My guy works for the circus, so we live in an RV and travel to a new place every week

May 14 | Guest post by Emily Fleck

IMG_8999

Here's our family (minus the cats) in the bathroom mirror. We (plus three cats) live full time in an RV, traveling the country. Welcome to our home!

IMG_3756Like any owned space, our RV is a constant work-in-progress.

This is the first time in my adult life that I'm not renting my space, and it's thrilling to demolish and tinker to my heart's content. What I'm showing you today is a collection of pictures I took over last winter and early this spring — we've made no major overhauls so far but have big plans (including installing a washing machine and a kegerator, as well as painting the interior and retooling the dinette). For now, though, this is home, and I really love it. It's cozy and frankly, bigger than our shoebox in Toronto. How about that?

I always crave outdoor space, and I have a tendency to keep the awning out all the time — even when it's too windy.

IMG_1049

Here's the dinette. I sometimes work at home, but I usually go to a coffeeshop for better internet and no baby distractions.

IMG_0962

To me, living fulltime in an RV is no different than living in a city apartment. Vertical storage is super-necessary. We hang our hats above the slideout in the living area.

IMG_1089

I loathe overhead lights. So I installed strings of lights on the slideout.

Here's the bedroom at night. Our son Kai loves the strings of lights at the head of the bed. We call them "the stars."

IMG_0871

More stars:

IMG_9147

The big cats have figured out how to open the screen door, so we only open the main door when one or both of us is supervising. Here's Axelle, doing some supervision of her own:

IMG_0798

Many of our fellow RV-dwellers have dogs. Only one other person keeps cats, and it's pretty easy to see why: the litter box. We have three cats traveling with us, and we're struggling a bit with how to handle the excrement situation.

IMG_0844

One of the best things about being in a new place every week is how the light changes. If we change latitude enough, it's totally noticeable (to a geography nerd like me, at least).

IMG_9270

Built-in entertainment center. It's baseball season; time to order the satellite service! Sadly, our only real viable option for internet is a 4G hotspot wifi transmitter. Pretty decent service, but not sufficient for my usual consumption of baseball via online radio broadcasts.

IMG_9150

Our kitchen! Notice the hanging rope baskets for produce and magnetized tins for spices.

IMG_6369

We have a basic fifth-wheel model and have just one slideout (most newer and/or nicer RVs have three or more!) It's awesome for giving us some floor space.

IMG_2618

Full-time RVing isn't for everyone, but we really love it and I think the lifestyle suits us long-term. Ben's job with the circus provides daycare and schooling for our little guy in addition to fuel reimbursements (a huge deal, as our fuel cost per month is more than was rent for our last few apartments in Toronto and Philadelphia). We have a few scattered possessions (mostly books and furniture) in storage at the moment, and I miss being able to use some of my prettier and heavier kitchen implements (like the Kitchen Aid mixer…there's no place for one of those in an RV). Additionally, a few of our more delicate items have already fared poorly due to our constant traveling, mostly the special beer glasses. *sob*

Thanks for touring our home! Can't wait to show you the improvements we make!

  1. Y'know, when my parents moved into their 5th wheel, I got all excited because I thought I would finally get my mom's KitchenAid mixer. Nope. She found room for it. >_<

    I love the string lights! Somehow they make everything look more festive. Great job making the small space so livable!

    1 agrees
    • Thanks so much, Jill! We really love it. And I started demolition on some stuff inside this week, so it's about to get even more awesome and comfortable.

      1 agrees
  2. Curiosity (because I have super limited experience with RV/MHs)–what's the plan/what do other circus-folk do with their older children as far as bedrooms/privacy?

    0 agree
    • Hey Heather! Many fifth-wheels are also toy haulers, meaning that there's a garage of sorts. These often have bunk beds or a sleeping loft.

      One guy has a class A motor home (the ones that look like a bus) and he installed bunk beds into his bedroom closet for his two boys.

      0 agree
  3. My fiance and I are about to move into a camper in about two days because we're trying to put off renting as long as we possibly can while we're house hunting (we don't to get stuck in a lease). We'll have a small beagle and a cat living with us as well (no kids yet, thank god). I too struggled with the cat box issue, especially since the beagle LOVES to get into the cat box to snack on a few "kitty krunchies".
    Here's what I did: our dining booth has a storage area under each seat. One of these had a door on one end to access the storage area without lifting the booth seats. I removed this door (carefully saving the hardware), and installed a nicely-painted piece of plywood with a 4"x6" archway cut into it for the cat to get through. Large enough door for the cat, too small for the dog. I even trimmed it using wood paneling trim that we saved from doing demolition elsewhere in the camper. The cat's litter box (a corner one with high sides but a low entry point) and gravity feeder go under the booth seat. This way he can access his things, but the dog cannot. So long as we keep it clean, it shouldn't smell (I make sure to use a top of the line litter). It may be awkward if we're having a nice quiet dinner some night and suddenly we hear a digging sound under there…but whatever.
    Now with THREE cats this could be difficult, but I figured I'd share my solution.

    0 agree
    • That's a pretty genius solution. And what is it with beagles eating cat shit?! Seems like the whole breed has a taste for it. So gross!

      Good luck to you guys! When you buy your house it'll feel palatial. =)

      0 agree
      • Many, maybe even most, dogs do; it's because (and this sounds really gross, but it's true) cats' diets consist so heavily of meat, and their intestines are so short, that, to a dog, cat poop smells like, "Ooh, still-sorta-fresh meat!"

        0 agree
        • I have a jack russell, and he too enjoys feasting on my two cats' "deposits". I don't think it's a freshness thing for him, as he'll also find days old other-dog crap outside and attempt to either nosh it or carry it delicately in his mouth so he can move it to a more appropriate (read-harder to clean/easier to smear) location where he can ROLL AROUND IN IT. It's a really fun game of "close the laundry room door! no, open it, the cat looks like he/she wants to use it," because, alas, his head is roughly the same size as the cat's, and he can jump anywhere while my cat cannot. Sigh.
          For the small-area solution, all I can say is be vigilant. I only had one cat in an efficiency, but it's so easy to get smelly—covered/as enclosed as possible area + good litter + baking soda deodorizers + vigilant poo cleaning is about the best you can do, I'm thinking.

          0 agree
    • We're travelling with our cat & dog. I really like your under-bench idea, and may explore that. Our solution has been to put the kitty litter in the shower, with the screen mostly shut — again, the cat can get to it and the dog cannot. Obviously at shower time we move the litterbox, but it's almost-convenient. I also like this solution because we pass the shower multiple times every day so can easily see in if there's clean-up to do. Our litterbox used to be in the basement utility room of our house, and too often it was "don't see, don't remember".

      0 agree
  4. Growing up all our cats were trained to use the bathroom outside. I don't see why you can't train your cats to do the same. Cat's can also be leash trained.

    0 agree
    • Second the motion for leash training! Most cats will initially (a) puff themselves up so their harnesses are loose enough to escape from and (b) collapse in a baleful heap as if being harnessed and leashed has deprived them of the use of their legs.

      However, if you persevere, the cat will grok that it can live a meaningful life at the end of the leash. Some cats have progressed only to being capable of being staked on a long leash, under supervision, and basically hanging out (walking, napping, running, sunbathing). But I've also had cats who would take walks, just like a dog.

      0 agree
      • OMG, I haven't heard the term "grok" for ages :-). Brings back memories….

        Hubby and I are planning to sell the house and hit the road with two cats in a fifth wheel. Since they hate being confined, we were thinking of getting them the "walking jacket" style of harness ( heard they can't slip out?) and use a zip line for their leashes in the truck when we're "underway" Also, of course, for walking.

        Have you used these types of harnesses?

        0 agree
    • We've considered that. If we didn't live on parking lots with large trucks coming and going all day long we'd probably go that route. One of them actually enjoys the leash but I've never seen him "go" while leashed.

