After having our son, we decided now was the best time to quit our jobs and travel full time. After many discussions and looking at the logistics of living on the road, we finally made the big step of purchasing a 1996 F350 and a Palomino pop-up truck camper. We gave ourselves a year and a half to go on test runs and make updates to our rig before setting off.
Slowly we have been on the road making our way from various state parks, national forests, and national parks. Quickly we have adjusted to the limited space and storage, traveling in our camper.
So, can you live full time in a truck camper? Absolutely! After making the appropriate preparations and gaining the ability to adapt to difficult situations, we have been able to successfully live full time in a truck camper. Continue reading below to see how we have handled the highs and lows of life on the road…
Living full time in a truck camper
Once we got into a routine, living in a truck camper became our life. Switching to only the necessities can be an adjustment. Soon we learned that hot water is a luxury. Plans do not go as planned, and adjusting to obstacles takes practice and patience. Most importantly, we realized having Instagram worthy adventures does not have to happen every day.
Getting use to this new way of life takes time. Our first month definitely was mentally challenging because we were still creating a routine for ourselves. Weather is not always nice, and sometimes we had to be stuck in the camper for a couple days. The key was reminding ourselves that we were on our own time, and there was no real rush to go from place to place.
Around the second month of living on the road, it just naturally became our life. Ultimately, we still have no regrets living on the road full time in our truck camper. Every day we get to see amazing places and just be outside. Our passion for the outdoors gets to be passed on to our two-year-old son. Then there is the added bonus of not revolving our lives around technology.
Making it work worth a family of 3
We are a three-person family and also have a medium sized dog. In our truck camper we have it set up where my husband and I sleep up in the bed where the camper pops up. Then our son and dog share the seating area that converts to a dinette. To most people this might seem like a small area, but we rarely are inside unless there is bad weather.
While researching our potential rig, we had found that a family of five has even made this set up work. Instead the children sleep in the bed over the cab and the parents sleep below. We knew if larger families could live in a truck camper full time, that this would be more than enough space for three.
5 months on the road and time for some upgrades
Collectively we have been on the road for almost 5 months. We left in October 2019 but soon came back to our hometown for the holidays and unfortunately maintenance work. We continued after the New Year and have been on the road since.
Going back to our families during the holidays was in our original plans. We knew that it was very likely that we would have to make adjustments.
Luckily, we did this because we were having some rotting in the corners of our camper, which was affecting the ability to pop-up our camper. We also did minor updates like upgrading the headlights, cleaned the canvas, added a propane mount for a second tank, and came up with a sunshade off the side of camper.
What we love about living full time in a truck camper
Our highlights of the trip have been the ability to visit bucket-list places without being rushed. Usually on our trips we were limited to the vacation time we were given. This resulted in rushing trips that we usually spent backpacking. By the time we got home, we were exhausted from our vacation. Now we have the ability to take our time and enjoy every aspect.
So far, we have enjoyed seeing places that we would probably not have traveled to since they are located in the middle of nowhere. For example, our first big stop after the holidays was Big Bend National Park.
The park is on the southwest part of Texas bordering Mexico. Other than the park, there isn’t much around. The national park was beautiful, and now one of my top places I’ve ever visited in the United States.
On top of the major destinations, we really get to see other hidden treasures that we have never heard of until on the road. We have the ability to adjust our plans and sidetrack to places we never planned on going to. One place that was a major surprise to us was Providence Canyon State Park, “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon.”
Struggles & things we would change
Sometimes there are days where living in a truck camper full time is a struggle. There are definitely upsides to living in a home like having personal space. In a camper there are also restrictions on how long you can stay in one area. Another issues is if we want to go somewhere, we have to pack up and take our whole camper with us.
A big con we have encountered is when we have had to get our truck or camper repaired. There have been two instances where we had to take our truck or camper to a shop to get fixed for a couple days. This means we have to uproot our lives out of the camper and move into a hotel or Airbnb, which can be especially difficult and expensive with a dog.
