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Important Lessons RVing Can Teach Us About Living Off the Grid

Whether it’s a global pandemic or rolling blackouts, recent years have taught us the importance of being self-reliant. Living off the grid can provide a sense of normalcy amid chaos but also a chance to unplug. 

Today we want to share some lessons RVing can teach us about living off the grid. Let’s get started!

What Does “Living Off the Grid” Mean? 

When many refer to “living off the grid,” they often refer to creating their own power. However, while you’re technically off the electrical grid, there’s so much more to the lifestyle.

🏠 Self Sustainable Off grid Living - Discussion on building a "boondocking" house - 🍃

To live off the grid, you’ll need potable water, a waste disposal method, to grow or hunt your food, and to create power. People embrace this lifestyle for many reasons. Some reject the mindset of consumerism; others view it as a means for survival. But some just appreciate the simplicity of the lifestyle. 

Living off the grid doesn’t mean you have to give up luxuries, either. You can live a luxurious lifestyle by using solar panels or generators to create electricity. Once you get a taste of this lifestyle, you’ll likely look for more ways to be self-reliant.

Is It Illegal to Live Off the Grid in the United States?

It’s perfectly legal to live off the grid, produce your power, grow your food, and build your home. You simply need to be aware of city or county ordinances and zoning laws.

These ordinances and zoning restrictions often limit camping on private land to no more than 14 consecutive days. Cities and counties have varying definitions of camping and residential dwelling. They may have a requirement for minimum square footage, an established foundation, or a mandatory connection to utilities.

If you want to live off the grid, consult your local government agencies to educate yourself on local ordinances and requirements. You don’t want to invest in property to find you can’t use it for this purpose. Research in advance and save yourself the headache and stress.

What Self-Contained RVing Means

A self-contained RV is fully functional without relying on any outside sources or facilities. Two of the most critical features of a self-contained RV are a bathroom and water tank system. You may have a battery bank or generator; however, you don’t necessarily need a power source to be self-contained.

boondocking near badlands

What Is Boondocking?

Boondocking is camping without water, electric, or sewer connections. You likely won’t see bathrooms, water spigots, or picnic tables at boondocking sites either.

Many people boondock on public lands managed by the National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, or local municipalities.

New to boondocking? Check out our 40 RV Boondocking Tips To Make Your Off-Grid Camping Better.

How RVing Can Teach Us About Living Off the Grid

Living off the grid and RVing both provide an incredible amount of freedom. Let’s look at a handful of ways we can learn about living off the grid while RVing.

Generating and Storing Power

RVing will teach you the importance of generating and storing power while living off the grid. Whether you’re using a generator or solar panels, you’ll need a way to keep your batteries charged. You’ll quickly learn the importance of turning off lights and other electronics when not in use.

solar panels powering off-grid rv living

A portable generator is a cost-effective way of providing power to your RV while off the grid but requires gasoline and maintenance. Upgrading to solar energy is a terrific but expensive way to power your RV. Many people regularly use a combination of power sources to keep their rig powered while off the grid.

Generating and storing your own power quickly shines the light on another often-overlooked part of off-grid living: your batteries. Whether your off-grid home is on wheels, water, or land, batteries are the heart of your off-grid power system. If you can’t store your power, you will either need to stop using power when it isn’t sunny or run your generator constantly.

The best batteries for living off the grid are lithium-ion batteries due to their many benefits over lead-acid, including energy density, no maintenance, and power availability.

Conserving Water

When living off the grid, you need to make your water supply last. Find ways to conserve water while washing dishes, bathing, and staying hydrated. RVing is a great way to start understanding these concepts.

Perhaps most importantly, you discover simply where you use most of your water. Just having this awareness will make you more mindful of off-grid water usage where you don’t have an “unlimited” supply.

Top Tips for Preparing to Go Off-Grid "Boondocking" in an RV - Mondays with the Mortons

The more you RV, the more you’ll also discover simple hacks for conserving your water. For example, many RVers capture the water that runs as the shower warms up and use it for other fresh water purposes. You want to waste as little water as possible to extend your time off the grid, so this is a great solution! 

Waste Management

RVing helps teach about off-grid living by forcing RVers to manage their wastewater tanks. This is not something you typically have to think about when hooked up to city sewer lines! But whether it’s your wastewater or food waste, you’ll need a strategy for disposal.

