Updated for April 2013
This is about our own experiences preparing for the full-time RVing lifestyle and the day to day issues you might encounter once on the road. I'm sure there are many ways to approach this and that you'll have different circumstances and thus different experiences, but maybe our experiences can help you prepare for your own adventure.
Since 1992, we were living above Boulder, Colorado in a home with expansive views of the Arapahoe Peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the most amazing seats from which to view the beautiful and intriguing weather shows that nature would put on in the mountains before us (12 miles away). Winds, snow, rain, rainbows, clouds, moon sets, sunsets, crystal clear night skies and even comets continually danced upon this natural stage. Why would we want to leave this place??? I was working from home, having time to savor the beautiful mountains and Donna was doing what she wanted, working in Boulder.
But, the house was expensive, the heating bills in the winter once hit $600 for one month, and I was getting a bit itchy to move on to something new and exciting.
In 1996 I wanted to go to Alaska to do photography for an interactive CDROM about the Alaskan Highway. I was able to borrow a 24' Winnebago, Class 'C' motorhome from a rental place in Colorado Springs, CO in exchange for sponsorship and ads on my CDROM. I went alone, with my Golden Retriever, Prince. I left in May and found it too "white" to get a good representative set of images for my CDROM. I needed to leave later. This was my first time at RVing. A bit late in life, but better late than never! I was quite satisfied with the cozy little Class "C". It was self contained and I could sleep above the cab and Prince slept on the couch, or on the floor. I remember buckling my Apple Mac 2SI computer on the table. I used it (with a long phone cord) to communicate my e-mail missives about the trip whenever I could find a compatible phone (using an acoustic coupler). Anyway, it was a good trip, and lasted about 1 month. I was glad to get home. (Read my Alaska trip reports here.)
The next year I couldn't afford an RV, so I rented a new Dodge Caravan and repeated the trip in June 1997. I took out the seats and made a bed in back. It was not as comfortable, but still a great adventure to Alaska. I was definitely missing the RV on that trip. (The CDROM never got made because I decided the photography was not sufficient quality and the effort to market it was too much, based on recent experience. This is a conclusion that should have been made before the trips, but...)
Finally, inspired by my wanderings, my wife and I decided to try a vacation in a large RV. We rented a 37' Damon Challenger in 1998 for a trip to Moab, UT. We spent a week and really enjoyed the freedom and the luxury of being able to stay near interesting places and have the comforts of home. By July of that year we shopped around and financed a used 1994 37' Winnebago with tag wheels and only 16k miles on it. It was very nicely appointed inside and we were pretty happy with it. One of the first trips we made was from Colorado to California, to pick up my daughter. We took quite a few trips around Colorado and the West. During the hard winters in Colorado (at 8250 feet), I kept it heated using a large auxiliary propane tank and used it as an evening escape from the house and TV to read, write and think.
In June 1999, My wife, daughter, Prince (my Golden Retriever) and myself took the RV on a summer trip to Arkansas, New Orleans, Florida, Washington DC, and Indiana, almost 3500 miles. It was a lot of fun and I had been hooked on the RVing lifestyle by then. Several other trips to California, Nevada, etc sealed our fate. By June of 2001, our daughter had graduated from High School, and I had lost my job. This was a real eye-opener in my life. It was the first time I had been "let go" of job. I took this as a sign to change things in my life. It was a natural thing to consider RVing full time. I had lived in the beautiful mountains of Colorado for almost 10 years and I was ready for a change. However, it was difficult to decide to leave our beautiful home and the fantastic view from our bedroom window.
We tried to think of ways we could support ourselves on the road. We don't have a retirement plan and it was too early anyway to draw on it if we did. Donna had recently completed a Medical Transcription degree and getting some work and by 2000 I was starting to get some consulting work from a friend for a large textbook company doing various multimedia projects. I thought that a company that would create marketing materials for RV'ers and RV Manufacturers and dealers would fit well into our plans. We could travel to our clients, and gain "on the road" experience applicable to the job. So, I created a prototype product, called the RVROM. It was an interactive CDROM that helped RV'ers learn about RVing, and manufacturers and dealers to "sell" their coaches. It was meant to be "meaty" with lots panoramas of inside RV's, suggestions for travel, how-to's etc. We made several visits to dealers and got some interest, but mainly educated them on the technology so they could do it themselves. It was perhaps just a little too soon to cash in on the use of computers and RVs. Anyway, that was a year or so of wasted effort and a disappointment. Meanwhile, my work from the book company was increasing. We also had hopes of using the internet to allow Donna to obtain and disperse her Medical Transcription work. In any case, the RVROM helped cement our desire for RVing full-time. We had photographed some beautiful million dollar RVs and that just made our appetite even greater for the gypsy life.
As part of the decision process, we made up some goals that might guide our new lifestyle. We also wrote "plan" that was basically a free-thinking list of things we would do while RVing, including a lot of ideas for what we could do to earn money. The list was probably not as important as the exercise that went into making it.
Not being one to take a long time to make a decision, we decided to sell the house and started by getting rid of 35 years of "stuff". Throwing away years of accumulation was hard to do. It felt like I was throwing away things that made up my past. I remember throwing away several computers. No one wanted them, but each had a place in my memories of career's past. Giving my extensive book collection to the library was a real downer. We had several yard sales and got rid of most of our furniture that way. It was a painful experience. We saved some stuff under the basement of a friend's home in Boulder, CO.
