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As I have posted before, when you decide to make the move from a stick-house to a recreational vehicle, there are many things to consider. Prices vary on RVs, but most are very affordable with the majority being much, much cheaper than a stick-house.

After price, the next thing to consider is how comfortable you are with driving. Are you okay with driving/towing? Can you back up? If not, you may consider contacting your local RV dealership and see if they recommend a driving school (or perhaps they offer lessons) for a newbie RVer. If that isn’t an issue, than you need to consider other driving issues such as a tow vehicle. If you decide on a fifth-wheel or travel trailer (and, of course, a truck-camper) then you will need a good pickup truck to tow your RV. If you decide on a motorhome (Class A, Class C or a van) then you may require a vehicle to tow behind (either on a trailer or tow dolly). And consider very carefully if you choose not to have a tow vehicle – especially if you decide on a larger motorhome. Every time you require groceries or supplies, you’d have to pack up everything and drive your “home” into town. Unless you have other options – motorcycle, bicycle, hiking – to get to a nearby town, you should consider having a “vehicle”. Another driving factor to consider is that your family can drive it. If something happens to you, could your spouse or travel companions drive it?

What size of RV do you need? It depends on if you are going to be Full-Timers or Seasonals, as well as how many people are living in it. If you are going to go Full-Time, then everything you own will be inside. That means you need storage, as well as enough room to function. Smaller rigs may seem to small for you, but don’t forget, the more slides you have, the larger the rig becomes. And driving-wise, how big of rig can you handle with where you plan to travel? Quite honestly, some roadways (especially in the mountains) are just not made for larger RVs. So keep in mind that although bigger is roomier, it is a lot more to handle on the road and even inside smaller campgrounds.

And let’s mention storage again. Like size, this depends on if you are going Full-Time. If everything you own is in the RV, then you need storage. And I don’t mean sticking your frying pans in an outside compartment. I mean real, functional storage space. There are extra things that will eat your storage space before you even get it home. Do you really need a washer and dryer? What about that dinette booth versus a regular table? Sure, dinette tables look nice in RVs, yet booths allow under-seat storage that you may need.

RV slides are probably the best RV-addition and the more you have, the more room adds on to your rig. Yet they have major downfalls. Number one is that most campgrounds (even those that advertise Big Rig Friendly) aren’t slide-friendly. You may find that your slide(s) can’t go out because of trees, utility posts, cement barriers and other campground obstacles. This can be quite frustrating, especially if you have wide and/or large slides like we do. Another thing to consider with slides is that they aren’t as heavily insulated as the rest of your camper. So if you are going to a colder region, you need to keep in mind that you may need to leave your slides in to stay warm. Do your slides have electrical outlets or furnace/air-condition ducts? Keep this in mind if you are in a hot-cold region. Slides can also be a pain if you can’t put them out. If you are traveling down the road and need to use the bathroom, can you even get to your bathroom? Some slides block off areas of your rig and you can’t use them. So keep in mind what your rig would look like with the slides in – could you get to your bathroom? Bedroom? Stove? Refrigerator? If you were boondocking (or dry camping) a few days with the slides in, could you still live in your camper? These are things to keep in mind when RV shopping.

How far do you plan to travel in your rig? Will you drive it across the country or will you just drive it a few states away? Make sure you can handle it and that your routes (like mountains) are something your rig can handle. We’ve driven down roads that have brought our curtains down and broke the jar of dill pickles in the refrigerator. If you are going to take your rig down the road make sure the cabinets and refrigerator have good locks, that sliding doors have snaps, etc… Also, if you travel to a colder region (or even if it gets colder in a warmer region) that your rig is well-insulated and that you have the means or the “extras” as far as it goes to protecting your pipes/hoses from freezing. Many RVs have “polar packages” that you can upgrade and get tank heaters, etc… Well worth the extra money.

Most salespeople will push whatever they have on the RV lot, but if they know you are interested in a new one (especially custom-built) they will push the extra features. You don’t need most of them, yet there are a few that you should consider. A generator is a must in my opinion – especially a propane one. It will cost extra money, but you’ll find it money well spent during your first major outage. No smelly gas tanks to drag around – just regular propane which you’ll use in your RV anyway! And make sure you get a switch to turn the generator on from inside your RV. Those stormy or cold nights you are without power, all you have to do is crawl out of bed, flip the switch and your generator is on. No fuss and anyone can do it! Another extra is the polar package (if you are traveling far or in colder regions). Flip a switch and your water tank will be heated! No wrapping hoses or dripping faucets.

Now, that being said, let’s get serious. What happens if you or one of your family members becomes ill or disabled even for just a short time? Could they be able to navigate the RV with a cane, walker or small wheelchair if they needed to? When considering our custom-built fifth-wheel the only thing that we considered might be a problem someday were the three steps leading upstairs to the bathroom and master bedroom. Just three little steps. Well, today I currently find myself dealing with cancer treatment and those three little steps might as well lead to the first base camp at Everest. Luckily, an added rail-guard has helped alleviate that big trek up the stairs. A fold-able walker allows me easy movement upstairs, while a small wheelchair allows me movement downstairs. But we never planned this – who does? Fortunately our RV had the room to accommodate me during this time. So plan ahead – consider you or a family member navigating your RV while ill or disabled. It will require some adjustments, but at least give you the peace of mind that you are together in your home.

And don’t forget to think of  everyday things you’d like to have in your perfect RV. Do you like TV and movies and want to sit and watch them from a sofa or a recliner? Do you like plants? They have optional greenhouse windows in RVs… Entertain? They have wine racks and mini-bars… Think about what you NEED and what you would LIKE to have and write them down. Make a check-list for each RV you visit, that way you see how close it comes to your perfect RV.

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Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

After ten years of Full-Time RVing, we have encountered our share of bad parks. Every unpleasant experience puts a giant X on their park listing in our campground directory and earns the offending park an unfavorable online review.

Sometimes the problem is simply the park’s location. Like the one in Texas that bragged on being the place to get plenty of rest, only it didn’t indicate in the ad that you had to sleep during the day because the campground was located beside railroad tracks that were active at night. We were also lured in to one park in Mississippi that promised Southern charm, only the appeal wore off as soon as we realized we were at the end of an airport runway. Although one of the worst locations we’ve stumbled upon was in Florida. A small, seemingly quiet park appeared to be a good place for a few nights’ rest. The first night was so peaceful we actually considered extending our stay a few more days. Luckily we didn’t because that evening we were awakened to some bone-shaking music until the wee hours of the morning. We were unaware that the backside of the park bordered a nightclub that had been closed the previous evening!

Even if the location is ideal, sometimes it is the condition of the park that affects your stay. Usually the offender is meager Wi-Fi or poor cable TV. We’ve certainly had our share of that and while it is no problem for a night or two, issues with this during an extended stay reflect poorly in our online reviews. These are generally simple fixes and if nothing is done to correct the problem it indicates poor management. A few years ago we overnighted at a park in Florida that offered a Wi-Fi “hotspot”. When asked at check-in, we were told that it was under a tree in the middle of the RV park! Another problem we occasionally encounter is water pressure, albeit that it is normally too high. Imagine our surprise when we stayed at a park in Pennsylvania that had the water pressure at twenty. However, the management insisted that such a low number was safe!

Though sometimes it is the staff members who make you feel unwelcomed. Like the time we pulled into a park in Maryland and found the office closed and no after-hours check-in board. As we started to leave a staff member appeared on a golf-cart and started screaming at us that we were going to jackknife as we swung the rig around to exit. She literally kept screaming “jackknife” over and over. In reflection, I wish I would have taken a video of the maniac screaming at us – that would have gone viral! And the time we stopped at a campground in Virginia and politely asked the clerk for a Big Rig pull-thru for the night. She said people like us needed to “just go to a truck stop” – so we did! And lest we forget the park we overnighted at in Arkansas. The cable TV didn’t work and we immediately reported it to the office since we were being charged additional for it. A work-camper came over to our site, never even looked at the frayed cable at the pedestal. He just said, “I don’t think you need it tonight” and left!

Occasionally it is the park guests who bring about an unfavorable stay. Clearly it is hard to be quiet when your slides are on-top of each other in some of the older parks. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be a good neighbor. Like the time we were staying in Washington and the woman camped beside us wanted to know what antenna TV channels we got. Instead of coming over to our site and knocking on our door, she opened her slide-window, took a cane and pounded on our door. Imagine our surprise when we answered the door to see a cane poking out a window at us! Or the folks in Virginia who parked their golf cart under our master bedroom slide because they were, well, frankly, morons. And don’t get me started on the park in Texas where the neighbors built a Tiki bar on their site. By the third day the “bar” included a large flat screen TV, karaoke machine and additional seating. They expanded beyond their tow vehicle space and then started parking on our campsite. It was senseless to complain as we saw the park manager had become a patron of the bar! We found another park for the remainder of our stay in the area.

