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I am still flooded with emails (an appropriate photo I just happened to take at the campground the other week 😉 ) and I will be catching up as soon as I can. I still have about 30 pages of campground reviews to type and 3 thumb drives of photos to sort through! I am happy to announce that I have started keeping record of all the truck and travel plazas we have visited. A growing number of us are overnight parking and relying  more and more on these stops. Unfortunately, some of these stops aren’t as Big-Rig friendly as you’d think! And you can’t rely on rest or parking areas, as many states have closed their facilities or restricted overnight parking. So I will be adding all this in the weeks ahead. My unofficial New Year’s resolution! 😉

 

First in, first out at the truck stop!

First in, first out at the truck stop!

It appears that fuel prices are on the rise again and that means for RVers who were planning on putting some mileage this summer, pennies will have to be pinched.

The extra $20 t0 $50 that would normally be spent at a campground can be saved by skipping a few campgrounds while enroute to your destination.

Depending on the length of your journey, spending every other night at a truck stop can save you a hundred to several hundred dollars. We usually average $300 a week on nightly campground visits while enroute to our destination. By spending every other night at a truck stop, we only spend around $100 a week.

Most truck stops and travel centers are catering to RVers, especially those with “big rigs”. Flying Js, Pilots, TAs and Loves can be found throughout the Lower 48 and Canada. A quick visit to their websites can reveal all their locations along your planned route.

A nice thing about truck stops is that many now have dump stations and water, in addition to fuel, propane and other items. Before you park for the night, you can get fueled up and be ready to leave the next day.

However, there are a few things you should remember about overnighting at truck stops. RVers have rules or guidelines when overnighting or “parking” at businesses and these rules should be regarded even at a truck stop.

First of all, stop and ask if it is okay to overnight. Ask someone at the fuel desk and ask them if there is a particular area designated for RVs. If there isn’t and you find yourself among the semi trucks, don’t get in their way. Find a parking spot on the end or toward the back. If you see other RVers, try to park by them. “Skipping” parking spots makes no difference at a busy truck stop. You’ll only find yourself surrounded by semi trucks in the morning! So if you find another RVer, park beside them.

In the photo above (taken at a Flying J in Virginia), we arrived a little after 5 PM and found another RV family already parked for the night in the truck lot (notice the motorhome behind us). We backed our rig in beside them. Later that evening, we found ourselves surrounded by other RVers.

It is very important that while at a truck stop (especially if you are parked with the semi trucks) that you stay within your lines. If you have trouble backing your rig or have trouble staying in your lines,  find a pull-thrus if you can. But if you find a truck stop with a double pull-thru, make sure you pull all the way forward so that someone can park behind you.

Another thing to remember is to be courteous and try to get in your spot as quickly as possible without holding up the traffic flow.

An overnight guideline that most RVers have (especially for retail parking lots) is to not run their generator. However, this is often overlooked in large truck stops where trucks often run all night. Just be mindful of your neighbors if you choose to run your generator for more than a few minutes.

Of course, if you are overnighting in a truck stop (or any retail parking lot), you should not put your slides out. That is a major overnight sin! If your RV layout blocks a closet or another area you need access to, make sure you re-locate those items to easy access areas prior to overnighting. And by no means should you put down your awning or set up camp (lawn chairs, rugs, etc…) while overnight parking. You are not camping, you are parking.

While you are there, please patronize the truck stop. Buy fuel or shop in their store. Grab a bite to eat from their restaurant. We have found some of the best pizzas around can be found at truck stops! You don’t have to spend a great deal (remember you are there to save money), but if you aren’t at least buying fuel, buy something. A bag of chips or some hot dog buns – anything to show your gratitude.

If you have a frequent fueler card with the truck stop, be sure to use it. Not only will it help lower you fuel bill, but usually other purchases will help earn you points and freebies.

There are some safety issues about overnighting. Turn on your door light and your scare lights. Make sure all you RV doors, outside compartments and tow vehicle doors are locked. Never, ever just open the door to someone who knocks on it! Open a window near the door and speak to them through the window until you know what is going on. If you are overnighting at a truck stop, do not go wandering around a night. If you must walk your pet, do it near your RV. Semi trucks come and go at all hours in a truck stop. Tired drivers may not see you in the shadows!

Overnight parking at truck stops is a great way to save money (and time if you are too tired to look for or drive to a campground). Just be mindful of others, patronize the truck stop and stay safe!

Please Note: Overnight parking at retail settings such as Walmart is a little more involved (as they aren’t designed for RV or semi truck parking like truck stops) and overnighting at rest areas is even more restricted in some areas. If you decide to overnight park anywhere, always seek permission, follow signs and obey the RVers “official” overnight rules.

