This is a guest post by Brianna E. Versteeg, PT, DPT. She is currently a traveling physical therapist who built and lives in a tiny house(1) full time. She’s passionate about all things physical therapy, green living, outdoor sports, tiny houses, pets, and living life as an adventure!
Tiny houses have recently gained huge momentum, most media sources tout tiny houses on wheels (or THOWs) as an affordable and unique way to be migrant, but what is it really like to travel and live in a tiny house?
A little about me, I am a new graduate traveler currently on my first assignment and researching for my next. I built my tiny house over the course of two years by hand, and mostly on my own, during my graduate physical therapy program. I ‘finished’ (there are still odd jobs here and there that need to be finished) my tiny house the day that I moved it to my first travel position. I originally didn’t plan to work in travel therapy when I built my tiny house. I did plan to move out of state, but it wasn’t necessarily built with the intention of traveling multiple times in a year. However, I love my tiny home and the lifestyle it allows me and my dog Jewels to live. My tiny house is 20 feet by 8 feet (160 square feet plus an 80 sqft loft). It cost me $13,000 dollars to build, is worth $25,000 (without labor), and saves me at least $400 dollars a month in rent and bills at my current location. If you’d like to find out more about, or have questions related to building and living in a tiny house that I don’t answer here feel free to follow my Facebook at The Tiny Oasis(1) or post a comment!
Pros to living in a tiny house while traveling:
The biggest thing for me when thinking about housing while traveling, is that while everything else around me is changing including job, city, season, and new acquaintances.. my home is something I prefer to be my source of consistency. I know where everything is, I don’t stub my toe on anything in the dark because I’m not in a place with a new layout, and my mattress is the same all the time so there’s no adjusting. It also provides my dog with a place that is hers no matter where we are which makes transitioning from place to place much less stressful for her.
Packing and Moving
A big pro for me, is that there is very little packing each time I move. I can have as many kitchen gadgets, books, clothes, and other personal items as can fit in the house, without worrying about if it will fit when it’s time to leave. When it is time to move most of the items in my tiny house are stored away in cabinets, the closet, or in the storage spaces under my couch and in the stairs. I have one medium sized box that I use to pack breakables and small appliances in, but otherwise everything stays in its place for traveling down the road. I also have my car space if there was anything else I needed to pack in.
For me, living in my tiny house also allows me to live a more environmentally conscious life as well. I like to clean with natural products, use reusable materials like unpaper towels and cleaning cloths, and I try to recycle everything I can. That’s not to say you couldn’t do that living in other types of homes when on assignments, but it makes it easier to do those things consistently with a smoother transition. However, finding recycling locations in Oklahoma has been the biggest challenge yet.
Individuality and Function
A tiny home is usually customized to the individual (whether self-built or purchased) which truly makes your home meet your needs. For example I wanted to have more living room space vs. a larger kitchen because I spend most of my time there and I like to do yoga/workout inside and I’m no professional cook! Space decisions are fit to you rather than you having to fit into the space that the room or apartment comes with.
Tiny House vs. RV:
You might be wondering, why a tiny house instead of just getting an RV? Honestly, you could easily go with getting an RV and living very similarly, I even considered it when I decided to do travel therapy. There are a few factors that made me stick with my tiny house plan.
First, tiny houses are usually built to withstand extremes of temperature better than an RV typically can, due to the R value of the insulation used in them, which also decreases heating and cooling costs. Another big factor for me, being in tornado alley, is that although a tiny house certainly isn’t immune to high winds it is more secure than an RV due to weighing 2-3 times as much (fortunately I haven’t had to test that theory, and I would recommend finding a parking spot with a storm shelter or safe place nearby because it is NOT safe to be in any movable structure during those situations). Finally, a tiny house looks and feels more like a house which, for some people can be a comforting environment. It also is likely to bring family/friends to visit so they can check sleeping in a tiny house off their bucket list. It also tends to create friendships with those around you because of their curiosity about it!
Cost wise, both tinies and RVs fall in a wide range of prices depending on what kind of features you want. The price tag on tinies might seem high but if you look into purchasing a new RV with similar options, they can cost you just as much (read more here(2) for a great comparison of costs). Getting a used RV may be easier and cheaper, but there are limitations you have to look of for as well (for example, some RV parks won’t allow older campers/RVs). Where RVs win out is tow-ability, blending in at RV parks, and ease of finding parking. There is much debate in the tiny house community about RVs/Campers vs. THOWs. So, if you are interested in either option I would recommended perusing some of the online blogs(3) and forums(4).
