An RV-Sized Hobby

Life in a motorhome or tiny house puts your lifestyle on a smaller scale (obvious, I know). It can also decrease the size of your activities because the amount of “stuff” you have has been downsized.

Living and traveling in a motorhome has been amazing for countless reasons. But part of me misses the perks of having more space. More space for aquariums, specifically.

I’ve mentioned this probably too many times, but I love water. And animals. Working for PetSmart for more than a decade gave me intimate access to the pet hobby — and the aquarium hobby.

A brief reminder:

In our house, we had four aquariums (because I was just a little bit into the hobby). We kept a 4-gallon betta tank in the kitchen, a 46-gallon saltwater-turned-native Minnesota fish tank in the dining room, and a 75-gallon tropical fish/eventual turtle tank in the living room.

Our angelfish tank turned into a turtle tank when I rescued Smiles, the African sideneck turtle. Isn’t his smile adorable?

We also had a 75-gallon South American tank in the family room/office.

This is Ripper, the Jack Dempsey. 
Oscarmus Prime, our tiger oscar.

I’ve mentioned these guys before, but they lay the groundwork for our most recent project.

Nuvo Pico 4

Andy noticed this little 4-gallon tank at a friend’s house. It sat in the corner, unused and covered with dust. He mentioned it to me, and then life went on. A couple of months later, we were at the house together, and the topic of the tank came up again. The owners had no immediate plans to set it up, so we made them an offer. And thus began our journey into another nano tank setup.

We currently live (and traveled with) a betta in a large jar-like container.


It’s a nice setup because it is very easy to travel with. We drain out part of the water and refill it when we get to our next camping spot from a jug we keep with us. Now that we’ve been parked, cleaning it is even easier.

When we moved into the motorhome, we felt naked without a fish to keep us company. That’s how the whole thing happened. And now it has spiraled.

When Andy told me about the tank, I thought he wanted it for his aquaponics setup. I had no idea he was looking at it for me to have a little fun with! When I found out, I was ecstatic. But I was also worried at how we were going to travel with it. I mean, four gallons is not a lot, but it kinda is in a traveling motorhome (especially because we won’t always have electricity).

After we bought it, I spent the first couple of nights thinking about how I was going to make this work. I wanted a plan that would be functional for life on the road. I fell asleep with thoughts of the new aquarium, woke up with new ideas, and spent the days reading articles online to spark my memory of what I already knew.

I pitched my ideas to Andy and got started.

After cleaning it.

I spent an afternoon tearing apart the new tank, disinfecting and cleaning everything, and making sure all of the pieces worked (it would’ve been a terrible deal if things hadn’t worked!).

I tested the pump for the filter in a bowl of water. Success!

I tested the lights. Success!

Everything seemed to be in order. Next step, check out some local stores to start pricing things. We wanted to keep it inexpensive.


We knew the tank had been originally set up as a saltwater tank, but that’s not what we wanted to do (we still had our betta to think about). We found out that the lights that came with the tank were made for saltwater. Might not work for our plan, but we were going to try.

We ended up coming home with fluval plant substrate, a couple of live plants, and filter accessories. We put in the new substrate, along with some water from the betta tank, planted the plants and filled it up!


Just a little foggy.

We let the tank sit for a couple of days, allowing it to clear up. Then we added our betta (whose name is Richard).


We knew immediately that the light was probably going to be a problem. The spectrum was all wrong for a freshwater planted tank. And even though the bluish hue looked cool, we were going to have to change it out at some point.

We’d looked at a light while we were at the store, in preparation for probably needing to buy a different one. After we were all set up and we knew we’d need one, we did a little research.

Because we’d gotten such a good deal on the tank, the light was going to end up being more expensive than the rest of it. It sounds silly, but we knew it was important.

Over the next week, we kept an eye on things and watched as our betta flourished in the new tank, exploring each crevice and swimming through the plants.

But the weekend rolled around, and we’d lost one of our plants. We were sure the culprit was the saltwater lighting. But to be positive, we checked to make sure everything was working, did a water test, looked at the filter, and checked to make sure the temperature was holding steady.

Today, I went back for the new light. A Finnex planted ultra-slim LED cliplight.


The spectrum is certainly different, the bluish hue gone from the tank. But Richard’s colors just pop under the new light. (It does have a blue nighttime setting that’s pretty awesome.)


We’ll keep the old tank for any needs we may have while traveling.


We are both excited to add more to this one, to truly make it a planted tank the way we envision it. Eventually, we will get a CO2 system set up, as well (though not any time soon since they are pricey).

The tank really pulls the living space together nicely, and makes for an awesome light in the evening.

Love it!

And another perk? Ellie can’t get enough of the new tank! She can watch it for hours at a time. She’ll really love it when we get some more livestock in it!

