Repacking and Inspecting Fifth Wheel Trailer Wheel Bearings

Repacking the wheel bearings is an important annual maintenance task for a fifth wheel trailer, especially one that is lived in full-time like ours. This is also a good time to inspect the bearings and brakes.

The first step is to jack up the trailer and remove the wheels.

Remove wheel from fifth wheel to grease wheel bearings-min

After jacking up the trailer, remove the wheels.

A few years ago we did a disk brake conversion on our fifth wheel trailer, upgrading from the factory installed electric drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disk brakes (you can read the details about what was involved in doing this phenomenal and highly recommended upgrade here). So, behind each of our wheels is the disk brake rotor and brake caliper.

Disc and rotor on fifth wheel trailer-min

Inspect the rotor and disc brake pads.

The first step for repacking the wheel bearings was to remove the brake caliper and inspect the brake pads and check out the braking surface on the rotor. All looked good. Then the brake caliper was moved out of the way.

Next, the grease cap and cotter pin were removed. Then the castle nut holding the bearings and the disk rotor in place was unscrewed. Gently pulling the rotor out about an inch and then pushing it back in released the outer bearing so it could be removed. Then the rotor was pulled off the axle spindle which revealed the inner bearing, allowing it to be slid off the axle spindle.

Remove castle nut and cotter pin from fifth wheel trailer hug to grease wheel bearings-min

Remove the cotter pin and castle nut, then the inner and outer wheel bearings and then pull the rotor off the axle spindle.

Greasy spindle on fifth wheel trailer axle-min

The axle spindle is full of grease.

Using shop towels, the grease was wiped off the axle spindle.

Clean spindle on fifth wheel trailer axle-min

Wipe the old grease off the axle spindle.

The inner and outer bearings, D-shaped spindle washer, castle nut and grease cap were then wiped clean of grease.

Inner and outer bearings fifth wheel trailer hub grease wheel bearings-min

Wipe off and inspect the outer and inner bearings, the D-shaped spindle washer, the castle nut and the grease cap.

It turned out that one of our wheel bearings was slightly scored, showing early signs of wear. We decided to replace it. Wheel bearings come in a bearing and race assembly, so the race would be replaced too.

Finding worn parts before they become a problem is one of the reasons that greasing the wheel bearings is an important annual task. Even if a trailer has EZ-Lube bearings, it is still important to remove the bearings periodically to inspect them so they can be replaced before they fail on the road.

Trailer wheel bearing damaged with scoring marks-min

One of our wheel bearings showed signs of wear — light scoring marks on each bearing.

First, the grease needed to be removed from the inside of the hub. It was scraped out and then wiped out with a shop towel.

Remove old grease from fifth wheel trailer disc brake hub-min

Remove the old grease from the rotor.

Greasing wheel bearings on fifth wheel trailer remove old grease-min

After scraping the grease out, wipe the area down with a shop cloth.

Remove old grease from fifth wheel trailer disc brake hub-min

Grease removed.

Then the old race was knocked out and the new race was set in place.

Knock out the old bearing race.

Knock out the old bearing race.

Put new wheel bearings into fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub-min

Set the new race in place.

The race was lightly tapped in place to make sure it was square. Then, using a race setter, the race was tapped securely into place.

Tap in the wheel bearings into fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub-min

Tap in the new race.

Press new wheel bearings into fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub-min

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Next, the rotor with the greased inner bearing was mounted back on the spindle.

Place fifth wheel disk brake hub back onto axle spindle

Place the rotor back on the axle spindle.

Put new grease around wheel bearings on fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub

Newly greased bearings and spindle.

Then the castle nut was screwed on and hand-tightened.

Place greased castle nut in fifth wheel trailer disk brake rotor hub-min

Hand-tighten the castle nut.

Adjust greased castle nut in fifth wheel trailer disk brake rotor hub-min

Adjust the castle nut.

A new cotter pin was put in place and bent over to hold everything securely.

Place cotter pin in greased fifth wheel trailer disk brake rotor hub-min

Put a new cotter pin in place and bend it over.

Then the grease cap was screwed back on.

Screw in grease cap on fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub-min

Screw in the grease cap.

Completed grease wheel bearing job on fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub-min

Presto. Three more wheels to go!

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

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

Puppy love

Puppy love.

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

Puppy Dog in the RV lifestyle-min

The Christmas Pup.

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

Puppy Dog and RV life-min

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And he was going to be moving in!

Puppy Dog playing in the yard-min

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

Puppy dog plays in yard-min

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

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

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

Dog and RV travel-min

You see, I don’t like dogs.

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

Portrait of a Dog as a Young Pup-min

Portrait of a Dog as a Young Pup.

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

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

Puppy discovers his reflection in a puddle.

Slipper and puppy dog-min

Peek-a-boo!

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

Puppy dog trots on the hiking trail-min

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

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

Our friend Bob who is a wiz with with Photoshop put the pup on the cover of a book that he thought the dog could write if he spent some time with 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.

Puppy dog in an RV recliner-min

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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.

Puppy dog sitting at the lake-min

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

Puppy dog and duck at the lake-min

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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.

RV dog life puppy sits in RV doorway-min

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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 (the next one is February 2-4, 2018, outside Phoenix, Arizona), 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 (the next Escapade is May 27-June 1, 2018 in Sedalia, Missouri). 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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RV Lifestyle Tips: Costs, RV Repairs, Living Off the Grid, Workamping & More!

