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We recently saw the Tall Ship Peacemaker that has been docked for a couple weeks in Panama City. After several years of Full-Timing (and enjoying every minute of it), we actually discussed what it would be like to trade in the rig for a boat… Hmm… guess we wouldn’t have to worry about pull-thrus! ūüėČ

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I just received an email from some Full-Timing friends who announced that this was their last year of work-camping. And this is not the first notice we have received from friends in 2009.

What has happened to those “living the dream”? A variety of things have changed this last year – one of which is the economy.

Many folks who live the Full-Time (or Seasonal) RV lifestyle saw an increase in the number of work-camp opportunities available (in fact, many places were begging for help by offering fuel/travel incentives or end-of-season bonuses), yet with the economic situation workers either could not afford to work these jobs or get there (fuel costs). And by “not afford” I mean that some employers have reduced benefits for RVers or cut them out completely.

It was an affordable lifestyle – living at your workplace or nearby for free. Now many campgrounds and resorts want you to pay¬†a reduced or “nominal” (which appears to be a favored word for employers) campsite fee, in addition to working for them at minimum wage. And most of these offer low hours, not even guaranteeing the money you make working will pay for your campsite, electricity and other expenses.

And there are those who have the “work-for-site, extra hours paid” offer. These employers require you to work a certain number of hours per week (usually between 20-30) for your campsite. Any hours worked over that time are paid. So if you were to work 24 hours a week for your site and you worked 30 hours, you would only get paid for 6 hours of work. The problem our friends have had with this is that if you figure out the value of the campsite and hours worked, you are getting very well below minimum wage.

I recently did the math on a job advertised in a work-camping site and you worked for $1 an hour. Of course, this amount was not from their ad. They had a completely different “camp site value”¬†in their ad than the one¬†from the price listed for monthly rentals on their updated website. It was actually cheaper not to work there and just pay for a campsite!

And some employers are offering crazy deals. I actually received an email last week from one in Montana that said they needed help and “might pay” if¬†we were “up to haggling” with them.¬† Then there was the one that said if¬†you put down a deposit¬†your¬†site and worked the required hours to pay for it in trade for the entire season, they would give you a seasonal bonus.¬† No mention of what became of your deposit, but ironically, the bonus amount¬†was the same! My personal favorite is the theme park which requires you to pay for your campsite and then gives you a bonus at the completion of the season¬†which they even tell you can be used to¬†reimburse your campsite. Not a true bonus, just a refund of what you have been paying them over the summer.

Another change is those who employee work-campers. They seem to have forgotten that those who work-camp are not only workers, but potential guests.

Employers are sending vague emails or leaving generic phone messages. If they come across your¬†email or¬†phone number¬†they want all your information without telling you anything about the position. In several cases, we have received emails that do not even mention the place or location! Just a name and “I need help. Send me your information. If I like what I see, I’ll contact you.” One didn’t even include a name!

Now work-camping is no different when it comes to applying for any other job. If you walk into the local grocery store and put in an application, you know where you are applying to. Some employers now want to be secretive, either¬†that or they¬†must be collecting people’s personal¬†information. I would not send any personal information to anyone who does not identify themself, their position, the name of the company they work for, the job location and the position. Furthermore, I want to know what I am being considered for before I send personal information. If you are a computer person, why send information to someone who wants you to scrub toilets everyday? Not only are they wasting their time, they are wasting yours. Unfortunately, this type of employer response has increased the last year.

A friend of ours received an email from a potential employer in Florida and the information did not mention if the job included pay¬†and/or full-hookups (FHUs). It was a high-end park so she politely emailed back that they were interested; however, wanted to be sure the job included FHUs at the very least. The employer emailed back that¬†was something to be discussed after being hired and if they hired them, they would then be told if it included compensation and FHUs! Later she found out through another work-camp couple that it was a volunteer job (36 hours a week, each person) and that you received a site at a “nominal fee” and¬†you were required to pay utilities, plus you had limited access to the facilities, even though you worked and paid to live there!

Fortunately, our friends have been good at circulating information about these so-called employers and their “opportunities”. If the business is¬†a campground or RV resort, we cross them off our Woodall’s and Trailer Life books. Why bother doing business with people like that? With the power of the internet, let the world know how unprofessional these employers are!

Many folks are giving up the work-camp dream this year. I honestly can’t blame them. Even some of the sites devoted to work-camp jobs have added sections on work-at-home (or RV in our case!) and other money-making schemes. If they have given up on living the dream, then maybe the rest of us need to wake up from it.

 

Halloween Spider

The area we are currently staying is big on Halloween! The campground is booked every weekend and has numerous Halloween activities from carving pumpkins to haunted hayrides. The children can trick-or-treat and families can enter weekly campsite-decorating contests.

