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Posts Tagged ‘RVlife’

Over several years, with our long-term plans to travel full-time underway, my wife and I read blogs and watched YouTube videos, almost ad nauseum, regarding downsizing to an RV. Sell, store or give everything away, they said. It will be hard, they said. We believed them.

Then, excitingly, it was upon us. We sold our 1,700 sq. ft. house and started downsizing in earnest to move into 340 sq. ft. It WAS hard, and it didn’t happen overnight. We took the necessary and difficult steps — selling, storing and giving away stuff — over months, and we still had to store much more than we had hoped. By “D-Day,” as in “Departure Day,” we had to be out.

While they mention the emotional pain of minimizing your possessions, what the bloggers and YouTubers don’t really tell you is that some of the pain is about the pure loss of value. Thousands of dollars’ worth of things we bought because we needed them, or wanted them, was left behind. We obviously didn’t have room for everything, so, intellectually, it made sense. However, years later, we still feel the loss of monetary value from starting our day-to-day nomadic life, especially when most of the significant downsizing happened over a relatively short period of time. Even small, unsellable items can bear a cost. If we paid $30 each for a hundred of these, they would have cost us $3,000 accumulatively.

Let’s say I want to buy a new TV or notebook and give away my old one, even if it works fine, or a wine rack is in the way and we decide to sell it to free up space. Those individual decisions are easy to live with. But, in the span of a month, we dealt away or carted to storage our living room and bedroom furniture, our guest room furniture, the dining room set, two wine racks, two big-screen TV’s, most of the house’s décor, half of my tools, three-quarters of our wardrobes, and even a car. Everything we had stored for a rainy day was gone.

​Even a few of these items can be difficult to think about, but our belongings were literally $20,000 less valuable than they were a month before leaving for the road, money we spent right out of our checkbook (we paid off all our material debt long before, thank goodness). The cash we gained in selling furniture, etc., was a pittance compared to their original values.

And then there is the emotional pain that the bloggers and Youtubers do tell you about. You can prepare for it, but it was a far more difficult experience than we expected. It was your stuff, sometimes for decades, and soon it would be left behind, perhaps never to be seen again. For most people, emotional attachments don’t dissolve easily.

Just as with anything we have to deal with in life, we tried to focus on the positive and look forward to many years of long-awaited travel. We have been able to visit friends and family we haven’t seen in years, or ever, and we finally were able to experience different parts of the country for more than a long weekend at a time. For most people, emotional attachments don’t dissolve easily. Indeed, on our journey, I’ve taken tens of thousands of photographs, and we have experienced 32 National Parks and 40 states.

​It took over ten years for the choice of living on the road to come to fruition. I just wish we had known how divesting most of our possessions would make us feel. In the four years since we began our journey, we have continued to downsize, with experience providing the impetus to do so. When we started, we didn’t really know what we didn’t know. As time went on, it became obvious that, even with all the stuff we left behind, we were still overstocked. The first three years, we returned to Denver each summer to off-load more items and clothing to our storage unit, then moved the all that stuff to our permanent winter base in Texas. That has eased the conflict of what to take on our travels and what to leave behind, but, if we’re not careful, we will have to go through the process again. Our space is not unlimited.

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You may be aware that we purchased an RV site at an Escapees Co-Op in Texas in order winter in place. But, why winter in one place?

You may have read my article, My Top 9 Trepidations of Full-Time RVing, in which I describe several anxieties upon moving to and setting up in an RV park. Some of these trepidations are the availability and status of full hookup sites, cell and Internet access, parking and setup difficulties, weather on the road, satellite reception, road hazards, pet friendliness, and others. Consider the fact that we commonly change campgrounds every two weeks or so, meaning that I experience these emotions more than two dozen times a year.

But, it’s more than these apprehensions. Driving takes a toll, especially as we get older, and fuel is a big expense when you are constantly on the move. The cold of winter leaves little of the country available for visiting in anything other than frigid climates. The usual RV snowbird regions, i.e. Florida, Texas, Arizona and Southern California, are rife with more large rigs than small, leaving space, convenience, solitude and privacy all wanting.

Even with RVillage, a virtual RV community with over 500,000 members nationwide, telling us which other members are camping in a specific park we arrive to, RVers in a park are often strangers, even more so during the pandemic. RVers are people, meaning that they include all types of personalities, social acumen and political persuasions, and not everyone is open to meeting newcomers.

I guess I’m saying that we miss friends and social circles in which to gather to share moments, stories and laughs. A two-week stay in an RV resort may afford us an acquaintance or two, but the process of our getting to know each other typically starts from scratch each time. Sure, there are stories from the RV lifestyle all RVers can relate to, such as many of the anecdotes I share in my book, “RV Life Happens,” but there are only so many black tank tales or RV park complaints you can regale. By spending four of five months in one community, we can begin building some real, longer-term relationships.

