101 MORE Great RV Gift Ideas for RVers, Campers & Outdoor Lovers!

The other day when we were at a hardware store we heard Christmas music playing. Yikes! The holidays are on their way and it’s time to start finding meaningful gifts for our loved ones.

The fun thing about buying for RVers is that there are so many super cute RV themed goodies out there!

Last year I wrote the blog post “50 RV Gifts” which was chock full of wonderful suggestions for gifts. This year I’ve done a little more digging and put together a lineup of 101 more great RV gift ideas for you. Click on any image or text link to see more detailed info about each one.

Many of these items are things we use in our day-to-day RV lifestyle and others are things that look enticing and have received great reviews and might end up in our RV sometime soon!

The first one is special to us because it is a 2019 Arizona wall calendar that features a gorgeous photo Mark took in Canyon de Chelly. His photo appears both on the cover of the calendar and on the January page.

We often choose the places we want to visit based on photos we have seen, so what better way to get inspired for next year’s RV travels than to flip through a book of beautiful photos from the National Parks. National Geographic’s National Parks Illustrated History is a good one, as is the book Treasured Lands – An Odyssey Through the National Parks.

If you are looking for travel tips for visiting the National Parks, the Fodor’s Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West is a excellent.

One of our favorite things in our RV travels is enjoying the many stunning scenic drives that zig-zag all over the country. To find out where the best scenic roads are, check out National Geographic’s Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways.

There are 120 more spectacular road trips in the book The Most Scenic Drives in America.

Gorgeous coffee table books are wonderful, but if you want to share the experience and get inspired over popcorn with your life partner, how about watching the Ken Burns video, “The National Parks – America’s Best Idea (download)” (DVD).

As long as you and your sweetie are plopped down in front of the TV, you might get a kick out of some old westerns. After we’d been traveling the west for a while we began noticing that we recognized the locations where many westerns were filmed, and it’s great fun to guess and then check the credits or the internet after watching the movie to see if you got it right!

We especially love the old John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns, and these two collections have many of our all-time favorites: the John Wayne Western Collection and the Clint Eastwood Collection and Double Feature combo.

We love to have low lighting in the rig when we’re watching a movie at night or to give the rig a romantic and relaxing atmosphere. We’ve had a set of flameless LED wax candles for many years now, and we love them.

A cute welcome mat at the door is a delightful way to welcome guests into your rolling home or to put a smile on your face when you come home from a day of errands.

If you’re in your RV for the holidays, one lovely way to decorate for the season is with a small tabletop battery operated Christmas tree.

If you don’t want to store a tree during the rest of the year, then a small vintage trailer that lights up and plays music might be a nice choice.

For RVers who have a regular size tree, a sweet RV Christmas ornament will bring back memories of happy times on the road.

A throw pillow or two on your couch or bed can make your rolling home even more homey. If you swap out just the pillowcase on a single pillow you can rotate the decorations so they don’t get old.

Next time you take a shower, why not dry off with a Happy Camper towel??!!

And when you’re ready for bed, you can slip into a soft set of “RV There Yet?” pajamas for women or camping PJs for men.

As the winter nights get cold, how nice to snuggle up with a unique camper-under-the-moon throw blanket (comes in various sizes).

Or wrap the fuzzy side of a throw blanket close around you as you drift into dreams of hitting the road in a cool retro RV.

If you spend winters in your RV, no matter where you are in the country there will be some chilly nights. Nothing beats a down comforter for staying toasty warm under the covers!

We’ve got lots of tips for staying warm in an RV over the winter (check them out here, here and here).

One of the simplest tips for RVs that don’t have a winterizing option on the screen door is to cover the door’s screens with a shrink-wrap film. This transforms the door from delivering icy blasts of cold air to bringing in the warm sunshine without a frosty bite, and it takes just an hour to install (step-by-step instructions with photos here).

A vent-free propane heater can heat your rig in minutes. If you’re intimidated by the process of installing one, a portable Mr. Buddy heater will deliver just as much heat as one that’s permanently installed without being connected to the RV’s gas lines.

Tips for how to install a vent-free propane heater here.

Fortunately, we have our own very special Mr. Buddy to cuddle with under the blankets. He’s a great little portable heater!

Puppy cuddles up in a blanket-min

Our own little portable Mr. Buddy heater 🙂

If you’re outfitting a new-to-you RV, you can transform the interior on a cold blustery night with a blue flame fireplace. Rather than an industrial looking blue flame in a metal box, this fireplace comes complete with logs, yellow flames that deliver a lot of heat, and a pretty wooden mantel.

Friends of ours installed the arched propane fireplace insert without the wooden mantel in their 2005 Alpenlite fifth wheel and then trimmed it out with ceramic tile. This created a wonderfully cozy and inviting addition to their living space!

We will definitely do this if we ever get another rig. One tip: install the fireplace insert so it sticks out about 3″ or so from anything above it like cabinets or a TV. Heat rises straight up, so just a few inches is enough to keep the blue flame heater from heating anything above it, but if you install the insert so the front of it is flush with the cabinetry above, the cabinets will get warm.

More about vent-free propane heaters here.

And, of course, the simplest way to add the romance of a fireplace to your RV is to play the Fireplace DVD on your TV. Whenever we do this, we find that the person sitting closest to the TV gets warm on that side. There’s something about those pretty flames and crackling log noises…

No matter how you heat your RV or house in the winter, you’ll be reaching for sweaters and sweatshirts when Jack Frost comes around. Here’s a fun sweatshirt for your sweetie.

She might want to peel off the sweatshirt sitting around a toasty campfire. But, of course, what happens at the campfire stays at the campfire!

And if you’re out and about in sunny places and need a good cover, there’s a Happy Camper ballcap for you!

A wonderful stocking stuffer for your best gal might be a pair of RV earrings or here’s another style here.

Or a cell phone ring holder (just as long she’s not married to her phone!).

Now, when you’re out RVing with the family, you can prevent any unexpected rainy days from dampening the experience if you bring along the National Parks edition of Monopoly.

If the rain persists and you’re stuck in the RV for a long time, another game, Trekking the National Parks, would also be a welcome diversion.

For kids (and kids at heart) who love coloring, a National Parks Coloring Book is a nice way to get to know a little about all the different Parks (there are others here and here).

And for anyone doing the National Parks Junior Ranger program (kids or adults!), the Junior Ranger Activity Book could be a nice complement to the National Parks program.

Parents who read aloud to their little ones or that are helping young readers learn to read will love the book “A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee.

While the kids are busy playing games, coloring and reading, the baker in the family might pop some freshly made cookies out of the oven. How nice to have an oven mitt and pot holder specially made for RVers.

And whoever gets dish washing duty will enjoy the job a lot more if there’s a cute RV dish drying mat to lay the dishes on!

One kitchen goodie we LOVE and have had ever since we cruised Mexico on our sailboat is a set of Magma Nesting Cookware. These pots and pans fit neatly inside of each other and are heavy and durable. They are ideal in any kitchen where shelf space is at a premium, from vans to Class C’s to truck campers to teardrop trailers to popup tent trailers.

Another kitchen gadget we use every day is our Melitta pour-over filter cone and paper filters. I’ve been making coffee this way for 45 years. Simply place the filter cone on top of your coffee mug, boil water in a kettle and pour the water over the grounds in the filter and let it dribble into the cup below.

It makes a gourmet cup in minutes, the cleanup is a cinch, it takes up minimal storage space, and it doesn’t require electricity to operate.

Once you hit the road again after the holidays are over, the navigator in the family will appreciate the 2019 Rand McNally Road Atlas (we have several of these from various years!).

If you will be taking your RV over any mountain passes, both the navigator AND the driver will appreciate the Mountain Directories for RV and Truck Drivers. There are two volumes (for East and West), and we have turned to these books dozens of times before tackling a mountain pass.

Every pass is described in detail for traversing it in both directions, so you’ll know ahead of time what the grades will be and for how many miles and also how sharp the hairpin turns will be as well (i.e., 15 mph curves, 25 mph curves, etc.). Once you “know” what an 8% grade for 3 miles feels like or how your RV (and you) react to navigating a 10 mph uphill turn, these books will be immensely helpful in route planning.

Here are some tips for driving an RV in the mountains too.

Another trip planning tool we use a lot are the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer map books. Each one lists the highlights and hot spots in every state in an easy summary form, and the various public land borders are clearly marked.

We have one of these atlas books for every state we’ve visited. Another similar atlas series is by Benchmark and we have a few of those too!

A nice combination of travel destination ideas and RV maintenance tips and new RV reviews can be found in Trailer Life Magazine and Motorhome Magazine. I’ve been fortunate to have had many articles appear in both magazines, and a subscription can make a nice gift (we’ve given several over the years!).

Most full-time and seasonal RVers belong to Escapees RV Club, and a one-year membership makes a great gift.

Membership includes an excellent bi-monthly magazine that is written by RVers for RVers. There are also a myriad of other terrific offerings, from discounts on camping to Bootcamps for new RVers to webinars and an online RV University to elder care for RVers who have hung up their keys to a division dedicated to Gen-X and Millenial RVers to mail forwarding services and many RV campsite ownership possibilities.

We’ve been members since 2008. If you decide to join (here), please let them know “Roads Less Traveled” sent you!

If you love to write, as I do, as soon as you start adventuring you will want to begin recording all you’ve seen and done. And even though typing is faster than handwriting for a lot of us, taking a moment at the end of each day to make a few notes with pen on paper is very rewarding.

There are several excellent Camper’s Journals, Camping Log Books and RVing Journals available:

Even if you’re not a writer, it’s nice to have a visual display of the places you’ve visited, and an RV state sticker map is a fun thing to put on the RV door or wall.

While it’s fun to tick off where you’ve been and what you’ve seen, the essence of RVing to many is simply living in the moment and enjoying the blessings of life without responsibility or even accountability. Where better way to do that than in a hammock strung between two trees in your campsite?!

We met a fellow a few weeks ago who has a hammock in the garage of his toy hauler. He loves to open the ramp door to a beautiful view somewhere and swing quietly til he falls asleep.

Swinging in a hammock is also a great way to enjoy the wildlife that wanders in and out of a campsite, and hanging up a bird feeder or putting out a shallow tray of water is a good way to lure the critters in.

We love hanging a hummingbird feeder on the RV window vy our dining table. It attaches to the window with suction cups and we can sit inside and watch the antics of the hummers as they come and go at the feeder.

A simple solution of 1 part regular table sugar (no the fancy stuff) to 4 parts water makes a perfect nectar for these little acrobats.

If the antics of the hummers isn’t entertaining enough, then a game of Corn Hole will keep the folks at your campsite and even the folks at the neighbor’s occupied.

If you want to dress up your campsite, an RV themed tablecloth is a nice way to add some class to the picnic table.

And a pretty patio mat extends your outdoor space a lot. This 8 x 20 mat is a neat dimension that runs much of the length of the RV.

An outdoor grill is an absolute must for every RV, and there are dozens to choose from.

We still use the modest little “Sidekick” grill that came with our popup tent trailer. It is designed to be hung on an RV wall if you install the hanging bracket, or to stand up off the ground. Mark has barbecued many an outstanding meal on this grill and it’s still going strong after 13 years of very frequent use!

If you hang around outside a lot at night, it’s nice to have a lantern to hang in a tree or on the RV awning brackets. A battery operated Coleman LED lantern or solar powered lantern is a great way to go.

When we first started boondocking, we used kerosene lamps rather than burn precious electricity with our RV’s interior lighting. Hanging one or two of these lanterns inside at night would have been a whole lot brighter!

Many gadgets like this lantern are battery operated. Have you tried rechargeable batteries yet? In the last year or so we’ve switched to rechargeable batteries rather than buying new batteries each time the old ones run down, and we like them a lot.

Getting out in an RV is all about enjoying the outdoors, and a fun and romantic way to savor the fresh air and great views in some remote spot is with a picnic. There are lots of fancy picnic baskets on the market, but how about a picnic basket that is built into a backpack so you can hike with it comfortably, hands free?!

We use 100 oz. hydration packs when we do longer hikes, and we’ve like packs that hold a big camera, a tripod hung on the outside, and a light jacket and snacks. The Camelbak Fourteener series are great packs for this purpose.

Good quality hiking shoes are also important and we get new ones every year. We’ve both been wearing Oboz hiking shoes for the last few years and Mark loves his waterproof Oboz boots. He found them especially handy when we were trudging around in the rain and mud in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula recently to photograph the fall colors.

One of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors is kayaking on a lake or river. The Hobie inflatable kayaks are FABULOUS and they can be rolled up and put away in an RV storage compartment.

Our Hobie inflatable tandem was a blast in both our RV and sailing lifestyles.

The beauty of these kayaks is that if you find yourself up a creek without a paddle it doesn’t matter: the kayak is driven by foot pedals and a rudder at the back.

This means you cruise along about twice as fast as an ordinary kayak totally hands free, and you can use your binoculars or camera as you go. (Read my full review here).

We also found that ours was as stable as a rock. I could stand up in it and wax the hull of our sailboat!

If your sweetie is a kayaker who dreams of the ideal ride, this is a gift he or she will love.

A while ago we bought a kit of cordless power tools by Rigid that included an impact driver and power drill.

Mark uses the impact driver for removing and replacing a wheel’s lug nuts on a flat tire (and we’ve had lots), and we both use the cordless drill to raise and lower our stabilizing jacks every time we set up or break down camp.

Rigid makes a lot of other tools that are all operated on the same lithium-ion battery packs as these two drills, and we recently got their little portable cordless vacuum cleaner. What a fantastic little vacuum! Because we now live with a puppy who hasn’t yet learned to wipe his paws when he comes in the door, I use this vacuum in the main living area almost every day.

The vacuum takes a bit more power than the drills, so we also bought an upgraded battery pack that has 5 amp-hours of capacity rather than the standard 1.5 ah. Even vaccuming as frequently as as I do, this big battery pack requires charging just once a month or so.

We highly recommend the Rigid kit even though it is considered a second tier brand. Dewalt has a similar kit too.

Another little “around the house” gadget we rely on a lot is our two-way radio set.

We use these to back up the trailer and also to find each other when we go on photo shoots. It also helps us stay in touch when one of us goes on a hike or walks the dog without the other.

Obviously, cell phones do this too, but these radios work everywhere we go regardless of cell tower proximity. We have the “36 mile” GMRS two-way radios which usually have excellent reception up to about 3 miles.

There are lots of great stocking stuffers for RVers, and one is a Leatherman tool that has a million tools neatly folded into a small pocket-sized package. Mark has the Leatherman Surge tool here:

Mark always carries a pocket knife too, and he has a collection of Gerber knives in drawers throughout our trailer as well as in his pocket! These are two of his favorites: Gerber Freeman Guide Drop Point and the tiny Gerber Ultralight.

He recently picked up another pocket knife made by Leatherman that is his latest favorite, the Leatherman Crater C33LX. It has a serrated edge and a caribiner that can attach the knife to a beltloop or keychain. The caribiner can also serve as an all important bottle opener come Beer Time!

Mark’s pockets are always brimming with goodies, and besides a pocket knife he usually carries a flashlight too. He likes the Lumintop brand and now has five different Lumintop LED flashlights and loves them all.

We’ve written detailed reviews of some of their models (the 4000 lumen tactical light here and two pocket flashlights here).

Here are two more, the Lumintop ODF30C 3500 lumen flashlight and the Lumintop AA 2.0 pocket flashlight.

Getting our heads out of the tool box and back out into nature, another outstanding gift that says “I love you” in a most heartfelt way is a brand new DSLR camera.

Nikons are the best rated DLSRs these days and the Nikon D3500 is an outstanding camera to start with. The Nikon D3500 kit that comes with two lenses is a great value.

If your sweetie already has a great camera, a fabulous gift that he or she will LOVE is the Hoodman Loupe.

This little device shrouds the image on the back of the camera so you can see the picture well in any light, and the optics are adjustable so no matter how good or poor your vision is, you can adjust it so the image is tack sharp.

We rely on our Hoodman Loupes to ensure that our images are in focus, our composition is what we want, and the exposure is correct.

Another wonderful gift for someone who loves photography is a high quality tripod. The Benro Travel Angel II tripod is light and easy to set up and has worked well for me, especially hiking, for several years. An easy-to-use tripod makes it possible to blur waterfalls and to take photos of the Milky Way and is also a wonderful tool for taking selfies.

The photographer in your life might also really enjoy some books that explain the nitty gritty about how to take beautiful photos.

Three books that have taught us a lot are Brenda Tharpe’s Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography, Tim Fitzharris’ Landscape Photography and Steve Perry’s Secrets to Stunning Wildlife Photography.

We’ve got loads more tips for learning how to take great photos here.

Sometimes the best way to get really beautiful photos of nature is to camp right out in it for long periods of time.

If your spouse has been pressing you to upgrade your RV with solar power so you can boondock for a while but you’ve felt a bit overwhelmed by the complexity or the cost of installing a system, a folding solar power suitcase can provide a lot of charging capacity and give you some excellent hands-on experience without requiring a scary big financial commitment or a search for an installer. And you can always sell the solar power suitcase at a later date. Other models are here and here.

If you’re ready to invest in a “full-time” solar power solution, the major components will be these four things:

This is essentially what has powered our lives every day for 11 years, and we have loads of articles on this website about solar power (here) and batteries (here)).

Getting up on the roof to do things like install solar panels is fine with the built-in RV roof ladder. However, we also use a secondary lightweight telescoping aluminum ladder so we can reach the highest parts of the exterior walls and the front cap since those spots are all out of reach of the built-in ladder.

This ladder can be set up in a jiffy, is stable, and can be folded up to fit in a small storage space!

Our puppy Buddy just came over to see what I was up to on my laptop here, and he wanted me to add a few things for our furry readers. One is a Happy Camper dog shirt with a vintage RV on it. The RV window is a heart!

Another is his favorite dog food. He loves the Orijen and Acana brands, and Regional Red is his all-time favorite.

Put a paw over your eyes so you don’t see the price, but do read the ingredients. I honestly think this stuff should be served under glass on a linen tablecloth…

Last is a set of rubber whistler balls. These rugged, flexible balls can withstand any amount of chewing and have small holes in the sides that make them whistle as they fly.

We hope these pics and links have given you some fresh new ideas of special things to give your loved ones.

Anything you put in your shopping cart right after clicking a link here (even if you end up doing some searching to find something else) results in a small commission to us at no cost to you, a win-win all around. Thank you!!

If you’re still searching for that ideal gift for someone special, check out these 50 Great RV Gifts here!

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Lessons Learned in the Full-time RV Lifestyle – Tips & Ideas!

May 2018 – We have been traveling full-time for eleven years now. I don’t know where those years have gone, but every single day has been a blessing, and every year has brought us many incredible moments of discovery. And we don’t see an end in sight!

The May/June 2018 issue of Escapees Magazine features an article I wrote about some of the lessons we’ve learned in all our years on the road and at sea. Following our hearts into a life of travel has expanded our horizons and deepened our souls in ways that never would have been possible if we’d stayed home.

Lessons Learned in the Full-time RV life Escapees Magazine March-April 2018-min

“Reflections on 11 Years of Full-time RVing – Lessons Learned!”
Escapees Magazine, May/June 2018, by Emily Fagan

Launching a full-time traveling lifestyle brings a lot of self-discovery right from the get go. Downsizing a lifetime of stuff to fit into an RV is an overwhelming yet liberating purge. You take a few important possessions with you and head on down the road.

Walking down a country road in the RV life-min

With a stick in his mouth (one of his most important possessions) Buddy trots on down a country road.

Then you drive off into the great beyond and marvel that you did it, that you’re free, that you’re on the road to a fabulous new life of adventure.

RV fifth wheel trailer driving in Utah red rocks-min

Towing our trailer through Utah’s red rock country to some great adventures.

After the thrill of the Big Escape, you might pause for a moment and look around a little and double check that you did the right thing.

Puppy looks at fifth wheel trailer RV-min

That’s it? My house and all my worldly possessions are in there?! Wow!!

But absolutely every aspect of life is suddenly a total thrill. Just making a meal, whether you barbecue it on the cool little grill or bake it in the nifty Easy Bake RV Oven or fry it up on the tiny three burner stove, cooking and eating at home are suddenly very exotic. Playing House takes on a wonderful new meaning. And you play and play and play.

Barbecuing burgers in the full-time RV lifestyle-min

Grilling burgers in a beautiful brand new backyard is very cool.

Suddenly, the distractions of the old conventional life are gone and you fill your time with simple pursuits that work well in a mobile lifestyle. You can’t go to the same gym everyday, and sometimes you get lost trying to find the grocery store in a new town, but the quiet pleasures of life at home take on a special new meaning.

