it might be worth your while to personally visit the rv parks that interest you and apply while there. Once you charm them with your good graces they might decide that a college student would be a much better park tenant than a scruffy and wild oilfield worker, and put your name closer to the top of the list.  :)  That's all it is, a list. It's not a contract saying they must let a person in their park when their name reaches the top.

And if it hasn't been mentioned, some parks have age requirements on rv's. They can't be older than whatever their policy states.

Hey Wasabi,

I am finishing my doctorate and I bought an RV that I live in full time.  Somewhat similar story, obviously some details will be different.  Here are some thoughts:

Did you ever watch Castway with Tom Hanks?  Totally watch it.  When I stepped into the RV and shoved off as a full-timer, I would not have called myself handy.  And believe me, I learned EVERYTHING the hard way.  It reminded me of his character on the island.  There has been frustration, as a trailer/RV/5th wheel does not mean maintenance-free and sometimes things need attention immediately, which doesn't always coincide with academia.  Having said that, once you've learned the ropes on basic things like plumbing, electric, waste, then the maintenance will be manageable.  I find the freedom to be sublime.  Frankly I wish everyone was a little more aware of what they consume as a human being (water, waste, fuel, etc.).  But I digress....

You can learn.  As long as you don't mind putting in the time to learn, asking for help when you need it, and getting a little dirty from time to time (you may have to crawl under the rig when something comes up) then you'll be fine.  It's actually empowering to solve a problem and actually have something to show for it as opposed to swimming in theoretical platitudes (as sometimes school can feel like).  I remember the first time I fixed something using a wrench, duct tape, the internet, and about an hour.  It changed my life....

In terms of safety, average age in a trailer park is older (most retired snowbirds).  Usually a good neighborhood as any.  You can always get a tazer for $10-15 on amazon and carry it with you.  Just enough to zap someone and run if you need to.  You probably won't need to.

I do my homework at the dinette.  I have a wifi hotspot and it works fine.  I'm not sure if parks offer wifi but it makes it even easier to access whatever you need for school.  The solitude is quite perfect for homework.  WAY easier than dealing with the distractions of apartments with all those pesky college kids....

all in all I have no regrets in the decision I made.  It takes a certain kind of person to enjoy "the life" but if it is even a twinkle in your eye, then you'll be fine.  There's a great community here willing to help too!

good luck.  Keep us posted.  If you ever have any specific questions about college in a MH, drop me a line. 
I am a 69 year old female living and traveling full-time in a 32 foot motorhome.  It is very comfortable, and in fact, I teach a college class online from my RV as I travel!  I have almost never felt unsafe, and when I rarely have felt uncomfortable, I move to someplace else.  Most well-run commercial campgrounds will quickly get rid of bad campers, even if they are "permanent" residents.

My motorhome is a little bigger than most, so I took out the dinette and replaced it with a recliner, as I don't really need a place to write, other than my laptop on my lap.  You could take out the dinette and replace it with a desk or buy one with a desk already set up.

I agree that you should not buy something too old or too new.  Put aside some of your rent money for repairs that will eventually occur. 

Also agree that in-person visit to campgrounds is a must.  They may be thinking they do not want a bunch of college students partying, so you will want to convince them you are quiet and serious, and then make sure you behave that way.  Also, you might want to check out state parks and national campgrounds temporily, although that will mean moving every couple of weeks.  What about a used motorhome so you CAN move it easily? 
This thread is a fun read, and filled with good advise.

Wasabi, I live part-time in my little RV, a small 19 footer, for work.  After a long day of work it's nice to come home to a small cozy RV.  I've found it's easy to keep a small place clean and tidy if you don't need a lot of "stuff". 

One thought to consider, is if you get a small RV that's easy to park and drive, you could also take some fun trips with your friends instead of it being just tied to the RV park you live in.    It's a blast to take your home with you when out exploring. 

Best of luck!  Also, regarding any maintenance issues or problems that occur.  The great thing about the internet, is forum's like this one.  Lot's of extremely knowledgeable and friendly folks here willing to help. 
I will be 67 and got into motorhomes so I can take my mentally challenged daughter and our cat traveling.  But I have a very mechanically inclined husband, he works away though, so I'm on my own most of the time.  I haven't gotten to go as much as I wanted  to durn busy but I love it.  I've stayed at Walmarts and road side parks but mainly campgrounds and everyone has been more then nice.

I have only stopped at one RV park that was really scrufty and I moved on quickly.  Even ones that are not top of the line most of the people are very nice and helpful.  Just be street smart and careful like you always need to be and in situations that don't feel right go with your gut.

My college days are far behind me but looking back an RV would have really been neat.  I think its a smart, economical living situation. No roommates, no aggravation, your own little cozy spot.  Hope it works out well for you.
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