Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't Blow Your Breaker

Take a minute and see how many AMPS you could be using in your RV's 30 or 50 amp electrical systems. It's surprising how fast the amps add up which causes your breaker or the resort's breaker to trip. Knowing the amperage of all the electrical appliances in your RV can help you manage electrical use and prevent the inconvenience of:


The following is a list of the typical appliances used and the average amps required to operate them:

Air conditioner-15,000 BTU 12.5 amps
Refrigerator 2.7 amps
Electric Frying Pan 10 amps
Electric Water Heater-8 gallons 12.5 amps
Iron 10 amps
Microwave Oven 12.8 amps
Food Processor 6 amps
Electric Coffee Pot 9 amps
Crock Pot 1.5 amps
Toaster 10 amps
Heating Pad .5 amps
Hair Dryer 10 amps
110 Watt Heater 10 amps
TV 2 amps
In the morning if you start your air conditioner and the hot water heater is on, and then you start your coffee pot, make some toast and watch TV-you're pulling 55 amps with all of these appliances operating at maximum. If you also cook some bacon in the microwave at the same time, LOOK OUT! Many RV's have a switch so you can only run the microwave OR the water heater at one time, but some RV's do not have this feature.
Most electrical products show how many watts or amps it takes to operate the appliance printed on the product itself or in the instruction manual. If it shows the watts, divide the watts by 120 (volts) and that gives you the amps. To get the watts, multiply the amps by the 120 (volts).
I have found that if we are parked in a 30 amp site I can run two major electrical appliances at one time without setting off the circuit breaker, such as my electric water heater and the microwave. Using the toaster is possible also. But to run the central vacuum cleaner while cooking breakfast? Not going to happen. If it's hot outside and I want to run the air conditioner while on 30 amps, then I'll switch the electric water heater over to propane or simply turn it off until right before I need hot water and make sure I'm not using another appliance that pulls a lot of amps. It's a balancing act but it's easy to deal with once you get into the habit. Because if you set off those circuit breakers too many times, chances are you're going to be damaging the circuit boards of your appliances at the same time which is not a good thing. Even with a 50 amp site you have to be careful, although 50 amps normally allows you to add the use of one more large amperage appliance to the things you can run at one time. It's a matter of taking a moment to think about what you have running and what you want to operate before you start turning things on.
Be safe!

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Motorhome Versus a Fifth Wheel

People have asked Denny and I why we chose a fifth wheel over a motorhome. If you have been reading the pages of this website at all, you know that we have owned two motorhomes and three fifth wheels. I decided to create a comparison list of some of the good and bad points of each. Those of you who own RVs will have many of your own points to add, and I welcome your input and will add valid points to the list for those "RV lifestyle dreamers" who wish to know which RV may be best for them. Certainly newer motorhomes are gaining features formerly only found in fifth wheels and trailers and vice versa, but there are still enough differences to make careful consideration of those differences worthwhile.


Passenger can move around inside RV while traveling vs No access to trailer while traveling

Can tow an fuel economical vehicle for sightseeing/errands vs Large tow vehicle may be fuel hog

With a motorhome you have to fuel two vehicles; the motorhome and your tow car vs With a trailer you only fuel your tow vehicle.

With a motorhome you need to change the oil/maintain the engines of two vehicles vs With a trailer you only need to maintain one vehicle engine--your tow vehicle.

Oil changes on a motorhome will run $300+ vs Oil changes in a diesel truck may run $75

Will usually have bin space for a generator for boondocking vs Installation of generator will severely limit storage space and can cause your rig to be overweight

In most cases, you can move about MH with slides closed vs Often closed slides means no access to the interior of RV

Backing a motorhome is like backing a very large car vs Learning to back a fifth wheel/ trailer competently takes a while

Insurance costs are higher for a motorized vehicle vs Insurance costs are less since there is no engine in a trailer

Setting up a motorhome and unhitching a tow vehicle is relatively quick and easy vs Setting up and unhitching a trailer is more time-consuming

Leveling a motorhome on a very unlevel campsite can be impossible vs 5ers can be leveled with the use of leveling blocks or length of 2x6 boards easily

You can leave quickly in an emergency with a MH vs You cannot leave quickly with a trailer due to the hitching up required
There is usually no desk area in a MH vs Most 5ers have nice desk areas

Motorhomes lose living area with dashboard/driver's area vs Trailers are all living space

Living room TVs are placed overhead over the windshield vs TVs are placed at a reasonable height and angle Edited 11/17/11: Motorhomes now have better TV placement on many rigs.

Motorhomes are much more expensive vs Trailers are more reasonably priced while equipped the same as a motorhome

Most motorhomes have only all-in-one washer/dryer combos vs Trailers have stacking washers and dryers

It can be difficult to find a repair location based on the size of the MH vs Any truck dealer can work on on your tow vehicle

If engine repairs are needed, you will probably need to stay in a motel vs You can stay in your trailer while your truck is being worked on

A diesel motorhome will ususally have the weight carrying capacity to add solar panels and batteries for boondocking vs Space and weight considerations may make installing the extra batteries needed impossible

Many motorhomes are affected by the draft created by passing semis and high winds in general vs Trucks pulling fifth wheel trailers are not affected by drafts and are much more stable while traveling on roadways under high wind conditions

Motorhomes have to be driven off your campsite to fill the onboard propane tank unless the campground provides a mobile propane servicevs Trailer propane tanks are removable for filling.

As a motorized vehicle some states may require your motorhome be inspected for annual registration purposes vs Trailers usually don't need to be inspected for registration purposes.

Motorhome tires are larger and therefore more expensive than trailer tires vs Even if you have a triple axle trailer your tire expenses will be less than of a motorhome.

Motorhomes are all one level once you get inside vs Fifth wheels can have at least one and possibly two sets of interior steps/levels inside which can become a problem as you age.

Hints and Tips

This page will have some ideas we have picked up from other folks and some things we've figured out on our own. Some of the ideas might work for you and some may seem unnecessary but I'm throwing them out there for you to consider. If you are interested in further information or pictures of any of the items/modifications I've mentioned below, please e-mail us.

For durable, attractive dishes that are lightweight and can be used in the oven and microwave we use Corelle. We've had our set in our various rigs since 1993 and haven't broken one yet over all sorts of rough roads. Some people put paper towels or "slip stop" between the plates but I've never bothered with this.

We also use crystal wine glasses which are hung from a plastic wine rack inside a cupboard. To protect them I have cut tube socks in half (cutting the ribbed part off the foot section) and pull these sections over the goblets while traveling. I also stretch a small bungee cord across the front of the wine rack to prevent the glasses from bouncing off the rack from the open end.

Buy appliances that you can use for multiple purposes such as a toaster oven, deep fryer, food processer, etc. to save space. This, of course, is assuming you cook :)

Learn to use that convection oven! You will be using the campground's electricity instead of your propane. I've had other campers tell me they've attended convection oven cooking classes at FMCA/Escapee/Samboree gatherings and they now love their ovens.

A good degreaser-all purpose cleanser is Mean Green. You can buy it at Wal*Mart and at Family Dollar Stores and Dollar General Stores. The dollar stores usually carry it in the gallon size which we keep on hand as we use the Mean Green to clean black marks off the rig, bugs off the front cap of the rig and off the truck as well as sap and sticky spots. It's a great spot cleanser for carpets if you make sure to rinse it well afterwards as the cleanser is quite concentrated. It also takes soap scum off your glass shower doors. Try it!  Some people love "Awesome" for the same reasons.  Also sold at the dollar stores.

If your backsplash area behind your stove is wallpapered or simply textured vinyl wall paneling you might consider buying a sheet of plexiglass cut to size from a hardware or home improvement stove and installing it. Holes can be drilled into the corners for fasteners or you can use mirror fasteners to attach it. Cleanup will be much easier now! As a more expensive alternative, you can use mirror tiles which give the impression of a little more space in the rig as well.

To rid your home of fruit flies, pour about 1/2 inch of cider vinegar in a small bowl and add a couple of drops of dish washing liquid, stirring it in. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap and then poke several holes in it using a fork. The fruit flies will be attracted to the vinegar, held in by the dishwashing liquid and the plastic wrap. This really works. You may have to refresh the vinegar every couple of days until you get all the flies.

