RV Screen Door Modifications & Upgrades

We have recently made two upgrades to our RV screen door. Combined with our annual screen door shrink-wrapping project (explained here), that makes for three easy DIY RV screen door modifications we’ve done. Who knew you could do so much to a silly screen door??

RV Screen Door Modifications and Upgrades

RV Screen Door Modifications and Upgrades

INSTALLING A GRAB RAIL ON AN RV SCREEN DOOR

Although we’ve been in and out of our RV door countless thousands of times over the last decade of traveling full-time, we had never installed one of those handy grab handles that crosses the door’s mid-section. Until this week!

Grabbing the screen door when it’s being whipped out of your hands by the wind is nearly impossible without one of these grab bars, and when we saw one of these handles on a friend’s fifth wheel trailer, we just had to have one.

Our screen door is 24″ wide (skinny by today’s standards) but these handles are variable in length. The instructions that came with the handle involved drawing templates and other complicated things, so Mark went with his instincts and got it mounted just fine. Here’s what he did:

First, after holding the handle up to the door at various heights to decide where to mount it, he drilled a hole in the RV screen door frame and then screwed one end of the handle into the door frame.

Drill hole in RV screen door to install the door handle-min

Drill a hole in the door frame to hold the handle in place.

Attach RV screen door handle to the screen door frame-min

Screw the handle to the door with just one screw at first.

Then he held the handle in place on the other side of the door frame and put a level on it to ensure it was level. Then he used a fine pointed Sharpie pen to mark the location on the door where the handle would be screwed in.

Position the RV screen door handle on the RV screen door frame-min

Position the other end of the handle so it is level and mark the door frame where the hole must be drilled.

The grab handle expands and contracts to fit the width of various RV screen doors, so he adjusted both ends of it to get it to the proper width and also have an equal amount of the aluminum center part extending into the two plastic ends (rather than having it shoved far into one plastic end and barely dangling in the other).

Once he had it positioned correctly, he marked the aluminum center part with a pencil mark at each end where the plastic ends would be permanently screwed in.

Expand RV screen door handle and mark the proper width on it with a pencil-min

Expand the handle and center the aluminum centerpiece between the ends. Then mark the aluminum with a pencil.

Expand RV screen door handle and mark the proper width on it with a pencil-min

The handle can be extended and retracted, so this step centers the aluminum between the ends and marks where the ends should be permanently positioned.

Then he unscrewed the one screw that was holding the handle to the door frame and removed the handle from the frame so he could screw in the two handle ends.

On the back of each plastic end of the handle there is a pre-drilled hole so the plastic ends can be screwed to the aluminum center piece.

Hole drilled in RV screen door handle-min

On the back of the handle each plastic end has a hole in it.

With the aluminum piece in the proper position according to the pencil marks he had made, he drilled a hole in the aluminum and then screwed the plastic end piece on. He did this at each end. Now the handle was fixed at the proper length to span the width of our door.

Installing an RV door screen handle-min

Drill the aluminum strip so the end cap can be screwed into it permanently.

Next, he drilled a hole in the door frame where he had made the mark with the fine pointed Sharpie.

Drill hole in RV screen door frame to support the RV screen door handle-min

Drill the hole in the frame where you put the Sharpie mark.

Then he screwed the handle to the door frame and then repeated the process for the lower hole on each side.

Screw the RV screen door handle into the RV screen door frame-min

Screw the handle onto the door frame.

Screw hole in RV screen door fram to install RV screen door handle-min

There are upper and lower holes in each endcap.

RV screen door handle screwed onto frame-min

Done!

We’re really happy with this new grab handle. It strengthens the flimsy door a bit and is great to grab onto when opening and closing the door!

RV screen door handle installed on RV screen door-min

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RV screen door with handle and plexiglass protector installed-min

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Goodies needed to install a grab handle on an RV screen door:

INSTALLING A PLEXIGLASS PROTECTOR ON AN RV SCREEN DOOR

The other mini-project we did recently on our RV screen door was to replace the lower shrink-wrap film with a sheet of 1/8″ plexiglass.

We recently acquired an adorable puppy, and all it took was one swipe of his paw at the door to rip the shrink-wrap film we’d had on there for months.

So Mark got a big sheet of 1/8″ clear plexiglass and cut it to fit the screen door.

Of course, Buddy insisted on supervising this project.

RV screen door handle installation supervisor-min

The back of this chair says “Supervisor.”

Mark used a straight edge and a utility razor blade to score the plexiglass. Then he bent it along the edge of a table to snap it.

Then he took short strips of industrial strength velcro tape and placed the hooked half on the plexiglass and the matching fuzzy half on the door frame so the hooks wouldn’t grab things as we go in and out of the door when we remove the plexiglass later.

RV screen door plexiglass protection-min

The lower half of the door has a clear plexiglass sheet mounted on the frame with velcro. You can see our patio reflected in it. Hey, where’s the Supervisor?!

Velcro attaches plexiglass sheet to RV screen door-min

Cut short strips of velcro and put the matching halves on the plexiglass and door frame.

The beauty of using velcro to mount the plexiglass on the door frame is that once the warm weather of summer rolls around we can remove it and let the cool breezes flow through the door. Or, perhaps we’ll just leave it up in case Buddy decides to paw at the screen. We can remove the shrink-wrap from the upper half of the door and enjoy the cool breezes up there and leave the plexiglass on the bottom to protect the screen from the mighty Watch Dog.

RV screen door with RV screen door handle and plexiglass installed-min

Ta Da! Our original shrink-wrap is still on the top half, the nifty grab handle is in the middle and the puppy-proof plexiglass is on the bottom half.

In hindsight, rather than shrink-wrapping an RV screen door for cold weather, another option would be to use plexiglass sheets and velcro. Certainly the installation each Fall would be a lot easier. Or, drill holes in the corners of the plexiglass and use sheet metal screws to attach it to the door. Every Spring and Fall the plexiglass could be screwed to or unscrewed from the door frame. However, the plexiglass sheets would have to be stored somewhere during the warm season…

Puppy chow our RV dog Buddy

When the project was finished the Supervisor reappeared.

Dog looks out the RV screen door-min

Buddy loves his new plexiglass window in the door!

Goodies needed to install a plexiglass protector on an RV screen door:

The details of our screen door shrink-wrapping are shown here:

How To Shrink-wrap An RV Screen Door

Goodies needed to shrink-wrap an RV Screen Door:

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

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

Puppy love

Puppy love.

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

Puppy Dog in the RV lifestyle-min

The Christmas Pup.

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

Puppy Dog and RV life-min

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And he was going to be moving in!

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

Puppy dog plays in yard-min

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

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

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

Dog and RV travel-min

You see, I don’t like dogs.

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

Portrait of a Dog as a Young Pup-min

Portrait of a Dog as a Young Pup.

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

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

Puppy discovers his reflection in a puddle.

Slipper and puppy dog-min

Peek-a-boo!

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

Puppy dog trots on the hiking trail-min

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

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

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

Book about puppy Skippy-min

It would be a bestseller.