Of course, when you are a full-time¬†RVer, your storage space is limited. Fortunately, when it comes to being creative, we have plenty of space! ūüėČ

Initially we discussed doing scarecrow “people” around our campfire… lounging in the chairs, roasting fake marshmallows over a fake fire… But after some brainstorming, we decided to¬†base our theme on a children’s Halloween party. We decided to keep it simple, festive and child-friendly.

Halloween Decorations

We decorated our picnic table with costumed “children” having a Halloween party. The table includes plates, cups, candy (emptied and resealed wrappers, of course!), plastic toys (spiders, bats, pumpkins) and orange Halloween lights. The table¬†has been webbed-over by a few busy spiders.

Halloween DecorationsThe “children” include a skeleton, scarecrow, pumpkinhead, lady bug and, of course, Frankenstein. Our little creations were easy to make – we created their bodies out of recycled water bottles, two-liter soda bottles and one-gallon tea containers. All their costumes were purchased from the local thrift store for less than ten dollars. No item was over $1!

When the party is over – the children go in the recycle bin and their clothes get washed and donated back to the local thrift store.

No party is complete without a buffet table and decorations! So we decorate the tree above the Halloween party and a table behind it. Spider webbing, ghosts and an inflatable spider were quick, inexpensive decorations to draw attention to our main display.

Halloween Decorations

Halloween treeThe “boo-ffet” table was decorated with a Halloween tree. If you just want one decoration or a centerpiece for a Halloween party – a Halloween tree is easy to do. We purchased a trick-or-treat bucket (a pumpkin) at a Dollar Tree store. We filled the bucket with rocks and then arranged dead tree branches in it.¬† We decorated the tree with ghosts, spiders, bugs, skulls¬†and Halloween-colored ribbons. After our tree was finished, we webbed it. For a creepy¬†effect, we used a hot glue gun around our “ornaments” and left the glue drip around the tree and webbing. We then added our other table decorations (garland, white lights – from Christmas!) and webbing.

So even if your space is limited, use your imagination to take part in the Halloween fun at your local campground! ūüėČ

I received a rather amusing email from a Full-Timing friend who has been workamping for several years. Her main grip was “everyone wants to be a vagabond now!”

Lately everywhere you turn there is an article popping up either online, in the print newspaper or even on the TV news, regarding living the RV or caretaker life. The reporters interview a few of us “houseless” folks and then manage to piece a story together on how their faithful readers or viewers can just give up everything and “live free” too.

These pieces promise that you too can be a vagabond. Honestly, I’ve been finding it rather amusing! ūüėČ

One article I read said that there was no need to buy a new RV because they depreciate like cars. Okay, that is true… but did she mention that most campgrounds and RV resorts require newer models? Most places want workampers who have models no older than 8 to 10 years. I have heard of places even saying six years or newer. So before you rush out and buy that 1980s Trek motorhome that the guy “down the road” has for sale in his mother-in-law’s barn, you better do your homework on what types of workamping jobs you hope to get and what most employers require.

Another article I read said that this lifestyle was only for retirees. ¬†Hmm… I’m not retired (or even close to it for another 30+ years!) and several of our Full-Timing and/or workamping friends are either too young to retiree or still have families of their own (who live the lifestyle with them). There is a growing number of younger folks and families who live this way and get along quite nicely. So don’t rule it out Full-Timing or workamping if you are younger than 65.

This same piece mentioned that the jobs were rather easy and required no effort. Well… I would love to drag this writer to a campground or RV resort and put them to work for a day. Yes, it takes no skill to handle 100+ check-ins on a Friday night during the summer or on a holiday. (Insert me rolling my eyes here!) Or how about cleaning several bathouses a day and operating a Kiavac machine. No skill? No effort? Okay, well then how about mowing several acres of lawn around¬†a hundred RVs in 90 degree temps? No sweat! Yes, there are some easier jobs out there, but in outdoor hospitality – anything goes! So even a light Camp Host position may find you having to haul firewood, clean restrooms or help evacuate the campground during an emergency.

I could go on and on, as there have been so many “be a vagabond” stories lately. With recent economic changes and many people struggling to keep their home or in need of a new career, these articles and news casts offer hope and freedom. Don’t get me wrong, it can and it does for many, but before you make that leap you should do some research and speak to those who have (or are on) that road!

Everyone may want to be a vagabond, but not just anyone can be a vagabond and be happy with it.

With the economy the way it is, many folks are looking for jobs or ways to make additional income to make ends meet.

Recently the spotlight has been aimed at workamping. Even CNN ran a piece on workamping jobs ( Lots of Jobs for Workampers ).  Online searches for jobs and information on the RV lifestyle have increased. Many people are looking for options for working and living without a towering mortgage payment and other associated-bills.

Unfortunately, this has provided scammers more innocent folks to target. For those who use free work camp posting sites, they find themselves open to false “job opportunity” emails and phone calls. So how do you know what is legit and what isn’t?

