As I stated in Part 1 we traveled over 9000 miles and stayed in our trailer for 87 nights during the 10 month time period that we had it. We had a few extended trips of three weeks or more and this gave us some idea of what living in a small space is like, and what we needed to do to make
the best use of it while we enjoyed it. We also have a 65 pound dog, Montana, that is part of the family and travels with us. Pets add another dimension to your travel and sometimes complicate it, but we think that it is worth the effort. Pets do factor in on making decisions on the makeup of the rv. As an example, we talked to a couple looking at the Newmar line and they indicated that they wanted to order their coach without couches as they wanted to put their own in, because their cats would scratch and ruin the furniture offered by Newmar. Fortunately, for us our pet prep is minimal. I also mentioned in Part 1 that it is important to do your research before you buy. Seasoned rv’ers always say buy your third rv first. I think that is good advice to an extent, but no matter how much you research through reading articles, looking at floor plans, and talking to other rv’ers it is really hard to know what will work best until you have actually lived in it for a while. That’s why, despite most people hearing the phrase, “buy your third rv first,” they still can’t do it. We purchased our first rv with the idea that we would upgrade if we decided we liked the lifestyle so we didn’t sink a lot of money in to it even though we did buy new. What we didn’t plan on was to trade up to a motorhome in the first year.
During this first year we learned a lot and we did find that we did receive a lot of good recommendations from other rv’ers. Below is a list of our recommendations, observations or things we think important to consider as you prepare to rv, whether it be weekends, extended trips, or full time.
- Campgrounds and Such: Now that you have that nice new (at least to you new) rv you need a place to go and park it. We have found that campgrounds are as diverse as neighborhoods and communities. Our comments are based on camping in the East and Midwest. We have not had the opportunity to stay out West yet. Even within campgrounds there will be overnight campers, seasonal campers and those that have made it a permanent home. This applies to those facilities that may charge $100 plus per night down to
those that charge only $15 or so. You will find that the longer you stay, the less expensive the site is per day. So those staying by the month will be paying considerably less than those that stay just one night. There are also National Parks, State Parks, Corps of Engineers, Forest Service, County and City Parks and other places that provide sites in various forms. This first year we joined KOA, Good Sams, and Passport America (PA). Each one of these groups has parks associated with them that will give you a discount when you camp, usually 10%. PA campgrounds give you a 50% discount, but sometimes weekends and stays longer than three days are not permitted at that rate. We have found that PA campgrounds are generally older and upkeep is not as good as some of the others, but are fine for short stop overs. Escapee’s is another organization that caters to the full time rv’er and do provide some discounted parks which we have used. They are on the order of the PA campgrounds, but certainly worth using. We have found that the Good Sams membership is accepted at the most parks. So if you can purchase only one membership, I would get the Good Sams one, which also provides a discount at any Camping World store. There are others such as FMCA, AAA, etc. that are accepted at certain places, but it gets to be too costly to join all of them and they end up overlapping anyway. We have found that KOA’s seem to be more expensive and we tend to use them last but the parks have been nice for the most part. The Such part is that folks can use Walmart, Camping World, Cracker Barrel, Elks or Moose Lodges (members only) truck stops and other places for overnight parking when just needing a place to stay for a short time while enroute to another destination. You should check with the person in charge before staying and not put out all your slides, chairs and BBQ grill. Remember this is not a campground, but a convenient, safe place to do a quick overnight while headed to your destination. Certain wineries and agricultural farms also provide places to stay under certain circumstances. It’s also a nice gesture to purchase some supplies or food there too. We always try to purchase something we would have bought anyway or before you know it you have spent more than you would have if you would have camped in a regular campground.
- How to Find Campgrounds: There are lots of ways to find places to stay, especially now that we have the availability of all the phone apps. Good Sam, KOA, Passport America, State Parks, etc. all have apps for their campgrounds. For those of you who may still like to use books KOA, Good Sam and Passport America still publish these books. Although they can provide more information than an app, we find that it is easier to use the app than to go get the book and start thumbing through it. In addition to the above named apps we use RV Parky and Allstays. These last two are really our favorites. They seem to provide the most information and will link you to reviews and the campground website if they have one. Allstays does cost $10, but again we think it is worth it. I’m sure that there are others out there, but these are the ones that we currently use.
- Wifi and Cell Phone use: Liz and I are both big users of the internet and social media. Liz actually likes to stream shows to her ipad
and watch them in bed at night here at home. I’m on the internet a big part of the day, either surfing it or researching something or maybe uploading pictures to one of my websites. All that is fine as long as a strong wifi connection is available and there is sufficient bandwidth to support streaming of video and major internet use. Most campgrounds eagerly advertise free wifi, and several we went to bragged at check in that they had just upgraded their system, but we found the vast majority of them to be unusable for us. Out of the 35 different campgrounds that we stayed at over the past ten months only 3 had what I would consider adequate wifi. To me adequate wifi is a strong enough signal that you are not continually being dropped and a bandwidth sufficient to be able to surf the internet without delay and
upload or download a reasonable amount of data such as pictures when needed. There are devices such as the Wifi Ranger that can be purchased and external antennas attached to boost the signal, but we have decided against this approach as even if you have a strong signal the bandwidth at the majority of campgrounds is going to be too narrow to provide adequate service. Consequently, we use our iphones as hotspots and our cellular data for the internet. As you can imagine, there is no streaming video and limited uploading and downloading of pictures so that we can conserve on our 6 gig that we have for the month. We have found that the Verizon service is fast and reliable. We did purchase a WeBoost cradle for the phone to boost our signal if we happen to be in a fringe area. Once we start to take more extended trips, we plan to increase the data plan as we see fit and if necessary purchase a Jetpack MiFi. One alternative is to try to use the internet at a McDonalds or Starbucks, but we haven’t really wanted to take the time to do that on the trips we have done to this point. It may be a good alternative once we start traveling more and staying in locations for a longer period of time.
- Cable, Dish, Direct and OTA TV: The other important (to us) electronic medium is tv. I do like to watch news and sporting events. Liz has a few special programs, but many times she has to suffer through FOX news as I seem to have it on as background noise when we are in the trailer. Most campgrounds will have a cable hookup that is free of charge although the quality and channel selection varies greatly. Having said that on our last trip to Indiana 6 out of the 8 places we stayed had no cable hookup. That was a little unusual though. Because of the lack of consistency and varying quality of the signal, we decided to go with Dish “Pay as You Go”. It is a package tail0red for the rv’er where you pay for it when you travel, but not when you are back home. However, the minimum hookup is for a month. So if you plan to go for two weekends in a month period you will still have to pay for the entire month. Once you get home and notify them to cut the signal you will not be charged for the next month. It works for us as we seem to travel at three week minimums so we are able to take advantage of the program to a greater extent. Dish has three packages starting at$49.00 per month. You will have to buy a receiver and a satellite antenna. These two items will run you a little under $400 and is a one time expense. I know very little about Direct tv and what it costs or has to offer as subscriptions are continuous and it was not conducive to our situation. I will say that we see a lot of rv’ers with Direct tv and they are happy with the service. OTA stands for Over the Air and refers to a signal brought in by a crank up antenna on top of the rv. Believe it or not, if you are within a 100 miles of a large city you can usually get quite a few channels that actually come in with HD quality reception. Most of the channels are local broadcasts and PBS stations, but we have enjoyed watching some quality programming during the past months and if its,” the only game in town”, believe me, you will love it.
In my next post I will discuss planning your rv trip. Later…..