To reheat pizza, use a non-stick skillet on medium low heat and you will have a nice crispy crust and well heated pizza.

A couple of ways to secure your glass coffee carafe in the coffee maker while you are traveling; one, place a small folded up towel underneath the carafe (thanks to Bob and Mary Hatch for that one) two, place velcro tabs on either side of the coffee maker and on the ends of a small nylon belt and run the belt through the handle of the carafe and attach it to the velcro on the side of the coffee maker (this is what we did with our coffee maker that was hung over the counter), or three, simply place some slip-stop rubberized material under the coffee maker and/or the carafe.

You don't need to buy expensive RV toilet tissue. One way to find a suitable toilet tissue is to put a hand full of toilet tissue in a fruit jar half full of water. Shake the jar and if the tissue breaks up easily, the product is suitable for the black water tank in your RV. I find that Angel Soft works very well in our system.

Do you like those foaming hand cleaners?  When you empty one, buy a SoftSoap or generic pump handsoap, then fill your empty foaming handsoap bottle 1/3 full with the soap and fill it up the rest of the way with water.  Shake and voila'!  Foaming handsoap with enough left in the SoftSoap container for one or two more refills.  Easy money saver.

We use plastic bins in varying sizes for storage of items in our overhead cupboards, in our closet (especially our file-sized bin for our paperwork) and under the bed as well as in the outside storage bins. It keeps the items neater for travel and better organized in general.

There's not a lot of storage room in a fifth wheel when you opt for the stacking washer/dryer combo so we've learned the "if you buy something, get rid of something" rule. It mostly applies to clothing but works for other items as well. Once a year I go through the rig and create a "Goodwill bag" of those items we haven't used in a year or most likely will never use again. Then I have room if I discover a new craft to try!

Paperback books take up a lot less room and weigh less than hard-backed books. Most campgrounds have small libraries or book exchanges so trade yours in for new reading material. If you still receive magazines through the mail, leave them for others to enjoy. I leave our old Trailer Life campground guides and road atlases and even VHS movies too. Edited 11/17/11: I used credit card points to buy myself a Kindle and have stocked it with free books from and the Guggenheim web site. also has special deals for inexpensive book downloads quite often and even provides a book trading service with other Kindle owners. I was hesitant to go with the Kindle but love it now.

Want to display some snapshots but don't have the wall space or counter room? Lakeside Collections occasionally sells acrylic photo holders with magnetic strips on the back. Since our refrigerator has wood panels the magnets don't stick, so I removed the magnets and attached velcro to the backs of the photo frames and then on the wood panels. Voila'. Lots of room for pictures! Edited 11/17/11: Even better? A digital photo frame—simply load up a smart card with your favorite photos and load up your frame. Love that technology!

Our heavy glass dining room lampshade came loose and fell onto our table one day during our travels. While the shade didn't break, the wood of the table was badly dented. From that point on I made sure to check the screws on all the glass lampshades on all the fixtures in the rig as a safety precaution. The movements of travel can jar them loose. Once the dining room shade worked itself loose it continued to do so; we finally bought a tube of Loctite and applied it which helped.
For a quick lick-and-a-promise cleanup in the bathroom, try using antibacterial wipes on the bathroom vinyl flooring as well as on your countertops and toilet bowl seat & rim.

Denny loves his Sewer Solution, which is a water powered device that breaks up the sewage from your black water tank and passes it out through a standard sized garden hose instead of the 3 inch sewer line. Denny has taken that a step further and has replaced the garden hose with varying lengths of PVC pipe which he stores in a large section of PVC pipe that he attached to the undercarriage of the rig with metal straps.

None of us love black tanks and cleaning them but here's a tip we received from a man who cleans black tanks as a business.  When you are getting ready to travel to your next location and have dumped your black water tank, dump about a cup of powdered detergent like Tide into your toilet and add a few gallons of water.  We all know the chemical reaction you get when you mix Tide with water (Denny and I used to clean our paint brushes this way) so you get that same chemical reaction in your tank as it's sloshing around while driving down the road.  Flush and dump when you arrive at the next campground and you'll have a cleaner tank.

Denny also uses a five-way hose connector that we found at Wal*Mart which allows him to have his water hose, Sewer Solution lead hose and a separate hose to the black water back flush all connected at the same time, also leaving him extra connections for a garden hose to wash the rig.
We carry a pancake style air compressor for filling our tires quickly and efficiently, plus an impact wrench for emergency tire changes if needed. This also allowed him at one time to use a grease gun, but he's turned that duty over to the oil change places now.

We've discovered that the Mr. Clean Auto Dry cleaning system does work in areas of high mineral content to prevent water spots on the truck and the rig. Check with your campground to see if using this device is allowed as it does use more water than the bucket method. Denny also uses a six inch hand-held electric buffer he picked up at Wal*Mart for waxing our vehicles which really makes the task faster and easier.

If you want to avoid black streaks on your rig, buy or create an extension for your rig's roof gutters. Denny bought a short piece of clear, wide tubing which he then split in half and screwed a piece to each of the gutter ends which has eliminated most of our black streak problems. Mean Green cleans what little is left.

We carried chairs, bicycles and a step-ladder at one time and didn't have room for all of them, so Denny created an under-the-rig bracket out of aluminum angle iron (hmm, is there such a thing?) and bolted it to the undercarriage. He drilled a hole in the end of the bracket and one in the leg of the step-ladder and slides a padlock on for travel.

Slideout edges can be sharp and dangerous-cut a swim noodle into six to twelve inch segments and then cut a slice lenthwise in each segment and slide them over the bottom and lower side edges of your bedroom slide and any other slide that may cause a problem. Some people also have sliced a tennis ball to insert over the corners of the slideout which is effective also.

Want to save $20 for ten minutes time? Buy a grommet set and an outdoor porch mat. Cut the porch mat into three segments (if you have a fifth wheel with three entrance steps), punch grommets in all four corners, place the carpet segment on your step and secure it with cable ties. An individual step mat costs at least $9.99 at Camping World and you can buy the grommet set and a mat for about that price.

Whether you're new to RVing or have been camping for years, it's always helpful to have a list of the things that need to be done to pack up/prepare the rig for leaving/breaking camp. You can find lists on several RVers websites such as Mark's Fulltiming, RV Netters, the RV Club or create your own and then refer to it frequently. While you probably won't need a list of supplies once you're a fulltimer, you will need a good hook-up and unhitch routine.

Due to the fact we are often sightseeing away from the rig in a new area, I created a "campground ID" slip that I tuck in my billfold. Loosely it reads as follows: "We are the Brauns, driving a white 2000 Ford F450 pick up truck with Ohio license XXXXXXX. We own a 2002 National RV Palisades fifth wheel, Ohio license XXXXXX located at the _(name of RV Park)_________________ in __(name of city and state)__ at site __. In case of emergency please notify __(my emergency contact info is preprinted in this area)__. There is a cat named Patches inside." I created a page of several of these notices and print off several pages and cut them into individual strips for my wallet.

Next up: the app I call the marriage saver.  Called the Dish Pointer, this app for iPhones and Android phones allows you to type in the satellites you use for your DISH TV, Direct TV, Starband or systems (or any satellite system) and then when you hold your smart phone up it will show you the line of satellites on your phone screen through the camera so you can see if trees are blocking the satellites from your site.  Again--the marriage saver because trees are the bain of my existence when it comes to them blocking the signal for Denny's beloved TV.  Find it here.  As a matter of fact, there are a ton of great apps out there for traveling; Trip Advisor for restaurant and campground reviews, GasBuddy for the cheapest gas in the area, grocery store apps to have coupons downloaded to your phone to use when you go shopping and one I like called State Lines, created for RVers.  It has state laws about passing school buses, liquor laws, gun laws, speed laws, sales tax information, motorcycle laws, seatbelt laws, right turn on red laws, time zone information and all kinds of handy stuff for just a couple of bucks.  A very handy little app.

Do you have slideouts? Have you backed into a site only to find you are too close to a tree/electrical box/bush to open your slide? Try this tip; take your awning pull rod and measure the distance between the side of your rig and the slideout when it is extended and mark that distance on your awning rod with electrical tape. Do this on the slide that extends out the farthest on the street side and also on your curb side slide. Then when you are unsure of the clearance distance in a new spot you can take out your awning rod, put it against the side of the rig and note by the electrical tape where the slide would be when extended so you know if you have enough room or if you need to reposition your rig.