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

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

He also had a very cute floppy ear.

Puppy dog portrait with floppy ear-min

Even the vet loved his floppy ear.

Puppy in the grass-min

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

Puppy dog on the doormat-min

The Watchdog.

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

Puppy dog in Cave Creek Arizona-min

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

Puppy dog plays with ball in backyard-min

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Running puppy dog with ball-min

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Running puppy dog with ball-min

This little guy can sprint!

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

Puppy dog on his back-min

All done running.

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

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

Puppy Chow Dog's Life Magazine Cover

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

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

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

RV life and puppy dog-min

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

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

Puppy Dog Wanted Poster-min

Dead or alive!

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

Hiking and RVing with a puppy dog-min

He’s a great little hiker!

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

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

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

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

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

RV welcome home to puppy dog-min

An extra special welcome home.

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

RVing with a puppy dog-min

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

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

RVing with a dog-min

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

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Puppy dog in a blanket in an RV-min

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

Puppy dog in bed in an RV-min

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

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

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

Puppy dog checks the view out the RV window at the lake-min

“What’s out there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puppy with a floppy ear-min

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

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

But he was still an angel.

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

Puppy dog hikes the hiking trail-min

He’s a happy pooch on the trail.

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

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

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

Puppy dog and RV life-min

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

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

RV boondocking in the Arizona desert camping

Our little buggy now has a pup inside!

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

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

RVing in Cold Weather winter snow storms-min

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

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

RVing in Winter Escapees RV Club Magazine Cover-min

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RV trips in the snow in New Mexico-min

It’s snowing!

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

Winter RVing Tips article in Escapees RV Club Magazine-min

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

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

RV in snow and RVing in cold weather-min

Well, we won’t be wearing shorts today!

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

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

Photography fun in a snowstorm and an RV-min

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

Camera in a spring snowstorm with fifth wheel RV-min

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

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

Alien Ale chilling in the snow-min

Our Alien Ales got nicely chilled in the snow.

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

Snowstorm in an RV drying jackets in the shower-min

Wet, wet, wet!

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

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

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

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

Winter RV temperature 30 degrees inside-min

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

Cold Camping RV temperature 52 degrees inside-min

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

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

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

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

RV solar panels covered in snow-min

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

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

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

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

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

Clearing snow off RV solar panels-min

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

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

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

RV roof with solar panels after snowstorm-min

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

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

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

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

RV roof with solar panels and snowman after snowstorm-min

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

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

Join Escapees RV Club

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

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

Winter RV Wonderland.

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

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

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

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50 RV Gift Ideas for Your Beloved RVer (or RV!)

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

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

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

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

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

Home is where the RV welcome mat is-min

Yes, indeed!

And another fun one:

Just Another Day in Paradise RV Welcome Mat

Welcome home!!

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

Welcome to our Rolling Estate-min

A warm welcome to hang on the wall.

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

Class C RV key hooks-min

Key hooks for the motorhome and the toad too.

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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?

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A personalized flag to make introductions easy.

Here’s another slightly different personalized flag:

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“Happy Camper” personalized flag.

Both can be hung on a simple garden flag pole.

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

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

Let the neighbors know where the party is!

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

picnic stix wine glass and bottle holders-min

No spills by the campfire!

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

stemless camping wine glass-min

Is this you — or someone you know??

Happy Camper stemless wine glass-min

Describes every RVer, for sure!

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

Shatterproof stemless wine glasses for RV living and camping-min

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

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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.

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A motorhome Christmas tree ornament.

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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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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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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?

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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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Royal Flush! – A Surprise RV Toilet Replacement…Under Warranty :-)

Our fifth wheel trailer is 10 years old now, and we’ve been living in it full-time for most of those years. Our RV toilet has been with us every step of the way, although over the last few years it has struggled to hold water in the bowl.

Last week, out of the blue, Mark put his foot on the pedal to flush the toilet, heard a loud snap, and then the toilet flapper valve refused to budge. It was completely broken and unable to open and flush properly. Ugh!!

Luckily, the toilet bowl couldn’t hold water any more either, so it was kinda able to flush, just in a dribbling sort of way!

RV Toilet Replacement under an Extended RV Warranty

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So, our delightful plans to go play in the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado were dashed, and we drove off over the horizon in pursuit of a replacement RV toilet.

Broken RV toilet can't hold water in the toilet bowl

The toilet flushing mechanism broke, and pressing the pedal no longer opened
the flush valve in the toilet bowl. Fluids dribbled out quickly anyway… Not good!

After some calling around, we found a shop that had our exact Thetford toilet in stock, and when we arrived, there it was on the display rack!

New RV toilet at the RV repair shop

What luck! There is an identical toilet on the display rack.

We have an RV Extended Warranty with Wholesale Warranties that has been a huge help in dealing with the many surprise financial blows we’ve faced as our trailer has aged and various components have quit working.

We first got our warranty in October of 2014, and by Christmas of the following year it had paid for itself several times over as we faced one major repair after another, all in a row.

Unlike vehicle insurance, which protects vehicle owners against accidents, an extended RV warranty protects against failures of the systems in the RV that aren’t caused by a mishap.

Installing new RV toilet in tiny RV toilet room in fifth wheel trailer

There wasn’t a whole lot of space to work in our little toilet room!

We learned from our last RV toilet repair job that replacing broken parts in an RV toilet is often more expensive than simply swapping out the toilet all together.

So we weren’t surprised when the service manager said he wanted to replace our toilet rather than troubleshooting the problem and disassembling and reassembling the toilet to replace the broken part. He called our RV warranty company and explained that the toilet couldn’t flush and that the flushing mechanism was broken.

The warranty company agreed to cover the toilet replacement in full.

To get started, the RV technician removed the shield around the base of the toilet and then unscrewed the two large bolts that hold the RV toilet to the floor.

Remove RV toilet base shield in fifth wheel trailer

The first step to removing the toilet is to remove the shield from around the base.

Two bolts hold an RV toilet to the floor of a fifth wheel trailer

Two bolts — one on either side of the base — hold the RV toilet to the floor.

Then he detached the fresh water line from the toilet and pulled the toilet off of the hole in the floor that goes to the black tank underneath.

Old RV toilet removed from hole to black sewage wastewater tank

The toilet is removed from its position over the sewer drain hole that goes to the black wastewater holding tank.

Next, he detached the hose clamps holding the rinse spray wand’s flexible hose onto the toilet

Removing broken RV toilet before installing new RV toilet

The hose clamp for the fresh water rinse sprayer is removed.

After pulling out the toilet, all that was left in the little toilet room was the hole in the floor that goes to the black wastewater holding tank, the blue fresh water line that fills the bowl and flushes the toilet, and the fresh water spray wand with its flexible hose (this was an option on our old toilet and didn’t come with the new toilet, so we kept the old spray wand).

Empty RV toilet room in 5th wheel trailer

After the toilet is removed, all that remains is the black water sewer hole, the blue fresh water flush pipe and the flexible fresh water sprayer hose.