We decided to sell the house ourselves. The 6 to 8% commission was too hard to let go to an agent. Unfortunately for us and a LOT of other people, the events on September 11th, 2001 changed our plans. The house was in the final stages of being sold and the couple backed out due to those events. We eventually sold it the next year, (after renting it for 6 months to a bunch of students (ugh!!), but at a $40k loss! But.. we left in October of that year (2001) for a life of full-timing in our Winnebago. By the time we decided to go full-timing, we had put almost 40,000 miles on the RV.
Preparing for the switch.
The first time we spent anytime more than a week in one place in the RV together was for a job I had obtained photographing panoramas for the Draper Natural History Museum in Cody, WY in the late summer of 2001. We hadn't quite started full-timing but were preparing the house to sell. We stayed in a little RV Park for a couple months. That RV Park reminded me too much of the stereotype of "trailer trash" that surrounds RVing by the unknowing. I had a few doubts about RVing based on that experience. But.. other than the lack of cultured lawns and upper crust neighbors, there was nothing wrong with it. I just had to adjust to living with a wider genre of lifestyles and different types of people... and I could move anytime I didn't like it. RVing often cuts through the stratification you often find in neighborhoods, often sorted by affordability of property and racial preferences.
Phone and Internet
The first time we lived in the RV, other than for a vacation, gave us plenty to think about in terms of surviving on the road. We had fun buying little things to make life easier, to store or hold things, and the beginning of adapting a lifestyle appropriate to the RV, esp. eating, sleeping, and getting along together.
Back in 2001, before the general availability of the cell phone, the lack of a telephone was the first inconvenience we ran into. We had bought a bulky Motorola Bag phone. However, it was expensive to use and the coverage was spotty, plus it was getting a bit out of date as it was an analog phone and digital service was starting to be installed around the country. I needed a phone mainly for email and faxing but also to communicate with my work. We called the phone company and were able to get a land line installed in our RV while in Cody. (This was before cell phones were affordable for all of us, and before there was much in the way of cell coverage in out of the way places like Cody, WY and way before DSL.) Donna went back to Nederland to clean the house while I stayed and photographed in the mountains outside Cody and Yellowstone (tough work).
I came to realize that it was going to be difficult to work and live in the RV without access to the Internet on a regular basis. I started looking around the internet for a mobile solution. This was before wireless access points were plentiful. I found a company called MotoSat in Salt Lake City that had some plans for a mobile satellite solution for internet access and talked to the President (Jim Pendleton) about their future plans. He assured me that some initial units that were automatic using Hughes 2-way satellite technology would be available in the end of October 2001. (I had been using the one-way Hughes satellite dish for a while in Nederland.) I was able to sign up to be a beta tester for MotoSat (and get a nice discount on the first system). We drove to Salt Lake City in November 2001 for our installation. It was exciting to be on the leading edge of this new mobile technology. It was also a real pain at times while the bugs were shaken out of the system. But. I decided to have an attitude of being a pioneer. In fact, I think that was the attitude I adopted about the whole full-time RVing experience. I didn't expect everything to work right the first time, or all the time, and I was willing to do some work to get it to work, myself. Since the initial install I've upgraded the electronics to the Datastorm D3 controller (for positioning the antenna) and the HughesNet 7000 modem. I pay $79 per month and I was pretty satisfied with the service I get from MotoSat (who also served as my ISP). In 2013, Motosat quit doing business, and the changes in Internet technologies have made the HughesNet solution less desirable. Old equipment, slow speed relative to Verizon, expensive compared to current mobile solutions, and no support makes the Motosat/HughesNet solution now undesirable. However, until I find a good solution (thinking Verizon) that works all over the west, I'll stick with it. My ISP is now a small company in Texas that took over that aspect of the business.
Now, of course, we have two cell phones. We use Verizon's Americas Choice Family plans so that Donna and I can keep in contact when we travel apart (usually going out to do photography). We also have a wireless repeater for our cell phones in the RV. It allows both of us to use our cell phones at the same time wandering around the RV and getting the benefits of a one to two bar boost in signal in the marginal areas. I have prepared a page about this with pictures here. Now, in 2013, I have a Bionic Smartphone that substitutes as a pocket computer as well. The Google Maps, tracking, and internet search capabilities are extremely important in the way we plan our trips. Using Google Maps and Street View helps plan turn-around places, appropriate roads and places to visit with great ease. The main issue we have is with the increasing cost of such service on a decreasing budget.
Another important item for full timing that became painfully obvious in the early days of RVing was the MAIL. The post office isn't set up to forward mail dynamically (It could however..I have several ideas.) How were we going to stay in touch with our debtors: telephone, life insurance, car insurance, health insurance, direcTV, doctor's etc? While using the RV part time, we ran into several problems paying bills due to this problem. If we didn't solve it quickly, our credit record would suffer a big hit. At first, we had a friend in Nederland go to the post office every week and we'd call her with our address and she'd send it. We paid her for this, but we felt like we were imposing on a friend. This lasted about 6 months before we found Alternative Resources. They were setup to provide mail forwarding services for a reasonable prices, plus help us set up South Dakota as our residence. Another thing we needed to do (and this took a couple years), is to slow down the flood of bills, magazines, junk mail, etc that comes to us. Alternative Resources throws away the obvious junk mail for us, but we had to dramatically cut down on catalogs, magazines and other heavy items that would cost us plenty to forward. In 2013, Alternative Resources still remains a great solution for us. We send an email and they quickly respond to forwarding our important mail whereever we are. (We are on a 2 week schedule.) We most often use General Delivery as our destination and have had little trouble. Occasionally, you need to prompt the Post Office people to look a little harder to find a package that you know has shipped. Plus, Alternative Resources has added the Priority Mail tracking to their service so I can go on the web and find out if the mail package is actually at the Post Office ready for pickup.
It is important to be legally associated with a State in the United States. You can't just be "on the road". You have to have an address, and most people don't know what to do with you (legally) if you say you travel full time around the continent. So, it behooves you to find a place that has the best advantages for full-timer RVing. We researched this and decided upon South Dakota. Colorado was our current home, but since we sold our house we had no reason to remain a "citizen" of Colorado, especially given that their State taxes and insurance were much higher than South Dakota. There is no state income tax in South Dakota, and the sales tax is 3% (good for buying an RV), auto insurance is much cheaper, etc. So we applied for a drivers license, drove to the border town and met a representative of the state on a proscribed date and got our "residency papers." We also arranged to license our RV in SD. The license fee was a lot less than in Colorado for our RV and our automobile. With our address now at Alternative Resources in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, we are residents there. All we needed to do was stay overnight in Sioux Falls to qualify for voting (which we eventually did a couple years later). We have had to renew our Driver's License every 5 years by physcially driving there from Idaho (where we spend our summers). It's a bit of an inconvenience, but it only takes 2 days the the gasoline to get there plus the cost of a motel room.
Management of our finances was another challenge confronting us on the road. One of the first trips we took from Colorado to California (before full-timing) was a financial disaster. While the details are fuzzy now, a payroll check didn't hit when we expected, or Donna didn't arrange for it to be deposited and we incurred about $550 worth of "bounced check" charges. We were gone and didn't know it until we got home 3 weeks later. Further, paying bills on time was a challenge. By the time we would get the bill, it would often be "overdue". So we were in risk of getting a bad credit record, and incurring unnecessary late charges due to the late arrival of our mail. So, we decided to look for a bank that was "National" (our bank was local) and had as much on-line support as possible. We settled on Wells Fargo. There really isn't a national bank (even though a bunch of banks have that as their name? I understand Bank of America is another "national" choice, ,and now in 2013, Chase Bank is fairly ubiquitous). Since on-line banking was just in it's infancy, we first just tried to arrange for automatic payment of as many bills as possible with the creditors (phone, TV, Health, RV, loans, etc). Eventually, we signed up for Wells Fargo's bill-pay and now virtually every bill is either automatically withdrawn by the company or paid by Wells Fargo according to our instructions. We have also tried to get all of our statements (bank, credit-card, investments, etc.) on-line, to eliminate more postage. Our biggest improvement in banking was when we got our main client to agree to automatic deposit of our paychecks. No more hunting for Wells Fargo branches or receiving payroll checks 3 weeks after they were mailed. Things are good now in our "bill payment department" (except the fact that we have them to begin with)... and, Walmart is our cash banker. We use our check card/Visa to withdraw cash, usually at Walmart.
Driving a large motorhome presents a problem with transportation when you arrive at your camp. They are too big and time-consuming to use as local transportation. So, you need to tow a car (a dingy), or have some other transportation alternative. Of course those with fifth-wheel trailers just use their trucks to get around. This can be a bit cumbersome (and expensive at 7 to 12 mpg and $4 per gallon) when you have a really large truck (I've seen some as big as semi-truck cabs.)
When we first started to RV with our Winnebago (before full-timing) I was satisfied with carrying a Honda 125 scooter on the back of the RV. I used a scooter hauler attachment and that worked well. It wasn't convenient for long distances, but it was a nice way to explore an area nearby. I used it extensively in Rocky Mountain National Park when visiting there for instance. But during cold weather or rain it just didn't take care of the problem. It was too small to take on freeways or to go faster than about 35 mph. I know some people carry larger cycles (250cc or more), and some even have trailers with Harleys in them. A side note:. I thought it was peculiar that Colorado required me to take a written and driving test to get a Motorcycle license for my little scooter but not for the huge 37' RV that resembled a semi-truck! Seems to me that the RV would be a much greater danger than the scooter to the rest of the driving public. (Some states are starting to require a class B license for motorhomes over 26,000lbs. See this compilation of requirements by state.)
When we decided to go full-time, we needed a car to tow. We had 3 vehicles, but none would be a good dingy due to the way the transmission worked. You want to be able to have the car free-wheeling, detached from the transmission. My favorite vehicle was my 1989 RED 530i BMW. I knew it would not tow and I looked around for a trailer for it. In addition to the added expense of a trailer, I figured storing the heavy trailer at every stop would turn into a real pain. I reluctantly decided I would have to give it up for a more suitable vehicle. This was probably the hardest thing for me to give up to accomplish our RVing lifestyle. I had purchased it new and picked it up at the factory in Munich Germany in 1989, drove it around Europe for six months, drove 140 mph on the autobahn, enjoyed the smooth handling and it was in beautiful shape, even after 11 years. I tried to sell it myself and failed. The time to leave approached and we didn't have a tow vehicle. In a fit of desperation (I hate telling this), I went to the local Jeep dealer and traded it, my wifes' 1984 BMW 320i for a 1995 Jeep. He gave me the Jeep and $750 for a tow setup and I gave him the two BMWs. Never a worse trade in history I suspect (for me). I try not to think about that.
So we purchased a tow package and attached the 1995 Four-wheel drive Jeep to the back of the Winnebago and were ready to roll.
Generally, this solution was good. The Jeep allows you to put the transmission into a neutral position and the Jeep free-wheels. It allowed me to explore a lot of back-country and off-road trails that the BMW would not have permitted.