The source of most yelling in a RVing relationship? Backing into a campsite. It gets ugly for the couple doing it, but provides great entertainment to those watching. Want to avoid providing a show? Use walkie-talkies (2-way radios) and/or hand signals that the two of you have worked out in advance. Note that last statement. Use hand signals that you both have agreed upon in advance so you understand each other. They should be as simple as possible; such as both hands up and palms out for stop, pointing to one side or the other for "the rear end needs to move that-a-way", holding your two hands apart and then moving them closer together to show how much farther the driver can back up until he needs to stop (at which point the navigator's hands touch together). No one-fingered waving allowed here. The person guiding the driver should be aware of low hanging branches, concrete patios on the far side, the distance from the electrical box and/or water and sewer hook ups to be able to guide the driver to the ideal spot on the site. Good luck! Edited 11/17/11: Many couples each have cell phones these days, so you can use your cell phones to call the other phone and set it on speaker phone to use in place of a walkie-talkie.

Check your brake lights and turn signals on your rig and towed vehicle after hooking up and before leaving your site. This is something Denny and I do faithfully to protect our rig and the drivers behind us. And we rarely see other RVers do it. The navigator stands to the rear of the rig or towed vehicle and the driver turns on the left signal (the navigator raises her/his left hand to signal that the light is working), then the right signal (right hand up for the navigator) and then presses the brake pedal (navigator lifts both hands in the air). See? Easy and it only takes a few seconds.

Walk-arounds. You're hitched up and ready to go. You've checked the lights and you're ready to hop in your truck/motorhome right? Nope. First do a walk-around. Simply walk around the four sides of your rig and tow(ed) vehicle, checking that the bins are closed and locked, the TV antenna is down, the jacks are up, chairs or bikes that are hanging on racks are secured, steps are retracted/folded in, windows are shut and all the power cords and hoses have been stowed . Now look around the campsite itself. Tablecloth off the picnic table? No chairs left out, no flower pots, no pet dishes, no trash? Great! You're good to go.

Have you ever thought about what would happen to your rig if you were in a bad accident/medical emergency and the rig needed to be moved? There are a couple of ways to deal with this problem. Some RVing organizations, such as FMCA (Family Motor Coach Assoc.) provides a service where they will send a driver to your rig's location and move it to another location for you. This service is also provided by emergency air flight medical services such as MASA and Skymed which fly you home or to your preferred hospital if you suffer a medical emergency while traveling. For those of you who don't have either of these options I suggest creating a detailed list of how to pack up and hitch up your rig and tow(ed) vehicle and then either send it to a family member/emergency contact or tell them where to find the list in your rig. Neither of our sons has every driven or operated our rig and truck so I tried to be as precise as possible in listing every step necessary to successfully move the rig by creating a list of everything that I do to prepare the fifth wheel for moving both inside and out and also a list of the steps to be taken to hitch the truck to the rig. I also explained that the best thing for them to do would be to ask any other fifth-wheel owner nearby for assistance with the whole process, for as we all know, RVers are always willing to help.

Don't assume the electric power boxes at all campgrounds are properly grounded and wired. You would be wise to have a voltage meter/tester that you use before plugging into any campground power box. To prevent any accidental tripping of the circuit breaker it's also smart to turn of the circuit breaker on the box before plugging in your power cord, then flip the switch back on. To further assist with power fluctuations, we use a Hughes Autoformer which has helped in those campgrounds whose power supply is a bit erratic. Edited 11/17/11: Our Autoformer was fried due to a wiring problem in our rig, so we now use a 50 amp power cord surge protector instead.

If your plastic grid for your exterior refrigerator vent is yellowed, spray it with Mean Green and allow the spray to sit a minute, and then wipe it off and rinse it with clear water. That yellowed plastic will now look as good as new!

Denny logs information about his truck maintenance into a computer program called Vehicle Record System which I found as shareware years ago. The free version allows you to track up to three vehicles without needing to buy the upgraded version. One of the handiest sections is the travel log. Denny loads the name of the campground we're staying at, the beginning mileage from when we left the previous campground and the mileage on the odometer when we arrived. This not only gives us a record of which campground we stayed at and when, it shows the actual mileage driven on the trailer tires so he knows when it's time to rotate them or to consider buying new ones.

Tires can be the bane of your existence if not properly maintained. A blowout can cause physical damage to your rig as well as a being time consuming and very dangerous. We've had tread separation of our tires on one fifth wheel (replaced by the manufacturer) and a blowout on the second one. This has been in spite of careful attention to air pressure and weight limitations. Our rig has triple axles which means there's a lot of pressure on that rear axle when tight turns are necessary to back into a camp site. The rear wheels will cant, causing a lot of pressure on the outer walls of the tires. After our last blowout a tire technician suggested special trailer tires to replace our special truck tires which came standard on the rig. The trailer tires are manufactured with firmer side walls for trailers that are basically being towed straight. This gives a lot more strength to the tire when you do make those turns creating additional pressure on the sidewalls. We have a lot more confidence in our tires now. The best part? They are cheaper than the light truck tires previously mounted on the rig.

Moving your recreational vehicle every few days or weeks and traveling over rough roads creates a lot of stress on fasteners, joints, welds, screw on handles, etc. We've had the handles of both our gray water and black water tanks actually come off because they have gradually unscrewed themselves with the movement of the fifth wheel. Set aside a day once a month or so to tighten exterior handles, check obvious screws, bolts and latches. While you're at it, check the water in your coach batteries and in those in your tow(ed) vehicle.

You know ultra violet rays from the sun can damage your tires, but do you ever think about your slideout rubber moldings? There are products to spray on the molding strips to keep the rubber soft and protect them from UV damage; find them at Camping World and Wal*mart.

Internet on the Road

In my FAQ section I touched on the ways to stay in touch with family, but I thought I'd also create a separate page on the various ways to access the Internet while traveling. It is so much easier to go online now than it was in 1998 when we first hit the road, with faster connection speeds and cheaper access. Technology is wonderful. Please note this page was originally created several years ago and has outdated information, but it's fun to see the progress technology has made.

Cell Phones
A few years ago we had a Nokia 5165 cell phone which we connected to a laptop computer via a cable modem. We then dialed our Eathlink account and used our cell phone minutes to connect to the Internet. Our connection speed was 4800 kbs if we were lucky and an e-mail from a friend that included attachments or a picture meant an hour on the phone or multiple dropped connections. And when the connection was dropped that meant that same e-mail started over from scratch when you re-connected. It was awkward and slow, but it was the only way to access the Internet from the comfort of our rig. There are still cell phones that have cable modem access with faster access speeds, but there are also better ways to go online now.
Newer cell phones have Internet access capabilities built in as long as you are willing to pay extra for data service. This is cumbersome for writing e-mails, however, since you have to use the cell phone keypad to write your messages. You can download your e-mails easily, however. You can also use it for surfing the Internet but the tiny screen of your cell phone doesn't make for pleasant reading experience. With the advent of iPhones and Droid phones you can enlarge the size of the screen for reading messages and surfing the 'net, but for me that would be annoying and time consuming.

PocketMail is a hand-held device with a keyboard and viewing screen that you use to send and receive e-mails. To use it, you type your e-mail messages into the PocketMail device, dial an 800 number and then hold the device up to your payphone handset or cellphone to transmit and/or receive your incoming e-mails. You cannot surf the Internet with this device, but a lot of people who are not comfortable with computers or who lack the space in their rv for one seem to like their PocketMail device. Certainly now that the PocketMail can be used with your cell phone it makes it nicer to download e-mails from the comfort of your home on wheels. You can purchase PocketMail equipment online for about $99 and one year's service will run $179 annually, which is $14.92 a month and often you'll see an "Ask Me About PocketMail" sign on the rig of a fellow rver in your campground. Edited 11/19/11: It seems PocketMail has gone high tech with Droid technology.