From dry camps to high-end RV resorts – we certainly have had some memorable reviews! After all these years, we have learned to take the bad with the good. Thankfully with so many online review sites, we have a way of warning other travelers. So don’t be shy about taking recourse by writing reviews. And, remember, if you visit a RV park in Maryland and a maniac starts screaming at you – get it on video!

Fulton Mansion State Historical Site is located in Rockport (Texas). At the time of our visit the mansion was closed for renovation, but we enjoyed a walk through the gardens and around the grounds. The visitor center located behind the mansion consists of a small museum, gift shop and film area regarding the history of the mansion. During the renovation, admission to the site is free. Parking is limited so only take a tow vehicle.

If you find yourself in Corpus Christi (TX) and have already toured the USS Lexington, make sure to plan a trip to the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History. The museum is situated on the scenic waterfront and offers visitors a glimpse of everything from dinosaurs to coastal ecology.

The museum has several great exhibits. One worth noting is the mudéjar-style dome ceiling in the Cultural Encounters exhibit. It was originally in a building in Spain – around 1535. So don’t forget to look up! 😉

Parking in front of the museum is limited as well as the parking area across the street. So make sure you leave the rig parked in a local campground and just take the tow vehicle. Current admission is $9 for adults and $7 for seniors/children.

We ran out of road so the Chevy Silverado took to the High Seas! ARRR!

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © The USS LEXINGTON

If you are in Corpus Christi (Texas), plan on visiting the USS Lexington. The Lexington, an Essex Class aircraft carrier, was commissioned in 1943. She was nicknamed the “Blue Ghost” by Tokyo Rose because of several reports of being sunk. At the time of her decommission in 1991, she was the oldest working carrier in the U.S. Navy.

There are five self-guided tours, each beginning and ending on the hangar deck. From aircraft, exhibits, movie theater, cafe and gift shop, be prepared to spend a day on board. One of the hidden gems we found was a ball cap (of the Lexington) worn by Commander Jerry Linenger on board the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1994.

Admission is $14 for adults and $12 for seniors. Gated parking across the street is $3.50 and requires a token at exit (which you pay for at Admissions). There is no RV parking, so only take your tow vehicle. There is free shuttle service from the pier to the hangar deck.   The tour consists of a great deal of walking and climbing – sturdy shoes are recommended. And don’t forget your camera!

 

While driving along Hwy. 98 the other day, we discovered the Baldwin Country Heritage Museum in Elberta (AL). If you find yourself in the region you will definitely want to find time to stop in.

The museum offers a variety of indoor exhibits as well as outbuildings and farming equipment. Outbuildings include a general store, old schoolhouse, church, blacksmith shop, potato shed and pole barn. The goal of the museum is to share and preserve the cultural heritage of the community. They do a wonderful job of showcasing the variety of crops and specialties of region – from potatoes and oysters to turpentine and honey.

 The museum is currently open Wednesday – Saturday and has free admission (although donations are appreciated to keep things running). Parking is adequate for a tow vehicle; however, if the museum is busy, you may find trouble parking the Big Rig.

For more information you can visit their page at FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/BCHeritageM

If you find yourself near Milton (FL), not far from I-10 is the West Florida Railroad Museum. This is a great little stop if you have the time. The museum area occupies an old freight and passenger depot that was built in the early 1900s at the site of the original 1882 depot. They have several cars in their collection, including dining cars, flat car, box cars, former Pullman sleeper and two cabooses. They also have a model railroad building, an outdoor scale railroad and gift shop.

The museum is free to the public, but does rely on donations to stay open. It is operated by volunteers so the museum is only open on Fridays and Saturdays. Parking is limited and there is no room to park a RV – so if you go, take the tow!

For directions and hours, please visit their website at: http://wfrm.org/index.html

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © B&O Civil War display

If you find yourself in Baltimore, make sure you plan a visit to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum. This is the birthplace of American railroading! They have some of the oldest railroad equipment on display that truly transport you back to early days of railroading.

During the time of our visit, they were celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with a special exhibit “The War Came By Train”. A very interesting series of displays from different views.

Although we have been to bigger train and transportation museums, this one stands-out with the incredible roundhouse. A must-see for train enthusiasts.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©Roundhouse

In addition to the numerous trains and rolling stock on display, there is also a model train gallery, working model train exhibits, dining ware exhibit, clock and code exhibit, snack bar and gift shop. In addition, you can ride the train for one mile.

Admission to the museum is rather high and unfortunately we went during an event and it was even higher. So call ahead to make sure it’s standard admission. The train ride is an additional charge, although I honestly wouldn’t recommend this because the view is very disappointing.

Parking is free. They advertise RV and Bus Parking, but the museum is located in a section of town filled with one-way and tight-cornered streets. We found ample parking for our dually in Lot B. So make sure you have a map in the event your GPS fails to keep up with the web of streets.

For more information: www.borail.org

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©B&O Exhibit

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © HOOPER STRAIT LIGHTHOUSE

If you are near the Eastern Shore of Maryland, you should plan to visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. This waterfront museum consists of 18 acres and is definitely worth a visit if you love boats and the water.

They not only have the Hooper Strait Lighthouse on property, but Point Lookout Tower, several boats and larger historic items; in addition, they have a boat shop where you can see apprentices working on projects, several museum buildings with multiple galleries/exhibits, a wharf, a boat-tour of the Chesapeake, Mitchell house, cabin, heirloom garden and more. Oh, and did I mention driving under the drawbridge? 😉

Admission to the museum is $15 for adults and $12 for seniors. The cost actually includes two-day admission so you don’t have to hurry to see everything. We easily spent 3 hours there and probably would have spent longer if we hadn’t other plans that day. They have benches near the lighthouse and it was peaceful just sitting there watching the boats and birds across the river.

Parking is not a problem for tow vehicles, however, you might call ahead and see if there is an event before you take the RV as Big Rig parking could be an issue during busy times.

The town of St. Michaels is very quaint with seafood restaurants and shops along the main street and waterfront.

For more information: http://www.cbmm.org/index.htm

 

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Mount Vernon Estate

Mount Vernon is located about twenty minutes south of Washington, DC. The property is situated along the Potomac River and if a tour of the Estate and 50-acre plantation isn’t enough to keep you busy, there is also a working pioneer farm, Washington’s tomb, a cruise along the Potomac, theater, museum, education center and gift shops on the property; in addition, Washington’s working gristmill and distillery are just three miles down the road.

Even if you are not a history buff, the awe of walking Washington’s grounds will transport you back to early America! Admission includes a tour of the Estate. However, general tours are based on entrance time and will be time-stamped on your ticket. So be prepared to wait two or more hours until you can view the Estate. Yet you won’t be bored waiting. Mount Vernon is a full-day experience!

Inside the Estate (general tour) you will see the first two floors, including the guest room where Lafayette stayed, the very bed Washington died in and… the key to the Bastille! If you pay extra, you can go see additional areas of the Estate. And don’t forget to take a moment to sit in the chairs on the back porch to enjoy the view of the Potomac.

Admission to Mount Vernon also includes entrance to George Washington’s Grist Mill and Distillery, which is just down the road. The grist mill tour surprised us as they actually started the wheel! It was noisy, but fascinating to see the stones in action. The trail from the grist mill leads to the distillery which actually produces Washington’s “recipe” a couple times each year.

One day admission at Mount Vernon is $18 for adults and $17 for seniors. Other options include audio tours, special Estate tours and a 45-minute cruise along the Potomac. Souvenir guide books are also available for $12. Parking is free. Although Mount Vernon advertises RV parking, it is a bit limited and not exactly Big Rig friendly. The grist mill and distillery have limited parking. You would be better off taking your tow vehicle.

Do not delay! You must add a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon to your Bucket List!

 

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Fort McHenry National Monument

If you find yourself near Baltimore, don’t forget to take a day to visit Fort McHenry National Monument by the harbor. The fort and grounds have a fascinating history… and the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 was the inspiration for Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner!

Entrance into the fort is $7 per adult; children under 15 are free. You can visit the park without paying admission – although you will only have access to the picnic grounds, visitor’s center, gift shop and movie.

