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!

2017 RV trips and international travel adventures-min

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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.

Thai menu copy-min

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!

Fruit for sale damnoen saduak floating market Bangkok Thailand copy-min

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.

Buddha statue in Lawa Cave Kanchanaburi Thailand copy-min

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.

Buddhist monks on train tracks Death Railway Kanchanaburi Thailand copy-min

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.

Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall Sri Nakarin Dam National Park Kanchanaburi Thailand copy-min

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.

Ko Lanta Beach in Thailand-min

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.

Tuk-tuk with heavy load Siem Reap Cambodia copy-min

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.

Cambodian school children playing in Siem Reap copy-min

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.

Angkor Wat ruins in Cambodia-min

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.

Step pyramid Angkor Wat temple Cambodia-min

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.

Face in the ruins at Angkor Wat Cambodia travel-min

This face is dozens of feet tall.

Faces at the gate Angkor Wat temple Cambodia travel-min

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!

Ancient Khmer Inscription at Angkor Wat temple district Cambodia-min

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.

Adventure travel in Cambodia-min

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.

Rippling water in Horseshoe Lake Arizona-min

Water ripples in our wake in the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaro cactus in Arizona-min

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.

Petrified Forest National Park RV trip-min

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

Blue Mesa Trail Petrified Forest National Park RV trip-min

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.

Canyon de Chelly RV trip-min

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.

Bandelier National Monument New Mexico RV trip-min

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.

Slot canyon at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico-min

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

Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico RV trip-min

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.

Snow on spring flowers New Mexico RV trip-min

Snow on spring flowers near Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Beautiful sky near Sand Dunes National Monument Colorado-min

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!

Porsche Rally in Colorado Rocky Mountains-min

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!

Wild burro looks in car window Custer State Park South Dakota RV tirp-min

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.

Western Tanager in Black Hills South Dakota RV trip-min

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.

Milky Way reflects in a lake in Black Hills South Dakota RV trip-min

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.

Fireworks on the 4th of July Custer South Dakota-min

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.

Horse riders in the Big Horn Mountains Wyoming RV trip-min

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.

Moonrise in Wyoming-min

Moonrise in Wyoming.

Herd of deer Big Horn Mountains Wyoming-min

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.

Bikini Bike Wash Sturgis Bike Week in South Dakota-min

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

Spearfish Canyon waterfall South Dakota RV trip-min

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!

Big horn sheep in Badlands South Dakota-min

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
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MONEY and FINANCES in the RV LIFESTYLE

GOING FULL-TIME

CHOOSING AN RV and INTERESTING RVs WE’VE SEEN

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

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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Never miss a post — it’s free!

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!!

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:

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Key hooks for the motorhome and the toad too.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

Everything in the RV kitchen relies on water, of course, but we RVers get our fresh water from all kinds of crazy sources all across the country, many of them a bit dubious. An excellent addition to every RV is a high quality water filter.

There are all kinds of filtration systems available, but a new one that has caught our eye is a Dual Canister Water Filtration System from CLEAR2O®. The first particulate filter removes silt, sand, sediment and rust while the second carbon filter removes bad odors and tastes.

Even better, this ruggedly constructed water filter system has water pressure gauges and can either be mounted in the RV or can stand up on its own rack on the ground.

Clear2O CdC200 Dual Cnister RV Water Filter

CLEAR2O® CDC200 Dual Canister Water Filtration System

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. Here’s a 6000 lumen flashlight – OMG!! (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 recently (reviewed here). He even got a tiny tool flashlight and a 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.

Energizer Rechargeable battery kit

Energizer rechargeable AA and AAA battery kit

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).

Even though it is “entry level,” Mark absolutely loves his Nikon D3500. It takes great photos and is small and light and great for long hikes. Another fabulous deal is the full-frame Nikon D610 camera. We both loved ours (although we paid twice as much for them!!) and we each put 150,000 images on them!! Check out the Nikon D610 kit deal with lens and battery grip here! Of course, the Nikon D850 remains top dog!

Another great deal right now is the Nikon D7500, an “intermediate” level camera.

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.

A great resource for viewing a variety of rigs and comparing prices of specific models is RVTrader.com. Another excellent resource, especially for Canadians, is RVDealers.ca.

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 June 2019, we have boondocked in our RV for a total of nearly 3,200 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 polite 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 also disappearing at an alarming rate, often because it’s much cheaper for the land management agencies to prohibit dispersed camping all together 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:

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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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Dirty Little Secrets from the RV Dump Station – RV Dumping Tips + Composting Toilets

When Trailer Life Magazine asked me to write a 2,000 word feature article about RV sanitation systems, including step-by-step RV dumping procedures, overall RV dump station etiquette and tips for emptying the RV holding tanks, all I could think of were two words:

Don’t Spill !!

Once Mark and I put our heads together, though, Continue reading

Full-time RV Tips – Mail, Domicile, Insurance, Saving Money!

The full-time RV lifestyle is absolutely fantastic, and we’ve been loving our nomadic life since 2007. Many people who are new to the idea of RVing full-time wonder how full-timers get their mail or file their taxes or what kind of insurance they buy. What the heck do they use as a home address (known in legalese as a “domicile”) and where do they register to vote? And how do they save money on RV park and campground costs?

This page, the third part in our series on full-time RVing, reveals all that we have learned about these topics in our many years on the road. The previous two articles are: Working and Living in an RV and Which RV is the Best Rolling Home?

For easy navigation on this page, and to read a little now and come back for more later, click on these links:

Links to the entire series and its various chapters are here: Full-time RV Lifestyle Tips

Full-time RVing Domicile Mail Forwarding Taxes RV Insurance

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SELECTING A DOMICILE: TAXES, MAIL FORWARDING & VEHICLE REGISTRATION

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Once you run away in an RV, you lose all the familiar pillars that supported your life before: mail no longer arrives daily at your doorstep, the washer and dryer are no longer just steps from the kitchen, the bank is no longer on a familiar corner. With a little flexibility all these things are easy to handle in a traveling lifestyle.

Selecting A Home State – Taxes and Vehicle Registration Rates

When you trade your home address to live on the road in an RV, you need to decide how to receive mail and what to call “home” on your tax returns. Some of the full-time RVers we meet retained the state of residence where they were living before they hit the road. Most of them still own property in that state, and they often have a relative or friend who forwards their mail.

However, most full-time RVers change their state of residence, or domicile, and there are valid reasons for doing so, including tax, insurance and vehicle registration rates.

States Without A State Income Tax

Not every state has a state income tax. South Dakota, Florida and Texas are among the states that have no state income tax, and they are the most popular states for full-time travelers. They are also fairly lenient for establishing residency, and they have many companies that offer mail forwarding and vehicle registration services.

Choosing a Domicile address and residency

When you no longer have a permanent physical home address, your legal address or “domicile” can be
in any state. Some states are better than others for this purpose.

State Sales Tax Rates

The sales tax rates also vary from state to state. The sales tax in one particular state may not seem important for someone who is going to be traveling all over the country, but the sales tax in your home state can actually be very important. If you buy a new vehicle — car, truck, trailer or motorhome — during your travels, you will register it in your home state and pay that state’s sales tax in the process. Many full-time RVers upgrade either their RV, tow vehicle or “toad” at some point. We have purchased tw trucks and two trailers during our years on the road. The sales tax rates in the most popular states for full-time travelers are:

South Dakota 4%
Florida 6%
Texas 6.25%

Other Considerations – Additional Taxes and Insurance

Vehicle registration fees and vehicle insurance rates, as well as cell phone taxes and health insurance rates also vary between those states. Health insurance varies dramatically from state to state and health insurance needs and qualifying criteria also vary from person to person.

For those concerned about dental and medical care on the road, another option is to zip across America’s southern border to get good dental/medical care in Mexico. We have gotten a lot of excellent dental care in Mexico, both in our lives as RVers and our lives as boaters living in Mexico. We have detailed information about dental care in Mexico at this link:

Mexican Dentists – Finding Affordable Dental Care in Mexico

South Dakota is popular among full-time travelers because it boasts no inheritance tax, no property tax and no vehicle inspections. We chose South Dakota as our domicile right before we hit the road as newbie full-time RVers in 2007.

There are other states that have either no income tax and/or no sales tax besides these three most popular ones (SD, TX and FL). However, those states make it a little more difficult to establish residency, leaving full-time travelers in a bind, and they have fewer companies offering mail forwarding and vehicle registration services.

The Impact of Non-Residents on these Popular States

The advantage to these states and communities of having lots of non-resident residents is that they receive many thousands of dollars of sales taxes, insurance premiums and registration fees that wouldn’t otherwise come their way. The presence of mail forwarding companies also creates jobs in these states that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

At the same time, this non-resident residency impacts the local politics of the cities and towns where the biggest mail forwarding companies do business because of the huge number of absentee voters. These voters may vote like each other — full-time RVers have a lot in common with each other — but they don’t necessarily vote like the other residents of their adopted hometowns.

The Right to Vote

Many Americans assume that they have a constitutional right to vote. Surprisingly, that is not the case. States control who can vote and who can’t, from local elections on up to presidential elections. For more info on this, visit FairVote.org.