If you have received an offer in your spam folder chances are that’s exactly where it belongs. Yet sometimes workamp employers do send out multiple emails and this could be sorted into your spam folder. So you’ll want to check to see what the email address is. Legitimate employers usually have an email address that makes sense (not some jumbled numbers and letters) and have their name or business name associated with the email. The email should provide (at the very minimum) basic information about the position(s). If you receive a phone call, the employer should identify themselves and provide you information on the position.

Genuine employers should not ask you for any personal information other than a standard resume and references. Do not give out your social security number, bank information or anything else. And do not even send your resume or personal information to employers who do not give you some information first. Anyone can send you an email stating “I have a job offer, send me your resume and personal information”. If they haven’t explained enough about the position and you feel uncomfortable, tell them you need more information about the position¬†before you “formally apply”. A real employer will understand this and respect it.

And remember – no¬†good job offer will ask you to pay money or put down some sort of deposit for the position. Now, there is one campground in Arizona that¬†wants workampers to put down a $500 deposit so they don’t leave prior to their contracted end-date. This is absolutely ridiculous. If you are working a trade-for-site position you are already working weekly work hours for your site (week-by-week). They have no right to charge you $500 if you leave earlier. They are taking money from you from hours you already worked and were “owed” anyway. Yet some people have ended up putting the money on their credit card thinking this is how you get a workamp job. It’s not and you shouldn’t have to pay to work. If this employer has a problem keeping people, then that is a reflection on management and/or work conditions.

Some employers may ask for a deposit on equipment (such as radios or cell phones) used during the contract period. If this is the case, make sure you have something in writing to show what you were given and the condition it was in when given to you. Keep a copy of the check or deposit receipt to show the money to be returned to you when you return the equipment. Also make sure you get something in writing to show it was returned. If possible, take a photo of the equipment after it was received and right before it was return. Make sure your deposit (if taken) is returned promptly.

If you are looking for a workamp position without the hassle of scams, I recommend subscribing to the Workamper News¬†and upgrading to “Workamper Plus”. This way only legitimate employers will have access to your information and if you have any serious problems with any advertised or subscribing employers, you can contact the Workamper News with your concerns. They also have a great forums and a community area to stay in touch with other workampers.

Another thing I would like to mention is upcoming changes to KOA’s (Kampgrounds of America) Workamper Program. As of April 30, 2009, to be a part of this program, you must pay an annual fee of $35. With this you can post your resume on their website and search for jobs at KOA campgrounds. Before this was absolutely free. Being a “member” of their new KOA Workamper Membership (as it is now called) includes a 10% discount at all KOAs. This is something you can get with the standard KOA card (only $24 annually) and if you work with KOA you are given travel vouchers between KOA jobs. So having to pay to receive a discount (which you shouldn’t need anyway!) and to apply¬†for a position with them is rather ridiculous. Having participated in this program before, I have found that many KOAs do not update their job listings or respond to applicants. Save yourself the $35 fee and just subscribe to Workamper News. Many KOAs advertise through Workamper News anyway!

If you are searching for a work camp job, be wary of scams. Do your homework! Don’t send out personal information and never pay for a job. And if it sounds too good to be true – it probably is!

RELATED ARTICLES:

Workamping: Working in a RV

Workamping Pros and Cons

Is Workamping for You?

Know Before You Go

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Support Your RV Lifestyle by Jaimie Hall

 

 

Right now with the scary economic situation, many folks are looking into becoming RVers. The RV lifestyle is a cheaper way to live, yet there things to keep in mind before making that lifestyle leap.

Even if a Full-Timer doesn’t own a stick-house, doesn’t mean they don’t have monthly payments to make on their rig and/or tow vehicles, as well as credit cards, food and medical expenses and any other regular bills. Even used RVs can cost more than the average house. And unlike¬†thirty-year mortgages ¬†for stick-houses, you can usually only extend your payment to ten years on a RV.

Campgrounds or RV resorts vary in monthly or annual rates – some can be as low as $150 a month (in Texas, if you’re curious!) and exceed¬†$2800 a month (Key West). Keep in mind this is just “rent” you pay to park your RV. It should include sewer, water, garbage service and electricity. However, electricity may be metered – so you may find yourself with a monthly electric bill. Extra amenities, such as Cable TV or SAT TV, WiFi and park activities are usually free, but many parks are now charging modest fees for monthly and annual stays. Always check into this before committing to a particular campground or RV resort.

And don’t forget you need fuel and propane. Right now the prices on both are going down, but that is always subject to change and does vary area-to-area. We paid $5.29 for diesel leaving California and are now paying $1.89 for it in Texas. Big difference! Propane in Washington was $3.50 and in Texas we have been paying $2.20. So it makes budgeting difficult.