Then it was out with the old — and in with the new!

Removing broken RV toilet from fifth wheel trailer

Out with the old toilet…

Installing new RV toilet in a fifth wheel trailer

…In with the new toilet!

To install the new RV toilet, the process was repeated in reverse. First the toilet was positioned over the black tank hole, then the fresh water line and the fresh water spray wand were reattached, and finally the RV toilet was bolted to the floor.

Since the spray wand is an option, the toilet ships with the barbed hose fitting it slides onto sealed shut. So, before sliding the hose onto the barbed hose fitting, the end of the fitting had to be clipped off.

Back of new Thetford RV toilet with optional spray wand

In order to attach the rinse sprayer, the hose connection must be clipped to open it up.

Optional sprayer nozzle on RV toilet installation

Sprayer and fresh water flush lines attached.

And then the installation was finished and our sparkling new RV toilet was all ready for its first Royal Flush!

The whole procedure took an hour from start to finish. When we settled up with the service manager, the final bill was the following:

FINAL BILL FOR REPLACING OUR RV TOILET:

Parts – New RV toilet (porcelain bowl) $297.59
Labor – One hour $105.00
Tax $11.61
Total Cost $414.20

RV EXTENDED WARRANTY PAYMENT BREAKDOWN:

Warranty Coverage (amount we saved) $314.20
Out of Pocket Cost (our deductible) $100.00
Total Payment $414.20
New RV toilet installation in fifth wheel trailer

A nice sparkling brand new toilet. Yay!

This brings our total repairs and savings with our Trailer Extended Warranty to the following:

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!!

If you are curious what an extended RV warranty would cost for your rig, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Call our contact, Missi Junior at (800) 939-2806 or email her at missi@wholesalewarranties.com and mention that you heard about them from our website, Roads Less Traveled. Or go to this link:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Form

The $50 discount comes off of the quoted price at the time of purchase — just be sure to ask!

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10 Years of Life on the Road by RV and Sailboat – The 2nd Half!

“If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it!” — John Irving

Continued from: 10 Years of Full-time RVing & Sailing – The Early Years… – May 22, 2017

When we ended our season of RV travels in the fall of 2013 and flew back to Marina Chiapas on the Mexico / Guatemala border, our sailboat Groovy was ready and waiting for us.

After a few days of getting acclimated to the stifling heat and getting the boat provisioned, we crossed the treacherous Gulf of Tehhuantepec, a 350 mile long voyage that required meticulous planning to avoid the ferocious winds that blow from the Gulf of Mexico and then pick up steam and become even more savage when they hit the Pacific ocean.

Sailboat anchored in Tangolunda Bay Huatulco Mexico

Anchored in stunning Tangolunda Bay in Hautulco, Mexico.

We arrived in the Bays of Huatulco and found ourselves in paradise. Even though we had been here the year before, knowing that this would be our last time sailing these waters made every moment precious — and tenderly bittersweet.

We loved the tropical flowers and birds that surrounded us.

Exotic passion flower

We were in the tropics again!

Hummingbird at exotic flower Mexico

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A flock of wild parrots was hanging around the tiny fishing village of Santa Cruz and we loved watching their crazy antics in the trees above us as we drank our morning coffee or afternoon beers in the middle of town.

Wild parrots Santa Cruz Huatulco Mexico

Wild parrots cuddling in the late afternoon sun in Huatulco.

We ended up staying in Huatulco for three months, going out for day sails in the bay every few days.

Sailing in the Bays of Huatulco Mexico

We took the boat out for a glorious daysail every few days.

What a life this was! We settled into a delicious routine anchored out in Huatulco’s various coves and bays.

Taking the dinghy ashore in Huatulco Mexico

Our dinghy was our commuter car in our cruising lifestyle.

One day a group of people came alongside our boat on paddleboards and kayaks. It turned out they owned a beautiful resort on a hilltop overlooking a secluded beach, and they invited us to come and spend a few nights.

Wow! We were there in a heartbeat. And what a romantic place Las Palmas Resort is. Every guest has their own private villa, and pretty swimming pools with exquisite views are situated all over the unusual and intimate property.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico

The owners of Las Palmas resort invited us to stay in their luxury villas for a few days. Incredible!

The engine alternator on our boat died unexpectedly one day, and shipping a replacement to Mexico was going to cost a small fortune. If maintaining a boat is expensive in the US, it can be doubly so in tropical foreign countries.

Fortunately, the owner of Las Palmas resort was flying back to the US for Christmas, so he carried our new alternator on the plane with him when he returned in January, saving us $1,000 in import taxes and fees.

Mark got the new alternator installed, and we eventually said goodbye to Huatulco, a little piece of heaven on Mexico’s southern Pacific that few people know about.

Aboard Hunter 44S sailboat Groovy

In the spring and summer of 2013 we covered 2,500 miles at 7 mph
sailing from Mexico’s Guatemala border to San Diego

We began our long journey north by sailing 450 miles to Zihuatanejo. We were now much more comfortable with overnight sailing, and this was a pleasant trip. With each familiar place we visited, it was like coming home, but it was hard then to leave them and all the memories surrounding them in our wake.

Fishermen repair their nets Zihuatanejo Mexico

Fishermen repair their nets on the beach in Zihuatanejo.

Our inland trips to Oaxaca, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Palenque in Chiapas the previous season had been so rewarding we decided to visit the colonial city of Morelia too. It was a straight shot inland from Zihuatanejo. This beautiful city has a fabulous antique aqueduct and a cathedral that is jaw-droppingly ornate on the inside.

Ornate cathedral Sanctuario de Guadelupe  interior Morelia Mexico

The interior of Sanctuario de Guadelupe was like a jewel box!

Traveling by car with friends, we were able to get to two very out-of-the-way spots, first visiting a major Monarch butterfly migration stopover and then visiting a totally authentic farmer’s market in Pátzcuaro. We were the only gringos there, and what a delight it was to experience the earthy hustle and bustle of that marketplace.

Continuing our voyage north, we stopped in Manzanillo Bay to witness one of the most exotic sunrises we have ever seen. The pattern in the sky was spectacular.

Sailboat at sunrise Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico

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Over the next few weeks we made our way very slowly up the Costalegre coast, living in bathing suits and sailing short distances.

View from the helm Hunter 44DS sailboat Groovy

View from the helm on Groovy.

There are several stunning and rarely visited coves on this coast that are challenging for sailors to anchor in. But our skills with setting a supplemental stern anchor had improved to the point where we were able to enjoy each one.

The sense of accomplishment at having come so far as sailors was immensely rewarding, and the little bays were charming.

In the “Secret Anchorage” of Cuastecomate we enjoyed beers on the beach along with exotic snacks.

Exotic snacks Cuastecomate beach Costalegre Mexico

Mangoes and other goodies on a stick!

In tiny Paraiso Bay we found unusually clear, jade colored water. A “reef” obstructing the area where we wanted to drop our anchor turned out to be a massive school of fish that gradually swam away, revealing pure sand underneath!