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

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

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

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

GOING FULL-TIME

REPAIRS and CRISES ON THE ROAD

BOONDOCKING and LIVING OFF THE GRID in an RV

LIVING the DREAM

JOBS and WORKAMPING in the RV LIFESTYLE

RV LIFESTYLE TIPS and ANECDOTES

UNUSUAL FULL-TIME TRAVELERS WE HAVE MET

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

CHOOSING AN RV and INTERESTING RVs WE’VE SEEN

RV FACTORY TOURS

REFLECTIONS ON OUR LIVES as FULL-TIME TRAVELERS

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

PUBLIC LAND

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

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RV Tech Tips – RV Upgrades – RV Maintenance Tips + Buying an RV!

This page contains links to all the articles we’ve written about our favorite RV tech tips and that describe the many RV upgrades and modifications we’ve done to our rig. In addition, there are articles full of important RV maintenance tips as well as suggestions for things to consider when choosing and buying an RV.

RV Tech Tips Upgrades for Motorhome and 5th Wheel Trailer owners - Maintain and upgrade your RV

From little RV maintenance tech tips to big RV upgrades, the article links are all on this page!

Ever since we began this website back in 2008 (after being on the road RVing full-time for a year), we have written lots of articles that are chock full of the many RV tech tips we’ve learned along the way.

Below you’ll find all the article links, grouped by subject, to make it easy for you to peruse our online library of RV tech tips, RV maintenance tips, modification ideas and RV upgrades.

For reference, you can see the various rigs we’ve owned, both for vacation purposes (before we started full-timing) and then for living in 24/7/365 once we took the plunge to go full-time.

CHOOSING and BUYING AN RV

RV MAINTENANCE, CLEANING and DRIVING

RV MODIFICATIONS and UPGRADES

SOLAR POWER UPGRADE – INTRO and OVERVIEW of SOLAR POWER SYSTEMS

SOLAR POWER UPGRADE – TUTORIAL SERIES

BATTERY UPGRADE – ALL ABOUT BATTERIES and BATTERY CHARGING

INVERTER UPGRADE – ALL ABOUT INVERTERS

CHOOSING and BUYING a TRUCK

  • Buying a Truck – Things to consider: Which Make & Model? Single Rear Wheel or Dually? Long Bed or Short Bed?
  • More on Choosing a Truck – With a link to the article Trailer Life Magazine asked us to write

TRUCK – MAINTENANCE and UPGRADES

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Companion index pages are “RV Lifestyle Tips – Costs, Repairs, Boondocking, Workamping & More” and “Product Reviews.”

RV Tech Tips for Motorhome and 5th Wheel Trailer owners - Maintain and upgrade your RV

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home is where the RV welcome mat is-min

Yes, indeed!

And another fun one:

Just Another Day in Paradise RV Welcome Mat

Welcome home!!

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

Welcome to our Rolling Estate-min

A warm welcome to hang on the wall.

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

Class C RV key hooks-min

Key hooks for the motorhome and the toad too.

Travel trailer key hooks for an RV-min

Key hooks for the truck and trailer.

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

RV and retro travel trailer hand towels-min

Decorative hand towels.

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

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A personalized flag to make introductions easy.

Here’s another slightly different personalized flag:

Personalized Happy Camper Flag-min

“Happy Camper” personalized flag.

Both can be hung on a simple garden flag pole.

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

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

Let the neighbors know where the party is!

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

picnic stix wine glass and bottle holders-min

No spills by the campfire!

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

stemless camping wine glass-min

Is this you — or someone you know??

Happy Camper stemless wine glass-min

Describes every RVer, for sure!

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

Shatterproof stemless wine glasses for RV living and camping-min

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

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

Retro RV trailer coasters-min

Stone tile trailer coasters

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

Motorhome RV coasters-min

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

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

Happy camper cocktail napkins-min

Cocktail napkins your guests will absolutely love.

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

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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 little portable campfire with you? This little guy runs on propane and has a nice flame.

Little Red Campfire propane portable-min

Cozy up to a portable campfire. No wood necessary!

Guide to the National Parks-min

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

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

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

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

Most scenic drives in America-min

Inspiration: The Most Scenic Drives in America!

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

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

Off the Beaten Path Travel-min

Leave the crowds behind and get off the beaten path!

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

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

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

Large scale road atlas-min

First step to travel adventure – an atlas!

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

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

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

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

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

Camping and RV journal-min

A Camping and RV Travel Journal.

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

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

Happy camper lounge pants-min

Happy camper vintage trailer lounge pants.

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

RV picture frame class C Motorhome-min

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

RV travel trailer picture frame-min

The trailer version.

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

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

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

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

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

Brookstone percussion massager-min

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

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

magma nesting cookware for RV travel-min

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

magma nesting cookware for RV camping-min

The whole set fits into one pot!

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

Camping dishes with travel trailer RV designs-min

What a great dishware set for your travels!

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

RV bowl and serving set with travel trailer design-min

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

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

Lumintop 4000 lumen tactical flashlight-min

For the flashlight junkie in the RV.

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

Lumintop EDC25 pocket flashlight-min

Flashlight junkies can never have too many flashlights!

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

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

Rigid Cordless Drill and Impact Driver Kit-min

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

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

Yeti beer koozie-min

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

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

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

Yeti portable cooler-min

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

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

Yeti cooler-min

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

Again, there are other cheaper brands.

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

RV coffee mugs with travel trailer-min

“Life is Better in a Camper” coffee mugs!

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

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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!

Ring Toss Camping Game-min

Ring toss game.

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

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

RV gift Mad Libs game-min

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

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

RV bird house antique travel trailer-min

For the RVer who doubles as a bird lover.

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

Hummingbird Feeder window suction cup mount-min

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

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

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

Nikon D3400 DSLR camera

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

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

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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!!