Yet you can save money while RVing or living the RV lifestyle! The most popular is to be a Camp Host or work at a campground or RV resort to get a free (or reduced) site space and utilities. Often these positions come with additional perks, such as free Cable TV, WiFi, discounted propane, laundry allowances and even pay. This alone can say you hundreds to thousands of dollars each month and basically give you free living.

If you find a camp hosting position that provides discounted propane or provides a propane allowance (meaning you are allowed so many free fill-ups per month), then that helps reduce propane costs. Another way to save on propane is to shop around. Some campgrounds provide propane services and often this may be more expensive than traveling a few miles into town. If you have a motorhome and rely on a propane truck to come into the campground to fill your tanks, you should consider getting a spare that you can take elsewhere to refill until you can drive your motorhome to propane dealer. For example, our motorhome neighbors who have to rely on the propane truck are paying $3.50 for propane and we take our tanks into town (6 miles) and pay only $2.20.

Another thing to mention is if you are not paying for monthly electricity and have everything on propane (hot water heater, refrigerator, furnace) then you should switch it to electricity to save your propane. If your not in an extremely cold climate, consider getting a ceramic heater to help reduce use of the furnace. If you are paying for monthly electricity usage, then you may want to do the opposite and switch them over to propane. It depends on what it is costing you in the long run. Do the math and see which is best for your situation.

You can save money on fuel several ways. First and foremost – pay cash! Most fuel stops are now¬†charging for credit card purchases. It may be faster to put your credit card in to pay, but if you’re barely making your credit card payment… the interest is going to increase your fuel costs even more… so keep this in mind when you pay at the pump. Secondly, consider joining frequent fuel-er programs. Many are worth the saving involved. Most larger truck stops and travel centers have some sort of program. And often there are additional perks to these programs. For instance, Flying J has a frequent fuel-er program, but if you upgrade to the RV card you also get a discount on propane! And the more you fuel up, the more savings you get. Some programs include other services, such as store purchases and restaurant visits. Nothing beats a fuel stop than the clerk telling you that you have a free pizza owed to you or you just saved $15 with your card! And if you are planning to make a long haul through remote regions, consider purchasing a few fuel cans. When you arrive at a place with cheaper fuel, fill them up. This way when you travel and see the insane “only gas station for 300 miles” prices, you can toot your horn and keep driving by.¬† Even if you aren’t making a long trip, filling up your extra tanks before prices rise (especially at the holidays) can save you a few extra dollars. Just make sure your extra tanks are secure and if visible, have some sort of chain-lock through them. If your rig or tow vehicles don’t have locking gas caps, you should look into that as well. While parked in the campground you can save money on fuel by car-pooling with a camping neighbor. This sort of arrangement is always appreciated and can be alternated between neighbors. If you’re close to town consider using local transportation, such as a shuttle or bus service or ride your bike.

Camping supplies can be costly, especially if you buy them from a camping store. Shop around! For instance, those quick-flick lighters RVers love to ignite their gas stoves can cost $5 in a camping supply store, $3 at Wal-mart and only $1 at the Dollar Tree. It’s pretty much the same thing – may not be the designer color you want – but still fits the same purchase. If there is something camping-related you need – such as a folding bike or lounge chairs – check your campground bulletin board. Often RVers upgrade (or downsize) and have items to sell or even giveaway. If you need some sort of part for your rig – contact your RV dealer and see if you are still under warranty. You would be surprised how many people forget that certain items are guaranteed longer. If not, ask the dealer about a customer discount. Sometimes they will take a percentage off your bill for purchasing a RV through their dealership. They recognize your patronage and want to keep you as a customer.

Campground pecans - free food!

Campground pecans - free food!

Food expenses have been a recent concern for folks as fuel prices have fluctuated. Many campgrounds offer coupon exchange areas (usually located in the laundry areas). Don’t be too proud to use coupons! And if¬† you have extra, share them with your fellow Campers. If you belong to a wholesale or discount club, make sure you really are getting a deal. Sometimes you’ll find that they are actually higher on bulk¬†items. If bulk is a better deal, but you have no extra space, consider going in with a neighbor on the deal! Most Full-Time RVers belong to either Costco or SAM’s Club and love sharing deals with other Campers. And sharing a meal or having a weekly potluck with your camping neighbors is a great way to help cut food costs.

Also, take advantage of local farmer’s markets and flea markets. If you are getting ready to move on, stock up on the local fare. While in Washington we bought¬†twenty pounds of potatoes for only $2. Before we moved on, we made sure we had plenty. Our next stop we found that twenty pounds¬†potatoes would cost us $6. When we left California, we made sure we had plenty of citrus and olives on hand. Before our next move we will have about five pounds of Texas pecans (free for the picking here in the campground) ready to go with us.

Living the RV life can be more affordable if you keep your eyes on the road ahead and wisely manage (and limit) your expenses.