Hobbies you never had time for in the past become treasured parts of the day-to-day routine.

Living in a fifth wheel trailer RV full-time-min

Mark has learned to play dozens of his favorite songs since we started traveling full-time.

While zipping from place to place, you take in all you can manage to absorb. You discover how little history you actually learned in school and you find small towns you’ve never heard of in states you know only by name that suddenly take on a fabulous familiarity and vitality.

You meet the locals, learn a little of their past and the history of their area, and you ponder what it would have been like to grow up in that community or to live there now.

Mural painting of Antlers Hotel in historic Newcastle Wyoming-min

A mural on a building in Newcastle, Wyoming, shows what the main street looked like a century or more ago.

Antlers Hotel in Newcastle Wyoming-min

Here is the same Antler’s Hotel and neighboring buildings today.

After a while you realize that you’ve got to stop and smell the flowers every so often. You’ve been rushing through your travels with such an excited zeal that you realize you’re missing stuff.

You slow down and begin to soak it all in. You realize you’re living a life, not just a lifestyle, and you begin to savor the in between moments.

Early spring flowers in South Dakota-min

Signs of Spring!

We found just such a moment while driving on the Interstate near Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is known for many marvelous things, a world class mansion on a billionaire family’s estate to name just one, but we will forever remember the field of thigh high flowers we saw on the side of the highway. It was a photographer’s paradise.

How exciting to have one of our many photos from that afternoon appear on the cover of the March/April 2018 issue of Escapees Magazine.

Escapees Magazine Cover Mar-Apr 2018-min

Escapees Magazine, March/April 2018
Cover photo by Emily Fagan

One of the great things we’ve learned in our travels that I didn’t mention in my Reflections & Lessons Learned article in the May issue of Escapees Magazine is what this lifestyle has taught us about nature and the heavens.

We have stood in awe and photographed hundreds of stunning sunrises and sunsets and dozens of single and double rainbows during our traveling years. And we’ve gotten up in the wee hours to photograph the Milky Way or get a timelapse video of it marching across the sky. We now know a lot about these celestial events, when and how they occur and how best to observe and capture them with a camera.

Fifth wheel trailer RV camping next to a rainbow-min

We noticed the light getting really eerie while camped in Wyoming, and then we saw a rainbow!

Rainbow and puppy with fifth wheel RV trailer at sunset-min

A slight change in perspective made for a whole different look.

We’ve also learned that Nature doesn’t rush things and you have to be patient and let its wonders reveal themselves at their own pace. And sometimes the transformation in the sky is really worth the wait.

Gorgeous sunset over fifth wheel trailer RV-min

An hour after the rainbow faded, the sky looked like this!

Pink sunset over fifth wheel trailer RV-min

Twenty minutes later it looked like this!

As Robert Frost described it 102 years ago, we’ve “taken the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” We’ve found that, for us, the back roads and byways always offer a fresh perspective, and sometimes the road itself is unusual.

Red asphalt highway in Wyoming-min

In Wyoming some roads have red asphalt, giving drivers a fantastic mix of blue sky, green grass and red roads.

Perhaps the most valuable thing about embarking on an unusual lifestyle like RVing full-time is the opportunity it offers for reflection. After the excitement of making dinner in a mini-kitchen on a three burner stove has worn off, it is natural to ponder just why you are living this way and whether you are really “living the dream” you anticipated.

Puppy catches his reflection in a pond-min

Full-time RVing offers a chance for self-reflection.

It is common, after a few years, for full-time RVers to find themselves at a turning point. After seeing the major National Parks and visiting a bunch of states and meeting lots of other cool RVers along the way, it is only natural to grind to a halt and ask, “What now?”

Some people find this troubling — it’s scary that their dream lifestyle might need tweaking — but I think it should be celebrated as a graduation. The first round of dreams has been fulfilled. What could be more satisfying than that? Now the next round of dreams can be conjured up and chased down!

Several very popular RV bloggers who have been at this full-time RV lifestyle business for a long time have transitioned recently to new modes of travel or to living in distant and far flung locations.

For excited future full-time RVers, reading and watching these transitions taking place may be unsettling because their mentors are leaving the lifestyle they are about to begin. Years ago, when we had been on our boat in Mexico for about 8 months, I received a plaintive one-line email from a reader: “When are you going back to your RV?”

But part of the joy of transforming your life by giving up a solid foundation to live in a home on wheels is that it opens your heart to opportunities for even bigger transformations down the road.

For full-time RVers who feel like they are living under stormy skies or are feeling a little boxed in by repetitious patterns or feel a little lost between the woods and the trees, there’s no harm and no shame in admitting their dreams have changed and possibly gotten bigger and more ambitious.

Using the full-time RVing lifestyle as a stepping stone to other wonderful and exotic lifestyles is almost to be expected and is one of the great reasons to give it a try.

Storm clouds ofver fifth wheel RV in South Dakota-min

Storm clouds form over our trailer in South Dakota.

However, it can be hard when you’ve committed yourself with all your heart to RVing full-time to step back and say, “Wait! This isn’t exactly what I want.” And it’s especially difficult with the intense personal comparisons and voyeurism provoked by social media and blogging. A weird kind of peer pressure creeps in.

When it comes to pursuing your dreams, it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks or how your life compares to theirs because it’s not about them. It’s about you.

A photographer who lives an extraordinary traveling life, David Morrow, has posted two videos that are quite profound. The first is the impact on his life of quitting social media (he had followers in the tens of thousands on many platforms). The second is his daily morning ritual for exploring and reaffirming his life’s dreams.

These videos spoke to me because they parallel my own experiences. Perhaps they will speak to you too (links for them are in the reference section at the end of the page).

RV fifth wheel trailer boondocking in Utah-min

Feeling boxed in? We tucked our trailer into an alcove of red rock columns in Utah.

I’ve been reading Open Your Mind to Prosperity by Catherine Ponder, and she talks about how to set yourself up for success, whether for prosperity in terms of money or prosperity in terms of having exhilarating life experiences. One point she drives home with vigor is the importance of making room in your life for your future riches by letting go of and releasing anything from your past that isn’t fundamental to the future you desire.

It’s easy to see how this advice can help future full-time RVers, since part of the transition into full-time RVing is the Enormous Downsizing Project that has to be completed (yikes!). However, full-timing is not a static activity, and as full-timers flow through the lifestyle, tweaking and perfecting it and making it their own, the same idea applies: Achieving your dreams depends on releasing aspects of the past that aren’t propelling you forward to the future you want.

While online communications tend to compress deep emotional experiences to a few words here and there, getting together in person with kindred spriits, and talking at length around the campfire or over a morning coffee can really help get the creative juices flowing, whether you are pondering where to travel next or are curious about workamping opportunities or wonder if others have been through similar experiences in the full-time RV lifestyle as you have.

RV boondocking in the woods in a fifth wheel trailer-min

Can’t see the woods for the trees?

Ever since its founding by Joe and Kay Peterson, Escapees RV Club has specialized in bringing people together who have like interests. All Escapees are RVers, either current, past or future, and the Club encourages get togethers. From going to an RV gathering at a National Rally (Escapade #58 is this week in Sedalia, Missouri) to attending one of the many lively Xscapers Convergences for RVers (South Dakota, Colorado, Oregon, Michigan and Georgia are all on the schedule) to seeing the Best of Ireland (June 13-19, no RVs involved) Escapees offers well organized traveling adventures of all kinds to bring members together.

There are also regional chapters of Escapees across the country, and these groups hold their own local gatherings.

Escapees also has Birds of a Feather groups (BOFs) that bring together people that share all kinds of unusual hobbies and interests. These groups are where you can find fellow RVers interested in Geology, Computers, Line or Square Dancing, providing assistance at natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, Photography, Prospecting, Quilting, Woodcarving or Worldwide Travel.

There is even a Birds of a Feather group for RVers who love to camp in the nude and another for Friends of Bill. And, of course, if the BOF for your particular interest doesn’t exist, you can always start one.

It is no surprise that Escapees RV Club has an affinity for rainbows. Occasionally clouds of not-total-happiness end up forming for some folks who jump into the RV lifestyle, and the Escapees RV Club offers a gazillion ways for RVers to connect with each other and share their common experiences.

Double rainbow over fifth wheel RV trailer-min

A double rainbow formed over our fifth wheel after a terrific afternoon rain storm.

If you are interested in RVing and haven’t yet joined Escapees, it is a very intriguing club with a million sticks in the campfire. Everything described here is just a fraction of what Escapees RV Club is all about. They do incredible advocacy work for RVers, are the biggest mail forwarding company out there, have discounts on RV parks and even have a sub-group that maintains the biggest boondocking database around.

You can join (or ask questions) by calling 888-757-2582. Or you can click here: Join Escapees RV Club

If you mention our blog, Roads Less Traveled, when you join, Escapees puts a little something in our tip jar. This is not why we do it — we recommended the club long before they started doing this — but we sure appreciate it!

Double rainbow over fifth wheel RV trailer-min

Happy campers after 11 years on the road and at sea.
Here we’re perched on a train car in a city park in Custer, SD

Spending what is now a significant chunk of our lives not knowing where we’ll be sleeping next has been a fabulous and life altering experience for us. Not only did we love the early days when simply living in an RV was an exotic thrill, but we have loved the exploration of the world around us and the journey we’ve taken within.

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Camping World Video Shoot — RVing is for Everyone!

April 2018 – A few weeks ago we had the extraordinary experience of creating a video with a professional video production crew for Camping World as part of their new YouTube campaign, “RVing is for Everyone.”

Isaac Aaron Video crew Camping World RVing is for Everyone with Mark and Emily-min

We spent an exhilarating three days with the Isaac Aaron Media crew shooting for Camping World.

The casting call came out of the blue, and we weren’t sure what to expect.

It turned out to be three very thrilling, very long and very full days of quasi-acting and interviews that resulted in a beautiful and inspiring five and a half minute video that captures the spirit of our RV life perfectly. The video is included at the end of this article.

The video crew, Isaac Aaron Media, was a team of five who flew out from North Carolina to join us in Arizona. We suggested a few places where we could film in the Phoenix area, and they took it from there to decide on the camping locations and tourist attractions for filming.

Isaac Aaron Media Camping World RVing is for Everyone video shoot-min

Isaac Aaron led the team filming us

Isaac Aaron and his wife Jessica Piche are the founders and owners of Isaac Aaron Media. Their skilled camera crew were videographers Justin, Byron and Ben.

These guys know quite a bit about the RVing life. Isaac and Jessica own a motorhome, and Justin renovated and lived in a vintage travel trailer for over a year.

Isaac Aaron Video crew Justin for Camping World RVing is for Everyone with Mark and Emily-min

“Rolling!” Justin renovated and lived in a vintage travel trailer.

Byron was seeing the West in depth for the first time and loving every minute of it. He handled all the mobile video work during the shoot, carrying a camera on a cool gimbal system and walking around (often backward!) to give the video movement.

Isaac Aaron Media Byron RVing is for Everyone for Camping World-min

Byron’s mobile setup created cool effects

They wanted to shoot some of the video at Canyon Lake Marina and RV Park. When we posted our article about staying there last month, some readers were surprised we had camped there, since — lovely as it is — it is not the kind of place we ever camp at.

But when the video crew arrived, it was clear that the scenery would work really well for the images they wanted of us enjoying the RV life.

As soon as the crew unloaded their gear at our campsite, Byron headed out to the big grassy area behind our trailer and on down to the lake to begin getting scenery shots.

Video shoot for Camping World RVing is for Everyone-min

Byron filmed the pretty scenery at Canyon Lake Marina and RV Park.

The crew told us to just “do whatever you always do.” We had been playing with our new puppy, Buddy, in the grass, so we continued doing that. Suddenly, there were three cameras on us from different angles, and the video shoot had begun.

The entire video was unscripted. However, the director, Jessica, had a clear idea in her mind of what the team was creating. She asked us to walk over to a picnic table and sit down and admire the view as the crew filmed us.

She wanted the video to be authentic, and I had explained to her that we are photographers and that what we do in our RV life is take photos all day every day. She was fine with that. So, as the crew shot video of us, we took still images of everything around us!

I put Buddy up on a rock to get a photo of him with Canyon Lake in the background. As I clicked off a series of images, the video cameras rolled. Afterwards, when Jessica was going through the video footage, she emailed me with wonder, “How did you get Buddy to stay still on the rock like that?” I don’t know. I just put him there, said “Stay!” and he stared back at me while I took his portrait!

Movie star puppy Camping World video RVing is for Everyone-min

Buddy happily poses for me on a rock.

As we were goofing off by the shore, Mark got the idea to lure the resident flock of ducks over to us. These ducks know human actions well, so even though he didn’t have any bread for them, when he tossed a few pebbles in the water they came right over. And the video cameras rolled!

To show the nuts and bolts of the RV life, the crew wanted a few sequences of us breaking down and/or setting up camp. So, they asked us to pack up the trailer and do all the things involved in getting hitched up just like we normally do.

Cameras were on both of us as we folded up our camping chairs, and then cameras were on me as I washed the dishes and packed up the interior and cameras were on Mark as he mounted the bikes on the bike rack and put away the patio mat.

Video RVing is for Everyone Camping World with Mark & Emily-min

The video crew shot scenes of us packing up our rig.

The Apache Trail (Route 88 from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake), is one of the most stunning scenic drives in Arizona, and the plan was to capture images of us towing the trailer on this incredible winding road between Canyon Lake and Lost Dutchman State Park.

Until Mark and I drove the Apache Trail out to Canyon Lake a few days prior to the camera crew’s arrival, none of us had realized that the entire road was under construction, complete with cones in the road and big machinery working. Much of the road had been stripped of asphalt and was dirt too!

We would never advise driving a big rig on the Apache Trail without scouting it first, even when it is paved and free of construction crews, because there are tight switchbacks and lots of 15 mph turns with sheer drop-offs and no guard rail. Fortunately, Mark and I both know the road very well because we used to race our bicycles on it years ago!

We hopped in the truck to begin towing our trailer and suddenly discovered there was a video camera hanging from our rearview mirror! Any swearing at the challenging road conditions or crazy drivers would be caught on film (ahem, some of it may have been!).

Dashboard video camera RVing is for Everyone Camping World-min

We got in our truck to find a video camera mounted on our rear view mirror!

The video crew had hired a photography location scout, Alan Benoit, to help them with finding locations to shoot and to give them advice on where the best turnouts would be along the Apache Trail so they could to set up their cameras to capture our rig driving by. He gave them all kinds of pointers and also drove ahead of us in his own car so he could open up a gap in front of us and ensure there would be no cars ahead of us as the video cameras rolled.

The video team fanned out to different locations along the route to catch us at various bends and curves in the road, and we got a kick out of seeing them as we drove past.

Camping World RVing is for Everyone Isaac Aaron Media of Mark and Emily-min

Byron gets a shot of us rolling by in our rig.

The Apache Trail between Lost Dutchman and Canyon Lake is about 11 miles long, so we pulled over a few times to allow the video crew to drive ahead and get set up in new positions to wait for us. We had radios for communication between all the vehicles because there isn’t any cell service out there!

Once the video crew had captured a bunch of scenes of us driving, including going under one of the trestle bridges on the route, we unhitched and dropped the trailer off in a pullout so we could all drive back to Tortilla Flat for lunch. Tortilla Flat is a very popular restaurant offering both indoor and outdoor seating and live music most afternoons.

Lunch break Camping World RVing is for Everyone video of Mark and Emily-min

We check the menus at Tortilla Flat, a fun western themed restaurant on the Apache Trail.

Tortilla Flat has a funky vibe and there’s an old toilet seat hanging up on the porch where you can get a framed selfie.

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After lunch we went down to the docks to go on the Dolly Steamboat Cruise on Canyon Lake. This is a beautiful and peaceful excursion that takes you out onto Canyon Lake and into the Sonoran Desert by way of the dammed up Salt River.

Dolly Steamboat Cruise for Camping World RVing is for Everyone video shoot-min

We were filmed boarding the Dolly Steamboat before our memorable cruise on Canyon Lake.

Once all the passengers were aboard the boat, the video crew filmed us walking down the dock and giving our tickets to the captain. I’m not sure what the other passengers thought as they watched us do the ticket buying scene a couple of times. Fortunately, it was a quiet Sunday afternoon and no one was in a rush.

I suspect most folks thought it was a bit of a hoot to have a professional camera crew aboard, and there were smiles of recognition, probably from RVers camping in the area, when we explained it was a video shoot for Camping World.

Dolly Steamboat captain Camping World RVing is for Everyone video by Isaac Aaron-min

Byron films us greeting Captain Jasion and giving hime our tickets.

The video team had brought a drone, and they flew it from the deck of the Dolly Steamboat. While everyone on the boat oohed and aahhed at the stunning desert canyon views around us, the drone flew higher and higher above us. Then, after having it zoom around the lake, the crew brought it back to the boat. Jessica reached out to grab it out of the air as it hovered above the deck.

Catching drone for Camping World RVing is for Everyone video-min

Jessica caught the drone after it circled the Dolly Steamboat from high above the lake.

We had had quite a day, and we were all totally pooped as we drove our trailer on the last stretch of the Apache Trail to Lost Dutchman Campground. We all hit the sack early.

Puppy sleeping on RV couch-min

Phew! It’s hard work being a movie star!

Before sunrise the next morning, Buddy suddenly sat up and gave a muffled woof when he heard activity right outside our trailer. We opened the blinds to see the video crew moving around in the pitch dark with headlamps on their heads. They were setting up a timelapse video of our rig silhouetted against the sunrise that would soon begin.

We quickly got dressed and ran outside with our own cameras to capture the pretty pink sky as it slowly began to brighten.

We were all very fortunate that Mother Nature gave us such a beautiful light show and that no one had stayed in the campsite next to ours. This gave the crew plenty of room for their gear and an unobstructed view of our trailer. We stayed at Lost Dutchman for the next three nights after that, and not only was there never as nice a sunrise again but we had neighbors in that campsite every night!

Sunrise Camping World video shoot RVing is for Everyone-min

The video crew was at our campsite setting up a time lapse video before sunrise.

After bolting some breakfast, we were off to the Superstition Mountain Museum for more filming. The museum docent gave the crew pointers on what the highlights were and where the best photo ops might be as we strolled the grounds to view the artifacts from the historic gold mining days.

Isaac Aaron Media Crew at Superstition Mountain Museum Arizona-min

At Superstition Mountain Museum the video crew got tips on where the best photo ops would be.

Making a video involves a lot of waiting around while the crew sets up and breaks down their video gear, and there’s also a lot of repeated movements as each scene is shot a few times. It is trying for people, but is potentially even more challenging for puppies.

Buddy was only four months old and we had had him for only five weeks, but he had been amazing so far. No matter where we asked him to walk or sit, he went along with the flow. Best of all, the guys in the crew loved him, and he quickly became the star of the show.

Puppy becomes an RV movie star-min

Isaac gets a close-up of Buddy.

The Superstition Mountain Museum is a treasure trove of history, and we walked and walked and walked all around the extensive grounds for several hours. Cameras were on us at all times.

As we’d gaze at something or pass through a doorway, we’d suddenly be asked, “Could you do that again?” Some scenes were set up more deliberately, and we had to wait for those classic commands: “Rolling… Action!” The first few times we started on “Rolling!” rather than “Action!” Such rookies!!

After a few hours, Jessica found a spot for us to sit for an interview. The crew used a reflective foil to get the lighting on our faces just right. In addition to answering questions about the tourist attractions. we also answered questions about why we had become full-time RVers, what life had been like for us before we began living this way, and what we loved most about the RV lifestyle.

We spoke from the heart, and she let us go on at length on some topics when we had a lot to say.

Camping World RVing is for Everyone Interview with Mark and Emily-min

The team checked the cameras and lighting before Jessica interviewed us at the Superstition Mountain Museum.

Of course, there was room for bloopers too, and we fell into the same funny trap that several other couples had.

The theme of the Camping World video series is “RVing is for Everyone,” but when asked about our RV experiences, we naturally talked about them in terms of being full-time RVers, not seasonal RVers or vacationers. So, at one point, after describing the wonders and thrills of downsizing out of our house and running away to live in an RV, Mark blurted out, “Of course, it’s not for everyone!”

Isaac chuckled and said, “We’ve heard that before, and what you probably mean is that full-time RVing isn’t for everyone!”

We had lunch all together at the western themed Mammoth Steakhouse & Saloon at Goldfield Ghost Town next door and then went back to our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park where the video crew got set up for us to do some hiking.