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

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

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

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEARN BY DOING

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

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

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

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

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

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

CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY

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

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

CCC = GVWR – (UVW + propane weight)

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

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

NCC = GVWR – UVW

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

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

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

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV cargo carrying capacity 2

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

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

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

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

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

Redwood Fifth Wheel Cargo Carrying Capacity 1

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

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

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

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

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

FOUNDATION – FRAME, AXLES, TIRES. SUSPENSION and LANDING JACKS

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 first about a decade or so ago which is part of what pushed the industry towards building RVs with residential electric refrigerators instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add Storage and Seating Capacity at your RV Dinette!

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

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

RV DEPRECIATION

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

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

RV Depreciation over time

Hmmm…. An RV’s value declines with time.

On the flip side, going RVing full-time is a dream, and it’s hard and maybe even unfair to put a price on your dreams.

If you have the funds and you can spend a lot on a rapidly depreciating fifth wheel trailer without crippling your finances later in life, definitely go for it.

What could be better than casting off on a dreamy new lifestyle in a dreamy new RV?

No matter what you buy, negotiate hard. You are in the driver’s seat — until you are in the driver’s seat! Many mass-market manufacturers anticipate selling for about 70% of MSRP. Others are closer to 80%.

If you go custom, well, you’re be paying for the very finest of the finest. So, the focus will be on getting exactly what you want rather than haggling over the price. With a custom rig you get what you ask for… so be knowledgeable and smart about what you ask for!

If you aren’t sure of you future finances, and you aren’t sure if you’ll like the full-time RV lifestyle, and/or you aren’t sure if you’d prefer a fifth wheel or a Class A motorhome as your house on wheels, consider getting a cheaper model or a used trailer to start.

We understand this dilemma well. We would LOVE to have a new trailer now. After all, ours is ten years old and shows a lot of wear. But…

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO TRAVEL?

The rig you live in is just part of the equation of putting together that champagne lifestyle of full-time RV travel. The real reason most folks run away in an RV is because they want to get out and see something of this continent, get to know the different regions of our country and of our neighbors’ countries, and knock a few travel destinations off their bucket list.

Appalachian Mountains RV Trip Coast to Coast Magazine Summer 2017-min

Our cover photo for our Coast to Coast magazine article about the Appalachian Mountains
Summer 2017 issue

The options of places to visit are limitless, and we’ve got 10 years worth of travel tales on this website that tell the stories of what we’ve seen and where we’ve been since 2007.

I’ve also written a lot of articles for Trailer Life Magazine showcasing different parts of the country that make for an enjoyable RV destination.

Georgia On Their Minds Trailer Life Magazine September 2017-min

The Antebellum Trail in Georgia is a terrific RV route for folks heading north/south through Georgia.
Trailer Life Magazine – September 2017. Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

A few of these feature articles have turned up in Trailer Life over the past few months and can be read at these links: Georgia on Their Minds, The Quaint Side of Canada, and Downeast Maine. Images of the first two pages of each article are below.

I also have a bi-monthly column on the back page of Trailer Life that showcases a beautiful photo of a gorgeous spot along with a few words about what makes that place special. My most recent columns have focused on: The Rocky Mountain Beach Town of McCall Idaho and a Forest on Fire – Fall Colors in Colorado.

Trailer Life Magazine is a monthly national magazine and it offers not only mouth-watering photos and stories of places to take your trailer, but it also devotes a lot of pages to technical issues that trailer owners face.

Nova Scotia RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine July 2017-min

Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is tops on many RVers’ lists
Trailer Life Magazine – July 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

The technical editorial staff at Trailer Life is both very knowledgeable and very meticulous about ensuring what they discuss and review is accurate.

I have written a lot of technical articles for Trailer Life, from discussing RV roof maintenance to RV dump station tips to an article about the 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck and one about the new puck based OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches.

Downeast Maine RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine June 2017-min

Downeast Maine is a hidden jewel north and east of famous Acadia National Park
Trailer Life Magazine – June 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

I have always been amazed at the extensive review process and discussion process that each of these technical article has undergone. Every little minute detail is reviewed for accuracy, sometimes spawning some lively debates.

There are a gazillion RV blogs out there that make for super fun reading and research and learning, but there is something to be said for a magazine that has been in print for over 75 years. Some people on the team have been with the magazine nearly half that time!

Trailer Life is hard to find on newsstands these days. New Camping World members receive a few issues as part of their membership (or they can get Motorhome Magazine if driveable RVs are more to their liking). If you get an annual subscription at the link below, you’ll see the article I’m working on about “first-timer” fifth wheels when it comes out!

Subscribe to Trailer Life Magazine

Have you been shopping for a full-timing fifth wheel? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Boondocking in an RV-min

There are loads of fifth wheels on the market that would make a fine full-time home. Enjoy the search!

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Boondocking (“free camping”) – How to find free RV campsites

There is nothing like the feeling of freedom of setting up camp in an ideal, secluded, picturesque RV campsite out in the hinterlands somewhere, and that’s why many RVers love to go boondocking and why we’ve done it almost every night for over ten years.

Rather than camping in a campground or an RV park, finding an RV campsite somewhere on the gorgeous public lands that have been set aside by the government for recreational purposes can make for a thrilling and fulfilling getaway.

Boondocking in an RV in Utah-min

Boondocking in Utah

Boondocking” refers to this kind of camping which is also more officially known as “dispersed camping” or “primitive camping.” Many RVers also call it “free camping” or even “wild camping” because it usually doesn’t cost anything and many sites are far out in nature somewhere.

Whatever name you give it, it falls under the category of “dry camping” because you are living in your RV without hooking it up to city water, sewer or electricity.