Uncle Sam Right to Vote for nomadic RVers

In early February, 2016, a bill was introduced in South Dakota that would effectively deny anyone using a South Dakota mail forwarding service as their legal domicile the right to vote. The history behind this bill was that in Pennington Country a vehicle tax increase of $60 came up for a vote, and prior to voting day, certain politicians assumed that the nomadic RVers with legal domiciles in that county would unanimously vote against it.

Interestingly, in the end only 11% of the RVers from Americas Mailbox in that county actually cast a vote. Of course, 98% of them did vote against the tax, which continued to raise an alarm for the politicians.

As a result, Senate Bill 164 was proposed by Republican Senator Craig Tieszen to deny voting rights to residents who did not maintain a home in the state. The bill was tabled in committee, due in large part to the very vocal response from the RVing community, but the issue still rankles certain politicians in South Dakota, so it would not be surprising if it surfaced again in the future.

We have posted a detailed article explaining the issue as well as a detailed analysis of the committee hearing written by the Escapees Advocacy Director in an email to Escapees members. The comments made by Senator Tieszen at the hearing make it clear he is going to continue to work towards eliminating the voting eligibility of people who are not physical residents of the state.

The “Right To Vote” is a Privilege Some Full-Time RVers Might Lose

Selecting A Mail Forwarding Company — Your Home Address

In addition to finding a state that makes financial sense for your lifestyle needs, finding the right mail forwarding company is very important. This company will give you your actual legal mailing address for everything you do, from banking to borrowing to filing income taxes to voting.

South Dakota, Texas and Florida are all home to major mail forwarding services that will help you become a legal resident, help you register and insure your vehicles and help you become a registered voter. Your postal mail will be sent to your address at the mail forwarding service. They will then sent it to you, wherever you are. You will have to show up in person in your new home state to get your driver’s license. The terms for renewing a driver’s license vary from state to state.

If the company goes out of business (and we’ve heard of that happening), not only might you lose some mail, but you are left without a legal address. Of course, it is easy enough to “move” when you live on the road, so you won’t be homeless for long. But you will have to make a lot of phone calls and online address changes wherever your mailing address is recorded.

Your Name
General Delivery
City, State Zip

“Virtual Mail” Service

Most of the bigger mail forwarding services now offer some kind of “virtual” service where you can see a scanned image of each envelope as soon as it arrives and then request to have the envelope opened and the documents inside scanned as well, with further options to do something special if the document needs to reach you physically right away or to shred it.

We have been enjoying the virtual mail service that comes with the Platinum plan at America’s Mailbox, and we have found it is really handy to know what is waiting for us in the mail before we have it shipped to us.

Mail Forwarding Service Providers

In South Dakota, one of the largest mail forwarding services is America’s Mailbox just outside of Rapid City in Box Elder near the Black Hills in the western part of the state. We have the Platinum plan with them and have been absolutely delighted with their service. We call them once a month and tell them where to send the mail. Mail forwarding providers in South Dakota include:

The locations can be seen on this interactive Map of South Dakota

In Texas, Escapees has the largest mail forwarding service in the country. They receive a semi tractor-trailer load of mail everyday. We saw this truck come in everyday while visiting the main Escapees Headquarters campus in Livingston, Texas, and we toured their mail sorting facility. We were absolutely floored by the operation (our blog post about it is here: Rainbow’s End – Escapees RV Club Headquarters in Livingston Texas. Another Texas mail forwarding service is Texas Home Base.

In Florida, cruising sailors have relied on St. Brendan’s Isle mail forwarding for ages. To my knowledge, they were the first (by at least 5 years) to provide a virtual mail service where you could see a scanned image of your mail in an email message. This kind of service is now provided by America’s Mailbox and Escapees and others as well. Other mail forwarding services in Florida are Nato Mail, Escapees, Good Sam Club and My RV Mail.

US Mail truck at Escapees RV Club mail sorting facility Livingston Texas

A US Mail semi tractor-trailer arrives at the Escapees mail sorting facility in Texas with one day’s mail.

How Do You Get Your Mail Forwarded To You?

Usually we have the mail sent to a post office, addressed to us via “General Delivery.” We get the zip code for the post office online from www.usps.com. If we are in transit, we try to guess what town we might be traveling through in a few days. The post office holds all General Delivery mail for 30 days, so there is plenty of time to locate the post office and retrieve our box.

The format for a General Delivery address is:

When selecting a post office, be sure they offer General Delivery services (you can find out at the www.usps.com link). Virtually all full service post offices do, but some of the “Approved postal providers” that they list don’t. When you go to get your box o’ mail, they will ask for your ID before handing it to you.

You can also have your mail sent to an RV park where you are staying or to a friend’s house. If mail is going to a friend, address it:

Your Name
c/o Your Friend’s Name
Street
City, State Zip

We find it is far preferable, in all mail and shipping matters, to select a smaller, quieter rural post office instead of a big chaotic urban one.

US Post Office Mail General Delivery

We find the smaller post offices are easier and more fun to work with, like this little log cabin
post office in the historic village of Washington outside Maysville, Kentucky

How Do You Have Packages Shipped To You?

Because we don’t like to plan more than a day in advance, we have small items sent to our South Dakota mailing address. Sure, we pay double shipping sometimes (first to get it to SD and then to get it to us, wherever we are), but that’s a small price to pay to be on the road full-time, happy, free and independent.

We have larger packages shipped directly to us, wherever we are. This takes some planning and strategizing, as explained below.

Can FedEx and UPS Packages Be Shipped to General Delivery Post Office Addresses?

UPS and FedEx packages are most easily shipped to real street addresses (RV Parks or friends) or to post office box holders at a post office or to a shipping store like FedEx/Kinko’s or a UPS store or Mailboxes Etc. If you are staying somewhere for the season, you can get a PO box at a mailing services store.

If you don’t have a real street address at the moment (i.e., you are boondocking), the easiest way to go is to have packages shipped by the US Postal Service to General Delivery at a post office. Doing it this way, the package stays within the US postal system the entire time from shipping to delivery.

We have at least two dozen shipping addresses listed in our Amazon account. LOL!! Reading through those addresses is like reading a brief history of our RV travels, as the addresses date back to our first year on the road!!

If the shipper can’t or won’t use the Postal Service, then they can ship via a dedicated shipping company like UPS or FedEx to a post office General Delivery address. However, this is more complicated because the package is handled by both the Postal Service and the shipping company.

The Postal Service coordinates shipping and deliveries with UPS and FedEx, but they are also direct competitors with them, so things can get muddy and there are no strict rules and regulations that we know of.

We’ve had the Postmasters at several different Post Offices give us totally conflicting information. We pressed two different Postmasters to call their district supervisors to get the details clarified, and even then we got conflicting information. So it seems the Postal Service is is still working out its relationships with UPS and FedEx as far as General Deliveries go.

Postal Service Fees For Packages Shipped By UPS and FedEx

Sometimes packages shipped by UPS or FedEx to a General Delivery address at a post office are handed to the recipient free of charge. However, sometimes the Postal Service charges the recipient a fee at the pickup counter before handing over the package. I know this seems odd, because FedEx or UPS carried the package all the way across the country while the Postal Service is merely carrying it from the mail room to the front counter. But it happens.

We have received many Post Office General Delivery packages shipped by both UPS and FedEx without being charged a penny by the Postal Service. However, we have received just as many packages where we were charged a fee of as much as $12, depending on the size of the package, when we went to the post office window to pick it up. There is no way of knowing what the fee will be ahead of time, as it is out of the hands of the company that shipped the package and is entirely up to the local Post Office that delivers it to you via General Delivery.

Shipping to a Warehouse Distribution Center

To get around this, you can look up the nearest warehouse distribution center for either FedEx or UPS and have the package shipped to that distribution center with “Hold for Pickup” written on it. You will not be charged a fee at pickup. However, you will need to track the package and you will have 5 days to pick up the package before it is returned to the sender.

Delivery to a Shipping/Mail Services Store

If the distribution center is too hard to get to, you can opt to have the package shipped to a UPS Store or FedEx/Kinko’s store or other shipping store like MailBoxes Etc. The store will likely charge you a fee, even if it is a UPS store and you are shipping via UPS or is a FedEx/Kinko’s and you are shipping via FedEx. We’ve seen the fee range from a flat fee of $3 whenever you pick it up to $7 per day, however these stores are more likely to hold the package longer than 5 days. So, check with the store before having something shipped to them to get the details and verify how they want the package to be addressed.

New: Shipping to a Store Near You

There is a new development at both UPS and FedEx to ship packages to drug stores, supermarkets and mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. While we staying in Buffalo, Wyoming, in the summer of 2017, a small clothing store on the main drag both shipped and received UPS packages for us.

The FedEx program is called FedEx OnSite and it networks with Kroger Stores, Albertsons and Walgreens. The UPS program is called US Access Point and networks with 4,000 locations in mom-and-pop grocery stores, dry cleaners and other merchants.

Case History – UPS Goes Above And Beyond!

This all may sound complicated, but sometimes it’s as smooth as silk.

One time we had a package shipped via UPS to a post office General Delivery address in a small town. We tracked the package, and noticed its status was “On the truck and out for delivery.” This seemed to imply that the package was on its way to the post office, so we called the UPS distribution center to find out at what time of day the truck might get to the post office so we could drive in to get it.