      0 agree
      • Oh!!!! This reminded me, cats can be toilet trained! Just like in Meet the parents. It requires sharing your bathroom with the litterbox for a while and is likely super annoying for a bit, but eventually it might be worth it. You have to place the box next to the toilet and gradually raise it to the toilet level, then devise a way to put it in the toilet (smaller container, obvs), then remove the litter box altogether. I think it's possible, just takes a while.

        0 agree
  5. First I was like, "Oh yay, another lady baseball fan." And then I saw the Fightin' Phils towel hanging on your oven and I was like, "Oh F*CK yeah, another Phillies fan!" :-) You'll be happy to know I read this post while watching tonight's game. Your RV life looks so cozy!

    0 agree
  6. Thank you for showing us around your home! It looks so cosy – I'm loving the inventive storage solutions, too! I literally crave a life on the road (although I also like to have a lot of stuff around me, and routine, so I doubt I could make it work). I was just thinking that I need to read MORE about you and your life on the road when I noticed your name above the post links to your blog!! Yay! I'll definitely be reading from the UK!

    0 agree
    • Hi Alison! I think I saw that you liked the blog's book of face page. Thanks so much for your support. =)

      0 agree
  7. Thank you SO much for your story! My husband and I recently stumbled upon the idea to purchase an old school bus, convert it to an RV motorhome, and travel the country workamping as our way of making our lives more meaningful and giving the finger to the man :) I am very glad to see that there are other happy families out there doing it and would love more advice on how to stay organized and sane while living on the road.

    0 agree
    • Dude, check this thing out:

      http://pinterest.com/pin/152489137352499783/

      I think that was my first thing I ever pinned. It's a double-decker bus from the 70s! When my husband first got this gig back in August we were seriously considering purchasing it and retooling it for living in. I'm not a mechanic though (neither is my man) so I think with all the miles we put on our vehicles it might not make it. Still, it's an incredible blank slate and fun to think about.

      I hope you follow along…I post pretty regularly and am about to start demolishing the interior of the rig to make way for my custom-built stuff, so I'm sure you'll find that interesting. =)

      0 agree
  8. This is so cool! Love the little lights and how you've arranged the tiny kitchen. Roaming with my home with me has long struck me as a fun idea, but it's never been compatible with a job…

    0 agree
    • I suppose it depends on the type of job you have. I do pretty well as a freelance business analyst (though it is certainly not as easy to do with a baby in the house).

      I have a dear friend who is an RN and she has recently taken up travel nursing; she asked for a long assignment in a new place but I think she could have taken a very short assignment as well. I think that would be a really fun way to go…take a month-long assignment somewhere and then drive to the next month-long assignment. Packing up the rig and driving once a week is exhausting!

      0 agree
    • Thanks so much, Allison! I am starting renovations inside the rig so I'm looking forward to submitting that once I'm done!

      0 agree
  9. Wow, somehow I missed the last few pictures when I read this post originally (or maybe I just zoomed down to comment about cats without reading everything). The magnetized spice jars is a brilliant idea! I think anything magnetic will be helpful. We're already planning to use magnets to hold our screen door and the real door together since the little plastic catch is pretty useless. Magnets will hold them together to swing them open together, or you can separate them if you just want the screen.

    0 agree
  10. Hi~
    I didn't read ALL the comments, so I hope this isn't a repeat comment, but my mom lives in an RV with her husband and a cat. They keep the litter box in a little compartment (cabinet?) that is close to the ground. This compartment is also accessible from outside, so mom empties the box from outside… super easy! I can't remember, they either took off the cabinet door or installed a cat-flap-door-thing. I think it's genius!

    0 agree
    • Yes, that's exactly what we're going to be doing during our renovations, I think. The first thing I took apart was a cabinet with two broken drawers…right now the big corner litterbox lives in the cabinet (with no doors). I'm planning on at least installing a curtain. Although…..I think that with three cats I probably need a self-cleaning model.

      0 agree
  11. Girl, you are living the dream!!! You have your whole little family together and get to travel the country and not be tied down to an apartment that's just as small as your rv. And I bet you guys are a super tight knit family and you'll both be around 24/7 to watch your little guy grow up. I wish I could do something like this but my boyfriend isn't exactly the type for it lol. Have fun on your travels :)

    0 agree
    • I totally am. And it is awesome to have two parents to one baby ratio nearly all the time. AWESOME.