There was a nice hiking trail that led towards the Superstition Mountains right from the back of our campsite, so once the camera gear was ready, off we went with Buddy bounding along while the video cameras rolled!

Video shoot hiking at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

We hiked the trail behind our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park.

After our hike, when we came back to the campsite we suddenly noticed the Red Baron bi-plane soaring overhead doing somersaults in the sky. What a perfect photo op, and how typical of our lifestyle that something unexpected and fun zoomed into our lives at just the right moment. Mark and I simultaneously swung our cameras towards the sky.

Red Baron airplane does loops in the sky-min

The Red Baron is a popular ride in the Scottsdale/Mesa area, and Mark got this beautiful shot.

Red Baron airplane circles above us-min

We love shooting shoulder to shoulder because we always get different images. Here’s mine.

Gradually the shadows got longer and then the sky began to get orange. Everyone lined up to get a photo of the sunset around a gangly saguaro cactus that was in a campsite across the street.

Lost Dutchman State Park Camping World Video Shoot with Mark and Emily-min

Back at our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park we all got ready for a sunset shot.

RVing is for Everyone Camping World Video shoot with Mark and Emily-min

As the sun went down the cameras went up.

Sunset at Lost Dutchman State Park Campground in Arizona-min

An orange glow around a saguaro cactus in the next campsite.

We had all been up since before dawn, and now it was dark again. The video crew left and we crashed in our camper, totally exhausted!

The next morning we all met at Goldfield Ghost Town about a mile away from Lost Dutchman State Park. This tourist attraction is very similar to the Superstition Mountain Museum with lots of paths that wander between antique buildings from the gold mining days.

Camping World RVing is for Everyone Mark and Emily Isaac Aaron Media crew at Superstition Mountains-min

Bright and early the next morning, we all gathered at Goldfield Ghost Town for another day of shooting.

There is a little train that circles the property that was definitely worth a quick video clip.

RVing is for Everyone Camping World video shoot with Mark Emily-min

Ben caught the train on video just as it came around the bend and tooted its horn.

Goldfield Ghost Town is full of fabulous photo ops, and Mark and I had fun just roaming around taking photos. Shooting high or shooting low our creative juices flowed. And the camera crew was there to catch it all.

Scene for Camping World RVing is for Everyone created by Isaac Aaron Video-min

I set up my own shot while the video crew takes theirs!

Mark got a photo of the front of the jail, and we laughed as we read the jailhouse rules posted out front, joking that they sounded a bit like the rules for video actors:

No Complaining, No Profanity, No Loud Talk, Two Visits to the Outhouse Daily, Meals—Beans, Bread and Water.

Well, our meals at the area restaurants had actually been quite delicious!!

Jailhouse Rules Goldfield Ghost Town video for Camping World-min

These rules applied to more than just the jail house!

Mark took a quick trip to the outhouse and Buddy peaked through the outhouse window. They didn’t know that the video cameras were on them even then!

Puppy looks out moon window-min

The video crew caught this moment too.

Goldfield Ghost Town has a Bordello on the second floor of one building, and there’s a neat metal winding staircase leading up to it. The video crew loved that staircase, and we walked up and down it quite a few times as the cameras rolled. Buddy negotiated the stairs really well, and Mark and I got lots of great pics from the top.

Bordello staircase Goldfield Ghost Town Camping World RV video shoot-min

We wound up and down the staircase to the Bordello on the second floor several times!

Goldfield Ghost Town for Camping World RVing is for Everyone created by Isaac Aaron Video-min

The view from the top of the stairs was pretty great!

It was hot and dry walking around Goldfield, and at one point we snuck Buddy off to a spigot on the side of a building to get a sip of water. He was such a little trooper though. A quick rest in the shade and he was as good as new again and ready for more filming by an antique tractor.

Puppy movie star waiting for the next shot-min

Being filmed from sunrise onward wore us all down, but some shade and a drink revived us.

Byron of Isaac Aaron Media for Camping World RVing is for Everyone-min

We had fun playing tourist, and the video crew didn’t miss a moment.

After quite a few hours of shooting we all took a break and then reconvened at our Lost Dutchman campsite once again. Soon, it was time for our main interview which became the voiceover narrative for most of the video.

The Superstition Mountains were lit up behind our campsite in glorious fashion, but getting our faces lit without us being blinded by the sun and without my head casting a shadow across Mark’s face proved tricky. We messed with the chairs and the foil reflector quite a bit and finally got everything set up just right.

Set up for Camping World RVing is for Everyone video shoot at RV campsite in Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona-min

Back at our campsite the crew worked hard to get the best lighting possible for our final interview when the Superstitions lit up at the golden hour before sunset.

The questions were excellent, and we had a chance to express a little of our philosophy of how important it is to pay attention to your dreams, to nurture them and to fulfill them. Mark signed off with a fantastic quote, and when we were finally silent, a hush fell on everyone.

Speaking about the importance of pursuing your dreams and making them come true had swept us all into a spell. We feel so fortunate to live this way, and I suspect the crew was lost in thought pondering their own dreams too.

Coming back to reality, they asked us for one more quickie shot. The sun was setting fast, but we hopped on our bikes for a final scene of us riding around the campground loop.

At last we all gathered at the back of our trailer so I could capture an image of us all together saying that famous Hollywood line: “That’s a wrap!”

Camping World RVing is for Everyone Isaac Aaron Video with Mark and Emily-min

“And that’s a wrap!”

DELETED SCENES – Oh yes, there were quite a few!

Of course, no movie would be complete with our a track of deleted scenes. After three full days of three or four cameras going most of the time, the video crew had hours and hours of video to sift through. Most of it had to end up on the editing room floor, of course, because the final video would be less than six minutes long.

One of the more unusual deleted scenes was at the Superstition Mountain Museum chapel where we discovered a statue of Elvis inside!

Superstition Mountain Museum Camping World RVing is for Everyone Isaac Aaron Video-min

We walked in the chapel to find Elvis, but the scene didn’t make the cut.

We spent several hours on the last day doing a detailed tour of our rig. We showed every corner of our little abode and explained how and why we set it up as we have and why we chose this particular floorplan as our rolling home ten years ago.

We’ve decorated the walls with post cards from some of the National Parks and National Monuments we’ve visited, and the only original piece of furniture we still have is the dining table. So, there was a lot to talk about and see.

The best part of this RV interior sequence was when one of the guys asked Mark offhand what he would normally be doing “right about now” when we started showing off the kitchen. “I’d be getting a beer!” He joked. They said he should go ahead and do just that!

So, they did a full sequence of him reaching into the fridge and pulling out a beer, then reaching into the freezer for a chilled pint glass, and then pouring himself an ice cold yummy beer. He hammed it up a bit and it was very cute.

RVing is for Everyone Camping World video shoot with Mark and Emily-min

We did a detailed tour of our rig, and Mark had fun doing several takes of getting a beer from the fridge!

At Goldfield Ghost town there are several souvenir shops, and we went to two of them and picked out and purchased some goodies. Jessica suggested we buy some salsa, so we set up a scene where we scanned the shelves for locally made salsas and then chose one. The idea was that we would take the salsa back to the trailer later and do a scene where we were eating chips with it.

We ran out of time before we could shoot the scene of us eating the salsa in the trailer, but we sure did enjoy it a few days later!

Camping World RVing is for Everyone with Mark and Emily Isaac Aaron Media crew-min

We were filmed buying salsa at a tourist shop with plans to film us enjoying it later.

We also did a scene where we looked over some handmade soaps and picked out a bar of soap to purchase. Again, the whole sequence involved admiring and the picking out the soap and then, in a different scene, going to the register and paying for it.

The clerk was very cooperative, and the other tourists waited patiently outside the store for us to finish since there was barely enough room for us and a few cameras. In fact, for some of it the cameras were outside the store and shooting in.

During our interview later we talked about how in the full-time RV life you have to be selective about buying souvenirs and make sure they are consumable or else you’ll end up with a rig full of stuff!

Deleted scene Camping World RVing is for Everyone video by Isaac Aaron Video-min

We also chose a homemade soap as a consumable souvenir to take home.

There was also a scene where I showed some of the articles I’ve written in the RVing and sailing industry magazines and talked about how important writing and photography have become in our day-to-day lives. This has been a totally unexpected dream-come-true since we began traveling nearly 11 years ago.

But there were only so many seconds of footage that could be included!

Trailer Life Magazine Roads to Adventure Bedazzled in Banff by Emily Fagan-min

I talked a little about how fulfilling it has been to write for the RVing and sailing magazines, including my back page Trailer Life column.

After the whole video shoot was over, the crew went on to make some other videos in Arizona while we collapsed in our trailer and reflected with awe on what had just happened to us.

What a totally cool and special experience it was to be movie stars for three days!

Thank you, Camping World, for this unique opportunity, and kudos to Isaac Aaron Media for producing a beautifully crafted video.

RV sunrise Camping World RVing is for Everyone video shoot-min

Although we are full-timers — which is not for everyone — RVing definitely IS for everyone.
We loved weekends in our popup tent trailer years ago as much as we love full-timing in our fiver now.

Here’s the video — Enjoy!!

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Puppy Chow – Is There A Dog Living In Our RV ???

Christmas in our household included a very special gift this year.

Puppy love

Puppy love.

It wasn’t a gift to us or from us, but on Christmas Eve, as we were hanging around with our granddaughters in front of the Christmas tree at their house, they suddenly announced: “We’re getting another dog! For Christmas!!”

Puppy Dog in the RV lifestyle-min

The Christmas Pup.

They already had two dogs, but earlier that day they had seen a little puppy at the Humane Society, and they had fallen in love with him.

Puppy Dog and RV life-min

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And he was going to be moving in!

Puppy Dog playing in the yard-min

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At the moment he was doing the rounds with their mom being introduced to friends and family, but a few hours later he arrived at his new home.

Puppy dog plays in yard-min

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I have to confess, I’ve never been a dog person.

When I was four years old a very large dog with big paws and a huge mouth full of teeth knocked me down. He was playing, but I was terrified. Ever since then I’ve been an avowed cat person and bird person.

But when this little pup walked into the living room late on Christmas Eve, something in his spirit spoke to me.

Dog and RV travel-min

You see, I don’t like dogs.

I picked him up and he was surprisingly calm and self-contained. He didn’t quiver and he didn’t struggle to get out of my arms.

Portrait of a Dog as a Young Pup-min

Portrait of a Dog as a Young Pup.

Over the next few days he got to know the other two dogs in the household, a part-papillon and a chihuahua. The results were mixed.

Puppy dog tests his paw in a puddle by our RV-min

Puppy discovers his reflection in a puddle.

Slipper and puppy dog-min

Peek-a-boo!

The little pup was so cute, Mark and I couldn’t stop taking pics of him. Friends and family who are accustomed to receiving emails from us of pretty landscapes started getting inundated with photos of this puppy!

Puppy dog trots on the hiking trail-min

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He had been given a variety of names, but none of them had stuck.

The Humane Society had called him Perry, and he had arrived on Christmas Eve with two possible names, Miller and Bailey. The votes were evenly split between the two.

Our friend Bob who is a wiz with with Photoshop put the pup on the cover of a book that he thought the dog could write if he spent some time traveling with us. After seeing all the shots of him jumping in the grass he had anointed him Skippy.

Book about puppy Skippy-min

It would be a bestseller.

We were enchanted with the puppy. He was as sweet as could be. As I ticked down my list of reasons I didn’t like dogs — they bark, they jump on you, they drool all over, they lick you incessantly, they pant, they shed, they chew things, they smell yucky — I realized he didn’t have any of those traits.

He was silent and observant. He was extremely calm. In fact, he was eerily catlike. He liked to sit like a cat and he even rubbed his paws on his face like a cat.

He also had a very cute floppy ear.

Puppy dog portrait with floppy ear-min

Even the vet loved his floppy ear.

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He was so quiet he would go for several days without barking. He wouldn’t make much of a watch dog like that, but he looked good posing as one.

Puppy dog on the doormat-min

The Watchdog.

One day we took a family trip to Cave Creek, north of Phoenix. We had a ball playing around with the western themed photo cutouts around town.

Puppy dog in Cave Creek Arizona-min

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The Humane Society had said the pup was an Australian Shepherd, and we thought maybe there was some short haired Border Collie in him too. The vet thought there might be some terrier. Whatever his heritage, he likes to herd the people around him, and he sure knows how to sprint.

Puppy dog plays with ball in backyard-min

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Running puppy dog with ball-min

This little guy can sprint!

He had just a little tiny battery, though, and after a few wild sprints he was done. You could throw the ball or his rope toy all you wanted and he would just lie there and watch.

Puppy dog on his back-min

All done running.

Sometimes he was such an adorable little angel Mark would call him Puppy Chow.

Our friend Bob was loving our pics and he put him on the cover of a magazine too.

Puppy Chow Dog's Life Magazine Cover

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We were visiting with a family whose dad is a city cop, and one day he took a big group of us — kids and adults — to see the precinct police station.

There were three dogs and ten people along for the trip, and while we were all busy staring at the interrogation room and learning a little about police life in a big city, the pup suddenly felt Nature’s call.

Unbeknownst to any of us, he sneaked off to a corner to take care of business.

RV life and puppy dog-min

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We left in high spirits, but a few hours later our friend got a call from the police chief. “One of the dogs you brought in today left something behind!” The other two dogs had been on leashes, so all fingers pointed at the puppy.

Oh dear. Now our little buddy was a Wanted Pup.

Puppy Dog Wanted Poster-min

Dead or alive!

We took a few hikes on the beautiful trails around Phoenix, and the puppy was amazing. He trotted right along and greeted everyone on the trail with a happy wagging tail and a friendly sniff.

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He’s a great little hiker!

Mark has been a dog lover all his life, and I’ve often heard tales of his beautiful Afghan Hound, Hoover, that he’d raised with his kids.

As a little boy, though, he had begged his parents for a dog, preferably a real boy’s dog like Lassie. His mom wouldn’t dream of it, but finally she relented and the family got a dog — a French Poodle. This was great for his sisters, but it wasn’t the dog Mark had dreamed of playing with.

As he hugged the little pup one day, he said to me, “If only this dog had come into my life 50 years ago!”

Since three dogs was a bit of a crowd in the puppy’s new household, Mark offered that the pup could stay with us in our rig for a few nights while we were there.

Frankly, I think he just wanted more snuggle time with the pup!

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An extra special welcome home.

The puppy was supposed to be returned to the family that weekend, but the few nights with us stretched into a week, and then to two weeks. By then the kids were back in school and it was time for us to leave the city and start traveling again.

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We had joked that the dog should be called “Loaner,” because he was supposed to be on loan. But we began to call our little buddy “Buddy.”

He looked very cute when he sat in my chair in the trailer.

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It was winter and our trailer was often very chilly in the morning. Sometimes when he yawned first thing in the morning we could see his breath. Not surprisingly, he liked to snuggle up.

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Puppy dog in a blanket in an RV-min

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Somehow he would end up in bed with us too. I mean, who can resist?!

Puppy dog in bed in an RV-min

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Another thing that amazed me about Buddy was that not only did he never bark or jump up on people or drool, but he never shed his fur. We could pet him and bathe him and comb out his fur, and not one hair would come off.

“He’s the ideal dog!” I would say to Mark as I wondered to myself what I meant by that.

He adapted extremely well to RV life on a test run to a camping area at Lake Pleasant. There was a lot for a young puppy to see at the lake.

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“What’s out there?”

He’d sit on the water’s edge and watch the water lap the shore.

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Whenever he went to down to the water the ducks would swim over to him and check him out.

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As we fell head over heels in love with this little puppy, we thought long and hard about how a dog would impact our lives.

The grandkids were fine with Buddy becoming a traveling dog, and they encouraged us to keep him because they felt he’d be happiest with us out camping and hiking.

But it’s a huge commitment to set aside 15 years of your life to care for an animal. We’d both done that years ago and we had both sworn off of pets for good.

For the last ten years we’ve been blessed to live our lives focused entirely on ticking things off our lifelong bucket list. But owning a dog wasn’t even on the list!

Needless to say, we had many long conversations and more than a few sleepless nights. And we read every essay on the “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan’s website and downloaded every video of his that we could find.

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In no time we realized Buddy had been with us for a month!

As time passed we noticed he had grown up quite a bit. His floppy ear didn’t flop over any more and he started losing his baby teeth. We found seven of his baby teeth in four days! And he grew an inch or two in each direction and gained a few pounds.

But he was still an angel.

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Perhaps the coolest thing was taking him out on the hiking trails. He loved it and we loved having him along.

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He’s a happy pooch on the trail.

When we got out into the desert near Quartzsite, Buddy really came into his own and sealed his fate in our lives and our hearts.

We took him through the massively crowded Quartzsite RV show where his view was a sea of shoes and legs and knees — with the occasional German Shepherd’s or pitbull’s nose thrown in — and he was as calm and cool as a cucumber.

Even better, we took him off his leash whenever we were at our campsite, and he stuck close by, hanging out on the patio mat with his chew sticks and rubber ball and patiently waiting to be let in or let out like a cat. And, like a cat, sometimes he’d go out only to come right back in again.

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Buddy may be part Aussie, but he’s also part cat.

Who knows how this will all turn out, but sometimes life takes funny twists and turns. And if we’ve learned anything in our time on this planet so far, it’s that the biggest blessings in life come to us of their own accord, unbidden and unexpected, moved by a hand greater than our own.

RV boondocking in the Arizona desert camping

Our little buggy now has a pup inside!

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Cold Weather RVing – Brrr… (or Ahhhh?!)

RVing is most fun as a warm weather activity, but for those of us who live in these rolling boxes full-time, cold weather is sometimes an integral part of the RV lifestyle too.

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“Hey Sweetie, was there SNOW in the forecast??!

We’ve been caught out in the cold many times, and we’ve been surprised to find ourselves camping in unexpected snowstorms a few times too. We love these snowy opportunities to take photos of winter wonderlands, and my photo of our rig in a Colorado Rocky Mountains snowstorm appeared on the cover of the November/December 2017 Escapees RV Club Magazine.

RVing in Winter Escapees RV Club Magazine Cover-min

Escapees Magazine Cover, Nov/Dec 2017
Photo by: Emily Fagan

Brrr…! Looking at that photo I remember just how chilled we were when Mark made that snowman. We shivered for a few days at 10,000′, surrounded by snow and ice. But the beautiful fall foliage that Jack Frost had covered in lace made up for it!

We have published several blog posts that offer tips for RVers who plan to camp in cold places for a while:

While we shoveled snow off our solar panels and struggled with overnight temps in the teens during that Colorado snow storm (indoor temps that weren’t much better!), we learned a few more things about how to boondock in a snow storm when overnight temps drop into the teens, and we wrote them up in another wintry blog post:

We ended up in a snow storm again this past spring when we were camped in Los Alamos National Forest in New Mexico and the white stuff began to fall.

View out the back of an RV fifth wheel during snowstorm-min

In New Mexico we looked out our back window and saw snow quickly piling up on our bikes!

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It’s snowing!

This gave us a few more insights into camping in snowy weather, and we put together an article for Escapees Magazine with various tips we’ve found useful for camping in the cold. It was published in the January/February 2018 issue of Escapees Magazine.

Winter RVing Tips article in Escapees RV Club Magazine-min

“Camping in the Cold” in Escapees Magazine Jan/Feb, 2018
Text by: Emily Fagan. Photos by: Mark and Emily Fagan

Although it sounds silly, perhaps the biggest tip is simply to avoid places where temperatures might drop below freezing and where it might snow. In the wintertime this means heading south (Florida, California and Arizona are good and generally snow-free choices), and in the shoulder seasons it means staying away from far northern latitudes and high mountains.

RV in snow and RVing in cold weather-min

Well, we won’t be wearing shorts today!

As I write this in January, 2018, we’ve had several weeks of temps in the mid to high 70s in the Arizona deserts, hardly winter weather at all! Yet much of the rest of the country has been bitterly cold.

Of course, it’s impossible to know ahead of time whether the southwest or Florida will be warmer. It seems that almost every winter one or the other is blissfully summery while the other is steeped in frigid misery, so it’s not that easy to choose an itinerary that guarantees winter warmth. When you find yourself in a blizzard, you just have to enjoy it. For us, as soon as it starts snowing, we run outside to play and take photos!

Photography fun in a snowstorm and an RV-min

The snow was coming down hard in New Mexico last spring!

Camera in a spring snowstorm with fifth wheel RV-min

We had to wipe down our cameras every minute or so!