The UPS distribution center was small, and they said only the driver would know the exact time. To our utter astonishment, they gave us the UPS driver’s cell phone number. So we called him!! He was very friendly and said he could drive over to where our RV was parked and hand deliver the package in about 10 minutes. We were both totally shocked when he pulled alongside our rig and handed our package to Mark — at no charge. Now how’s that for service?!

UPS Package Delivery to an RV

A UPS driver hand delivers a package to Mark at our fifth wheel!

Vehicle Registration

We have registered four vehicles through our mail forwarding service provider: two trucks and two trailers. Each time they have emailed us a few forms and worked with us on the phone to fill them out properly. They have then submitted the forms to the registry of motor vehicles and we have received our license plates in the mail a few weeks later.

Each year we get new tags for our plates. We handle this via the phone or online with a credit card or check, and the tags come within a week or so. Easy!

Banking

Online banking has made full-time travel much easier than it was years ago. Almost everything can be done with plastic in person and then by paying the credit card bill online. Income taxes are easy to file online these days, and you can get your tax refund for state or federal income taxes very easily.

For cash needs, you can get “cash over” on a debit card at the supermarket without any fees rather than worrying about finding a branch of your bank in some obscure town or paying extra to get money from an ATM machine. Buy a pack of gum for a buck and get $100 over. If you need to deposit a check, get the mailing address of your bank branch and mail them a short explanatory note, a deposit slip and the check, endorsed “For deposit only.”

If you will be RVing in Canada or Mexico a lot, get checking and credit card accounts from Capital One to avoid international currency exchange fees (Capital One doesn’t charge anything whereas most US banks charge a 3% fee on every transaction made outside the US).

We have other notes for RVers headed into Canada here: Tips for RV Travelers Going to Nova Scotia

 

FULL-TIME RV INSURANCE

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These are notes from my own recent calls to 7 different insurance agents representing a variety of providers. I got multiple quotes from National General (Good Sam Club), Nationwide (Allied), National Interstate and Progressive .

Some agents represented the same companies as each other, but getting an apples-to-apples comparison between agents and providers proved extremely difficult and required repeated phone calls and lots of persistence. The differences are all in the fine print, which no one likes to read.

How Much Is That RV Worth?

New RV insurance policies\ for late model RVs can cover the RV for its Replacement Value. That is, within the first 2 to 5 or so model years, depending on the insurer, if the RV is destroyed, you can shop for a new one of similar type and features. In the next model year after the insurer’s time limit for Replacement Value coverage has ended, your coverage will change to Actual Cash Value which is the current market value of the year, make and model of RV.

If your RV is covered for Actual Cash Value, at the time of a claim, the insurance adjuster will determine what that current value of it is using the NADA guide or similar pricing tool.

Tow truck towing a motorhome do they have insurance

Bummer.

Liability Coverage

When you give up your home owner’s policy, you give up a lot of nice blanket coverages that come with it, like liability coverage and the loss of personal belongings. Quite a few companies offer “Full-time RV insurance” that includes liability coverage similar to what would typically come with a home insurance policy. Coverage for personal belongings is a whole different story, however. See below.

Personal Effects

The biggest problem for full-timers is covering their personal belongings. Anything that was not originally sold with the RV and is not attached (imagine turning the RV upside down to find out what’s “not attached”), is considered “Personal Effects,” and most RV policies include some kind of coverage for Personal Effects. However, from my research, this coverage is woefully inadequate if you have anything beyond basic camping gear in your rig.

The following is a summary of how the various quotes I received were explained to me. I list the specifics here not so much to suggest one company’s product over another but so you can see just how much you need to press for the exact details if you really want to understand the insurance you are buying. Obviously, the companies mentioned may change their policies, and it’s possible I misunderstood something.

The value of Personal Effects coverage available generally ranges from $2,000 (National Interstate) to $20,000 (National General), and the full amount is reimbursed in the event of the RV’s total loss. In the event of theft, there has to be proof of forcible entry and a police report must be filed (the time limits for filing the report vary). In case you disagree with the value the adjuster assigns to an item at the time of a claim, it helps to have dated photos of each item and receipts.

In the event that there is a partial loss, like theft of just a few items, there are caps on what is covered. With National General, if the theft occurs inside your RV, then the cap is 25% of the total value of all the Personal Effects coverage that you carry. For example, if you have a $20,000 Personal Effects policy, then this means there is a cap of $5,000 per claim. If the theft occurs outside the RV but on your campsite, then the coverage is 10% of the total value of all the Personal Effects coverage that you carry. Again, for $20,000 total coverage, this means a cap of $2,000 per claim. There is no coverage if the theft occurs away from the RV (i.e, your bike is stolen from the bike rack at the coffee shop in town).

Bicycle insurance and camera insurance is separate from RV insurance

Bikes and cameras are covered (more or less) on your campsite but not away from the RV.

In the case of Nationwide (Allied), there is a four page description of how personal effects are covered and the capping methodology used, including more than a page of listed exclusions. Some highlights: There’s a cap of $500 per individual item. Groups of similar types of items are capped differently, for instance items grouped as “camera equipment” or “fishing gear” or “musical instruments” are capped at $1,000 per group while items grouped as “computer equipment,” “tools” and “silverware” are capped at $3,000 per group.

On the other hand, the “outside the RV” coverage with Nationwide is more generous than National General at 25% of the total Personal Effects coverage rather than 10%.

All of these reimbursements may be subject to your overall policy deductible or may have a specially applied Personal Effects deductible (for Nationwide it is $250).

Getting Personal Effects coverage above and beyond the $20,000 limit generally requires scheduling each item and giving it a value. Progressive requires each item to be appraised ahead of time and submitted as part of the application process for securing an insurance policy. Nationwide doesn’t require appraisals but asks for receipts showing prices paid and date of purchase so they can determine the depreciated value. I’m not sure how either handles the “outside the RV” scenario if the base coverage is higher than $20,000.

So, as you can see, you won’t get much for your stuff unless the whole RV and everything in it goes up in smoke, even if your policy says that $20,000 of personal belongings is covered.

We had National Interstate at first and were very happy with their speedy payment in covering a very large claim. However, their Personal Effects coverage just isn’t adequate, so we have National General at the moment and are still shopping.

How About Renter’s Insurance?

Renter’s Insurance provides tenants with a policy that is much like a homeowner’s policy, covering all the items in the home whether the loss occurrs in the home or somewhere else. These can be set up with small deductibles (like $50) that make sense for a $2,000 loss. However, you must be renting a stationary home and you must provide the address of the place you are renting. Unfortunately, your mail forwarding address or a relative’s address don’t count, and using an address where you are not living constitutes insurance fraud.

Awww… We Don’t Have Nuthin’ — We’re Livin’ Cheap!

You may look around at your stuff and say, “Bah… I don’t have anything of real value here.” But imagine trying to replace all your clothes (winter and summer), shoes (running, walking, hiking, dress shoes, slippers, sandals, boots), jackets, sweaters, blankets, pillows, sheets, towels, everything in the bathroom vanity, food in the fridge as well as pantry, dishes, pots and pans, kitchen appliances, CDs, DVDs, BBQ, portable generator, tools in the basement, spare parts, musical instruments, laptops, printers, cameras, smartphones, bicycles, kayaks, books, etc.

It adds up quick! It is worth it to take five minutes with a calculator and get a figure, just so you know.

With any luck, as the full-time RV lifestyle grows in popularity, insurance companies will come up wtih a way for full-time RVers to insure all their worldly belongings beyond just their vehicles and to provide useful replacement coverage for it.

How To Insure Specialty Items Like Camera Gear and Bikes

If you have expensive camera gear or very high end bicycles, it is possible to insure them with specialty insurance. Cameras can be covered through a photography membership in NANPA. Bikes can be covered through Big Ring Insurance.

Upgrades to the RV

If you install solar power, a big battery bank, or upgrade your converter or inverter or have any kind of add-on that is pernamently attached to the rig, and you have an older rig that you are insuring for Actual Cash Value, that upgrade will be part of the Actual Cash Value figure that the insurance adjuster will be calculating at the time of a claim. If you are insuring for Replacement Value, check with your agent how best to cover major upgrades.

Photograph the equipment you have upgraded, locate the receipts, and ask your agent if they want those things at the time you apply for insurance or if they should be supplied at the time of a claim. They all vary!

RV upgrade solar panels on roof

Mark installs flexible solar panels on the roof of a friend’s motorhome.

RV Extended Warranties

We carry a trailer warranty policy through Wholesale Warranties now that the original manufacturer’s warranty is no longer in effect.

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over!
Confused about the nitty gritty fine print buried in RV Extended Warranties? Here's an excellent detailed explanation!!

We were so exhausted by these repairs (they hit us all at once between August and October of 2015), that I haven’t yet written a blog post about the last one. It just isn’t fun writing that stuff!! However, hopefully you can see the incredible value of getting a motorhome warranty or trailer warranty, especially if your rig is a few years old (ours is a 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer).

The beauty of an RV Extended Warranty is that it picks up where a regular insurance policy leaves off. Our entire trailer is covered for all failures other than regular wear and tear. This includes having the frame crack or slides fail to come in and out or the suspension give up the ghost (it did) or having the air conditioner or refrigerator die (which it did too).

