How We Learned to be Off-grid and Pay $0 in Rent

How We Learned to be Off-grid and Pay $0 in Rent

It’s hard to believe that just five years ago, we lived in a dense Brooklyn neighborhood and it had been a whole decade since we owned a car. In some ways, being New York City folks prepared us well for tiny living – we were already sharing 800ish square feet with two kids, after all. But in so many ways, becoming a full-time travel and RV family of five has pushed us to grow and evolve so much.

We left NYC where we had lived for over ten years together in the summer of 2020. Our apartment lease was up, and we were desperate for some sunshine and fresh air for a few months. We put everything in storage and planned to spend the summer Airbnbing and return to cheaper rents in the fall. With remote work and homeschooling, though, we soon discovered how much fun it was to travel around and decided to travel “until it wasn’t fun anymore.” That was almost four years ago now.

While we spent the first year and a half in Airbnbs, we soon started wanting a space of our own. We purchased a 2007 toy hauler RV that we gut renovated over four months. We have been surprised at how easy it is for our family of five to live in 370 well-organized square feet together:

inside trailer

Our first year living in the RV, we relied almost exclusively on RV parks with power, water, and sewer hookups. Not only was our RV underequipped to be off-grid, but learning how to tow and maintain an RV while traveling with three kids felt like enough to handle at first.

This past summer though, we took an incredible adventure to Alaska. While there, we were inspired by the hundreds of easy-to-access and absolutely stunning locations where anyone can park an RV overlooking a giant mountain range or gorgeous glacier:

RV trailer in Alaska

Not only that, but RV parks in Alaska are extremely expensive and we had a difficult financial year. We knew it was time to figure out how to be off-grid.

We had 800 watts of solar panels and 520 AH batteries installed on the RV and our world was changed forever. Since August, we’ve camped on public land and been treated to the most amazing views right from our couch. That’s four months where we’ve paid $0 in rent from Alaska to Arizona.

Learning to camp without hookups (or boondock!) was a challenge at first. There are three main concerns you have when you’re in an RV with no hookups:

  1. Power
  2. Water
  3. Waste Water

Power was basically solved by our solar panels. We can’t run everything we can when we have a power hookup, but we’ve learned what we can run and it’s everything we need to be comfortable.

Water conservation is the hardest in my opinion. We’ve learned to wash dishes with the water dripping, use less water for washing hands and teeth, and how to take extremely brief showers. We also do laundry at a laundromat and will occasionally take long, hot showers at a local rec center. We recently purchased a water bladder and water pump to be able to pump more fresh water into our tank without moving the RV, and that was an exciting upgrade, too. Check out our instagram reel where we show how that works!

Wastewater goes hand-in-hand with fresh water limits, and we’ve learned how to make our tanks last almost two weeks. You can buy a portable wastewater tank to empty those, as well, but we haven’t needed one yet.

Once you’ve figured out how to deal with those three concerns, you’re ready to find the most gorgeous front yards you’ve ever seen!

Valley of the Gods

(Valley of the Gods, Utah)

Places where free overnight parking is allowed range from Bureau of Land Management land to National Forests to State Land Trusts to mall parking lots (hey, Calgary!) to casinos.

Our two favorite tools for finding free places to park are:

  1. iOverlander
  2. Campendium

Using these two tools has allowed us to travel and park for absolutely zero dollars for months now. Not only that, but we love the incredible sunsets and wide open places for our kids (and dog!) to play.

Hopefully it goes without saying, but please only park legally, don’t overstay your welcome (most places have a stay limit!), and treat the environment respectfully.

Come find us on Instagram at @kateophalen or check out our blog at ophalenadventures.com to learn more about how we live and travel the country as a fulltime travel family of five.

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