RV boondocking camping in a trailer in Idaho

Boondocking in Idaho

This post describes the different kinds of boondocking spots that are available and how to locate them.

If you are interested in tips for how to live off the grid in an RV (i.e., tips for how to save electricity, how to conserve water & propane, how to boondock safely, etc.), see this page: RV Boondocking – Tips for Living Off the Grid in an RV

WHAT IS RV BOONDOCKING ALL ABOUT?

Generally, boondocking is a very different way of traveling than staying in RV parks and campgrounds, because it is very free spirited and spontaneous. Nothing can be reserved in advance, and often you have no idea what kind of site you might find.

Boondocking in an RV in Montana-min

Boondocking in Montana

Many days we have no idea where we will be staying until late in the afternoon. Learning to be this flexible takes time, especially after years spent in structured, workaday routines, and not everyone ends up liking it.

We find the freedom from rules and restrictions and the beauty of the public lands is intoxicating, and we wouldn’t travel in our RV any other way.

We have been camping this way every night since we started full-timing in 2007, and as of December, 2017, we have boondocked in our RV for a total of over 2,600 nights.

Boondocking in an RV-min

Boondocking in Wyoming.

PUBLIC LAND

The US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other government agencies (Army Corps of Engineers among others) all manage vast tracts of public land.

The USFS (National Forests) is part of the Department of Agriculture, while the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is part of the Department of the Interior (as is the National Park Service).

Both the USFS and BLM have a mission “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

As a result, both of these entities manage two kinds of activities on their land: recreational use (camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, biking) and productive use (cattle grazing, mining, logging, etc.).

For this reason, the USFS and BLM generally allow “dispersed camping” on their land. That is, you can camp wherever you find a spot that seems suitable and is accessible.

In stark contrast to the USFS and BLM, the mission of the National Park Service, which manages both America’s National Parks and National Monuments, is to preserve America’s natural and historical treasures. For this reason, the whole notion of dispersed camping runs contrary to their charter, which is preservation (i.e., “don’t touch”). Therefore:

America’s National Parks do not allow dispersed camping in an RV (boondocking)

Some ranger districts and specific locations within the USFS and BLM lands do not allow dispersed camping either. If overnight camping is not allowed, a “No Overnight Camping” sign will be posted at the site or in an otherwise obvious place.

The idea behind dispersed camping is to allow people to enjoy the beauty of nature without the ordinary restrictions of a campground. However, campers have a responsibility not to harm the site and to leave it in good condition for the next person.

That is why there are rules for boondocking about packing trash out, burying human waste deeply, and not making new campfire rings.

In general, the rules for boondocking are very simple:

  • Stay in a site that already has a campfire ring or other evidence of being a campsite, and don’t build a new one
  • Observe fire restrictions (sometimes fires are not allowed due to the ease of starting a wildfire)
  • Pack out the trash you create (and don’t leave it in the fire ring)
  • Bury any human waste under at least 6″ of dirt
  • Enjoy a stay of 14 days or less (sometimes 16 days) and then move on
Fifth wheel trailer camping in Oregon

Sunset in Oregon

The reason behind the 14 day stay limit for dispersed camping is that the government agencies don’t want people moving onto public land and making it their home. The idea is: get in, enjoy the place, and get out. The idea is not to turn public land into little RV homesteads.

In some places the rangers will monitor the campers on their land and will ensure campers leave when their 14 days are up. Even when no one is monitoring how long campers stay, it is important to respect the rules and leave when you’ve reached the time limit.

There is a ranger’s office for each district within each of these agencies, and a stop at the ranger’s office is often worthwhile to pick up maps and to ask about dispersed camping opportunities, local rules and regulations.

Camping in a fifth wheel RV in utah

Lakeside in Utah

Note added May, 2017: A reader recently emailed me to express her distress that when I discussed “our” public land, I referred to it as “their” land, meaning land “belonging to” the federal agencies that manage it (USFS, BLM, etc.). For anyone that is puzzled or put off by this reference, please read my post Copper Mining, Not Camping, In Tonto National Forest which explains in detail one way (of many) that land management agencies control public land.

It takes just a few hours for any land management agency to erect a permanent “Road Closed” sign on any tract of public land to keep the public out — indefinitely — until the road grows over with weeds and fades into oblivion. We’ve seen it happen many times. Public land is “our” land in many ways, but our access to it and the things we can do on it are tightly controlled (and have been tightly controlled for as much as a century in some places).

RV boondocking dispersed camping in Arizona

Arizona

As noted above, the USFS and BLM generally allow boondocking while the National Park Service (NPS) does not.

This means that famous places like Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc., are off limits to boondocking.

The one exception for boondocking in the National Park system is at Big Bend National Park in Texas where a very controlled kind of boondocking is possible, as explained here: Boondocking at Big Bend National Park – Tips & Tricks.

Many National Parks are located near National Forests. If you don’t mind a 10 mile or more drive to get to the National Park you are visiting, you can boondock in the National Forest and drive in.

If you are interested in boondocking, or simply camping in National Forest and BLM campgrounds, you’ll soon become aware of the complexities and political issues surrounding the management of America’s public land.

In every western state public land campgrounds and dispersed camping areas are closing at an alarming rate.

Some shocking public land changes we have seen in our years of RVing full-time are described in these two blog posts:

  • Copper Mining (NOT CAMPING!) at Tonto National Forest
    – The 2015 Defense Bill under Obama gave away the world’s largest copper vein (in Arizona) to British/Australian mining interests. Surprisingly, after 50 years of national debate about this land (including a decree by President Eisenhower that it never be mined), it was given away to foreigners rather than sold to an American corporation at a massive profit — with huge royalties on extraction — as it could have been.
  • What is Happening to our Public Land? – Changes at the Grand Canyon
    – Private Italian owned commercial developments have taken place in the National Forest just outside Grand Canyon National Park. Is that an appropriate use of National Forest “public” land?