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Am just lucky to find this blog….. Been reading and reading about alternate living spaces and the idea of “home on wheels” but be hard for a big time…
    Was just curious if one cab keep some aquarium (atleast) in a mobile dwellings..
    So found this blog!!!!
    Is it okay to have an aquarium in such lifestyles and i mean everybody would love to but how do u you keep an aquarium in a moving van??? Anybody would say a Big No for the obvious reasons…
    But Please let me know how u pull it off…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello! Thanks for reaching out. Our aquarium is small, only 4 gallons. When we travel, I drain the water out of the filter and down to about 1/3 of a tank, saving some of the water in a jar. When we park, I fill it with some of the old water and some fresh water that I have in jugs in the RV. It’s definitely one more step in the traveling process but we really like having a tank in the motorhome, even if it’s a small one. I hope this helps!!


  2. Mar says:

    We travel a lot over the summer in our fifth wheel and I was wondering if I could still have a fish tank if we ever decided to go full time. We have (2) 75 gal reefs and (2) 5 gal betta tanks. I now know we can ! Thanks so much for posting ! Little does our bettas know it. They are going to the beach with us 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy to help! We had several fish tanks when we owned a home and I really missed it, so I was very happy that we were able to figure something out for the motorhome. Have fun on your adventures!!


  3. Julie says:

    I am planning on moving in my house on wheels this summer, and want to take my betta with me. Everyone has been telling me that its a bad idea. How did Richard do with the traveling?
    Was the water sloshing around an issue for him?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Julie! Thanks for reaching out. Any type of travel can be stressful for animals, but Richard did well on the road with a few considerations. We brought his water level lower in the tank and kept some pre-mixed water on-hand to refill at stops. On weeks where we were traveling frequently, I saved the water from his tank vs giving him a partial new water change each time. We also made sure to remove any decorations that could shift and injure him during travel. Aside from that, we kept his tank in our RV sink, lining around it with towels so it wouldn’t shift. It’s certainly not ideal to travel with them but it can be done! He made it across half of the country and two months of constant travel just fine. Happy to answer any other questions you may have!


  4. Vikki says:

    I joked with my husband about needing a vehicle that could fit not just us but also our small dog, maybe 2 cats and a few fish tanks. Really assumed it would just come down to us and 1 animal. But I just love my having fish in my space and thought that surely at least one other traveler feels the same way and tried to bring a fish along on the road. And here you are! SO glad you posted about this. Gives me hope that I can have a small planted tank in my home on wheels:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m happy you found my post and reached out! I felt the SAME way about leaving behind my fish tanks. I missed them. Happy to answer any questions 🙂


  5. MantelsFishFam says:

    I know this is an older blog and I hope you’re use still around to read this. We are moving into our fifth wheel this coming week and I can’t find answers on the great big web. We are very active fish hobbyists. We have a 90 gallon, two 15 columns, a 5 cube, a 20 long in use right now plus a 75 gal, a reptile tank a 10 and a 5 standard that have yet to be filled (and my daughters 10 with mini baby lizards she catches outside). We will give up our space to fit our aquatic friends my husband and I can’t live without them and our 9 month old will have difficulty sleeping I believe since she’s only ever slept next to the 90 since she’s been born and already has a favorite fish (5 in long golden nugget Plecostomus). I have only seen threads in 2016 and they are only about 5 gallon tanks. Please would you share your thoughts with me. Could we put the 75 in our bedroom? We’ll be stationary once we get parked at my parents house then I can add the 90 to my parents back room so we can still see them from a distance in our new home at night. I think I can add the 15 columns to our living area and the 5 cube on the counter. Th 20 long has always been on the floor for the baby but our chameleon just passed away so we need a new pet. My husband is skeptical about the big tank and I am as well. If worst came to worse the small tanks can be put in every corner so we don’t lose our ambiance. It’s a 2019 two bedroom keystone cougar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello! Thank you so much for reaching out. I love chatting with other fish hobbyists, and I understand not wanting to give up your aquatic friends. I’ll try to help with your question the best I can.

      Most motorhomes will list a maximum recommended loaded weight/capacity which is the weight that you’ll consider when all of your belongings are added, as well as water in water tanks, septic, propane, etc. While this might 🤞 be enough to also include the aquariums, my concern would be for the aquariums themselves as far as the stress put on their seams/construction during travel. I fear that movement is going to cause too much stress to be put unevenly if you are traveling far, and you’ll get leaks. You could travel with the tanks at a lower water level and transport water in buckets so that you’re not losing too much of your established bacteria.

      Another consideration is how RVs are constructed. While overall they may be able to carry the weight you are looking to add, they aren’t necessarily designed to have that much weight in one spot (around 750 pounds for your 75). I would be concerned unless you find a way to reinforce that area of the undercarriage.

      I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I do think it would take some modifications that may be more than what you’re looking to get yourselves into.

      Wishing you luck! And I would LOVE to hear how things go with the tanks 😊


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