These could be very expensive repairs, and it is worth the peace of mind to carry an RV Extended Warranty policy rather than risk a large, unexpected repair expense. We use Wholesale Warranties, and you can get a quote for a policy from them here.

To learn more about RV Warranties and what to look for when you buy one, see:

What Is An RV Warranty and Do You Need One?

 

Internet and Phone – Staying Connected On The Road

We do not have a cell phone, but getting internet on the road is pretty easy. We have written an article on how we get get internet access and live without a phone here: RV Mobile Internet Access – A Minimalist Approach

Laundry

Many RV parks have laundry facilities on-site, and some full-timers purchase RVs equipped with a washer and dryer. We like to use the local laundromat in town. We can do four, five or six loads of laundry in two hours flat. We use the biggest front loading washers in the laundromat we can find because they are usually the best ones both for washing and for spinning dry. Laundromats can be a great place to meet people and learn about an area. In Flagstaff, Arizona, if you want to meet Navajo Indians, go to the local laundromat, preferably on a Saturday when it’s busy!

However, if you want the place to yourself, go to the laundromat midweek around noon, well after the daily morning rush and before the after work crowd arrives.

Laundry facilities in RV parks can be very crowded and usually have just a few smaller top loading machines. Most parks have only a few machines and when a park is full they can get very busy and it can be hard to get a machine.

Washers and dryers installed in RVs are really small, and it is common to do a load a day to keep up. However, you can do it “in the background” while doing other things around the rig, the way you used to in your old conventional life back home!

Hair

Along with all the other changes when you start a life in an RV on the road, you’ll find yourself adjusting to having a new hair stylist — and sometimes a new hair style — every time you get your hair cut. There are Great Clips and Super Cuts everywhere, and Walmart has their in-store salons.

One of the best ways we’ve found to get to know a small town is to get a haircut from the local barber. We have many special memories from haircuts in towns from Kansas to Utah to North Carolina to Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

But perhaps our best hair cutting story is in this blog post:

It’s Not About The Hair!!

 

SAVING MONEY ON RV OVERNIGHT COSTS

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There are three basic options for where to park the rig and spend the night:

  • Private RV parks
  • Public campgrounds and RV parks
  • Boondocking

Private RV Parks

There are private RV parks everywhere. They are extremely easy to find online, in commercial guide books and by asking at visitors centers. The AllStays App is a very popular resource. Private RV parks range from about $30/night to $60/night or more, tending to even higher prices in popular destinations at peak season in choice sites that offer more amenities (like a view). The parking is generally laid out in rows, and the sites can range from drycamping sites (no hookups) to electric and/or water only to electric/water/sewer with cable TV, telephone and free WiFi. Usually the site includes a picnic table, and sometimes the park has a pool, showers, shuffleboard or horseshoes, sometimes bike and canoe rentals, a small store, or other goodies.

Staying for one night is most expensive. Commiting to a week or a month or a season will get you a much lower nightly rate.

Public Campgrounds and RV Parks

Public campgrounds run the gamut from rustic campgrounds on-site at the national parks to state park campgrounds to national forest service and BLM campgrounds to Corps of Engineers campgrounds to regional park campgrounds and fairgrounds. Somewhere along the line there is a crossover to municipal and city RV parks. These campgrounds and RV parks often offer fewer amenities than private RV parks: there may (or may not) be water spigots or vault toilets (non-flushing), or there may be electric and water hookups and hot showers. Usually there are no sewer hookups but there is often an RV dump station in the campground.

RV camping at public state park campground_

Many state park campgrounds are in beautiful locations like
Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona.

Usually there are picnic tables and campfire rings at each site. Often the sites at national park, national forest and Corps of Engineers campgrounds are too small for a larger RV. However, some state park campgrounds have absolutely gorgeous big sites that are in a natural setting with a jaw dropping view. Generally these campgrounds cost anywhere from $8/night to $35/night, depending on the amenities offered, the beauty and popularity of the surrounding area and the the season you are visiting.

Many of these public campgrounds (except the state parks) honor the National Senior Access Pass (for citizens aged 62 and over) and Federal Land Inter-Agency Pass (the annual “National Parks Pass” that is available to everyone) offering a 50% discount to carriers of one of these passes.

Don Wright has written two books that list inexpensive public campgrounds:

Generally there is a stay limit at these kinds of campgrounds, typically 2 weeks, and generally there are no discounts given for longer stays.

Boondocking

Many National Forests and most lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allow RVs to camp outside the confines of their campgrounds. Also, it is generally legal to park in public parking areas and rest areas that are not posted with signs prohibiting overnight parking. And you can always camp out in a friend’s driveway! The price for these kinds of overnight stays is $0. However, you need to equip your rig to run without hookups to take advantage of these places for an extended period of time.

For more info about boondocking, check out our pages on:

Campground Memberships

There are a lot of campground membership programs that offer discounted nightly rates at private RV parks. Each program is different, however they fall into two general categories: inexpensive memberships that offer modest discounts on nightly rates and “investment” memberships that cost a lot up front but offer big discounts on nightly rates.

The inexpensive memberships generally unite thousands of independent RV parks under a single umbrella. The “investment” memberships tend to include fewer RV parks in their networks and insure a higher standard and better consistency in RV park quality.

Inexpensive Campground Memberships

The most popular inexpensive campground membership is offered by Passport America. They charge an annual fee of $44 ($79 for 2 years, $399 for lifetime) and offer a 50% savings off the nightly rate at any of the 1,900 member RV parks. Another similar membership program is Happy Camper which costs $40 per year and also offers 50% off at their 1,200 member RV parks.

There is little risk in joining these programs, as they are cheap to join and you do not have to renew if you don’t like the program. Sometimes they even offer a money-back guarantee for the first 90 days. However, because the member parks are independently run, RV parks join and abandon the programs as suits their individual business needs. When you make your reservation, double check that the park is still a member of your program.

“Investment” Campground Memberships

“Investment” style campground programs cost a lot up front but offer very inexpensive overnight stays.

The Thousand Trails network offers 30 free overnight stays in a 12 month period for $545 at campgrounds that are within one of five zones across the country. After you’ve used up the 30 free nights, the rest of your overnights for that year are just $3 a night. Each zone has between 13 and 23 RV parks in it. You can stay at any RV park in your zone for up to 14 days and then you must stay somewhere outside of the network for 7 nights before coming back. You can repeat this cycle indefinitely. Right now they are offering a special of two zones for the price of one. An added perk is that you get a 20% discount on overnight stays at the affiliate Encore network of RV parks too.

Other “investment” campground programs are structured like a timeshare. You buy into a “home park,” pay an annual fee, and can then stay at member parks for $10 to $15 a night. You learn about these membership programs just like a timeshare — by taking a tour.

We have taken two such tours, and they were a lot of fun. In each case we were given two free nights at the RV park, and at some point during our stay we took a 2-3 hour tour. The sales technique is the “hot seat” method, but it is easy enough to smile and say “no” politely if you aren’t interested. One of our tours was at the Havasu Springs Resort.

One of the biggest programs is offered by Good Sam Club’s Coast Resorts which has 400 member parks. You can sign up for their free two night stay and tour package here.

RV Resort Membership Programs - Thousand Trails

“Investment” campground memberships aim to offer higher quality RV parks at a discount

These kinds of campground membership programs are a complicated, and the companies change the rules as their profitability and growth plan requires. It is best to book your stays 90 days or more in advance and there may also be a complex set of rules to follow regarding staying within the network and outside of it. Sometimes an alternative campground network is offered so you have somewhere similar to stay when it is time for you to stay outside your home network. Two we’ve heard of are Resorts of Distinction and Adventure Outdoor Resorts given as the alternative networks.

Moose and Elks Clubs

We have met several full-timers who are members of the Moose Club and Elks Club and use their RV facilities on a regular basis. This seems like a terrific option, although we have not joined either organization yet. Membership requires a sponsor, but each time we’ve stopped in and inquired, people have offered to be sponsors right at the bar! The membership fee is on the order of $100 or so a year and overnights in the RV parks are $10 to $20 or so. Some lodges without formal RV park sites may allow members to dry camp in the parking lot if there’s room.

Military RV Parks

For those people that are retired from the military, there is a fantastic network of RV parks located on many bases throughout the US. If you enjoy dry camping, you may be able to cut the cost even more by parking on the grass (we have!).

Final Thoughts

I hope these notes have given you an idea of what becoming a full-time RVer entails when you are ready to turn your fun RV vacations into a lifestyle. Despite all the words I’ve written here and in the other two posts in this series on full-time RVing, going full-time isn’t all that complicated.

Do your research, get out and talk to as many full-time RVers in person as you can find, practice a little by renting or buying a small rig, and then take the leap and go have an awesome RVing adventure!!

Renting an RV

Have fun with your research and planning!

Further Reading:

This was the third part in our 3-part series on full-time RVing. You can read the other parts in this series or skip to its various chapters via these links:

Living and Working in an RV:

Which RV is Best for Full-time? and How To Transition?

Full-time RV Tips – Mail, Domicile, Insurance, Saving Money!

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RV Mountain Driving: How to drive your RV safely on mountain roads

Sheep Creek Overlook Flaming Gorge Utah

It was a steep climb to get to this gorgeous spot in Flaming Gorge, Utah.

