My husband and I lived as full timers in an RV for five years. It was a great adventure and we enjoyed it very much and it was well worth it. So why did we quit? I never really got into it beyond a brief post about the shoulder season. So let me elaborate. Manitoba is a very cold place. Winter arrives in October and stays until April. You can’t just stay south and wait for spring because if you aren’t physically inside the Canadian border for six months a year, you lose your health care and seniors benefits. You must be there for shoulder season. Now some years you get lucky and things are warm by April and life in a travel trailer is feasible. Sometimes it stays cold until well into May. Winter can arrive as soon as the first week of October and by November 1st it is really too cold to live in a typical RV. It’s marginally better in British Columbia but we froze up there by the end of November and I hate mountains.
One of the results of this fact of prairie life is that very few campgrounds are open during the shoulder season. It really isn’t feasible to have running water and sewer available in April or October because you never know when there will be a late spring freeze up or an early fall blizzard. Having your seasonal water and sewer running means taking a chance on a freeze up busting your pipes and costing you a lot of money. One consequence of this is almost all campground wait to open until the May long weekend (Victoria Day holiday) the third weekend of the month and close after Labor Day, the first weekend in September. Meanwhile residency requirements in Manitoba mean you must be here five full months and at least one other month in Canada. We did find one campground in Ile Des Chenes which has a very clever set up for folks like us.
They have a regular house on the property they live in year around and the owners hook up a very long hose and visit each trailer up to once a day to fill the trailer water tanks. They have their sewer system set up so if you do a full dump every day or so and release things in a big gush the water all runs to the big septic tank before it freezes. Their set up is brilliant but unusual, to say the least. Each spring they become the first stop for many Manitoba full timers for two to six weeks and they are the last stop before heading south. Wonderful as the folks there were who owned the place, we had two issues. First of all the campground itself is really nothing special, just a gravel parking lot where you are packed in so tightly you literally can reach out and touch your rig and the neighbour’s rig at the same time. Plus it was not nice for our dogs. They have strict rules that basically translate to your dogs should not poop on the ground unless you are standing there to put a bag under them before the drop. This is fine on a sunny afternoon in summer but really difficult at 2:00 am when it is really cold and you’re in your pyjamas. The place also doesn’t feel like home. It feels like the place you stay before you move to where you want to be. Who wants to spend 12 weeks a year that way?
The other problem is that living in a trailer when it is below freezing at night is just plain miserable. Due to the small space, humidity becomes a constant issue. Anything touching the walls gets wet and mould and mildew is something you must always on alert for and clean up. Heating is uneven and because trailers are simply not made for cold weather you alternate between being overheated when the furnace runs and freezing when it isn’t, mostly freezing. I would spend those shoulder seasons in long underwear, undershirts, a warm vest, a fleece jacket and having a hat on my head. Showering was a torture of shivering and drying meant feeling chilled until my hair dried or using the blow hair dryer after turning everything else in the trailer off because it always blew the fuse. My husband sat at his computer with an electric heater on the floor between his feet. Now admittedly we could have solved that problem by either buying a better trailer especially constructed to take colder weather or just being braver and putting up with more, but I just didn’t want to. Full time RV living is supposed to be nice, not awful.
Even once you find a campground to call home for the season you can run into problems we never anticipated. Most of the so called seasonal campgrounds in Manitoba are meant to to be a place you park your trailer and visit on weekends. We spent three years being seasonal folks and two of three landlords expressed considerable frustration with the fact that we were living in our trailer all the time instead of just on weekends. One fellow even insinuated we had lied to him and threatened to increase our fees because we were costing him more than double in electricity costs. The lots of these seasonal places are by in large really small. So again you are left with being within arm’s reach of your neighbour. It’s hardly living close to nature. You are simply in a more crowded city suburb with neighbours much closer than in a stick house. These campgrounds also had all kinds of rules and regulations everyone must abide by, most of them restrictive or just plain silly, like no potted plants. Many of these rules had to do with our dogs and cat. One place would have perfectly fine but he had a rule that no animal must ever be left alone in a trailer for any length of time, even to sit on the beach nearby, even if the trailer is parked in a semi permanent way and has air-conditioning. Another owner simply couldn’t abide cats, any cats, anytime, for any reason. Yet another owner had some paranoid hatred of mosquitoes which he dealt with by aerial spraying of the entire campground with malathion every evening. Getting away from the crowding by hauling the trailer out to go visit a better spot was feasible in some of the places we parked in but in others it was difficult. One place you could only move your trailer in and out after the owner got out his forklift and to say he strongly discouraged us from going anywhere that summer would be a gross understatement. We had to have internet for our work and sanity and several prospects had absolutely no cell phone or internet severely limiting our potential areas to stay at.