While there has been a huge outcry recently about reducing the size of several National Monuments, in our experience, RV boondocking is generally not allowed on National Monument property. Also, the creation of a National Monument brings a deluge of tourists and requires building visitors centers, roads, parking lots and other tourist oriented features.

Much of the land in those National Monuments was already managed by federal land agencies prior to becoming a National Monument, and it is slated to return to BLM and USFS control now. The National Monument designation not only restricted how the public could enjoy the land (like boondocking) but dramatically increased the tourist traffic as well.

During a very long conversation with a ranger at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, we learned that he and another ranger had spent an arduous 14 hour day the previous day cleaning up human poop and toilet paper from a popular spot on the National Monument that is too remote for toilet facilities. In the past, that place was not known to the public and saw very little visitation, but because it is now in all the tourist literature for the National Monument, lots of folks go there.

Sign in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument-min

Increased tourism with “National Monument” designation has its downside.
We saw this sign in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

We were also very surprised on a long back road trip to find that much of Grand Staircase Escalante was, in our opinion, very nondescript and featureless land — nothing like the truly stunning and dramatic canyon that was bisected by busy US-89 highway north of Kanab decades ago!

Perhaps the most disturbing development is the deliberate blocking of public land by wealthy people with a political agenda. In the past, ranchers generally allowed the public to have easement access to inaccessible public land next door to their property. Now, as old ranch land is broken up and sold in smaller parcels, the rich elite are frequently buying it up and prohibiting the locals and the general public from accessing neiboring public land they have enjoyed for generations.

In several cases, private landowners who continued to allow public access across their property were murdered by their neighbors who wanted to shut down access to the public land all together: Class War in the American West.

We are not hunters or fishermen, but hunters and anglers are much better organized around the public land debate than RVers are, and they have gathered resources to ensure they retain access to hunting and fishing grounds: SportsmensAccess.org.

The bottom line is that the public land debate has been ongoing for over a century and it is complex. It’s worth noting that beloved photographer Ansel Adams vehemently opposed the National Park Service nearly a century ago. He discussed his opinions and actions at length in his terrific autobiography here.

BOONDOCKING ETIQUETTE

Respect The Neighbors – Give Them Space!

Boondocking campsites vary a lot in size. Some are large enough for several big rigs and some can fit only a single van or truck camper.

If you arrive at a campsite and find someone is already set up there, move on to another site unless you can set up your rig in such a way that you won’t be intruding on their space.

Even though rigs can easily park in very close proximity in RV parks, people who are boondocking on their own generally don’t want to have neighbors move in close by.

There’s no hard and fast rule on “how close is too close,” but for us, if we can’t give the campers a few rig lengths of privacy, we leave them in peace and continue our search for a different site.

Respect The Neighbors – Keep The Noise Down!

Most people boondock to get away from it all, and if you do end up within sight of neighbors, respecting their quest for peace and quiet is simply common courtesy.

Whether it’s loud music or a loud generator, nature is not nearly as tranquil when a neighbor is making a lot of noise.

Respect The Neighbors – Don’t Search For Campsites After Dark!

It is very difficult to find your way around in the boonies on small dirt roads in the pitch dark, but there are folks out there who do their campsite scouting after sunset.

This is most common with people in small driveable RVs without a car who spent the day sightseeing and are now looking for a place to crash.

Just because you have GPS coordinates or directions to a campsite in hand doesn’t mean it will be vacant and available for you when you arrive. There may be sleeping people in RVs there, and they may be surrounded by large obstacles like bushes, rocks, trees and fire pits.

It is quite a jolt to be woken up at midnight by someone driving over small bushes and boulders with their headlights flashing in all directions as they circle around your bedroom trying to find a place to camp for the night!

If you have a small RV without a car, try to finish your sightseeing before sunset so you can find a campsite and set up camp in the boonies without waking up the neighbors. Or, if you want to be out at night, stay in a campground in a well marked site that you can find easily when you return in the dark.

View from RV window in Utah

View from our window in Utah

Leave Your Campsite Cleaner Than You Found It!

In the olden days of 50 years ago, this motto — “Leave your campsite cleaner than you found it” — was drilled into camping kids by their parents. Lots of older campers today remember hearing that refrain from stern parents when they were young. Even if it is not commonly heard any more, it is still great advice that is well worth following.

– Pick Up Other People’s Trash

The land management agencies ask that campers “pack it in and pack it out.” This means: don’t leave the place a mess. Generally an RV won’t leave a footprint behind, but sometimes we arrive at a site and end up filling several grocery bags with trash.

I’d rather pack out someone else’s trash than leave that legacy for our grandchildren to find when they go camping with their RVs decades from now. Sadly, there is LOTS of trash on our public land, and we pack out bags of other people’s trash all the time.

Our feeling is that if we can stay for free for two weeks on a gorgeous piece of property, surrounded by hundreds of acres of natural beauty, with a multi-million dollar view out our windows, the least we can do is to pick up a little trash.

This makes the campsite nice for the next visitor!

We also want to keep the USFS, BLM and other land management agencies happy with RVers so they continue to allow boondocking on their land.

So the first thing we do when we set up camp anywhere (both on public land AND in commercial parking lots) is to grab a grocery bag and fill it with whatever trash is strewn around our rig. There is ALWAYS some! I usually throw on a pair of rubber gloves.