Now the area is not Big Rig friendly, so don’t even think about taking your RV! If you are staying in the area you can take the water taxi or drive (but follow directions carefully as there is a great deal of traffic).

For directions and additional information, please visit their website at: http://www.nps.gov/fomc/index.htm

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Pythian Castle

If you have ever seen “Haunted Collector” on the SyFy Channel, then you probably recognize Pythian Castle. This historic landmark is located in Springfield (MO) and can be toured. They offer historic and haunted tours.

This unusual structure was built by the Knight of Pythias in 1913 as an orphanage and senior home. In the 1940s, the government took over the property for injured WWII vets. A lot of “souls” have visited this landmark.

If you find yourself near Springfield and want to stop for a tour – be advised that Pythian Castle is located near the downtown area and streets are narrow for wide-turning RVs. Although there is ample parking at the castle, you would be better off just taking a tow vehicle.

For information on tours and times, visit their website at: http://www.pythiancastle.com

 

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © THE MILL

If you find yourself near Brundidge (AL), you may want to stop and see the Johnston Peanut Butter Mill and visit some of the antique shops in this small town.

In the late 1920s, J.D. Johnston (a native of Brundidge) create a machine to make peanut butter and started one of the first commercial peanut butter mills in the U.S. At one point, the mill was shipping out over two million jars of peanut butter a week. The original mill (above) is a museum, open during the annual Peanut Butter Festival (October) and select Saturdays.

The area also has a number of antique shops and “malls” to visit. But be forewarned, this is a small town and not big rig friendly. So if you are just passing through, you may want to find a campground to unhook and take the tow.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © ANTIQUE MALL

On the Road to Disaster by H.S. Cooper

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

Although it’s hard to escape flu-season, there are some things you can do to protect your family from disease while you are on the road…

Have hand sanitizer in your vehicle. Make sure you have a small bottle for each person (put it in each person’s door or the center council and mark their name on it). Each time a person gets into the vehicle, they should clean their hands. If the person handled other public items prior to getting in (such as touching a door or shopping cart), make sure he or she wipes off their door handle, door lock or window area (anywhere that is touched) with a handy-wipe. Also make sure to have a liter bag in your vehicle to dispose of dirty handy-wipes and facial tissue. We dispose of our liter bag every stop.

Have individual handy-wipes in your purse, pocket or backpack and use them! Do not rely on public restrooms to have filled soap containers or even hot water. I am surprised when I do come across a fully-stocked public restroom. If you are an RVer currently on the road, it’s best that you don’t rely on public restrooms. Use your own RV if you can get access to the bathroom with the slides in. Some RVers don’t like using their own bathroom during transit because they don’t like carrying extra water or don’t want to have anything in their holding tanks. You don’t have to have your water tank filled to use your toilet. You can use purchase hand sanitizer that requires no water to wash your hands and place a gallon (or two) jug of water in your bathroom sink to use to flush.

Another thing to avoid is eating out while you are on the road. We’re RVers – we’re self-contained! We shouldn’t rely on McDs or Flying J to feed us every hundred miles. Make some sandwiches or an easy-fix meal before you leave. Pull over at a rest area or find a parking spot wherever you fuel up and grab a bite.

One thing that bothers us is the lack of sanitation in restaurants. Ever have a sickly cashier walk over to get your fries? Ever see the cook come out of the restroom wearing his or her apron? And people licking their fingers and picking up utensils at buffets… Ekk! Keep your eyes posted for potential problems. And if you can, call them out on it. Let the manager know what you saw so they can take action – it could save someone’s life!

Most RVers do have their own cell phones and computers; however, if you don’t and have to rely on a pay phone or visit a local library to log-on, remember to use handy-wipes over the phone and number pad and the computer keyboard and mouse.

These are just a few ways to protect your family while travelling. With the spread of disease and a major flu epidemic today, this is a concern you shouldn’t take lightly.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Yesterday at a rest area in Florida, we found ourselves parked beside a “little rig”.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

My absolute favorite stop in California is Bodie State Historical Park – it is a modern-day ghost town that has been left exactly the way it was. When the California State Park system took over Bodie, it left all the buildings as they stood.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Hwy 395 goes along the east-side of the Sierras. This route is definitely one of the most scenic drives you can experience in the mountains.  The drive to Bodie SHP is a rather long 18 miles off of the main road. There are warnings against taking recreational vehicles as there are limited parking spots and the road is very rough. The last three miles of the road is nothing but dirt and stone. This section of road is extremely rough. In fact, the heavy-duty toolbox in the bed of our pickup truck (which traveled tens of thousands of miles unfastened) moved from its spot almost 6 inches. So if you are traveling in a RV, you should park it at a local campground and make the trip in your tow vehicle.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

The above photo is actually one of my favorites. I was looking in the school house and the reflection from the window revealed the beautiful scenery behind me and offered a view from the school’s other window to see buildings on the other side of the street. It was one of those past, present, future moments for me. 😉

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

This is one of the most unforgettable places I have ever been. There is so much history there, it consumes you. You can almost feel towns folk walking along the streets right beside you. It is a must-see for anyone visiting that region of California.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

This place is absolutely amazing and the history of “the bad men from Bodie” is fascinating. If you find yourself headed to the east-side of Yosemite National Park, take the hour drive northward to Bodie SHP. You won’t be disappointed!

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

More photos can be seen at: https://hscooper.wordpress.com/photos/california/bodie-state-historical-park/

On the Road to Disaster by H.S. Cooper

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

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

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

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

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©LBJ ENTRANCE
A driving permit is required, but free at the Vistor Center.

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©LBJ birthplace

If you find yourself along Highway 290 between Fredericksburg and Johnson City (TX), make sure to stop at the LBJ National Historical Park’s LBJ Ranch.

Entrance to the park is free and just requires a stop at the State Park Visitor Center to obtain a driving permit and audio CD for the driving tour. Some sites to see include the old schoolhouse, LBJ’s birthplace (turned guest house), LBJ and Lady Bird’s burial site, the working cattle ranch, the hangar and the “Texas White House”. Oh… did I mention all the pecan trees, Texas Longhorns, bison and white-tailed deer?

A 25-30 minute tour of the Texas White House is only $2. If you have the time, I highly recommend the tour. You will be surprised to see how things were left exactly the way they were. From embroidery pillows to clothing in the closet to family photos on the dresser. No photos are allowed inside the house.

Before leaving the area, make sure to stop at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farmstead, just east of the visitor center. A tour of the early 1918 farmstead is free and you will literally step into living history – just watch out for cow and sheep patties! The folks dressed up as settlers actually grow and can the foods you see on display. Around lunchtime they actually prepare foods as they would during the period.  And all the food comes from the farmstead (including the meat).

There are actually two parks, the national and the state historic park. Part of the state park is located in Johnson City, so if you may want to venture the 14 or so miles to see that after touring the LBJ Ranch.

There is plenty of parking for Big Rigs at the visitor center, however, you probably wouldn’t want to drive around the whole loop of LBJ Ranch. When you obtain your driving permit, ask what they recommend. There is parking at the Sauer-Beckmann farm, yet is is reserved for smaller vehicles. Yet the farmstead is only a brief walk from the visitor center.

For additional information on these, please visit their websites:

http://www.nps.gov/lyjo/index.htm

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/lyndon_b_johnson/

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©Lady Bird and LBJ’s resting place

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©LBJ Plane
Air Force “One and Half” as called by LBJ

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©TEXAS WHITE HOUSE
The “Texas White House” – well worth a tour!

Well, it’s been several weeks since I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and post. The holiday season was a little more eventful than we had originally planned!

It started with having to move to a different RV park (that story is worthy of its own posting later on) in the middle of the season… and it continued as our rig needing some attention…

It started with the need for a new door handle. We went to do some holiday shopping and locked the door. Only the door didn’t really want to lock. So the holiday shopping got postponed and we headed for Camping World for a replacement kit.

Then there was the truck… the computer was alerting us that the trailer brakes needed serviced. So we scheduled an appointment with the closest Chevy dealer. Fortunately they got us in quickly and repaired the part which wasn’t “communicating” between the truck and fifth-wheel.

And what is a new year without a new tire? We were in the middle of Austin when we had a very large screw puncture our back inside dual-tire. Luckily we had a safe place to pull over and put on the spare tire. Although I will admit, we aren’t pit crew material when it comes to changing tires. I think it took us twenty minutes. Yet that speed will probably increase since now there is an impact wrench on board!

But no rest for these nomads… we found our lights flickering and although we replaced both RV batteries… well, it was another trip to Camping World for a new converter. 