It seemed like every place we lived in or explored and decided not to live in, had an owner with some particular neurosis or a need to cheat us. We even had one fellow outright cheat us. He sent us pictures of a lot he had to rent but when we arrived we found ourselves stuck with a much smaller, very ugly gravel space with no lawn, no view and even less privacy. He had many big lovely lots with lots of privacy. They were taken and we were informed we were on a waiting list until a better spot opened. One would open any day and we would get it. Our wonderful picture window was left a mere six inches from the side of our nearest neighbour’s bedroom. And we were stuck with the horrible horrible arrangement because all these places in Manitoba demand you pay the entire year’s rental up front with no refunds if you change your mind. Even when it was time for us to leave, he tried to insist we leave the trailer with him, rent a place in the south, and pay the $200 to reserve for next year since he was absolutely certain a better spot would open up and we were on the waiting list. He basically would not help us get our trailer out until we agreed to pay the reservation fee. We paid it because we wanted to be assured a spot next year in case we couldn’t find anything better, and to mollify him about moving us out. Of course, as soon as we decided we weren’t coming back, the fee was forfeit. I’m very glad we didn’t end up back there because some of our former neighbours told us the following year he simply chopped all the bigger lots into half of what they had been, doubled the number of trailers he packed in, raised the fees and told people if they didn’t like it, they were free to go elsewhere.
We eventually concluded there was no seasonal campground we could stand to live in available in the area we wanted to be in. Now having been all over North American I would have to say the neurotic difficult campground owners with silly regulations are not all that common. They seem to be mostly confined to Manitoba. We stayed at many truly wonderful campgrounds in the USA where the owners were both professional and easy going and things were set up properly. I would have very happily stayed at one of them for the entire summer and never given up being a full timer. I suspect because Manitobans have such a short summer, they don’t have a clue what they are missing and so these owners can get away with stuff that would leave them out of business in the south.
Manitoba’s provincial parks and the one national park are really lovely places. They also restrict how long you can stay to 14 to 21 days and most are limited to the May long weekend to Labour Day weekend. I suppose we could have wandered from one campground to another over the course of the summer. People we know do this and manage just fine. However it didn’t suit us. For one thing only two of these campgrounds have internet and they get fully booked for practically every weekend. We had two lovely seasons working as campground hosts at Bird’s Hill Provincial park and we would have happily done that forever. A full time spot with a full hook up in a big beautiful lot with lots of privacy and all the amenities, but two years was an absolute and strict limit.Even then it was only second week in May to first week in October so we were still dealing with a shoulder season.
We tried looking at alternatives that would be a compromise. One possibility was purchasing a lot in cottage country and living on that. The problem with that was none of the cottage lots will let you put in a trailer and stay in it. The zoning is very strict. You purchase or lease a cottage lot and you put in a cottage with a foundation and meet specific code requirements and spend a minimum amount of money. We tried looking at municipal lots in small towns but came up against the same thing. RVs are simply not welcome as full-time homes. We own 152 acres of farmland and we considered trying to make that habitable but the cost was very high because putting in electricity and water and sewer was going to be tens of thousands of dollars. We would still have had the zoning issues to circumvent. And there was simply no way to get reliable internet.
I was in the process of negotiating another summer seasonal. Based on our previous experiences I had a long list of questions to ask. I also wanted the contract up front and I asked for clarifications on specific rules. The owner was being very patient and I think it might have worked except that there would be no water or sewer until the May long weekend and therefore we would have to be in the Ile Des Chennes gravel parking lot for a longer stretch than we would have liked. They also closed the September long weekend.
I spotted the ad for the house we are in now by pure accident. It was in a small town we were already very familiar with. It was near our farmland. It had a very long drive leading to the garage, absolutely perfect for parking the trailer on. It was in a location we were happy to live in. It had a huge double lot with lots of room for the dogs, a garden and places to take long walks and easy access to beaches. It also had internet, clean, abundant, nearly unlimited internet. After five years of constant struggle with intermitant and unreliable internet we were finally in a position to have real internet. And we were able to come home March 15th to a warm and insulated house and stay past October without freezing. Best of all it was cheap enough we could buy it without a mortgage.
We have been in this small town house for two summers now and it has been an ideal compromise. I have only one real regret. There is a loss of our freedom. One of the nicest things about being full-time is you move and leave everything behind. We can no longer leave it all behind. There is this wee house sitting in Alonsa waiting for us. We have to worry about finding someone to watch it and check it and worry about what if someone breaks in. We do have a place to store a lot of stuff we rarely used that we used to haul around, room for company, and we can run our life the way we want it in our own home on our own lot. So overall the benefits far outweigh the disadvantage. Last summer we were too busy finishing the book and getting settled in the house to travel much. This summer we took the trailer out three times for stays in forests which has given us very nice breaks and gave us back some of our sense of lost freedom. Life in the country has some challenges but mostly great pleasures. I have been posting about those in the blog I moved to tumbleweeds tumbling. You can read about those there.