 

With rising costs and the economy in a slump, many folks have been  inquiring about becoming Full-Time RVers. It makes a great deal of sense not having to worry about a large mortgage and all the extras burdens that come with maintaining a house.

And this slump also has Full-Timers and Seasonal RVers who normally do not work (because of pension, social security or savings) looking for positions that pay and/or provide a free site space to help stretch their income.

Workamping can be any type of job and any type of position – paid or volunteer. You do not have to travel around to workamp and it does not¬†have to be an outdoor hospitality job. Yet most prefer an outdoor hospitality (i.e. campgrounds, RV parks, RV resorts, etc…) positions because they usually provide a minimum of a free site (with hookups).

Although most of these types of jobs require no or limited experience, there are are many that do (especially computer skills if working in an office). Applications and resumes¬†for campgrounds and RV parks are generally submitted online or by standard mail. Employers usually arrange for phone interviews for those who they feel are qualified. When a decision has been made and both parties agree, often an agreement or contract is made. This covers what the workamper receives (full hookups, Cable TV, etc…), commitment dates, job or position details and any other pertinent information. A signed agreement protects both parties as it assures the workampers that a job will be there when they arrive and the employers will feel confident knowing they have help during the commitment period.

Having worked with other campground workampers and being around them as a campground/RV resort guest, I know that workamping in an outdoor hospitality setting is not for everyone. 

If you are looking for a position in a campground or related venue, then you must realize that you may be called to work at different areas or positions during your commitment period. If someone is sick or does not show up, the public restrooms still need cleaned and the garbage still needs picked it up. When you work at a campground you must be a team player.

Unfortunately, we have arrived at many jobs, only to find our coworkers either padded their resume or puffed themselves up at the interview and would not or could not handle the positions they were given. If you do not want to clean restrooms,¬†if you cannot lift propane tanks, if you cannot operate a computer, etc…¬†then do not apply for a position that may require it! You may think “Oh, I got the job. They won’t care what I can’t or won’t do when I get there.” Well, you are wrong! It is not only frustrating for the employer to find you have limitations or¬†falsified your abilities, but it is a generally a nightmare for your fellow workampers. Be honest!

One of the main problems I have encountered with workampers is the refusal to work the office and / or a computer. A RV park we worked at had a very basic computer program. If you could send an email, you could take reservations. Very basic, very simple. We had one workamper that was deathly afraid of it and had nightmares about it. Her husband said she was having anxiety attacks over it and that after a few days they decided to leave. It turned out that her husband was fine on the computer and she took over his duties (housekeeping and maintenance), while he did hers (office and store). Ironically, she had put on her resume that she was computer savy and had office experience!  So if you do not like computers or are uncomfortable handling money, tell the potential employer you prefer not to work these areas. And if you can work a computer but are very slow, explain that to the employer. I spoke to one employer who said she had one woman who took 45 minutes to check in a Camper! She said she did it correctly, but the speed of the transaction was just not acceptable. The office is a crucial position in a campground and employers need workampers who are comfortable in this area.

We worked with one set who thought they were above working period. They said they knew how to do everything (yet really did not know anything) and quite openly did not want to do anything. They just wanted to sit in their motorhome all day. This meant work not getting done during an already busy camping season. This added more work to the rest of us and finally seeing how this was dragging us all down, they were fired (and given very short notice to leave the property).

Although the campground office may close at 8 PM, that does not mean that things will stop happening! An emergency may occur or other problems after hours. You have to remember that not only are you temporarily employed there, you and your coworkers also live there. If there is an emergency going on, do not hide in your RV and say “I’m off the clock”. It is unfair to the others who work there. You need to be flexible and help keep things run smoothly.

We were working as Camp Hosts and were managing a RV park for 72 hour shifts. We would work the standard office hours and be on-call after hours. If there was an emergency or a serious situation going on, we would come to the aid of our fellow Hosts and they would come to ours. Again, you are not only coworkers, you are neighbors!

Another thing to keep in mind is that you must deal with the public. You may think working as maintenance or housekeeping are jobs were you can “hide” from the public and not have direct contact such as¬†the ¬†campground store or office, but that is not the case. Chances are you will have just as much, if not more contact with the camp guests and visitors.

If you are not a people person then you should give careful consideration to an outdoor hospitality job. It is probably not for you!  And believe me, some people should not be dealing with the public. I worked with one man who insulted a first-time guest at check-in. The workamper told him he thought his Class A was recalled and that he should have bought a better one! How he got through that without a broken nose is still beyond me!