Another good idea is to take advantage of the snow and chill your beer while you play. Whenever we are in New Mexico we hunt down Alien Ale wherever we can find it, and during our stay in snowy Los Alamos National Forest we cooled down a few beers in the snow in the bed of our truck!

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Our Alien Ales got nicely chilled in the snow.

Once inside the RV, all that wet, snowy and sometimes muddy clothing has to go somewhere to dry. We hang ours in the shower on a spring loaded curtain rod where it can drip freely.

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Wet, wet, wet!

But aside from romping in the snow, drinking ice cold beer, and warming up next to our vent-free propane heater when we come inside, it is dealing with cold nights that is the biggest challenge. For RVers that get hookups, there are many options for heating an RV with unlimited electrical power. But for those who boondock all the time and live on solar power like we do, electrical power must be conserved, especially if the daytime skies are overcast.

Our vent-free propane heater is a blessing during the day because it throws off incredible warmth without using any electricity. However, we don’t run it overnight, and our factory installed RV furnace is so loud it tends to wake us up every time it turns on, which can be every half hour when temps dip into the teens.

Lots of blankets and a good quality heavy down blanket solves the problem under the sheets, and in the morning a combination of our vent-free propane heater and RV furnace bring the indoor temp up 20 degrees higher within a half an hour.

Here are pics of our clock thermometer during our worst case ever of early morning cold temps in our buggy. This happened earlier this year at Sand Hollow State Park in Utah in October:

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When we first opened our eyes one morning at Utah’s Sand Hollow State Park, the temp was 30.6 degrees in the rig (lower right)!

Cold Camping RV temperature 52 degrees inside-min

36 minutes later the rig had warmed up to 52 degrees…NOW we could get out of bed!
(or maybe we slept in another 20 minutes while the rig warmed up some more!)

Escapees RV Club’s magazine offers loads of wonderful tips and insights every other month, and we’ve been publishing articles in its pages for ten years now. One of the best things about this unique RV magazine is that most of the articles are written by club members who are sharing tips that they have learned in their own RV travels.

From beginning RVers learning the ropes to seasoned RVers sharing things they’ve learned over decades of involvement in the lifestyle, real life experiences are at the heart of each article.

For RVers that have a dream of becoming a published writer, joining Escapees and then submitting a tip or two to the magazine is a wonderful way to see your work in print. Escapees Magazine also features a member photo section in each issue with a theme, and we’ve had a ball prowling through our old photos to find fun images that fit the theme of the month.

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Solar panels don’t work too well when they’re buried under snow!

Escapees RV Club is much more than just a magazine, however, and we have been astonished over our years of membership to see how doggedly the club leadership stays on top of the changing times, evolving the Club’s offerings to ensure an ever increasing value for all its members.

There are several different kinds of RV parks under the Escapees umbrella offering short and long term rentals as well as ownership. Many other affiliate parks discount their fees as much as 50% to SKPs (Escapees members). Escapees members can also join the Days End Directory which has the biggest database of boondocking locations out there.

Since the concept of boondocking is highly valued by Escapees RV Club, it is possible to dry camp at any of the Escapees parks very inexpensively. When we visited Escapees headquarters at Rainbow’s End in Livingston, Texas (near Houston) a few years back, we stayed in Dry Camp A for just $5 a night.

Classic Texas deluge rainstorms turned Dry Camp A into Wet Camp A very quickly, but we just ducked inside to tour the phenomenal mail sorting facility for Escapees’ mail forwarding clients. This facility is so large it employs 20 people full-time and a semi-tractor trailer full of mail pulls up everyday. It even has its own zip code!

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That’s better, clear of snow, but prolonged cloudy skies will make the solar panels relatively ineffective.
We have many pages of articles about solar power here.

Escapees co-founders Kay and Joe Peterson were a very unusual couple who jumped into the full-time RV lifestyle when they were in their early 40s. Working as a licensed traveling “tramp” electrician, Joe found work all over America. They and their younger kids lived in both Airstream and Avion travel trailers, and at one point they even put the kids in their own suite in a truck camper in the bed of their truck! (Read more about Kay Peterson’s remarkable life here).

Neither Kay nor Joe is with us any longer, but in recent years Escapees has reached out to younger RVers with their Xscapers program, and they have expanded their offerings for all RVers in many ways. Not only are there multi-day RV Bootcamp programs where new RVers can attend seminars and learn from seasoned pros, but they now have a Webinar series and an RVers Online University full of fabulous courses on every imagineable RVing topic.

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We sure didn’t expect snow, but what fun it was!

Escapees doesn’t stop at just RVing. They also offer many intriguing organized outings. Escapade is a big rally that brings together Escapees friends, both old and new. Another type of organized travel adventure, SKP Hops, takes members by RV, cruise ship and/or plane to destinations in all corners of the world.

Escapees is also very active in advocacy work for all RVers, whether they are members or not, making sure that our concerns and needs are supported at both the state and federal level.

Escapees also addresses issues facing RVers that no other organization tackles. From offering an assisted living facility at Rainbow’s End so RVers can remain in their rigs after they hang up their keys, to offering information about choosing a domicile state and acquiring health insurance, to doing a very thorough weighing of your RV (wheel by wheel) in a program called Smartweigh, the folks at Escapees are extremely creative in providing information and support for RVers of all shapes and sizes, ages and interests.

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What to do with the snow on the roof? Mark built a snowman…

We have been Escapees members since 2008, and we highly recommend it to everyone who owns (or dreams of owning) an RV. You can join by calling 888-757-2582 or clicking the link below. If you mention our blog, Roads Less Traveled, when you sign up, the good folks at Escapees will put a little something in our tip jar, a win-win-win for you, Escapees and us!

Join Escapees RV Club

The cost is $39.95 per year and includes the magazine subscription, but if you think you’re going to be enjoying the RV lifestyle for a while, you might consider a Lifetime membership which will pay for itself in less than 6 years.

Fifth wheel RV in snow and woods of New Mexico-min

Winter RV Wonderland.

To read our Escapees Magazine article about cold weather camping, visit the following link:

Stay Cozy and Warm while Camping in the Cold – Our article in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of Escapees

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Snow, Hail and Ice in our Travels – Where Jack Frost Has Come to Visit Us!

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More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
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2017 Travels – RVing the West and Flying to Thailand & Cambodia

2017 was filled with incredible travel adventures for us, from exploring the backroads of eastern Wyoming and the Black Hills of South Dakota in our RV to flying overseas to Southeast Asia and Hawaii. Here’s a quick look back with links to every travel story we published on this blog in 2017!

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Before the year had even gotten out of the starting gate, we put our trailer in storage in Arizona and flew to Bangkok, Thailand, for a month of extraordinary and eye opening experiences (all our SE Asia adventures can be found here).

Boat on Chao Phraya River Bangkok Thailand copy-min

2017 began with us putting the RV in storage and flying to Thailand and Cambodia for a month!

Ministry of Defence Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand copy-min

We had never been to Southeast Asia before — what an adventure!

Not only was the architecture dramatically different than anything we’d seen before, the language itself was new to our ears and eyes. It was utterly exotic, and beautiful (and incomprehensible) in written form.

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The Thai language not only sounded exotic, it looked exotic too!

We found it nearly impossible to know what to order on a menu, but when we took a boat ride through a floating market, most of the fruits and vegetables were familiar even though the method of selling them was like nothing we’d seen before!

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A floating market on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, was a fascinating excursion.

We took a train ride to Kanchanaburi and hiked in caves where shrines to Buddha adorned the entrances.

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Shrines to Buddha — and to the recently deceased king — were everywhere, including in entrances to caves!

And we saw young monks walking along the tracks of the Death Railway where we learned of the atrocities that took place during WWII along the River Kwai.

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Monks walk the train tracks at the somber Death Railway.

In the heart of Thailand at Cheow Lan Lake we stayed in a floating raft house at the base of towering limestone cliffs. The hosts took us on longtail boat tours around the lake in the early morning mist and after dark under the stars.

Longtail boat Greenery Panvaree Resort Chiewlarn Lake Cheow Lan Lake Khao Sok National Park Thailand copy-min

One of many highlights was taking longtail boat rides and staying in a floating raft house on Cheow Lan Lake.

We also visited two stunning and very exotic waterfalls, one in Erawan National Park and another in Sri Nakarin Dam National Park.

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Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall in Sri Nakarin Dam National Park, Kanchanaburi Thailand
(That’s a mouthful!)

At the south end of Thailand we stayed on the beach in Ko Lanta and snorkeled reefs that were teeming with unusual and colorful sea life, from giant purple clams to huge prickly blue starfish to Nemo’s cousins living among the sea anenome.

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We relaxed on the beach on the Thai island of Ko Lanta.

Purple Sea Star Dive & Relax Snorkeling Tour of Ko Rok in Ko Lanta Thailand copy-min

Snorkeling the reefs we saw giant purple clams, spiky blue starfish and we found both Nemo and Dora too.

We decided to visit Thailand on the urging and invitation of one of our blog readers, and when we finally decided to fly halfway around the world to visit Southeast Asia, he wrote to us with great passion about the ancient Khmer ruins in Angkor Wat next to the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Are we ever glad that he took the time to write such a colorful description of the area and suggest we visit there too. Thank you, Dave!

Cambodia touched our us deeply and has found a place in our hearts forever.

Angkor Thom gate at Angkor Wat Cambodia travel-min

The massive, vast and expansive ancient Khmer ruins in Cambodia were awe-inspiring

Whereas Thailand felt like an Asian version of Mexico — a Second World country coming into its own with lots of bustling and profitable industry and a fairly sophisticated tourist infrastructure — next door Cambodia was a world apart.

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We found that Thailand was very similar to Mexico in many ways, but Cambodia was unlike anything we had ever experienced before.

There was an innocence and joy in everyone we met that surprised us.

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Cambodian schoolkids swing on the vines on their way home from school.

The many miles wide sprawl of endless ancient Khmer temple ruins around Angkor Wat were breathtaking, both for their mystery and because of their toppled condition. The stories we heard of the roles the ruins and their riches played in the conflicts during the latter quarter of the last century were mind boggling.

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The ancient Khmer ruins hold the mysteries of an ancient and sophisticated world.

We even found one temple ruin that was reminiscent of the Mayan step pyramids an ocean away in southern Mexico. The ruins dated from about the same time period too.

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One ancient Khmer ruin is shaped like the step pyramids of Meso-America.

We spent several days crawling all over these fascinating ruins, many of which are an hour’s drive from the central complex.

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This face is dozens of feet tall.

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Guards at the gate of an Angkor Wat temple palace.

The jungle is a living being, though, and it has spread its roots across many of the temple ruins, often covering them up completely.

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The jungle engulfs the ancient Khmer ruins!

We had noticed that modern Cambodian writing and Thai writing are nothing like each other, but we were astonished when our Cambodian guide pointed out the many inscriptions carved on the arches and lintels of the Angkor Wat temple ruins and revealed that he couldn’t read them at all either!

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Ancient Khmer inscriptions carved into the temple door jams and lintels.
The language has roots in Sanskrit.

However, aside from the mysteries of the ancients, it was the tales we were told of recent Cambodian history that left us reeling.

We didn’t know anything about Cambodia before we got there, and our jaws hung open as we heard horrifying stories first-hand from our guides and drivers about what they, their parents and their families had lived through during the same years that Mark and I had been young adults getting our lives started in a country where basic freedoms and extraordinary abundance are easily and often taken for granted.

A day spent visiting a Cambodian family in their home left a moving and long lasting impression on both of us.

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We enjoyed a priceless day trip to the home of a Cambodian family where the kids, cousins and friends got a kick out of hamming it up and photo-bombing each other for our cameras.

When we returned to America we stayed around Arizona for a while in our buggy, relaxing in the beautiful Sonoran desert along its waterways and camping amid the rock art petroglyphs of Gila Bend.

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Water ripples in our wake in the Sonoran Desert.

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Saguaro cactus.

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Blandly colored cactus have the most brilliantly colorful flowers each spring.

When family members said they were going to Hawaii in a few weeks, we couldn’t pass up the special and very rare opportunity for a reunion with loved ones in the tropics, so we found ourselves at the airport once again!

Honolulu Hawaii travel adventure-min

At the last second we parked our trailer and flew to Hawaii for a fabulous week with family in the tropics.

Back in our trailer “for good” this time, we traveled through Winslow and Holbrook, Arizona, and got our kicks on Route 66.

Winslow Arizona Route 66 RV trip-min

Winslow and Holbrook Arizona are highlights on Route 66.

We did a few hikes in Petrified Forest National Park, scrambling around the magical Jasper Forest and hiking between the vivid white and lavender striped mounds of Blue Mesa Trail.

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Stone “logs” at the magical Jasper Forest at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

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Blue Mesa Trail at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

At Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona we peered over the edges of the sheer walls to the green valley below and watched a brilliant sunset erupt over Spider Rock.

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Spider Rock at sunset in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona.

Continuing east and north, we stopped by Bisti Badlands in New Mexico where another glorious sunset showed off the famous alien eggs at our feet.

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Pink skies above the alien eggs at Bisti Badlands, New Mexico.

We were now in Indian pueblo country and we explored both the Aztec National Monument ruins, which are a massive ancient collection of adjoining rooms, and the ruins at Bandelier National Monument, an ancient cliff dwelling community built into natural rock holes.

Aztec National Monument Arizona RV trip-min

The Kiva at the ancient Indian ruins of Aztec National Monument in New Mexico.

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Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico has wonderful ladders for visitors to climb up and see the cliff dwellings.

Visiting nearby Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico, we hiked through a slot canyon and then up a steep climb to the sky where rock formations are lined up like a series of tents.

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Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico — the slot canyon.

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Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico — the tents.

The new Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico had recently opened to visitors, and while we were camped nearby we found ourselves in a spring blizzard. But we descended from the 10,000′ altitude to find warmth again outside Great Sand Dunes National Park.

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Snow on spring flowers near Los Alamos, New Mexico.

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The heavens open up near Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.

The end of May marked our 10th year of traveling full-time, and in celebration we published two posts giving an overview of all we’ve seen and done: Part 1 and Part 2. What an unbelievable decade it has been!

We found plenty of snow when we climbed back up into Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, however, and we joined our friends on a Porsche 356 rally where we tucked ourselves into the backs of cute bathtub Porshe roadster convertibles and took photos of the beautiful snowy peaks!

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What a way to see the Colorado Rocky Mountains — in a Porsche roadster rally!

We made our way to the Black Hills of South Dakota where we explored the beautiful town of Custer and nearby Custer State Park. The Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park is home to all kinds of critters, and we saw prairie dogs, pronghorn antelope and buffalo at close range.

Prairie Dogs in Custer State Park on a South Dakota RV trip-min

Custer State Park has several big prairie dog communities.

A herd of wild burros entertains visitors at Custer State Park, and they have been fed by tourists for so many years and have become so tame that they now think nothing of poking their heads inside the car window to see what kinds of snacks you brought for them!

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A wild burro peers in a car window at Custer State Park in South Dakota.

Wild burro at Custer State Park South Dakota on an RV trip-min

Some of the wild burros had adorable babies.
This one leaned against me and almost fell asleep!

We had ventured to South Dakota’s Custer State Park to meet up with professional wildlife photographer Steve Perry, and our cameras clicked animal images non-stop for a few days.

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Pronghorn antelope.

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A buffalo walks towards us.

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A western tanager in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Songbird in South Dakota.

A meadowlarks sings his heart out.

This part of the world is distant enough from big cities that the Milky Way is easily visible, and we enjoyed some night photography in Custer, South Dakota, too.

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The Milky Way reflects in still water near Custer, South Dakota.

Custer, South Dakota, was also an ideal place to enjoy an old fashioned small town 4th of July celebration, complete with a parade and fireworks.

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Fireworks were a highlight of the small town 4th of July celebration in Custer, South Dakota.

We then made our way to Buffalo, Wyoming, and the Big Horn Mountains where we bumped into two weekend-long celebrations, the first one honoring the Longmire TV series and the second one honoring the Basque sheepherding heritage of many of the families in the area.

Buffalo Wyoming RV trip-min

Buffalo, Wyoming, is a wonderful small town near the Big Horn Mountains.

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Horseback riders enjoy a trail ride in Wyoming’s BIg Horn mountains.

Although we had visited the western side of Wyoming (home of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks) several times in the past, this was our first trip to the eastern half of the state, and we loved the quiet towns and less touristy feeling of the area.

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Moonrise in Wyoming.

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Spotting a deer is always special, but having a group stop and stare at us was truly fabulous!

The dark night skies drew us outside in the wee hours of the morning for more shots of the Milky Way.

Milky Way at midnight in Wyoming-min

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Looping back through South Dakota’s Black Hills, we stopped in at the famous Sturgis Bike Week motorcycle rally and explored Spearfish Canyon and its lovely waterfall.

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The Sturgis Bike Week motorcycle rally is an over-the-top testosterone fest that was a blast to see.

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Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

After a pit stop at Wall Drug, South Dakota, the once unknown small town drug store that now boasts billboard advertising worldwide, we visited Badlands National Park where we saw lots of big horn sheep. We were very close to the path of the total solar eclipse that crossed the country in August, and we got a kick out of doing time-lapse videos as the sky darkened and lightened again.

Wall Drug billboard on South Dakota RV trip-min

The funny Wall Drug billboards can now be found far from Wall, South Dakota, and the coffee really is 5 cents!

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Big horn sheep in Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Big horn sheep at dusk Badlands National Park South Dakota RV trip-min

A big horn sheep at sunset.

Making a beeline westward, we took a brief time-out to climb up on the Continental Divide in Colorado and then settled into Las Vegas, Nevada, where we saw the most amazing nighttime light show when Mother Nature filled the sky with lightning bolts.

Continental Divide near Buena Vista Colorado-min

Hiking the Continental Divide in Colorado.

Lightning in Las Vegas Nevada-min

Las Vegas is known for big shows, and Mother Nature’s lightning show during our stay was just stunning.

While Mark attended the Interbike bicycle trade show in Las Vegas, I hopped on a plane to visit my mother in Paris. From the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame to ballet and opera performances galore, she took me on a memorable tour of the City of Light.

Eiffel Tower in Paris France-min

The Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Notre Dame Paris France travel-min

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

We took a quick train ride beyond the Paris city limits to spend a day exploring the medieval town of Moret sur Loing. The charming architecture resembled a fairy tale, and I was astonished to read a tourist sign outlining the town’s history and see the first date on the sign was from the year 1045!

Moret Sur Loing medieval castle Paris France travel-min

Fairytale medieval buildings in the village of Moret-sur-Loing just outside of Paris, France.

Back in our buggy in the southwest, we resumed our travels with excursions around the town of Kanab, Utah, first on the scenic road leading to Zion National Park and then to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

Starburst and red rocks in Zion National Park Utah-min

Zion National Park Utah scenery along the road into the Park…!

Coral Pink Sand Dunes RV trip-min

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah

We were blessed with another fabulous wildlife sighting when a roadrunner posed for us within just a few feet, and we had a fun a nighttime adventure in an old movie set where the ghosts and goblins roamed free at Halloween.

Roadrunner in Utah-min

A roadrunner let us take lots of close-up shots in Utah.

Johnson Canyon movie set near Kanab Utah-min

Johnson Canyon movie set near Kanab, Utah.

Just a short distance west of there, Sand Hollow State Park gave us a beautiful waterfront adventure as we camped on the beach enjoying mountain views and glorious sunrises and moonrises.

Lake view Sand Hollow State Park RV camping-min

Sand Hollow State Park reservoir and mountain views.

Full moon at sunset Sand Hollow State Park Utah RV trip-min

A full moon rises at Sand Hollow in Utah.

A side-by-side rally capped off our stay in the orange sand dunes, and then we took a spectacular scenic drive down the west side of Lake Mead in Nevada.

Side-by-side rally at Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

We tried out lots of side-by-side buggies at a rally.

Lake Mead scenic drive Nevada RV trip-min

A little traveled road west of Lake Mead offered some wonderful scenery.

Back in Arizona we found ourselves by water once again as we hiked along the Salt River, one of Arizona’s waterways that brings moisture and life to the Sonoran Desert. We attended a “ranch sorting” cowboy and horsemanship competition in Phoenix to cap off our year of travel adventures during the Christmas week.

Spring flowers Roosevelt Lake RV camping Arizona-min

Central Arizona’s Sonoran Desert boasts many lovely waterways.

Saguaro cactus in Arizona sunset-min

Arizona’s iconic saguaro cactus at sunset.

2017 was an incredible year that brought us endless beautiful photo ops and lots of new and precious life experiences. Here’s hoping for lots more exciting adventures in 2018!!