One thing I've found is that towing a car is very hard on the tires. I'm not sure how to solve this problem, but they don't last as long due to uneven wear. You'll also want a brake system to apply brakes to the tow car to give you a shorter stopping distance. Some states and Canada require their use. We have the Brake Buddy. It uses a vacuum system powered by the car's battery (a problem) and an inertial sensor to apply the brake pedal.
Since then, we traded our 1995 Jeep for a 2004 Jeep Cherokee. The 1995 Jeep was developing too many problems and I didn't want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere without transportation. It's funny... the 10 year old Jeep seemed like a junker and my 11 year old BMW 530i seem brand new. I guess the US auto industry still has a lot to learn when it comes to making a quality vehicle.
Although my Segway might better be placed under the category of Toys, I include it here under transportation. I used it to "glide" around the RV parks (many are a couple miles in length), go on trails (when I'm not up to walking), photo trips, and just having fun. I carried it on the back of my Jeep using a Segway carrier hitch. I actually owned three Segways thanks to two failures. The last Segway I owned was better designed than the first two. However, I finally decided that the amount of use I was getting from the Segway was not enough to account for the inconvenience of loading it every time we moved and protecting it from the elements when we stopped. Further, I decided that I needed to walk more to keep my weight down. So in early 2013, I sold it and said goodbye to a great device that I certainly will miss from time to time.
One challenge to RVing is finding out how to deal with a pet on the road. We've had 2 dogs and a cat (not all at once) go with us on the road. Personalities dictate their behavior to this way of living. Our cat was old and pretty much could have done without it. She hid under the couch the entire time. Both of our Golden Retrievers adapted quite well. Our last dog, Reggie, enjoyed his daily walks and sniffing the "pee-mail' he found on the rocks, bushes, and light poles around the RV parks. He behaved great at night, rarely waking us up barking, didn't go to the bathroom on our carpet, was generally well behaved (and trained) and was a pleasure to be with. A dog gives you ample opportunity to walk (we walked 3 to 6 miles per day), have someone to be nice to you when your partner is sulking, and someone to guard the motorhome. On the negative side, you can't go on long excursions outside the RV without taking the dog, or leave it alone for long periods, you can't walk on trails in National Parks, you must carry plenty of dog food, be willing to pay for a Vet when necessary, carry the proper "shots" papers, buy expensive flea/tick/heartworm medicine and make sure the dog is fed and walked frequently even when both of you are sick or feeling bad. You also have to be aware of your dogs behavior when you leave him and make sure he is not disturbing the neighbors by barking constantly. If you are willing to do these things, consider a pet, otherwise, don't. Unfortunately, at age 12 our beloved Reggie passed away in May, 2012. He is a huge loss for us and we are very carefully considering whether to get another canine companion. We understand the committment this is to our time, our freedom and our finances. My biggest recommendation for anyone wishing to RV with a pet is to take the time to train your family how to treat the dog and train the dog to behave properly. You don't want him to escape into traffic or into the wilderness, never to be seen again. Training Reggie was the best use of my time I could imagine. Trained to hand signals for distance and high pitched signals through my teeth, he would come to me on a nod and beckon at any time. We will sorely miss and never forget Reggie, our beautiful Golden Retreiver. If you have time, Reggie wrote a blog for almost a year (http://www.barksentry.com/blog/) detailing his experiences on the road in an RV.
Work (or how to pay for this)
Some of us have to worry about how to pay for this adventurous life. (Some don't.) We did. When we started, we did not have a retirement plan, were not of retirement age (no Social Security) and both our parents had long since quit paying for our expenses. We knew we would have to earn a living while on the road. We came up with a large list of options that gave us a good feeling that we'd be able to make it, one way or the other. The basic plan was SIMPLIFY. Drop expenses as much as possible. We did this by selling the house, paying off any loans we had and starting with a clean slate (actually we had the RV loan when we started). My wife had just finished a degree qualifying her for Medical Transcription work. We had hoped we could use the internet to do this work on the road. I had some consulting work from a client for computer work that was not guaranteed for any future period. As time has shown, we were able to make it with my consultant work, even paying an expensive college degree education for my daughter along the way. Until recently I worked about 50% or less of the time and earned a decent living. This situation is now over, thanks to many changes in the technology and foreign (off-shore) job sourcing, but we still have the option of looking for more consulting work, being more aggressive with our sales for my photography, selling my Bark Sentry software, further reducing our expenses and using Social Security, and doing some work camping. With my computer skills and photography skills I can usually find something to trade with an RV Park owner for the rent. And if things go really bad, I could try to find a real job, however low paying, and stay in one place for a while (shudder!!!!) After 12 years of RVing this has not been required. There are plenty of books, internet sites and other people with experiences to explore the subject of earning a living on the road. Use your special skills, even if all they are is a willingness to work at anything and do a better job than others.
Volunteering is a good way to earn your space rent and keep yourself busy. I currently help the RedRock RV Park near West Yellowstone and the Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge in Montana using my web and photography skills. These jobs help keep meaning in your life and might bring a little income as well.
