Part three of the luxury travel trailer series.
Table of Contents
When it comes to travel trailers, off-grid is what it’s all about. The best way to define off-grid is to first define what on-grid is.
The term grid is typically used to describe the collective set of utilities that provide resources to homes and businesses in developed countries. Nearly all of our stick-built, brick and mortar homes in the US are connected to the grid that is made up of various systems or utilities. When you receive a utility bill you are on the grid. You're dependent on, and paying a fee to, a company that provides utility services to you.
There are utilities that everyone's familiar with such as water, electricity, or gas/ propane/ natural gas. Another utility handles waste – liquid and solid. Your toilet, shower and sink water waste are connected to a city sewer system. Trash collection that is separated into refuse, recycling and green waste.
These make up the major utilities that represent the grid. As you can imagine, as our society grows we become increasingly more reliant on the grid.
Another part of the grid is the World Wide Web, or Internet. It follows the same principles as the utility grid, but we’ll save this topic for another time.
Electricity travels through a complex grid of nearly a half a million miles of power lines. Hundreds of power plants generate electricity from oil, wind, solar, hydroelectric dams, and geothermal. It is all interconnected to provide the most reliable power possible.
When we say our home is “on the grid” we're reliant on all of these enormous companies to provide power and services so that our homes can operate. We all know what happens if the grid breaks down during a severe storm. We go dark. All business, communications, healthcare, and transportation would cease.
While some homes and businesses have temporary backup systems such as generators, when the electricity goes out, generators last so long because their fuel supply is limited. We rely on electricity for “essential appliances” such as air conditioners, heaters, lights, refrigerators, water, and waste services. The second your electrical source turns off all those systems become useless.
Even sewer and trash collection would cease to operate because gas stations wouldn’t be able to refuel trucks. We’d be in a world of hurt. Even our toilets wouldn't work because water service depends on electricity to pump it into your home. We are reliant on the grid.
The concept of going off-grid means disconnecting, and giving yourself freedom, from the grid. More and more people are disconnecting from the grid thanks to the growth of solar power.
Travelling off-grid is nothing new and it’s been with us for millennia where people fended for themselves. Living off-grid was how the “West was won.” It’s simple, pioneer mom, dad and kids were America’s first “off-grid family.” All the needs to sustain life in the west was contained in their very own covered wagon. Mind you, the “luxuries” were a bit lacking. Of course, there were many risks and discomforts that came along with an off-grid lifestyle, too!
When we talk about off-grid, we don't mean going camping or being a hermit in the woods and living under a pile of sticks. Maintaining our high-quality standard of living, but without reliance on that grid, is what luxury off-grid living is all about.
When we are no longer reliant on external providers of utilities, basically life-giving resources, we increase our self-reliance. We're only reliant on ourselves and the situation we have created for ourselves. The concept of a luxury travel trailer going off-grid is a whole ‘nother bag of bananas, because now not only are we trying to cut the cord from these life-giving resources, but we're trying to do so in a way where we can pick up and move wherever we want in a very nomadic way.
The ability to live a mobile lifestyle is a beautiful virtue that only travel trailers, also known as campers, can allow. The ability to explore and get off-grid and be self-contained can be an epic, life-altering experience.
Travel trailers have been self-contained since the early 1900s, but there's a big difference between a self-sufficient and self-contained trailer. It’s basically the difference between taking all of your things you need to survive for a short period of time. Backpacking is effectively going off-grid in a “self-contained” manner. You’ve got your tiny camp stove, bottles of water, dehydrated food, and any sleeping affects that you’ll need with you – all on your back or pack animal. And you are self-contained for a week max. Even signs at the entrance of trailheads clearly state “pack it in, pack it out”, meaning – whatever you bring in here you must take out with you. That’s the virtue of being self contained. Believe it or not, national parks even require you to pack out your poop when backpacking. Not exactly luxury…
Similarly, a self-contained travel trailer will have things that allow you to get off-grid for a week, but that doesn't mean that you can go off-grid indefinitely. When your batteries run out, lights turn off. Without regenerative power, off-grid is limited. Now self-sufficient is a whole different animal. Properly equipped and in the right environment, a self-sufficient travel trailer can remain off-grid for a very long time, potentially even unlimited.