Fifth wheel RV under the Milky Way-min

Goodbye 2017 — Thanks for the great memories!!

Happy New Year and Happy Travels to all!!

In 2017 we also published several blog articles of RV lifestyle and tech tips. In addition, we organized all of this site’s pages of RV tips into easy to navigate indexes (accessible from the menu as well):

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More summaries of our travels through the years:

An Overview of Our First 10 Years of Full-time Travel + Reflections after 9 Years!

Summaries of Each Year on the Road - All of our travel posts in chronological order:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff and check out our GEAR STORE!!

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2017 Travel Post Recap in chronological order:

RV Lifestyle Tips: RVing Costs, Repairs, Living Off the Grid, Workamping & More!

This page contains links to all the articles we’ve written about the RV lifestyle, from what it costs to live in an RV to finding jobs, working and work camping on the road, to living off the grid and boondocking in an RV, to dealing with crises and major repairs while traveling, to the logistics and planning necessary to become a full-time RVer, to interviews with long-term full-time travelers we’ve met along the way, to choosing an RV, to describing what it’s like to RV full-time, to our discovery of what it actually means — and what it really takes — to “live the dream.”

RV Lifestyle Tips - Costs, Workamping, RV Living, Boondocking, RV Repairs

From the costs of RVing to handling major repairs on the road, to living off the grid, to making money, to discovering what it really means to “live the dream,” all of our RV lifestyle tips articles are here on this page.

You can find this page again under “RVing Lifestyle” in the menu.
Companion index pages are: RV Tech Tips: Upgrades & Maintenance and Product Reviews
.

MONEY and FINANCES in the RV LIFESTYLE

GOING FULL-TIME

RV LIFESTYLE TIPS and ANECDOTES

REPAIRS and CRISES ON THE ROAD

BOONDOCKING and LIVING OFF THE GRID in an RV

LIVING the DREAM

JOBS and WORKAMPING in the RV LIFESTYLE

UNUSUAL FULL-TIME TRAVELERS WE HAVE MET

  • Kay Peterson – Full-time RV Pioneer and Founder of Escapees RV Club – What an inspiration!
  • Phil and Ann Botnick – Reliving their 30 years as full-time RVers reveals not only personal growth and but immense creativity
  • Bernice Ende – A Lady Long Rider who has traveled on horseback for 12 years plus a pair of long distance cyclists
  • Around the World in an RV – A French family and German couple travel the world in their RVs

CHOOSING AN RV and INTERESTING RVs WE’VE SEEN

RV FACTORY TOURS

REFLECTIONS ON OUR LIVES as FULL-TIME TRAVELERS

We’ve written about our impressions of the full-time RV and cruising lifestyles at various stages during our adventure since we started this crazy life in back in 2007. Here they are:

PUBLIC LAND

Spending most of our nights camping on America’s beautiful public land, we have become much more aware of its precious nature and the complexities involved in satisfying all the stakeholders who have an agenda for how it is best used and managed.

MORE GOODIES

Are these articles helpful to you? Please help us keep our site going by dropping a little something in the “Donate” button below or by clicking this link before shopping online.

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Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
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50 RV Gift Ideas for Your Beloved RVer (or RV!)

Is there a special RVer in your life who’d appreciate a tool or an appliance or other RV gift for your life on the road — perhaps a memento of your RVing adventures together? Or do you have an RV you love that deserves a little holiday gift wrapped with a bow?

We have our own list of “must have” RV goodies, and we’ve seen some super cute RV related gifts in our travels, and this inspired me to do a little digging online to see if there might be more. Oh my, if you look hard enough there’s a treasure trove out there!

I had a blast “window shopping” — here’s a list of a few things I found.

If something appeals to you, click on the image or the link in the text above it to find out all the details.

For starters, does your beloved RV welcome you home with a cute little mat by the door? Here’s a wonderful RV welcome mat:

Home is where the RV welcome mat is-min

Yes, indeed!

And another fun one:

Just Another Day in Paradise RV Welcome Mat

Welcome home!!

If you’d rather wipe your feet on a super absorbent doormat (we have one), then maybe a little welcome sign just inside the RV door would make your guests feel at home:

Welcome to our Rolling Estate-min

A warm welcome to hang on the wall.

Ya gotta hang your keys up somewhere, and what better place for the motorhome and car keys than on a cute motorhome key hook? If your beloved RV is a trailer and not a motorhome, there’s a fun trailer keyhook for you too:

Class C RV key hooks-min

Key hooks for the motorhome and the toad too.

Travel trailer key hooks for an RV-min

Key hooks for the truck and trailer.

One nice way to dress up the RV galley is to hang up pretty hand towels. We saw these hand towels when we visited the La Posada Hotel gift shop in Winslow Arizona and just loved them.

RV and retro travel trailer hand towels-min

Decorative hand towels.

If you want to introduce yourself to your neighbors and give your RV patio a little flair, how about a personalized flag out front?

Always at home personalized flag-min

A personalized flag to make introductions easy.

Here’s another slightly different personalized flag:

Personalized Happy Camper Flag-min

“Happy Camper” personalized flag.

Both can be hung on a simple garden flag pole.

If you’re a bit shy about putting your name out in front of your rig, maybe just let the neighbors know where the party is with this “It’s 5:00 Somewhere” flag!

It's 5 o'clock somewhere garden flag-min

Let the neighbors know where the party is!

Speaking of parties, if yours tend to involve a little wine, then you might find a set of picnic wine glass and bottle holders to be just the thing. Simply shove them in the ground near your camp chairs and your wine will be safe from tipping over.

picnic stix wine glass and bottle holders-min

No spills by the campfire!

For some folks, the stems on wine glasses are a little cumbersome in the RVing life. If you want to go stemless, there are some very cute etched wine glasses made especially for those RVers who are wine drinkers with a camping problem or who are just happy campers:

stemless camping wine glass-min

Is this you — or someone you know??

Happy Camper stemless wine glass-min

Describes every RVer, for sure!

If the party gets a little wild and things go flying, then a set of shatterproof stemless wine glasses might be the answer.

Shatterproof stemless wine glasses for RV living and camping-min

Shatterproof wine glasses… not a bad idea in a rolling home!

For tamer parties inside your rig, a set of super cute vintage RV stone coasters is sure to get the conversation going.

Retro RV trailer coasters-min

Stone tile trailer coasters

There are also washable motorhome coasters made of foam (like a mousepad) topped with an inspiring quote:

Motorhome RV coasters-min

Motorhome coasters made of foam — “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost.”

If you’re serving munchies too, then you’ll definitely want to bring out the adorable RV cocktail napkins!

Happy camper cocktail napkins-min

Cocktail napkins your guests will absolutely love.

You can’t travel in an RV without camping chairs, and of course they come in all shapes, colors and sizes. But how about a camp chair with your RV’s name printed on the back rest or with your name there?! This isn’t a bad idea if you’re headed to a big gathering of RVers in the desert in Quartzsite where lots of folks have nearly identical chairs and the chairs often stay in a ring around the campfire for days on end!

personalized camping chair-min

Personalized camping chair — Your name or the rig’s name??

If you’re more into function than style, then perhaps a camping chair with pockets for your drink and reading material (printed or electronic) would be just the thing:

RV camping chair-min

Pockets for your drink and your book, magazine or tablet.

RVers frequently camp in places where you can’t have a campfire. So what could be better than bringing a portable campfire with you? This little guy runs on propane and has a nice flame.

Camco Portable Propane Campfire

A portable campfire that runs off of propane!

Guide to the National Parks-min

Dreaming of a big RV adventure? Here’s a Guide to the National Parks!

So far, we’ve been coming up with all kinds of great ideas for making that beloved RV a cozy home for living in and sharing with friends, but how about some ideas for where to travel?

Perhaps a loved one needs some travel inspiration — how about a Guide to the National Parks?

One of the best aspects of RVing is getting out and exploring the many Scenic Highways and Scenic Byways across America, whether in your RV or in your car or truck.

Most scenic drives in America-min

Inspiration: The Most Scenic Drives in America!

Here’s an intro to a few of the most scenic drives in America.

If you’d prefer to get away from the crowds and enjoy some of the less visited spots, how about some inspiration for where to go to get off the beaten path?!

Off the Beaten Path Travel-min

Leave the crowds behind and get off the beaten path!

Are you in the special category of “Soon To Be RVer?”

Is the Love of Your Life a little hesitant about this newfound dream of yours?

Perhaps you can win him/her over with the trick that pioneering RVer Kay Peterson used on her husband to inspire him to go RVing full-time.

Large scale road atlas-min

First step to travel adventure – an atlas!

One day, when she put the sandwich she made him in his lunch box, she wrapped it in a US road map!

A good quality road atlas can drop a broad hint and comes in very handy for planning and hitting the road.

Once you’ve been out having fun in your RV, whether you’ve been traveling for a week or for a year or more, you’ll want to keep a record of all your adventures.

I still cherish the journal I hand wrote (and hand decorated with glued-in photos) of our travels in our popup tent trailer.

Here’s a specially made camping journal with categories and prompts to remind you of all the things you’ll want to remember later:

Camping and RV journal-min

A Camping and RV Travel Journal.

Lots of people wear their hearts on their sleeve, and some go so far as to wear their passions on the fronts of their shirts! Here are a few fun t-shirts (available in men’s and women’s sizes and a rainbow of colors).

If telling the world you love the RVing lifestyle on the front of your shirt isn’t really your style, maybe curling up with some lounge pants decorated with vintage trailers would be more like it!!

Happy camper lounge pants-min

Happy camper vintage trailer lounge pants.

Getting back to those special memories that we all create on the road, one fun way to memorialize a particularly special travel moment is to frame a photo of it in a picture frame shaped like an RV. Whether your rolling home requires a motorhome picture frame or a trailer picture frame, there’s a cool one for you:

RV picture frame class C Motorhome-min

A picture frame for that memorable moment from your RV adventures.

RV travel trailer picture frame-min

The trailer version.

Okay, okay, enough of the cutesy RV decorated stuff. How about some practical things that will give your life on the road a little zing and isn’t something you’re likely to find at the local camping store?

First on our list of “must haves” in our RV lifestyle is a set of two-way radios. We use these radios to help us back up and park the trailer, to communicate when hiking in glorious remote locations, and when we get separated in Walmart too. No cell phone reception needed!

Midland 36-mile 50-channel two-way radios-min

We have had Midland 36-mile radios since we started in 2007 and wouldn’t RV without them.

Another “must have” in our lives is a great massage, and one super easy way to get one is with a good quality percussion massager. We’ve tried many brands over the years as we’ve recovered from various sports injuries, and this Brookstone massager is our hand-down favorite. There’s nothing like soothing those stiff muscles after a long drive!

Brookstone percussion massager-min

Kinked up from a long day of driving (or hiking)? Here’s our fix!

For anyone with a small RV, a top quality set of nesting pots and pans is a joy. We bought a set of Magma nesting pots and pans when we moved onto our sailboat years ago, and we still use them every day now in our trailer.

magma nesting cookware for RV travel-min

We bought these pots and pans for our boat and still use them every day.

magma nesting cookware for RV camping-min

The whole set fits into one pot!

Oh goodness, we’re back in the RV galley again, but there are so many cute things out there to dress it up a bit. How about a set of RV decorated dishes, each with a unique (and inviting) camping scene?!

Camping dishes with travel trailer RV designs-min

What a great dishware set for your travels!

There’s also a very cool serving bowl (with serving spoons)!

RV bowl and serving set with travel trailer design-min

A serving bowl (and serving spoons) to go with the dishes

Okay, let’s get back to the practical stuff that isn’t decorated with adorable vintage RVs. One “must have” in our RVing lives (and that we wish we’d had on our boat) is a 4000 lumen tactical flashlight. This thing is so bright it’s like holding a car headlight in your hand (check out my detailed review here).

Lumintop 4000 lumen tactical flashlight-min

For the flashlight junkie in the RV.

Mark is a flashlight junkie, so he has acquired two pocket flashlights made by the same company (reviewed here). He even got their tiny tool flashlight and their keychain flashlight! He loves them all.

Lumintop EDC25 pocket flashlight-min

Flashlight junkies can never have too many flashlights!

In the last year, Mark has switched all his battery operated goodies to using Energizer rechargeable batteries. Energizer brand has the highest amp-hour rating. Here’s an Energizer AA/AAA charging kit with 4 AA batteries and here are 4 AAA rechargeable batteries to go with it.

Nothing says “love” like power tools, and the two we use most are our cordless drill and cordless impact driver. We use the drill to raise and lower the stabilizer jacks on the back of our trailer (explained in this article), and Mark uses the impact drill every time he changes a tire on either the trailer or the truck. I’d like to say that doesn’t happen too often…but unfortunately he’s changed a lot of tires since we started RVing full-time!!

Rigid Cordless Drill and Impact Driver Kit-min

Cordless drill and impact driver set. We have this exact set and it gets a lot of use!

Of course, the way to measure the difficulty of any RV repair job is by how many beers it takes to complete. Whether it’s a one beer job or a two beer job (or, heaven forbid, more!), the job goes much better if the beer is cold right to the last drop. Mark LOVES his Yeti beer koozie and uses it every day!

Yeti beer koozie-min

For the beer drinker with a camping problem!
Cold to the last drop…

If you don’t need your stainless steel beer koozie to say “Yeti” on it, there are other brands that are much cheaper.

But Yeti is the name of the cooler game these days, and when we were camped with a bunch of ATV/UTV toy hauler folks recently, we were amazed to watch them all pack their side-by-side Polarises with Yeti soft-sided portable coolers before they headed out for a day on the trails.

Yeti portable cooler-min

We saw lots of these getting loaded on Polaris UTVs in a toy hauler crowd!

For those who have a smaller trailer and rely on a good quality cooler in the car or truck to supplement the small trailer fridge, the hard sided Yeti cooler is the top of the line.

Yeti cooler-min

We didn’t have a Yeti but we used our cooler a lot with our popup tent trailer.

Again, there are other cheaper brands.

One of my favorite parts of the RV lifestyle is kicking back with a leisurely morning cuppa joe. My mug (a birthday gift from Mark) says “I love you,” but a pair of “Life is better in a camper” mugs would be pretty cool!

RV coffee mugs with travel trailer-min

“Life is Better in a Camper” coffee mugs!

Retro trailers are all the rage, but there’s a coffee mug for motorhome lovers too.

RV coffee mug motorhome at night in woods-min

Motorhome camping scene on a coffee mug.

This mug is also available as part of a set of four unique RV coffee mugs.

RV coffee mugs set of 4-min

RVs in the wild.

If you’ve got kids or friends over at your campsite, and you’re looking for fun things to do, a party game might fill the bill. Corn Hole and Ring Toss are portable and easy to set up.

Corn Hole Game for RV camping-min

Something fun to do at the campsite besides sit around the campfire!

Ring Toss Camping Game-min

Ring toss game.

For families that get stuck indoors on a rainy day, a fun way for the kids to get some laughs and learn a little at the same time is to play the game Mad Libs. I saw this in a gift shop recently and remembered loving it as a kid, and I couldn’t resist buying it for my grandkids for Christmas (shhhh… don’t tell them!).

If they haven’t learned the difference between a noun and a verb at school yet (and lord knows what the schools are teaching these days), this game makes it fun and easy to learn!

RV gift Mad Libs game-min

Wondering if the kids/grandkids are learning anything in school? This is a fun (and funny) indoor rainy day word game.

For RVers who love birds (like me), we’ve seen some beautiful little wooden bird houses shaped like trailers. Here are two:

RV bird house antique travel trailer-min

For the RVer who doubles as a bird lover.

We love to hang a hummingbird feeder from our RV, and we have a special one that mounts on our window with a suction cup mount. It’s a blast to sit inside and watch the crazy antics of these tiny birds as they duke it out with each other at the feeder. For anyone who enjoys photography, this kind of feeder is a hoot (blog posts about our humming bird experiences here and here).

Hummingbird Feeder window suction cup mount-min

We hang a hummingbird feeder on our RV window with a suction cup mount.

Speaking of photography, November and December are the best time of the year to buy a camera, as the deals get sweeter and sweeter. If a fancy new DSLR camera is on your wish list, now is the time (and as far as we are concerned, Nikon is the brand). Here are options for Beginner (Nikon D3400), Intermediate (Nikon D7500), and Newest Top Dog (Nikon D850).

One of the very best deals right now is the Nikon D7200, an “intermediate” level camera. It’s been out a while, so it has come down in price, but it is the fifth the highest rated camera for landscape (dynamic range), rating below two pro Nikon cameras, a Hasselblad medium format camera and a Pentax (see here).

Nikon D3400 DSLR camera

November / December is the best time to buy a new camera.

And last of all, whether you’re going to celebrate Christmas in your RV living room or in the living room of a stickbuilt home, why not decorate your Christmas tree with a little RV love?! There are lots of RV Christmas ornaments available including this motorhome ornament and this trailer ornament.

Motorhome with Christmas Tree ornament-min

A motorhome Christmas tree ornament.

Travel trailer RV christmas ornament-min

A trailer Christmas tree ornament.

I know it’s early to think about the holidays, and I was a little shocked to pass the fully stocked Christmas shelves at the back of Walmart yesterday, but I’m sure these goodies would be appreciated by your beloved RV (and/or by your beloved RVer) any time of the year.

By the way, clicking on any one of these items and then buying whatever you need at Amazon helps us keep this site going.

How does this work? Simply click on any image or link on this website that goes to Amazon before you start shopping (or bookmark this link), and then no matter what you search for and put in your shopping cart or wish list immediately after that results in a small commission to us at no cost to you.

Thank you, and happy “window” shopping!!

For MORE RV Gifts, see our post: 101 Great RV Gift Ideas for RVers, Campers and Outdoor Lovers!

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What are the Most Important Features in a Full-time Fifth Wheel Trailer?!

What features are most important in a fifth wheel trailer you’ll be living in full-time? That’s a big and interesting question, and Trailer Life Magazine recently assigned me the very fun task of surveying the fifth wheels on the market today and selecting twelve models that would make a good home on the road.

The results of my review are featured as the cover story of the October 2017 edition of Trailer Life Magazine.

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017

Trailer Life Magazine, October, 2017. Article by Emily Fagan

As I mentioned in my blog post about what to look for in a full-time RV, whether it’s a trailer or a motorhome, choosing a rolling home is an incredibly personal decision. There is no ideal rig for all RVers. The most important thing is that you walk inside, look around, and say, “Ahhh, this is home!”

But you’ve also gotta look at the nuts and bolts underneath the rig, and that’s what this blog post is about.

Whatever fifth wheel you buy, there is no need to break the bank. Obviously, higher quality trailers cost a lot more than lower quality trailers do, but life on the road is a thrill no matter what kind of rig you live in, and if you can’t afford the top of the line, you’ll still have just as much fun as those who can.

Also, sometimes going with a used trailer, especially at the outset, beats buying new. There are lots of used fifth wheels of all ages for sale all over the country.

We have met a couple and a single fellow living full-time in older fifth wheel trailers that cost them less than $5,000. They were very happy with their rolling homes and were thrilled to have the freedom of a life on the road.

Likewise, we met a couple who had lived in a popup tent trailer for four years, a couple who had lived in a tiny half-ton pickup camper for two years and we met a young pair of mountain bikers who had just moved out of their tent home of the last 18 months and into a 17′ travel trailer a few weeks before we camped near them.

If you can’t afford the latest and greatest, it is still very possible to be a full-time RVer and live a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget!

However, my Trailer Life assignment was to look over the many brand new fifth wheels on the market, find twelve models that spoke to me, and highlight some of the things that I think are important when shopping for an RV that will be lived in 24/7/365.

You can read the article here: Full-timing Fifth Wheel Trailers in Trailer Life Magazine

For reference, we have pics and specs and a description of the fifth wheel trailer we live in at this link.

LEARN BY DOING

If you haven’t done much RVing yet and you are planning to move out of your current home and set off on a life of adventure on the road, the best way to figure out what features you need and want in your full-time fifth wheel is to get some practice RVing first.

I can’t state strongly enough the value of buying a cheap little RV and going and having some fun on weekends and vacations before jumping into the full-time RV lifestyle. This is especially true if you’ve got a year or more to go before you will actually start full-timing.

Nothing is better than hands-on experience, and you can use the little rig as a trade-in on your full-time RV. The minimal amount of depreciation is a great investment in your own personal education in the RV lifestyle! Here is a blog post about that.

So what DO you look for in an RV when you are replacing your sticks-and-bricks house? After all, the the most important factor is no longer Location, Location Location! Different folks look for different things, but here’s what we look for whenever we check out a new fifth wheel at a dealership (which we do frequently!).