      0 agree
  12. I admit, I have to smile a little at your RV being called "tiny". My boyfriend and I perform music at Renaissance fairs and SCA events all over the country, and we gave up our apartment last November to live mostly full-time in an early 1970s 14' trailer he's had for a while. It is essentially one room, with a couch in the back that folds down into a bed, futon-style, a small dinette (two seats and a table) with a tiny tub built under one seat, a 3 burner propane stove, a tiny fridge, a small sink, and a handful of drawers and cabinets. Compared to ours, y'all's RV looks absolutely palatial! We've made new cushions and cushion covers as well as curtains for the whole thing, and are slowly working our way through renovating the rest of it. I'll be following your blog with interest to see how you renovate yours – good luck!

    Also, your son is so cute, I just cooed at the screen. *grin*

    0 agree
    • Oh yeah, I know it isn't at all tiny. =) Some of our neighbors on the parking lot (we stay AT the circus venue) have the most gigantic fifth-wheels I've ever seen. Massive! Then there are others like yours. We're somewhere in the middle, I suppose. I don't know how you manage without a slideout. I would miss the floor space terribly (not that I actually enjoy it…there is always a cat to trip over).

      I think I'm going to be knocking out a wall soon, so I'll be posting about that. Cheers!

      0 agree
      • At our current faire, we're sandwiched between a tiny pop-up trailer and this massive thing with 2 or 3 slideouts and an awning. I know exactly what you mean! We'd *love* a slideout (with our current trailer, it'd just about double our space!) but I'm thinking it might be too hard for us to do on our own, and the added weight might kill my poor conversion van (it sounds like an old man trying to pull the current trailer up hills!) My b/f and I just squeeze past each other a lot.

        I'll be watching eagerly to see what you do with the wall. Exciting!

        0 agree
  13. Your photos are beautiful – and I love that I can *hear* your voice in the narration!
    Thanks for the tour =)

    1 agrees
  14. Great article, thanks for sharing! My husband and I live in a vintage airstream with two dogs and a cat, and the litter box is a challenge for us, too. Right now we keep it in the shower stall, easy clean up and there's a sliding door to the bathroom so we keep it open just enough for the cat to get in, but not the dogs. Of course we have to move it anytime we need to use the shower.

    I'd love to know more about having a baby in an RV, specifically what kinds of toys and accessories you use and how you store them. And is there anything that you'd like to have for your son that you don't have room for or doesn't work in the RV? Can't wait to see some of your diy projects!

    0 agree
    • That's genius! I would have never thought of putting the box in the shower.

      I actually just posted a little update on my blog with what I've done so far, and that includes my son's room. Feel free to come visit. =)

      For his toys, we just use a couple diaper and wine boxes, and we can fit all his currently-fitting clothes in an under-the-bed box. We have one of those exercise saucer things that is really handy for now but I wil be SO glad to get it out of our way when he outgrows it! His stroller just generally has a rough life and lives in the bed of the pickup truck. We don't really have any other baby "stuff" for him, and I can't really think of anything I wish we had. The newborn time was really rough, but I think that was mostly because we moved into the RV for the first time when he was about two weeks old, and by "moving in" I mean we threw all our shit in there and drove for three days. It really took about two plus months of living in this rig to get it comfortable. His diaper changes happen on our bed or in the crib, and the molded foam seat for feedings just gets moved to whatever horizontal surface is clear (usually the dinette bench or the couch). I have A LOT of stuff hanging from hooks and whatnot; anything to save flat surfaces from holding piddly stuff!

      Sorry for the novel. =) I just love Airstreams. They seem to be really well engineered and put together with quality materials. Can't say the same for most RVs out there…they're meant to be taken out a few weekends a year and that's it…not to be lived in. Do you travel full-time or just happen to live in one that mostly stays in one place?