The key to true off-grid is self-reliance and being self-sufficient, is in making that timeframe as long as possible. The question that needs to be answered is, “How long do you want to be off-grid?” Answering this question is the silver bullet. Travel trailers are designed to move, so you need to ask and answer, “Am I going to be moving from RV park to RV park?” where you plug into, and pay for, utilities or do you want more freedom than being limited to where “everyone else is going?” Take it from me, RV parks are no dream. Families are crammed into tiny spots, screaming children abound, and people-people-people, everywhere. It’s more like Disneyland on a July weekend.
When we talk about luxury travel trailers, it’s important to define the concept of luxury as really having the best choices. It's no longer just having the most expensive things or the things that are in the most demand. True luxury these days is about the freedom to make decisions that are best for you. An off-grid living environment means you are no longer encumbered by having to travel from one space or another location with utilities, that it can resupply your self-contained situation.
Time is another important concept because living on the grid can be terribly time consuming to resupply. It takes time to find locations to restock and refill. Whether that's a literal gas tank, a propane tank, or your battery systems to recharge it takes time to resupply.
A high end travel trailer will first and foremost supply you with adequate power, both in stored battery power and continuous resupply through generous high efficiency roof-mounted solar panels along with redundant backup power supplies. It should allow you to run your AC and multiple high-power appliances at same time such as a microwave, hair dryer and residential fridge. Let’s not stop there! You’ll also want the ability to run your audio/video systems and provide on demand electronics charging.
A luxury travel trailer does NOT rely on a generator as a primary source of energy. Don’t get me wrong, generators certainly serve an important purpose, but they must understand they are the reliable bench players and not the first-string stars when it comes to your primary source of power. Generators should not be running fulltime and are oftentimes prohibited or greatly restricted to only 1 hr. of run time a day in some instances such as National Parks. How limiting if that’s your primary off-grid power source!
This brings up another point about the various types of generators on the market. A quiet, integrated back-up power system with a remote start switch where you may activate the powerhouse while comfortably indoors is a luxury experience. A noisy, portable generator that you have to lift in and out of your truck and connect to your trailer every time you need a back-up power supply is not. Simple.
There is an important distinction between off-road trailers and off-grid trailers, which means the freedom of utilities. When we think about off-road trailers, we often think about living out in the middle of nowhere on an extremely rugged dirt road which requires off-road gear and all terrain tires. When you’re out in the middle of nowhere you’re probably off-grid, but off-grid can also be located in the middle of a city.
One of the best installations of off-grid use can be to stay put in a luxury travel trailer on a piece of property that's located in town. You don't need connections to all the red tape bureaucracy, such as pulling sewer, water, or electrical permits. Off-grid gives you more flexibility. Off-grid does not necessarily mean off-road. For example, in California, there are many counties that are allowing travel trailers as accessory dwelling units on residential properties. This is a great opportunity where without any utilities or site improvements you could quite literally take a luxury travel trailer and place it on the property and be ready to use starting day one! No expensive permits, land use approvals, architectural review boards, or the costs associated with running utility lines to your ADU. If you really want to get off the beaten path and adventure to the great outdoors, you really need to consider purpose-built off-road camper trailers.
What do we humans need to survive? At its most basic level we need food and water, then shelter. In our modern day world, and perhaps most important beyond the “life-giving resources”, is power. Whether it’s energy from electricity or gas to run the appliances you need for water and temperature controls.
Getting off grid is so much more than simply equipping your trailer with all terrain tires. When NASA goes deep into space looking for signs of life, they’re looking for one thing: water because it is a major life-giving resource. Water that you can drink, bathe, or cook with. Then, what do we do with that wastewater after we use it? Is it going down the sink or toilet, or after taking a shower?
Finally, the next life-giving resource is food. I'm going to discount the concept of air as air is all around us, notwithstanding the quality of air. For the time being, planet earth has access to air.
The two primary forms of energy are electricity and gas, both provide power for cooling, heating, and outlets. The one constant with energy is it must be stored either in tanks or other electrical power systems, such as batteries.
