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After more than nine years living "on the road", we've sort of figured out what we're doing. We tried five months in one really great spot one year. At the end we left wondering why we'd stayed so long. Well, we knew why we had stayed -- we love the people and the programs and the place is pretty darned nice. But we're travelers -- we love traveling and seeing things and learning as we go. We're not likely to again voluntarily spend five months in one spot.
The next winter we tried moving around throughout the southwest and southeast during January and February. Much better -- we're trying do the same in subsequent winters. So the longest we plan to stay anywhere is two months. Otherwise, we like one to two week stays. Our eight-year average length of stay is six days. Long enough to find our way around, not long enough for us to tire of the area.
This is a personal choice, mostly. A good campground for us depends upon where we are, what we plan to be doing, with whom we are traveling, and how long we're to be staying. We don't need a bunch of hookups to like a campground -- we are more interested in quiet, nice ground cover (leaves or pine needles are fine), and a little space between sites and from the campground loop so we aren't touching the cars and trucks as they drive the loop.
We want walking paths or trails in or very near the campground. We would like tennis courts nearby. A laundry is nice, provided it isn't too costly to use the machines. A drying yard is wonderful (often found in FL, not so often elsewhere). We like a small paperback book exchange so we can swap books we've read and pick up a few different ones. The best one was in Haines AK because they had not only books but also books on CD and a very interesting variety of books.
The same campground in Haines AK had the very cleanest showers we've found in any campground anywhere. We were, obviously, favorably impressed. Another big plus for us is campground location. This can be difficult -- we like walking or short driving access to local amenities but also prefer quiet settings. Sometimes one cannot have both -- it just depends.
We don't need electricity, water, sewer, cablevision, phone or any other connections to really like a campground. We can, with decent sunshine, totally forgo electrical hookups. Our limiting factor is our 19 gallon black water tank, good for up to ten days if we are very careful. Fresh water and rinse water tanks of 39 gallons each are ample for at least ten days. Dry camping in the Arizona desert and in a beachfront campground between LA and San Diego were very different from each other but both possible for us because we are happy without any hookups.
A really gorgeous campground in a British Columbia provincial park between Prince George and Clinton provided us a view over the lake, a nice fire-ring, and the weather was primo. No hookups at all, but great walking, nice people, not too crowded, and so pretty. This is a really good campground for us.
We conducted two to three full-timing seminars annually in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013. We think we learned as much as the attendees at these seminars. Our fellow panelists invariably surprised us with some of their solutions, and our attendees bring up the darndest questions.
Several years ago a panelist and good friend asked, "Do you two have liability insurance for full-timers?" We thought she was nuts. We checked with our agent who told us, "Nope, your truck coverages do NOT apply to the trailer when it is unhitched from the truck.
Hmm, Hunter was right (of course!). We really like our Allstate agent -- she always took such good care of our issues, renewals, questions. And this time she recommended we check with other insurers for this coverage. Allstate did not offer the coverages we were seeking.
Several years ago we had a little run-in from a driver insured by Progressive. Progressive was over-the-top wonderful in handling our claim. Then we started seeing their cute adverts. Hey, who knew about Progressive Insurance before this? Suddenly we hear about them everywhere. You may need to check them out!
We checked a couple of companies for liability coverages and Progressive won. Now if our RV rolls back and knocks over a section of campground fence, we might have ready help to cover the loss. Doesn't really make us feel much better, but hopefully this is prudent and reasonable.
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Why'd you buy a gas-powered truck instead of diesel?
Every now and then diesel prices again creep under regular gasoline prices. Maintenance and first costs are still considerably higher for diesel than gas engines. Some diesels are evolving to quieter systems than even five years ago, so this could become a non-player. Then again, diesels now are mostly going to the diesel exhaust fluids (DEF), pricey stuff. Gas engines? not so pricey overall.
We've read or heard the payback for diesel could be less than 100,000 miles. It depends upon two primary items: first cost and the other costs. First cost for Chevy K2500HD diesel is a $10,000 list premium. We think the payback is well up above 150,000 miles for us. We weren't sure we'd have our truck this long. Why bother with the noise, the maintenance requirements, the odor, and the first cost?
Diesel engines are unquestionably stronger than even our huge 8.1L gas setup. Way stronger. We recently climbed lengthy (+/- 6 mile) 8 and 9 percent grades. We were, at times, down to 40 or 45 miles per hour. So what? Gas is good enough for us, and our operating costs are lower. At 187,000 miles, we've replaced two front hubs and had no failures (knock on wood.)