Oh, and you would think that the “it comes in threes” principle would at least kick in on the sixth thing… yet it didn’t.

Chewed wires... they don't look appetizing to me!There was a problem with the radio in the truck… and some hungry little critter chewed through a handful of wires! So those had to be replaced and sprayed so the toothy critter wouldn’t return. Thankfully this wasn’t more of a problem!

And… that doesn’t include the email and login issues…. So if you have emailed at the previous address and didn’t receive a reply, I apologize as they were lost. Please note there is a new contact address. 

With all that aside, now it’s time to start planning for the next long haul… what other adventures await us in 2012? 😉

If you find yourself in Austin (TX) don’t forget to take a trip to the Texas Forces Military Museum. This museum is located inside Camp Mabry and has a variety of exhibits – from the history of the Alamo to a piece of the Berlin Wall to modern weaponry.

The museum is open Wednesday – Sunday and is free. Since it is located inside Camp Mabry, all visiting adults must show a photo ID at the main gate. Ask for directions to the museum after entering.

Please note there is no parking for big rigs, so only take your tow vehicle. If you are riding a motorcycle, you will want to read the proper riding attire required to enter Camp Mabry.

More information and directions can be found at their website: http://texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org/

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©Gruene Hall


If you find yourself between Austin and San Antonio (Texas), consider taking a day trip to the historic town of Gruene (pronounced “Green”). Gruene has an interesting history and offers visitors a glimpse of the past.

Gruene Hall (photo above) may look familiar to you from the movie Michael (John Travolta). It is considered “the oldest continually run dance hall” in the state of Texas.

The town has several antique, craft and nostalgic shoppes to visit. And while you’re there, don’t forget to grab a bite at the Gristmill.

There are a few larger parking areas which could accommodate bigger rigs, although if you are staying close by, you would probably be better off taking your tow vehicle – especially if it is the weekend or the day of a special event. Everything is within walking distance.

Special events and festivals are held throughout the year – including the Tour de Gruene Bicycle Classic.

For more info and event schedule, visit: http://gruenetexas.com/

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©Gruene General Store

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo taken by H.S. Cooper © Gruene Antique Company

When our fellow Campers learn we are Full-Timers, we usually get questioned about the lifestyle. Many have experience camping and towing a RV, but they don’t realize there is more to it than throwing a few things in the rig and heading down the road.

Your current RV may not be ideal for you if you decide to go full-time. One of the first things to consider is driving your rig. Are you okay with driving and towing long-distances? Can you back up? Not all campgrounds have pull-thrus and if you rely on GPS, you may find yourself backing down a road during your trip. (Yes, that story may make a top posting one day! 😉 ) If you decide on a fifth-wheel or travel trailer then you will need a pickup truck that can tow your RV. Keep in mind the towing weights when considering a truck/RV.

If you decide on a motor home or diesel pusher then you may require a vehicle to tow behind. And consider very carefully if you choose not to have a tow vehicle – especially if you decide on a larger one. Every time you require groceries or supplies, you’d have to pack up everything and drive your home into town. Unless you have other options – motorcycle, bicycle, hiking – to get to a nearby town, you should consider having a tow vehicle.

Another driving factor to consider is that your family can drive it. If something happens to you, could your spouse or travel companions drive it? Too many times have we seen a spouse need someone assist with transporting their rig when the other was ill or hospitalized.

Is your RV the size you need to be a Full-Timer? If you are going to go full-time, then everything you own will be inside. That means you need storage space, as well as enough room to function. We have a two-bedroom fifth-wheel. Everyone has their own space – no crowding, no struggling to store things. Smaller rigs may seem too small for you, but don’t forget, the more slides you have, the larger the rig becomes. And driving-wise, how big of rig can you handle? Quite honestly, some roadways are just not made for larger RVs. I think we have been along most of them! 😉 So keep in mind that although bigger is roomier, it is a lot more to handle on the road and even inside smaller campgrounds.

Another thing to keep in mind is that everything you own is in the RV and you will need storage. And I don’t mean sticking your frying pans in an outside compartment. I mean real, functional storage space. We have seen folks crawl up their roof to the add-on storage tote and pull-out extra rolls of toilet tissue… we know folks who have to store their clothes in an outside compartment… This is just not practical.

There are extra things that will eat your storage space, such as a washer and dryer. Keep in mind that the majority of campgrounds have laundries so don’t feel pressured to get a washer and dryer in your rig. A dinette booth versus a table is another space saver. Sure, dinette tables look nice in RVs, yet booths allow under-seat storage. So be aware of your needs and available storage areas.

Slides help make your RV a “home” and the more you have, the more room adds to your rig. Yet they have major downfalls. Number one is that most campgrounds (even those that advertise Big Rig Friendly) aren’t always slide-friendly. You may find that your slide(s) can’t go out because of trees, utility posts, cement barriers and other campground obstacles. This can be quite frustrating, especially if you have wide and/or large slides like we do. We were in Arizona in the middle of desert and a campground we stopped at put us on a site with the only visible tree within a mile radius, which, of course, blocked a slide! 😉

Another thing to consider with slides is that they aren’t as heavily insulated as the rest of your camper. So if you are going to a colder region, you need to keep in mind that you may need to leave your slides in to stay warm. Slides have limited electrical outlets (if any) or no furnace/air-condition ducts. Keep this in mind if you are in a hot-cold region. Slides can also be a pain if you can’t put them out. If you are traveling down the road and need to use the bathroom, can you even get to your bathroom? Some slides block off areas of your rig and you can’t use them. So keep in mind what your rig would look like with the slides in – could you get to your bathroom? Bedroom? Stove? Refrigerator? If you were blacktop boondocking a few days with the slides in, could you still live in your camper? These are things to keep in mind when planning on going full-time.

How far are you going in your rig? Are you going to be on-the-road Full-Timers or are you going to find 2-3 places to set-up camp a year? Will you drive it across the country or will you just drive it a few states away? Make sure you can handle it and that your routes (like mountains) are something your rig can handle. We’ve driven down roads that have brought our curtains down. I remember we made a sharp turn on a clover-leaf exit and the refrigerator snapped open. Imagine our surprise at the rest area when we entered and found groceries on the floor… not to mention a broken jar of dill pickles.

If you travel to a colder region (or even if it gets colder in a warmer region) that your rig is well-insulated and that you have the means or the means to protect your pipes/hoses from freezing. Many RVs have polar package that you can upgrade and get tank heaters, etc… It is definitely something to keep in mind if you decide to go full-time.

That’s some of the things you should consider before leaping into Full-Timing with your current RV. The best thing you can do is think about what you need to suit your family and make a check-list. Your “weekend” RV may not be practical for the life of a Full-Timer. So keep some of these things in mind before you consider Full-Timing in it.

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

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

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

Casino campground in California

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

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

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

Casino campground in Louisiana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Islands of Adventure view from Dr. Seuss Landing

We figured we would make our pilgrimage to the Orlando theme parks before the heat of summer set in. One of our favorites is Universal Studios and usually it is very crowded with 30+ minute waits to the rides and shows.  However, this time we found our longest wait a whooping 5 minutes!!! I felt sorry for those purchasing Express passes, as it certainly wasn’t needed during our visit!

And with the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure… well, this fan (yes, I admit it!) wanted to make sure she got a chance to visit Hogsmeade! Again, walking through the park wasn’t so crowded… until… you arrive at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. People of all ages from all over the world standing in awe at the crocked rooftops of Hogsmeade and waiting in line to eat at the 3 Broomsticks. It was wonderful! 😉

"Downtown" Hogsmeade

I do recommend that anyone going to any major theme park this summer keep a few things in mind. One is wear comfortable walking shoes. You have to walk and stand and after a few hours, paper-thin sandals will no longer make your feet look “cool”! Another thing is that you need to keep hydrated. Several of the parks have deals where you can buy a souvenir cup and get discounted refills at various food vendors. And if you are staying at a campground (or hotel) that offers shuttle service, keep in mind that if you get tuckered out before the shuttle comes…. you have a long wait on a hard bench in the Florida sun… So consider paying the parking fees and be able to leave when you are ready to. RVers and oversized trucks are usually only $5 more than a standard vehicle.

Blues Brother performance at Universal Studios

Disaster Ride at Universal Studios

It’s late at night… you’ve been driving all day… traffic was bad… you had trouble finding the campground… you set-up outside as much as you can… you enter your RV and try to finish settling in for the night… But then the smell hits you. Yep! You’ve stepped in some doggy doo and carried it in on your shoes!