Verizon Wireless USB Modem
A new toy and one I'd probably switch to if for any reason we lost our service is the Verizon Wireless USB Modem . I've seen this puppy in action and it's slick. A small USB device that plugs into any USB port in your laptop or desktop computer, it connects through a Verizon wireless plan to the Internet. "Typical download speeds average 600–1400 kbps based on our network tests with 5 MB FTP data files, without compression. Typical upload speeds average 500–800 kbps. Actual speeds and coverage may vary." is what Verizon claims for data transfer speeds and a friend that has one of these modems confirms that it is really fast. The monthly charge for the wireless service is $59.99 which is the same as the monthly charge for and Starband satellite Internet service. The cost of the USB modem itself on the Verizon page is $129.99 with a two-year service package, but I found it advertised for $29.99 on with a 2 year service package. Such a deal!

Briefly, Wi-Fi is short for ‘wireless fidelity’. Many airports, hotels, and other services offer public access to WiFi networks so people can log onto the Internet and receive emails on the move. These locations are known as hotspots. Sometimes these hotspots are free, sometimes there is a charge for the service such as with Tengo Wi-fi service. You might find that the signal in campgrounds is quite weak unless the campground has added booster antennaes around the campground. Otherwise you might have to take your computer to the area of the office or clubhouse or wherever the main antenna is located to get a good enough signal to surf and download your e-mail. Be aware that most free Wi-fi access points have no security for their signal so you should have a good firewall and anti-virus protection installed on your computer before accessing the signal and I would avoid doing any financial transactions on the computer using an unsecured wireless connection.
Today if you buy a laptop computer chances are good it will come with Wi-fi technology pre-installed. There are Wi-fi cards that you can insert in the PCMCIA slot of your laptop computer if you have an older model, but better still is a USB wireless adaptor . I purchased one of these for our desktop computer when our modem went bad on our satellite system. It enabled me to use the desktop computer to access the campground's free Wi-fi signal while Denny used our laptop computer. It is about 1"x4" and I attached it to the side of the monitor with Velcro. It runs about $40-$50 and can be found online or at any of the computer/electronics stores although I found mine at Staples, where I often find good prices on computer related items.
We have camped in areas so far out in the sticks that we had to drive for miles before we found a hotspot signal. To locate a free Wi-fi signal you open your wireless connection program and it will search for the nearest Wi-fi signal. Your program should also say if the signal is "secured" or not. If it is secured, you would need a password to go online, so forget that one. Look for one that doesn't have security installed. We just drive around shopping centers and usually will find one that way. You'll have to park fairly close to the source to be able to go online and surf.
Edited 11/17/11: Over the years cellular and data coverage have increased to the point that using an air card or Mi-fi card seems to be the way to go. Verizon seems to have the advantage over AT&T with coverage and the fact that they have the Mi-fi, a device that allows you to plug up to five wireless devices to your Mi-fi card. Of course you will also need exterior antennaes and an amplifier/booster for areas where your signal is weak and there will always be dead zones no matter where you travel. Fortunately, many campgrounds now provide Wi-fi service, usually free to campers especially if you carry your laptop to the office or clubhouse or laundry areas. Rvers now expect Internet access and most campgrounds are trying to provide that. The caveat still exists for security however; maintain your firewalls and anti-virus and anti-spyware software and be cautious about doing online banking on open wi-fi systems.

Satellite Internet Service
There are multiple satellite Internet service providers, but the ones you'll see on the road are Starband and (formerly DirecWay) and MotoSat. MotoSat is a automated system that installs on the roof of your recreational vehicle only, while installers for Starband and will not only install an automated system on the roof of your RV but can teach you how to set up a mobile system on a tripod at a much cheaper initial cost. I must warn you, however, that the use of a tripod system is not officially accepted by the corporation. Starband briefly approved of a mobile tripod system but no longer offers it officially, although when I called the company about the system the young lady I spoke to said they still offer support for those who travel with a tripod system or if you purchase one from one of their original trained installers.
When we first heard about MotoSat installation ran about $6,000 with a monthly fee of $100 for Internet access. I understand the cost of installation has dropped to the $4,500 range and you can get a package with a monthly fee of $79.99 now. The fees are higher if you need more speed and data packets.
Starband and tripod system costs will vary with the installer. The cost includes your equipment and the training necessary to teach you how to set up and disassemble the equipment for travel on your own. I believe the average might be $1500-$1800. Your monthly fee will run $59.99 and up. Most installers offer support by phone and e-mail and there are several good groups online (especially on Yahoo groups) for any assistance you might need in setting up or trouble shooting. Because you will need assistance at some time or the other, believe me. Edited 11/17/11: With the advent of air cards and Mi-fi from Verizon, mobile satellite installers have all but disappeared. And the service itself has become rather slow and balky lately.

Most towns will have a library and most libraries now have computers and Internet access. In smaller towns you will probably be able to ask the librarian at the main desk if you can use the computers for Internet access and you will be directed to that area. At the larger areas you may have to sign up for a time slot to be able to access one of their computers. What you won't be able to do (unless you're in Altoona, Iowa) is bring in your own laptop and expect to find a telephone line to use for access. The libraries have been burned by folks using access numbers that are long distance and getting stuck with the charges, so they normally won't allow you to use their telephone lines in this manner. Denny and I have also found that many libraries now have Wi-fi so you can sit outside in the parking lot and access the Internet from your vehicle. We have done this several times in areas where our campsite was too heavily treed to be able to set up our satellite dish.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How Do You...?

When people discover we are full-timers, they ask very similar questions, with the most common question being "How do you get your mail?" So this section will attempt to answer some of those questions. If you have any questions or would like further clarification on any of the topics I've discussed, please feel free to e-mail me.
1. How do you get your mail?
2. Where do you bank?
3. How do you stay in touch with your family?
4. What did you do with your stuff?
5. How did you choose a home state?
6. Why did you switch to a fifth wheel from a motorhome?
7. Do you have a pet?
8. What's your favorite place?
9. What about the holidays?
10. Do you miss your house?
11. Do you boondock?  Stay in Wal*Mart parking lots?
12. Do you belong to a member campground?
13. What camping organizations do you belong to?
14. How do you decide where to travel?
15. Was it hard to adjust to being a full time rver?

How do you get your mail? This has to be the #1 question full-timers are asked by those curious about the lifestyle. We use the Escapees organization's mail forwarding service. They provide us with a street address and we have all of our mail sent to that address. Every week we notify the folks at the mail forwarding service of the campground's address where we'll be staying and they send out our mail in a large envelope. You can have your mail forwarded whenever you like; daily, weekly, bimonthly, monthly, whatever. Family Motor Coach Association offers the same service, as does the Good Sam organization and many other camping organizations, and there are private individuals and companies that offer the service as well. Many of these companies advertise in magazines that cater to the RVing lifestyle. One thing to remember is that the address you use can be your permanent address for tax purposes so you should take that into consideration also.

Where do you bank? Denny's pension check is direct deposited at our credit union in Ohio and we use our debit card for most of our purchases. We check online to find affiliate credit unions across the country so we can deposit checks and make withdrawals or use their ATMs without being charged a fee. Obtaining extra cash using the debit card is as simple as requesting extra cash back when you shop at Wal*Mart, any local grocery store or even the post office. Maintaining our accounts with our credit union from Ohio allows us the ability to obtain loans easily since we have been dealing with these folks for years and they know and remember us when we call. The Escapees organization is now affiliated with a credit union located in Livingston, Texas.
Certainly it would be possible for you to keep your original bank accounts if you would like or you can go with one of the many national bank chains so to be able to deal with branches across the country.

How do you stay in touch with your family? This has been made much easier with the advent of modern technology. When we first started RVing we had a cell phone in a "bag"-one that was permanently mounted in our motorhome. You paid by the minute and for every long distance call and there were also roaming charges every time you left your "home area". So a single quick phone call could cost $5-8 dollars for five minutes. Now of course, there are many carriers that provide nationwide coverage but we have been very pleased with our Cingular (now AT&T) service.

Our Internet access has changed over the years also. We originally used the phone lines at campgrounds, connecting through Earthlink service. But we found that many small campgrounds often had only one phone line and therefore were reluctant to allow you to tie up the line to download email, so we searched for a better option. Our next method of connecting to the Internet was when we purchased a laptop with a cellular modem card. We purchased a modem cable and connected the cell phone to the laptop and used our minutes to dial up the Earthlink service. After several years of connecting in that manner we discovered the DirecWay satellite system which opened up 24/7 Internet access for us. It is expensive at $59.99 a month, but we were able to switch to a cell phone plan with fewer minutes to lower that cost and we feel the availability of 24 hour a day Internet access is worth it. We use the Yahoo Messenger service that has voice and web cam capabilities to talk to and see our families and friends over the Internet and also to make inexpensive phone calls in areas where the cellular signal may not be strong enough for calls.