Why a GM truck instead of Ford or Dodge?
The 2500HD, GMC or Chevy, is a fine towing vehicle. We prefer the extended cab since we only 1 percent of the time would need the rear seating and admire more the looks of extended cab. We eschewed the 8' long bed because (1) we don't want to carry more than we can stuff in the shorter bed, and (2) the longer wheelbase creates a frustrating response delay in the trailer's turns when backing.
Our Chevy 2500HD is powered by an 8.1 liter (496-502 cubic inch) gas engine with an Allison 1000 six-speed transmission and has a 3.73 rear end. We added an ARE tonneau cover, replaced the hitch receiver (with a big CURT 15208), and replaced the 26 gallon fuel tank (what in the world was GM thinking?) with a Transfer Flow 45 gallon tank. Oh yeah, and we installed antenna mounts through the cab roof, the very best mounting for mobile radios for several reasons.
We are truck brand indifferent. Our first tow vehicle was a 1993 F-150 ext cab long bed. Bed too long, engine already severely worn, but we were just fine with a Ford. Finalists for second truck, beefy enough for our conversion from 22' weekending Airstream to 25' full-timing Airstream, were Dodge, Ford F-250, and Chevy 2500HD. Multi dealerships for each in our hometown, so easy to shop all of these.
Dodge seemed unable to really match a cab/bed/engine to our wants. Ford looked fine. But we found a friend with GM Fleet purchase capabilities. Okay, we'll focus on GM. Our requirements were simple (we thought): 2500HD; captains chairs, cloth; 8.1L gas; Allison tranny; extended cab; 6.5' bed, and blue or green metallic paint.
The fleet manager answered in one week with a great match: "How do you like Red?" Our cowboy cadillac is sport red metallic, and we adopted it easily. We didn't get towing mirrors, a bigger deal than we realized even with the mirror extenders we add on towing days. Absolutely no other complaint. What a great truck!
Friends with the 6L gas engine in GMC or Chevy do just fine with 31' trailers, so the loss of the 8.1L engine appears to be no biggie. You would have a 4.10 rear end and the higher gearing will spin your engine a little faster, better within its power curve. Fuel economy on the 6L is at least as good as ours. The only apparent benefit of our largest engine might be a longer life, since engine parts are spinning so slowly much of the time. We'll see.
UPDATE 10 Dec 2012: We bought and installed a nice pair of manual folding towing mirrors for our 2500HD. Turn signals in the glass, heated glass, electric adjustment of the big glass, and a nice sized convex mirror at the bottom. These are what we were wanting! Price -- $250ish.
Do you have and use a generator?
We have a Yamaha® portable generator, 1kw 110v gas-powered, 27 pounds of electrical power, quiet, and a gas sipper. We wondered if we should buy and haul a larger generator or like some of our friends, two 2,000 watt generators. A 3,000 watt unit would power everything we have, even our roof-top air conditioner. Two 2,000s paired together would also. And we could use only one of the 2,000s when we didn't need so much.
We decided we couldn't afford the weight and fuel consumption and cargo space of the larger generators. Why would we need to make our own power for air conditioning? Our house has wheels so we can relocate if we need to. We bought the 1,000 watt (1 kw) generator.
After over nine years, we have found the generator sometimes a relief and sometimes a convenience. We've repaired tires twice at roadside, using the generator to power the 110vac air compressor. We've loaned it to friends to recharge their trailer's or motor home's batteries. And we've recharged our batteries a few times when dry-camping. Although we have solar panels, sometimes the sun doesn't show up or we're parked in total shade (like at Mora Park near Hoh Rain Forest). Lately too we've realized our batteries probably didn't need the excitement and would have been fine another day or two or three. See the Trimetric 2025
in our Home Improvements page.
The 1kw generator is small and lightweight, easy for us to handle. We store it in the truck's bed near the tailgate. We'll try to keep it there as much as we can. As a friend stated a few years ago, we want to be generator snobs, eschewing noisy and smelly generator use for battery conservation and solar charging instead.
UPDATE 4/26/2012: Apparently we weren't testing or using our generator frequently enough and also seemed to lapse on keeping Sta-Bil® or Sea Foam® in the fuel. Our generator wouldn't start, required a trip to the small engine shop. $60 later our generator is starting and running fine and we are operating it every month to keep it so. Also, in 2014 we started only running ethanol-free gasoline in the generator.
What are the pros and cons of caravanning?
