Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Four Month Learning Curve

Slow learners-R-Us. We were somewhat of a rare breed as we truly became "RV'ers" and "Full-timers" at the same time, not taking the usual route of starting with a pop-up and working ourselves toward the major leagues. We spent 5 days two years ago in a Class C rental and that was our experience level. So, the leap can be made.

I thought we would contrast the Perceptions vs. Reality battle of the full-timing RV'er to potentially help out those considering the wheel estate culture. Reality is always the victor. So, we will tackle the surprises, rewards, likes, dislikes, tips and other "how we do it" aspects of touring this great country in our dual-axle turtle.

Our rig: 31.5 feet 2008 Jayco Super-Lite fifth wheeler, 1 living room slide--sans kids or pets, has been adequate for us. In comparing us to modern society, we would probably be considered "minimalists"--since embarking on this adventure with all of our possessions in-tow, we actually have made several drop-offs at the Thrift Store. But, the hidden secret--my wife and I get along, most moments, although there has been a time or two I was concerned one of the donations at the Goodwill store was going to be me. But, when she did present the question to me of "If you could name one thing you would have in a replacement rig, what would it be", I did answer "bedroom slider with a king size bed"--this body needs mattress acreage.

Its marriage partner-- 2002 F-250 4x4 Powerstroke Diesel oft-loved 7.3 engine and 4R100 automatic transmission. We bought both units off Craigslist from the same owner which made it ready to go when we were. After-market offerings include a turbo temp gauge, transmission gauge, transmission cooler, brake assist, tuner and performance exhaust. Right under 13 mpg towing all conditions and terrain, and about 20 mpg unhitched. Very satisfied with the Jr. Ark.Oh, and  because we are a "full disclosure" RV'er, we paid $32,000 for the combination truck and RV.

We are Texans by heart, but South Dakota is the state we chose to domicile in. Three main reasons: 3% sales tax, affordable vehicle/RV registration by mail and no annual emissions/inspection required.

How we are paying for it--more disclosure--savings! Yup, no pension, no retirement (we are sub 59 1/2 years old). We took some proceeds from our home sale to buy the truck and RV, but otherwise we are living on 25 years of below-means living,  22+ years of overtime, side businesses, etc. We do have a $$ on the Road tab on this blog which discusses other ways we could make money, you know, if we had to. But, this piggy bank does not refill itself, so we will have to eventually get off the couch and do something.

 Budget killers: Fuel and RV parks' fees. Both can be reduced by applying a simple rule-- stay at least one week per park. And, if you are curious as to the costs of this lifestyle and missed our post at the 3 month mark, here is the link. We are currently parked at our first one month stop in Amish Country, Indiana.

Max travel miles: Ideal is no more than 200 miles in a day, all be it we have done 400+ twice, in our first month, where we learned. It is not a a sedan road trip with the cruise on 75 mph, a Big Gulp in one hand, I-phone in the other and the station playing a little George Strait.

Pacing: Traversing 10 states and 4,000 miles in the first 2 months about killed us was overly ambitious. It may have been precipitated by a "vacation" mindset versus "staycation". Again, this is advice for full-timers and I understand part-timers have work schedules to get back to. Realistically, about 800 miles in a month has been a much better fit. 

Best tip--Unhitching: a) make sure your last transmission move is "Reverse" which moves your kingpin forward into the hitch, (to accomplish, back into a wheel chock and set your emergency brake b) make sure you are level side-to-side. That advice almost guarantees you will come off your hitch nice and easy. I learned in Albuquerque when I experienced an ugly unhitching moment and went to the office to see if anyone in the park could lend a hand and got the response "Well, Danny over in site #16 is usually good, but he is probably drunk today". No thanks to Danny, but thanks to RV.net.