For us one of the best things about the RVing lifestyle is seeing all the spectacular scenery that North America has to offer.  But getting there often involves driving over scary mountain passes.  We are far from experts, but here are a few things we’ve learned about how to get up and over the mountains:

Get familiar with the mountain pass in advance

The book Mountain Directory West for Truckers, RV and Motorhome Drivers is a terrific resource.  Every mountain pass in the west is described in detail, including grades, turns, how many miles you will drive at each grade and whether the road has steep drop-offs or wide shoulders and other helpful info.  This book (and its companion eastern states edition) is available in a print edition or as an eBook.

Steepness is described in terms of grades: 5% grades are not bad; 10% grades are very steep.  The tightness of the switchback turns are described by the speed limit: 25 mph turns are a bit tight; 15 mph turns are very tight.

Once you’ve got a handle on the nature of the pass you’re considering, it also helps to get some first-hand feedback from drivers who’ve done it.  As we travel we often ask locals about upcoming roads that concern us.  Folks at visitors centers, chambers of commerce, local stores and libraries can give you a sense of what the drive is like, and this will help you decide whether you want to tackle the climb.

For the steepest climbs and most scary seeming roads, we driving the road in our truck without the trailer first. Then we know exactly what to expect when we drive it with our trailer attached!

Ascending:  Keep the engine cool

At the bottom of a big pass, even if it’s a hot day, we turn off the air conditioning.  If the pass is a long one, we also turn on the heat — full blast — to draw heat off the engine. This is tough on the passengers on hot summer days but keeps the engine happy.

Overheating:  Pull over and let it idle

If you need to pull over to let the engine cool down, keep it idling so it can continue to circulate anti-freeze through the radiator.  The electric fan should kick on to circulate air through the radiator as well.  You can also turn the heater on with the fan on high to help draw more heat off the engine even faster.

Descending:  Use the exhaust brake, drop down a gear or even switch to 4×4 Low

Depressing and letting off the gas pedal will engage the exhaust brake.  If the descent is steep, dropping into 2nd gear will slow the vehicle down further.  If it is very steep, switching into 4×4 Low and driving in 1st gear can slow the rig to 5 mph and make it possible to creep down a crazy steep mountain in a controlled fashion. We’ve done it and it works!!

As I mentioned, we aren’t experts, but these few simple things have made a big difference for us.

Good luck with your mountain driving, and don’t be afraid to take the scenic route, even if it involves some steep climbs and descents!

New to this site?  Check out RVing Lifestyle and Tech Tips at the top of the page for detailed info about installing a vent-free propane heater, living the full-time RV lifestyle, how to go boondocking, the costs of full-time RVing and more.  Please visit our Home page and Welcome page for RVers to learn more about us and discover all the other good stuff available to you on this blog.

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Mobile Internet & Phone Communications for RV Living – A Minimalist Solution!

How do you stay in touch when living on the road full-time in an RV? What kind of internet access is best? Which phone plans make the most sense for a full-time RVer? These are some of the questions that RVers face, and there is a huge array of possible solutions available for every need and lifestyle.

Note: This post was updated in February 2018 to report our experiences with the WeBoost Drive 4G-X RV cellular signal booster. Click HERE to skip to that section.

Mobile internet and phone communications for full-time RV living

Mobile communications techniques differ a fair bit among RVers. We have a simple method with one device.


The gurus on topic of mobile internet access are unquestionably Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of Technomadia. They have written a fantastic book about the internet for RVers and also created an online community dedicated to mobile internet issues (more about those excellent resources here).

Because we have taken an unconventional route with our own communications solution (as we have done with everything in our traveling lifestyle since we started 10 years ago), I thought a few notes here about what we do might be useful.

For starters, we don’t have a phone.

What, No Phone?! How Can You DO THAT?!

After several decades of being “on call” in our professions, bound to our customers by electronic leashes, we ditched our cell phones when we started traveling full-time in 2007. At first, this was a money-savings tactic, but since then it is in many ways a small act of defiance against a world that is increasingly held in electronic bondage.

We have managed just fine without a phone all these years.  We’ve been able to meet up with friends at appointed hours, find our way to remote and stunning locations without a GPS-enabled electronic map. We’ve even bought and sold large assets like our sailboat and truck, all without a phone. Lower on this page there are lots of details explaining how we make and receive phone calls.

If you are looking to shave a few dollars off your full-time RVing budget, or if you are just curious how this is possible, here’s what we do.

Internet Access – Verizon MiFi Jetpack

Verizon MiFi Jetpack 6620L

Verizon MiFi Jetpack 6620L

We have a Verizon MiFi 6620L Jetpack hotspot that is the basis of all our communications. It operates on the Verizon cell phone towers, has a cell phone number itself, provides password protected WiFi inside and near the rig, and can theoretically support 15 devices connected to the internet.

A little back-story on — For three years we had a Verizon MiFi 4620 jetpack, but in October, 2014, its tiny charging receptacle broke and it could no longer get charged. Mark tried to nurse it back to life by soldering its lifeless receptacle to the charger permanently, but the problem was internal and it was dead.

MiFi Jetpack Charger solder repair

We tried soldering wires from the MiFi to its charger, but it still wouldn’t charge.

The old 4620 Jetpack always had problems charging and holding a charge. The MiFi 6620L Jetpack can theoretically run on battery power for 20 hours and support up to 15 simultaneous connections. It can definitely run longer than the old one, but 20 hours is an overstatement. 6 to 7 hours with two users is more like it in our household.

There is a new 7730L Jetpack from Novatel that has a theoretical battery life of 24 hours. The WiFi signal strength it broadcasts is stronger, so you can connect to it from further away. However, the signal strength coming from the cell tower is the same in both units. We haven’t upgraded yet.

Our old 6620L Jetpack has the annoying habit of falling asleep when nothing is happening between us and the internet. For us to resume using the internet after a period of doing nothing, we have to wake it up manually by tapping on its power button. Then the computer has to reconnect to the Jetpack as well.

The New Verizon Plan

As of July, 2017, our MiFi Jetpack is the single device on a 30 GB talk/text/data “New Verizon Plan.”

A few months prior to this switch, Verizon began offering its “New Verizon Plan” and pushing an “Unlimited” plan for data. The “Unlimited” plan sounded great, but it has limitations.

After many hours on the phone with Verizon, I learned that if you have a Smartphone or Tablet, the new Unlimited plan runs at 4G speeds for the first 22GB each month when you use the internet based apps on the phone or tablet. After that, there will be a 1-2 second delay when you first connect to the nearest cell tower, but once connected, the speed will still be a nifty 4G.

HOWEVER — and this was critical for us — if you are using your Smartphone or Tablet as a mobile hotspot, or if you are using a Jetpack, the Unlimited plan will run at 4G speeds for only the first 10 GB of each month. After that it will drop to 3G speeds.

This was not properly explained to me when I talked to Verizon reps the first few times, so we tried the Unlimited plan for a month. For us, it was unusable after it dropped to 3G. With today’s bandwidth intensive websites, 3G is painfully slow. At times during the one month we had the Unlimited plan, we had to walk away and do something else as we waited for something basic like the Google search page to come up.

Yesterday, after a few more hours on the phone with several Verizon reps, we learned that there are high GB plans available that remain at 4G speeds all month long. The question for us was: which one? Not all of these “New Verizon Plans” are advertised on the website in obvious places, and not all the salespeople know the various options either.

We use anywhere from 20 to 30 GB of data a month these day, so we wanted a 30GB plan. The first plan that was offered to me was a 30GB data-only plan for $185 per month.

The New Verizon Plan Data Only Plans

Verizon’s first offer for a 30 GB plan that would run at 4G all month long was the “New Verizon Plan” that is Data Only and is intended for Jetpacks and phones/tablets operated as Mobile Hotspots

This was crazy expensive and I complained loudly.

Eventually, I was transferred to a rep who offered me a 30 GB talk/text/data plan for $135 per month. That was more like it! I highly recommend being extremely persistent and asking to speak to supervisors when you get on the phone with Verizon!

The New Verizon Plan 30GB talk-text-data plan

Our “New Verizon Plan” for our Jetpack is a talk/text/data plan with 30GB of data for $135/month

This 30 GB talk/text/data plan has these features:

  • Carryover of unused data from this month to next month (if not used, it doesn’t carry over beyond that)
  • The fee for the Jetpack connection itself is $10/month
  • There is no surcharge for using the Jetpack in Canada or Mexico (see below)
  • Unlimited talk/text (but our Jetpack can’t do that so we don’t use that feature)

Changing Plans? Cut to the Chase & Call Verizon!

I always dread calling Verizon (I had terrible experiences with them with a fleet of corproate phones in the mid-1990’s), but in recent years, I’ve found that talking to their sales people has always helped us find a better deal than if I just poked around on their website.

Also, I’ve found that the reps are very reasonable when it comes to crediting erroneous charges. We were shocked when we were charged $80 for switching from our old 24GB talk/text/data plan to the New Unlimited plan, because no one had told us this would happen. Verizon later refunded the charge.

Verizon Jetpack Admin and Messages page

Text messages from Verizon come into the Messages page on the Jetpack, including the code necessary for verifying your account online.

In my experience, Verizon is becoming harder and harder to reach by phone because they require using a handset to send magic codes and text messages before connecting you to a rep.