Sound familiar? No? Then how about when you get ready to step into your tow vehicle  to explore the area and find a pile of poo in your path? Or have an oddly-wet tire? Oh, and did I mention you are several sites away from the dog walk? Sound more familiar to you now?

There is something about camping with dogs that makes some dog owners, in my opinion, Crappy Campers. They completely disregard the rules and regulations of not only the campground, but sometimes also county and state laws (usually regarding leashes).

Don’t get me wrong, I love animals and certainly don’t blame them for their owner’s directions (or lack of them). Many campgrounds have posted rules and often supply a sheet or handout to pet owners. Common rules include leashes and lengths (usually six feet), designated dog areas, waste disposal, constant or frequent barking or dogs being left unattended (caged or tethered outside without someone present).

We have stayed (and worked) at campgrounds that even make the owner sign-off that they will comply with the rules or be asked to leave without refund. One campground we were at even listed each rule and made the owner check-off each one to show that it was read and understood before they signed it. In addition, they were charged $5 per pet, per night. And to make it really hit-home, they received a carbon-copy showing that they acknowledged the rules!

Many campgrounds are going dog-friendly, yet have strict rules to keep it safe for people and other pets. Unfortunately people abuse the rules. It not only shows lack of consideration for other people and dog owners, but also their own pets. A park we stayed in California was prone to bears,  mountain lions and other bigger animals (even Big Foot tales at that one!)  and at registration you had to give your pet’s name and breed/color information in event they were spotted being carried off!

And, unfortunately, those that do not follow the rules may also find their dog stolen, attacked by another dog or animal, run over or possibly dead.

So please, don’t be a Crappy Camper this summer. If you love your pet you will follow the rules and quite possible prevent me from having poo on my shoes! 😉

UPDATED: I no sooner click “post” on this when I see a woman with a little dog leaving a “deposit” on our campsite… Good grief! 😦

 

A recent outbreak of severe storms across the U.S. has reminded us to re-check our storm supplies and start thinking about Hurricane Season. As Full-Time RVers, we are always concerned about severe weather. Although RVs can withstand moderate winds, they are not intended to be used for shelter in any type of severe storm.

All Campers should invest in a NOAA weather radio or weather alert radio. A good one can be purchased for around $30 and in case storm Watch or Warning is issued, you will have the latest information.

If you are staying in an area prone to severe weather or possible flooding (which caused much loss last summer season – especially to those tent camping) then you should find out where it is best to seek shelter or what evacuation route (i.e. flood, hurricanes) is closest. Make sure you know where to go and have a little family meeting. Even if you are just on a week vacation, discussing a plan with your family for just five minutes could end up saving your lives.

Ask the campground staff if they notify their campers about severe weather alerts and what they advise campers to do in stormy situations. Some campgrounds may recommend their restroom or recreation buildings for shelter. Many have concrete buildings that would be a solid structure to go to if there isn’t time, such as in the case of a tornado. But if you have time and know that severe weather will affect your area, make sure you seek an official shelter.

We actually stayed at a casino RV resort that had sirens to alert RV guests of a possible tornado and they would dispatch their casino shuttles to pick up everyone from the campground and take them to a secure area of the main casino building. The “plan” was actually printed on the back of the registration tag so that everyone had the information at check-in.

If there is a situation where you are told to evacuate – you must! If it is a volunteer evacuation or if you want to leave on your own accord with your RV, make sure you have: Fuel, Cash (if you can get quick access to it because ATMs do run out of money prior to disasters), Canned Foods, Water, Flashlights, Batteries, Weather Radio, Personal Information (i.e. insurance papers), Cell Phone (and extra batteries and the charger), Camera (in case you need to document anything afterward for insurance), Medicines Needed (and prescription information if they need refilled while you are away), First-Aid Kit, Laptop Computer and an Overnight Bag (with clothing and toiletries). The overnight bag may be needed if you find yourself stranded and are suddenly forced to leave your RV. If you have pets, a bag for them with Food, Treats, Toys and any Medicines.

If you are taking the rig, you will want to make sure your tank is filled with water, holding tanks emptied, propane tanks filled and RV and tow batteries charged. You might not arrive at your evacuation destination. We know too many RVers who have evacuated only to find themselves stuck only two or three hours from where they left. And most times, especially if it is a hurricane, you find yourself in a worse situation! So if you have adequate time, be prepared.

Storms bring out the best and the worst in people. After one hurricane, many of us gathered other folk’s belongings and secured it back on their property. We also shared food and supplies with other Campers in need. We helped cleaned up debris (as much as we could) and offered generator usage time for those who didn’t have generators.

We have also witnessed the worst in people.  As soon as travel restrictions were lifted, scavengers were driving through the RV resort looking for aluminum scraps (especially off older RVs and park models). For those who weren’t able to return or were away for the summer, their belongings that were scattered were targets for scavengers to steal.

Although RVs are self-contained, they were not designed to be used for shelter in any type of severe storm. So take some time to make a plan for your family this camping season.

Since I first posted “Campground Living: Better than Reality TV” , I have received a number of requests for other reality TV-worthy “episodes” we’ve experienced at campgrounds. And yes, like Hollywood… I can offer a sequel!

We were in a campground in Texas where Tenters camped along the river and RVers had full hook-up sites above. Imagine our surprise when we heard all sorts of commotion coming from below.  Further down in the tent area a Camper’s tent and all his gear had been thrown in the river. You could see some of it still floating (part of the tent, sleeping bags and coolers) as the river current was moving it too quickly to sink. He was running and shouting along the river, apparently hoping someone could save his gear. It turned out to be quite an ordeal, as the sheriff was called and began searching the campground for the culprits.

That reminds me of the RV resort we were staying at in Florida. A seasonal RVer with a fifth-wheel got his tow vehicle repossessed right before he was going to head northward. We moved on shortly after so I don’t know how that issue was resolved.

While staying at a campground in Virginia, we were surprised to see a travel trailer back in beside us with a mobile kennel of-sorts. Their pickup truck was filled with wire, dog cages (two with dogs) and a huge dog house. They unhooked the trailer and began erecting a fence with the dog house in the center. The caged dogs were placed inside, as well as the dogs already in the trailer and the one they had riding inside the pickup truck. They told us their dogs just loved going on vacation and being outdoors. That really surprised me considering they spent the weekend barking at everything they saw and heard outside! (I like dogs, but most campgrounds do have rules about leaving them outside for long periods, especially unattended or for constant barking.)

Several years ago I was riding my bike around at a campground in South Florida. After passing the pull-thru area I realized there were two tents set up beside a fifth-wheel. It is unusual to see tents in pull-thru sites but I didn’t think anymore of it until I made my next lap around and saw the little fences set up at the side of each tent. Inside the little fences were pot-bellied pigs. Again, I didn’t think much of it… okay, at first I was a little surprised… but pets like to travel too. 🙂 But the next day when I rode by and saw them dressed up… well, that had me wondering… did they pay the daily pet charge or extra person rate? 😉

I have to say that one of the most bizarre things we’ve seen happened at a family campground in Virginia. We didn’t know the folks who set up camp a few sites down from us were on a hunting trip. Imagine our surprise when we pulled up our dining room shades only to see a dead deer hanging from the tree on their campsite. Fortunately, that week’s free campground movie wasn’t “Bambi”.

Yes - that is exactly what you think it is! 😦

Honestly though, I’d miss seeing these things (well, not necessarily a freshly killed deer hanging from a tree) if we weren’t full-timing. Forget the TV, we just pull-up our window shade and see who or what pulls in beside us ~ now that’s entertainment! 😉

PLEASE NOTE: I originally posted this without the photo, but after receiving a few emails doubting a campground would allow that… well, I decided to go ahead and post the photo. I do apologize if it bothers you.

We recently signed up for a day casino trip from Florida to Mississippi. We were with forty people on a tour bus for 4 hours (one way) heading down 1-10.

Now being full-time RVers, it was nice not to have to worry about driving for a change… or so I thought…Someone (and I won’t tattle) started counting how many semi-trucks the bus driver was passing! 😉

About two hours into the trip, I realized my legs were both numb. At the next stop I was happy to get out and stretch. Unfortuantely, that’s when I noticed my knees were hurting. Apparently they were shoved into the seat ahead of me so hard, I didn’t realize I had bruised them. After arriving at the casino, I was glad to walk around and regain the use of my limbs.