Shade: It is not as prevalent as one might think, more so in state parks, less so in RV parks. But, the consequence, less amenities in state and national campgrounds. Google maps is your friend and shade saves on energy use and degrading of your rig's exterior, roof and tires. Huge benefit. And, as a backup for those parks that planted concrete instead of trees, get a roll of Reflectix and cut some shade inserts out for your windows that face the sun, it makes a huge difference!

Our map displays the 18 states visited in our first 4 months on the road. Top 3 favorite cities: Boise, ID., Monterey Bay, CA., Portland, OR. Top 3 favorite small towns: Shipshewana, IN., Montello, WI., Williams, AZ.

I would score campground Wi-Fi service a B+. Teri and I both are moderate internet users averaging about 4-5 hours per day on-line when not motoring to the next destination. Weighing going with our own hotspot with Millenicom.com., no contracts, $70 per mo. gives you 20 gig of data on the Verizon network. Certainly, if you are dependent on the Net (ie, to work), then your own hot spot is probably a must. And from my research, Verizon has the top overall coverage with AT&T taking second.

Our Go To sites and where I spend much of my Internet time: 

Flat-lander versus mountains: I prefer the temperatures of higher elevation, but driving the less inclined. Again, attention is elevated (pun intended) when ascending as you're having to monitor transmission status as well as turbo temperature. And when you reach the summit, now focusing on braking the wheeled house as you point downhill. Really, rolling terrain of the Midwest is probably my ideal. But, there is a consequence to pay--just how many cornstalks and cows can one driver count? Looking forward to the northeast, perhaps a happy landing.

Campground memberships we belong to and their annual cost: Good Sam ($25) , Passport America ($49) and KOA ($24). All paid for themselves in the first 3 months. Favorite, but often the most restrictive, PA. A part-time RV'er would have to assess use frequency to determine value, but pretty much a no-brainer for full-timers.

Safety: RV parks have a very peaceful feel to them and is one of the specific areas that Teri commented about. In over 120+ nights, one mother-daughter "cuss-a-thon" on our very 1st night that would have embarrassed an entire Navy fleet and then one drunk who decided he wanted to pretend to be a bear and poop in a not-so-woody area about 30 feet from our rig early one morning were the only two disconcerting things we have experienced. 

RV necessities. What we feel would make this experience even better that we did not bring with us- 1) Outdoor propane grill. Yes, cooking on a gas top oven in your aluminum can on wheels in the Summer time requires you coat yourself with sun screen. We have since purchased one a few days ago. 2) A Fantastic fan--similar to an attic fan in a home, draws in cooler air from the outside in the evenings to replace the interior's warm air. On the list, but at $300+ plus and Summer beginning to soften its edge, not sure if a good value.

What do we miss about our sticks and bricks home (besides friends and family--shout out to Cameron, Austin, Rachel, Harry, Marilyn, LPD folks, etc)? 1.BBQ 2.Mexican food. 3. Big dog. The other bothersome aspect is the feeling I am not "serving" or "volunteering". I have contacted the local Habitat for Humanity to see if there are any current opportunities. Anyone know of any online sights looking for volunteers? I posed the same question to Teri and her responses--1.Sometimes, more space in general 2. Our chicken flock. 3.Outdoor privacy (the expectation you have to converse with your RV neighbors). As you can see, no real obstacles. And yes, that image is the house on 2.4 acres we sold in March.

What has been the most disappointing part of the journey? Well, from our 1st world perspective, I would lean toward the deterioration of our nation's interstate highway system, especially in areas you are paying a $15.00 toll for 45 miles of travel and expect it to be of higher quality. I have become empathetic to the challenge RV manufacturers have in trying to produce rigs that can enure 3.0 seismic conditions on a regular basis. Also, but beyond our control, the Summer heat of 2012 seems inescapable. When wifey was presented with the same inquiry regarding disappointments and given a couple days to answer, she could not think of anything, not even "my husband". Solid.