Another method of communication that our grandkids love is the personal postcards I create using our digital camera and our printer. These are much more personal than store-bought cards and often I'll set up our little tripod and use the manual timer on the camera to take a picture of "Grandpa and Grandma" at a national park or scenic area for them which they enjoy even more.

There are many methods of staying in touch with today's technology. Many cellular plans allow you to connect to the Internet directly now without connecting to a laptop, although text messaging is a bit cumbersome. Pocketmail is still a popular option; Pocketmail is a palm sized device with a screen and a keyboard that allows you to send and receive emails by holding the device to the handset of a pay phone or regular phone and dialing an 800 number which then transmits your e-mails and downloads any directed to you. It does not allow for surfing the Internet, but it's a quick and easy way to access your e-mail accounts. Of course, almost all libraries now have computers and Internet access which allows you to surf and get your e-mail, but your time is often limited there or you may have to sign up for a time slot to use one. It is rare for libraries to allow you to use your own laptop on their phone lines, so expect to compose your e-mails there.

Edited 11/12/11: Obviously this section was written several years ago—times have changed. While Denny and I still use our DirectWay/ satellite dish for Internet access, air phone cards are the most common way for Rvers to have online Internet access these days. The company of choice for best coverage seems to be Verizon, which also gives you the choice of a standard air card or the “mi fi” card, which is also a wireless router so you can connect several devices to one air card. Technology continues to advance and while there is no perfect choice for Internet access (since air cards still have dead spots and satellite coverage depends on whether or not you have a clear shot to the southern skies) it is helpful that many campgrounds now offer wi-fi either at the individual camp sites or near the office or clubhouse. Usually the wi-fi is free near the office and more and more often it is now being offered free at the sites as many Rvers/campers now insist on the availability of Internet access while traveling.

And grandkids love Skype.

What did you do with your stuff? Making the decision early on to full-time after we retired allowed us time to get used to the idea that we would have to divest ourselves of our "stuff". So we were more careful about buying new items and we told our two sons to make a list of any and all of those items they wanted from the house with the knowledge that anything that was left was to be sold in a moving sale and the remainder after that would be donated to charity. And that's exactly how it worked when the house was sold and we were ready to go. I did box up some family Christmas ornaments and my smallish collection of Bohemian cut glass which are currently being stored in my mother's basement as well as our huge roll top desk which neither son had room for in their apartments. If my mother decides to move to a smaller place I'll probably sell the glass on eBay and give the kids the ornaments and the desk. After all, I haven't seen or used them in eight years, so I guess they really aren't that important anymore, right?
Edited 11/12/11: My mother passed away, I sold the art glass, divided the ornaments between the two sons, gave the desk to the youngest son to hang onto for us, stored a couple of boxes of family keepsakes in the basement of the youngest son and now all we own is what we carry in the rig. We hadn't seen the things we had packed away back in 1998 since that time, so obviously they weren't that important to us so we let them go.

How did you choose a home state? When we first started fulltiming we had every intent of using our Family Motor Coach Association mail forwarding address in Cincinnati as our home address, but when we purchased our first fifth wheel we were no longer eligible to be members and had to find a new mail forwarding service. We decided to use the Escapees mail forwarding service since Texas has no state income tax and no tax on intangible property. Other states with no state income tax are Florida, South Dakota, Washington, Nevada, Tennessee, Wyoming, Alaska, and New Hampshire. However, some of these states tax your dividend and interest income (intangible tax) and others may have private property taxes so you have to do your homework to see which would work best for you.

Why did you switch to a fifth wheel from a motorhome? Our first RV was a motorhome, purchased very spur-of-the-moment at a RV show with no research other than we knew the Winnebago brand name was reliable. Bad mistake. However, when we purchased our second RV it too, was a motorhome. I liked being able to fix a meal or sandwich while traveling, or to be able to use the bathroom without having to stop. Set up was easy and quick and it was no harder to drive than a our van to my way of thinking. Of course, back in 1993-94 there were no slides on motorhomes, so we adjusted to the "one-butt" kitchen and lived with the idea that Denny had to slouch a bit (he's 6'6") to pass under the ceiling mounted air conditioning unit. Then one day during a long Thanksgiving weekend we stopped at a RV dealer outside of Savannah, Georgia and stepped into an Alpha Gold fifth wheel. Wow! Triple slides and an eight foot ceiling meant no slouching for Denny and a huge amount of floor space and room in the kitchen area. The wheels started turning. Of course, when we fell into our deal on our 1999 King of the Road Royalite we had to purchase a truck so there was that additional expense, but we discovered that there was a significant savings on our insurance since we would have only one motorized vehicle, there would only be oil changes and engine maintenance on one vehicle instead of two, it was much easier to find a Ford dealer who could service a Ford F450 pickup than it was to find one who could service a 38 foot motorhome (our Bounder was on a Ford chassis so a Ford dealer had to work on it while under warranty). We lost a lot of storage space but gained a lot of floor space, a side-by-side refrigerator freezer with an ice maker and a stacking washer/dryer (which I wouldn't give up for the world, now). Most, if not all, motorhomes now have slide-outs, but they still don't have the room for a desk/office area as we have in our fifth wheel so I'd be hard pressed to change back. There are certainly advantages to motorhomes too but that might be the subject of another web page eventually. Denny and I do check out the motorhomes at RV dealers occasionally and have discovered that more of them are coming up with floor plans that include a desk/computer area and a more convenient, comfortable place for the living room televisions (not a fan of looking up towards the ceiling at the front of a motorhome to watch TV while sitting sideways on the couch.) But our reasons for switching to the 5er still stand.

Do you have a pet? We traveled with our cat when we first started fulltiming but did not replaced her after she passed away. We consider a cat the ideal motorhome pet since a cat does not need to be walked (especially in the rain) and if need be they can be left overnight in an emergency and they won't stuff themselves with their food in the morning and then starve the remainder of the day. We like dogs, but we've never owned one as a couple and we probably never will.

Edited 03/03/2007 If you read my blog at all, you will know that we added a cat to the household in May of 2006. We obtained Patches at the Baldwin County Animal Shelter in Robertsdale, AL as a kitten, hoping that by teaching her to ride in a noisy, diesel fueled pickup truck at a young age she would adapt to a life of constant travel. And so she has. However, if something happened to this cat, we would not replace her as having a pet does curtail your activities and freedom to come and go as you please, like wanting to take a cruise. We have discovered that cats do not kennel well. Lesson learned.

What's your favorite place? Ah, that's a tough one. We haven't found the perfect spot to settle down yet, but we've been to many memorable areas. We love the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Gulf Shores, Alabama area, the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona and the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Michigan's western shoreline amazed us with its clear waters and sandy beaches (who knew?) and we've grown to love the desert areas of Arizona and Texas in the springtime. This country is so amazingly diverse that you can't pick just one area as your favorite.

What about the holidays? We do return to Ohio for Christmas. Now that we winter out West it's much more expensive to return home as we leave our rig here rather than subject it to the rigors and hazards of winter driving and fly back. We have met many couples who do not return home for various reasons, usually because their children are spread all over the country and therefore they spend the holidays with other Rvers. I wish at times we could do that without guilt but it just won't happen. I would love to create a "Christmas in July" routine with our families which would allow us to return to Ohio and New York in warm weather and then stay in our favorite desert haunts in the winter. I think I'll have to work on that.

Edited 11/12/11: As of 2008, we no longer return to Ohio and New York for the Christmas holidays. It is strange and not the same, but the cold and snow are not our friends so we're sticking to spending the winters in warmer climes for now.

Do you miss your house? Not for a moment. We have almost all the amenities of our house, albeit on a smaller scale. We have the luxury of moving to a new location as often as we like and sometimes we have a lakeside or beachfront property for the cost of one night's camping fee. No, we don't have the big yard (no grass mowing/weeding/cultivating), the deck (no scraping/priming/painting), no gardens (no weeding/replacing flowers and bulbs/killing grubs), no work shop (no major maintenance/remodeling jobs) etc., etc. We've traded our old neighbors for new acquaintances and friends and have expanded our knowledge of geography, history, horticulture, culture and so much more. Miss our house? I don't think so. Okay, maybe the fireplace.