For those that do enjoy working with the public, there are many options. Age restricted or 55+ parks or resorts are great for those who enjoy interacting with older folks. These parks often offer classes and schedule activities. If you enjoy being around families, especially those with young children, consider a family campground or RV park. These campgrounds usually have regularly childrens’ activities and family events. Some¬†RV parks and resorts¬†are more inclined to nightly visitors, while others are more for extended stays. If you like to get to know folks, consider applying at one with seasonal¬†or annual residents.¬†

 If you are interested in workamping at an outdoor hospitality venue, you should consider whether or not you can be a team player, flexible, honest about your abilities and limitations and deal with the public. If you cannot deal with any one of these things, then working a campground may not be for you.

NOTE: This prompted me to outline the pros and cons of workamping. So look for that being posted soon.

Yes, you can bake Christmas cookies in a camper!

Decorating holiday cookies in the RV.

Like most folks, we have been busy this past week working on holiday cookies and candies and doing our holiday shopping.

Since storage space is limited in a RV and you have to make each item count. Often cherished holiday items and decorations have to make way for the essentials. New items (gifts) coming into the RV often mean something else has to go out the door to make more room.

When it comes to decorations, we have learned to adapt to limited storage. One of the first things we did was reduced the size of our artificial Christmas tree. After the holiday we will “bundle” our tree and place it in a storage bag. It easily fits down in one of our holiday storage bins. Ornaments and other decorations that are not breakable or fragile are placed in storage bags. Breakable items are wrapped and placed in a smaller storage container. Everything gets placed in our large¬†Christmas decoration storage bin.

The only thing that we miss around the holidays is having a larger kitchen. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the lack of refrigerator, freezer and  counter space in a RV.

All our candy and cookie recipes have been cut in half or even thirds. Favorite recipes that cannot be reduced are used as filler items for neighbor’s cookie trays. We also limit what candy and cookies we make, often rotating recipes every year or making them at other holidays throughout the year.

When it is time to make the cookies and candies we clear off the kitchen table and place aluminum foil on it (see photo). This becomes our additional counter space and makes decorating cookies much easier.

We keep one refrigerator bin free to place extra cookies and candies until they are ready to be given away. Candies that do not need to be refrigerated are placed in storage containers and set on the table for easy “snacking” access.

Shopping for holiday gifts is a little different when you are a Full-Timer. Not only do you have to keep in mind what the person would like, but also where will they put it and determine if it will be something worth hauling around the country!  This can really add to the stress of the holidays.

The past two years we have practiced Reverse Giving. We agree on a pre-arranged amount and buy and wrap our own gifts, however¬†we “assign” who they are from. The surprise comes on Christmas day when what you “gave” the others is revealed! It works well for us because we know what we need or would like and if there will be adequate room for it.

Most of our friends realize space is limited in our fifth-wheel and send gift cards or gift certificates. When it comes to the flood of holiday cards, we decorate the area above our long living room slide with them. It allows us to display them without wasting our functional living space.

Holiday storage doesn’t have to be a problem in a RV. You just have to learn to make the most of your limited storage space.

Santa does stop at campgrounds!

Santa does stop at campgrounds!

Just like the folks with stick-houses, we RVers have dug out our Christmas holiday decorations and have begun converting our home-on-wheels to mobile winter wonderlands.

Although we have downsized considerably and have limited storage, we make room for the holiday essentials such as Christmas trees, nativity sets and small village pieces. 
Decorating in a RV is the same, just on a smaller scale!
Decorating in a RV is the same, just on a smaller scale!

When my family first became Full-Timers we  went crazy with the outdoor Christmas lights (we even won a campground decorating contest in Florida one year!), but since we have been travelling 20,000 miles a year, we decided that we would rather have food in our cabinets than a small herd of lighted reindeer.

Yet we have Full-Timing friends who rent small storage sheds at their seasonal RV parks just to store their decorations! One set of friends had their little storage shed literally blown apart during a Florida  hurricane. They were in Canada for the summer and we went to retrieve as much of their property we could.  I remember their poor plastic Santa being stuck up in a pine tree!

So no matter how much we downsize and simplify, we just cannot shake the holiday hold of decorating. (Including the woman a few campsites down from us ~ she has a flamingo dressed in a Santa costume!)

Most campgrounds are very festive places to spend the holidays. Those in areas with a large concentration of snowbirds (Florida, Texas, Arizona) often have many activities going on. Some activities include: decorating contests, caroling, candle and tree lighting’s, potluck dinners, gift exchanges, ornament and decoration craft classes, local charity sponsorship, toy and food drives and bus¬†or day¬†trips to see light displays, holiday performances, theme parks or shopping centers.

The majority of our Full-Timing friends in Florida have family visit them from out-of-state. They either pitch a tent or bring their own RV (or rental) or rent a cabin or villa inside the RV resort. Children of all ages can be found (and trying their very best to be good!) at campgrounds during the holidays.

We have always enjoyed the carolling. Not many places these days have folks go door-to-door (or in our case, campsite-to-campsite) to sing holiday songs to their friends and neighbors.

