5 ways RVing can teach better environmental habits

Having better environmental habits could be crucial for all of us helping to preserve our planet a lot longer. Can spending time living in an RV teach us how to do that? When you’re traveling in a self-contained unit, you think about available resources a lot more than in a sticks-and-bricks home.

I started noticing this more lately after participating in a thread on a Facebook group. People were talking about how they knew they had been spending a lot of time in their RV based on x happening when back home. My answer was about turning on the water in the bathroom at home. I was noticing that I didn’t hear the water pump kick on and wondering why.

For those who don’t travel in an RV, you need to know that regardless of size, the only way to get water out of your faucets is through a water pump. In most cases, you can hear that pump operating.

That’s especially true in a smaller unit like our Class B Roadtrek 190 Popular. After a while, hearing that water pump kick on is a natural thing. If you run the kitchen sink or flush the toilet and don’t hear the pump, the low water pressure will quickly remind you why. (It’s also a great indicator of a possible leak. If no one is using water and your pump kicks on periodically, it means there’s water leaving your rig some other way. But that’s for another post some time.)

After traveling and camping in our RV this summer quite a bit, I discovered one day that nagging feeling of not hearing the water pump. But I was at my house using the bathroom sink! We are on a well at home rather than municipal water. We have a well pump, which is a gargantuan version of the water pump in our RV. The principles of water delivery in our RV and house are the same. We need to move water from a storage source (tanks vs. well) to our faucets (water pump vs. well pump).

That got me thinking about how else RV travel may have subconsciously started influencing me when I was back home. Here are five ways RVing has taught me better environmental habits:

Water habits
Water always seems so abundant when looking at something like the Tahquamenon River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But that doesn’t mean we should waste it.

Not only did the whole water pump scenario make me think about water access more, but it also made me think about how much water I was using. In the Roadtrek, we can carry 31 gallons of fresh water. That can last longer than you might realize, but it takes some practice. The key is using only what you need, which means not running water unnecessarily. So, “Navy showers” are now a thing for us. That’s when you turn on the water to get wet, but turn it off while you apply soap and scrub away the dirt. Once you’re all lathered up, you turn the shower back on to rinse clean.

The same principle applies to everything from washing your hands to washing your dishes. Back home, it made me realize how often I turned the water on to wash my hands and left it running while I was lathering up the soap. Now when I wash my hands at home, I get them wet and turn the water off while scrubbing. I admit I haven’t gone to Navy showers at home, but I do find myself conserving a lot more water than I used to through other habits.

Electric habits
Renogy 100W solar briefcase
We have a Renogy 100W briefcase solar panel kit to keep our batteries topped off while camping.

Ask Jessi or our kids about my nagging them over leaving lights on when they leave a room. Make sure you have plenty of time to sit and listen for a while, too. I never understood why people leave a room that they know they won’t be returning to in a while and leave the lights on. Or why they can’t turn the TV off if they’re not watching whatever show is on. It’s about saving money and the environment. The less electricity we use, the smaller my electric bill. But it’s also that much less electricity that needs to be produced to power our tiny part of the world.

In an RV, electricity is a precious commodity. Each unit has batteries that you use to power everything from overhead lights to kitchen appliances. That includes that water pump I mentioned earlier.

The batteries get recharged in numerous ways. While driving your vehicle if you own a motorized RV rather than a trailer, they’re being recharged. Solar panels and an onboard generator also are sources of power.

2008 Roadtrek 190 Popular 4x4 in campground

You can connect directly to an electrical line at a campground and bypass all of that for a more “at home” experience. But our preferred style is to boondock with just onboard resources. When you’re running directly off your batteries, you have to monitor their charge level frequently. You don’t want to run them down to the point where you don’t have any power left. If that happens, you are quite possibly damaging them. If you have solar panels, you have electricity being produced mostly just when the sun is out. And if you use a generator, you have power available until the gasoline, diesel or propane used for fuel runs out.

The point is, if you’re set up as a self-contained unit, you have a limited supply of electricity. That means you don’t turn on lights you don’t need and turn them off as soon as you’re done using them. You also don’t leave appliances running unnecessarily.

When I’m back home, I have found myself thinking about electric conservation even more than I used to. Sorry, Jessi! But if we all had to think about electrical power every time we flipped a switch or plugged something into a wall outlet, imagine how much more cognizant we would be of how much we’re using.

Eating habits

2008 Roadtrek 190 Popular 4x4 in campsite

I’m not talking about eating differently on the road but where we eat, as in inside vs. outside. We travel in a 20-foot Class B RV. It’s just right for us because its smaller footprint means we can go places folks in big 35-foot rigs can’t. But it can get cozy inside because it’s small in there. We often say we don’t live in our van; we live out of it. That is true when it comes to cooking and eating, too, which we often do outside. Using our portable grill means we aren’t heating up the interior with the stove on a hot summer day. Sitting at a picnic table rather than one in the van gives us more elbow room, not to mention a better view.