Besides the unpredictability of life, if there is anything we could change it would be adding an alternator power lift. This would allow us to take the camper off and leave it at campsites easily. The only thing is, we would not want to sleep in the camper off the truck unless it was lowered onto some sort of support.
The pro to this would be that it would allow us to leave a campsite and come back without the hassle of packing up every time.
Truck campers we’ve enjoyed following
After deciding we wanted to go with the truck camper option, we started watching YouTube videos and reading blogs. One of our favorite youtubers is, Mali Mish. The family of five has been traveling America since 2008. The guy works full time while living in a truck camper with a wife and three children. Currently, they are traveling Europe in a Sprinter van.
The thing we love about following Mali Mish was that they do not just focus on places they have been but gave great advice of struggles that they experienced while living in a truck camper. The YouTube channel focuses on situations you run into while traveling with a family.
Another account I highly recommend following is @ThisWildIdea on Instagram. Theron Humphrey traveled in a truck camper with his dog, before purchasing land in Montana.
How we stay cool in the Summer and warm in the Winter
One big thing we had to consider was heating and cooling for our camper. We wanted to be comfortable living in a camper full time while also being safe. We knew with a dog and toddler this would be important.
Our camper has a propane furnace for the colder months. The furnace is connected to our thermostat and uses propane and electricity to run. Since heating was important, we knew we needed a power source and extra propane tank. Propane tanks usually last 10-14 days but can be less if we are running heat constantly during the night.
For the summer months, we switched the original vent out with an electric powered fan. The fan pulls air from the outside to cool down the camper. Even on hot 90-degree day, this fan has cooled down the camper significantly.
Pros and cons of our truck camper
When picking out which type of rig, we focused on our goals for living full time on the road. Major pros about our truck camper is the fact that it was an affordable option and has allowed us to get everywhere we want to go. From the start, we wanted the ability to have access to primitive and backcountry areas. With our 1996 F350 we have been able to access every location with zero issues.
Another important component to our rig is the fact that the camper is lightweight since it is a pop-up. We chose a pop-up because regular truck campers have a higher center of gravity, weigh more, and require higher clearance which can make it difficult to get off roads and maneuver in certain landscapes.
The biggest con of our truck camper is we bought all older and used models. As this can be a pro because it was an affordable option, we have also had some issues. Since buying the truck we have had to do two major maintenance jobs, which is expensive when you account for the time and money spent on hotels and rental vehicles. Maintenance work is an overall difficult situation when on the road.
Our dream truck camper setup
When buying our rig we had to take into account how much money we not only needed for the truck camper, but also how much money we needed to save up to live in a truck camper full time. Making our rig affordable was the best option, if we did not want to work full time while traveling.
If we could have bought any truck, we probably still would have chosen the long bed, crew cab F350. The truck has gotten us to every place we have wanted to go and given us enough space to travel with a toddler and dog. Instead we would opt for a newer truck, as we would probably not have maintenance issues like we have with an older vehicle.
Also, we would have switched out and built a custom truck bed. This allows for better storage and is customized to specific needs. With a custom flat truck bed, we would probably have purchased the Four Wheel Hawk Flat Bed Model camper.
This pop-up truck camper has more interior living space while also being lightweight like older truck campers. A lot of newer truck campers are heavy and make off-roading difficult.
Can you sleep in a truck camper off the truck?
If you were to take the camper off the truck, you could only be in the camper if it was lowered onto some sort of support. It is extremely dangerous to be in a truck camper while it is on stilts. While working our camper we had made a wooden platform that our camper was lowered down onto. A lot of people use cinder-blocks as well.
How much does it cost to build a truck camper?
You can buy a truck camper as low as $1,000.00 to a high-end one for $60,000. This is all dependent on the age, condition, and manufacturer. The Four Wheel Hawk Flat Bed Model runs about $27,000 new, while we were able to get our used 1997 Palomino for $1,800.00.
There are some people that decide to go the DIY route and build their own truck camper. Some use old U-Haul Boxes to make them from scratch. The cost of creating your own truck camper can range from $5,000 to $16,000. This all depends on if you are using old or new material and what type of features you decide to include.
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