Potlucks and holiday dinners and dances are formed. Most are free, but occasionally some campgrounds charge small fees to help pay for meat or musical entertainment. Many we have been to the last few years just go by “Pass the Hat” and folks throw in a few dollars to help pay for the costs of the event.

RVers also remember those in need. Many seasonal campgrounds host toy or food drives or have their own campground clubs volunteer for local charities. We may not all have much ourselves, but we know that we have more than most.

Some campgrounds have a special service for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. There are several RV resorts with their own non-denominational weekly services. We have attended services like these and although the surroundings aren’t as elaborate as churches, they still¬†host a reminder for¬†the reason for the season.

Although Seasonal and Full-Time RVers come from all walks of life, we remember one thing – we are neighbors. We come together and wish each other a season of happiness and goodwill (and, of course, with an exchange of cards, candies or cookie plates).

Did I mention the cookies? Oh, yes! Our little camper ranges and ovens are fully functional and that won’t stop us from whipping up dozens of candies and cookies to friends and neighbors.

Overall campgrounds can be a fun and festive place to spend the holidays as we are all united in the spirit of the season.

You can't take it all with you!

You cannot take it all!

No matter what anyone tells you, you can’t take it all with you. If we could, you’d see a line of U-Hauls at the cemetery during every funeral service!

If you have a stick-house, it’s no problem, you just keep shoving the stuff in the attic, garage, basement and spare closets. When you run out of room, you buy a bigger house or find a storage unit to rent.

Of course, most people only keep important stuff right? Like my friends who moved into a bigger stick-house 4 years ago… who still haven’t unpacked half of their boxes. I’m sure this stuff they “just had” to keep was very important, so important they have left it packed for their next move to an even bigger house. ūüėČ

Face it, we are a society of pack rats! I have mentioned before that downsizing is not that difficult once you reach that “letting-go plateau”.

One thing Full-Time RVers learn very quickly is that you can’t take it all with you. Most smaller motorhomes and travel trailers have very limited storage space. Larger motorhomes and fifth-wheels usually do have adequate storage, but extra items (such as a washer and dryer) take away from this valuable space.

You can’t live in a RV and own 40 pairs of shoes. Oh you could, but you wouldn’t be taking any food or supplies with you! Full-Time RVers have found the delicate balance of living with the basic needs of life and their personal wants.

We learn to simplify our needs and reduce our wants. You may need a skillet to cook your eggs in the morning, but do you need 6 different sizes? Only if you are a traveling chef! Full-Timers think about items that will be used the most often or items that offer multiple uses. If we don’t use it, we don’t need it!

Reducing your wants is a little more difficult for some folks and RVers are no exception. Temptation is all around us – buy this, buy that. We can’t help ourselves. Fortunately for RVers, “home” keeps us a little more grounded. We can only buy what will fit in our RV!

And we also have to live by the unwritten law of “In-Out-In”. If we want to bring more items in our RV, we must eventually move some out¬† to allow room for more to come in.

Most campgrounds and RV resorts have yard sale days or trader shelves (usually books, games, puzzles, maps, craft supplies) where we can unload some of the extra stuff we have picked up. Many of the Full-Timers I know donate their items to local charity thrift shops or use services such as Freecycle, BookCrossing and BookMooch.

After you simplify your life it just makes sense – this is how life should be. I think back at the days we when had all this stuff (see photo) and shake my head in disbelief. Don’t let material items weigh you down. Lighten your¬†life and allow yourself more time to simply live.

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

I may need that someday!

I may need that someday!

Too much stuff! That is the problem that most people face in today’s world. People work 40+ hours a week to pay for stuff they have, yet rarely use. Extra costly “toys” like boats or jet skis, only get used a few days or weeks out of the year. Yet you work your fingers to the bone weekly to pay for these items.

The road to freedom begins with prioritizing. Is that $20,000 boat that you use one weekend a year worth it? What about its insurance, storage and upkeep? Start off by listing your extra toys and see just how much they are costing you and your overworked fingers. You may find yourself surprised – it’s just not worth it!

Then get your finances in order. Try to pay off those credit cards and any outstanding bills you have. How? Start selling stuff off. Host a garage sale, go to your local flea market, advertise on a radio/internet swap listing, advertise in a free or cheap newspaper classified or sell it online through eBay or another seller website.

This is the biggest and hardest of them all. Yet if you overcome this hurdle, it’s all downhill after that! What’s so hard? Downsizing! For some reason, modern humans need to acquire massive amounts of credit card debt and collect or gather mounds of “stuff”. You have to stop it and you have to do it cold turkey.

If you make purchases on a credit card regularly and only pay the minimum monthly payment – do you know now much that pack of gum is going to end up costing you at the end of the year? So stop buying anything you don’t need. And do what our ancestors did – if you don’t have the money (cash) to buy it, then you don’t really need it. Do with what you’ve got, as my Mom says.