Consequently, we’re faced with the issue of power depletion. When you use energy, you have to resupply that energy. When your gas tank runs out, you must refill it. Whether that's a battery pack or a tank of propane, you have to pull that out and remove all of that energy. The concept of resupply becomes very vital. How far can you take that energy is key. And a key question then becomes, is there a way to pull energy out of natural resources WHILE your off grid, not having to travel to resupply. This is the key to becoming self-sufficient, not just self-contained.
Solar panels are one way to capture energy from the sun. There are other redundant systems such as power generators, which use other fuel sources that you can carry with you to resupply energy. First and foremost, shelter is required to get off grid, then providing energy to all of the modern-day fixtures and appliances.
Whether it's drinking water (fresh water), or water for sinks or showers (greywater), or toilets (blackwater), you need water. In on or off-grid campers, water storage is measured by the size of onboard storage tanks. In an off-grid environment you’ll need a lot more storage. However, water efficiency and conservation to extend that off-grid capacity is key. More efficient water systems allow you to stay off-grid longer. A high end travel trailer will have tanks large enough to sustain extended use. In my opinion, I don’t consider anything less than 75-100 gallons of freshwater a luxury experience. If you have appropriate fixtures that don’t waste a ton of water, a 100 gallon tank will give you about 200 mins of water to use at your discretion. That’s about 50-60 water efficient showers! Not bad.
How about eliminating some of these fixtures altogether? Waterless toilets are very effective. Composting toilets and incinerating toilets don't require the use of any water. Because they don't require water, they don't require holding tanks, either.
Whether you have a tiny wet bath or ultra-luxurious spa bathroom, a low-flow shower setting will use much less water and allows you to stay off-grid longer. While most of us won’t prefer the limitations of a wet bath design, there are fundamentals there are vital systems behind the scenes that make a bathroom function, no matter the size. A water heater that complements a low-flow shower also saves energy. A 9-gallon tank water heater, for example, is always on and utilizes more fuel. A better option is a tankless water heater that provides a low-flow rate only when needed and saves energy. These are the types of systems you will find in off-road camper trailers.
All of this wastewater eventually goes into storage tanks. Whether those are black water tanks or gray water tanks, you've got to do something with that water. So, you've got to pay attention to make sure that the tanks are appropriately sized for both black and gray water. Of course, if you can eliminate that black water tank in an off-grid environment, all the better, because the only thing that's being put into that black water tank is your toilet. If you can get a tankless toilet that doesn't require a black water tank, that's going to extend your off-grid use significantly.
All those things contribute to having a great off-grid environment for that increased freedom and ability to travel.
With the ongoing impact of COVID our world is changing at a rapid pace. People are exiting cities and rural land is being gobbled up. There is much greater demand on developed properties with utilities than raw land. If you have a travel trailer that doesn’t require hookups and can adventure on any surface under those all terrain tires, you have a lot of options.
Most RV parks are overflowing and over-crowded, which is the opposite of social distancing. You could find yourself in a 10 campground with a thousand people, not a great experience. I highly encourage you to go rent a traditional RV or travel trailer from one of the RV-sharing websites now-adays. Take a “vacation” and stay at a few RV parks for a week. After that experience, it’s easy to understand the benefit of off-grid. I’m a big proponent of “learn by doing,” and this type of experience is worth its weight in gold!
Heating and cooling is an often gravely overlooked aspect of the luxury travel trailer experience. Off-grid living does not usually equate to sunny and 75. Off-grid living doesn’t mean an off-grid vacation during the few magical months when the temperature is ideal. Heating and cooling during hot, humid or cold and snowy months is what you should be prepared for. I see “perfect weather” days as a bonus, not the status quo. We don’t live in an ideal world, but we can control our environment by being capable and prepared.
My hallucination is to one day take your luxury travel trailer to a plot of raw land (without utilities) and be able to run your systems without any fuel supply or connection to the grid, forever. Complete freedom to go wherever you want and be fiercely independent, no support systems needed. That’s my dream!
Do your research. Understand what safety, enjoyment and peach of mind looks like to you. Are you going on a short- term trip or making a long-term investment? How well do travel trailers function to meet that end? These are the types of questions you need to ask when considering an off-grid RV or Travel Trailer.