Do you boondock? Do you stay overnight in Wal*Mart parking lots? No and no. Our rig is not set up for solar power and does not have a generator, either or both of which are necessary for boondocking (camping without electric/water and sewer hook ups). Space and weight considerations eliminated the possibility of a generator and also the extra banks of batteries needed for solar power. We are quite content to camp at campgrounds every night and have budgeted for it. It would be nice to pull off some evening along the Pacific Coast Highway and spend the night by the ocean, but we have accepted the fact that we prefer to have hookups and electrical power to operate our computers and TVs. As for staying in Wal*Mart parking lots; we rarely travel more than 250 miles in one day so we're always ready to pull into a campground no later than 3 p.m. There is no reason for us to spend the night at a Wal*Mart as we are never in a rush to get to a particular location.

Do you belong to a member campground? Yes, we do although it took us six years of traveling before we bought into our first private membership campground. We waited until we had spent the winter in Florida, Texas and Arizona before we decided we liked spending the winter in Arizona the best and at that time we visited a private membership campground and decided to purchase a membership for use in the winter. A year later we purchased a membership with a corporation that had a much larger number of sister campgrounds in their organization so we had a larger number of campgrounds to choose from for our travels. They paid for themselves after about eighteen months of use.

What camping organizations do you belong to? Escapees, Good Sam Club, Passport America. We have membership with two private membership campground organizations which also give us access to the Golf Card and Golf Access for golfing discounts up to 50% on greens fees if we rent a golf cart. The Escapees have their own campgrounds and also have made arrangements with other campgrounds for their members to receive a 15% discount on campground fees. Good Sam affiliate campgrounds allow you a 10% discount on camping fees and with Passport America your camping fees can be discounted as much as 50%.

How do you decide where to travel? Our first year out we knew we were going to spend time at Myrtle Beach and then head south to Florida, so I researched what cities had golf courses that accepted the Golf Card and had campgrounds that accepted the Passport American discount. That worked well, so our first full year I used the same method, knowing we had to return to Ohio in the late spring for our youngest son's graduation from college and wanting to head to Maine from that point. Basically each year I pick an area we haven't explored yet and search all the campground books and golf discount courses for areas where we can take advantage of the cheapest rates and yet see places we've never traveled. Of course, life has a habit of getting in the way and our plans have changed due to family illness, death, child birth, graduations and weddings. We accept that none of our plans are written in stone and just go with the flow. So far that has worked for us.

Was it hard to adjust to being a full time rver? Honestly? Kinda. Actually, I personally found it harder to adjust to being newly retired rather than being a full timer. I was used to having a job, used to having my own money, used to having a lot of responsibility. Since I quit well before my retirement age/term of service I don't receive a pension yet so we manage on Denny's pension and his stipend from Social Security. Denny had been retired for six years by the time we hit the road so he had long ago dealt with the work separation issues. We had to learn to live on one income, we had to learn to live together in less than 400 square feet of interior space (spending the first two and a half months at Myrtle Beach after we hit the road helped there--I was outside a lot), we had to learn to live without 24 hour access to the Internet (not a problem these days), and Denny and I learned how to lean on each other more for friendship and emotional support since we no longer had the anchor of close family and friends. We left Ohio in September and by the time Thanksgiving rolled around we were very comfortable with the lifestyle and our decision. And fourteen years later we are still comfortable with that decision and the lifestyle.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The List--the Nicities

Slip stop Use slip stop to line your cupboards and you'll find that your dishes will slide around less. I also place it under my printer, coffee pot and other items on the desk top and counter that I want to remain in place.

Tension Rods Tension rods are helpful in your pantry and even as extra support in your refrigerator while traveling from campground to campground. Even with the best suspension you'll find that bumps in the road will jar items off your shelves that will be ready to attack once you open that cupboard door.

Hughes Autoformer The Hughes Autoformer boosts the voltage at your site when the voltage drops below 117 volts. In layman's terms, it evens out the power, reducing the possibility of spikes and brown outs, thereby reducing the possibility of damage to your electrical system. We like ours and believe in it but this past winter we have discovered two different campgrounds that have banned their use.

Sewer Solution This is Denny's favorite. It replaces the 3 inch floppy sewer hose. The Sewer Solution has no moving parts, but uses a water jet to break up waste and paper material from your black water tank and flushes it into the much smaller 1/2 inch hose. Denny has modified ours by eliminating the green hose and instead stores several different lengths of PVC pipe. He can brace these with blocks of wood or the hooked spikes he has created to allow for the proper slant for a proper flow of water. We have owned ours since 1995 and it still works as well as the day we received it.

GPS navigation system There are a variety of types of GPS systems for vehicles now. We have used a laptop, Street Atlas software and a GPS receiver to navigate in unfamiliar areas until the advent of the dashboard model of GPS systems. Since then we have had Magellan units and current use the Garmin unit made for truck routing since standard automobile routing sometimes takes you through the middle of towns that are hard to navigate with a thirty-eight foot long trailer. It's not perfect, to be sure and sometimes takes us a few miles out of the way to drive on “truck routes” rather than the more expedient route. I preplan our trips on the computer but there have been times that we have been rerouted on detours and it is very nice to have a mapping system that shows alternate routes or how to get back on track with the new GPS systems.

Tire pressure monitoring system This is an automatic system that involves a wireless monitor that you place on your dashboard and special air pressure monitors that are attached to your valve stems. After a year, we have had no air leakage with these and the system did prevent major damage when we had a blowout and the system's alarm went off immediately so Denny could slow down and get off the interstate. You can purchase extra sensors for as many tires as you have on your vehicle and RV or simply put them on your RV only. I should actually have placed these under the “necessities” category, especially for people with fifth wheels or trailers because it is harder to hear/see a blown tire when your RV is behind you.

Tire pressure monitoring valve caps Until we are ready to invest in an automatic tire pressure monitoring system, we are using these valve cap tire pressure monitors. They are sold in packages of 4 normally and are available for different PSI tire ratings. A quick glance at the color of the cap tells us if we've lost pressure in a tire. Edited 6/24/2007. We have removed our set of tire pressure monitoring valve caps due to the fact they were causing a slow leak in a couple of the tires.

Jack Stabilizers We purchased a set of JT Strong Arm Jack Stabilizers because we thought the mechanics of the idea were sound and it would eliminate having to carry around a king pin stabilizer. Denny thinks the stabilizers work fine, I'm not a fan. I believe the problem stems from the fact that our washer and dryer are installed in the nose of our fifth wheel, all the way to the front ahead of the jacks and that the movement from the spin action of the washer throws off the balance of the trailer enough that the jack legs and stabilizers move a bit which allows for more movement of the trailer itself after a few days. The installers admitted to us that they had to modify the way our set of stabilizers were installed due to the way our trailer chassis/frame was built so that could have something to do with the amount of movement that we still get while using these stabilizers also.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The List--the Necessities IMHO

You've bought a new motorhome, fifth wheel, travel trailer, pop-top, truck camper or variation thereof and the folks at the rv dealership threw in a package including a sewer hose, a water hose and some holding tank treatment. You're all set for your first camping experience in your rig, right? Well, let's just say you're off to a good start, but the list of equipment needed to make your rig and rving experience more comfortable and fun is a little more extensive than that. I've listed items that we consider necessary and those we consider helpful but not required for both a motorhome and a fifth wheel as we've owned a couple of each.

Shall we start from the bottom up?

The Necessities

Jack pads Made of polystyrene, polyethylene or a similar type of plastic, these square or round disks provide a wide base for your leveling jacks. This can be especially helpful when you are parked on a campsite that has had a lot of rain recently, or one that is paved with asphalt. We had our set made locally and asked that they drill a hole in the middle of each one so that we could use the hooked end of the awning puller to pull them out from underneath the rig.

Leveling blocks and/or leveling boards Leveling blocks are a set of plastic disks that you can stack at various heights to raise the wheels of your rig to the proper level. Even though you may have automatic hydraulic leveling jacks on your motorhome, there will be times that the jacks actually raise one or more tires off the ground when they level out the rig and this is when the blocks come in handy to support those wheels.

For a fifth wheel or travel trailer you'll find that carrying several lengths of 1" and 2 " thick boards will allow you to easily level out your rig by stacking the lengths to the proper height needed and driving up on them. Or you can carry a couple sets of the leveling blocks.