In Arizona, many Tonto National Forest boondocking areas have been closed because it was too expensive for the USFS to clean up after winter RVers and others who trashed the places. What a shame that those thoughtless people ruined it for everyone else.

– Clean Out the Campfire Ring

Many campers like to leave some of their trash in the campfire ring, thinking that the next camper will burn it for them. They seem not to realize that the next camper may not want to sit down in front of their wonderful campfire on their first night out only to spend an hour burning someone else’s trash!

Also, lots of folks don’t do campfires. Who wants to see a pile of trash in the front yard while they’re camping?

Here’s a photo of the things I pulled out of a campfire ring in gorgeous Sedona Arizona one time:

campfire ring contents-min

We arrived to find all this piled up in the campfire ring.
Who wants to start their camping getaway by burning the junk left by the previous camper?

– More about Poop on our Public Land

Many conservation oriented people who plan to do a lot of boondocking ask us if they should get a composting toilet for their RV. Keeping campsite cleanliness etiquette in mind, and remembering the public land managers’ important and common sense rule about burying human waste under at least 6″ of dirt, we’ve summarized our thoughts at this link: Is a composting toilet a good idea in an RV?

HOW TO LOCATE BOONDOCKING SITES

The Delorme State Atlas Books and the Benchmark Atlas Books show where the public lands are in each state, and we have one for every state we travel in (and for a few states we have two, one from each publisher!).

These atlases also have a section in the front that describes the various outings, scenic drives, historic spots and unusual natural landmarks that can be found within the state. With those attractions in mind, we have an idea of where we want to go and which secondary roads will get us there.

boondocking with a fifth wheel trailer in Idaho

Camping under a big open sky in Idaho

Each state also produces a free paper road map, and visitors centers usually stock them for all the states in the region, so it’s easy to get your hands on a road map when you arrive (and sometimes even before you arrive) in a new state. Note that the big state visitors centers are generally located on the interstates, so if you are crossing into a new state and want a map, arriving via an interstate highway is a good idea.

RV camping in the Oregon woods

Tucked into the woods in Oregon

We like these paper road maps because they give an overview of the layout of the state and they usually show where the scenic drives are too. You see, where there are scenic roads, there are beautiful things to see, and sometimes there are nice places to boondock too!

That’s why, between the atlas map books and the road maps, we are always on the lookout for scenic areas.

Another super resource is the wonderfully detailed National Geographic maps of America’s public lands. These take the atlas books one step further, giving finer detail (but covering less area). We turn to these when we want to zero in on a particular national forest or BLM area. These maps are especially useful for:

The National Geographic maps are also excellent for these states:

Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming

We usually aim for a particular area, and once we arrive, we find a place to park the rig temporarily so we can get our bearings and do some scouting in person. Then we unhitch our truck or unload the bikes, and we go scouting to see if there are any good campsites.

Usually, the first night or two we are in a temporary spot that is okay but is not somewhere we’d want to spend a long time. If we like the area and want to stay longer, we then do an all out search to find a better place. Sometimes we get lucky and find a great campsite. Sometimes it’s impossible and we just move on.

Camping under a rainbow in Wyoming

A rainbow crosses the sky in Wyoming

We incorporate our search for boondocking spots into our overall travels and sightseeing in each area we visit. Because of this, unlike most RV campers, for us searching for boondocking locations is an integral part of our lives and is the very fabric of our RV lifestyle.

Our biggest concern in scouting out a boondocking campsite is whether or not our rig will fit, both on the road getting there, and also once we are in the campsite. Overhanging branches and insufficient room to turn around can make a great spot impossible for us to use.

Secondary concerns are the potential that the place will get really muddy if it rains or really dusty if it gets windy. We also debate how long a drive it is from the campsite to wherever we want to visit. Sometimes it’s not worth staying if we’re going to be driving excessively to see whatever we came to see. However, in popular places we do frequently boondock in places that are as much as 20 to 50 miles from wherever we plan to be sightseeing.

It may sound funny, but we frequently don’t unhitch our trailer when we stay somewhere, especially if we know we won’t be staying more than a few days. If the area is bike friendly, and we’re caught up on our chores (laundry and grocery shopping), we won’t be using the truck anyways. So, we save ourselves a few minutes while setting up and breaking down camp by keeping the truck and trailer attached.

Camping in an RV in Arizona

Full moon at dusk in Arizona

There are listings of boondocking sites on various websites and some folks sell books with boondocking locations in them.

However, in all our years of living off the grid and boondocking, we have found that going scouting in person is by far the best way to find places to stay.

Ultimately, RV boondocking is all about adventure, and for us, the true joy of boondocking is exploring the wonderful public lands in America and discovering special campsites that are relatively unknown.

Overnight at a scenic lookou at Washington Pass in the North Cascades

One of our earliest boondocking experiences in Washington

Besides the thrill of discovery, another reason we like to find our campsites on our own rather than relying on lists of boondocking locations given by other people is that, in general, the quality of the reports in those lists is unreliable.

If the person reporting the site is traveling in a van, or in a car with a tent, or small RV, and has never driven a big RV, their “fabulous” campsite that is “good for any size RV” may be totally inappropriate for a truly big rig.

In addition, not only is one person’s definition of a “good dirt road” different than another’s, the site may have become unusable since the report was made.

RV camping in the boondocks in Oregon

Exotic skies in Oregon

Boondocking locations are being closed all the time.

Unfortunately, the places that allow RVers to boondock are shrinking in number all the time.

As communities grow in areas next to tracts of public land, residents don’t want to look out the windows of their new home to see RVs camping, and they get the public land management agencies to close the sites. Nearby RV parks and other fee based campgrounds also don’t like the competition from free campsites nearby, so they campaign to close dispersed camping sites to encourage RVers to stay in their campgrounds instead.