Happy sailor Paraiso Bay Costalegre Mexico

Swimming in a jade paradise.

In Careyes Bay we found a hillside filled with brightly colored homes. What a sight! We heard that the German model Heidi Klum has an estate there, but we never saw her.

Sailboat anchored in Careyes Bay Costalegre Mexico

Colorful Careyes was a spectacular anchorage, but it required a stern anchor, and we still rolled as the winds and current shifted!

As we made our final approach to Puerto Vallarta early one morning, we passed several breaching whales whose silver, barnacle encrusted bodies shimmered in the morning sun. And then we tied up at the docks of the luxurious Paradise Village Resort marina.

Groovy sailboat in Paradise Village Marina Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Groovy sidles up to the dock at Paradise Village Marina.

Paradise Village Resort is exactly that, an intimate resort community in Paradise. Our docking fee gave us full access to the entire resort complex which included not only fine dining, a spa, a gym and a fancy hotel, but hot tubs, swimming pools, water slides, indoor and outdoor bars and a huge and endless beach. This swank resort became our home for a memorable three months.

How often in life do you get to live at a high end resort?

Mexican dancer Paradise Village Resort Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Paradise Village has lots of wonderful entertainment for their guests.

After two months of pure vacation at Paradise Village Resort, we did a final bus trip inland to the colonial city of Guanajuato which quickly became our favorite of all the colonial cities we visited in Mexico.

Colorful hillsides in Guanajuato Mexico

Guanajuato is a silver mining town with a rich history that is truly magical.

It is colorful almost to a fault, with a vast valley and hillsides filled with colorfully painted homes.

Colorful houses Guanajuato Mexico

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Callejon in Guanajuato Mexico

Bands of minstrels sing in these alleys ever night.

It’s a town full of quirky charm. For starters, a group of men dressed in Medieval garb sing folk songs in the alleys every night.

One afternoon we saw a ballerina dancing on the balcony outside of one of the town’s several theaters. In the evenings, Mariachi musicians at the restaurants on the town square would take turns with the pops orchestra playing in the bandstand in the middle of the square, alternating traditional folk music with classical pops as they filled the whole town with music. We loved everything about this lively city.

Horseback riders Guanajuato Mexico

We never knew what we’d see in Guanajuato!

Nearby is the equally beautiful but much more reserved city of San Miguel de Allende. We zipped over there to visit my childhood figure skating idol, Toller Cranston, who had made his home in San Miguel for several decades.

I had wanted to see him for almost 40 years, and the timing turned out to be perfect, as he died unexpectedly just two years later. How fortunate we were to be able to spend time with him before he was gone.

Cathedral San Miguel de Allende Mexico

The cathedral in San Miguel de Allende.

Throughout our cruise in Mexico we always kept an eye out for RVs and RV parks. Lots of people take their RVs south of the border, and we spotted an Airstream trailer sitting under the palm trees. What a spot!

We also met the son of the first couple to take their RV on the train through Copper Canyon back in the 1980’s, and his story of growing up in an RV largely in Mexico was fascinating.

Airstream trailer in palm trees Mexico

What a great place to camp!

At long last it was time to head back to San Diego.

The sailing voyage north along Mexico’s Pacific Baja coast is known as the “Baja Bash” because you are bucking the winds, currents and waves the whole way. During July, at the beginning of hurricane season, the winds change periodically as the storms blow through, blowing up from the south for a few days at a time. This makes the trip a little bit less of a bash, although it remains a bash nonetheless due to the waves and current.

The hurricanes roll up the Baja coast in July like bowling balls, one after another in relentless succession. Luckily, they are not as big and deadly as the hurricanes that occur later in the season.

We timed the two legs of our trip north from Puerto Vallarta to perfection, first jumping from Puerto Vallarta on the mainland to Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of the Baja peninsula, and then sailing from Cabo San Lucas all the way up the Baja coast to Ensenada just south of San Diego.

The hurricanes were coming so thick and fast that we couldn’t stop or we’d be overtaken by the next one. Instead, we found the sweet spot between two hurricanes and rode along with them as they moved north.

We stopped just long enough to fill up with diesel in Cabo and again half way up the Baja coast at Turtle Bay. If we had stopped any longer, we would have found ourselves in the eye of a storm.

Sailing into the sunset

We left tropical Mexico with tears in our eyes.

The Baja Bash was like our Final Exam in Seamanship Skills, and we were very proud to pass with flying colors despite several white knuckle moments along the way.

We made the 1,300 mile journey in an extremely fast 8 days and 7 hours. When we arrived in Ensenada, Mark got off the boat and kissed the dock. Literally!

We felt utterly triumphant — and very relieved.

Perhaps what made our homecoming even more poignant was that friends we had started our cruising adventure with in Ensenada nearly four years prior were there to greet us. They had fallen in love with Ensenada and had bought a house in town, and they welcomed us into their home like family.

As we unloaded all of our stories and emotions on them about the bitter sweeness of ending our cruise, the beauty we’d seen, the fear we’d felt and the truly mixed emotions we had about finishing our cruising dream, they understood exactly where we were coming from.

As sailors themselves, they knew just how beautiful the lifestyle can be and they also knew how incredibly challenging and frightening it can be and what very hard work it requires.

At the marina, down on the docks, a well dressed Mexican man walked up to our boat on afternoon and asked if he could have some photos taken of his daughter for her Quinceañera (15th birthday) on our boat. The Mexican quinceañera is like a wedding in size and scale and importance, and it was a total delight to see this beautiful young girl posing for both a professional photographer and a professional videographer aboard Groovy.

Quinceanera on sailboat Groovy in Ensenada Mexico

What a perfect end to our Mexico journey
— a Quinceañera photo shoot aboard Groovy!

In return, the dad invited us to sit at the head table for the festivities. What a blast to be guests of honor at this quintessentially Mexican (and Latin) celebration!!

A few weeks later, we sailed the final 70 miles of our nearly 7,000 mile voyage from Ensenada north to San Diego.

Groovy Sailboat in Kona Kay Marina San Diego California

Kona Kai Marina in San Diego made a fabulous home as we transitioned to a life on land.

The crazy thing on that first day we woke up in San Diego — in the very quiet Kona Kai Marina on tranquil Shelter Island on the bay — was that we had become so accustomed to true peace and quiet and a relaxed way of life in Mexico that we weren’t at all prepared to be living in the middle of a huge American city.

Mark went out for a walk on the palm fringed waterfront paths at dawn and came running back to the boat and jumped in bed and pulled the covers over his head. The frantic pace of the joggers, walkers and bicyclists on Shelter Island was more than he could take.

“Where’s the fire?” He cried in disbelief from under the blankets!

But we gradually acclimated and did a few day sails in the bay. We even saw a dolphin leaping out of the water, but it was time to begin the very arduous task of stripping the boat, putting it up for sale, and somehow squeezing all of our belongings back into an already full fifth wheel trailer.

Porpoise leaps out of water San Diego Bay California

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After living on Shelter Island for four months, we said goodbye to our beloved sailboat Groovy one last time, with tears in our eyes, and returned to our equally beloved buggy and were back in the RVing lifestyle in the Arizona desert by Christmas of 2013.

Happy sailors aboard Hunter 44DS sailboat Groovy

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We had now spent nearly equal amounts of time RVing and sailing, and we had grown immeasurably as travelers and adventurers.

The pride we felt at having had a huge dream and of having gone for it and pulled it off and lived it to its fullest was immense. We had given our cruising dream everything we had, and it had given us the deep satisfaction of both accomplishment and confidence.

Saguaro cactus with starburst sunset Arizona

Hello Arizona!

The unexpected bonus was that we fell in love with our neighbor south of the border.

We never ever would have traveled in Mexico if we hadn’t bought a boat. It just wasn’t on our bucket list of international destinations. Yet how much narrower and smaller our lives would have been if we hadn’t spent all those years living there.

We left to go cruising so we could play on the beach and swim and snorkel and live sunny lives on the water. But we had discovered that the far more meaningful side of our cruise was immersing ourselves in Mexico’s culture, making lasting friendships with Mexicans we met along the way, and discovering the true beauty of a country we knew absolutely nothing about.

Motocross biker jumps in the sky in Arizona

A motocross jumper in Cave Creek, Arizona.

We were flying high. The experience of completing a very successful voyage and of returning to a lifestyle we loved and found so easy to live was exhilarating. We had dreamed a dream and we had lived it. And we still had so much more life to live!

Hummingbird in Arizona

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We decided to make every effort going forward to spend as much time as possible doing only those things we really loved to do and spending as little time as possible doing the things we didn’t like. With boat maintenance and scary moments at sea behind us, this simple rule of thumb became our way of prioritizing our activities every day.

By early February of 2014 we were ready to head out on our RVing adventures, and we went to the beautiful red rock country of Sedona.

Hiking the red rocks in Sedona Arizona

Sedona, Arizona — Home of the red rocks!

Further north we explored the wonderful Wire Pass Trail slot canyon.

Slot canyon hike at Wire Pass Trail Arizona

Wire Pass Trail was an eye popping slot canyon hike.

Our target for the summer of 2014 was eastern Oregon, but we started by heading north and west through some of the most remote land I think there is in the continental US — northern Nevada and southern Oregon.

After driving for hundreds of miles through nothing, we found a cool little bar on the side of the road. A cartoon on a wall showed a man and woman in a car driving by a sign that said, “Entering the Middle.” She was studying a road map entitled “Nowhere.”

But soon we were at Crater Lake National Park where the water is a vivid royal blue.

Crater Lake National Park Oregon RV trip

Crater Lake is bluer than blue!

Continuing north, we headed to Bend Oregon and Smith Rock State Park.

One thing we had begun to notice now that we had seven years of travel in our back pockets, was that we often recognized the places where photos were taken. This happened not just with photos in magazines and online but with movies too.

One night about a year or so after our visit to Smith Rock State Park we were watching an old John Wayne movie and we kept saying to each other, “That sure looks like Oregon.” Well, a few scenes later our jaws dropped when we saw Smith Rock right there in the movie. Sure enough, John Wayne started talking about Fort Smith, and in the credits at the end the producers listed Smith Rock State Park.

Smith Rock State Park RV trip Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.

This kind of thing happens frequently now as we see more and more places in our travels. It’s like our little database of knowledge about North America’s most beautiful places is getting filled in. The funny trade-off, though, is that we’ve forgotten a lot of other things we used to know so well, like how to get around town on the streets of our home towns!

One of Oregon’s most charming towns is Baker City where we watched a fantastic Tour de France style bicycle race.

Baker City Oregon annual bicycle race

Oregon’s Baker City Cycling Classic zooms past.

But the Wallowa Mountains and the cute town of Joseph (population 1,000) were what really took our breath away that summer.

Wallowa Mountains Oregon with horses and pastures

The Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon.

Snowcapped Wallowa Mountains Oregon with red barn

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Dropping south and east we visited Sun Valley, Idaho, a beautiful, trendy town that has wonderful bike trails and a unique car race right out on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway. We watched a Bugatti Veyron hit 244 mph!

Mountain biking in the Sawtooth Mountains Idaho

Sun Valley Idaho is an outdoor lover’s paradise.

It’s also an artsy town where we came across a group of professional artists painting with oils on canvas out in the National Forest. We later saw this guy’s painting for sale in a local gallery for several thousand dollars!

Plein Air painting Sawtooth National Forest Idaho

“Plein Air” artists were bringing the Sawtooth National Forest to life on their canvases.

At Grand Teton National Park we saw gorgeous mountain scenery.

Horseback riders in Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park.

As the summer came to an end we swung through Colorado’s rugged Black Canyon of the Gunnison and picturesque Maroon Bells.

Happy Campers in Maroon Bells Colorado

Maroon Bells, Colorado.

Then we caught the stunning fall foliage season at the tiny town of Silverton high up the Million Dollar Highway on a mountaintop.

Fall Foliage in Silverton Colorado

Fall colors on the San Juan Skyway in Colorado.

Silverton Colorado in peak fall color

Silverton Colorado is so perfectly “authentic” it feels a little like a movie set!

Returning to Arizona for the winter of 2014-15, we got a distant glimpse of Monument Valley.

RV trip to Monument Valley Arizona

Monument Valley views from Arizona.

Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is lush and full of life, and we saw some wild (feral) peach faced lovebirds that have taken up residence in Phoenix in the nesting holes created by other birds in the saguaro cactus.

Peach faced lovebird in saguaro cactus in Phoenix Arizona

A peach faced lovebird peers out of a saguaro cactus in Arizona.

One afternoon a big thunderstorm whipped across the valley followed by a gorgeous rainbow that filled the sky above the cacti.

Rainbow over field of saguaro cactus in Phoenix Arizona

A rainbow and cactus — what a great mix!

As our travels expanded through the years, so did this website, and we had the crazy experience in Quartzsite of being recognized by a few people here and there. This surprised us and made us feel very special. But we faced a few bumps in the road as this website found its niche in cyber space too.

One day I got an email from a woman threatening me with legal action if I didn’t take down our website immediately. She had trademarked the phrase “Roads Less Traveled” and other variants of those words and felt our domain name violated her trademarks.

I was shocked, but luckily a knowledgeable friend of mine calmed me down. It turns out that domain names and trademarks are two very different things. Besides, there is a very popular book with a similar name and at the time there was a TV show as well.

Ironically, she had purchased several similar domain names a year or two before I purchased “RoadsLessTraveled.us,” and by the time she contacted me our two websites had been living amicably side by side on the internet for many years with nary a squabble between them. So I decided to take it as a compliment that our website was growing in popularity and getting noticed!

Columbine flower

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A few years later, as I researched the steepness gradient on a remote road in Utah for an article I was writing on the towing capability of our truck, I poured through everything I could find online about this particular road, as no one, not even the Utah Department of Transportation, seemed to know exactly how steep it was.

In the process, I bumped into an old news article about upcoming road construction on that exact road, published by an affiliate of USA Today. I gasped when I saw my own photo from our website being used in this news article! Oddly, the photo was attributed to a nonexistent website.

Needless to say, I contacted the top dogs in the editorial department using the word “plagiarism” in large letters, and they quickly responded by paying us for the photo, removing it from the old news story, and chastising the news reporter.

Wild Horses of the Salt River Phoenix Arizona

Wild horses on Arizona’s Salt River.

These little hiccups were few and far between, but the responsibility of managing a website and writing regularly for a loyal readership had become a significant part of our lives. Over the years, it also taught me volumes about the shadier side of the internet, something I valued learning.

White Sands National Monument New Mexico RV trip

We visited White Sands National Monument in early 2015.
It’s like a mammoth beach — with no water.

In our first years of RVing we had seen diesel prices climb from about $1.89 a gallon to over $5.00 a gallon. And when we returned to RVing from sailing, the prices were hovering in the high $3’s and low $4’s. But by early 2015 prices had dropped dramatically to the very low $2 range.

This was our cue to make a long trip for the 2015 summer season!

Swinging through Big Bend National Park in Texas on our way to get our trailer brakes upgraded to electric over hydraulic disc brakes (an upgrade we highly recommend to everyone that tows a large fifth wheel trailer), we dashed out to Florida where we plunked right down in the soft white sand.

Pensacola Beach Florida RV trip

We arrive on the beach in northern Florida.

One of our goals in Florida was to upgrade our electrical system while staying at a friend’s house, replacing our wet cell batteries with Trojan AGM batteries, upgrading to an Iota converter, and replacing all the wiring as well. We eventually upgraded our inverter from an 1100 watt pure sine wave inverter to 2000 watts as well.

In between working on the trailer, we visited The Ringling museum and saw some baby sandhill crane chicks hatch right by the side of the road!

The Ringling Mansion and Museum Sarasota Florida RV trip

The Ringling museum in Sarasota, Florida.

Sandhill crane mom and chick and egg

A parent sandhill crane checks on its newly hatched chick and yet-to-hatch egg.

During the spring of 2015 we worked our way north from Thomasville, Georgia, where the Big Oak tree dwarfed us with its immense branches.

The Big Oak tree in Thomasville Georgia RV trip

Thomasville, Georgia.

Traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, we saw stunning wildflowers and many dramatic waterfalls.

Wildflowers seen in North Carolina RV trip

Wildflowers in North Carolina.

Dugger's Creek Falls North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway RV Trip

Dugger’s Creek Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina.

Dashing across the very busy states of Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire, we finally stopped on Mt. Desert Island in Maine. Wow. The classic little New England harbors were filled with lobster boats and sailboats, and they were just beautiful.

Downeast Maine Harbor

Downeast Maine harbor with lobster boats!

Colorful sailboats at anchor on Mt Desert Island Maine_

Sailboats moored in Maine.

We’ve never seen wildflowers as big and bright and hardy as the lupines in northern Maine. They blanketed the landscapes everywhere in stunning shades of purple and lavender.

Happy campers in the wild lupine flowers in Maine

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But it was the rugged beauty of Acadia National Park that really impressed us. The Carriage Roads interconnecting the various parts of the park were a thrill to ride.

Acadia National Park Maine bicycling on the Carriage Roads

Cycling under an old stone bridge on Acadia National Park’s Carriage Roads.

Venturing further north along the coast we came to the “matching” Quoddy Head lighthouses in the waters around the American/Canadian border.

The West Quoddy Head lighthouse in Lubec, Maine, looks like Pippi Longstocking’s stocking, while the East Quoddy Head Lighthouse on the far north end of Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, has a big bold red cross on it.

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Maine

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Maine.

East Quoddy Head Lighthouse Campobello Island New Brunswick Canada

East Quoddy Head Lighthouse on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada

But our lighthouse magic reached its zenith when we went to Nova Scotia’s south shore and saw the most thrilling sunset burst into color all around classic Peggy’s Cove lighthouse.

Peggys Cove Lighthouse sunset on Nova Scotia RV trip

Peggys Cove Lighthouse in southern Nova Scotia, Canada.

Peggy’s Cove was a sheer delight with a handful of brightly colored lobster boats crammed into a tiny harbor.

Peggys Cove Nova Scotia lobster boats

Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia.

Equally magical was the nearby town of Lunenburg which is as quaint as can be.

Lunenberg Nova Scotia sailboats seen on RV trip

Lunenberg, Nova Scotia.

At the northeast end of Nova Scotia we drove the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island where the small harbors were equally charming but were backed by the rugged Highlands shoreline.

Lobster boats in White Point on the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island RV trip

White Point on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

We had now traveled from Arizona to Florida to Nova Scotia, which definitely counted as a long trip that took advantage of the cheap diesel prices! On our way back we took a ride on the unique Cog Railway train that claws its way straight up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

Mt Washington Cog Railway White Mountains New Hampshire RV trip

Mt Washington Cog Railway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire RV trip

Further west and south we fell in love with the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York where the old fashioned lifestyle of a large Amish community creates the very real image of what America looked like a century or more ago when everyone outside the cities lived on a small farm.

Amish buggy in Finger Lakes New York

An Amish “courting” buggy for a young Amish man (open air seating for two).

Amish farmers at Seneca Auction New York Finger Lakes RV Trip

Amish farmers at the Seneca Produce Auction in the NY Finger Lakes.

Wildlife abounds in some parts of the Finger Lakes, and we were stunned when we looked out the window and saw two fawns and a fox stop dead in their tracks to stare at us!

Two fawns and a fox at Seneca Lake New York Finger Lakes RV trip

A once in a lifetime shot!

The Finger Lakes have many beautiful waterfalls, and at Watkins Glen State Park we found some of the best we’ve every seen.

Watkins Glen waterfalls New York Finger Lakes RV trip

Watkins Glen State Park, New York.

Beginning our journey back out west, we were lured across the Ohio River by an absolutely charming town on the Kentucky side of the river called Maysville.

Maysville Kentucky on the Ohio River

Maysville, Kentucky, is a sweet town perched on the edge of the Ohio River.

To our utter astonishment, we were welcomed into the Maysville community like long lost family. We found kindred spirits of all kinds at the local watering hole, O’Rourke’s Neighborhood Pub.

Suddenly we found ourselves being taken on a personal tour of the tobacco fields during the harvest season, and we even became friends with the mayor. We did a 5k run, went to a church fair and hit a free concert at the opera house, and we learned the secrets behind the beautifully renovated Masonic temple which houses the visitors center and a gallery. To our complete surprise, we also ended up on the front page of the local newspaper!

Perhaps what impressed us most in Maysville was the resilience and spirit we found. Living with the seasonal threat of devastation from Ohio River floods, and with daily challenges caused by the demise of the tobacco industry, their flood wall keeps the water out and their warm and friendly community keeps the happiness in!