The return trip was the same and the three of us stumbled out of the bus toward our Chevy Silverado. After we climbed in, there was a moment of silence before the first “ahh” cried out. Then and there we made it official – no more traveling unless it’s in a Chevy. 😉

For those smart enough not to cancel their reservation along the Florida Gulf this summer – they were in for a treat. Most of the summer saw warm temps, sunny days and plenty to do without a lot of crowds!

One of the things we enjoyed doing the last several weeks is visit some of the “forgotten” lighthouses along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Within an 80-mile stretch off of Highway 98, you can visit four spectacular lighthouses. Starting westward at Port St. Joe, there is Cape San Blas lighthouse. There is a fee if you would like to climb it.

After returning to Highway 98 and heading eastward, you are in for a treat on your journey to Cape St. George lighthouse on St. George Island. This lighthouse is visible from the bridge and has a wonderful park and keeper’s cottage. There is also a fee to climb this lighthouse.

Heading eastward on Highway 98 once again (okay, maybe after we had ice cream cones across the street from the Cape St. George lighthouse), we found ourselves enjoying the view so much we actually drove by the Crooked River lighthouse just west of Carrabelle. So make sure you pay attention to the historic signs and banners as you approach Carrabelle. This lighthouse has a cute little museum and a wonderful gift shop. There is a fee to climb it, however you can only climb it on certain days.

After Crooked River lighthouse, continue eastward to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The lighthouse is actually inside the refuge and the main road actually dead-ends at the lighthouse. There is day-use fee for admission through the refuge. You can only climb the lighthouse during special events. However, there is an observation deck which gives you an amazing view of the area and great photos ops (like the photo I took above).

If planning to visit all these amazing lighthouses in one day, I recommend you leave early in the morning so you have ample time to visit the lighthouse gift shops and museums. If you intend to climb, wear sturdy walking shoes or sneakers. Most lighthouses have strict policies regarding open-toed shoes and sandals.

This is Florida and even folks in the best shape will find themselves breathless on a lighthouse climb. Take your time and if anyone in your party is not climbing, give them your purse or backpack to help lighten your load. Stopping at windows (especially open ones), can give you a nice rest stop. Just be mindful of the rules regarding right-of-way for stairwell traffic.

If you are staying west of Port. St. Joe, don’t forget that all these lighthouses are in the Eastern Standard Time Zone.

PLEASE NOTE: There is no parking at any of these locations to handle a RV. You could take a smaller motorhome to St. Marks and Cape St. George, however, you may find parking and turn-around space limited during busy times.

Detailed information and driving directions to these lighthouses can be found at a great website called Lighthouse Friends. http://www.lighthousefriends.com/

Cedar Creek SilverbackToday a health emergency was declared in the United States because of the recent spread of the swine flu. For Seasonal and Full-Time RVers on the move to their summer stays, this is an issue we don’t take likely.

Many Seasonals and Full-Timers winter along the Texas-Mexico or Arizona-Mexico border and either make shopping trips across the border or come in contact with those who have. And the winter RVers are a mix of American and Canadian citizens.

So not only is there a concern of being exposed to it crossing state lines, but from Mexico or the US into Canada. With cases reported in New York, many of our Canadian Seasonal friends who spend a month in New York before returning home for the summer are worried about it.

There are precautions you can take to prevent yourself from getting and spreading disease. My family and I actually became more conscious of the spread of diseases several years ago when I was undergoing cancer treatment. I couldn’t be around anyone sick or exposed to other diseases during that time. It changed how we viewed the “outside” world.

Here are some things you can do to protect your family from disease while you are on the road.

Have hand sanitizer in your vehicle. Make sure you have a small bottle for each person (put it in each person’s door or the center council and mark their name on it). The best kind to have is the ones that require no water. Each time people get into the vehicle, they should clean their hands. If the person handled other public items prior to getting in (such as touching a door or shopping cart), make sure he or she wipes off their door handle, door lock or window area (anywhere that is touched) with a handi-wipe.

They make convenient little containers and packages of handi-wipes. Some are even designed to fit inside your cup holder – talk about “handy”! Also make sure to have a liter bag in your vehicle to dispose of dirty handi-wipes and facial tissue. We dispose of our liter bag every stop and put in a new one.

Have individual handi-wipes in your purse, pocket or backpack and use them! Do not rely on public restrooms to have filled soap containers or even hot water. I am surprised when I do come across a fully-stocked public restroom.

If you are an RVer currently on the road, it’s best that you don’t rely on public restrooms. Use your own RV if you can get access to the bathroom. Some RVers don’t like using their own bathroom during transit because they don’t like carrying extra water or don’t want to have anything in their holding tanks.

You don’t have to have your water tank filled to use your toilet. You can use purchase hand sanitizer that requires no water to wash your hands and place a gallon (or two) jug of water in your bathroom sink to use to flush.

If you’re worried about “stuff” sitting in the bottom of your empty black water tank, place a bag of ice in it before you leave. This is a great way to clean your tank sensors – as the ice rocks back and forth it breaks up material and then melts leaving some water in the tank. This is not a great deal of water weight to be carrying either, but enough to have in the tank if you use your bathroom without having freshwater.

Another thing to avoid is eating out while you are on the road. We’re RVers – we’re self-contained! We shouldn’t rely on McDs or Flying J to feed us every hundred miles. Make some sandwiches before you leave and either place them in your refrigerator or in a cooler in your tow. Pull over at a rest area or find a parking spot wherever you fuel up and have a picnic. If you must stop to have that Whopper, then use sense. Make sure you have your handi-wipes and use them!

One thing that bothers us is the lack of sanitation in restaurants. Ever have a sickly cashier walk over to get your fries? Ever see the cook come out of the restroom wearing his or her apron? Keep your eyes posted for potential problems. And if you can, call them out on it. Let the manager know you saw the cook going into the restroom with an apron, let them know they aren’t washing their hands, etc… It could save someone’s life!

When I had to go out in public during my cancer treatment, I wore a surgical mask. Yes, they look geeky, but if you find yourself in an area where there is any type of sickness, you’ll be glad to have one. They can be found at most pharmacies or medical supplies. I bought my last box of disposable ones at a Harbor Freight store for under $3. We keep a handful in our vehicle and I always have one in my purse. You never know when they will come in handy. Last summer during the California wildfires, we found the smoke particulate levels very high (they gave daily reports on how bad it was) and if we had to be out in it, the masks worked great.

Something we recently started doing is when we stop for the night, we spray Lysol inside our truck. The next day or whenever we are ready to leave, we spray our fifth-wheel with Lysol before hooking it up.

Most RVers do have their own cell phones and computers; however, if you don’t and have to rely on a pay phone or visit a local library to log-on, remember to use handi-wipes over the phone and number pad and the computer keyboard and mouse.

These are just a few ways to protect your family while travelling. With the spread of disease and major health issues today, this is a concern you shouldn’t take lightly.

It’s a beautiful Sunday in Texas and we thought we would sit outside in our lawn chairs and read. A few of our fellow Full-Timers came over and started up a conversation that went from books to favorite flavors of ICEEs. Just a relaxing Sunday…so we thought.

We had been talking a few minutes when a woman walked up to the group and said, “How long are you folks staying?” We all replied a few more weeks. The woman said mumbled something about it must be nice to be on vacation that long, when one of the group members explained we were Full-Timers.

Now, imagine our surprise when she said, “Oh, well you’re trash from where I come from.” Then she walked away with disgust.

We were absolutely shocked. We all watched her walk away. No one said a thing. In fact, the only thing you could hear at the time was our jaws dropping.

Personally I thought that it was a joke. I looked around for cameras – surely someone was filming a hidden-camera show and we were the next skit? No, no cameras. The woman was for real.

She knew nothing about any of us, yet she blatantly called us trash. No, excuse me, she said we were trash.

I’m not a confrontational person, but this was rather upsetting to me that someone would make such a bold judgment and not even allow a response. I was curious and decided to see where this woman was from.

I saw her several sites down by a fifth-wheel – she was sitting on a lawn chair and drinking a can of soda. I never said anything to her but glanced at the pickup truck beside the rig and saw it had Texas license plates and several Austin stickers on the tailgate.

The group was still gathered near our site and several other Full-Timers had emerged to listen to the tale of the hit-and-run trash-talker.

I mentioned what I saw and one person said, “Oh, well, if they’re from Austin, that explains it.”

Well, I don’t quite understand what that means and find myself not really caring. I mean, why should I fall into the stereotype trap as this trash-talker?