Where do you park a tiny house?
This is a big obstacle to the tiny house movement in general, not to mention someone traveling frequently with a tiny house. The most likely place you will find housing is in an RV park. I called ahead to RV parks for my first location, and I expected a bunch of no’s. However, I was pleasantly surprised that 5 out of 5 parks said they would be fine with a self-built (more on self-built vs. RVIA tinies here(5)) tiny house living there! Only one didn’t know what a tiny house was, but I explained that the hookups were just like an RV and they were cool with it too. What you must pay attention to is availability, especially in the busy seasons. Three of the five parks I called didn’t have any availability for months. I’m planning to go to Oregon next and I have heard that you must reserve far in advance there as well (although it will be off season by then so that should help).
I built my tiny house because I wanted to learn new skills and create something myself for much less financial impact than hiring someone to do it. However, that does make my housing options more limited because some RV parks only allow RVIA certified tiny houses. This means you would have to purchase your tiny from someone who has that certification. If I were to do it over with traveling in mind (and a less limited budget), I probably would have gone with purchasing a tiny home from a builder to make finding housing easier.
Another option for finding housing is craigslist or the more tiny specific websites(6) that have popped up where individuals and RV parks can advertise their tiny house friendly parking spaces. A huge up side to a tiny house or RV, is that parking will almost always be less expensive than renting an apartment or room in the same area. The average cost I have seen between Oklahoma, Oregon, and northern California is around $400. Granted this is not all RV parks as I am usually a bargain hunter, there are always places that will charge more, but it is totally possible to find housing around that price.
I have been so pleasantly surprised at how welcoming RV parks have been and the amenities that many offer (I have seen most with showers/bathrooms, laundry, wifi/cable included, some with workout rooms or pools, and even one with large covered porches that you pull right up to!).
Cons to Traveling in a Tiny House:
I’ve already covered several down sides to tinies including difficulty finding housing (especially with a non-RVIA certified house) and the stand-out factor (which for some people is a con).
Towing and How to do it
Another big factor that almost made me give up my tiny house dream and switch to an RV, is the difficulty of towing. An RV typically weighs between 4 and 6 thousand pounds (depending on length and packed items) which can be towed by a medium to large sized truck. Whereas a tiny house can weigh anywhere from 5 to 12 thousand pounds or more, and require a heavy to super-heavy duty truck to tow (learn more about weight and towing requirements here(7)). I own a truck strong enough to pull it but recently decided I’m not comfortable towing that much weight, so I will hire someone to tow it. That will be an extra cost I will have to budget for. Another option is to rent a truck or uhaul and tow the tiny house yourself if you don’t want to purchase a truck. Tiny houses also aren’t truly built(8) to be moved as frequently as RVs. There are a lot of things to consider that could go wrong when moving such a large structure (tile cracking, shifting of objects or out of square, or things rattling loose with all the vibration) but many people have made frequent moves with their tiny without issue. Mine made it through trip number one with only a couple of loose screws!
When you’re on the road, your tiny is typically covered as a “tow-load” under your vehicle’s insurance, so no big deal there. When you’re parked however, most insurance companies don’t know what to do with a tiny house yet. This is another area that RVIA certification would make things easier. There are a few companies who will cover RVIA on a case by case basis, but self-built is fairly limited at the moment. Down the road when tinies become more common, we hope that a lot of these issues will begin to be resolved!
So, when it comes down to it there are a ton of factors to consider when choosing housing for travel. I highly advocate for RV/Camper/THOW living for travel. It is a truly wonderful feeling to come home (to a tiny home) every day and I know my dog really appreciates the stability too. I hope this post has given you some things to consider when deciding whether or not a tiny house is right for you. My tiny really helps me contribute to paying off my student loans faster and having more adventures where I’m living. Tiny living allows me to spend more time enjoying the outdoors and doing my part for the environment. This was a long awaited dream for me, and I plan to continue living in my tiny home as long as it fits my lifestyle!
Links to additional information: