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If you haven’t visited your local U.S. National Park recently, don’t forget that September 24, 2016 is a fee-free day. In celebration of National Public Lands Day, most parks will be free. To find a park near you, visit their website and click on “Find Your Park” in the top left corner.

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©Gulf Islands National Seashore - Fort Pickens (FL)

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©Gulf Islands National Seashore – Fort Pickens (FL)

If you haven’t visited your local U.S. National Park recently, don’t forget that September 26, 2015 is a fee-free day! In celebration of National Public Lands Day, most parks will be free. To find a park near you, visit NPS’s website and click on “Find a Park” in the top left corner.

National Public Lands Day is the largest volunteer event to help clean up public lands. Want to lend a hand on that day and earn another free day (coupon)? More information about NPLD can be found at the Public Lands Day website.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © St. Andrews State Park

If you are or planning to be in Florida in a few days, make sure to visit one of the many beautiful state parks the Sunshine State has to offer. November 11, 2014 is Veterans Day and admission is free at all the Florida State Parks.*

For more information or to locate a park near you, visit the Florida State Park website.

*Skyway Fishing Pier State Park does not participate in the free admission.

If you plan on visiting one of the many beautiful Florida State Parks* the Sunshine State has to offer this year, there are a couple of dates to keep in mind.

September 8, 2014 is International Literacy Day. On this day, admission is free to anyone who shows their library card or donates a new/gently-used family-appropriate book at the park.

November 11, 2014 is Veterans Day and admission is free at all the parks.

For more information or to locate a park near you, visit the Florida State Park website .

*Skyway Fishing Pier State Park does not participate in either of these dates.

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©Gulf Islands National Seashore (FL)

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper © Gulf Islands National Seashore (FL)

If you haven’t visited your local U.S. National Park recently, don’t forget that September 28, 2013 is a fee-free day. In celebration of National Public Lands Day, most parks will be free. To find a park near you visit: http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm and click on “Find a Park” in the top left corner.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Gulf Islands National Seashore

Only a few more days remain for 2013… so don’t delay another trip to your local U.S. National Park. Mark your calendar for at least one of these dates and GO! During these times, entrance fees to the parks will be waived. In addition, some other special offers may apply.

August 25, 2013
(National Park Service Birthday)

September 28, 2013
(Public Lands Day)

November 9-11, 2013
(Veterans Day weekend)

For more information and trip planning links, visit the National Park Service’s website: http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©EDEN GARDENS SP

If you live in Florida or are visiting this weekend, don’t forget that November 11, 2012 is a free-entrance day.  That day all parks (except the Skyway Fishing Pier SP) will be fee-free in honor of Veteran’s Day.

Visit the Florida State Park website for more information and to locate a park near you.

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper © EDEN TRAIL
Eden Gardens State Park in Point Washington (FL)

If you live in Florida or plan on visiting the state this fall, don’t forget to mark  November 11, 2012 on your calendar.  That day all parks (except the Skyway Fishing Pier SP) will be fee-free.

And no, it’s never too early to plan a “free day” – especially a fee-free one!

Visit the Florida State Park website for more information and to locate a park near you.

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©St. Andrews SP

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper © ST. ANDREW’S SAND
St. Andrew’s State Park in Panama City Beach (FL)

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©Gulf Islands National Seashore (FL)

If you haven’t visited your local U.S. National Park recently, don’t forget that September 29, 2012 is a fee-free day. In celebration of National Public Lands Day, most parks will be free. To find a park near you visit: http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm and click on “Find a Park” in the top left corner.

National Public Lands Day is the largest volunteer event to help clean up public lands. Want to lend a hand on that day and earn another free day (coupon)? More information about NPLD can be found at: http://www.publiclandsday.org/highlights/fee-free-day-and-coupons

Death Valley National Park

If you haven’t visited your local U.S. National Park recently, don’t forget that September 24, 2011 is the next fee-free day. To find a park near you visit: http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm and click on “Find a Park” in the top left corner.

Why this particular day in September? Well, it is in celebration of National Public Lands Day – the largest volunteer event to help clean up public lands. Want to lend a hand? More information about NPLD can be found at: http://www.publiclandsday.org/

Rest Areas are a much needed break after several hours on the highway. They provide adequate parking, restrooms, and, well, a place to rest for an hour or two. And those which offer Welcome Centers can also save you time and money.

Freebies  – Most Welcome Centers offer free coffee, tea or juice. Some even offer in-season fruit or fresh popcorn.

Coupons  –  Many lodging and attractions will offer special discounts, special deals or even “free gift” coupons in  brochures, coupon booklets and travel magazines. Ask at the information desk for additional coupon books they may have behind the counter. If you are an RVer, ask if their state has a camping guide. For example, Texas offers a camping guide with discount card (Texas Saver  or “T.A.C.O.”card) which offers 10-15% off daily rates at many Texas and New Mexico campgrounds.

Maps – Not all of us depend on GPS – especially those who have had to back their RV down a mountain road. A road atlas is great, but doesn’t always provide enough detail. So ask at the information desk for a free map. Most Welcome Centers will ask that you sign the guest register or provide your home state and travel destination for a map.

Updates – A few minutes viewing the Welcome Center’s construction map can save you a great deal of time and aggravation. If the Center doesn’t have a construction map, they may have a wall chart or list of road work and delays posted. At the very least they should have a website, local radio station or a phone number you can call for updates. And if there is severe weather in the forecast, ask at the information desk for local updates. Many larger Welcome Centers have TVs in the lobby with the Weather Channel or CNN on. We have even hunkered down at them during severe storms (especially high winds and blinding rain) and changed our travel route around tropical storms.

Overnight Parking – Most have limited the parking time or banned overnight parking. However, those which haven’t can save you money on campground or dump station fees. Just remember to follow the RVer rules regarding Overnight Parking.  Do not put out your slides or awnings. You are parking, not camping. And if you Overnight, be alert and cautious. NEVER open your door. If someone knocks on your door, flip on your scare lights (if not already on) and open the closest window to the door. Ask the person at the door who they are and what they want. Even if they appear to be some sort of authority figure – ask them to hold up I.D.

And don’t forget to fill out a comment card or sign their guest book. Let them know what you thought of their facilities – especially if you appreciate it. Your comments may help keep it open for future travelers.

May Day 2009

 

 

 

 

 

You might recall our May Day blow-out (https://hscooper.wordpress.com/articles/may-day-blow-outs/) last year. On the open road and in need of RV tires is not a situation I’d wish upon anyone.

After we got settled in Virginia last summer, we decided to have all our RV tires replaced. In June we made a trip to the Camping World store in Roanoke. At the time we found a helpful staff member who went over the price, labor costs and taxes with us, as well as tire availability and appointment scheduling.

We told him we would rather wait until November when we were going to be putting serious mileage on again. He said it would be no problem for us to call ahead and we would be in-and-out in no time.

A week before we were planning on leaving Virginia, we decided to return to Camping World in Roanoke and schedule our tire appointment, as well as make a few purchases.

What a difference time makes!

What a WORLD of difference customer service makes!

Now the helpful staff were gone… no one would wait on us or several other customers.

Finally, after some grumbling, staff emerged.

When it was our turn, we learned that the company no longer made those tires. We questioned this so the staff member waved another employee over. Number 2 said he wasn’t even sure those tires were even made at all – ever!

Huh?

 We pulled out our CW quote sheet printed out in June showing they indeed had the tires at that time and that we were told this was pretty common for Camping World. So after getting the attention of yet another employee, we learned that apparently their Camping World rarely had sets of tires (that matched) in stock.

What?!

Number 3 said he could go look and see what they had in stock and took off.

A fourth employee arrived and suggested we order them from a RV dealer somewhere.

Okay…

So we took our money and headed out the door in search of a Goodyear dealer. We found a dealer, pulled in the parking lot, and told them what we needed and they said, “No problem”.

They said they could put them on for us when we left, however we weren’t crazy about the idea of driving our rig into downtown traffic at the start of our journey. It was decided that we would take the tires with us and they loaded them into our truck.

When we returned the campground we asked around and found a local garage that would be open early hours the morning we left. We went down and made an appointment and they said it would be no problem putting on our new tires.