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017-min

A survey of fifth wheels for full-timing by Emily Fagan
Trailer Life Magazine Cover – October 2017

CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY

The first thing we look at is the trailer’s Cargo Carrying Capacity. This is the amount of weight the trailer is designed to carry safely and legally. Trailer manufacturers are required to post a sticker on the exterior of the front end of the trailer on the driver’s side that indicates what the CCC is.

Surprisingly, there is a lot of confusion about exactly how the CCC is calculated and whether or not the fresh water or the propane in the tanks is considered cargo or part of the Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW). The official definition, according to certain RV standards groups and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is:

CCC = GVWR – (UVW + propane weight)

That is, the Cargo Carrying Capacity is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating less the sum of the Unloaded Vehicle Weight and the propane weight.

However, it is much more common for manufacturers to calculate CCC as simply the GVWR less UVW and not count the propane weight as part of the equation. This is also known as the NCC (Net Carrying Capacity).

NCC = GVWR – UVW

The propane weight is only 40, 60 or 80 lbs, depending on whether the two propane tanks are 20 lb., 30 lb., or 40 lb. tanks, so it is not that important whether it is included in the calculation of CCC or not, and it is easy to see why the terms CCC and NCC are often confused and used interchangeably.

In addition to stating the CCC on a sticker on the trailer, the manufacturers are also required to have a sticker indicating how much the fresh water in the trailer weighs when the fresh water tanks are full. One gallon of water weighs about 8.35 lbs. or 3.785 kg.

Fresh water is officially considered to be cargo, so if the trailer is towed with its tanks full, then the CCC available for everything else (food, clothes, tools, barbecue, bikes etc.) is reduced by the weight of the fresh water weight as stated on the sticker.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV cargo carrying capacity 2

This detailed sticker shows the weight of the fresh water tanks when full (830 lbs in the fresh water tanks and 100 lbs in the hot water tank) PLUS it shows the weight of the Black and Gray waste tanks (1,569 lbs.) AND it shows the cargo carrying capacity of the trailer with water tanks both full (1,372 lbs) and empty (2,302 lbs).

If the trailer doesn’t have the official CCC stated on a sticker, it’s usually possible to find the GVWR and UVW values on a spec sheet and simply subtract UVW from GVWR. This simple calculation of GVWR – UVW is the easiest way to compare the carrying capacity from one trailer to the next, so that is what we like to go by when we are making a direct comparison.

So how much should the Cargo Carrying Capacity be for a fifth wheel trailer that’s used as a full-time home? In our experience, the nearly 3,500 lbs. of CCC on our trailer is barely enough. Because we boondock all the time, we travel with our fresh water tank and hot water tank full and our gray and black tanks empty so we can stay a maximum length of time at our next destination.

Other folks may find they can get away with less, but to us, if you are shopping for a big trailer to live in full-time, a CCC of less than 3,000 lbs. is going to be insufficient in the long run. If you are shopping for a fifth wheel toy hauler, then you’ll need 3,500 lbs. for your stuff plus more for the weight of your toy(s).

Interestingly, the manufacturers often provide a lot more storage space in their fifth wheel trailers than the CCC of their trailer can reasonably support. Our cabinets and shelves aren’t even full, and we are still at the maximum limit for CCC in our trailer.

Redwood Fifth Wheel Cargo Carrying Capacity 1

A much simpler sticker on another trailer shows a Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,876 lbs.
By implication this does not include any water weights because all liquids in the tanks are cargo.

So, just because a trailer you are looking at has voluminous shelving, a big pantry, and two huge closets, you won’t necessarily be able to fill all that space and still remain at or below the CCC of the trailer.

Another surprise is that smaller trailers frequently have larger carrying capacities. This can be seen in a single product line when a manufacturer uses the same frame for several models. The smallest and lightest model built on that frame will obviously have more carrying capacity than the largest and heaviest one.

We also saw it in dramatic fashion when we compared a tear drop trailer and a toy hauler on a dealership lot once (blog post here).

One caveat to keep in mind if you overload your trailer is that you risk being found liable if you are in an accident with a fatality and it is discovered your rig was over its weight limit. This is true both if the truck is too small for the trailer and/or if the trailer itself is loaded beyond its capacity.

FOUNDATION – FRAME, AXLES, TIRES. SUSPENSION, LANDING JACKS & BRAKES

The foundation underlying a fifth wheel trailer consists of the frame, axles, tires, suspension, landing jacks and brakes, and although this is not the glamorous part of the trailer, it is arguably the most important.

It is possible to upgrade some of these components to improve the overall unofficial GVWR and CCC of a trailer and to improve its stopping power as well. The axles, tires and suspension can all be replaced with beefier parts, and if the trailer has electric drum brakes, these can be upgraded to electric over hydraulic disc brakes (described in detail here).

RVers are encouraged to weigh their rigs on a regular basis to ensure that they are staying within the official GVWR for their unit. We weigh ours every year or two. Escapees offers the very thorough SmartWeigh program at several of their RV parks across the country, and we describe our experience with that program at this link: “Making Weight” With Your RV.

Weighing a fifth wheel trailer with Escapees SmartWeigh program

Weighing a fifth wheel trailer with the Escapees SmartWeigh program

It is important to note, however, that just because you’ve got bigger axles, better rated tires and beefier suspension, you won’t “officially” have a new GVWR. The trailer will support its payload better, but in the case of a horrific accident, if the GVWR value is referenced and your trailer is somehow found to have been over that weight, you may be considered liable.

Frame

The next thing we look at in a trailer is the frame and axles. Almost all trailers are assembled on frames built by Lippert Components. A few manufacturers build their own frames in-house.

Axles

Most fifth wheels are also built on Lippert axles. The highest end fifth wheels are built with axles made by Dexter. They advertise the fact and consider it to be a premium feature. In some cases Dexter axles are an option, and some buyers simply replace their axles after making their purchase.

Both of our Lippert axles have failed. The first time was in Nova Scotia. We could tell because our tires began wearing very strangely and very very fast. We limped to Maine to have the rear axle replaced with another Lippert axle.

New RV axle installed on fifth wheel trailer-min

We replaced one of our trailer axles in Bangor Maine.

Fortunately, our extended RV warranty saved the day financially, but the time lost and overall frustration of having a big failure on the road was not fun. (Blog post about that experience here).

The second time was when our front axle failed in Arizona, and again, the tell-tale sign was bizarre tire wear on the trailer tires. This time we decided to replace both axles with the Dexter brand. Unfortunately, our extended RV warranty did not bail us out on this occasion, but the $3,000 expense of having both axles replaced and correctly aligned with Dexter axles was well worth it, as our tires have been wearing very evenly ever since.

Suspension

In addition to axle failures, our fifth wheel trailer’s suspension failed upon our approach to Arizona from New Mexico. We had the entire suspension overhauled, and fortunately our extended trailer warranty covered the repair (blog post about that experience here). This experience made us realize just how important the suspension is on a trailer.

New fifth wheel trailer suspension installation-min

We replaced our failed fifth wheel suspension system in Arizona.

Most fifth wheel trailers come with a conventional leaf spring and gas shock suspension system. However, some fifth wheels come with an axle-less rubber suspension system from Mor/Ryde. Many people love and swear by the soft ride of this suspension. Over time, however the rubber does wear out and needs to be replaced (as do conventional shocks).

Tires

The weight rating on the tires is an important aspect of the overall GVWR rating of a trailer, and upgrading the tires is an easy way to boost the GVWR and increase the CCC. Of course, the legal rating for the trailer will always depend on how the trailer was built at the factory, but by upgrading the tires you can quickly give the trailer much needed support if you are approaching the limit.

Tire ratings vary on most fifth wheels between E-rated (10 ply) tires for lighter trailer to G-rated (14-ply) for the heavier ones. Some of the heaviest trailers have H-rated (16-ply) tires but those require wheels that can handle higher air pressure.

Check the tire ratings on a prospective full-time fifth wheel as well as the axle brand and axle weight ratings. If they are already big and beefy, you will save yourself needing to upgrade them later. On the other hand, if you love the trailer but those things are a little skimpy, budget in an upgrade when you contemplate the purchase price and its impact on your bank account.

We upgraded the E-rated (10-ply) tires that came on our trailer with G-rated (14-ply) tires. When we swapped axle brands, we stayed with the 7,000 lb. axle rating because we had upgraded our trailer’s electric hub brakes to electric over hydraulic disk brakes, and the bigger 8,000 lb. axles required different brakes.

Brakes

Most fifth wheel trailers come with electric drum brakes. The stopping power is so-so. More expensive brands of fifth wheels offer electric over hydraulic disk brakes as an option. You can also replace the electric drum brakes with electric over hydraulic disk brakes at a later date.

We upgraded our electric drum brakes with electric over hydraulic disk brakes, and what a massive difference in stopping power! The upgrade costs about $3,000 or so, but we felt it was worth every penny. Our blog post about that upgrade is here.

Fifth wheel electric over hydraulic disk brake conversion-min

We upgraded our standard electric trailer drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes in Texas

If you think you might upgrade the entire under carriage of your trailer — axles, brakes and tires — because you are at the outer limit of its CCC, you might consider going to the next size axle. We did our upgrades piece-meal as things broke or ore out, but if we’d done it all at once we might have gone with 8,000 lb. axles and corresponding brakes.

Landing Jacks

Conventional electric landing jacks on the front of the trailer are less expensive than hydraulic self-leveling jacks, and they are more commonly found on the more affordable brands of fifth wheel trailers. Hydraulic leveling jacks appear on higher end fifth wheels as standard features or as an option.

We have been happy with our electric landing jacks over the years, and even though we did have to replace them at one time, it was a relatively easy DIY job that Mark was able to do while boondocking in the desert!

Operating the electric landing jacks on a fifth wheel trailer-min

Without a hydraulic leveling system, on extremely unlevel ground we put blocks under the landing legs.

The disadvantage of electric landing jacks is that the side-to-side leveling of the trailer has to be done by sliding something under the wheels to prop up one side of the trailer, and sometimes we have to prop up the front end of the trailer too. We carry 5′ x 1′ x 1″ strips of a sliced up heavy duty rubber mat for this purpose. We used to carry 5′ long 1×8 pine boards. Lots of folks carry the plastic leveling platforms.

Hydraulic leveling jacks can do most or all of the leveling without the need for anything being placed under the tires. Just hit the button and watch the trailer level itself. In the most off-level situations it may still be necessary to prop up one side of the trailer with something under the wheels.

Leveling boards under a fifth wheel trailer-min

Usually all we need is one or two mats under our wheels. In rare cases we have to stack higher!

Another great benefit of hydraulic leveling jacks is that if you need to jack up one side of the trailer to work on the tires, wheels or suspension, you can use the hydraulic leveling jacks instead of a portable jack placed under an axle. It’s safer and easier.

The only disadvantage of hydraulic leveling jacks is simply that they are complex and might fail. Occasionally (though extremely rarely) the legs have been known to fall down while the trailer is being towed. Of course, technology improves with every year, so these kinds of problems are less and less common.

“FOUR SEASON” – INSULATION and R-FACTORS

Lots of trailers are billed as “Four Season,” but in reality, you can’t compare living in an elevated box with 2″ to 3.5″ walls with living in a house that stands on a foundation and whose thick walls are built with layers of drywall, Tyvek, plywood and siding.

That being said, “Four Season” coaches are generally better insulated than others. Just don’t expect to be totally warm and cozy and free of condensation when there’s a blizzard and temps stay below 0 F for a few days!

Fifth wheel trailer RV in snow blizzard-min

We have experienced several blizzards in our trailer,
but RVs are not really made to be “four season” the way that houses are.

RV Insulation

Some folks have toughed it out in an RV through real winters in the northern states, but the majority of full-time RVers spend their winters in mild climates where overnight temps in the teens are a rare and cold exception. We have tips for keeping a rig warm during the winter months and keeping it cool during the summer months in these blog posts:

Winter RVing tips – Staying Warm!

More Winter RVing tips – How to heat an RV in Winter Weather

Installing a vent-free propane heater in an RV

Summer RVing tips – How to Beat the Heat and Stay Cool When It’s HOT!

There are various ways to insulate an RV and there are pros and cons to the different types of insulation that RV manufacturers use.

Some higher end fifth wheels are built with conventional wooden studs and fiberglass insulation as this may provide greater insulation.

Wooden studs are less apt to conduct warm air to the outside than aluminum framing is. On a cold winter morning it is easy to see where the aluminum framing is on an RV if you go outside because you can see the outline of the aluminum framing on the trailer wall.

RV windows dripping with condensation in winter-min

Condensation forms inside our windows on a particularly moist and freezing winter day.

However, fiberglass insulation has been known to fall down off the studs over the years, leaving the tops of the walls uninsulated. Usually, the front and end cap and the areas between the roof trusses are all insulated with fiberglass insulation as well.

Most fifth wheels are insulated with styrofoam, and the styrofoam used varies in quality. The use of “blue board” polystyrene styrofoam made by Dow Chemical was one of the big selling points in the NuWa Hitchhiker brand of fifth wheels like ours (NuWa no longer builds trailers). We’ve also heard this product referred to as “Blue Dow” foam.

When we did a factory tour at NuWa before we bought our trailer, we were told that the folks there had tested the strength of the blue board by driving a truck over a piece that was suspended by its two sides, and it didn’t break. We were also each handed a piece and challenged to break it. We couldn’t.

Interestingly, it may be this very strong styrofoam in the walls that kept a Hitchhiker fifth wheel intact recently when it rolled over at 60 mph on the interstate (blog post about that here).

Besides providing strength to the fifth wheel frame, Dow blue board foam has a very high R-factor.

A few high end fifth wheels are built with this kind of insulation nowadays. Most, however, are built with a weaker and less insulating kind of styrofoam.

R-Factors

When looking at the insulation R-factors that are advertised by the RV manufacturers for the walls and roof of a fifth wheel, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that the number may be for the most heavily insulated part of the wall or roof. RV windows, doors and roof hatch vents have very low R-factors for insulation, and that is where most of the heat is lost.

How much heat is lost through RV windows? Just look at what percentage of a fifth wheel wall is actually windows!

Also, some fifth wheel slide-outs are built with thinner walls and less insulated roofs than the main body of the fifth wheel. Ours is. Again, what percentage of the fifth wheel’s walls and roof are part of the main structure and what percentage are slide-outs?

EXTERIOR WALL and ROOF MATERIAL and MAINTENANCE

Exterior Walls

Fifth wheel trailers are built with various materials as the exterior surface of the walls and roof. Lower end trailers have an exterior fiberglass finish of filon. This is what was on our first full-time travel trailer. It doesn’t shine and is a little harder to keep looking spiffy.

Waxing a fifth wheel trailer front cap-min

Maintenance, like washing and waxing the massive exterior of a big RV, is just part of the lifestyle.

The next level up is a fiberglass gelcoat exterior. This is shiny and can be maintained to a glossy finish by waxing the trailer twice a year. Unfortunately, the pretty swirly stickers that give fifth wheel trailers their colorful look will begin peeling off after about 4-5 years.

The highest level finish for a fifth wheel trailer is automotive paint. This is an extremely durable finish and the swirling paint patterns will never peel off. It is also very expensive (figure on about $10k) and is found only on the highest end fifth wheel trailers.

Roofs

Most fifth wheel roofs are “rubber” roofs. These usually come with a ten year warranty, and they are pretty much ready for replacement at the end of ten years! Fiberglass roofs are more durable. If you are going to install solar panels on the roof, you may need to be a little more careful with a fiberglass roof to be sure you don’t crack it when you drill into it.

Rubber roofs can be made of EPDM or TPO. As EPDM roofs begin to age, they start shedding a lot of dust, and every time it rains this creates streaks down the sides of the trailer. Cleaning the roof often helps reduce the streaking, but it’s very hard to eliminate the problem all together once the roof begins to deteriorate a few years into its lifespan. TPO roofs do not have this problem.

CAMPING STYLE

Other than these basic structural features, the rest of the decision is pure fun fluff stuff. The most important thing to ponder when you’re shopping for your new rolling home is how you anticipate living and traveling in it. What is your camping style? That is, how do you want to camp and where will you travel?

Roads are bigger and straighter in the western states than in the eastern states, so bigger rigs are easier to travel in out west.

Many privately owned RV parks accommodate “big rigs” across the whole country. However if you are more into “camping” in natural settings, the sizes of campsites in government run campgrounds vary a lot.

Boondocking in an RV-min

Some RVers love boondocking. Others don’t.
Knowing your own personal camping style helps a lot when it comes to buying a full-time rig.

States Park campsites are often quite large and frequently come with hookups, but they can be pricey too and there are rarely discounts for seniors or for long stays. Campsites in the National Parks and National Forests are often very small, often have no hookups, and may therefore be slightly cheaper, especially for holders of the Federal Lands Senior Pass.

Holding Tank Capacities

So, will you be dry camping a lot or will you get hookups most of the time? This makes a difference in what kinds of holding tank capacities you’ll need.

If you’ll be getting hookups most of the time, then there is no need for big holding tanks. However, if you’ll be dry camping a lot, then big holding tanks will mean you can stay put a little longer before you have to go to an RV dump station .

Our fresh water tanks and hot water heater are 70 gallons combined, our two gray water tanks are 78 gallons combined, and our black tank is 50 gallons. This has worked well for us dry camping every night for the better part of ten years.

We do carry 25 gallons of fresh water in the back of our truck in jerry jugs, but we don’t often need to use that water since we typically stay in places for less than two weeks before moving on, which is about how long our holding tanks last.

One nice feature if you are going to boondock a lot is to have an easy way to refill the fresh water tanks. We have a gravity fed fresh water intake that we can fill from a fresh water hose or from our jerry jugs.

Refilling RV fresh water tanks-min

We have a gravity based fresh water intake on the side of our trailer.
Unfortunately, it is rather high up (and it doesn’t need to be!).

The handy thing about this is that with our trailer the ratio of fresh water capacity to gray and black capacity means that we run out of fresh water before we fill up the gray or black water tanks. Being able to top off the fresh water lets us camp in one spot a little longer before we have to pack it up to go to an RV dump station.

“SOLAR READY” and SOLAR POWER

If you are going to be dry camping a lot, you may want to consider installing a solar power system, and there are a few things to keep in mind about that as you shop for a full-time fifth wheel.

We have a ton of info about solar power on this website. An index of links to our many articles is here:

Solar Power for RVs and Boats

Solar power doesn’t have to be a big, expensive and difficult thing to add to an RV (here’s an article summarizing several types of RV solar power systems).

A portable solar power suitcase that includes a pair of solar panels and a solar charge controller and cables to connect to the batteries all in one package is a nifty way to have solar power available without installing a permanent system on the roof and in the RV basement.

Simply set up the panels on the ground and connect them to the trailer batteries whenever you need to charge the batteries up. The “suitcase” feature makes it easy to stow the system when not in use.

However, most folks who live in their RV full-time and also boondock frequently prefer to install solar panels on the roof permanently and install a solar charge controller near the batteries and install a big pure sine wave inverter too.

Solar panels on a fifth wheel roof-min

Full-time RVers who dry camp a lot usually end up installing solar panels on the roof.

If this is in the back of your mind, you might get excited when you see a fifth wheel (or other RV) advertised as “solar ready.” Unfortunately, in many cases this is a very misleading term. A solar power system that will let you live without electric hookups for days on end will be at least 200 watts and more likely 500 watts or more. The cabling necessary to carry the currents these panels produce is generally 8 or 10 gauge wire.

If a rig is billed as “solar ready,” find out how many watts the prospective solar system could support and check out the size of the cable that goes to the roof. “Solar ready” may simply mean that a skinny cable has been run from the batteries to the roof to support a 50 watt panel. This is great if the batteries are fully charged and you are leaving the rig in storage outdoors for a few months. However, it is not sufficient to live on comfortably.

Also, if you plan to install a full-timer solar power system, check the battery compartment. How many batteries are there? What size are they (Group 24? Group 27?)? How many batteries can you add in the compartment?

Fifth wheel battery compartment-min

We had the battery compartment customized to support four golf-cart sized batteries.

A good sized battery bank for boondocking for long periods is four 6-volt golf cart sized batteries (Group GC2). If the battery box in the fifth wheel you are looking at can’t hold that many batteries, think about where else you might put them and whether there is ample support (they are heavy) and venting (wet cell batteries need to be vented).

Of course, a basement compartment can be beefed up with a piece of angle iron welded onto the frame and/or vents and conduit going to the battery boxes.