      0 agree
      • Thanks for the info and the blog update! Airstreams are great, and built to last. We've made a lot of cosmetic updates, added a solar panel, but no major repairs. It still has the original fridge and a/c from 1975. My husband just loves doing things that people say you can't do to an rv, like putting marble tile in the bathroom. Right now we're staying in one spot, for work, but we've traveled all over. We lived on a ranch for awhile, camped out in friend's yards, RV parks when there's no other option.

        0 agree
        • Oh man…I'd love to see the inside of yours sometime. Do you or your hubby have a blog or other public social media presence we could connect through? =)

          0 agree
  15. Hey, Emily, really enjoyed your post! You have a beautiful family. Imagine going off to join the circus and having some of that fuel paid for. Excellent.

    You have so many ideas that I never thought of for space and ambiance. Love the hat hanging idea, and the lights, as well as the " demolish it and start again" approach. I am completely design-impaired so need all the ideas I can get. Thanks for sharing. :-)

    I'm a speech pathologist and hubby is semi-retired. Don't want to end up long term in So. Cal. We'll be selling our house hopefully this year and then living out of our Montana 5er. As an SLP I can apparently work on the road doing travel therapy ( 3- month or longer assignments, health insurance and campsite fees paid for). We'll put our favorite furniture in storage until we find our eventual landing place (after 17 years of marriage we still can't decide where to retire :-))

    We have two cats, and are going to make a passage/ramp from our stairs (that go to the bedroom) down to the basement and keep the litter boxes there. I've heard that this has been a good solution for some people, so well try it. The only other alternative I can see is to keep it in the shower.

    The other thing we'd like to do is to get a patio room enclosure that attaches to the awning, so that we have a nice outdoor area without bugs, and cats have a nice outdoor area to hang out in. I'm hoping that that, walking jackets, catnip and deli way can keep them stimulated and exercised enough. I am a bit worried about their potential ability to open the screen door, so will check into that more.

    As for the Kitchenaid ( only got it six years ago after lusting after it for 26 years!), bread machine and sewing machine, I will just HAVE to find a way to keep them with us. Maybe could give away the bread machine.

    0 agree
    • Sorry, meant "Feliway" instead of "deli way" ( don't take our cats to the deli to keep them happy, although I bet they would be if we did…..). Darned iPad won't let me edit my posts here.

      0 agree
  16. My cats would love a deli. =)

    We actually just bought a pair of bullhorns and are using them as a hat rack at the moment. It's pretty awesome.

    I think the patio enclosure is a great idea; we're considering the same. Just consider that when it gets windy, your awning will rattle around a lot. You'll probably want to invest in some ground stakes and winching straps to keep it steady. I have been trying to figure out how exactly I would keep ours from going underneath the rig when the "screen porch" is out. Perhaps attaching some marine-grade snaps to the bottom of the trailer and hanging some canvas with weights sewn into the bottom would work. It's a P in the A, but worth it to give the kitties some fresh air (and to allow humans to relax and not have to worry about escapees).

    Best of luck to you guys! Keep in touch.

    0 agree
    • Actually, I'm beginning to wonder if everything associated with bringing the felines along is going to be a royal "P in the A"!

      Yeah, we were thinking of having a ground surface to connect the patio to. Also, there are sturdier solutions, apparently, but only worth it if one is a "seasonal" fulltimer, staying in one place for a long time.

      Anyway, thanks, and best of luck to you and yours as well.

      0 agree
  17. 1) YEAH PHILLIES!!!!
    2) Is your colander used solely as a hat, or also as a colander?

    0 agree
    • 1. Phuck yeah (but plz win a game thnx).
      2. Only on the third Sunday of the month when we worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster. ;-)

      0 agree
  18. My husband and I are buying a rv we have a 5 month old how is it living with a baby in a rv ? I'm scared but excited its way cheaper than a apartment . We want to call it our home

    0 agree

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.

Biz owners & wedding bloggers

Please just use your real name in your comment, not your business name or blog title. Our comments are not the place to pimp your website. If you want to promote your stuff on Offbeat Bride, join us as an advertiser instead.