Obviously there were concerns over how we were to get our medical and dental work attended to while on the road, and what would happen if we got really sick. Although we've not encountered any near death experiences yet, we have been able to deal with this through several strategies. This is a pretty personal area and each person will have to solve it to their own satisfaction. Health insurance is VERY expensive. When I quit my last real job, the option I had was to assume my policy for my wife and myself and pay about $1100 per month..gulp! We decided to find something else, but it was still hard to find anything that worked on the road (allowing coverage all over the USA) and was reasonable in price (usually about $650 per month). We settled on a company that insures us against major medical problems in a hospital, but doesn't pay for your daily drug dose, or office visits. This first cost us about $350 per month. We paid this for 4 years, and had no claims (I guess, thanks for that!) Since then, they raised the monthly rates to $550 and we canceled. We then basically self-insured for office visits and drugs. Using a Canadian drug company for our expensive drugs, Walmart or Costco for the cheaper drugs and getting 6 to 12 months supply kept the prices manageable. For those of you at Medicare age, (as we are now in 2013), that helps a lot. We can now see doctors where before we would hesitate long and hard. Finding a good supplement or Advantage plan is difficult for us due to the paucity of the offerings in South Dakota.
We have used family clinics on the road a few times when we just had to have antibiotics or some expert opinion. Seeing a Nurse practitioner or a Doctor's assistant can keep the price of the visit reasonable. We also pay a bit more attention to preventative care for both our bodies and our teeth. I did have a "tooth from hell" for 3.5 years that just recently got fixed after seeing 5 specialists, having the wrong tooth pulled, spending $3500 and enduring much agony. That was somewhat due to the inability to continue seeing one dentist throughout the "diagnostic" phase of 3.5 years.
We also use the many medical sources on the Internet to help us learn more about treatments, prices, and drugs. (Of course, use that resource sparingly and only use trusted sources.)
Toys, Fun and Games
I'm sure that I was not the only person with a house full of toys that kept me occupied when not working. I certainly was concerned about having to give up the toys for this new lifestyle. Some of that was expected, to be traded for new things to do on the road. Well, as it turns out, I have much of those toys with me and most people find a way to bring their toys along. In my case, photography, music, computing, video and reading were my interests. Notice that most of those don't take up much space (yea, right...). Of course my thousand books, vinyl records, and photographs, video tapes, and saxophones had to go. Just not enough room. However, I replaced them all with more compact versions. For listening to music, I replaced the 600 unit vinyl record collection (which in 2012 I sold for a few pennies) with CD's, and eventually digital music versions of them and similar digital versions of music bought over the web. I use the iPod, iPad, Android smartphone, computers and XM Satellite radio to listen to music with several specialized pairs of headphones and speakers instead of large (and heavy) component hi-fi systems. I now have access to 1000 times more music in the RV than I did when we left the house (thanks mostly to the coming of age of digital music).
For photography, it was sad to abandon my thousands of photo prints to the dark space of paid storage, but I purchased (several) digital cameras and went to work on making new ones. One day, when time permits (maybe never), I'll continue digitizing those old photos. I have been able to digitize my Dads collection of old family photos and many of my families film collection as of 2013. I often wonder what my kids will do with 50,000 digital images. I guess that's their problem. Now I continue to do photography and enjoy it more because I am always have the opportunity to visit new and beautiful places. I have several places that I share my photos with family, friends and fellow RVers (http://photos.rvinteractive.com contains most of my best photos. They can actually be purchased for a variety of uses. I have a (almost) daily record of my photo activites on Facebook in 2013 (http://facebook.com/WildAndScenicPhotos), and a general directory of my work at (http://www.WildAndScenicPhotos.com).
My wind instrument playing continues, but now I use an electronic wind instrument. Here's a picture of my friend and fantastic player/composer, Michael Kibbe practising. He has an oboe here and I'm playing the WX7 (which is connected by wire to a VL1M synthesizer that allows it to sound like a reasonable rendition of a Saxophone, clarinet, flute, etc.) The advantage over the Saxophones (I had an alto and a tenor) is I can use earphones, record music directly, and experiment with a large number of different sounds. It's fun. I also have an 88 key electronic piano set up in the corner of the RV for doodling around when I get the urge. Since purchasing the WX7, I have purchased an AKAI EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and play it exclusively now. It has no moving parts and the fingering is done electrostatically. I find that it is more sensitive to my breath and the fingering is easier. It did take a few months to get used to the octave rollers and the general feel, but now it's great. Plus, the advancement in realistic sounding intrument software has made the playing experience more enjoyable. My favorite digital sound instruments are made by a company in Sweden called Wallander Instruments. I can load a bass clarinet sound, or saxophone sound and sound reasonably good due to their rich and realistic sounds. Here's a pic of my friend Michael Kibbe playing his 50 year old saxophone and myself with the EWI. I'm also experimenting with using the iPad sheet music apps to play digital sheet music (instead of the hundred pounds of sheet music I carry). I also have a bluetooth controlled page turner pedal that works with the iPad apps to make playing an ease from the iPad. (It just needs to be a little bigger for my failing eyesight.)
And for reading.. bookshelf space is very limited and weight is a consideration of the full-time RVer. I did have to donate most of my books to the library, but now my wife and I still read, and order most books from Amazon.com (usually the used ones), then give them away or trade them after we read them. So we probably read more now than ever. With the increasing availability of on-line books, and the availability of Google, I never have to go lacking for an answer to anything. With the advent of the Kindle, the iPad, the Sony Reader, and many new e-book readers and apps, having a paperless reading library is easy. Amazon.com and many other sites will sell you almost any book in e-book format. Also, there are over 2.5 million free books available on the web, albeit older books. But hey, they knew how to write 50 to 100 years ago too.
We also have several computers in the RV. They are used variously for work, music, internet browsing, photography work, shopping, banking, etc. The iPad and the Android smartphone are used in similar but reduced roles. They are all connected to the internet. So.. we have everything we need to support my consulting work and our play (including scanners, printers, etc.)