One quick mention: We have made several valuable personal connections in RVillage and on the road, and some will become lifelong friendships. We don’t diminish this possibility and always leave ourselves open to making new friends wherever we go.

Then there is the convenience of staying in a place long enough to see doctors and dentists, and to get RV repairs or make sure maintenance is performed. Although we had been returning to Denver each year for a couple of weeks to get medical and dental treatment, two weeks isn’t always long enough. After our first year on the road, I had to forgo one medical appointment when they couldn’t make space within our travel window in Colorado. RV upgrades and repairs can be especially difficult when moving around the country, with parts and materials taking longer to arrive than we are camping in any particular area.

One of the reasons we decided not to spend considerable time in any one park when we started this adventure is that we both had many, many items on our must-visit list and we were anxious to experience them all. We circumnavigated the country three times in our first three years and will embark on another grand circle as soon as the pandemic lets up, perhaps checking Yellowstone and Nova Scotia off our destinations lists. We have camped in 36 states and driven in 44, with more in our future itineraries.

Now that we have seen so much of the country, we can afford to take time to relax in a single community for the winter. The Escapees Co-Ops make this affordable but some have waiting lists with hundreds of names on them. The sites have space and hookups for an RV of nearly any size and for one or more sheds or casitas. Fortunately, in our Texas choice, we started at #42 on the waiting list and, in less than two years, we will were awarded a property last spring. We quickly moved our stored stuff from Denver to the new site and moved in, just in time for a tornado and major hail storm, but that’s another story.

Lastly, it would has been nice this year during the pandemic to have had a permanent spot to hunker down in rather than having to worry about whether any or all of the RV parks we had booked would decline our reservations when we arrived. During national emergencies, it’s comforting to have a home base to go to.

So, why Texas? Several reasons:

  • No state income tax
  • Milder and longer winter and spring seasons than most winter locales
  • Friends and relatives living in Texas
  • Availability of affordable sites
  • Driving distance from Mexico (for drugs and medical treatment)
  • Driving distance to the Gulf (for recreation)
  • Lots of DQ’s (Nadyne’s favorite) and several In ‘n’ Outs (Jack’s favorite)

All told, we have many reasons for being stationary in the winter, but that doesn’t mean we plan to give up traveling the country. We’ll still have eight months a year to continue our adventures.

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Contrary to the title, this post is really more about our lifestyle than travel. We spend, on average, two weeks in each campground or resort we stay, meaning that about twice a month we have a travel day, moving our house to the next stop, sometimes taking three of four days to arrive, boondocking at Walmarts or Cracker Barrels on those nights in between destinations.

Often during these commutes, I have anxieties about our next stay. Here are some things I think about, in no particular order.

  1. Availability and status of full hookup site
    We belong to Thousand Trails so that we don’t have out-of-pocket resort fees to worry about, but most of them are first-come, first-served, for full hookups, meaning that we may or may not find sewer or 50 amp electric hookups. This is important because without sewer, we can’t shower more than once or use our toilet more than one week during our stay. It takes a couple hours to set up or break down camp, so even if there is a dump station on-site, it takes much time and hassle to make use of it.

    A couple of years ago, we called ahead to confirm that we could easily get a full-hookup site with at least some cell signal for Internet, and they assured us that was the case. When we arrived, however, neither was available. We ended up passing up the resort and paying out of pocket for a private campground.

    Often water pressure is an issue as well. For that reason, we always keep our fresh water tank full in case there is little or no water from the park spigot, which sometimes happens mid-stay.
  1. Availability of cell coverage and Internet
    Speaking of confirming Internet availability, both Nadyne and I work on the road, Nadyne remotely doing insurance agency accounting and me writing and marketing. Both of us require Internet and Nadyne must be able to speak to clients across the country, so early on we purchased a cell booster to give us a stronger cell signal and more reliable Internet, along with utilizing cell coverage from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Among the three service providers, we almost always have something we can use, but every once in a while, we don’t. This was the case in the resort I mentioned earlier, where we only found two bars of coverage in one parking lot on one end of the park, and no signal from any campsite. You can’t boost zero signal, so this was unacceptable and we had to move to another campground.
  1. Parking difficulties
    We haven’t had a massive RV: a 31′ fifth wheel until this year and now a 36′. Still, backing into some spaces requires time, energy and nerves of steel.

Only once have I not been able to, eventually, get parked, but occasionally, because of narrow sites, trees at the corners of the site entrance, narrow paths between rows of sites and/or close proximity to immovable park models, parking can be harrowing. In the case of the Palm Springs RV Resort, all four were problems. Add the situation where a truck or toad is partially blocking your path whose owner can’t be found, or the off-level nature of a site, there is a lot to dread about parking, even if we’ve been to a resort before.