Water hoses Known as food-grade water hoses, these white plastic hoses are made of a special material that won't leach chemicals into your water. Regular garden hoses are not made for potable (drinkable) water and may contribute an unpleasant odor or flavor to your water. It's wise to carry at least two lengths of water hoses as the distance from your water hook up to your rig will vary from campground to campground and at times the hook ups can be quite far from your rig. We carry three sets.

Sewer hoses Like water connections, sometimes your sewer hook up ise not conveniently located so it is very wise to have an extra length or two of sewer hose. For ease of water/sewage flow, it's also wise to carry a set of “slinkys” or accordian style sewer hose supports. Some handy folks have created a sewer hose support from pieces of gutter or a section of PVC pipe cut in half length wise.

Power cords Your rig will come supplied with a standard length power cord, but like water hook ups, sometimes the electrical box is too far away to reach with one length so carrying an extension is a good idea.

Power Surge Protector This is now on our required list; after losing eight appliances to an electrical problem, we would not be without a power surge protector on our 50 amp power line now. It's a heck of a lot cheaper than replacing a lot of electrical equipment or even the cost of our insurance deductible charge. And when ours malfunctioned after six months (possibly due to a bad power outlet), the company replaced it free of charge.

Power cord adapters Many of the newer rvs now come with 50 amp circuitry due to all the gadgets included these days. Many of the older campgrounds have only 30 amp electrical service so you will need a 50 amp to 30 amp power cord adapter to be able to plug into the electrical box. There are also 30 amp to 50 amp adapters for those with 30 amp service in their rig who may find the rare campground that only provides 50 amp service. If you plan to travel in Canada, it would be wise to also have a 30 amp to 20 amp adapter as many of the campgrounds up north have only 15 to 20 amp electrical service at the sites.

Wheel chocks Even though you have a parking/emergency brake on your motorhome, having a set of wheel chocks is necessary as a back up in case of flat tires or blowouts on your rear braking tires while traveling.

Wheel locks While wheel locks are advertised for fifth wheels and travel trailers to prevent tire movement and to stabilize your rig, we also used one for our motorhome. It is the first thing put in place after we are satisfied with the rig's position when we've backed into/pulled into a site. If you have a set of these, you can forego the wheel chocks. On a fifth wheel or travel trailer these type of wheel locks really do make a difference in keeping movement down when you are walking around inside your rig.

Trailer stabilizer Placed between the tires on the opposite side of the fifth wheel from where we've place the wheel lock, the trailer stabilizer truly minimizes the front-to-back rocking that occurs when you move about in the rig. An alternative to wheel locks. This is the type of trailer stabilizer we currently use as it's quicker and easier to remove from between the tires.

King pin stabilizer Newer version come in a tripod design that seem to add even more stability, but we definitely notice a different in the sway of the rig when we don't put up the king pin stabilizer.

Hoppy level This is my personal favorite. This version of the Hoppy level swings outward so you can not only see the level of the rig from front to back but also side to side. However, the part I like is the round dial with the level on top; when you raise your fifth wheel to unhitch from your truck you set the dial so the bubble is level on the round dial leaving it in that position. You then raise or lower your rig to the proper level, but when you are ready to hitch up again, you return the rig to the height indicated by the round dial's level so there's no need to guess if you've raised the hitch far enough for the truck to back into it Neat, huh? There are many types of levels, including a very large one that many people attach to their king pin box, so what you use will be based on your personal preference. I simply prefer the convenience of having a level that checks both directions for me in one place.

Stepladder Whether you own a motorhome or a fifth wheel, you'll have to wash the exterior windows and you'll need a stepladder for that.

Large cleaning brush with a telescoping handle Many campgrounds have restrictions on washing of rigs and those that do allow you to clean your rig will normally require a brush and bucket for washing (instead of using a spray cleaner device).

Road service coverage There are many companies out there that provide road service coverage. We use Coach Net and have been very pleased with their response, as well as with our former coverage with Allstate Road Service. We only switched to Coach Net when we were given our first year free with our new rig in 2002 and we've used it several times since for flat tires/blow outs. Coach Net also claims to have 24 hour a day RV technicians on staff for advice by telephone when you are having problems but we've not used that part of the service. I think it is much wiser to leave the changing of a flat tire on a triple axle rig parked on the side of a busy highway in sleeting rain (no fun, believe me) to someone else. The $100 per year cost (it will be less your first year) will be worth it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

We Switch to a Fifth Wheel Capriciously

Fast-forward to November of 1999. Denny and I had officially been full time Rvers since September of 1998. We had just sold our 14 acres of property on a small lake near Seneca, South Carolina, so we were spending a week in Shorter, Alabama at the Wind Drift Campground after having completed the paperwork for the sale of the land. This is a tiny campground behind a gas station (they take the reservations and the fees) with a small pond, a new small recreation building with a modem access and nothing else but cows coming to drink at the pond in the evening. It's 20 miles from Montgomery, Alabama and that was our downfall; it was near RV dealers and we had time on our hands and money to spend from the sale of our land in South Carolina. We were hopping from RV dealer to RV dealer, simply checking out a variety of rigs, when we met Cliff Owen who worked at Alabama Motor Coach in Wetumpka, AL.

We were looking at a 35 foot King of the Road fifth wheel and liked most of what we saw except for the fact that it had green carpeting and green plaid recliners that had escaped from a 50s sitcom. Cliff asked us what it would take for us to buy the rig and I told him "new leather chairs" as I couldn't stand the plaid upholstery. He told us he had a friend who did upholstery work and he would have it done for us. Hmm. Back to our campground to discuss the possibilities. We didn't have a truck to tow with, I really didn't care for green, etc., but it was the last model on the lot as they were no longer going to carry the line. It seems it was too upscale for the area. They could sell Serengeti motorhomes for over $200,000 and little travel trailers for fish camping, but not the fifth wheels.

In the meantime, Cliff checked with a car dealer close to Shorter, who got on the computer looking for a truck for us. We specifically wanted a white Ford F450 medium duty pickup truck. The Ford dealer found one in Pensacola, Florida and he'd work out a deal to get it up to Alabama. Okay, we'll go for it. Alabama Motor Coach was going to do the chairs and last minute stuff and we can leave Roo (the Bounder) at their camp site on their grounds while we go home for Christmas, and then we can take all the time we need to switch our belongings from one rig to the other after Christmas. So now we owned a RV in which Denny could stand totally upright (he's 6'6" tall) as the fifth wheel has 8' ceilings. The ceiling height of the Bounder had been a problem for Denny since the ceilings were 6' 4” tall so he always had to stoop inside the motorhome.

Next we drive to the car dealer, give him a check to hold the truck in Pensacola (we had long ago checked out tow ratings for trucks pulling fifth wheels, assuming that eventually we'd switch over once we sold the land). Fine, that's done. We decided to drive down to Pensacola to look at the truck and make sure it had the options we needed to tow a large vehicle. This was a drive of 250 miles one way. We arrived at the Ford dealership, introduced ourselves to the manager of the truck sales division and told him why we were there. He got a really sick look on his face and told us he sold the truck yesterday as our car dealer back in Montgomery had not told him definitely that he wanted the truck and a buyer walked in with cash so the manager sold it to that buyer. Oh my god, now what? He immediately started checking the computer and there were no Ford F450s available in a six state area, unless we wanted to go to a Classy Chassis type vehicle at $70,000. I don't think so! He finally contacted Centurion Conversions in Michigan and they had our model with our options on their line; we put a deposit down with a sigh of relief.

It was time to head for Ohio to spend Christmas with our families.

You Can't Drive the Motorhome to the Grocery Store

If you are going to be traveling in a motorhome then it only makes sense to tow a vehicle to use to drive around town when your motorhome is parked at a campground or wherever you are staying. You have three choices; have your partner/spouse drive that second vehicle separately, use a tow dolly or install a tow bar/bracket on your vehicle and motorhome.