As noted above, any text message they send can be found on the Admin/Messages page of the JetPack. Also, some portions of the Verizon website require you to authenticate your account. To do this, Verizon sends a code via text message to the Jetpack that you then enter into the website.

One neat trick I found is that if you initiate an online chat with a Chat Rep on the Verizon website, you can give the rep your phone number and ask them to have a Phone Rep call you.

For me, this proved to be a lot easier than trying to get through on the phone by calling the customer service number and punching numbers and talking to the Verizon phone menu system computer.

Studying the Verizon web page today, I noticed that talk/text/data plans are not offered for Jetpacks and mobile hotspots, so we may have been given that plan instead of the Data Only plan because I made such a fuss on the phone (very politely, of course).

Saving Data by Using Free WiFi Signals

When we want to save data on our plan, we put off our big download operations, like operating systems upgrades that download as much as 1.5 GB of data at once. We do those things when we have access to a free WiFi signal at a library or coffee shop or elsewhere.

We also use Clipgrab on free WiFi signals to download videos so we can watch them from our laptop hard drives later.

Verizon MiFi Jetpack – International Use

The new Verizon talk/text/data plans now allow you to use the MiFi Jetpack in both Canada and Mexico — if you get a big (or unlimited) data plan — without paying a surcharge. Using our MiFi Jetpack came in very handy during our travels to the Canadian Rockies in the summer of 2016.

HOWEVER — and this is important — when you are in Mexico and Canada your data will operate at 4G speeds for only the first 512MB of use each day. At midnight each night the speed will revert to 4G, but as soon as you hit 512MB in the next 24 hours your speed will drop to 2G. That’s 2G, not 3G! So think through your access needs each day!

ALSO — and this is very important too — if, during a 60 day period, you have used your device more than 50% of the time in Mexico or Canada, you will get a text message (or email or phone call) warning you that you are going to be put on a pay-as-you-go plan until you return to the US. Text messages arrive on the Admin/Messages page of your Jetpack.

Despite 30 minutes of conversation with the Verizon rep, I never got to the very bottom of this issue (we aren’t planning to go to Canada or Mexico in the immediate future, so I didn’t press the issue!!), but I want you to know that the fee she mentioned for this “pay as you go” feature was $2.05 per MB.

That doesn’t seem possible because it would be over $1,000 for 500MB!!

The reason for this draconian fee structure is that Verizon doesn’t want to provide US-based services and charges to ex-pats who are living in Canada and Mexico.

I highly recommend if you plan to travel to Canada or Mexico for more than two weeks that you call Verizon and discuss your plans. After an initial round of questions, ask for a supervisor if necessary, of course.

Internet access in the Gulf of Tehuantepec Mexico

Internet access on a boat at sea in a foreign country is a trip!
Here I hold up my laptop to get a much needed internet weather report while crossing Mexico’s notorious Gulf of Tehuantepec.
It took 21 minutes to download a 604 KB file!!

Putting a Verizon Data Plan on Hold

One handy aspect of Verizon’s plans is that you can put them on hold. We used this feature a lot when we spent months at a time sailing in Mexico because Verizon didn’t offer Mexico access for Jetpacks back in those days.

Seasonal RV travelers may find this comes in handy, as they may not want to use the MiFi Jetpack when they are at home and not out traveling in their RV.

You can put the plan on hold for up to 90 days, at no charge. If you call in again before 90 days is up, you can put it on hold for another 90 days, and so on, indefinitely.

All the days that you put the plan on hold get tacked onto the end of your contract. So, for us, our two year contract during our Mexico travels took nearly three years to fulfill. When you decide to resume the contract, a simple phone call is all it takes and you are back online immediately. There is a nominal charge for re-instating the contract.

Phone Access – Skype

We use a Skype account for all of our phone needs. Skype is best known for making it possible to make free video calls between people who have Skype accounts. Similar to Apple’s FaceTime, this is a fun way to communicate. It also requires a pretty strong internet signal. If the call begins to falter due to a sketchy internet connection, turning off the video will often perk it back up again.

Skype Image

That’s not generally how we use Skype, however. Instead, we use it to call people on their cell phones and land lines. For $2.99 a month we have an annual subscription service with Skype to call any cell phone or landline in the US or Canada for unlimited minutes. These are outbound phone calls only.

To receive incoming calls requires another step: For $2.50 a month, Skype assigned a phone number to our account that accepts voicemail and appears on our friends’ phones when we call them. Skype sends us an email when a new voicemail comes in. If we are on our computer and it is connected to the internet, we receive incoming phone calls just like a regular phone (the computer’s speaker rings, and you click a button to pick up the call). Skype has an app for mobile devices too, so you can do all this with a tablet, iPad or iPod too.

If you don’t sign up for that service, Skype calls will come into your friends’ phones with a mystifying number that is unrecognizable. We did this for four years, and it was okay. It was a little awkward not having a call-back number when calling a business, but we let them know that we checked our email frequently, and most companies were happy to get back to us via email instead of a phone call. Our friends eventually knew that if a weird number came in on their phone, it was probably us calling!

Tricks for Making Skype Calls

Skype is pretty good for phone calls, but the connection is not always perfect. We’ve gotten used to tipping our MacBook Pro laptops so the microphone is a little closer to our mouths than when it’s down in our lap. The person on the other end is on speaker phone, which can be nice for calling family and friends, if they don’t mind. However, when making an important call to a company, using earbuds makes it easier to hear the other person and takes them off speaker phone if you are in a somewhat public place.

In general, our internet download speed is faster and better than our upload speed, and this affects Skype. Oftentimes, we can hear the person on the other end of the phone much better than they can hear us. One way to improve things is to make sure only one device is on the internet via the MiFi jetpack.  So, if Mark wants to make a call, I have to do something local on my laptop and stop using the internet, and vice versa.

It’s also important that no other internet applications are running on the computer that is making the call. That means turning off the email application, shutting down all browsers and quitting out of anything else that might unexpectedly access the internet and disrupt the phone call.

WeBoost Drive 4G-X RV – Getting More from our Internet Signal? Or Not!

In January 2018 we were given a WeBoost Drive 4G-X RV cellular signal booster to test. We were excited because we had not had good luck with our Wilson Booster several years prior (our experiences are described in the ARCHIVE section below).

We explained to the good people at Wilson Electronics that the older product had not worked for us, but that we would be overjoyed to let our readers know if the new product were better.

The WeBoost Drive 4G-X RV booster can be powered by either 12v DC or 120v AC and it consists of three major components that get wired together:

  • An External Antenna that goes on the ladder of the RV
  • A Booster that is installed inside the RV
  • An Internal Antenna that communicates with the Verizon MiFi Jetpack

The external antenna must be installed as high as possible on the RV. While driving it must be lower than highway requirements for vehicles (generally 13′ 6″). While parked it could be raised higher. It must also be installed as far from the Booster as possible (a 20′ cable is supplied).

The Internal Antenna must be installed inside the RV as close to the Verizon MiFi Jetpack as possible.

A full installation consists of mounting each item in a permanent location, running a cable from inside the RV to outside (likely near the ladder so the external antenna can be mounted to the top of the ladder) and dressing the wires between all three components. We decided that prior to doing a full installation and mounting the components and dressing the wires, we would do a test installation to see how the booster improved our internet signal.

We test the booster by positioning the External Antenna in two locations. The first position was above the crown molding of a slide-out inside the trailer (not a good spot at all, but adequate for a dry run). The second position was outside, where the External Antenna is supposed to be. Mark stood on the roof of the trailer and held the External Antenna above his head. This positioned it more than 7′ above the RV roof, higher than we would be able to position it with a permanent installation.

The Booster rested on the dining table.

The Internal Antenna sat next to the Verizon MiFi Jetpack which was positioned in a window.

We had a 3G signal that was a steady 4 bars. We had been working with this internet connection for a few days, surfing the web, sending and receiving email, listening to internet radio, downloading YouTube videos, making Skype calls (without video) and updating this blog.

The signal was adequate, but a faster speed would have been awesome.

Using a very pedestrian and low tech method of testing the booster, we ran several speed tests using the website speedtest.net. We tested these situations:

  • Test 1: Booster off
  • Test 2: External Antenna positioned on top of a slide-out INSIDE the RV (not the recommended placement)
  • Test 3: External Antenna held overhead while standing on the roof of the RV (higher than it would be if we installed it permanently)

The results can be seen in the following three screenshots.

The speed did not change significantly and, in our opinion, the changes were probably within the margin of error.

Speedtest 4 No Weboost-min

Booster turned off.

Speedtest 2 WeBoost Antenna top of Slide inside-min

External antenna positioned in a high place inside the RV.

Speedtest 3 Weboost Mark on Roof-min

External antenna positioned 7′ above the roof of the RV

For the non-tech folks out there who don’t have a feeling for “how fast” a particular Mbps upload or download speed is, the following image shows the numbers for a “blindingly fast” signal we got on our Verizon MiFi Jetpack in a completely different location without a booster.

In numbers the difference is 16+ versus 1+ Mbps for download speeds and 17+ versus 0.3 Mbps for upload speeds. That is pretty dramatic!

So, this is the “feeling” difference between “Wow, this is FAST” and “Hmmmm…I can do what I’ve gotta do if I drink a cuppa joe while I wait, but I sure wish there were a way to make it faster.”