When RVing, your self-contained RV will store gallons of wastewater before you have to do something with it. But, then you have to do something with it. For many, a trip to the RV dump station is the cure. If you’re boondocking, we recommend a portable waste tank. Otherwise, you’ll be making frequent trips to a dump station.

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However, those who want to really conserve water and not worry about having to take trips to the dump station will go with an off-grid toilet called a composting toilet. These toilets reduce water usage and can make dealing with waste as easy as dealing with a garbage bag.

Speaking of trash, this is another area that needs consideration when living off-grid. If your goal is to be minimal and environmental, you can seriously cut down your trash. RVing makes you aware of every piece of trash you produce, as you have to find something to do with all of it.

Plus, pou won’t always have access to a dumpster if you’re boondocking on public lands. And throwing your trash into a random trash receptacle can get you fined for illegal dumping. RVing teaches you to minimize your footprint as you would when living off the grid.

Minimal Living

Even in the largest RV, you won’t have room to bring everything on the road. RVing forces you to evaluate what you need. The less you have, the easier it is to manage. Minimal living is a growing trend, not just among RVers.

living off the grid with solar power

When you live minimally, you’re adopting an off-the-grid mentality. Living a minimalist lifestyle rejects the consumerist mindset. By choosing to own less, you can use your money and resources to build experiences you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Staying Connected

RVers often stay connected to what’s going on in the world around them. Just because you’re traveling the country doesn’t mean you don’t want to keep in touch with friends and family. Many RVers use high-tech equipment to stream shows, do video calls, and enjoy other electronics.

Living off-grid similarly doesn’t necessarily mean disconnecting from humanity. You can live a pretty normal off-grid life and stay connected to what’s happening in the world.

Solar as a Source of Off-Grid Living Power

Using solar to power your off-grid living might be cheaper or more expensive than you initially think. It depends on the setup. RVers have been using solar power heavily to power their lives and travels, and the process is bringing this renewable energy source into everyday lives.

Some solar setups provide a trickle charge to the RV’s battery bank, but others cost thousands of dollars to create thousands of watts of power. On any off-grid home, your lifestyle and your budget will determine what you can do.

Ultimate RV Off-Grid Solar System Build - 2760 Watts of Solar ☀️ 11Kwh Battery, on a 32' Fifth wheel

Large battery banks powered by massive solar arrays mounted on top of an RV can allow RVers to run all their electronics while living off the grid. There are even some RVers who have created systems large enough to run multiple air conditioners.

If these systems are possible on mobile vehicular homes, just think of what you could power from a roof or a small field of solar panels!

An extensive solar-powered system is not cheap, especially if you’re using lithium batteries for your battery bank. However, harnessing electricity from the sun can allow RVers to save money and recoup the initial costs.

Can You Live Off the Grid in an RV? 

You can live off the grid in an RV, which more and more RVers choose to do. If you’re planning to live off the grid in an RV on your property, you’ll want to verify any local ordinances or restrictions. 

off-grid camping in truck camper

Some public lands across the country allow RVers to camp for free. However, some places limit how long you can stay in a single spot, but you can enjoy incredible views while you’re there.

As long as you follow all local ordinances, you can live comfortably off the grid in an RV. You can enhance your comfort level by upgrading your RV’s electrical system. This upgrade would involve adding additional batteries, an inverter, and even solar power. 

The RVing lifestyle can teach you a lot about living off the grid. You can experience the freedom this lifestyle provides. You may even forget what life was like before and wish you switched sooner! 

solar panels on RV boondocking off-grid in desert

Do you live off-grid? Let us know what you love about this lifestyle in the comments below.

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Skip clements

Monday 5th of July 2021

Is there a book or website that explains how to hook up a solar charging system from start to finish. Everything I read seems to be piece meal. I'd like to be able to follow a step by step (with various choices) installation from start to finish.. I was also curious as to your opinion of installing a high output alternator on the van motor along with heavier wiring to charge the house batteries. This brings up another question. If I have lithium batteries for the house do I need a lithium battery for a starter battery or do I need 2 monitor/regulators to conform to the battery differences? Thanks Skip