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On the Road to Disaster by H.S. Cooper

If you haven’t thought about what to do in an emergency situation while on the road, consider some pre-planning with your family before making those travel plans. For more information on preparing for natural disasters, check out my book On the Road to Disaster.

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On the Road to Disaster by H.S. Cooper

From fires in the west to tropical storms in the east… this summer is providing extreme weather for those travelling and camping.

If you haven’t thought about what to do in an emergency situation, consider some pre-planning with your family before you head out on the road this season.

Although RVs can withstand moderate winds, they are not intended to be used for shelter in any type of severe storm. All Campers should invest in a NOAA weather radio or weather alert radio. A good one can be purchased for around $30 and in the event a storm Watch or Warning is issued, you will have the latest information.

For more information on preparing for natural disasters, check out my book On the Road to Disaster by H.S. Cooper.

A growing number of RVers have discovered some of the most reasonable camping in the country can be found at casino locations. Even if you are not a gambler or crazy about all-you-can-eat buffets, you should give it a try!

Our first experience at casino camping was actually staying at a KOA right beside the casino. Although it was within walking distance, a shuttle from the campground was available at any time. At check-in we not only received discounted buffet coupons, but also casino free play! (If you are not familiar with this, “free play” is what some casinos give new players to get started. It is actually “money” on a players card you are given to play free. Many casinos offer this with amounts ranging from $5 to over $20. You never know… $5 and the right game may win you a new RV! 😉 ) And after we went into the casino, we were rewarded with free gifts (mugs and shirts) for just signing up! As you walked through the casino there were self-serve drink stations where you could get sodas, teas, coffee, ICEEs and flavored waters for free!  And if the ICEEs didn’t lure you in, the free popcorn did! 😉

Of course, this was a KOA campground beside the casino and all the amenities – Full hook-ups, WiFi, Cable TV, Big Rig Friendly concrete pad pull-thru site, etc… were available. Yet it made us realize that not only where casino campgrounds a great place to overnight, but also get a cheap meal, souvenirs and be secure.  

Casino campground in California

The larger and modern casinos which offer their own RV parks are normally designed for Big Rigs as the goal of the casino is to keep you there. They don’t want you to have to unhook, so sites are long and wide and usually the pad is concrete and level. And since most casinos are in remote areas, they know you don’t want to feel too isolated and often offer Cable or Sat TV in addition to high-speed WiFi. Overnight rates that would often run into $60-70 at other campgrounds may be as little as $20 at a casino campground! In fact, we have stayed at some that were less than $20 and received additional nights of camping free! There was one we even stayed at for 10 days (all the amenities, plus a pool and tennis court) and it cost under $100. Although casino campgrounds do have limits to the length of stay allowed.

Smaller casinos (especially those in the Western US) may not have a RV park, but might offer an area for RVers to camp away from other casino patrons. We have seen areas simply fenced off that have water and electric and allow RVers to stay overnight free or for a few dollars. The only concern we have in this type of situation is how often the casino’s security patrols the area. We had visited one in Arizona with this type of camping area and it did not interest us at this particular location. However, most are patrolled regularly and some even have a guard-house nearby the designated camping area.

Some casinos don’t have a RV park or area for camping, yet allow overnight parking. If you aren’t sure if they allow overnight parking, you should contact the casino first. Even if you’ve purchased a casino camping directory or visited a casino camping website, you should verify it with the casino as policies can change at any time and special rules may apply.

Casino campground in Louisiana

If you find yourself overnighting in a casino parking lot, you should follow the rules of overnight parking. And, you should be especially considerate of where you park at a casino. Don’t take too many spaces, yet make sure you allow a proper distance between you and your RV neighbor. If there are no other RVs there when you arrive, remember you are setting the standard!

If the casino has special instructions for overnighting (such as providing your license/vehicle information or obtaining a window tag ) make sure you tend to that right away. They may also have additional information about how long you can stay and they may also have their own policy/rules regarding blacktop boondocking.

Some casinos may not allow overnighting (especially those which offer RV parks). If they don’t allow it and you just want to patronize the casino for a few hours, contact security or customer service and let them know you are in the facility and are not planing to boondock.

Camping by a casino in Nevada... where are we? Oh yeah, way back there! 😉

 Even if you are not planing on gambling, there are other ways to patronize casinos. Many offer not only buffets, but also cafe, speciality and formal dining restaurants. Some of the best pizza we’ve gotten has been from casino eateries! 😉 A growing number of casinos offer special performances and  shows (sometimes tickets are reduced or free for folks staying with them) , spa and hair salons, gift shops, gas stations and convenience stores.

And some have set up reward systems so that if you sign up for a free players card, you earn points for free items or discounts. In California, several of the casinos we stopped at had discounted fuel for those with players cards! And if you had earned points on it from playing, shopping or eating at the casino, you got more of a discount.