At the time of our purchase of the Vectra, we owned a 1992 Geo Metro convertible and a 1992 Mazda LX pickup truck. We discovered that the cost of buying a tow bar and a set of tow brackets for each vehicle would be about the same amount as buying a tow dolly. Since applying tow brackets meant modifying the vehicles, we went with the tow dolly. Unfortunately, we tried to save money by buying a homemade tow dolly, almost lost the Geo on the highway on the way to Indiana when the chains holding it to the tow dolly came loose and in the end, ended up purchasing a new Demco tow dolly. So saving money cost us money, but the Demco tow dolly worked wonderfully for both vehicles and we never had any problem with it.

I've fallen in love with a new car twice in my life; my 1988 Olds Cutlass Supreme (remember "it's not your father's Oldsmobile"?) and my 1997 Pontiac Sunfire convertible. Metallic teal blue with a white vinyl top and white interior, Denny and I loved to say "we look good in a convertible!" while driving around town. We purchased the Sunfire not only for its good looks, but for the fact that it could be towed with all four wheels down by simply putting the transmission into neutral and pulling one fuse for the odometer. We confirmed this not with the local salesman and service technicians (because they didn't know) but by contacting the engineers at Pontiac directly and getting a TSB faxed directly to us for confirmation.

While we could have used the tow dolly for "Sassy", we had gotten tired of hauling the tow dolly around and trying to find a place to put it in small camp sites, so we decided to switch over to a tow bar system. We knew we could order a system from Camping World and were willing to drive up to northern Ohio to have it installed, but first I needed to find a tow bar and bracket that would allow for installation without cutting into the front plastic cowling on the convertible. The Blue Ox tow bar fit the bill so we ordered it and told the installers at Camping World that if it wouldn't work they were not to install it as we didn't want any cutting on the car. Well, there was cutting involved in the end, but it was to the plastic mesh in the air vents below and the braces for the removable bracket would barely be visible. Yes! The installers also did a great job of wiring Sassy's taillights to be connected to the Bounder at the same time so we were set to travel in style.

We loved the ease of hooking up the Blue Ox towing system and we never had any problems with it. At the time we owned the motorhome, there were very few cars that were capable of being towed all wheels down as authorized by the manufacturers. The Sunfire was one and many of the Saturn brand vehicles were approved to be towed behind motorhomes and Class Cs, making them the "toad" of choice for RVers. Since then more vehicles have been approved for towing all four down, plus there are now after market transmission pumps and/or axle locks and drive shaft couplings that allow towed vehicles to be pulled behind a motorhome without causing damage to the transmission.

When Denny and I had our motorhome we relied upon the motorhome brakes to stop our Sunfire when towing it but it is now recommended that RVers use a separate brake system for their towed vehicle for safety reasons, especially when you are towing heavier vehicles such as trucks and minivans and large SUVS. Certainly if we still had a motorhome we would invest in a supplemental braking system for our towed vehicle if our motorhome did not have the capability of safely stopping in an emergency situation due to towing a vehicle.

For convenience in storage, connecting the towed vehicle and ease of use we'd go with the tow bar/bracket system every time.

A Year Later, A Second Motorhome

We used the Vectra for a few weekend jaunts and a business trip to New Orleans, but the idea of driving around on an overloaded chassis concerned us even though we no longer traveled with the fresh water tank filled. So we started our research anew and visited RV dealer after RV dealer, checking on different makes and models, comparing weight rating and size and quality, searching online forums for opinions and rants about the different models and discovered the motorhome we liked the best was the Fleetwood Bounder. In the back of our minds was the thought that we needed to find a motorhome that could possibly used as a full time home should we decide to eventually take that route. The Bounder certainly had the room and the storage space to be used in that capacity, however I absolutely refused to buy one because the interior came in one color; muddy brown. I finally explained my revulsion for that particular shade in a motorhome to a salesman in Cincinnati and he quickly pointed out to me that Fleetwood had just offered the 1994 model with a blue interior. Wow! I could get a rig that had a washer/dry combo, a separate ice maker, tons of cabinet space and an attractive blue interior. We'll take it! Oops! One proviso; once the rig arrived from the factory it had to be weighed at a local truck stop scale and we had to see the certified weight slip before we signed the final paperwork to purchase the rig. The dealer agreed, it was done and we had a rig that had oodles of carrying capacity with its tag axle chassis.

One thing about the RV Vagabonds, our mistakes are never cheap. But this time around, we had done our homework. That is, as much could be done in a time where the Internet was just being noticed and there were all of two books out there about the full time Rving lifestyle.

Jumping In With Both Feet

As I mentioned in our About Us page, we purchased our 1993 Winnebago Vectra after seeing it displayed at a RV show. We read up briefly on major RV manufacturers, gross vehicle weight ratings/capacity, price comparisons, etc. but since the Vectra was a new model we had only the company's spec sheets to go by. The salesman assured us we had plenty of carrying capacity and we loved the luxurious appearance of the interior so we bought the Vectra.

Having brought the Vectra home and parked it in the driveway to the rear of the house, the next step was to furnish the rig so it would be ready to go at a moment's notice. I decided that I was not going to lug clothes, pots and pans, linens and food back and forth between house and rig for any trips, so we purchased new kitchen ware including Corelle dishes (I wanted nice things that would be durable and lightweight), linens, stocked the pantry with canned goods and filled the closet and cupboards with a couple of weeks' worth of clothing. We were all set to make our first trip to Panama City Beach, taking along our then 15 year old son, Darby.

As we set off for Florida, we made a detour to stop at the gravel pit to have the Vectra weighed on their truck scale. We had a full tank of gas, a full fresh water tank, three adults and a week's worth of supplies and weighed out at 500 pounds in excess of our gross vehicle weight capacity. Shocked and angry we headed south.

We took two days to get to Panama City Beach and chose the Raccoon River Resort as our campground as it was one block from the beach. We provided entertainment for our neighbors by managing to get the awning hung up on a tree branch as we were pulling into our campsite, necessitating some back and forth maneuvering to break loose from the branch without causing any more damage than the initial first scrape. Fingers were pointed, voices were raised and Darby escaped by putting on earphones and cranking up his Walkman, but we were finally in our site. The neighbors provided advice on hooking up our utilities since we were obviously newbies and we were invited for "happy hour". While we passed on that first day's happy hour, we did join in the next day which is how we learned about the lifestyle they called “fulltiming”. The couple beside us and the one behind us turned out to be brothers and each couple had been on the road for several years. One couple had sold their home and had no desire to purchase another one, while the younger brother and his wife maintained an apartment but rarely used it. They were lively and entertaining and so eager to pass on information that we felt fortunate we had chosen this campground as we were learning just by listening to them.

"Hmm," we said, "fulltiming..."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Background Info

For those interested, in our pre-full timer's life we both worked for the Kettering Police Department. Denny was a patrolman and also worked as a detective in violent crimes. Linda was a civilian police dispatcher. We met at work and married after a few years, each of us bringing a son into the family.

When the City of Kettering told Denny that after twenty-five years of service they would send his paycheck home to him he jumped at the chance to retire. He retired at age 53 in June of 1992. I, unfortunately, needed to work 30 years to earn my retirement so I ended up freezing my pension eleven years shy of my retirement date in September of 1998 so we could travel while we were healthy. Thus we travel on one pension until I reach age 60.

We purchased our first rig, a Winnebago Vectra, in 1993 after seeing it at a RV show at the Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio. We had gone to the RV show simply as a way to relieve the boredom of a snowy winter's day and came home excited about these "homes on wheels". On our next day off we drove to Cincinnati to look at the Vectras again and ended up signing on the dotted line. I had never been camping a day in my life but I thought that this would be a wonderful way to "rough it"! Since that first motorhome purchase we have owned a 1994 Fleetwood Bounder, a 1999 King of the Road Royalite fifth wheel 2002 National RV Palisades fifth wheel and a 2002 National RV Palisades fifth wheel. Our current rig is a 2011 Heartland Landmark Grand Canyon fifth wheel. More on that later.

Our original plan had once been to retire to our 14 acres of lakeside property in South Carolina, but once we bought that first motorhome we started thinking about traveling instead. We set a tentative date to start fulltiming as the year after our youngest son graduated from college, but when he married his love in his junior year of college everything changed. So in a mad rush I spent six months at a local beauty college to train and get my license as a nail technician, we sold the house, I quit my position two days later and a week after that we were officially fulltimers on our way to Myrtle Beach and a whole new lifestyle. That was September of 1998 and we haven't looked back since. If you have any questions you would like to ask, feel free to contact us at vagabrauns (at) gmail (dot) com.