Maysville Kentucky RV trip

Maysville, Kentucky, will always have a special place in our hearts.

One of the many reasons we had left the sailing life behind was the incredible amount of work it takes to maintain a sailboat in the corrosive salt water environment. Keeping Groovy in good shape had been a full-time job for both of us.

Our trailer had never needed much of anything other than minor tweaks and small preventive maintenance projects here and there. But after we left Nova Scotia in the summer of 2015 we were hit with a series of major breakdowns.

The first was a bent spindle on one of our trailer axles, and we limped to Bangor Maine from Nova Scotia to have the entire axle replaced. Luckily, our extended warranty covered the repair!

Then, after leaving Maysville, our refrigerator died. This time we limped to the outskirts of Indianapolis to get a new RV refrigerator installed. Again, luckily, our extended warranty covered the repair.

Sunrise at Tuttle State Park Manhattan Kansas

Arizona has consistently beautiful sunrises, but this stunner was in Tuttle Creek Lake State Park, Kansas!

Then we had a slew of water leaks, ranging from a mysterious roof or window leak to several plumbing issues, and for those repairs we went to Chanute, Kansas, and again we were very grateful that our extended warranty covered the work.

Thinking that we were all done with major repairs, we headed west through New Mexico where we stopped at the town of Tatum which is decorated from head to toe with fantastic metal art work.

Tatum New Mexico metal art seen on RV trip

Tatum, New Mexico, has wonderful metal art all around town, thanks to two unique artisans.

But we had one more major repair in store when our trailer’s suspension failed all together. Once again, our extended warranty came to the rescue, but we had a hunch we were pushing our luck!

Back in Arizona once again at the end of 2015, we had the really fun experience of buying a new Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck that was sold with an electric guitar signed by Mark’s longtime rock idol, Alice Cooper. By a quirk of good luck we got to meet him too!

Alice Cooper guitar on our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually truck

Which does this happy guy love more, the brand new truck or the Alice Cooper guitar??

Since we started traveling, we have collected the special “WPA” postcards at all of the National Parks we’ve visited, and we have them displayed on our trailer walls.

National Parks WPA Postcards

National Parks “WPA” Postcards.

National Parks WPA Postcards

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There were quite a few National Parks we hadn’t been to yet, and diesel prices were still low when the winter of 2016 rolled into spring, so we planned another long trip for the year, this time to the National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. We hoped to hit a few other National Parks on our way there and back.

First up, though, was a visit to the glorious red rock country of Sedona, Arizona, once again.

mountain biking in Sedona Arizona on an RV trip

It’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail while mountain biking in Sedona, Arizona.

Cathedral Rock Sedona Arizona sunset on an RV trip

Cathedral rock revels in a last minute burst of color during a gloomy sunset in Sedona.

Venturing north, we stayed with the red rocks through northern Arizona into southern Utah.

Mountain biking in the Arizona red rocks on an RV trip

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Canyonlands National Park RV Trip Needles District

Canyonlands National Park – Needles District – Utah.

The area around Moab, Utah, is littered with National and State Parks, and we gorged on endless stunning vistas for a few weeks, visiting Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park along with many other fantastic locales.

Moab Utah RV Trip

The back side of Moab, Utah — This should really be the Front Door!

Arches National Park RV Trip

Arches National Park.

Leaving Moab and taking back roads through northern Utah and southern Idaho, we saw stunning snow-capped mountains and gorgeous rural scenery.

Snowcapped mountains Logan Utah

Snowy peaks in northern Utah.

Pushing further north, the charming town of Philipsburg, Montana, was a delight, and seeing a herd of elk dashing across a highway and over a fence into a meadow was a thrill.

Phillipsburg Montana RV Trip

Picturesque and inviting Philipsburg, Montana.

Elk crossing road and jumping fence in Montana

A herd of elk crosses the highway and bike path and then jumps the fence to safer pastures.

Even though our earlier travel years were filled with daily “firsts,” we still had plenty of new experiences on a regular basis even though we were now nine years into this lifestyle.

As a city girl, the only four legged creature I had ever ridden was at the church pony ride as a child, but special friends in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley made sure I got to know their horse Snipper, and I took a gorgeous ride across pastures and farm fields with my friend and mentor, Bob, under the watchful eye of the mountain peaks.

Horseback riding in the Bitterroot Valley Montana

A horseback ride in Montana — What a place to ride a horse!

The most dramatic “firsts” of 2016 were the many jaw dropping vistas that greeted us day after day as we traveled through the Canadian Rockies. The Rocky Mountains in America are lovely, but the craggy, spiky peaks in Canada blew us away completely.

Kootenay National Park Waterfall RV trip

Kootenay National Park, Canada.

Visiting each of the four adjacent Canadian National Parks in the heart of this stunning mountain majesty, our eyes popped out of our heads repeatedly.

Banff National Park RV Trip to Canada

Banff, Canada.

Icefields Parkway RV Trip to Canada

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Canada.

Dawn at Lake Louise Banff National Park RV trip

Dawn at Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Canada.

Peyto Lake Icefields Parkway RV Trip to Canada

Peyto Lake on the Icefields Parkway in Canada

This area is also home to lots of large animals whose presence isn’t a hidden mystery. We had to stop the truck for big horn sheep in the road on several occasions, and we saw a few bears quite close by too.

Black bear Kootenay National Park RV trip Canada

Large animals were common all over the Canadian Rockies.

But it was the vivid blue and turquoise water of the glacial lakes and rushing rivers that gave these places their truly majestic beauty.

Natural Bridge Yoho National Park RV trip to Canada

Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park, Canada.

Emerald Lake Yoho National Park RV Trip

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, Canada.

When we started traveling full-time in 2007, many people we met didn’t have an email address. We used a payphone card to make phone calls at outdoor phone booths whenever we needed to talk to someone at a distance, and we had already been on the road for a month when the iPhone was first introduced.

One of the crazy things over the past ten years has been the rise of the smartphone, and nowhere was this more noticeable than in the Canadian Rockies.

Canada’s National Parks are hugely popular with guests from every country in the world, and as we fought our way to the front of mobs of people at many of the overlooks, we were taken aback by the insane cell phone selfie mania that seemed to have overtaken the human race.

Moraine Lake sunrise near Lake Louise Banff National Park RV trip to Canada

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Canada

When we returned home from our life afloat in Mexico we discovered that America was in love with smartphones. Folks had been just as obsessed in Mexico — our very special friend in Puerto Madero had two cell phones, one for his wife and one for his mistress — but we were so busy seeing the sights and trying to speak the language that we didn’t notice how much people were looking down at their phones.

On our RV trip during the 2016 season this phone obsession hit us like a ton of bricks. Everyone we saw in the National Parks on both sides of the American/Canadian border was either looking down at their phone or setting themselves up for a selfie portrait with a phone and a selfie stick. It was nuts!