So the next time you see a casino, you may want to consider giving casino camping a try. You never know, they may have a buffet, free tee-shirt or discounted fuel just waiting for you. 😉

After a winter storm, the beach was littered with debris and driftwood. (WA)

We have winter camped in the Pacific Northwest and dealt with wind, snow and ice storms… but we never thought we would have to prepare ourselves for winter camping in Florida. With fluctuating  temperatures this season, we have had to watch for signs of excess moisture which can lead to mold and mildew.

Each closet and storage area has a Damp-Rid (http://www.damprid.com) container which is checked (drained and refilled, if needed) every two weeks. We have talked with other RVers who prefer to not have a “spill-able” container (lower half of the container collects water, while the top half or basket contains Damp-Rid flakes) and they prefer other methods, such as placing charcoal briquettes in a shallow pan or bowl.

Some folks prefer to use a dehumidifier. We don’t use one as we have heard so many stories against – from “sweating walls” to the chore of emptying it every day and even finding the space to place one.

If you find yourself with a moisture problem, you should evaluate your storage areas. Boxes draw moisture and eliminating those by placing items in sealed plastic containers or SpaceBags® (https://www.spacebag.com) will help. Also make sure your storage areas are not too crowded to allow some air flow. Inside storage closets that contain clothes or paperwork should be left cracked open while you are settled in an area.

Check around your windows for moisture. And if you have a roll of silver sunshade shoved into each window, you should keep an eye on those for mildew, especially around the edges.

Watch your humidity inside and either run your air condition when you can or crack open a window or vent to keep the humidity low.

If you are prepared for it, you can keep moisture under control before anything develops to “dampen” your winter camping experience.

After the winter "Southern Storm" that went through the SE states. (FL)

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! 😉

 

Well, it seems like only yesterday we pulled the rig into our winter home site… oh yes, it was only yesterday! 🙂

After a very very busy summer and a rather exciting haul to Texas, I find myself falling behind in everything from silly forwards clogging the inbox to posting here. I apologize to those who emailed me with “Where are you?” and “Did you give up RVing?” emails. It’s just been a rather busy year. Quite frankly, I’m surprised we are already headed for December and 2010!

So I promise to post more in the weeks ahead. After all, you need to know about our crazy search for RV tires, our disappointment in Camping World (the one in Roanoke), tropical storm Ida and all the latest campground news!

I also will try to get caught up on campground reviews and posting photos. And for those who wanted more “inside” information on workamping – I’ll be sure to post more pieces regarding the lifestyle.

Meanwhile, I wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving holiday! 🙂

birdbird

Despite the crazy weather across the United States, the Snowbirds (mostly Seasonal RVers) are flocking back to the northern regions. It has made for an interesting week here. Snowbirds have been packing up and heading out.

We have decided to stay in Texas a couple weeks longer, not too eager to get into any odd weather or worse, the colds and flu bugs that usually follow!  So we have been watching our neighbors come and go the past several days.

One pair of Snowbirds had a bad winter (health-wise) and needed some help loading up their tows (motorcycle and car) on a trailer. That itself turned into quite an ordeal. The fellow that loaded the motorcycle stalled it on the ramp and almost dumped it. Fortunately another loader came to his rescue. Then they moved the trailer onto an empty site until they could finish loading. And wouldn’t you know it… here comes a Camper! Since no one else was around who could move it, the new Camper had to unhook his rig and drop it right on the road while moving the trailer to yet another empty site. When it was finally time for the Snowbirds to load their vehicle onto the trailer, they had problems hitching it and getting the lights to work! And that’s just one of the things that have went on this week.

Never a dull moment, especially when the Snowbirds start to flock! 😉

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.

A popular place to boondock is Quartzsite, Arizona.

Last month before the winter “snowbirds” began to arrive, we made a trip to Quartzsite to see exactly what the area looked like and what it had to offer.

It pretty much looks like this for about one hundred miles. Quartzsite does have some small businesses and several campgrounds (that do offer full-hookups and some amenities).  The closest Walmart is in Yuma, which is about 90 miles (one-way) south of Quartzsite. Lake Havasu which is just north of Quartzsite does have many chains and franchises, as well as Blythe (California) directly to the west.Off the road in Quartzsite, Arizona.

Boondocking is an option that many regular RVers try (even for a short while). It is affordable and it is a great way to test your independence. There are many books and articles written on the topic and if you are interested, you should do your research. If you know someone who has had experience boondocking, you should also pick their brain on tips and advice on this type of living.

One of the biggest concerns when contemplating the Full-Time RVers lifestyle is – how do I make a living? For those with an already stretched pension or Social Security check, campgrounds and resorts can eat up a great deal of money. $300 to $1200 a month for full hookups and extras. And for those who are relying on a part-time or even full-time job – what do you do to make ends meet?

If you live in a RV and work or volunteer from it – you are a work-camper. It does not just apply to those working in campgrounds, RV parks or resorts. If you work as a florist and live in a RV – you are a work-camper. If you are a volunteer at the local library and live in a RV – you are a work-camper. If you work 12 hours a week at a campground to pay for your campsite and you live in your RV – you are a work-camper. If you sell on eBay and live in a RV – you are a work-camper.