Start going through that stuff and get rid of it! Yes, you may need that special size screwdriver in two or three years, but it’s certainly not doing you any good now. No sane person needs more than one toaster. Unfortunately, when my family started downsizing, we came across five of them in our storage!

Yet that’s the easy stuff. The hardest is dealing with those items that have a history or some sort of mental hold over you. Deceased Uncle Bob willed you that mounted Marlin – you just can’t part with it! Actually, you can. Get over it – it’s a stuffed fish for Pete’s (well, Uncle Bob’s) sake. The only reason he left it to you cause Goodwill wouldn’t take it and the lawyer was charging him for a Will anyways, so he might as well leave it to you. Ask other relatives if they want some family-handed items. Take photos for your records (if you just can’t let go) and attach a little story of who gave it to you and why it was so gosh darn important you have it hold down your attic for the past ten years.

Then go through some of your things that you considered passing on. In all honesty, will your relatives want those broken picture frames or old suitcases in your attic? Or those incomplete China patterns shoved on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard? Probably not. They are more likely to have an auction company come in and sell off what they can (since you didn’t leave them any money because you spent your lifesaving’s calling QVC each week) or they will find a cheap dumpster company to come and haul it all to the local landfill.

Tell your relatives you are downsizing. Ask them if they want certain items and take a photo of the item. Tell them the history behind it or better yet, write it down for them. Anything they don’t want, find other good homes. Have a family crib but no new babies to put it in? Find a family in need who can use it. History is wonderful, but if it isn’t passed on its worthless. So pass it on!

See that three-story dollhouse in the photo above? My dad made that for me when I was nine years old. I had it for over twenty years. There was a lot of memories, but I have no need for a dollhouse. It went to a little girl who could provide it a good home and pass it on to another when she was ready to let it go. I have photos of it, I have the memories of it and I have the knowledge that it is being loved by another.

If you find that some of your items are just not worth the effort (or money) to try to sell, then consider donating them to charity. Many charities and non-profit organizations have wish lists and your old desk might just be the thing they need! Most will offer a tax receipt for your donation and many charities will even pickup your larger items.

Unfortunately, because of storage space and other issues smaller charities might not be able to take certain items, such as clothes, holiday decorations or electronics. If this is the case, contact your local FreeCycle group and post a free ad for your free item(s). And sometimes it’s as simple as placing a FREE sign on it and toting it to your front yard.

This is where you need to start before you can even think of opening that road map. It’s hard, again, once you get over that initial “letting go” stage, it’s easier! You’ll find that extra stuff wasn’t as important as you thought it was – if you even remember it!

I¬†reached that “letting go plateau” and now when I open my closet or a drawer I say, “Why do I have this?” Everything I currently own could be placed in a normal-sized shopping cart, yet every time we find a new place to call “home”, I manage to find a bag or two of items to donate to the local charities. Material things aren’t a priority to me anymore.

I can’t even envision hoarding (yes, that’s what it is, there, I’ve said it!) stuff again. Just look at the picture above. This was just some of the stuff we had. Shoved away in a storage facility, where we paid monthly bills (and insurance) to keep these precious items. Ha! Precious! I forgot I had half of it and when I opened the boxes I was wondering why I had kept all that junk!

But this isn’t the secret, no this is just the beginning. Get your pens out and start formulating your downsizing plan, then you’ll move closer to how can find freedom on the open road!

UPDATED: February 13, 2013

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

— Walt Whitman¬†(1819-1892).¬†Leaves of Grass.¬†1900

 

Many have seen a recreational vehicle sometime in their life – either holding up traffic on the highway or perhaps jacked-up in their neighbor’s yard. You probably recall laughing at Lucille Ball in the classic movie THE LONG LONG TRAILER or Robin Williams in the recent hit titled RV. A few people probably think it’s an interesting way to live, while the rest think it’s just plain crazy.

Living in a recreational vehicle (RV) is not just for those crazy folks in need of a few good laughs, nor is it just for retirees with a pension and regular Social Security check. While the number of full-time RVers (or Full-Timers as we RV-Folk say) has increased in the past several years, the average age has decreased. You will find many more families and younger couples making the decision to become Full-Timers.

I have been Full-Timing for several years, yet only the past two have been on the road.  During that time I have spoken to many people about Full-Timing and the steps involved in making that decision to lead a nomadic lifestyle. Many insist that I write a blog or book on the topic as they would need directions on how to travel down this road.

Well, it certainly isn’t any easy path to travel, but once you are headed in that direction it gets a lot easier. So I have decided to share the secret that most Full-Timers know…the secret that can get you started down the open road…

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

In My Sites
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DYING TO WORK CAMP (Book #3)

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THE PROPANE GAME (Book #2)

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