 

Double the room!
Double the room!
Our fifth-wheel has four slides, two of which are in the second bedroom.  From the back view it is eye-catching and we do receive a numerous questions and inquiries about the layout of our rig, especially “that double slide in back”.

When we were looking at fifth-wheels, there were only a few with double slide rooms. Recently we were surprised to see that double slide rooms were in several 2009 models. Several we saw where designed as second bedrooms, while a few were extended living rooms (with sofa, recliners and entertainment centers).

It appears newer designs are now geared toward practical living and the changes in the economy. An increasing number of Full-Timers aren’t just couples – they are families. Several of our friends travel with a widowed parent or their single adult child or young children.

After we first brought this fifth-wheel “home” – all our friends were surprised by the second bedroom. It wasn’t as common a few years ago. Second bedrooms were usually designed for children and they lacked practical use for Full-Timers.

I have the second bedroom and most of our friends consider it “the hotel room”. Not only do I have adequate storage, I have an incredible living space. I have a double bed, sofa, shelving, dresser drawers, closet, book shelves and entertainment and knick-knack shelves. I have even decorated it to my tastes – including custom curtains and wallpaper border.

There are drawbacks to double slide rooms. One is the fact they slide into each other during travel. So if you intend to park overnight and not put out your slides, chances are your slide layout will prevent you from using that room or getting access to drawers and cabinets. In our case, if we park overnight or boondock without the slides out, I must sleep on the living room sofa. While we travel I have an overnight-slash-emergency bag that I have in case we can’t put the slides out.

Slides are not as insulated as solid walls, so when you have a room with double slides, you have less insulation. And, because electrical outlets aren’t put in slide-outs, you will be limited to outlets central located. This also goes for heating and air-conditioning ducts.

Another problem with double slides is trying to find the perfect camp site! Many campgrounds have obstacles – trees, bushes, tall electrical panels, posts, etc… We have found ourselves in many tight spots with the double slides.

It really depends on your needs, but for us, the double slide is worth the drawbacks. Here is a look into our second bedroom with the double slides – and I won’t even ask you to take your shoes off! 😉

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Winter Camping in the NOP

It is rather interesting for us to sit down and watch the Weather Channel on TV these days. This has been a winter of rather odd and extreme weather.

Last winter we stayed on the North Olympic Peninsula (WA). This season it appears that Mother Nature is giving the state of Washington a little bit of everything she has to offer! We have been shaking our heads in disbelief wondering what we would be doing now if we were there this winter.

Wintering in a RV is not as miserable as it may sound to most folks. We have met a number of Campers who enjoy RVing in the wintertime. If you are prepared for the weather, it is definitely a rewarding experience.

Most books on RVing discuss winterizing your rig and RV websites offer suggestions on everything from tank wrapping to banking heat.

The main thing to remember about winter camping is that you have to be self-sufficient. You can’t rely on electricity if a snow or ice storm brings down trees or utility lines. And you can’t rely on driving to get propane when your tanks run out because the roads may be snowy, ice or blocked with downed trees. Campgrounds are often located outside main power grid zones and when the electricity goes out, they are usually the last locations to get the power back on.

When you winter camp, you must plan on relying on yourself in the event of an emergency. In a sense, you have to prepare  to boondock, even if you are in a 5-star RV resort!

The problem we have found with fellow RVers who attempt to winter camp is they don’t understand about maintaining their heat. Most RVs don’t have curtains (or “real” curtains that function as stick-house curtains do). Although our fifth-wheel has thermopane windows, day/night shades (these are blinds that most newer RVs have – they are great, but no substitute for insulation) and partial RV curtains, we could still feel cool air around our windows. So we had custom-made curtains (with black-out) made for each window area. This helps hold in the heat in winter (and the air-condition in summer).

We also have skylights, which can be a source of heat-loss. We purchased insulated covers (that velcro on) from a camper dealer. During the day when the sun is out (and hopefully temps are warmer) we remove the covers. In the late afternoon when temps usually begin dropping, we place the covers on again.

We layer our clothing during winter. It keeps you insulated and you aren’t kicking up your propane furnace every ten minutes!

In cold weather we run a small electric ceramic heater on low during the day. We reverse the switch on our ceiling fan to force heat throughout our fifth-wheel. Do not leave a ceramic heater unattended! And when you purchase one, make sure it has a switch to control the temperature and will automatically turn off it tilted or flipped over. Ceramic heaters are rather inexpensive (less than a tank of propane!) and are great ways to bank your heat during the day.

In the evening we keep the ceramic heater on (still the low setting) but turn the temperature up just a little higher. We turn our propane furnace on, yet keep it at a lower setting, knowing the ceramic heater will keep us nice and toasty when the temps drop below freezing.

Just make sure that the campground or RV park you are staying at doesn’t have a rule against ceramic heaters. Some parks will toss you out without a refund if you have one.