Work-campers should not be stereotyped (although I know some readers will still be thinking of old trailers and shady characters in a trailer park). Work-campers are a varied bunch – from singles to couples to families with children; from twenty-somethings to ninety year olds; from those with GEDs to those with PhDs. Each work-camper offers diversity to the workplace or their community.

If you have some income and just want to live free, consider volunteering at a local state or national park. Camp Hosts live free, most often with full-hookups and perks, for a minimum number of hours each week or day. Hosting positions can vary from one month to six months and possibly more. This would mean hundreds to thousands of dollars being saved for you with free site and utilities! Most states have Campground Host programs – Google the state you are interested in to sign up for their program. Rangers and park officials will call you if they have an opening, as well as you being able to call them to see if they need hosts for whatever period of time you are interested in.  Many smaller campgrounds that cannot afford an on-site manager or large staff also look for volunteer hosts and work-campers.

If you do not have an income, you can easily find outdoor hospitality jobs that would include full hookups (Although some Southern states where the temperatures require constant air-conditioning, often make you pay metered electric. Some campgrounds do offer electric “allowances” for their work-campers to reduce their monthly bill.) In addition, you would want one that paid to make your monthly expenses. Remember, some areas are only seasonal – so if you require a steady paycheck, you need to find something reliable.

If you are Full-Timing with a spouse or travel companion, one of you could work/volunteer just for your campsite, while the other found a regular job nearby. This would guarantee free living, while generating another income. Most volunteer or “work for site” situations do not require many hours (usually under 20 if you are getting full hookups and perhaps a Cable or SAT TV service) and the extra person could work a paying job if needed.

If you find a volunteer or “work for site” job that requires more than 20 hours, you should get some additional perks, such as free laundry, propane allowance, store discount (if they have a camp or general store) and any other services they offer such as free WiFi and Cable TV. If not, you should get a breakdown of the hours and site costs. Some campgrounds have been known to take advantage of “work for site” folks. I know of one campground owner in Arizona that actually has the nerve to take a $500 deposit from it’s “workers” in case they leave suddenly. This is not right as you are working weekly for your site and should be working in accordance to your stay.

The best thing you can do when you find a position, even if it is as a Camp Host, is to ask for a Work-camper Agreement or some sort of contract that states what your arrival and departure dates are, what you receive (full hookups, etc…) and what the hours and job duties involve. If you are told you only need to work 10 hours a week for your site handing out camp brochures, then that is what the contract should read. Some places will try to take advantage of work-campers as they “have them” and most people will not be able to just pack up and leave. So protect yourself with some sort of contract.

There are many places to look online for a job, especially Full-Timers. The most popular is Workamper News. The have a daily job hotline emailed to you and a bimonthly magazine. However, there are many other publications, such as The Caretaker’s Gazette,  where employers seek out work-campers. You can also place an ad offering your own skills and have employers seek you out. Several websites offer free ads (maximum word count) or free ads with a subscription to their site or publication.

Word-of-mouth or recommendations from other work-campers works just as well. If you are interested in working outdoor hospitality, you should try to work a Camp Host position first, to give you an idea if this is for you. Working with the public can be…well, it can be a pain in the behind! So if you are able to volunteer for a month or so as a Host, that would be ideal. That way you won’t find yourself locked in a position at a campground or RV resort for 6 months and hating it.

There are many options out there and the more you do your homework and speak to other Full-Timers, the better off you will be. You will be surprised to find how varied work-camper positions are! From working NASCAR races and Amazon.com to casinos and ranches to amusement parks and apple harvest pickers!

Another growing area for work-campers is security or caretaking properties. Not much (or any) experience required, yet you are provide with a free place to stay and life for a minimum number of hours.

Some of these jobs pay incredible wages, in addition to full or partial benefits. And, surprisingly, there are even government jobs available to work-campers. There are a number of businesses who specifically want work-campers because these folks offer a diverse workforce and are often very flexible. Being a modern nomad is a good thing!

If you don’t need an additional income and don’t want to volunteer, then you may consider boondocking. Although this is something you should really discuss with other Full-Timers, especially those who have boondocking experience. Boondocking is just that – living in the  middle of nowhere (usually!) with no or partial hook-ups. You must live independently with your own batteries, generators, propane, solar and whatever else you can. You’ll require regular visits from a honey wagon (pumps your holding tanks) or must have your own tote tank and nearby sewer dump station to do it yourself.

We recently visited Quartzsite, Arizona which is the boondockers hangout in Western Arizona, about 90 miles north of Yuma. You can get a space in the desert  with a cheap permit from the BLM. The drawback to this type of lifestyle is most areas that are open to regular boondockers are very far from modern amenities. So if you only shopped at Walmart and it was a 90 mile drive (one-way, as in the case of Quartzsite), you may find yourself limiting your trips or suffering from the isolation. Yet again, it’s free (practically) living.

There are websites online that tell you places you can camp or stay free as well. Most are short-term, but it’s money saved! So you can live free, or close to it by either work-camping or boondocking.

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

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DYING TO WORK CAMP (Book #3)

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A ‘CLASS A’ STASH (Book #1)

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