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One thing that concerns Full-Time RVers is communication from family and friends. With modern technology, it is so much easier to know where everyone is and how they are doing.

If you have a cell phone with a great long distance plan and no concerns with roaming, you are all set! If you don’t and are locked into a contract where you can’t change or upgrade, there are other options for you. The first is a pre-paid cell phone such as a TracFone. This service is actually on the rise and you’ll be surprised to find these “throw away” phones have more features than yours!  Prices for pre-paid phones start as low as $10 and go up to $50 if you want a camera phone and texting ability. The phones do last a very long time (I know one person who has had one for two years) if you keep them properly charged. The only thing is to remember to “reload” (purchase more minutes) before it gets too low or you get too close to your end date. This is displayed on your phone and you will have plenty of reminders long before that date comes. You have pre-paid for your minutes and can call anytime and anywhere you wish. You can even make international calls. The secret to pre-paid phones is registering them or reloading them when they have specials. Usually these are advertised at their website. You can often double your minutes just by taking advantage of a special. And the cell signal reception in an area will be the same as a contracted cell phone!

Another option to consider is getting a calling program through your personal computer, such as Skype. Most programs are free to download with a minimal charge for the calls. A nice pair of headphones with mic can usually be purchased for under $10. Some instant messaging programs (IMing) even offer free voice and webcam connections through their software program.

A Full-Timer who wants to stay on top of the news, weather and travel information should have a laptop computer.  If you don’t have a notebook or netbook computer, then you should consider getting one. Getting online is just as easy today thanks to more businesses, campgrounds, truck stops, cafes and libraries offering free or cheap WiFi access. Being online allows you quick access to family and friends via email, instant messaging  and calling.

If you do have a computer and haven’t a clue how to enable WiFi (or even if you have it) – run down to your local computer shop and ask them. If you don’t WiFi capability, as them what it would cost to upgrade. Once you have WiFi enabled, it is very easy to log in to the local access.

Relying on campgrounds with free (or cheap) WiFi access is a good way to stay in touch, but not all campgrounds have the greatest WiFi service. Some have limited range and if you aren’t camped in particular sections you may have no signal at all. There are antennas that can be purchased to help amplify your signal. Those can be found advertised in RV magazines and websites, as well as RV dealers.

However, there are still places on the planet with no WiFi or phone signal  (believe me – I know!) and having another means of net access is necessary. Most Full-Timers are purchasing AirCards through their cell phone provider. If you don’t have a cell phone provider, don’t worry! Companies like Verizon will set you up with an AirCard, although you may pay a little more a month since you have no other service (ie. cell phone) with them.  The nice thing about having your own means to connect to the internet is that you don’t have to drive all over town in your RV looking for places that offer WiFi.

Mail service is another concern for the Full-Timer. Most people now pay everything electronically, which saves on getting monthly bills received or sent out via regular postal mail. However, not everything is that way. In every RV magazine (ie. Trailer Life, Motorhome Life, etc…) you will find a section in the back devoted to companies that offer Full-Timers mail service. These companies do have a fee (which varies on the “plan” you get) but are good ways to keep the mail coming. Plans can vary from letters-only to limited packages to unlimited packages. Many RV clubs, like the Escapees, will offer a reduced mail service for members. A new feature to mail services is electronic mail, and I mean that literally. They will scan your postal mail and email it to you. You can choose what types of mail they send to you this way. Some services will even look out for certain pieces of mail and call you when it arrives!

If you are a Seasonal RVer, chances are you have a stick-house or place to call “home” for part of the year and your RV to call home the remainder. In this case, you have a physical address to get mail for part of the year. When you are in your RV, you can get mail either temporarily forwarded to the campground you are staying at or a local PO Box.