As a Full-Timer I feel that we are a benefit to society. We bring money to local communities. From buying local produce and eating at local restaurants to visiting local attractions and attending local events – Full-timers are adding revenue to each area they visit.

They also help promote communities – they either tell other travelers or share their photos and stories online about the areas attractions and help increase tourism.

When staying in an area for an extended stay, many Full-Timers contribute to the community by volunteering their time or donating money or goods to local charities. I personally have over 350 hours of volunteer time – from the State of Florida to the State of Washington.

We are big on community. People in stick-houses go years (or decades) without knowing their neighbors. Full-Timers know their neighbors, be it for a day, a week or a year. We are there for our neighbors – we don’t ask for anything out of it. It’s just something we do to help our fellow RVers.

Full-Timers may not have stick-houses, but we do pay taxes. From Federal taxes to local sales taxes to toll road fees, we are paying our share to help keep the country running.

You will find that most Full-Timers are in support of parks and environmental-related causes. We help maintain our national and state parks by purchasing annual park passes and volunteering at them.  We contribute to eco-charities and causes and encourage others to do the same. Many of us pay fees or buy permits to hike, camp or fish areas – with the money going back into preserving these areas.

We have much smaller carbon footprints than those in stick-homes. Yes, we may put more mileage on, but we also take better care of our vehicles. Most Full-Timers are aware of their vehicles needs and constantly make sure they run as efficiently as possible. Those of us who need trucks to tow our fifth-wheels and travel trailers have newer diesels that run on bio-fuels. Those who have tow vehicles (“toads”) for their motorhomes or motorcoaches have hybrids or vehicles with a better gas mileage than standard vehicles.

Full-Timers live by the code – recycle, reduce, reuse. We recycle everything we can because if we can’t recycle it back into society it’s trash. We don’t like trash! Rarely will you see a Full-Timer with more than a tiny bag of trash. Reducing is automatic for us. Needless packaging and extra “stuff” is just a waste of space and energy to us. And we reuse like you wouldn’t believe! If we can’t reuse it ourselves, we’ll find a good home for it (often sharing it with other RVers or passing it on to a local charity).

Chevy Silverado

Chevy Silverado

We also buy American-made RVs and vehicles. Drive through any campground and you’ll see the overwhelming majority of fifth-wheels and travel trailers are being towed by GMCs, Chevys and Ford trucks. Toads vary, but favorites include Saturns, Jeeps and hybrids. We take great pride in our rigs and you can usually spot a Full-Timer by the blinding glare of polish on their RV. (Currently ours has 3 coats!)

And then there are those Full-Timers who rebuild or renovate RVs. These conversions are the ultimate in recycling, reducing and reusing! These folks use their know-how to take an older RV or bus and convert into something amazing. They buy local products and use local services to achieve their custom dream.

This is just a few of the many ways Full-Timers benefit American society. You can talk-trash me, but I really don’t care. I’m proud to be a Full-Time RVer!

Texas Welcome Center

This is the first time we’ve been Winter Texans and we had no idea about what happens in March and April. Our Full-Timing friends neglected to tell us about all the excitement!

Some Winter Texans (also known as seasonal RVers or “snowbirds”) begin to move to their favorite campgrounds and resorts further north. They spend a couple weeks to a month or more at these campgrounds before heading for their summer destination.

Why? Reasons vary from the folks we’ve talked to, but most like to break up the long drive through Texas and visit with other Seasonals before they move on. We met  two couples from Kansas that stay in the same RV resort in the summer and drive down to Texas together in the winter. However, one couple stays in Brownsville, while the other couple spends the winter travelling the state visiting friends and family. They actually meet at this campground and stay for a couple weeks before heading back to Kansas together.

Traffic jam in the campground!

Traffic jam in the campground!

The park where we are staying (before leaving Texas ourselves) is filling up rather quickly with Seasonals waiting to leave for their summer destination. It’s been rather chaotic with old friends reuniting and new ones being made.

Now it’s Spring Break! With travellers having problems returning from Mexico and the way the economy is, many families have decided to vacation closer to home. And for most, that means heading to their favorite campground or RV resort!

Three rigs backing into sites at once.

Three rigs backing into sites at once.

The past week has been one of the busiest I’ve ever seen any campground! It is non-stop activity of campers coming in and out. At one point, I saw three rigs come in and have three sites directly beside each other. Since there was a line of traffic waiting, all three rigs began to back into their sites at the same time! It was rather exciting to watch, as there were several obstacles for each rig, as well as watching for the others backing.

So there has been plenty of excitement here as an influx of Winter Texans meet-up with Spring Breakers! 😉

 

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.

 

I received numerous emails regarding “Campground Living: Better than Reality TV” ( https://hscooper.wordpress.com/2008/12/03/campground-living/ ) and will definitely be posting more crazy, zany and just plain odd things we have seen at campgrounds throughout the years.

Yet some of the “best” experiences have actually come from working at campgrounds. If you think living in a campground is better than reality TV, then let me tell you, campground working is better than a talk show!

The field of outdoor hospitality (sounds fancy, huh?) includes working in campgrounds, parks, resorts and marinas. There are numerous areas to work – from office work to housekeeping to maintenance.

We have worked (workamped) at campgrounds and boating resorts. We have done everything from be Camp Hosts to work every area of the resort. Each experience has added another funny story to share.

What type of Camper will get this site?

What type of Camper will get this site?

The majority of memorable moments that I have had come from working the office. The great thing about the office is you get to interact with the guests more. It also takes a seasoned person to work the front desk or main check-in of a busy campground or resort. Some guests are just not happy Campers and it can be emotionally draining.

I am pretty seasoned in hospitality and can just glance at Campers coming in and know how their trip has been up until the moment they stepped through the door. I can tell if a husband and wife haven’t spoken to each other for several hundred miles, if they had their RV or tow vehicle break down en route, if they don’t get along with their children / grandchildren who tagged along, if they are really frugal Campers, if they are newbies (new to camping) or if they are Full-Time RVers.

I could tell you how I can identify these Camper from within a few moments of contact – that alone is worth a few laughs – but like a magician, I can’t reveal all my secrets!

One of my favorites is the frugal Campers. They are what I call Counter-Slappers. They are the ones who come into the office, scrutinize the surroundings and then ask you how much it is to spend the night. After you tell them, they slap the counter and loudly proclaim, “I’ve been to every campground in this country and I have never paid that much to spend the night!”  If it’s not the nightly rate, they grumble about something else – extra person fee, Cable fee, dog fee, you-name-it… Counter-Slappers find any reason to make a fool of themselves. If these folks appeared on a talk show, they would be the ones throwing chairs or flashing the audience.

Full-hookups usually means "full-hookups".

Full-hookups usually means “full-hookups”.

It wasn’t until I worked at a RV park in the state of Washington that I had to add a sub-category, which I call extreme Counter-Slappers. These are the Campers (or Day Users in the case of two ECSs I encountered) who slap the counter and then pronounce that everything is a conspiracy or some sort of personal plot against them. These are the talk show type that make you shake your head and say, “Where did they dig this guy up?”

One of my favorite types is the new Camper. There are three types of Newbies: Questioner, Know-it-All and the Helpless. These are the folks you would roll your eyes at if you saw them on a talk show.

The Questioner obviously questions everything. My favorite has been the woman who asked, “Does full-hookups mean we get full-hookups?”  I like this type – they create some humorous table-conservation that evening!

Now the Know-it-All really tests my patience. These are new Campers who have either spoken to someone who told them things about camping or they read a book or magazine article about camping and are suddenly experts. Like the man who told me that no hookups (it was a dry camp) was okay for him and his new 40 ft. motorhome. He was adamant he didn’t need hookups. I gave in and registered him. Twenty minutes later he came back and said, “You said you had no hookups, but where is the electricity and sewer?”

Although they can be tiring and needy, you have to love the Helpless Newbies! My personal favorite was the woman who came up and told me “My toilet stinks!” I asked her if they had dumped their black water tank (sewer holding tank) and she told me they didn’t need to dump “any black water”, just get rid of their toilet smell. 😉

But these are just a few Campers you encounter working in the office. There are other types and you encounter several more types working outside in the campground! Some can be rather annoying, but again, it makes for great story-telling when it’s all over. Who needs talk shows when you work in a campground?!

If you have decided to give up the stick-house and become a Full-Timer, the first thing you may experience is a mix of relief and doubt. Do not worry! The stress that comes with a house is gone. You are indeed houseless – but you aren’t homeless! Your RV is now home and home will always be where you park it!

