Derek Cobia and his wife and daughter are full-timers. They began by learning a lot of lessons when they bought their first large fifth wheel rig. They found it's quite hard to live the boondocking lifestyle, which they realized was best for them, with this type of vehicle.



The Path To Minimalist Living In A Redesigned School Bus

Derek Cobia, Author Of The Frugal RVer Blog, Bought A Lifestyle Of Off-The-Grid Camping And Cost-Conscious Living & Teaches Others The Tricks

Wild camping in field with the Cobia family's school bus RV [Photo Credit: Derek Cobia]

"What I tell people is you should buy a lifestyle, not a house," says Derek Cobia, the author of The Frugal RVer blog. Cobia and his wife, along with their two year old, are full-time RVers who took the plunge into being full time RVing relatively recently and have learned a lot of lessons about what it means to be frugal in a short amount of time.

"We initially started to cut costs," Cobia explains, "I have a financial planning firm that couldn't pay the two mortgages we had so we decided to downsize to a fifth wheel." Like many, him and his wife were apprehensive of the tiny house lifestyle, "So we bought the biggest rig we could find." They bought a 42' fifth wheel and quickly learned it was a huge mistake. "It was huge and we were completely tied to the grid," Cobia says, "And, as a result, we ended up spending more money than before." He says that the new rigs have 50 amp service, which he accepted as standard and good, but it turned out that, "We ended up marrying another mortgage because we had to be in a campground." He says that him and his wife quickly got out of that situation and, chalking it up as a lesson learned, decided to pursue the boondocking lifestyle.

Derek Cobia hanging out his RV for a pic during a winter trip [Photo Credit: Derek Cobia]
Glimpse of the renovated living quarters of their RV [Photo Credit: Derek Cobia]

"We love the camping life and community," Cobia says, "But just wanted to find something that is cost-effective." Cobia explains that him and his wife are interested in off-grid camping and minimalist living so they decided to make a purchase that would support that. To spend time off-grid, a couple of considerations are a must. "Basically the size of the rig and the ruggedness of the rig are the most important factors when boondocking," Cobia says. Boondocking is essentially camping without hookups in an undeveloped area instead of a campground. There are many legal places to do this including National Parks and town parks throughout the country that allow RVers to park and camp for free. He researched different types of camper structures as a result of his lessons learned with the fifth wheel. "We learned what not to do," Cobia says, "With a fiberglass shell, I was constantly worrying about scraping something. When 16,000 pounds touches anything while moving, you usually end up with a hole in it."

In March of 2017, they made a $3000 purchase on a new camper - a school bus. "Buses have a strong, safe steel frame," Cobia says. They renovated it for a few months, putting about $15,000 in it, and they couldn't be happier. "Now I look at tree branches when we are finding a camping spot and instead of getting nervous, I put down the pedal," Cobia chuckles, "This thing is solid." He also paid close attention to the electrical situation of the RV, so they could live off grid for periods of time. Instead of a 50 amp rig, they have normal 15 amp making minimalist camping easier. He says they use a generator for major appliances, like refrigerator, stove, and AC, and then use their battery power to run lights and water pump. That way they can stay off-grid for several weeks if needed.

Hiking during the boondocking lifestyle [Photo Credit: Derek Cobia]
Cobia family photo [Photo Credit: Derek Cobia]
The bus in Arizona stopped at landmark on Route 66 [Photo Credit: Derek Cobia]

In August, they took off on a 4 month adventure out west. Cobia, his wife and daughter learned a lot about what it’s like to boondock and live more minimally. “One of the most shocking things we’ve learned is you don’t have to pay expensive campground rates,” he writes on his blog. He says that from Georgia to California they only spent $50 on campsites. There are resources that help people camp for free, the most valuable, according to Cobia, is On this website, one can put in where they are and the closest free campsites with reviews and information about the site comes up. For example, if one is Albuquerque, New Mexico, a quick look indicates there is paved, 3 acre plot of land owned by the Albuquerque Airport that allows RVs for one night at a time. There are reviews of each site and important tips on how to get there.

Though Cobia and his wife are full-timers, a lot of the lessons they learned can be utilized by any cost-conscious camper. The idea of buying a lifestyle is a valuable one and when one is considering what kind of camping life or vacation they want to live, it is well worth putting in proper preparation to the type of housing (RV, tent, pop-up), as well as what that rig has to offer. Though gas is a major expenditure, the Cobia's biggest expense has been, by far, housing, which is why they explore the boondocking route. He writes on his blog that boondocking is not for everyone, but encourages people to have an open mind about trying it. In his experience, you find some of the most beautiful pieces of land boondocking; it's a fun, rewarding adventure, and it's free!

Andrew Malo

A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan.  He  enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and computer programming.  

The Frugal RVer

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The Frugal RVer Blog, run by Derek Cobia, who with his wife and daughter decided to sell everything to live the simple life, free of the mundane routine and chasing the "American Dream." Their blog tracks their progress & shows others how to live life like them.

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