We didn’t (and still don’t) have a phone, but I can’t say we didn’t join the crowd and take tons of selfies like everyone around us… of course we did!

Lake Louise Hike Banff National Park RV trip Canada

Getting to the Canadian Rockies early enough in the season to see lots of snow meant there was still ice on the lakes at higher elevations!

One of the coolest and most unexpected delights in the Canadian Rockies was sitting in the naturally heated swimming pools that are filled with steaming water that pours out of the hot springs.

Banff Upper Hot Springs Banff National Park RV trip Canada

Banff Upper Hot Springs.

But for all the drama of the scenery at Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper National Parks, it was only when we rounded the bend and came south through the less visited Kananaskis Country to the Alberta/Montana border at Waterton Lakes National Park that we found both the charming intimacy of a small village and the breathtaking vistas of mother nature all in one place.

Waterton Lakes National Park RV trip Canada

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada

Waterton Shoreline Cruise Waterton Lakes National Park RV trip Canada

Waterton Shoreline Cruise from Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada to Glacier National Park in America.

Alberta’s Waterton Lakes borders Montana’s Glacier National Park, and the awe-inspiring views continued to fill our camera lenses.

Logan Pass Glacier National Park Montana RV trip

Going to the Sun Road at Glacier National Park in Montana.

Two Medicine Glacier National Park Montana RV trip

Kayaks on the beach at Two Medicine, Glacier National Park, Montana.

The summer of 2016 was in full swing, and we were delighted to find two fabulous beach towns nestled in Idaho’s mountains: Sandpoint and McCall.

Summer on the Payette Lake beach in McCall Idaho

Beach Town USA – McCall, Idaho!

After enjoying some beach time in Idaho, raging wildfires filled the air with smoke, so we drove all the way to southern Utah’s clear skies at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Sunrise Bryce Canyon National Park Inspiration Point Utah RV trip

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park’s Inspiration Point in Utah.

In late September, we drove the golden hued San Juan Skyway in southwestern Colorado where the aspens were showing off their vibrant cloaks of yellow and orange.

Fall foliage golden aspen San Juan Skyway Colorado RV trip

Reflections of autumn on the San Juan Skyway in Colorado.

Visiting the Colorado Rockies when fall begins to nudge winter is always a flirtation with very cold weather, and we soon found ourselves surrounded by snow.

RV in a snow storm San Juan Mountains Colorado

What do you do when it snows unexpectedly? Build a snow man!

But what gorgeous views waited for us once the snow stopped falling!

Golden aspens in snow San Juan Mountains Colorado RV trip

Magic happens when Fall and Winter mix
in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

One of the cool things we’ve learned in our unusual outdoors oriented lifestyle over the years is the wonders of the night sky. We had never paid much attention to the phases of the moon in our former lives, and seeing the sky filled with stars wasn’t possible where we used to live our workaday lifestyle.

But living on the ocean had taught us about the moon. We relied on that beautiful orb in the sky to light our way on our overnight sailing passages in Mexico. Whenever we could, we timed our nighttime sailing voyages to coincide with a full moon or a moon that would be up there as our friend among the stars for as many hours of the night as possible.

The coast of Pacific Mexico is often too hazy and cloudy to give the stars much of a chance to show off their best sparkle, but now in our land based lives we could seek out dark moonless skies in hopes of seeing of the Milky Way.

Ironcially, after unhappily losing sleep on the ocean due to wild waves and swell, we now deliberately got out of our warm bed to chase both sunrises and the Milky Way all night long!

At Grand Canyon’s North Rim we got a good view of the Milky Way.

Milky Way Grand Canyon National Park North Rim RV trip

Hiking at night at Grand Canyon’s North Rim in Arizona.

Ultimately, improving our skills as photographers remained at the top of our “makes us happy” list, and we traveled both lesser known and well trodden paths to see America’s most sensational vistas as 2016 drew to a close.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah RV trip

Lesser known Lower Calf Creek Falls in Utah.

Zion National Park in Utah RV trip

World renowned Zion National Park in Utah

Back when we moved off our sailboat, we vowed we would include lots of international travel in our mix of destinations. Yet in the three years since we’d left our sailing life hadn’t gotten on a single plane to go see a foreign country.

We changed all that in January and February of 2017 when we took a very long 24 hour flight with three legs to Bangkok Thailand.

Chao Phraya River cruise Bangkok Thailand

Cruising the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand.

As soon as we landed, our foreign travel instincts from Mexico returned, and we traveled all over Thailand for a month.

Interestingly, before we left for Thailand we faced the same fears and concerns we had had before we started traveling in Mexico: Would we be safe? After all, southern Thailand has seen an awful lot of terrorist attacks. Would we like it? Would it be worth the time and money to go?

In the end, Thailand was surprisingly similar to Mexico. Thailand has the same climate and vegetation as Mexico and both have a similar “developing” economy and stature in the world. Except for the language and the Buddhist temples, being in Thailand felt very much like being in Mexico..

This was a huge surprise. We had thought Thailand would be dramatically different from anything we had ever experienced.

However, in Cambodia we found a world totally unlike our own in North America.

Angkor Wat temples Cambodia adventure travel

The ancient Khmer temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia were stunning.

Although the ancient Khmer temples at Angkor Wat were a lot like the Mayan ruins in Mexico, both in form and in their time period in history, and even though the locals in Cambodia were just as warm and friendly as the good people we had met in Mexico, our eyes were opened wide with a gut wrenching seriousness when we learned what happens to people when a totalitarian regime takes over a country — as happened in Cambodia in the 1970’s.

Sharing photos with Cambodian kids

Mark shows his photos to an excited group of Cambodian kids.

While western countries flirt with the notion of massive government systems that “take care of” (control) their citizens from cradle to grave, enforcing political correctness, silencing dissenting views, and creating a kind of egalitarian serfdom for the populace, according to the world view, whims and needs of a ruling elite, everyday Cambodians have some hair raising stories to tell about their personal experiences living under such a regime.

I haven’t yet written about what we learned in Cambodia, but perhaps I will eventually. I also haven’t written about the very beautiful week we spent in Hawaii right after that!

Angel fish Hawaii snorkeling adventure

An angel fish passes wtihin arm’s reach as we snorkel in Hawaii.

There are only so many hours in the day, and in an effort to fill those hours with the things we love — real life adventures and a lifelong photography learning curve — the storytelling sometimes has to be curtailed, or I’ll never get off my Lazy Boy chair!!

Happy photographers in aspen trees Colorado

Photography is a hobby that will keep us engaged into old age. What fun!

This brings us to the present moment as we travel across New Mexico after an early spring spent in northeastern Arizona.

As always, we are entertaining many ideas for the future, some of which might come to pass and others of which will wait for another time.

Wherever we go in our next ten years of life, we will keep posting our tales, our discoveries, and our photos. We hope you will continue to come along too and that you’ll find inspiration to live life with gusto and pursue your own wildest dreams too.

Every day is another chance to make your dreams come true

Great words to live by!

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