We have a series of articles explaining how RV batteries work, how to charge them, different battery types on the market and more at this link:

RV Battery Charging Systems

ACCESS TO SYSTEMS THAT MIGHT NEED REPAIR

While you are crawling around the basements of prospective new rolling homes, try to find all the major components that might fail and might need to be replaced.

If you are a DIY RVer, this is critically important. However, even if you are going to hire out the repair jobs to various RV shops around the country, their jobs will be much easier and cheaper if the systems are easy to access.

Easy access water pump under sink of fifth wheel trailer RV-min

It isn’t “pretty” but it sure is nice to have easy access when it’s time to replace the water pump!
Mark replaced it so fast he’d finished the job before I got pics of his work!

For instance, see if you can find the water pump, hot water heater, power converter, inverter (if there is one), etc.

We once met a fellow with a beautiful brand new travel trailer, and Mark spent an hour with the guy trying to find the power converter. It was hidden behind a fixed wall somewhere and they never did find it!

CREATURE COMFORTS and LIVABILITY

When you give up the luxuries of hearth and home in a stick-built house to wander around the country in an RV, you want to be comfortable. Even though you may be just fine with “roughing it” when you go camping on week-long vacations, it is different when you don’t have a “real” home to go home to.

For us, the move up from our vacation-purposed popup tent trailer to our full-time 27′ travel trailer was such a big step that the travel trailer looked truly luxurious. It had a sofa, dinette and bed in the living area, all of which were good places for relaxing. It seemed just dandy. However, after spending many long hours in it during our first winter, we realized that we wished we had true recliners to relax in. That simple desire is what spurred us to hunt for (and find) our fifth wheel trailer!

Beds

If you have been sleeping in a king size bed at home, switching to a queen bed on the road may be a big challenge. It was for us! It’s a shock to find out the love of your life has so many arms and legs!

Beds in RVs are often slightly smaller in one dimension or another than their residential counterparts, and those lost inches do count. For your reference, here are the standard residential bed sizes, width by length, in inches:

Queen: 60″ x 80″
King: 76″ x 80″

Here are some of the sizes that we’ve seen in fifth wheel trailers, width by length:

Queen: 60″ x 74.5″ (shorter than residential)
King: 70″ x 80″ or 72″ x 80″ (narrower than residential)

We have never seen a full width king size bed in a fifth wheel trailer except in a custom design. This is something to keep in mind if you think you might upgrade your trailer’s factory installed king mattress sometime down the road. Will the new residential king mattress, which is wider than the old mattress that came with the rig, fit on the platform without being squished?

Floorplan and Functionality with Slide-outs Closed

One of the things that we tend to think about when we stand in a beautiful, spacious fifth wheel trailer on a dealership lot is how functional the rig will be when all the slide-outs are closed. Some folks never go in their trailers without opening the slide-outs, but we do it all the time at rest stops and at the grocery store.

Ask the salesman to close the slide-outs on your prospective new full-time fifth wheel and find out which things in the kitchen, living room and bedroom you can no longer access.

NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel Trailer Flooplan-min

The open floorplan of our ’07 NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel trailer.

Can you get into the fridge for a beer? Can you access the pantry for goodies to make a sandwich? Can you microwave something or boil water in a teapot on the stove? Can you wash the dishes after lunch? Can you use the bathroom? Can you get into the bed? Can you sit on a chair in the living room or at your dinette?

These may sound like goofy questions, but when you live in an RV full-time it is surprising how often you may want to use the rig without having to open the slide-outs.

If you roll a shopping cart loaded with groceries up to your front door at the supermarket, can you put them all away without opening the slide-outs? If you visit a friend and park your rig in front of their house for a few days, can you access your clothes and bed so you don’t have to stay in their spare bedroom?

Fresh bread baked in an RV oven-min

We can bake bread when the slides are closed.
Not crucial, but it’s nice to have access to the entire kitchen.

We are fortunate with our fifth wheel’s floorplan because we can access almost everything without opening any of the slide-outs. The only things we can’t get to are the two recliners in the back of the rig and our dresser drawers (opening the bedroom slide 6 inches is enough to get into those drawers). We have actually lived in our trailer with the slide-outs closed for several weeks at a time. It’s skinny, but it’s doable.

Unfortunately, the super popular island kitchen floorplan designs generally don’t allow for full use of the kitchen when the slide-outs are closed. However, there are loads of open floorplan designs that were popular a decade ago, like ours, that the RV designers may eventually revive. After all, there are only so many possible floorplans for a fifth wheel trailer!

Residential Refrigerator vs. RV Fridge

RV refrigerators that run on both 120 volt AC power and propane gas are being replaced in many fifth wheel trailers with residential refrigerators that run exclusively on 120 volt AC power. With some fifth wheel brands you can order the rig with either type of refrigerator. In other cases you can only order it one way and you would need to do the replacement yourself after you’ve bought the rig.

RV refrigerators are wonderful because you can dry camp in your RV for months or years on end and have refrigerated food the whole time. All you need to do is keep the propane tanks filled. Our 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator uses about 30 lbs (or 7 gallons) of propane every three weeks.

RV refrigerators have a few negatives, however.

One downside to RV refrigerators is that they are not self-defrosting. You need to defrost them. After decades of living with a frost-free refrigerator, it is a shock to go back to the olden days (if you were around then) of having to defrost the RV fridge every month or so.

However, my amazing hubby Mark has perfected the art of defrosting and he can now pull it off in about 20 minutes. So, it’s not that bad a chore if you stay on top of it (and if you have a wonderful partner who is willing to do it for you!). See the blog post about quickie fridge defrosting here.

Defrosting an RV refrigerator-min

Mark has simplified the refrigerator defrosting process so much it takes him only 20 minutes. Lucky me!

Another disadvantage is that they don’t modulate the temperature in the fridge with much precision and they aren’t particularly well insulated or energy efficient. We keep a small thermometer in the fridge so we have a feeling for what’s going on. The temp inside varies greatly depending on whether the wall behind the fridge is in the sun or shade and whether the temp inside our rig is 40 degrees, as it is on some winter mornings, or 90 degrees as it is on some summer afternoons.

Our fridge is usually on level 4 or 5 (the coldest two settings) because we like our beer to be ice cold. However I do sometimes find my yogurt has frozen a bit on the edges.

RV refrigerators also have a shelf life. It is about 8 years!

We found that out the hard way when our RV refrigerator died and we had to get it replaced. Luckily the replacement was straight forward and was covered by our extended RV warranty (blog post about it here).

New RV refrigerator is fork lifter through the trailer window-min

Our new RV refrigerator is slid through our dining room window on a fork lift.

The biggest surprise when we got our RV fridge replaced was we found out the warranty companies expect those fridges to last only 8 years. Of course, they figure that into the cost of the warranty, as they should. So, even though we were shocked that ours died, our warranty company wasn’t surprised at all.

Perhaps the most damning thing about RV refrigerators is that they run on propane and they have been known to catch fire and torch entire RVs. A burning RV burns to the ground in seconds because of the propane tanks and manufacturing materials. There was a rash of RV refrigerator fires about a decade or so ago which is part of what pushed the industry towards building RVs with residential electric refrigerators instead.

However, RV life isn’t totally rosy with residential refrigerators either, especially if you want to boondock or dry camp for extended periods of time.

While a residential refrigerator may be a highly efficient Energy Star appliance, it may not have a solid locking mechanism to keep the doors closed in transit or rails to keep the food on the shelves while in transit (check on that). And it will require a lot of power to run while the rig is not plugged into a power pedestal.

A 12 to 14 cubic foot residential refrigerator requires a little over 300 kwh per year to run. This is about 0.8 kwh per day, or, very roughly, about 80 amp-hours per day.

In the winter months when the sun rides low in the sky and is up for a short period of time, an RV will need about 400 to 500 watts of solar panels and 450 amp-hours of batteries just to run the refrigerator. This is about what it takes to run everything else in the RV! An 18 to 22 cubic foot refrigerator will require even more.

This is not to say that it is impossible to install a big enough solar power system to run a residential refrigerator — we’ve had readers contact us to say that they have done it and they’re loving it! — but the expense and weight of the batteries and of the solar panels is something to consider before signing on the dotted line for that beautiful new fifth wheel trailer with its residential fridge.

Also, even if boondocking is not your style, be sure that the battery bank and the inverter that support the residential refrigerator when not hooked up to electrical power are sufficiently big enough to keep the fridge running as you drive. We have heard of 1,500 watt inverters just not making the grade with a big residential fridge (2,000 watts was needed). Or, just turn the fridge off and keep it closed until you get where you are going. Of course, residential refrigerators are not designed to be turned on and off frequently.

Lastly, the fabulous thing about a big, shiny, 22 cubic foot stainless steel residential refrigerator is that it can hold a ton of food. There will be no more turf wars between the beer and the veggies (gosh, would we ever love that!).

However, all that food weighs a lot, and big fridges often become storage places for old containers of food you’ll never eat. If you are buying a full-time fifth wheel that is skinny on its Cargo Carrying Capacity, then a huge refrigerator that can hold lots of food may push you into possession wars between food, tools and clothes in the closet.

On the bright side, a residential refrigerator is much less prone to failure than an RV fridge, and in the rare event that you have to replace one, it could easily cost thousands less than an RV fridge.

I Like the Fifth Wheel But I Don’t Really Like That Couch!

While it’s ideal to find a rig that has furniture you totally love, a fifth wheel trailer is just a box — floor, walls and ceiling — and any residential furniture can be put in that box. We have replaced both our dinette chairs and our recliners in the course of living in our fifth wheel all these years, and last week we replaced the couch!

Storage benches in RV dinette add comfort and storage space-min

The old chairs were elegant, but these cushy benches are much more comfortable.
Plus they give us more storage space!

Here are blog posts about some of the changes we’ve made to our furnishings:

Add Storage and Seating Capacity at your RV Dinette!

Can You Sell Old Stuff on Craigslist in the RV Lifestyle? Replacing our Recliners!

We also replaced our mattress with a fancy Simmons Beautyrest mattress.

RV DEPRECIATION

After all this discussion of what to look for in a fifth wheel trailer for full-time living, it is important to remember that the brand new fifth wheel you buy today will be worth about half of what you paid for it ten years from now. If it is well maintained it might be worth a smidge more. If it isn’t, it may be worth less.

What’s worse, the fact that it was lived in full-time rather than kept in a garage and never touched will turn many prospective buyers away or make them hit you up with a low offer.

RV Depreciation over time

Hmmm…. An RV’s value declines with time.

On the flip side, going RVing full-time is a dream, and it’s hard and maybe even unfair to put a price on your dreams.

If you have the funds and you can spend a lot on a rapidly depreciating fifth wheel trailer without crippling your finances later in life, definitely go for it.

What could be better than casting off on a dreamy new lifestyle in a dreamy new RV?

No matter what you buy, negotiate hard. You are in the driver’s seat — until you are in the driver’s seat! Many mass-market manufacturers anticipate selling for about 70% of MSRP. Others are closer to 80%.

If you go custom, well, you’re be paying for the very finest of the finest. So, the focus will be on getting exactly what you want rather than haggling over the price. With a custom rig you get what you ask for… so be knowledgeable and smart about what you ask for!

If you aren’t sure of you future finances, and you aren’t sure if you’ll like the full-time RV lifestyle, and/or you aren’t sure if you’d prefer a fifth wheel or a Class A motorhome as your house on wheels, consider getting a cheaper model or a used trailer to start.

We understand this dilemma well. We would LOVE to have a new trailer now. After all, ours is ten years old and shows a lot of wear. But…

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO TRAVEL?

The rig you live in is just part of the equation of putting together that champagne lifestyle of full-time RV travel. The real reason most folks run away in an RV is because they want to get out and see something of this continent, get to know the different regions of our country and of our neighbors’ countries, and knock a few travel destinations off their bucket list.

Appalachian Mountains RV Trip Coast to Coast Magazine Summer 2017-min

Our cover photo for our Coast to Coast magazine article about the Appalachian Mountains
Summer 2017 issue

The options of places to visit are limitless, and we’ve got 10 years worth of travel tales on this website that tell the stories of what we’ve seen and where we’ve been since 2007.

I’ve also written a lot of articles for Trailer Life Magazine showcasing different parts of the country that make for an enjoyable RV destination.

Georgia On Their Minds Trailer Life Magazine September 2017-min

The Antebellum Trail in Georgia is a terrific RV route for folks heading north/south through Georgia.
Trailer Life Magazine – September 2017. Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

A few of these feature articles have turned up in Trailer Life over the past few months and can be read at these links: Georgia on Their Minds, The Quaint Side of Canada, and Downeast Maine. Images of the first two pages of each article are below.

I also have a bi-monthly column on the back page of Trailer Life that showcases a beautiful photo of a gorgeous spot along with a few words about what makes that place special. My most recent columns have focused on: The Rocky Mountain Beach Town of McCall Idaho and a Forest on Fire – Fall Colors in Colorado.

Trailer Life Magazine is a monthly national magazine and it offers not only mouth-watering photos and stories of places to take your trailer, but it also devotes a lot of pages to technical issues that trailer owners face.

Nova Scotia RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine July 2017-min

Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is tops on many RVers’ lists
Trailer Life Magazine – July 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

The technical editorial staff at Trailer Life is both very knowledgeable and very meticulous about ensuring what they discuss and review is accurate.

I have written a lot of technical articles for Trailer Life, from discussing RV roof maintenance to RV dump station tips to an article about the 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck and one about the new puck based OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches.

Downeast Maine RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine June 2017-min

Downeast Maine is a hidden jewel north and east of famous Acadia National Park
Trailer Life Magazine – June 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

I have always been amazed at the extensive review process and discussion process that each of these technical article has undergone. Every little minute detail is reviewed for accuracy, sometimes spawning some lively debates.

There are a gazillion RV blogs out there that make for super fun reading and research and learning, but there is something to be said for a magazine that has been in print for over 75 years. Some people on the team have been with the magazine nearly half that time!

Trailer Life is hard to find on newsstands these days. New Camping World members receive a few issues as part of their membership (or they can get Motorhome Magazine if driveable RVs are more to their liking). If you get an annual subscription at the link below, you’ll see the article I’m working on about “first-timer” fifth wheels when it comes out!

Subscribe to Trailer Life Magazine

Have you been shopping for a full-timing fifth wheel? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Boondocking in an RV-min

There are loads of fifth wheels on the market that would make a fine full-time home. Enjoy the search!

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Boondocking (“free camping”) – How to find free RV campsites

There is nothing like the feeling of freedom of setting up camp in an ideal, secluded, picturesque RV campsite out in the hinterlands somewhere, and that’s why many RVers love to go boondocking and why we’ve done it almost every night for over ten years.

Rather than camping in a campground or an RV park, finding an RV campsite somewhere on the gorgeous public lands that have been set aside by the government for recreational purposes can make for a thrilling and fulfilling getaway.

Boondocking in an RV in Utah-min

Boondocking in Utah

Boondocking” refers to this kind of camping which is also more officially known as “dispersed camping” or “primitive camping.” Many RVers also call it “free camping” or even “wild camping” because it usually doesn’t cost anything and many sites are far out in nature somewhere.

Whatever name you give it, it falls under the category of “dry camping” because you are living in your RV without hooking it up to city water, sewer or electricity.

RV boondocking camping in a trailer in Idaho

Boondocking in Idaho

This post describes the different kinds of boondocking spots that are available and how to locate them.

If you are interested in tips for how to live off the grid in an RV (i.e., tips for how to save electricity, how to conserve water & propane, how to boondock safely, etc.), see this page: RV Boondocking – Tips for Living Off the Grid in an RV

WHAT IS RV BOONDOCKING ALL ABOUT?

Generally, boondocking is a very different way of traveling than staying in RV parks and campgrounds, because it is very free spirited and spontaneous. Nothing can be reserved in advance, and often you have no idea what kind of site you might find.

Boondocking in an RV in Montana-min

Boondocking in Montana

Many days we have no idea where we will be staying until late in the afternoon. Learning to be this flexible takes time, especially after years spent in structured, workaday routines, and not everyone ends up liking it.

We find the freedom from rules and restrictions and the beauty of the public lands is intoxicating, and we wouldn’t travel in our RV any other way.

We have been camping this way every night since we started full-timing in 2007, and as of November 2018, we have boondocked in our RV for a total of nearly 3,000 nights.

Boondocking in an RV-min

Boondocking in Wyoming.

PUBLIC LAND

The US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other government agencies (Army Corps of Engineers among others) all manage vast tracts of public land.

The USFS (National Forests) is part of the Department of Agriculture, while the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is part of the Department of the Interior (as is the National Park Service).

Both the USFS and BLM have a mission “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

As a result, both of these entities manage two kinds of activities on their land: recreational use (camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, biking) and productive use (cattle grazing, mining, logging, etc.).

For this reason, the USFS and BLM generally allow “dispersed camping” on their land. That is, you can camp wherever you find a spot that seems suitable and is accessible.

In stark contrast to the USFS and BLM, the mission of the National Park Service, which manages both America’s National Parks and National Monuments, is to preserve America’s natural and historical treasures. For this reason, the whole notion of dispersed camping runs contrary to their charter, which is preservation (i.e., “don’t touch”). Therefore:

America’s National Parks do not allow dispersed camping in an RV (boondocking)

Some ranger districts and specific locations within the USFS and BLM lands do not allow dispersed camping either. If overnight camping is not allowed, a “No Overnight Camping” sign will be posted at the site or in an otherwise obvious place.

The idea behind dispersed camping is to allow people to enjoy the beauty of nature without the ordinary restrictions of a campground. However, campers have a responsibility not to harm the site and to leave it in good condition for the next person.

That is why there are rules for boondocking about packing trash out, burying human waste deeply, and not making new campfire rings.

In general, the rules for boondocking are very simple:

  • Stay in a site that already has a campfire ring or other evidence of being a campsite, and don’t build a new one
  • Observe fire restrictions (sometimes fires are not allowed due to the ease of starting a wildfire)
  • Pack out the trash you create (and don’t leave it in the fire ring)
  • Bury any human waste under at least 6″ of dirt
  • Enjoy a stay of 14 days or less (sometimes 16 days) and then move on
Fifth wheel trailer camping in Oregon

Sunset in Oregon

The reason behind the 14 day stay limit for dispersed camping is that the government agencies don’t want people moving onto public land and making it their home. The idea is: get in, enjoy the place, and get out. The idea is not to turn public land into little RV homesteads.

In some places the rangers will monitor the campers on their land and will ensure campers leave when their 14 days are up. Even when no one is monitoring how long campers stay, it is important to respect the rules and leave when you’ve reached the time limit.

There is a ranger’s office for each district within each of these agencies, and a stop at the ranger’s office is often worthwhile to pick up maps and to ask about dispersed camping opportunities, local rules and regulations.

Camping in a fifth wheel RV in utah

Lakeside in Utah

Note added May, 2017: A reader recently emailed me to express her distress that when I discussed “our” public land, I referred to it as “their” land, meaning land “belonging to” the federal agencies that manage it (USFS, BLM, etc.). For anyone that is puzzled or put off by this reference, please read my post Copper Mining, Not Camping, In Tonto National Forest which explains in detail one way (of many) that land management agencies control public land.

It takes just a few hours for any land management agency to erect a permanent “Road Closed” sign on any tract of public land to keep the public out — indefinitely — until the road grows over with weeds and fades into oblivion. We’ve seen it happen many times. Public land is “our” land in many ways, but our access to it and the things we can do on it are tightly controlled (and have been tightly controlled for as much as a century in some places).

RV boondocking dispersed camping in Arizona

Arizona

As noted above, the USFS and BLM generally allow boondocking while the National Park Service (NPS) does not.

This means that famous places like Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc., are off limits to boondocking.

The one exception for boondocking in the National Park system is at Big Bend National Park in Texas where a very controlled kind of boondocking is possible, as explained here: Boondocking at Big Bend National Park – Tips & Tricks.

Many National Parks are located near National Forests. If you don’t mind a 10 mile or more drive to get to the National Park you are visiting, you can boondock in the National Forest and drive in.

If you are interested in boondocking, or simply camping in National Forest and BLM campgrounds, you’ll soon become aware of the complexities and political issues surrounding the management of America’s public land.

In every western state public land campgrounds and dispersed camping areas are closing at an alarming rate.