We've spent just over two weeks on a caravan and just over six weeks on another, and around sixty days each on two others. This is four caravans in six years. We liked all the caravans enough to sign up for another still.
First, the good news. We found, on all these caravans, a great advantage in having someone show us an area. Our first caravan was a short one in Alaska, with just six venues over a two weeks period. The driving days were generally leisurely, short miles, but take our time and stop a lot. They strongly encouraged us to take at least three times the normal driving time (for the mileage) to enjoy all the stops along the way. It was worth it and enjoyable, especially since they provided us guidance on things to look for along the way each driving day.
The leaders of these guided caravans do a thorough job scoping out good places to eat and stay and sightsee. We enjoyed all the dining experiences and sightseeing, and the campgrounds were as good as, if not better, than what we would have found. But the caravan's camping site budget is higher than ours. That's a good thing and a bad thing, too. Let us explain.
Airstream club (WBCCI) caravans are led by dedicated volunteers, members of WBCCI. They spend the prior year or two traveling the routes, recording the mileages, noting the scenic stops, evaluating the camping and dining places. They determine the caravan budget and manage the participants' caravan fees (the kitty). At the caravan's completion the leaders account for all expenses and refund any remainder to the participants.
We could, for less money, take trips on the same routes as the caravans. We are almost certain we would scrimp in places the caravan doesn't, and we would therefore fail to participate in many good experiences. While the caravan is more expensive than our self-guided travels, we plan no more than one caravan per year and budget for it as best we can.
The only downsides to caravans, for at least one of us, are the relentless pace and the greater expense than our normal budget. We're very spoiled in respect to travel pace, since we live together in our Airstream all year. We can knock out miles like crazy, and we do try our best not to. We are perfectly happy driving 60 or 100 miles in one day and not driving again for days. But on caravans you either go with the group, every two or three days, or you forfeit the prepaid meals, activities, and camping for any days you miss. We're too cheap to want to give away much of what we feel we paid for.
The higher expenses incurred during a caravan are special, the cost is necessary for the great adventure we are on. We simply reconcile ourselves to "tourist spending" for the caravan period. It's worth it -- we're getting a wonderful experience with really neat people in wonderful areas, guided by dedicated folks who know the area well. And we try not to do caravans every year so we can recover our budget.
Two years ago, on a caravan, we were getting a little tired of moving, moving, moving, and wanted a break. We signed out of the caravan for one night to go off by ourselves to a nice little state park in Oregon. Completely off to ourselves, backed up to the Williamette River under a canopy of tremendous evergreens, we had privacy for the first time in over a month. It felt great, and is something we miss when we're on a caravan.
One in Okeechobee FL seems best in class, with far more amenities than the resort we rented in. A nice nine hole golf course, four tennis courts, two swimming pools, and lots of nice programs and spaces complement this pretty park. We're not paying nearly what that CG charges, so Jim drives 15 miles to play golf and 6 miles to play tennis. Maybe it would be worth paying more to have these on the premises?
Some pricey CGs are not places we would choose to stay. We sometimes find them unattractive, too close to the highway, and they don't offer much that interests us. As mentioned in the first paragraph, maybe you get what you pay for.
We sometimes eschew private campgrounds because they're almost always costlier than our budget can sustain and we don't usually care about the amenities. Our favorite campgrounds are woodsy and a little isolated, like many of Canada's Provincial Parks and many of the State and National Parks. We might find a lot of privacy or we might meet lots of fellow travelers -- either way, we seem to meet more people in these parks. Perhaps they spend more time outside their RVs?
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How do you get your mail? Escapees Mail Forwarding Service does a superb job handling our mail forwarding. Our return address labels and magazine subscriptions and personal mail all point to our Livingston Texas mail forwarding company's business. They store and forward our mail to us per our periodic instructions. We only get first class mail, plus any special magazine subscriptions we select, regardless of mail class. For example, our ARRL QST (ham radio) magazine is not sent first class and would be discarded by the mail service as a lot of advertisements (which it really is). But instead they hold and forward these with our other mail.
This works nicely because we don't get all the junk mail you probably do. No flyers, no catalogs (this is a plus and a minus, eh?), no Publishers Clearinhouse announcements. Less trash, lots less trash at our house! We generally arrange once every two weeks delivery of our mail. This is easier sometimes than others. We send a message with our planned next mail pickup location to the mail forwarder a week ahead of time. Will the Post Office in that city or town accept general delivery? Not all do, so we must look up or call the intended Post Office specifically and ask them.