The use of a ceramic heater helps us save propane in case of a power outage. Although we do carry extra propane with us, as we have a propane generator, it is foolish to waste it in winter conditions. We have went several days without power in the winter and the nearest propane company (that was able to pump propane with the weather) was over twenty miles away. A rather long drive in icy conditions!

Wintering in a RV is a great experience if you are prepared for it. There are a number of books and places on the internet where you can read about winter camping. Just remember that being self-sufficient is the most important thing for a winter Camper!

UPDATE 2013: Although this is winter camping under “normal” winter conditions. Recent winter “super” storms have proven that Mother Nature isn’t “average”. If you find your under a Winter Storm watch or warning, follow the advice given by authorities. And remember, property can be replaced – lives can’t.

As you begin to downsize, you have to do some serious thinking. Here are some of the main questions you need to honestly discuss with your spouse and/or family.

1) If you become a Full-Timer (or even Seasonal) can you deal without being around your other family and friends for long periods of time?

2) Can you deal with your own spouse and/or family in a RV 24/7? Just because RVers appear to always be on vacation – we aren’t. It takes a close, understanding family to live in a small area day-in-day-out. You will need to create “zones” or “spaces” for everyone to hangout when they want some privacy or some alone time.

3) Do you have what it takes to be independent? You don’t have to know everything about RVs, but basic repair, set-up, maintenance, towing and/or driving are things you need to know before you head out on that highway. You will have to do your homework if you are inexperienced in RVs. However, there are many wonderful books, videos, online forums and even “schools” (ask your local RV dealer) on RVs and related topics. And, if you have never even been in one and are considering this lifestyle, I seriously recommend you rent one for a week or two! See if you can handle it.

4) How will you earn an income? Even if you have a nice pension and/or social security coming in, you can’t rely on that to stretch far in today’s economy. So you need some sort of income. If you have an internet or computer-related “business” – then you are free to work anywhere you want. If you do not have another source of income or feel you need more to supplement yours, than you can work while on the road. Work-campers are folks who work or volunteer while living in a RV. With so many areas short of workers, we can go wherever help is needed and move on when the work is finished. For now just think about how you are going to pay for your RV (if you haven’t paid it off), insurance, fuel, food, propane and camping fees while you are on the road.

5) Are you going to keep your house? If so, you have a great deal of things to ask yourself – such as who will manage things like yard work and utility bills while you are away? Are you still paying a mortgage on your house? Will you be paying one on the RV as well? There is a lot to think about if you are going to keep your stick home (That’s what us homeless RVers call “houses”).

6) Although RVs have modern amenities – washer/dryer, microwave, ceiling fans, SAT TV, Cable TV, regular TV antennas, air-condition, central heat, generators (propane and gas), ice makers, etc… Sometimes you may have to do without. Not every campground you pull into will have Cable TV hookup or maybe even enough amps to run everything. There may be times when you won’t have water, electric or sewer hook-up. You may have to dry camp or boondock. If you have to have A/C all the time or other special needs, then you will have to make sure you find only campgrounds or travel resorts that can accommodate you. Sometimes that means you have to stick closer to the highway – which often means missing those hidden gems along the back-roads.

7) Where do you want to go? Are you a comfortable driver? Can you manage a long-distance drive in a RV? Or do you just want to go from point A to point B every couple months? Do you want a home base or “camp” – one that you go to every year for a certain period of time? Pulling open the map and heading out is great, but the uncertainty of it can be stressful to some people.

8 ) If you do this, you will need to find a RV and that is not something you take lightly if you decide to go long-distance or go Full-Time. You have many things to consider – things that you probably won’t think of until after you are on the road with it and grumbling that you should have bought something else. Such as storage! Many people forget that if everything you own is in the RV, than you need storage space – but not just any old storage space – you need smart storage space. It’s not smart to go outside to get your frying pan or to have your bath towels under the dinette table. And that’s just one factor to consider. I will go into detail later about what you should look for in a RV – things that dealers don’t know because they don’t live in them!

9) And back to the spouse and/or family issue! This lifestyle requires an understanding on everyone’s part. Even though typically one person does the outside stuff (ie. hookups, jacks, awnings) and one does the inside stuff (ie. slides, setup) – you all need to know the basics. In case of an emergency, you all need to know how to break camp, hookup and head out. So your family needs to be a “team” when it comes to RV know-how. I’ve seen too many people end up having their RV towed because a family member was ill (or worse) and they remaining member(s) didn’t even know how to crank down the TV antenna!

These questions are crucial – you have to seriously think these things through with your spouse and/or family. Everyone has to be honest or you may make the wrong decision.

If you think you have what it takes to be a Full-Timer, the next step is looking at your future income on the road.

UPDATED: February 13, 2012

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