My wife likes to sew. Although we don't have a place for the sewing machine permanently setup, she can use the dining table and leave it set up for extended periods when we stop. We have met people that sew for a living and devote a lot of RV living space and storage space to their work. She also loves to bead. This is a good RVing hobby since it doesn't take much space. Others in RVs love to knit. Yarn is compressible and light so it makes an ideal hobby for the RVer.
We tried the Wii game console from Ninetendo. While I've resisted buying any such toys in the past, the bowling, golf and pool games convinced me. What is unique about this game is that it simulates the physical act of playing the games using a remote wireless hand-held device. So, you bowl just like you'd do so in the bowling alley. The simulation is uncannily real. The gold is pretty good too. Swing like you'd swing on the course. The device reads the twists of your wrist, the strength of your swing or throw, etc. Really amazing. So, if you pass our RV and see two people seemingly throwing a bowling ball down the alley of their RV and hear the Pins falling, you'll know you've not gone crazy, but they have a Wii. Of course, if you are a heavy gamer, you'll have a variety of other such devices which are ideal for use in an RV. We just don't play games much.
The point is, we didn't really have to give up anything, just adapted what we had to fit to the new lifestyle.
No one wants to give up their favorite entertainment when living on the road. No need to do so. We enjoy watching TV, especially movies and some television series. We first used a DirecTV dish and set it up at every evening stop (it took me about 15 to 20 minutes). Then when we got the MotoSat Datastorm dish, we got a "bird-on-a-wire" transponder attachment for it that allowed us to get DirectTV AND Internet from the same dish. So when our automatic pointing equipment found the Internet satellite, it would be also pointing at the TV satellite. That was easy. Our Alfa has a built in automatic TV dish that we use as a backup. If you tell DirecTV that you are a full-time RVer, they will allow you to purchase the national feeds for the networks (otherwise you'll be stuck with your local channels and when you leave the area...bye bye local TV and national networks). It might take a couple weeks to get this authorized, so apply in advance.
Today (in 2013), with HD TV, you'll need additional dishes, transponders and decoder boxes. We have now changed out our old original tube TVs for two beautiful Vizio flatscreen HD TV sets, one in the front of the coach and my favorite one in the bedroom. We have purchased blu-ray players and can watch some wonderful wildlife specials in stunning high-def color. We have to setup an extra antenna now every time we stop for any length of time, but it usually only takes about 10 or 15 minutes and it is definitely worth the trouble.
Another innovation that has occurred since we started RVing is the Netflix DVD mail service. (Our HughesNet satellite service is not adequate for downloading or streaming movies over the internet.) We order up movies on DVD or Blu-ray from the Netflix.com website and they arrive the next day or two to our General Delivery mailbox. We have a plan that allows us 3 DVD movies at a time. I have written a specific note about this here with all the details.
We also like to go to plays, musical theatre shows and live entertainment. Traveling in the RV gave us added opportunity to find local entertainment and some national stars. See my theatre page for all the shows we've attended. We enjoy looking on the web for our favorite entertainers and seeing if our paths will cross. This has happened with the Manhattan Transfer, John Jorgenson, and others.
Occasionally, we are parked near a cinema that has "cheap" Wednesday (or Thursday) movies for $2.50 or $3.00. They are first run and it's a blast to go see one without having to get a loan for tickets.
Thankfully, bulky video tapes were replaced by DVD's and although we devote about 30 cubic feet of space to storing DVD's and CD's we haven't yet run out of room for them yet. We have more movies than we ever did in our home. (And a little more time to view them.) Using a DirecTV DVD recorder gives us the pleasure of delaying our viewing of movies until we are in the right mood for a particular show. (There are just some nights I don't want to view a murder mystery or axe killing.)
Finally, the old time pastime of board games is still a real possibility for some RVers. We enjoy playing the game of RummyKube. It allows us to decompress after the stresses of the day and be civil to each other (unless she wins). They don't take much space and are a welcome relief to the internet and TV at times.
Another concern as we were planning to move onto the road was WHERE will we stay? Wouldn't there be those horrible days where we drove around and around to find a place to park this monster in vain or be routed out of a sleep by a policeman, or a robber, or a rapist or... and told we had to move? Well, I'm sure this is possible, but it hasn't happened to us. (Well, we were routed out of a friends neighborhood by a policeman once, but he actually gave us an escort to a Walmart parking lot nearby.)
This is true for several reasons. One, I tend to plan things a lot in advance. Two, there are a lot of RV Parks in the country, literally thousands of them. Not one on every corner, but sufficient. Three, there are plenty of state parks, federal parks, county parks, and BLM land to park on for either free or a reasonable fee. and fourth, there is Walmart. Walmart generally allows an overnight stay without complaint. (We've only availed ourselves of this 7 or 8 times, but it's nice to know its there. We don't extend our slides or put down our stabilizers, but it works.)
We first bought the Woodall's Campground guide. This allowed us to find a place almost anywhere to stay. Most parks are not often full, except in extremely popular places and times. The only problem that developed with that approach, is the expense. Paying parks for daily stays gets pricey. Most charge from $25 per night to $65 (in the west). That's from $9000 to $20k per year, obviously quite a lot of money. Many parks have weekly rates which brings it down about 10 to 20%. Other have monthly rates which often save you up to 30% over daily rates. It pays to stay in one place (and becomes more tempting as time goes on.) Once we got the internet, we found that we could use the on-line Woodalls service, or, more likely, Google search to find an RV park at our destination.