Also, the public land management agencies close roads to former boondocking sites every day for various reasons, frequently converting them to “Day Use Only.” All it takes to eliminate a stunning dispersed camping location is a “Road Closed” or “No Camping” sign on the road leading to it. These are becoming more and more common on America’s public lands.

Many places we stayed early in our travels are now off limits, and RVers who started out 10 or 20 years before us have told us of favorite campsites they lost before we even knew what boondocking was.

Day Use Only - No camping - sign for RV campers in the National Forest-min

There are over a dozen fantastic former boondocking campsites behind this sign in Colorado.

PARKING OVERNIGHT at COMMERCIAL PARKING LOTS, TRUCK STOPS and CASINOS

Walmart is famous for being very RV-friendly, and they sell a Rand McNally Atlas that lists all the addresses of every Walmart in the US as well as its interstate exit number, if it is near one. However Walmart is not always in control of their land, so staying overnight in their lot is not always legal.

Although most Walmarts would allow RV overnight parking if they could, when the building is on leased land with a landlord that forbids it, or when it is located within city limits that have an ordinance against overnight parking, then you can’t stay there.

Usually there are signs in the parking lot if overnight parking is not allowed. It is advisable to check with the store’s security department to find out whether or not they allow overnight parking, and if they do, where they want you to park.

Here is a list of No Overnight Parking Walmarts. Of course, sometimes rules are flagrantly ignored, and we have arrived at Walmarts where RVs and semi-tractor trailers were lined up between the signs prohibiting overnight parking!

Even more-so than on public land, the boondocking etiquette at a commercial parking lot like Walmart is really important.

We try to keep a low profile, usually remaining hitched to the truck and often not even putting the slides out. Obviously, camp chairs, patio mats, grills and other outdoor paraphernalia is strictly forbidden.

5th wheel trailer Boondocking in Colorado

Surrounded by gold in Colorado

We have seen people treat a Walmart parking lot like a campground, grilling steaks, enjoying cocktails in their camp chairs, and playing ball with their kids in the parking lot (and hitting car windshields with the ball!). No wonder city ordinances against overnight parking in commercial lots are on the rise!

How serious is this business of proper overnight parking etiquette?

Years ago, when we first started full-timing, we stayed at a casino that was very popular among snowbird RVers migrating down I-15 to Arizona for the winter.

While walking around the parking lot at sunset, we saw lots of of RVers setting up a big circle of camping chairs right in the parking lot. These more experienced RVers told us “it was fine” to have cocktail hour in the parking lot and that they did it whenever they came through on their north-south migration in spring and fall.

Free camping with a fifth wheel trailer in Wyoming

Camping on a lake in Wyoming

“The casino management doesn’t care if we do this…” these RVers told us. So we accepted their invitation to join them. It looked like fun! Well, apparently management did care, because now overnight parking is prohibited, not only in that particular casino parking lot but at most of the others in town too.

Along with this casino, we have seen quite a few other commercial parking lots that were once popular overnight spots close their lots to RVers. So again, be respectful of the special places that still allow it so others can enjoy it in the future!

Fifth wheel trailer RV boondocking in Arizona

Camping amid the cactus in Arizona

Cracker Barrel allows overnight parking at many locations, and they have a map that lists the addresses of their stores. However, we have yet to see a Cracker Barrel with a parking space big enough for our rig!

Camping World allows overnight parking in some of their lots. They list their store locations online and you can give them a call to find out which ones allow it.

Casino Camper gives descriptions of casinos that offer overnight RV parking, either in RV parks for a fee, or in a back lot for free.

Truck stops are another option in a pinch, although that rarely makes for a good night’s sleep.

Small businesses will sometimes allow an RV to stay in a back lot if you patronize them and ask permission. Some visitors centers allow it too, but generally only the ones in less busy areas.

GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP in a COMMERCIAL LOT

Most commercial lots are very well lit, so it’s almost impossible to find a spot in the parking lot where the street lights won’t be shining in the windows or down the bedroom hatch.

Using a vent hatch insulator in the bedroom roof hatch and putting Reflectix in the windows will block the light and make it easier to sleep. Choosing a spot that is far away from any trucks is important too, as they tend to come and go all night long. Refrigerated trucks run loud generators to keep their contents cold. Parking next to one overnight is no fun at all!

Camping by a brook in Idaho

Our own private Idaho

REST AREAS and PULL-OUTS

Some Interstate rest areas allow overnighting and some don’t. Generally, if it is not allowed, then there are signs that say so. Like truck stops, finding a spot away from the trucks is vital.

Vermont doesn’t allow sleeping in their rest areas between 7 pm and 7 am (apparently “resting” at a rest stop is a very short duration activity in Vermont), while at one time Texas offered free wifi at all of theirs! One rest area in Mississippi is set up like a campground with individual campsites and a water spigot at each site!

Many secondary roads have large pull-outs where you can be far off the highway and get a good night’s sleep.

ASK AROUND

The best boondocking resources are often fellow RVers and other people we meet in our travels. However, as with the online and printed reports of campsites, it helps to verify that the person has actually been there and done it.

Many forest rangers will say there is dispersed camping in their district, yet despite being “legal,” it is totally impractical. Find out if the ranger you are talking to is an RVer with a rig your size.

RV boondocking in Arizona

Beach camping in Arizona

Also, whoever you talk to, find out what kind of rig they actually took to the campsite they are describing and when they last went. They may own a big rig now, but if they took a Jeep and a tent to this site twenty years ago, it doesn’t count.