That morning we didn’t even have to pull into the garage – the gentlemen did it right from the parking lot in a matter of minutes!

Our initial quote for tires at Camping World was over $1200, plus we had an additional $300 of items we were going to purchase during our trip. Camping World – the “Walmart of RVers” – lost our business that day.

If we need anything now, our first thoughts go to supporting small, local businesses. They know their stock and they know how to treat their customers. There is a World of difference in customer service at a small business.

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! 😉

 

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! 😉

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! 😉

 Despite the poor economic conditions and many uncertain of the times ahead, the outdoor hospitality business (RV parks, resorts and campgrounds) are staying filled this summer.

Many folks have re-discovered the fun in camping, while others are exploring their “own backyard” – just travelling a few hours away from home.

With limited vacation time or funds, many Campers have figured how to make the most of both. Many are either taking one day off a week and taking their scheduled days off  – such as the weekend – to make a nice 3-4 day camping trip each month or every two weeks. This not only breaks up the summer, but stretches out the vacation time all summer.

Multiple stays at the same campground doesn’t have to be boring. Take advantage of local sites and attractions and make a series of day-trips. Driving an hour or so from your campground can be like a mini-vacation in itself!

The Blue Ridge Parkway makes for a wonderful day-trip!

The Blue Ridge Parkway makes for a wonderful day-trip!

If you stay at the same campground or RV resort, you may find yourself eligible for a “repeat” or “multiple stay” discount. Some campgrounds offer 10% or more off on their regular Campers. And many campgrounds offer discounts for extended stays that could save you hundreds of dollars!

If you have family and friends that enjoy camping, see if the campground offers group discounts and family camping areas. If they have family or group areas (for multiple families), you may find it cheaper to divide the cost among the families than to each rent a campsite individually.

If you have children, finding family campgrounds or RV parks that offer activities will benefit both you and your children. Parks such as Jellystone offer many free activities – from wagon rides and movies to crafts and dances. Low-cost activities such as bingo, mini-golf, water slides and ceramics are available at most family-friendly parks.

Make the most of your summer vacation, despite limited time and funds. Go camping… again and again! 🙂

King Kong in VA

Never know what you'll see on a day-trip!

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! 😉

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.

Waltons Mountain Museum
Waltons Mountain Museum

Children are getting out of school, summer is around the corner and money is tight. What’s a family to do about vacation?

There are many wonderful places with small or no admission fees all over the country. In fact, if you probably take a look, a few are in your own backyard!

The first thing to do is visit an area’s local tourist or visitor center website. Often they will list attractions, recreation and events and have links to other websites that contain more details.
Vikingsholm Castle

Vikingsholm Castle

 

Don’t forget to look for small museums, historical sites and botanical gardens!  Often these places have discounted admissions on families or larger parties, free days or reciprical agreements with other attractions (offering discount rates or free admission). And there are still places that offer free admission, but appreciate donations. Although you should leave an appropriate donation or the suggested donation amount if one is posted.

You may find yourself enjoying the less popular attractions as they are less crowded and their volunteers are eager to share information about the location.

So before you rack up $50-70 a person heading to Disneyland or Six Flags this summer, surf the net! Consider driving to the Waltons Mountain Museum ($6), visiting the International UFO Museum & Research Center ($5), trekking to Vikingsholm Castle ($6.50 to park) or discovering the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit for free on a Tuesday…

If you don’t have a RV or tent, don’t fret! Most campgrounds offer cabins with basic bunks and beds to deluxe cabins completely furnished. Often even deluxe cabins cost less that a hotel stay. Ask if they have discounts, as most campgrounds will offer a free night if you stay longer than 4-5 days or during the weekday.

Vacations don’t have to be expensive to be fun. There is a great deal in this country to see that is educational and fun for the whole family that won’t break your budget!

International UFO Museum and Research Center

International UFO Museum and Research Center

NOTE: Waltons Mountain Museum is in Shuyler, VA (around 160 miles from Washington, DC); the International UFO Museum is located in downtown Roswell, NM; Vikingsholm Castle is located inside Emerald Bay State Park on Lake Tahoe (California side); the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit is located in Fort Pierce, FL on the beautiful Indian River Lagoon. This is just a few of the thousands of attractions across the U.S. that are inexpensive and family friendly.
 