Some shocking public land changes we have seen in our years of RVing full-time are described in these two blog posts:

  • Copper Mining (NOT CAMPING!) at Tonto National Forest
    – The 2015 Defense Bill under Obama gave away the world’s largest copper vein (in Arizona) to British/Australian mining interests. Surprisingly, after 50 years of national debate about this land (including a decree by President Eisenhower that it never be mined), it was given away to foreigners rather than sold to an American corporation at a massive profit — with huge royalties on extraction — as it could have been.
  • What is Happening to our Public Land? – Changes at the Grand Canyon
    – Private Italian owned commercial developments have taken place in the National Forest just outside Grand Canyon National Park. Is that an appropriate use of National Forest “public” land?

While there has been a huge outcry recently about reducing the size of several National Monuments, in our experience, RV boondocking is generally not allowed on National Monument property. Also, the creation of a National Monument brings a deluge of tourists and requires building visitors centers, roads, parking lots and other tourist oriented features.

Much of the land in those National Monuments was already managed by federal land agencies prior to becoming a National Monument, and it is slated to return to BLM and USFS control now. The National Monument designation not only restricted how the public could enjoy the land (like boondocking) but dramatically increased the tourist traffic as well.

During a very long conversation with a ranger at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, we learned that he and another ranger had spent an arduous 14 hour day the previous day cleaning up human poop and toilet paper from a popular spot on the National Monument that is too remote for toilet facilities. In the past, that place was not known to the public and saw very little visitation, but because it is now in all the tourist literature for the National Monument, lots of folks go there.

Sign in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument-min

Increased tourism with “National Monument” designation has its downside.
We saw this sign in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

We were also very surprised on a long back road trip to find that much of Grand Staircase Escalante was, in our opinion, very nondescript and featureless land — nothing like the truly stunning and dramatic canyon that was bisected by busy US-89 highway north of Kanab decades ago!

Perhaps the most disturbing development is the deliberate blocking of public land by wealthy people with a political agenda. In the past, ranchers generally allowed the public to have easement access to inaccessible public land next door to their property. Now, as old ranch land is sold, folks are buying it to block access to neighboring public land.

We met a fellow who told us with glee about his recent land acquisition. “When I close the gate to my property I block public access to 88,000 acres of public land!” he said with sheer delight. Another way of looking at it is that he has taken 137 square miles of public land away from the public and made it his own.

In several cases, private landowners who continued to allow public access across their property were murdered by their neighbors who wanted to shut down access to the public land all together: Class War in the American West.

We are not hunters or fishermen, but hunters and anglers are much better organized around the public land debate than RVers are, and they have gathered resources to ensure they retain access to hunting and fishing grounds: SportsmensAccess.org.

The bottom line is that the public land debate has been ongoing for over a century and it is complex. It’s worth noting that beloved photographer Ansel Adams vehemently opposed the National Park Service nearly a century ago. He discussed his opinions and actions at length in his terrific autobiography here.

BOONDOCKING ETIQUETTE

Respect The Neighbors – Give Them Space!

Boondocking campsites vary a lot in size. Some are large enough for several big rigs and some can fit only a single van or truck camper.

If you arrive at a campsite and find someone is already set up there, move on to another site unless you can set up your rig in such a way that you won’t be intruding on their space.

Even though rigs can easily park in very close proximity in RV parks, people who are boondocking on their own generally don’t want to have neighbors move in close by.

There’s no hard and fast rule on “how close is too close,” but for us, if we can’t give the campers a few rig lengths of privacy, we leave them in peace and continue our search for a different site.

Respect The Neighbors – Keep The Noise Down!

Most people boondock to get away from it all, and if you do end up within sight of neighbors, respecting their quest for peace and quiet is simply common courtesy.

Whether it’s loud music or a loud generator, nature is not nearly as tranquil when a neighbor is making a lot of noise.

Respect The Neighbors – Don’t Search For Campsites After Dark!

It is very difficult to find your way around in the boonies on small dirt roads in the pitch dark, but there are folks out there who do their campsite scouting after sunset.

This is most common with people in small driveable RVs without a car who spent the day sightseeing and are now looking for a place to crash.

Just because you have GPS coordinates or directions to a campsite in hand doesn’t mean it will be vacant and available for you when you arrive. There may be sleeping people in RVs there, and they may be surrounded by large obstacles like bushes, rocks, trees and fire pits.

It is quite a jolt to be woken up at midnight by someone driving over small bushes and boulders with their headlights flashing in all directions as they circle around your bedroom trying to find a place to camp for the night!

If you have a small RV without a car, try to finish your sightseeing before sunset so you can find a campsite and set up camp in the boonies without waking up the neighbors. Or, if you want to be out at night, stay in a campground in a well marked site that you can find easily when you return in the dark.

View from RV window in Utah

View from our window in Utah

Leave Your Campsite Cleaner Than You Found It!

In the olden days of 50 years ago, this motto — “Leave your campsite cleaner than you found it” — was drilled into camping kids by their parents. Lots of older campers today remember hearing that refrain from stern parents when they were young. Even if it is not commonly heard any more, it is still great advice that is well worth following.

– Pick Up Other People’s Trash

The land management agencies ask that campers “pack it in and pack it out.” This means: don’t leave the place a mess. Generally an RV won’t leave a footprint behind, but sometimes we arrive at a site and end up filling several grocery bags with trash.

I’d rather pack out someone else’s trash than leave that legacy for our grandchildren to find when they go camping with their RVs decades from now. Sadly, there is LOTS of trash on our public land, and we pack out bags of other people’s trash all the time.

Our feeling is that if we can stay for free for two weeks on a gorgeous piece of property, surrounded by hundreds of acres of natural beauty, with a multi-million dollar view out our windows, the least we can do is to pick up a little trash.

This makes the campsite nice for the next visitor!

We also want to keep the USFS, BLM and other land management agencies happy with RVers so they continue to allow boondocking on their land.

So the first thing we do when we set up camp anywhere (both on public land AND in commercial parking lots) is to grab a grocery bag and fill it with whatever trash is strewn around our rig. There is ALWAYS some! I usually throw on a pair of rubber gloves.

In Arizona, many Tonto National Forest boondocking areas have been closed because it was too expensive for the USFS to clean up after winter RVers and others who trashed the places. What a shame that those thoughtless people ruined it for everyone else.

– Clean Out the Campfire Ring

Many campers like to leave some of their trash in the campfire ring, thinking that the next camper will burn it for them. They seem not to realize that the next camper may not want to sit down in front of their wonderful campfire on their first night out only to spend an hour burning someone else’s trash!

Also, lots of folks don’t do campfires. Who wants to see a pile of trash in the front yard while they’re camping?

Here’s a photo of the things I pulled out of a campfire ring in gorgeous Sedona Arizona one time:

campfire ring contents-min

We arrived to find all this piled up in the campfire ring.
Who wants to start their camping getaway by burning the junk left by the previous camper?

– More about Poop on our Public Land

Many conservation oriented people who plan to do a lot of boondocking ask us if they should get a composting toilet for their RV. Keeping campsite cleanliness etiquette in mind, and remembering the public land managers’ important and common sense rule about burying human waste under at least 6″ of dirt, we’ve summarized our thoughts at this link: Is a composting toilet a good idea in an RV?

HOW TO LOCATE BOONDOCKING SITES

The Delorme State Atlas Books and the Benchmark Atlas Books show where the public lands are in each state, and we have one for every state we travel in (and for a few states we have two, one from each publisher!).

These atlases also have a section in the front that describes the various outings, scenic drives, historic spots and unusual natural landmarks that can be found within the state. With those attractions in mind, we have an idea of where we want to go and which secondary roads will get us there.

boondocking with a fifth wheel trailer in Idaho

Camping under a big open sky in Idaho

Each state also produces a free paper road map, and visitors centers usually stock them for all the states in the region, so it’s easy to get your hands on a road map when you arrive (and sometimes even before you arrive) in a new state. Note that the big state visitors centers are generally located on the interstates, so if you are crossing into a new state and want a map, arriving via an interstate highway is a good idea.

RV camping in the Oregon woods

Tucked into the woods in Oregon

We like these paper road maps because they give an overview of the layout of the state and they usually show where the scenic drives are too. You see, where there are scenic roads, there are beautiful things to see, and sometimes there are nice places to boondock too!

That’s why, between the atlas map books and the road maps, we are always on the lookout for scenic areas.

Another super resource is the wonderfully detailed National Geographic maps of America’s public lands. These take the atlas books one step further, giving finer detail (but covering less area). We turn to these when we want to zero in on a particular national forest or BLM area. These maps are especially useful for:

The National Geographic maps are also excellent for these states:

Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming

We usually aim for a particular area, and once we arrive, we find a place to park the rig temporarily so we can get our bearings and do some scouting in person. Then we unhitch our truck or unload the bikes, and we go scouting to see if there are any good campsites.

Usually, the first night or two we are in a temporary spot that is okay but is not somewhere we’d want to spend a long time. If we like the area and want to stay longer, we then do an all out search to find a better place. Sometimes we get lucky and find a great campsite. Sometimes it’s impossible and we just move on.

Camping under a rainbow in Wyoming

A rainbow crosses the sky in Wyoming

We incorporate our search for boondocking spots into our overall travels and sightseeing in each area we visit. Because of this, unlike most RV campers, for us searching for boondocking locations is an integral part of our lives and is the very fabric of our RV lifestyle.

Our biggest concern in scouting out a boondocking campsite is whether or not our rig will fit, both on the road getting there, and also once we are in the campsite. Overhanging branches and insufficient room to turn around can make a great spot impossible for us to use.

Secondary concerns are the potential that the place will get really muddy if it rains or really dusty if it gets windy. We also debate how long a drive it is from the campsite to wherever we want to visit. Sometimes it’s not worth staying if we’re going to be driving excessively to see whatever we came to see. However, in popular places we do frequently boondock in places that are as much as 20 to 50 miles from wherever we plan to be sightseeing.

It may sound funny, but we frequently don’t unhitch our trailer when we stay somewhere, especially if we know we won’t be staying more than a few days. If the area is bike friendly, and we’re caught up on our chores (laundry and grocery shopping), we won’t be using the truck anyways. So, we save ourselves a few minutes while setting up and breaking down camp by keeping the truck and trailer attached.

Camping in an RV in Arizona

Full moon at dusk in Arizona

There are listings of boondocking sites on various websites and some folks sell books with boondocking locations in them.

However, in all our years of living off the grid and boondocking, we have found that going scouting in person is by far the best way to find places to stay.

Ultimately, RV boondocking is all about adventure, and for us, the true joy of boondocking is exploring the wonderful public lands in America and discovering special campsites that are relatively unknown.

Overnight at a scenic lookou at Washington Pass in the North Cascades

One of our earliest boondocking experiences in Washington

Besides the thrill of discovery, another reason we like to find our campsites on our own rather than relying on lists of boondocking locations given by other people is that, in general, the quality of the reports in those lists is unreliable.

If the person reporting the site is traveling in a van, or in a car with a tent, or small RV, and has never driven a big RV, their “fabulous” campsite that is “good for any size RV” may be totally inappropriate for a truly big rig.

In addition, not only is one person’s definition of a “good dirt road” different than another’s, the site may have become unusable since the report was made.

RV camping in the boondocks in Oregon

Exotic skies in Oregon

Boondocking locations are being closed all the time.

Unfortunately, the places that allow RVers to boondock are shrinking in number all the time.

As communities grow in areas next to tracts of public land, residents don’t want to look out the windows of their new home to see RVs camping, and they get the public land management agencies to close the sites. Nearby RV parks and other fee based campgrounds also don’t like the competition from free campsites nearby, so they campaign to close dispersed camping sites to encourage RVers to stay in their campgrounds instead.

Also, the public land management agencies close roads to former boondocking sites every day for various reasons, frequently converting them to “Day Use Only.” All it takes to eliminate a stunning dispersed camping location is a “Road Closed” or “No Camping” sign on the road leading to it. These are becoming more and more common on America’s public lands.

Many places we stayed early in our travels are now off limits, and RVers who started out 10 or 20 years before us have told us of favorite campsites they lost before we even knew what boondocking was.

Day Use Only - No camping - sign for RV campers in the National Forest-min

There are over a dozen fantastic former boondocking campsites behind this sign in Colorado.

PARKING OVERNIGHT at COMMERCIAL PARKING LOTS, TRUCK STOPS and CASINOS

Walmart is famous for being very RV-friendly, and they sell a Rand McNally Atlas that lists all the addresses of every Walmart in the US as well as its interstate exit number, if it is near one. However Walmart is not always in control of their land, so staying overnight in their lot is not always legal.

Although most Walmarts would allow RV overnight parking if they could, when the building is on leased land with a landlord that forbids it, or when it is located within city limits that have an ordinance against overnight parking, then you can’t stay there.

Usually there are signs in the parking lot if overnight parking is not allowed. It is advisable to check with the store’s security department to find out whether or not they allow overnight parking, and if they do, where they want you to park.

Here is a list of No Overnight Parking Walmarts. Of course, sometimes rules are flagrantly ignored, and we have arrived at Walmarts where RVs and semi-tractor trailers were lined up between the signs prohibiting overnight parking!

Even more-so than on public land, the boondocking etiquette at a commercial parking lot like Walmart is really important.

We try to keep a low profile, usually remaining hitched to the truck and often not even putting the slides out. Obviously, camp chairs, patio mats, grills and other outdoor paraphernalia is strictly forbidden.

5th wheel trailer Boondocking in Colorado

Surrounded by gold in Colorado

We have seen people treat a Walmart parking lot like a campground, grilling steaks, enjoying cocktails in their camp chairs, and playing ball with their kids in the parking lot (and hitting car windshields with the ball!). No wonder city ordinances against overnight parking in commercial lots are on the rise!

How serious is this business of proper overnight parking etiquette?

Years ago, when we first started full-timing, we stayed at a casino that was very popular among snowbird RVers migrating down I-15 to Arizona for the winter.

While walking around the parking lot at sunset, we saw lots of of RVers setting up a big circle of camping chairs right in the parking lot. These more experienced RVers told us “it was fine” to have cocktail hour in the parking lot and that they did it whenever they came through on their north-south migration in spring and fall.

Free camping with a fifth wheel trailer in Wyoming

Camping on a lake in Wyoming

“The casino management doesn’t care if we do this…” these RVers told us. So we accepted their invitation to join them. It looked like fun! Well, apparently management did care, because now overnight parking is prohibited, not only in that particular casino parking lot but at most of the others in town too.

Along with this casino, we have seen quite a few other commercial parking lots that were once popular overnight spots close their lots to RVers. So again, be respectful of the special places that still allow it so others can enjoy it in the future!

Fifth wheel trailer RV boondocking in Arizona

Camping amid the cactus in Arizona

Cracker Barrel allows overnight parking at many locations, and they have a map that lists the addresses of their stores. However, we have yet to see a Cracker Barrel with a parking space big enough for our rig!

Camping World allows overnight parking in some of their lots. They list their store locations online and you can give them a call to find out which ones allow it.

Casino Camper gives descriptions of casinos that offer overnight RV parking, either in RV parks for a fee, or in a back lot for free.

Truck stops are another option in a pinch, although that rarely makes for a good night’s sleep.

Small businesses will sometimes allow an RV to stay in a back lot if you patronize them and ask permission. Some visitors centers allow it too, but generally only the ones in less busy areas.

GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP in a COMMERCIAL LOT

Most commercial lots are very well lit, so it’s almost impossible to find a spot in the parking lot where the street lights won’t be shining in the windows or down the bedroom hatch.

Using a vent hatch insulator in the bedroom roof hatch and putting Reflectix in the windows will block the light and make it easier to sleep. Choosing a spot that is far away from any trucks is important too, as they tend to come and go all night long. Refrigerated trucks run loud generators to keep their contents cold. Parking next to one overnight is no fun at all!

Camping by a brook in Idaho

Our own private Idaho

REST AREAS and PULL-OUTS

Some Interstate rest areas allow overnighting and some don’t. Generally, if it is not allowed, then there are signs that say so. Like truck stops, finding a spot away from the trucks is vital.

Vermont doesn’t allow sleeping in their rest areas between 7 pm and 7 am (apparently “resting” at a rest stop is a very short duration activity in Vermont), while at one time Texas offered free wifi at all of theirs! One rest area in Mississippi is set up like a campground with individual campsites and a water spigot at each site!

Many secondary roads have large pull-outs where you can be far off the highway and get a good night’s sleep.

ASK AROUND

The best boondocking resources are often fellow RVers and other people we meet in our travels. However, as with the online and printed reports of campsites, it helps to verify that the person has actually been there and done it.

Many forest rangers will say there is dispersed camping in their district, yet despite being “legal,” it is totally impractical. Find out if the ranger you are talking to is an RVer with a rig your size.

RV boondocking in Arizona

Beach camping in Arizona

Also, whoever you talk to, find out what kind of rig they actually took to the campsite they are describing and when they last went. They may own a big rig now, but if they took a Jeep and a tent to this site twenty years ago, it doesn’t count.

Lastly, size up the person and their thirst for adventure as compared to your own. We have several RVing friends who happily take their big motorhomes to places we’d hesitate to go.

Most of all — have fun with it. For us, half of the excitement of boondocking is in the searching. We always have an eye out for prospective camping sites as we drive around, and when we find a really good one it’s a total thrill.

RV camping and boondocking in Arizona

Red rock camping in Utah

WHY DON’T WE SHARE OUR BOONDOCKING LOCATIONS?

Many people ask us why we don’t give GPS coordinates or directions to the boondocking locations we find. Very simply, boondocking is all about adventure — not knowing what might lie around the corner or where you might sleep tonight. We don’t want to spoil that adventure for you!

More importantly, the essence of boondocking is being able to experience true independence, freedom and self-reliance, things that are rare in today’s world.

One of the greatest thrills of boondocking is suddenly coming across a campsite that is ideal for you, somewhere you would just LOVE to stay for a few days. If you simply drive to the GPS coordinates somebody else has given you, you are missing out on the most exciting aspects of boondocking: exploration and discovery.

Our boondocking locations work well for us, but they might not work for you. Our trailer sports a lot of pin stripes along its sides from scraping against tree branches when we’ve squeezed down a narrow road, and our truck already has a dent in the side from a tree branch falling on it when we shoe-horned ourselves into a tight spot.

We are willing to commute as much as 50 miles between our campsite and the areas where we sightsee. So, many of the stunning photos of our rig on this blog are not anywhere near the areas we were visiting at the time.

We also spend many hours each week searching for good campsites by driving our truck or riding our bikes down tiny dirt roads to see what’s there. This is an integral part of our daily lives and is not only a fundamental part of our travels but is something we really enjoy doing.

For those that are willing to make this kind of effort, all of the beautiful places you see in this blog are waiting for you to find. Relish the search — we do!

When we cruised in our sailboat, a popular cruising guide had just been published. It gave the GPS coordinates where the authors had anchored in every anchorage. Everywhere we went, boats were crammed around those coordinates. Even if the anchorage was a mile wide, 20 boats would be on top of each other where the authors of the book had dropped their anchor.

That kind of “paint-by-numbers” cruising (or boondocking) is easy, but I think all those sailors were missing out on something priceless: exploring and finding a little corner of their own that was away from it all and that was “theirs” for a few nights.

RV boondocking in a 5th wheel trailer

A classic sunset

Also, like everything on the Internet, this blog is read worldwide. I have seen our RV articles and our blog links being discussed on RVing forums from France to The Netherlands to Romania and have received emails from South American and Australian readers as well!

I love corresponding with American service people who are stationed overseas in the war-torn parts of the world, especially when they tell me that this blog is a source of inspiration for them as they begin to plan for a different life after their service is over.

However, there is little reason for people on the other side of the planet to get detailed directions to or GPS coordinates for priceless camping spots on America’s public land.

If boondocking and anchoring out all these years have taught us anything, it is that these places are precious. Anchorages are disappearing as they are turned into mooring fields and then get built up into marinas. Public land boondocking locations are disappearing often because it’s cheaper to prohibit dispersed camping than to pay to pick up the trash that careless campers and partiers have left behind.

We love our life in an RV off the grid, and we hope others with a similar passion for the natural world will approach it with the same kind of adventurous spirit as we do, and will find it as thrilling and fulfilling as we have.

However, going out and having a thrilling adventure of your own is an exercise we leave up to the reader!!

Want to learn more about RV boondocking? We have loads of articles on this website:

Index pages with links to our many articles about RVing:

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Official websites of the Public Land Agencies and Bureaus:

  • US Forest Service – The USFS manages America’s many National Forests under the Department of Agriculture
  • Bureau of Land Management – The BLM manages vast tracts of land in the west under the Department of the Interior
  • US Army Corps of Engineers – Among many other things, manages America’s watershed areas, largely in the east
  • National Park Service – Oversees and protects America’s natural and historic treasures, under the Department of the Interior

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