  1. Total budgeted: $11,517
  2. Actual spent: $11,056
  3. Total states traveled: 18
  4. Total different camping locations: 31
  5. Total miles logged:  7,448 
Most who follow us know this vagabond lifestyle on wheels will last at least a year or whenever the money runs out, whatever arrives first. Now, with that qualifier, the most popular question we hear is "What will happen after that?" The response vacillates between:
  • Quad-season in the RV--live in 4 different U.S. states by season
  • Bi-seasonal in the RV--warm and cooler months, 2 different locations
  • Bi-seasonal in two quaint cabins, probably rural CO. and one walking distance to town in TX.
  • Move to Costa Rica or similar international locale
  • Rent for a year in a big city sans automobile
  • Buy a bungalow in Smalltown, USA close enough to walk most places as we did when we resided in olde town Arvada, CO.
  • Country property, fairly similar to what we sold a few months back......
If I had to give you only ONE response at the time of this writing, I would say a return to our country lifestyle--5 acres, less than 1,000 square foot home, with access to bike/running trails and walking distance to town would be ideal. Now, ask me tomorrow, and odds are in your favor the answer would differ. Yes, it remains a big unknown, but I feel remarkably blessed those options are all reasonable for our future. When I asked Teri, she simply said "wherever my husband goes"--must have been Suck Up Day.

Amongst the readers who are considering an exit to the RV life, which would you pick? Or, do you have a different backup plan?

Thanks for reading over the first 1/3 of our journey and we hope you found at least one valuable tidbit in this post that will smoothen your RV travels!


  1. Excellent report! It should be mandatory reading for future full-timers!!

    16 yr. of full-timing!

  2. Your post today gets an A+ from us! Jerry already had me read TWICE to him the un-hitching tip. A lot of the other information you wrote about we learned at the RV Dreams Seminar we attended last September. Our nerves are building as we pick-up our fifth-wheel Friday morning! Yikes! At least you guys rented a camper once. We are even "greener."

    At this point, Jerry and I are planning on living this lifestyle as long as it makes us happy. There are so many national parks and other opportunities for seasonal work, I'm sure we will be busy for quite a few years. However, we have also discussed perhaps finding a small town somewhere that we fall in love with and settling down again. We also think Colorado is a strong possibility.

    We will contact you guys over the weekend to see about setting up a time to meet! Can't wait!

    1. We had you guys in mind writing this. The unhitching tip was a BIG DEAL. See ya soon.

  3. Great report...I hope it works out for you.....I enjoyed reading it......

    1. Thanks Bill, it is what we make of it, 1 day at a time with no promises of the next.

  4. Thanks for all the good info. Thats the budget we're looking to have. Nice to know we can do it. We'll be joining you come mid October.

    1. Welcome aboard R&W...the budget we think is mid-road, we could tighten up if needed, so some flexibility...stay in touch....

  5. Great write-up. Sorry I didn't give you the unhitching tip before you left. If we had to do it again, a bedroom slider with king size bed and more potty leg room would be at the top of the list.
    A book on RV park experiences could be a best seller.
    Looking forward to the next post.

    1. Thanks Ed and at 6ft2, in 4 mos., I have never used our potty to perform the "big duty", if you get what I mean.

  6. Thanks for all the information and assessment of your fulltime RVer travels so far. Please keep blogging, that's how we are adding to our knowledge of the fulltime lifestyle we hope to experience...one day.

    1. We are committed to the blog as long as we continue this journey,rest assured.

  7. Great post....we have the same size 5th but do have a B/R slide Would definitely want a King bed to go fulltime. We learned the hitching thing the hard way. Thanks for putting out great info and enjoy the midwest :-)

  8. Thanks LLR, enjoying tracking your Colo. summer journey...

  9. Holy Smoke Buddy you are toooo funny. I have laughed my whole way through reading your blog. Just found it today.
    My wife says I was funny last year while writing our blog of our 5 month trip. But you have me beat by a long shot.
    Keep up the good work.