Finally, we decided to join some RV camping clubs. Now, we knew this was risky, finding the right club and price point. There are plenty of people out there willing to take your money and give you little in return. We first joined a club in Southern California (Silent Valley Resort near Banning) for only about $700 lifetime charge plus yearly fees of about $600 (they started at $250 8 years ago). They were reasonable since you can stay 4 months throughout the year. Having them as the "HOME" club, we were eligible to join Coast to Coast, an affiliation of hundreds of parks around the USA. For about $90 per year, we could stay up to a week in any one of these parks for about $10 a night. We then joined Western Horizon, which qualified us for the affiliated Resorts of Distinction and AOR clubs. The original membership fee was in the thousands, but over time has proven to be worth it. For $6 per night (Western Horizon Parks) or zero dollars per night (ROD) we stay up to two or three weeks at nice parks all over the country. Further, Thousand Trails has a zone pass system in 2013 that costs us about $500 per year. We use it when we have to stay out of the club parks for a week by club rules. So... we are now paying closer to $10 per night on average per year using our various clubs (including yearly fees, etc). That's about $3600 per year for rent, and utilities, not bad considering we were paying over $30,000 per year when we had the house (including the mortgage and the utilities).
The last concern we had about RV parks was safety. You hear a lot about "trailer park trash", and muggings and car-jackings and well..heck.. it just seems dangerous if you wander too far from your house. In 12 years, we've had one small incident and that was in a state park in AZ where our unlocked Jeep was opened and they stole the owners manual (until they figured out what it was and then discarded it.) Everyone we meet in these parks are usually very nice, private, quiet, and respectful of your space (however small it may be). Many of the parks have gates with attendants that discourages the riff-raff and a lot of the larger parks have security patrols. If someone next to you is too bothersome, you can leave or ask the management to resolve the problem. You couldn't do that in an owned house unless you called the police!
Another great source for RV camping is the national parks, national forest and BLM campgrounds. And if you are over 62, they are half-price (usually $10 to $15 per night). We don't do this often because of my work. We need electricity most of the time to feed our computers. A lot of the true campgrounds don't have hookups, or they are limited. Also, many of the campgrounds have very few spots for really large campers. But.. many people do use them and love it. We plan to make more use of them, now that we qualify for the Golden Age Passport discounts.
The safety of RVing and the courtesy of RVers is probably one of my greatest surprises. Everyone just wants to be left alone, or share the good times with willing participants. There is plenty to do in many parks for those that want to be more sociable . (Art/crafts, bingo, cards, karaoke, classes, hiking, etc.)
Many parks let you find your own space so you can find the spot that both fits your rig and your social style. We like to be off by ourselves, and we need to be clear of trees so we can point the internet satellite. That's possible in most parks.
Driving a Big Rig
I must admit that I first was a bit intimidated by the thought of driving a large bus without any experience. I had driven a 24 foot RV to Alaska, but 37' was a different story. I could be in California while my bedroom was still in Arizona (at least for a few seconds). I had visions of little ol' ladies being slung through the air by the rear of the RV as I made a wide turn on a city street. Or worse yet, making an instant open air pavilion of the RV as I drove under a bridge at 50 mph that was a mite too low.
Well, obviously, I was able to deal with it without much problem. The first time I rented the 37 foot Damon Challenger I ran the front of the RV into a low lying sewer box, doing about $200 in damage to the fiberglass (ouch!). It was a lesson that if you can't see, stop and look, even if it means leaning out of the window, or getting out of the RV. The backup camera helps, but often you can't see what's in the lower right front corner of the RV and if I am in a tight spot, I stop and have my wife get out and direct me.
The main things to get used to in driving a large motorhome or fifth wheel include:
You might think that shopping would be a chore. Always having to find a store you are unfamiliar with, paying high prices at small local food stores, driving around hunting for the right store...etc. You take the local shopping environment for granted when you are in the same place for a long time. You learn where to go for the best deal, and where things are located in the store. Once you hit the road... the shopping presents a challenge. We have developed a few ways to deal with it. For food, we try to stock up whenever we find a Costco, a Sams Club, or a Walmart (esp. the Supercenters). The prices are right and we usually can stock up on most things without overfilling the RV and most look alike inside, so you never feel you are away from home. You learn what to get.. and where to get it. We get my milk at Sams Club (liquid soy milk in vacuum packed cartons don't need refrigeration until opened), bananas, lettuce, meat, cereal, etc at Costco or Sams Club, and so on. Often, we can go a couple weeks without needing anything from the local store (We eat a lot of lettuce and that poses the only real fresh food requirement.)
For other things, we use Amazon.com when possible. They have a large selection of "stuff" (including some food) that will be delivered to your doorstep. We joined their "Prime Members" club and for a set fee each year they send your package free by 2 day delivery or $4 for overnight, independent of the weight. We just change the address everytime we move and it works like a charm. And you don't have to move from you chair or spend $$ on gasoline trying to find a book store, a movie store, a photography store, a computer store, a clothes store...etc. When Amazon doesn't work, we try Sams or Costco on-line, or look elsewhere on the web. Often shipping costs are minimal.
Buying food in small town grocery stores is often very expensive. We might find the same thing at Walmart or Costco for half the price. It pays to comparison shop (unless you are rich.. in which case you won't be rich for long if you don't pay attention to the costs.)
Day to Day Lifestyle
Generally speaking our day to day lifestyle is similar to that of people living in a house, fixed in one spot. I'll mention anything that might differ.