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.

 

Yogi BearFor those Full-Timers who would like to start workamping or those who haven’t workamped in a while – you are needed! Campgrounds and RV parks and resorts all over the country are still in need of help this season.

Despite the financial woes, Campers are still finding the time to visit their favorite campgrounds on weekends. In fact, a number of people have given up standard week-long vacations in place of just taking a series of weekend trips throughout the summer.

Instead of visiting expensive locations and attractions, many Campers are staying closer to home and enjoying local sites. With many larger campgrounds offering amenities such as fishing ponds, miniature golf, water slides, pools, game rooms and other activities, a family doesn’t have to travel far to make the most of their vacation time.

Since most campgrounds are seasonal or have peak-times in the season where they need help, it’s hard to find locals who are willing to just work a few months at a time. Yet for Full-Timers, it is a wonderful arrangement.

Jobs vary at each location, but many campgrounds are always desperate for office, maintenance, housekeeping and landscaping staff. Many require no or little experience and will train those who are willing to learn.

So start drafting that resume (or dust yours off) and start applying. If you are eager to work, there are places that are eager to have you right now!

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!

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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.

 

What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong with this picture?

Most folks who invest time and money in a RV take pride in it. They  are serious about RVing and read about proper RV set-up. They follow campground rules  and they are considerate to their fellow Campers.

Yet occasionally you find folks in a campground who don’t have a clue what they are doing and it shows!

If you look at the photo above, you should notice several things this RVer didn’t do correctly. The biggest mistake is use rocks to stabilize the fifth-wheel’s front landing gear instead of proper leveling blocks.

The next mistake is backing-in crocked to the site pad and even parking one landing gear on it. In most campgrounds, the site pad is for living area (picnic table, lawn chairs) and not for parking your RV. It is common courtesy not to park your rig (or tow vehicle) on the site pad.

Rocks don't make good leveling blocks!

Rocks don't make good leveling blocks!

The next obvious mistake is having his sewer hose lying on the ground. Many campgrounds require some sort of sewer hose support and sewer doughnut. Although is not noted as a requirement at this particular Texas campground, this fifth-wheel owner’s sewer hose can’t properly drain “up” into the ground sewer connect without using a great deal of water while flushing.

It is common mistakes such as this that require campgrounds to maintain strict rules and raise rates (to pay fines they receive for Campers who don’t comply).

If you are new to the world of RVing, then you should take some time to familiarize yourself with the proper tools and equipment as well as learn the rules and regulations.

Even if you are a regular or seasoned RVer, you may not be using the proper equipment (or using it correctly). There are many books, magazines and online sites where you can get more information. Visit your local RV dealership store or camp supply store and talk to an associate. If they don’t know,  they will help you find someone who does.

Some RV extras (such as leveling blocks) do cost additional money. Yet many items can be substituted. Instead of paying a great deal for leveling blocks, use wooden boards. Often you will find your substitutions work better and last longer. In our case, we use wooden boards that have been cut down to fit our tires and jacks. We have sanded and painted the boards black and they are less noticeable than those brightly colored leveling blocks sold at Camping World and other supply stores. Talk to your fellow RVers and get suggestions for RV extras.

Proper level blocks

Proper leveling blocks

Some campgrounds require that you sign a sheet upon arrival that lists their rules and regulations. If you break any of them, they have the right to ask you to leave, often without a refund. A few of these are extremely detailed – from asking you to pick up after your dog to not washing your rig.

We recently overnighted at a campground in Arizona where we had to sign a form in triplicate that stated we  would use a sewer support and doughnut before we were even allowed to register. The owner was tired of getting fined and decided this was the step needed to convey the message to Campers. Another park stated that pickup trucks (even as your tow vehicle) where not allowed in the park after unhooking and had to remain in the visitor parking area.  That one was a bit extreme for us and we did not stay there!

Whether you are new to RVing or a seasoned Full-Timer, it is  good to keep up on the  proper RV tools and equipment. And no matter where you are, take the time to learn the rules and regulations. By being considerate of your fellow Camper – you’ll help to make everyone a Happy Camper!

 

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

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