Many larger campgrounds and RV resorts have mailboxes (free, unless they offer private boxes for a fee) available for extended-stays. The only drawback to this is you have to wait until the campground staff sorts your mail. On a busy day in a busy campground, you may wait several hours. In addition, if it is a generic mailbox arranged alphabetically, you have to wade through a stack of campground mail until you find all of yours. And there is the issue of privacy. We have seen folks look over everyone’s mail, curious to see what they are getting. If it is around a holiday and you have a package from the Swiss Colony, believe me – every Camper within 100 campsites will know before you do! It’s annoying and time-consuming, but is a free service most campgrounds offer.

So there really is no reason not to stay in touch while you are on the road. Let your family and friends know you wish they were there (or not)! 😉

If you are in the market for a used RV and have decided to look at a private seller’s camper, you may come across a “homemade” or conversion camper. A conversion is usually a rebuilt or redesigned bus.

There are many pros and cons when considering a conversion.

School Bus Conversion "Camper"

School Bus Conversion Camper

This photo is of an actual school bus conversion camper that was allowed in one of the campgrounds we recently stayed in.

From the photo, you can see why some RVers (especially the Campers these folks parked right on top of ) are not always happy to have conversions as camp neighbors and why many campgrounds will not allow conversions in their parks. And even if it is not mentioned in their park rules, a glance out the entrance office window toward your conversion may cause the “no vacancy” sign to go up as all campgrounds have the right to refuse service to anyone.

In this particular case, these folks didn’t even change the original bus colors (which is against the law in most states). If that isn’t enough, just seeing the standard home window air-condition sticking out the back should be a clue that the folks who “converted” this school bus had no idea of the laws or safety issues involved in recreational vehicles. This conversion could possibly be a hazard with electric or propane issues. Imagine a fire or explosion in the confines of a campground! That is why many campgrounds prefer vehicles that have been inspected at a factory and manufactured by known companies.

Yet there are conversion campers that are skillfully designed and have had professional repairs and installations made. These conversions are usually very expensive (usually the same price, if not more than the cost of a new RV) and it shows. They are the ones that make television specials and articles in DIY magazines. When they pull in a campground that allows conversions, other RVers often flock around it in awe hinting for tours!

If you are seriously considering a conversion, you should first be aware of the laws within your state. Contact the appropriate local government agencies and get the information you need about what is legal and what is not. This will save you a great deal of heartbreak later on if you find yourself with a traffic ticket-bound conversion.

When you find something that does comply with state laws, make sure you get the full history of the conversion. Find out if anything is under warranty and if the manuals for all items are included. Unlike a new RV (or even a used one from a dealer who offers limited-warranties on purchases), you will find yourself paying for any and all repairs that are needed. If you can’t make those repairs yourself, you will be forced to go to a RV dealership. Since your conversion is not standard, you may find yourself waiting for parts and paying heavily for repairs.

If the conversion has had professional work on it, get all the information you can on what they did and who to contact if you have a problem. This will save you a great deal of hassle is there is a major problem later on down the road.

Insurance companies may treat this a bit differently than a recreational vehicle, since it is a converted commercial vehicle. You should contact your insurance company and ask them about how conversion campers are handled and get an estimate on how much it would cost you for insurance.

If after searching for a conversion you find that you would rather build your own, than you have to do a great deal of homework! Talk to people who have lived and designed their own conversions and ask them to tell you the pros and cons they have discovered. Read all the books and articles you can on the subject before you even start to look for something to transform into a “camper”.

There are many pros and cons to a conversion and only after you do some research will you know if it is a good idea for you. This is a type of decision you can’t jump into. If you do, you may find yourself with a costly, never-ending project.

Double Rainbow in Florida

A double rainbow appears after a storm in Florida.

One thing that does concern Full-Time RVers is severe weather. RVs are self-contained and can withstand reasonably cold temperatures and moderate winds. Yet it is foolish to intentionally weather any type of severe storm in a RV.

The first thing every RVer should invest in is a NOAA weather radio and/or weather alert radio. In case a weather Watch or Warning is issued, you will have the latest information. This information can not only save your lives, but those around you.