Speedtest Very Fast Signal

A “blindingly Fast” signal while we were camped in a completely different state.
This is for comparison to give you a feel for the numbers just in case Mbps aren’t your thing.

As a final test, while Mark patiently stood on the roof holding the external antenna overhead, I tested using the internet for basic surfing, email, modifying our website and video downloading, the things we typically do on the internet. The difference in speed was not noticeable.

This is not scientific testing and we did not measure decibels or anything fancy. However, the bottom line for us when we use the internet is how fast it FEELS as we do whatever we are doing, not how fast some numbers tell us it is. What this showed us is that even a 100% improvement of Really Lousy may turn out to be just A Little Less Lousy. What you really need is a rock solid 1,000% improvement or more.

In the end, we decided that rather than do a permanent installation we would simply return the unit. So, as of the conclusion of this booster test, we still access the internet using our MiFi Jetpack without using any kind of booster.

ARCHIVE – Wilson Booster – Getting More from our Internet Signal – Kinda

Wilson Antenna on fifth wheel slideout

The higher the antenna, the better.

For about a year (in 2014) we used a Wilson Sleek 4G Cell Phone Booster which we have permanently mounted in a cabinet alongside a cigarette lighter outlet. We haven’t used it at all for the past few years and we haven’t missed it. However to keep this page complete, our experiences with it are described below.

The Wilson Booster connects to a Wilson 800/1900 Magnet Mount Antenna. This combo works okay, however, these signal boosters do much more for 4G signals than they do for 3G signals, and we have 3G signals quite a bit of the time.  One note: according to Wilson, the number of bars on the MiFi unit doesn’t necessarily increase even though the signal is improved by the booster. A fun way to see how fast your internet signal is and to keep track of the speeds in different places is to use SpeedTest.Net.

Wilson Antenna on a frying pan

It’s “grounded” as per Wilson’s recommendation, but the signal isn’t as good this low down.

The folks at Wilson told us it was very important to have the antenna sitting on a piece of metal for grounding purposes, so we bought their suction cup mounted Accessory Kit for Grounding. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a good place to mount the antenna with this suction cup plate because the wires are so short. Someday Mark might replace our outside (and rarely used) radio antenna with the Wilson antenna, but we haven’t done that yet.

Wilson also told us that simply placing the antenna on a 5″ x 5″ sheet of ferrous metal would do the trick, and we searched around for something and discovered our cast iron skillet fit the bill.

We did tests with the antenna to see how much having a grounding plate seemed to matter. We placed the antenna near the ceiling above our slide-out without a metallic plate under it, then set it on our big frying pan on our kitchen counter, and lastly set it on the roof of our truck.

We found having the antenna higher in the air near the ceiling above our slide-out was much more important than placing it on metal.

Internet Portability – Driving Tactics and Electronic Maps

Siri — ahhhh. Although we don’t have an iAnything, I am in love with the little Apple genie, Siri, who lives inside iPhones and iPads. However, after lots of soul searching about whether Siri’s companionship would make me happier in our travels, so far I’ve decided that it wouldn’t.

Instead, I get to be Mark’s Siri as he drives, and that’s not a bad gig. He does all the driving in our family (I did almost all the helmsman duty on our boat, so it’s pretty fair). To help out with the RV navigation, I bring the MiFi jetpack and laptop with me into the truck’s passenger’s seat, and I use Google Maps to figure out where we’re going. I don’t get the nifty icon that shows me where we are, so sometimes I have some frantic moments trying to deduce our exact location, but once I’ve got it, I call out the instructions for how to get from here to there.

Our 2016 Ram 3500 truck has a factory installed dash-mounted GPS, but its user friendliness pales by comparison. Occasionally when I’m confused/lost, I use it to get the GPS coordinates for where we are and then plug those into Google Maps.

So, the overall functionality of a smartphone or tablet is there for us on the road, it’s just a whole lot more clunky.

Using a SmartPhone or Tablet as a Hotspot and More

When our Mifi Jetpack died, I thought the only solution was to get another one. Not so. I have since learned that we could have taken the SIM card out of our old jetpack and put it into a glistening new iPad. We wouldn’t have had to sign up for another 2 years with Verizon when we replaced our dead MiFi jetpack either (which we did when we upgraded to the new MiFi jetpack), since our contract was tied to the SIM card. We could have simply continued on our old plan until it ran out four months later and then reassessed our situation.

Internet Access Resources for RVers

Mobile Internet Handbook for RVers

The Internet Bible for RVers

For us — for now — we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing since it works just fine. In all likelihood, however, our simplistic and minimalistic methods are not getting you fired up with excitement.

As I mentioned above, the Mobile Internet Handbook (available on Kindle and in Paperback) by Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard is the most thorough resource available and is an absolute necessity for anyone that wants to get technical on the road. Prior to starting their full-time RV adventures, Chris was a mobile technology expert, working as Director of Competitive Analysis for Palm and PalmSource (the companies behind the Palm Pilot and Treo). He studied every aspect of mobile phone and tablet technologies and is using that expertise to help RVers today.

The detail this book goes to is staggering. From explaining nationwide versus regional cellular data carriers to getting into the nitty gritty of what “roaming” is all about, and what hotspots and routers really are, to discussing cellular frequency bands and the all important topic of security, this book covers it all.

What’s better, Chris and Cherie continue the discussion and keep it current at their RV Mobile Internet Resource Center, with an accompanying public Facebook discussion group. They are also keeping a list of RV internet strategy blog posts that describe various real-life technology setups that RVers are using. They even offer personal advising sessions where you can find out what the best solution is for your unique situation.

Of course, all of this technology is changing daily. When we started RVing full-time in 2007, we got by with pay phone cards and free WiFi at coffee shops. We were unaware in those days (although we had our suspicions) that cell phones weren’t nearly as smart as their progeny would soon be, and we had no idea just how far the industry would come.

In just a few scant years everything has changed, and who knows where the future will take us!

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Full-time RV Pioneer & Escapees RV Club Co-Founder: Kay Peterson

We just received the very sad news that Escapees RV Club Co-Founder Kay Peterson has died.

Kay was a guiding light in the RVing community for many decades, a woman who lived her dreams to the fullest, despite many seemingly impossible road blocks along the way. Nearly two years ago Mark and I were utterly blessed to spend several very memorable hours with Kay learning about the winding road she took through a fascinating life.

As we all know but too often forget, “Time stops for no man,” and if there was anyone who understood the power of those words it was Kay Peterson. If you have a big dream but keep putting it off for one reason or another, Kay’s rich life offers all the inspiration you need to squash your fears and live life with gusto.

To give you a sense of the way Kay approached her life, I just received a touching note from Cathie Carr, Kay’s daughter and retired leader of Escapees RV Club. As Kay lay dying and holding Cathie’s hand, she faced her future with a profound optimism as she said:

“When you’re born, you cry and the world rejoices. When you die, you rejoice and the world cries.”

For our newer readers who do not know her incredible story, we are re-publishing this post today in honor of Kay Peterson’s life.

Escapees Magazine Cover Jul-Aug 2016 Photo by Mark Fagan

Escapees Magazine — July/August 2016
Cover Photo by Mark Fagan

The July/August 2016 of Escapees Magazine features a lengthy article I wrote about Kay Peterson, the co-founder of Escapees RV Club and a pioneer in the full-time RV lifestyle in the 1970’s.

Writing this really fun article followed a truly inspiring personal visit that Mark and I enjoyed with Kay last fall

You can read the Escapees Magazine article here:

Kay Peterson – Escapees Magazine July/August 2016

Like many new SKPs (the Escapees RV Club nickname for the word “Escapees”), our first real evidence of being members was in receiving and reading the bi-monthly Club magazine, Escapees Magazine.

We knew little else about the club when we joined, but when I saw the first issue of the thick magazine, I was struck by two things: the artistic cover photo and the very first article inside called “Thoughts for the Road” written by Kay Peterson.

As the months went by and more issues arrived, I was always very taken by the images on the cover of the magazine, and I couldn’t help but sit right down and read Kay Peterson’s opening essay immediately.

She always spoke of the importance of pursuing your dreams, of taking chances, of overcoming your fear of the unknown and of following your own heart.

She seemed to be speaking right to us, because those topics were hot on our minds as we discovered true independence and freedom in our first few months and years on the road.

After decades of living a conventional lifetsyle, we’d struck out on our own in a little travel trailer and we were loving every minute of it. “Everyone should do this!” we kept saying to each other. “What’s holding them back?”

And then we’d read Kay’s latest installment, and she’d remind us that too often people are held back by fear. They want to wait for a “better time” in their lives to chase their dreams, a time when they have more money, or more time, or fewer responsibilities.

I was astonished that this RV club magazine would dive right into these weighty, philosophical topics, and that Kay would keep persisting, gently prodding us to think about the important things in life. Who was she, where had she come from, and what had her life been like? I wondered.

Full-time RV pioneer and Escapees RV Club Founder Kay Peterson

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At that time, we had no idea what the Escapees RV Club was all about beyond the magazine. We aren’t joiners or “club” people, and we had started RVing full-time to get away, not to become part of a social group. But the quality of the magazine and those intriguing opening essays that Kay wrote touched us both.