Back home, we have always found it nice to sit outside on our deck and enjoy a summer evening while eating. But I have noticed lately that we seem more inclined to grill out and to serve dinner at the table outside. That means we aren’t using the stove or oven in the house, potentially needing to run the air conditioning for longer. (Jessi and I have never been big fans of air conditioning for numerous reasons. If we can find a way to avoid running it at all, that’s even better.)

Two fawns lying in grass
Two fawns recently found our backyard was a nice place to just chill.

By eating outside we don’t need to run any lights over the kitchen table. We also are less likely to have the TV on. And, of course, enjoying chirping birds, scurrying squirrels and the occasional deer that saunters through our yard is a nice touch of ambiance that we aren’t going to find in our dining room.

Trash habits

Leave No Trace logo
Click the logo to learn about the Leave No Trace organization its principles.

We have a very tiny garbage can in our RV. Often there is quite a bit of time before we will find a place to dump a full trash bag because we are camping in the woods. That means being more careful about the amount of trash we’re making. Sometimes that translates into thinking ahead more about the type of food products we’re buying, striving to find ones that have less excess packaging. It also means thinking twice about throwing away a paper towel after maybe a single use of just soaking up a bit of water from the kitchen counter. Could I lay it out to dry and use it for a similar purpose again later? (Any time I have to clean up something that might contain food crumbs or requires disinfecting is a different story — I’m talking about just clean water from splashes.)

At home, not only do we seem to have an unlimited supply of resources coming in, but the trash can in the kitchen is large, and gets dumped into an even larger container outside. Then that is hauled away to an even larger hole in the ground, which makes our trash use literally “out of sight, out of mind.” After finding ways to create less waste in an RV, I’ve started thinking about that when I’m at home, too. Just because we seem to have room for it doesn’t mean we should make all that trash!

On the flip side, I’m much better about recycling at home than I am in the RV. That’s because keeping used containers around until they can be sent off to get recycled takes up space. At home, they pile up in the garage. In the RV, I might have space for a few empty bottles, but after that, it’s quickly too annoying and messy to recycle everything. It’s one time when I wish we had more outside storage as they have in the bigger rigs. Then I could carry a recycling bin with me.

Driving habits

Rolling down the highway in an extended and converted Chevy van — which is what our Roadtrek is — means accelerating and braking take on very different characteristics. You will get going slower. You have fewer opportunities to break into traffic flows because you are going to be in someone’s way quickly. And you have to be more aware of how traffic is flowing ahead of you. I need a lot more time to stop our Roadtrek than I do our Volkswagen! That size and weight also translate into a lot fewer miles per gallon from the gas tank.

What that results in is better trip planning. We try to avoid driving during peak traffic times. We leave ourselves extra time to get somewhere. And we drive below the maximum speed limit to conserve fuel. There are times when we don’t drive at all, opting to walk or ride our bikes somewhere rather than tearing down some of the campsite and driving the Roadtrek.

When I’m back home, I think about how I drive in the Roadtrek. Why can’t I translate some of that over to driving my VW? It’s tough because I’m usually on a much tighter schedule due to work requirements. That means I have little choice other than driving during peak traffic times. I have tried to get up earlier in the morning, so I don’t feel so rushed driving to work.

When I am driving somewhere, if there’s no need to hurry up and get there, then I don’t. Traveling 5 or 10 mph faster doesn’t save you any time unless you’re driving hundreds of miles anyway. But it does cost you fuel. Maintaining a more reasonable speed and paying more attention to traffic also means less wear on things like brakes. Just because I can stop the VW on a dime doesn’t mean I should have to do it regularly.

Saving fuel is good for the environment. Making less automotive junk by not having to replace equipment as frequently means we’re creating less industrial waste and saving landfill space. Saving a few bucks along the way is nice, too.

Mother Nature needs you to pay attention to your habits

Photo overlooking a forest

You become spoiled when you live in a house with a seemingly endless supply of water, electricity and other resources. You don’t think about where stuff comes from.  When you flip a light switch or turn on a faucet, things just happen. When your car uses gas relatively slowly, you don’t think twice about an extra trip or hurrying to get somewhere.

Fill up an RV fuel tank a few times and you’ll soon start thinking more creatively about how to visit that gas station less often! And spending some time with a limited resource means you quickly will learn how to conserve it. That’s a good thing, whether you’re living in an RV or a sticks-and-bricks home.

Environmental resources are generally renewable resources. If we use them responsibly, they will restore themselves for use again. But use them irresponsibly and the environment won’t be able to keep up with us forever. That is what’s starting to worry people around the globe.

So the next time you go to use electricity or water in your home, stop and think: Would I do this in my RV? The answer might surprise you, and earn you a pat on the back from Mother Nature.


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