Escapees Mail Service sends our mail to the designated pickup location via US Priority Mail. We walk into the Post Office and ask if they have a General Delivery package for, and before we can say our name they say, "You are Jim and Debbie? It's right here." We show identification and we have our mail. Not so many people do this as in years past, so some of the post offices we visit apparently just don't get much of this mail.
This costs us $4.80 per package (for a two-week small package) and is charged to our revolving account at Escapees. They draft our credit card at $50 increments a few times a year as needed. In a package we'll have a few greeting cards, letters, or bills, and three to five magazines. How reliable is this?
A couple of years ago we had two little hiccups in the same month, one near Charleston, SC, in Hollywood, and one in Raleigh, NC. The first one was a timing error, we didn't allow enough time for the mail before our intended departure from Hollywood. We ended up staying three extra days in Lake Aire Campground, a very nice Passport America campground. We asked our mail-order pharmacy to send meds as General Delivery to meet us in Raleigh, NC. Several days later we receive a phone call advising the meds were sent and returned to the pharmacy.
Our fault, we hadn't learned to confirm if the intended Post Office handles General Delivery. And the Post Office we had selected, near Raleigh's State fairgrounds did not. The pharmacy resent the General Delivery package to a different Post Office location nearby and we received it no problem. The post offices hold this mail for you for 30 days, so it is to our advantage to have it sent ahead of us and held. And Escapees is a great way to work this.
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How do you get internet service? First Answer: We drive from one Tim Horton's Restaurant to another, on the chance we'll find wifi. At Tim Horton's you can always find superb coffee (in china cups) and wonderful doughnuts. Formerly we didn't so much find wifi but you have to keep trying, don't you? Sure enough, in 2012 we found WIFI in almost every Tim Horton's we visited (and that's a lot of Tim Horton's.)
In 2012 we switched from a Pantech UML290 USB Verizon modem to a Verizon MiFi. The MiFi works very very well in most locations. We're still happy with it over four years on.
How did the recession affect you and how are you adjusting to effects? We are definitely affected by the recession. Our savings aren't earning anything, our value in stocks is up then down then down. So we have less money than we had before the economic meltdown. Good news for us is, we aren't spending as much as when we were working. Our property taxes and insurance are much lower. Our income tax (what income?) is low to nonexistent. The minute we stopped working we went into extra-frugal mode, but the recession boosted our attention to our money.
We are more conscious of our actual to budget expenses and stay as close as we can on these. We are loathe to pay for frills we don't need or want. State, provincial, and national parks and BLM land are plenty nice and suit our tastes and budget. Eating out can be so expensive. That's an area, for us, to save money on. We could flex down on our expenses more if we need to, by lengthening stays and reducing travel. So far we are okay without extreme measures. Great flexibility seems, for us, a distinct advantage over some people.
Are State and Federal Parks the way to go? We think State (U.S.) and Provincial (Canada) and National (U.S. and Canada) parks are definitely the way to go. We love the locations (almost never adjacent to an Interstate or big highway) for their quiet and remoteness. We feel safer in public parks, generally, than in busy private rv parks. And we pretty uniformly save money camping in public parks. So yes, we like public parks. We also greatly enjoy boondocking on BLM lands and dry-camping in Escapees (SKP) parks. The cost is low to nothing for BLM lands we've tried and we like the wide open spaces. Dry-camping, for members, in SKP parks is often only $5 and we have full use of the park's amenities.
In addition to the issue of having enough space for all your stuff, there's the issue of having enough space for the two of us. People ask how we can possibly get along full-time in less than 180 square feet of space. Of course, we don't stay in the trailer all the time. We're out sightseeing, touring, shopping, playing tennis, and hiking during the day. We enjoy spending time outside during the evening if the weather is nice. The most time we spend together is in our truck when we're driving between locations. It's fortunate that we really enjoy being together. The closeness has not been a problem for us.
Finally, a trailer's size does not necessarily equate to its net carrying capacity, or the weight of your cargo. Don't assume you may fill all the cabinets and remain within your trailer's weight ratings. We weigh our trailer a couple of times annually to ensure it is balanced (at least ten percent of trailer's weight is at the hitch) and to ensure we are within our gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR. We moved heavier stuff from the trailer's rear end (exterior cargo compartments and interior overhead bin) and placed the stuff in the truck. Lighter weight stuff (e.g. fleece blankets) replaced the heavy stuff. It's way too easy, and a bad thing, to overload a trailer's weight capacity or to overload the tow vehicle's gross combined weight rating (GCWR)