If you are staying in an area prone to severe weather, especially hurricanes and tornadoes, then you should find out where the local shelters are. Make a trip, finding the route.  Ask the campground staff if they notify their campers about severe weather alerts and what they advise campers to do in stormy situations.

Many campgrounds do have recreational buildings or concrete block buildings, but if they are not designated shelter areas, the manager will probably not allow you to stay (insurance reasons). If there isn’t time – such as a tornado – by all means, evacuate your RV and head to the closest secure structure you can – even if it is the campground restroom. But if you have time and know that severe weather will effect your area, make sure you seek an official shelter.

We have RV’d through all sorts of weather, including hurricanes. Fortunately each time our RV only had minimal damage, but we have seen horrible things happen to them. They flip over, they are crushed by trees or large debris, they blow-up (not literally, but it appears that way) and they disappear! Do not ride out a strong storm or a hurricane. RVs can be replaced, people cannot.

There are preparations you can do to help protect your investment if you have the time. Many RV books devote sections to storm and winter/storage preparation.

If you are told to evacuate, you must. If it is a volunteer evacuation or if you want to leave on your own accord with your RV, make sure you have: Fuel (and extra cans if possible), Cash (ATMs do run out of money prior to disasters), Canned Foods, Water, Flashlights, Batteries, Weather Radio, Personal Information (insurance papers, contact information, etc…), Cell Phone (don’t forget extra batteries and the charger), Camera, Medicines Needed (and prescription information if they need refilled while you are away), Laptop Computer and an Overnight Bag (with clothing and toiletries). The overnight bag may be needed if you find yourself stranded and are suddenly forced to leave your RV.

In addition you will want to make sure your tank is filled with water, holding tanks emptied, propane tanks filled and RV and tow batteries charged. You cannot plan on arriving to your evacuation destination. We know too many RVers who have evacuated only to find themselves stuck only two or three hours from where they left. And most times, especially if it is a hurricane, you find yourself in a worse situation! So be prepared, even if you are fleeing from disaster. Do not take Mother Nature for granted.

If you decide to stay and go to a shelter closer to the impending storm, then you still should prepare your RV for emergency living after the storm. Living in storm aftermath is not fun. It is chaotic and frustrating. Most likely you will not have electricity for at least a week (we have went three weeks without after hurricanes), propane and gas stations will not be able to pump without electricity (which means no refrigerator, stove, hot water, heat and/or generator fuel for you), lift stations (if your campground has one) will not be able to pump sewage and water will usually be by boil-order for days after the storm.

And you will be forced to stay at or near your campground, as the roads will be filled with debris or not drivable. Officials will close roads to non-residents and some roads will be dangerous without traffic lights and signals. This may sound silly, but people cannot drive without STOP signs or signal lights – they run intersections without stopping or yielding in the storm aftermath. In a storm aftermath situation, each intersection (without signs or working signal) becomes a 4-way STOP. We have seem many accidents caused, especially living in hurricane aftermath because of folks not following the traffic law.

Storms bring out the best and the worst in people. After the second hurricane we were in (as Full-Timers), we witnessed things we didn’t think possible. Scavengers were driving through the RV resort looking for aluminum scraps (especially off older trailers and venting). For those who weren’t able to return or were Seasonals away for the summer, belongings that were scattered were targets for scavengers to steal.

But again, storms also bring out the best in people. Many of us gathered folks belongings and secured it back on their property. We also shared food and supplies with other campers in need. We helped cleaned up debris (as much as we could until the professionals arrived) and offered generator usage time for those who didn’t have generators.

If you find yourself on the road to disaster, I have more information at:

IN MY SITES: A Campground Mystery (Book #4)

In My Sites
In My Sites
A Campground Mystery
By HS Cooper
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Dying to Work Camp
Dying to Work ...
A Campground Mystery
By HS Cooper
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November 2008

A THOUSAND WORDS: Photos from life on-the-road

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On the Road to Disaster
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