Lastly, size up the person and their thirst for adventure as compared to your own. We have several RVing friends who happily take their big motorhomes to places we’d hesitate to go.

Most of all — have fun with it. For us, half of the excitement of boondocking is in the searching. We always have an eye out for prospective camping sites as we drive around, and when we find a really good one it’s a total thrill.

RV camping and boondocking in Arizona

Red rock camping in Utah

WHY DON’T WE SHARE OUR BOONDOCKING LOCATIONS?

Many people ask us why we don’t give GPS coordinates or directions to the boondocking locations we find. Very simply, boondocking is all about adventure — not knowing what might lie around the corner or where you might sleep tonight. We don’t want to spoil that adventure for you!

More importantly, the essence of boondocking is being able to experience true independence, freedom and self-reliance, things that are rare in today’s world.

One of the greatest thrills of boondocking is suddenly coming across a campsite that is ideal for you, somewhere you would just LOVE to stay for a few days. If you simply drive to the GPS coordinates somebody else has given you, you are missing out on the most exciting aspects of boondocking: exploration and discovery.

Our boondocking locations work well for us, but they might not work for you. Our trailer sports a lot of pin stripes along its sides from scraping against tree branches when we’ve squeezed down a narrow road, and our truck already has a dent in the side from a tree branch falling on it when we shoe-horned ourselves into a tight spot.

We are willing to commute as much as 50 miles between our campsite and the areas where we sightsee. So, many of the stunning photos of our rig on this blog are not anywhere near the areas we were visiting at the time.

We also spend many hours each week searching for good campsites by driving our truck or riding our bikes down tiny dirt roads to see what’s there. This is an integral part of our daily lives and is not only a fundamental part of our travels but is something we really enjoy doing.

For those that are willing to make this kind of effort, all of the beautiful places you see in this blog are waiting for you to find. Relish the search — we do!

When we cruised in our sailboat, a popular cruising guide had just been published. It gave the GPS coordinates where the authors had anchored in every anchorage. Everywhere we went, boats were crammed around those coordinates. Even if the anchorage was a mile wide, 20 boats would be on top of each other where the authors of the book had dropped their anchor.

That kind of “paint-by-numbers” cruising (or boondocking) is easy, but I think all those sailors were missing out on something priceless: exploring and finding a little corner of their own that was away from it all and that was “theirs” for a few nights.

RV boondocking in a 5th wheel trailer

A classic sunset

Also, like everything on the Internet, this blog is read worldwide. I have seen our RV articles and links being discussed on RVing forums from France to Romania and have received emails from South American and Australian readers as well!

I love corresponding with American service people who are stationed overseas in the war-torn parts of the world, especially when they tell me that this blog is a source of inspiration for them as they begin to plan for a different life after their service is over.

However, there is little reason for people on the other side of the planet to get detailed directions to or GPS coordinates for priceless camping spots on America’s public land.

If boondocking and anchoring out all these years have taught us anything, it is that these places are precious. Anchorages are disappearing as they are turned into mooring fields and then get built up into marinas. Public land boondocking locations are disappearing often because it’s cheaper to prohibit dispersed camping than to pay to pick up the trash that careless campers and partiers have left behind.

We love our life in an RV off the grid, and we hope others with a similar passion for the natural world will approach it with the same kind of adventurous spirit as we do, and will find it as thrilling and fulfilling as we have.

However, going out and having a thrilling adventure of your own is an exercise we leave up to the reader!!

Want to learn more about RV boondocking? We have loads of articles on this website:

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Official websites of the Public Land Agencies and Bureaus:

  • US Forest Service – The USFS manages America’s many National Forests under the Department of Agriculture
  • Bureau of Land Management – The BLM manages vast tracts of land in the west under the Department of the Interior
  • US Army Corps of Engineers – Among many other things, manages America’s watershed areas, largely in the east
  • National Park Service – Oversees and protects America’s natural and historic treasures, under the Department of the Interior

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

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

Don’t Spill !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full-time RVing Domicile Mail Forwarding Taxes RV Insurance

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SELECTING A DOMICILE: TAXES, MAIL FORWARDING & VEHICLE REGISTRATION

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

Selecting A Home State – Taxes and Vehicle Registration Rates

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

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

States Without A State Income Tax

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

Choosing a Domicile address and residency

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

State Sales Tax Rates

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

South Dakota 4%
Florida 6%
Texas 6.25%

Other Considerations – Additional Taxes and Insurance

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

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

Mexican Dentists – Finding Affordable Dental Care in Mexico

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

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

The Impact of Non-Residents on these Popular States

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

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

The Right to Vote

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

Uncle Sam Right to Vote for nomadic RVers

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

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

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

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

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

Selecting A Mail Forwarding Company — Your Home Address

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

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

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

Your Name
General Delivery
City, State Zip

“Virtual Mail” Service

Dakota Post

Mention “Roads Less Traveled” when you sign up
with Dakota Post and get a month for free!

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 options to do something special if the document needs to reach you physically right away.

We have been enjoying the Virtual Mail Service at Dakota Post since they implemented it, 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 Dakota Post out of Sioux Falls. We chose to work with them when we started and have been very happy. 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 virtual mail where you could see a scanned image of your mail in an email message. This kind of service is now provided by Dakota Post 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 with Dakota Post: 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!

We have shared our good experiences with Dakota Post on this website since we first started writing about our travels in 2008. They’ve taken notice, and in appreciation, they have a special offer for our readers:

Mention “Roads Less Traveled” when you sign up for a new account and get a month of mail forwarding for free.

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 easily filed online these days, and you get your tax refund for state or federal 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 mutliple 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 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 $4,000 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, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

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) 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, 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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