The images on the cover of Escapees Magazine were always beautiful, and the articles inside had a different thrust than other RV magazines we subscribed to that focused on RV reviews, product reviews and info about RV gear. Escapees Magazine had a lot of that stuff too, but it also went into detail about the unusual things that affect people who live on the road in their RVs full-time or for months on end.

Escapees Magazine Covers

Escapees Magazine is different than other RV magazines

I felt an affinity with Kay Peterson right from the get-go, but when she mentioned in one of her essays that she’d gotten her start as a writer when she sent an article to Woodall’s Trailer Travel Magazine and that they responded by publishing it and sending her a check for $75, I was blown away. I had just sent an aritcle to Escapees Magazine about Goblin Valley, Utah, right in time for the Halloween issue, and they had responded by publishing it and sending me a check for $75!

Kay’s writing, her philosophy of life, and the essence of her message stayed with me, and as I wrote more and more, on this blog and elsewhere, I often felt her influence in the back of my mind. She is a generation ahead of me in age, and she was like a guide and mentor, even though we had never met.

Mark and I finally had an opportunity to meet Kay last fall when we were in Texas, and what a fabulous experience that was.

Kay Peterson and Emily Fagan full-time RVers

I was thrilled to be able to chat with Kay Peterson

She was warm, animated and downright charismatic as she told the two of us her life story. She has lived an incredible life, going through lots of twists and turns and bumps in the road on her way to many impressive achievements, and her intriguing journey continues to this day.

As soon as she greeted us, I had to smile at hearing her light Boston accent. That accent is near and dear to my heart, because I grew up there, and even though I don’t have the accent and can’t mimic it, whenever I hear it spoken authentically (not the Hollywood version), it sounds like home.

What was much more surprising, though, was to find out that she got her nurse’s training in the 1940’s in the exact same hospital where members of my family had been born and died in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As it turned out, Kay and I had grown up at the same end of town!

I was also fascinated to learn that back in her day, the student nurses lived in dormitories at the hospital while they were in nursing school.

Full-time RV pioneer Kay Peterson and Emily Fagan

We found we had a lot in common!

For most of us born after the Great Depression and World War II, the events of the 1930’s and 40’s exist only in faded black and white photos and jittery newsreels. Even though, for me and Mark, the war ended just 10-15 years before we were born, about the same distance back as 9/11 is today, it is impossible for us to understand what life was really like back then.

But as Kay described her childhood and youth to us, that era suddenly came to life in vivid color. She came of age as the war was ending, and her young adulthood was intricately tied to and shaped by the events around her.

It’s easy to take society’s changes from the Women’s Liberation movement for granted now. Having forgotten just how much the world has changed in the past 65 years, Mark and I were both very affected by the movie Philomena, which is about a young woman who was forced to live in a Catholic home for unwed mothers and give up her baby for adoption in Ireland in the 1950’s. But as we listened to Kay’s story, we were shocked to hear that tale told again, but this time in the 1940’s in America.

Likewise, we have always known that tuberculosis is a terrible disease, but we had no idea that until the vaccine for it was developed and made available, patients were isolated from society in institutions to prevent spreading it further. Most didn’t make it out alive, but Kay did.

Hearing Kay’s tales of her past, we not only saw how perseverance and optimism can lead to a fulfilling and rich life, as happened for her, but we got a history lesson as well.

Escapees RV Club founder Kay Peterson with Emily Fagan

I scribbled notes furiously but was captivated when I read her autobiography later!

Kay tells her life story in riveting detail in her book, Beating the Odds, published in 2013. After Mark and I spent several hours listening to her story in person during the course of two different visits, we absolutely devoured her book. It is an inspiring tale of overcoming and becoming that we couldn’t put down.

Kay faced many brutal hardships, from poverty to an abusive husband, and she struggled against many agonizing obstacles in her early years, including a life threatening disease, but she never lost her belief that life could be better.

A turning point came for her when her beloved grandmother died and she realized, while going through her belongings, that this woman she had always adored had lived more timidly than bravely and had died without ever allowing herself to be bold enough to insist on living her dreams. At that moment, Kay vowed never to fall prey to fear like that herself.

Escapees RV Club Sharing the RV Lifestyle

Kay and her husband Joe created the Escapees RV Club in 1978

Upon meeting Joe Peterson, she found her soulmate, and the two of them began to make history together when, at age 43, they joined the tiny ranks of people who were living in their RVs full-time in the 1970’s. Joe had the ideal mobile occupation as a “tramp” electrician, and in a few short years, she became a writer for both Woodall’s Trailer Travel Magazine and the Snowbird Newsletter.

These writing gigs led to her starting an RV journal of her own, which ultimately became Escapees Magazine. From that came the founding of the Escapees RV Club in 1978. The rest is history, as Escapees RV Club has grown in all kinds of creative ways since its inception.

But the most fascinating thing for me is that Kay Peterson has grown too.

Besides co-founding Escapees RV Club, overseeing the development of an outstanding RV magazine, and creating the first of its kind assisted living center for RVers (Escapees CARE or Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees), she has published a slew of books, including the first book ever written about full-time RVing, called Home Is Where You Park It. This bible for full-timers was in print for 22 years until its last edition came off the presses in 1999.

Her fifteen years of full-time RV travels with Joe ultimately whetted their appetities for more travel adventures and led them further afield to explorations that took them overseas to Europe, Africa, Australia, Fiji and other exotic destinations.

A few years back, when she was in her mid-80’s, she mentioned in her Escapees Magazine column that she was now pursuing a dream she had held since her youth but had never made a top priority: writing a novel.

Never one for mere pipe dreams, in 2013, she published 13 Days in Africa, a novel that was inspired by her own safaris in Africa. This novel was so well received that she sat down and wrote another, and this past winter, on her 89th birthday, she published the sequel called The Elephant Bond.

Escapees RV Club Rainbow's End RV Park

The Escapees headquarters campus in Livingston, Texas, is so extensive they offer tours on a trolley bus!!

Dramatic and poignant, her novels draw from all of her life experiences and are compelling dramas. Kay was not quite finished discovering the stories behind her characters after the second novel, however, so she is planning to turn this pair of novels, whose stories now span three continents, into a trilogy, with the publication of a third novel in the series on her agenda now!

Added later: Kay completed the trilogy and published her third novel in the series, When Cultures Collide, in February 2017.

Escapees RV Club CARE Center for Retired RVers

Escapees CARE (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees)
Kay’s proudest accomplishment, and one which took extraordinary patience and fortitude!

At the moment, however, she is attending the Escapade RV rally in Essex Junction, Vermont (held July 21-23 in 2016), and lots of lucky Escapees members are having a chance to meet her in person and listen to her wisdom at the rally.

For those who have a dream — whether it’s a travel dream or lifestyle dream or something totally different — Kay stands out as one of those rare mentors who not only made their dreams a priority and made them come true, but who has consistently reached out to those around her and encouraged them to pursue their dreams as well.

I highly recommend reading Kay’s autobiography, Beating the Odds, and her book of essays, Chasing Rainbows.

The essays are drawn from over three decades of her inspirational Escapees Magazine articles. She offers many pearls of wisdom and gems of hope that are great reminders of how important it is not to let life pass us by.

Two of my favorite Kay Peterson quotes:

If you don’t fulfill your dreams now, when will you?

__________

Some of us prefer to live 365 days in a year crammed with as many experiences as possible.
Others are content to live the same day 365 times in a row.

In addition, I highly recommend that all RVers, especially those who use their RV for extended travel, join Escapees RV Club, even the “non-joiners” and non-club folk like ourselves.

Of the many things that Escapees RV Club is involved in — a myriad of overnight parking options (from free sites to site ownership), an online RVers forum, RV rallies, RV education, an RV weighing program, assisted living for RVers, and a massive mail forwarding outfit — the RV advocacy work they do benefits everyone who owns an RV and is well worth supporting.

US Mail truck Escapees RV Club Headquarters Livingston Texas

This US Mail semi tractor trailer full of RVers’ mail pulls up at Escapees HQ in Texas EVERY DAY!!

The cost to join is minimal but the impact that a large, cohesive group can have on the rights of RVers is enormous. Besides, the magazine is excellent. You can join here:

Join Escapees RV Club

If you happen to join, we’d appreciate it if you’d let them know you heard about Escapees from this blog, Roads Less Traveled, as they will put a little something in our tip jar. This might sound shallow or self-serving, but the truth is that we have spent years recommending Escapees to other RVers and did so long before Escapees even knew we had a tip jar!

Full-time RV Pioneer Escapees Founder Kay Peterson with Mark and Emily Fagan

What a special time this was – Mark, Kay and me.

Also, for any Escapee with a camera or a flare for words, Escapees Magazine is always looking for photos and articles from members.

Mark’s cover photo in the July/August issue (at the top of this page) is a classic example of how a beautiful photograph taken with an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera can end up on the cover.

When he saw a Class C motorhome reflecting in his mirror in our truck, he grabbed the shot with the closest camera he could put his hands on, which turned out to be a cheap one he’d gotten years ago. We both then tried to improve upon his image with our fancy cameras, but gosh darn it, that little point-and-shoot got the best photo of them all.

So there it is, proof positive that sometimes the best way to go is just to jump in and do it, whatever “it” is, regardless of your gear or preparation, because that first impression and rush of enthusiasm may give you the biggest return.

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