  10. WOW what a wealth of information!!! Just found your blog from a post at CR8ing!
    We are still in the midst of our planning...take off next year! So many have made this planning so much easier and less scary O:) Back to reading up on your blog...travel safe ~cozygirl itsacozylife.blogspot.com

  11. Love your blog! Are you still using the mail service in SD? Do you like it? My husband and I have been on the road since the end of April. We are not true full-timers yet. We travel for his work. We have recently decided to go ahead and sell our home and do this full time. I will go home in a month or two and start preparing the house to sell it. I was thinking of using the Good Sam's mail service but it is in Florida so we would become Florida residents. However, their sales tax is higher than SD. So, now I am thinking SD would be better for us.

    1. Terri at MySouthdakotaaddress.com is splendid, no regrets. A lot of folks use TX., but heck, we were Texans when we started this and still opted for SD--3% sales tax, all done by mail except D.Ls, no annual veh inspection & emissions...good luck with home selling...

  12. Enjoyed your blog. My wife and I decided back in Jan. when we knew I was going to retire in July that we would sell our home, buy an RV and travel for a couple of years. The sale of house has been more difficult then planned but we did purchase a class A DP 40ft.

    We moved into our RV 5 weeks ago so far I am not thrilled. There is no counter space to fix meals, no place to store shoes, no where to setup my computer, no room for essentials and we own a huge RV. Bad odors no matter what I treat the holding tanks with. Electrical problems, poor construction quality in our overpriced MH and every RV repair place will not help you unless you are paying $110 an hour to do anything. Maybe it is the heat as our air cond. cannot keep up with the heat this summer.

    Hopefully when we have 4 months into this adventure we will have nicer things to say. Good luck to you and stay safe.

  13. Yeah, Doug, this can be a frustrating adventure at times and is not for everyone. HUGE transition space-wise. My motto: "If I am not fixin' something, then I am sleepin'. RV.net if you have not found out yet is a great website--state your problem specifically and ton of help to be provided. Best of luck for your issues to improve.

  14. Your honesty and writing style make me want to read every word. Thank you for your work!

  15. We found the "right place to live" 13 years ago, after I took early retirement from Boeing. It's Anacortes, WA. We are MH owners, but have not got the urge to full-time.

    We're ex-pat Brits, so the climate here is quite acceptable, even in the grey months. A lot of neighbors are snowbirds, but do it on Alaska Airlines to Mexico, not in RV's.

    Your blog is very interesting, though, and might end up changing our minds, at least as far as being snowbirds in the winter.

    1. Thanks Frank, we are at 8 mos now, still learning...think we might flying full time better :)

  16. Love the blog!! You mentioned volunteering. In case you haven't heard of this yet, check out volunteer.gov/gov. We've been full time RVing going on 2 years, now. We have volunteered at several places during that time. National Parks, Wildlife Refuges and State Parks. We've had a terrific time learning new things and meeting lots of people. They give us an RV spot with utilities in exchange for us working about 3 days a week. That gives us 4 days a week to play tourist and we love it. With all the budget cuts they really need the help and we're happy to do it.

  17. Just found your blog through iRV2. Loved reading about your experiences! My husband and I also jumped into FTing with no prior RV experience, and we are entering our 3rd year. We also have a 5W, but we have two slides and a king bed. It definitely makes a difference having the bedroom slide! We are working as we go, sometimes for site only and sometimes for site plus wages. So far, we have only worked at KOA's, but there are plenty of other job and/or volunteer opportunities out there. I was the one who wanted to do this, and my husband agreed to try it for 6 months. We are also on a budget, so getting paid for some working hours really helps. Now, he cannot imagine doing anything else! We still own a bricks & sticks house, occupied by daughter and grandsons, but only go to visit to go to doctor appointments once a year or so. We lived in Tennessee, and still have that as our domicile. Keep up the great work with your blog!! We'll keep following to see how y'all are doing.

    1. Thanks Edith! Workkamping at KOAs would have been our ideal situation,too...