  1. Weather on the road
    We are mobile and can move our fifth wheel when we know severe weather or flooding is imminent, but it’s not always foreseeable. Since we are usually traveling hundreds of miles in any particular leg of a trip, forecasting isn’t often reliable. My biggest concern is wind, which can greatly affect gas mileage at best and cause an accident at worst, not to mention risking expensive hail damage. We were extremely fortunate to not have any serious weather issues during our first three years on the road, but the fourth included a major hail storm, destroying our rig and severely damaging our pickup. This is now something we actively worry about.

  2. Satellite access
    We are often in rural campgrounds without cable or over-the-air TV coverage so we invested in a Tailgater satellite dish and Dish TV service, along with a DVR. This has worked out great except that satellite dishes and trees don’t play well together. The dish needs fairly unfettered access to the southern sky and the farther north you go, the more towards the true horizon it needs to see. In one park, in which we are often parked beneath and among trees, I tried about fifteen locations around the rig until I found a spot in which the dish could see one of the three satellites it normally uses. The only reason I was successful to that extent was because we were in Southern Texas, where the dish is pointed in a fairly vertical direction in the sky. If we had been in Ohio, where it would point farther down for the signal, we wouldn’t have had any satellite TV at all.

  3. Road hazards and clearances
    We were in downtown Binghamton, NY, having no worries about our height and underpass clearance, since we utilize three different resources (including a trucker’s guide) to check our route for low clearance bridges, etc., without any cautions. However, I turned left to enter an underpass and found myself face-to-face with a bright yellow sign warning of a 10′ 11″ bridge height. Our rig is over 13′ tall, so that would have left a mark. Nadyne had to get out and stop traffic so that I could back out of the underpass entrance and turn around. We now have a brilliant yellow vest for her to wear in case that happens again.

    I mentioned that we use three resources to check for clearance and my in-dash navigation system utilizes an app on my phone via Bluetooth to check for traffic and hazards, but no resource is foolproof, as we have learned the hard way. East of the Mississippi, especially in New England, there are far more of these low bridges than out west, but really it’s a nationwide concern.

    The road age and condition is itself a major concern, from coast to coast. The last time we were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the long duration of significant bumps actually broke one of the springs on the fifth wheel. Any rough road is bad for an RV’s interior and joints. Prolonged travel on such highways can be like riding out a continuous earthquake, but even a single big bump can rearrange our contents.

​7. Breakdowns and blowouts
Logging over 20,000 miles per year means that the odds are against us. Eventually we will have a major breakdown or tire blowout on the road. To help mitigate this we installed a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), which has twice saved us a major tire issue twice since we starting using it.

The first time a tire went flat after picking up a screw while traveling 60 mph, allowing us to pull over before a blowout ensued, and the other a slow leak developed in a brand new tire on a dirt and gravel road and we were able to get it repaired before a serious issue occurred. In both cases a disaster may have resulted and I worry about that happening again, even with a commitment to the technology. Our new rig has a new TPMS system that connects to our smartphones via Bluetooth, and, thankfully, it seems to accurately and quickly discern and communicate the air pressure details.

  1. Being pet friendly and having unfortunate park rules
    We have seen some overly aggressive park rules against pets and other uses of a campsite. We installed a doggie door flap in our rig’s screen door. By setting up a small fence around our steps and giving our dogs both shaded and sunny areas on a mat, we leave some dirt or grass uncovered so they can come and go and potty as needed. We never leave them in the pen without us being home and are always diligent about their barking while outside. Despite this, some parks forbid outdoor pens and even having pets on leashes without the owner’s full participation and attention. While I understand the purpose of such an edict, it makes our lives difficult, as does restricting clothes lines under our awning, restricting noise at 7 pm, a 3-mph speed limit and other rules that some bad apples have forced parks to include in their codes.

  2. Access to grocery shopping and gas stations
    Having a refrigerator only half or one-third the size of a house fridge means having to shop for groceries more often, at least once per week. Staying in the boonies doesn’t make this an easy chore and we often camp up to 50 miles from the nearest Walmart. Small local supermarkets (with “super” being a bit facetious) almost always have a miniscule stock and higher prices compared to a big chain store. Sometimes a rural market has fresh, locally-grown or raised food or delicious baked items, but usually it’s just missing several items we’re looking for. Not having gas stations nearby can also be an issue and requires a more thoughtful plan to stay filled up.

We don’t experience these difficulties often, but enough to cause us trepidation, No matter how much advance research we do, some things just cannot be known until you are present, and that is a cause for concern every time we begin our travel day. I’m sure we’re not the only ones.

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