And just because your home is on wheels does not mean you must constantly move it. Many campgrounds, RV parks and resorts accept “residents” – folks who live there either seasonally (usually six months) or yearly. Many Full-Timers start out this way to get used to the RV lifestyle and get a better understanding of the RV community.

If you decide after a period of time you cannot live without a stick-house,  newer RV-Home communities have townhouses or duplexes that have RV garages beside them for those who travel regularly or seasonally and want a stick-house for the remainder of the year.  Many RV parks and storage facilities have areas where they store RVs. If the RV lifestyle is agreeable and you decide to just be Seasonal RVers you may find that a RV park with annual rates is ideal for you. Annual rates usually (each RV park has different rules) include six months of living in the RV (in the RV park with full-hookups) and six months of closed storage (no utilities). You do not move your RV, it stays on the same site. The only thing you do is close it up for six months. This is an option for those who like the same area and intend to go back without the hassle of having to take the RV.

If you have a larger motorhome, fifth-wheel or travel trailer, having a secure RV park to “store” it in is ideal if you do not want to drive it far or enjoy a particular area. It will allow you to maintain your tow vehicle and in the case of a motorhome, have a tow vehicle.

It is a big step to give up your stick-house, yet it can be emotionally and financially rewarding. In today’s society, having a stick-house is not the investment it was years ago. Having a home-on-wheels provides you the essentials and an opportunity to experience other “neighborhoods”.

When you decide to make the move from a stick-house to a recreational vehicle, there are many things to consider. Prices vary on RVs, but most are very affordable with the majority being much, much cheaper than stick-house! If you buy used, chances are you can have low payments (or even pay for it in full). The only problem with used is that you have to be very careful and look for things you’d take for granted with a new one. But I’ll get into that later if you decide on used. For now, lets consider things that should help you narrow down that perfect home-on-wheels.

1) Driving – Are you okay with driving/towing? Can you back up? If not, you may consider contacting your local RV dealership and see if they recommend a driving school (or perhaps they offer lessons) for a newbie RVer. If that isn’t an issue, than you need to consider other driving issues such as a tow vehicle. If you decide on a fifth-wheel or travel trailer (and, of course, a truck-camper) then you will need a good pickup truck to tow your RV. If you decide on a motorhome (Class A, Class C or a van) then you may require a vehicle to tow behind (either on a trailer or tow dolly). And consider very carefully if you choose not to have a tow vehicle – especially if you decide on a larger motorhome. Everytime you require groceries or supplies, you’d have to pack up everything and drive your “home” into town. Unless you have other options – motorcycle, bicycle, hiking – to get to a nearby town, you should consider having a “vehicle”. Another driving factor to consider is that your family can drive it. If something happens to you, could your spouse or travel companions drive it?

2) Size – What size of RV do you need? It depends on if you are going to be Full-Timers or Seasonals, as well as how many people are living in it. If you are going to go full-time, then everything you own will be inside. That means you need storage, as well as enough room to function. We have a two-bedroom fifth-wheel. Everyone has their own “space” – no crowding, no struggling to store things. Smaller rigs may seem to small for you, but don’t forget, the more slides you have, the larger the rig becomes. And driving-wise, how big of rig can you handle? Quite honestly, some roadways (especially in the mountains) are just not made for larger RVs. We recently towed our rig (about 53′ in length with the long-bed pickup) through Death Valley National Park and you talk about having a death-grip on the steering wheel! So keep in mind that although bigger is roomier, it is a lot more to handle on the road and even inside smaller campgrounds.

3) Price – Can you afford new? New is a better option for those who can’t handle any repairs that may come their way. Face it, RVs weren’t made to live in yearround (no matter what the dealer tells you). If the refrigerator goes out – you just can’t walk into Sears and buy one. No, it needs repaired at a dealership. Minor things do happen to new RVs. Rarely do I hear anyone not having a few problems within the first year. Like a stick-house, RVs require maintainance. The other good thing about new is that you can get one ordered as you like (colors, extra features) for either no extra money or just the “extras” you add to it. So if you love blue and want it blue – you can have it that way. Just talk to your local dealer about it. Used are a great way to get into Full-Timing and often you can get a rig that would cost a great deal of money for less. A great example is a Rexall which can cost $200,000. You can get used ones for around $40-50,000. Sounds like a lot, right? Walk into one and then you won’t bulk at the price. 😉 The only drawback from used RVs is that you just don’t know what is going to happen and what the previous owners did. If you have a mechanic or friend who knows about RVs, you may ask them to help inspect any used one you are considering buying.

4) Storage – Like size, this depends on if you are going Full-Time. If everything you own is in the RV, then you need storage. And I don’t mean sticking your frying pans in an outside compartment. I mean real, functional storage space. There are extra things that will eat your storage space before you even get it home. Washer and dryers are the worst. Yes, there is some benefit to having a washer and dryer if you don’t mind shutting down everything to run them AND the noise doesn’t drive you out of your rig. Moisture is another issue with them… but it’s things like this you should consider. Washer and dryers are placed in a storage closet – if you add them – you’ve lost valuable closet space. The majority of campgrounds have laundries (that work much faster and more quiet than yours would) so don’t feel pressured to get a washer and dryer in your rig. Dinette booths versus tables is another space saver. Sure, dinette tables look nice in RVs, yet booths allow under-seat storage! I could spend all day on storage; however, I think this is enough information to make you realize you need to be aware of storage areas.

5) Slides – Slides are probably the second-best invention of my time (spray butter being number one!) and the more you have, the more room adds on to your rig. Yet they have major downfalls. Number one is that most campgrounds (even those that advertise Big Rig Friendly) aren’t slide-friendly. You may find that your slide(s) can’t go out because of trees, utility posts, cement barriers and other campground obstacles. This can be quite frustrating, especially if you have wide and/or large slides like we do. Another thing to consider with slides is that they aren’t as heavily insulated as the rest of your camper. So if you are going to a colder region, you need to keep in mind that you may need to leave your slides in to stay warm. Which reminds me – slides don’t have electrical outlets or furnace/air-condition ducts. Keep this in mind if you are in a hot-cold region. Slides can also be a pain if you can’t put them out. If you are traveling down the road and need to use the bathroom, can you even get to your bathroom? Some slides block off areas of your rig and you can’t use them. So keep in mind what your rig would look like with the slides in – could you get to your bathroom? Bedroom? Stove? Refrigerator? If you were boondocking (or dry camping) a few days with the slides in, could you still live in your camper? These are things to keep in mind when RV shopping.

6) Travel – How far are you going in your rig? Will you drive it across the country or will you just drive it a few states away? Make sure you can handle it and that your routes (like mountains) are something your rig can handle. We’ve driven down roads that have brought our curtains down and broke the jar of dill pickles. If you are going to take your rig down the road make sure the cabinets and refrigerator has good locks, that sliding doors have snaps, etc… Also, if you travel to a colder region (or even if it gets colder in a warmer region) that your rig is well-insulated and that you have the means or the “extras” as far as it goes to protecting your pipes/hoses from freezing. Many RVs have “polar packages” that you can upgrade and get tank heaters, etc… Well worth the extra money.

7) Extras – Most salespeople will push whatever they have on the lot, but if they know you are interested in a new one (especially custom-built) they will push the extra features. You don’t need most of them, yet there are a few that you should consider. A generator is a must in my opinion – especially a propane one. It will cost extra money, but you’ll find it money well spent during your first major outage. No smelly gas tanks to drag around – just regular propane which you’ll use in your RV anyway! And make sure you get a switch to turn the generator on from inside your RV. Those stormy or cold nights you are without power, all you have to do is crawl out of bed, flip the switch and your generator is on. No fuss and anyone can do it! Another extra is the polar package (if you are traveling far or in colder regions). Flip a switch and your water tank will be heated! No wrapping hoses or dripping faucets. The central vacuum feature sounds silly, but believe it or not, it’s actually quite handy. I am amazed at how much cleaner our carpets stay. It is noisy running it, but that’s only for a few minutes at a time.

That’s some of the things you should consider when looking for a RV. As I mentioned, if you are considering used, there are some additional things to look for and I’ll get to that a bit later.

Meanwhile, think of things you’d like to have in your perfect RV. Do you like TV and movies and want to sit and watch them from a sofa or a recliner? Do you like plants? They have optional greenhouse windows in RVs… Entertain? They have wine racks and mini-bars… Think about what you NEED and what you would LIKE to have and write them down. Make a check-list for each RV you visit that way you see how close it comes to your perfect RV.

Slides can be an issue

Slides can be an issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATED: February 13, 2012

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