Sleeping in an RV is fine if you have a well insulated RV (for sound) like ours. Most RV parks are quiet, esp in evening and morning hours. Sleeping is made easier if you customize your bed to your liking. We discarded the mattress that came with the RV for one of those (expensive) foam memory beds and pillows. Our backs are very thankful for that move. It was expensive, but it has been worth it in pleasant hours of rest. My wife decided she needed a foot warmer. That's probably a good idea to reduce the amount of time you have to run your propane heater. It gets a bit hot for me, but I manage. I guess the only real difference is that I often wake up and try to picture what is outside, and which way my head is pointed (North, South...etc). Moving from city to city a lot is a bit disorienting, but nothing you can't deal with. One other thing: the RV is a lot smaller than your house and you might have to adapt to the individual sleeping times of each person. My wife likes to stay up late. I lay down about 9:30 PM and I'm out cold in 10 minutes. My wife is considerate (often tip-toeing into the bedroom to turn off the TV) and closes the door to the bedroom. She uses wire-less earphones to listen to TV. She prepares for bed in the living area to avoid disturbing me. You'll also have to get used to the boat rocking a bit when you are sleeping and your partner is walking around. It doesn't matter how well anchored you think you are (with the stabilizing elevators) the thing still rocks when someone walks in it. You get used to it. (Dancing is another issue.)
Eating doesn't have to be different just because you are in an RV. Our own eating habits are perhaps unusual. We both eat different types of foods and thus we rarely prepare anything that we both eat together (excepting a pizza, and Donna must have it sans meat. (Update 2013: Donna has won me over to salads and we are having more of the same meals together and I'm losing weight!.) The RV comes with a Convection Oven/Microwave combo. It also has a smaller real oven, but we've never used it. Of course the propane stove top is very useful. The oven requires a match to light it and gets the RV warm, desirable only in the Winter. We find the Convection Oven much easier to use, and clean. Plus, it doesn't require Propane. We use our dining table for both work and eating, so things are a bit less formal than it might be at home. I guess the important thing is that we both are happy with the situation. The RV doesn't get in the way of our eating (unfortunately). Storage facilities for food is OK, but not like you'd have in most homes. We have a good sized double frig (Update 2013: we have replaced our smaller propane/electric refrigerator with a larger residential refrigerator and are very happy) and and outdoor (basement) freezer that helps for long-term storage of meat, pizza's, OJ, etc. Counter space is a bit slim, but we manage. We recommend plastic plates and glasses to avoid a lot of breakage.
Bathroom facilities are small (I won't get into anything too personal here..) but adequate. I guess if was an extra 5 to 10" around the waist I'd find the toliet area too small. The shower is only slightly smaller than a house shower stall. Our RV is special in that the ceiling is 7' 6", much higher than most. That makes the shower taller and it feels more like a normal shower stall. No bath, though one could draw enough water to sit in the shower. A separate area for a wash basin and medicine cabinet in the bedroom completes the total bathroom arrangement. OK, it's not a 2.5 bath luxury home, but it serves our purposes to the fullest.
Working in our mobile office is pretty natural. We have at least a quarter or more of the RV dedicated to our workspace. Donna has a "built-in" computer station that houses her computer, keyboard, scanner and printer. We have those plastic floor protectors that we use for our chairs, so we can move around a bit. Our chairs are special. I have a store-bought computer hutch that contains a couple computers, monitors, video equipment, printers and scanners. The doors close when we travel so everything is pretty protected. We have as much computer equipment and capabilities as we did with our 5 bedroom home in Nederland. We are just missing some of the space to "spread out". It forces us to be a bit neater than normal. We use our equipment for paid work jobs, spec. work jobs, internet browsing and shopping, communication with friends and relatives, and hobbies (photography, music, sewing, beading).
Relaxing is something we both still must learn. It is a trait that neither of us possess. While many people find that RVing gives them a chance to relax and sit for hours reading or just looking at other people... we don't do that. We aren't proud of it either. We are however, much more relaxed than we would be working in an office. We are able to avoid personal confrontations (except with each other), and we don't miss having a boss breathing down our necks. We also find that having a dog gives us plenty of excuses during the day for short and long walks. Those breaks help us gather our thoughts, garner additional energy, and presumably keep extra pounds from mounting on our aging frames! I guess we also find time in the evening to relax by handing our minds over to Television (this is hard to admit, but it is true.) If there ever was a visual drug, TV is it. I use it to forget personal problems and even as a sleeping aid.
Photography is my hobby. It is perfect for our lifestyle. We often find ourselves planning trips to beautiful locales and I will go off in the Jeep by myself to spend the day in search of the perfect photo. It's a form of relaxation I suppose, and it provides another outlet for creativity. I have been doing digital photography for the last 10 years. That saves a lot of money and time that film used to take. I specialize in landscape photography and especially like to create large format panoramas. I try to keep a web page current with photos taken along our trail. The computer is my darkroom (thanks to Adobe's Photoshop software and a few other software tools.)
This page is copyrighted by James N. Perdue 2013. I'd be flattered if you wanted to copy it, reprint it or otherwise find it useful. Feel free to link directly to it, but if you copy it, or decide you'd like to reprint it in any way, please contact me (rvguys @ rvinteractive . com ) and ask for permission. Most likely I'll give the permission without further ado. If you want to feature it in an magazine, I'd even agree to edit it to suit your own goals and maybe even fix some of the bad grammar and spelling errors.
Our wish is that this little 'expose' of our RVing life will inspire you to consider doing the same and maybe, just maybe help you avoid a few mistakes. The freedom from staying in one place (which is NOT something that everyone wants), the joy of seeing this wonderful country closeup and personal and the pure excitement of experiencing something different in your later years is a good set of reasons to consider this full-time RVing lifestyle. Please consider it seriously but do what feels best for your own situation. We are all DIFFERENT!
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