This is my first blog entry since embarking on this new RV lifestyle adventure in August of 2017. Since Elizabeth has written the previous entries, I wanted to give my perspective of this experiment we call Full-Time RVing. I’ll try not to rehash too much of what Elizabeth covered already.
It’s been an insane 9 months since we freed ourselves of so many possessions that filled our Miami townhouse and moved into a slightly used 38 ft Class A motorhome we named The Mighty Thor (based on it’s manufacturer Thor Motor Coach). Our only prior RV experience was a hybrid travel trailer that we took out to Burning Man in 2016. So The Mighty Thor was a bit of an upgrade. Since going full-time, we’ve stayed at 30 different campgrounds, RV parks and ‘Resorts’ in 13 states, along with a Cabela’s and Walmart parking lot, and I feel like were just getting started, or more like we’re just starting to get the hang of this. There’s been a lot to learn and adjust to as full-time RVers, and for the most part I feel like that powers that be, have been extremely kind in doling out our lessons in a manor we could handle and benefit from. I personally went into this lifestyle change preparing to be challenged on all sorts of levels, but to be greatly rewarded as well, and I haven’t been disappointed by either. As we’ve continued on, I feel the rewards keep outweighing the downsides. I’ve never once thought this was a bad idea, but there have definitely been moments where I’ve declared to myself, “I really don’t like this!” Even then, those moments have usually been followed by great feelings of accomplishment, along with much appreciated acquired knowledge I didn’t possess prior. YouTube videos and other friendly RVers have definitely helped in this area.
More often than not, figuring out and remembering how all the systems work together onboard resolves the issue at hand. “Why aren’t the leveling jacks working?!” Oh, the engine needs to be running. “Why aren’t the slides working?!” Oh, the engine needs to be turned off. “Why isn’t there any power coming in through the power outlets?!” Oh yeah, the inverter needs to be on. “Why isn’t the radio/rear camera coming on?!” Oh, the battery usage switch accidentally was switched to Store mode. “Why aren’t the house batteries charging?!” Oh, there’s a reset button that just needs to be pushed. “What’s that beeping?!” Um, depends where it’s coming from.
Of course, living and traveling in a motorhome often offers challenges you don’t expect, or can really prepare for. All you can do is go with the flow, handle ‘em as they come, and learn from them. Here’s a sampling of the challenges we’ve experienced since becoming full time RVers:
I now watch Star Trek, Star Wars, or anything dealing with a vessel of some sort (water, land, air, space, etc.), with greater appreciation. The Mighty Thor, our 38 ft motorhome, along with the tow dolly, Jeep and Vespa is essential our ship and character in our ongoing escapades. Like the USS Enterprise, Millennium Falcon, Nautilus or Black Pearl, the Mighty Thor is the vessel we now travel around, live and have our adventures in. And if you’ve seen any of these movies, you know the ship always takes a hit or two and needs repairing along the way. Sure, we’re not in repeated battles with other RVs out there on the roads (although that’s an interesting concept, note to self). Shit happens, things malfunction, but we’re not gonna let that get in the way of our adventures. On the contrary, it’ll just enhance our adventures. Just wished I could call out, “Damage Report!” And have someone there to tell me what’s wrong. Elizabeth may humor me on this one.
One of the most surprising things since becoming a full-time RVer, has been the response by folks when they learn what we’re doing. So many claim we are living the dream, which I remind myself often of while I’m emptying the grey and black water tanks. Most have questions about how we deal with basics like how we get our mail, decide where to stay, work and run a business on the road. Unlike a good chunk of folks who do this, we’re not retired. Pulling in an income is still a necessity, and one that we’re adapting to this lifestyle. Luckily, we were already running our own business, and with the Internet and cell phones, it wasn’t a huge leap. I travel a lot for work as it is, but a good bit of our income is still linked to South Florida. Uncoupling our dependence for physically being there has been a goal we’re still figuring out.
Meanwhile, we continue to spend much of the year in Florida, which really isn’t a bad thing, especially during the winter months. Thing is, The Sunshine State is a bit too popular with RVers during those colder months, which makes being a spontaneous nomad tricky, forcing us to plan and book campsites far in advance. At least for more desirable campsites, as we learned this past February when we had to stay in three different campsites around Orlando, cause RV parks book up and can’t always accommodate us for longer stays. This means we have to move when we really may not want to, or when it’s not altogether convenient for us.
Working the whole campsite booking game has become an exercise I have a love/hate relationship with. I enjoy the challenge of finding an awesome campsite, but sometimes it can be a real pain just to end up at a crappy site near where we’d like to be. Elizabeth tried to help and assist in this area once when I was really busy, and it didn’t go well. There was crying. She just wasn’t aware of all the methods I’ve developed to find RV sites. Depending on the area, type of RV park or campgrounds, length of stay, and a number of other factors, there’s a variety of resources I use to find and book campsites. ReserveAmerica.com & AllStays.com (along with their apps) are just the jumping off points. By the end, I’ve read reviews; studied Google Maps’ satellite imagery; gathered elevation and climate data; and assessed campsite stats for cost, space, clearance, views, hook-ups, potential discounts & points earned; proximity to airports in case I need to fly to a gig as well as cellular signal and DISH TV accessibility. I definitely prefer booking online when I can, especially since I’m often looking for campsites during my downtime at night. But with many campgrounds and RV parks, you just have to call and talk to someone. In the end, there’s just nothing like scoring the perfect, leveled, spacious campsite, with an scenic view, at a great deal that’s easy to pull in & out of without having to unhitch the tow dolly, access to fast WiFi and/or cellular data, hook-ups that are a cinch to connect and dumping tanks is just a simple opening and closing of the valve drains! That’s good stuff! Despite my efforts, we don’t always end up in ideal campsites. But that’s one of the perks of this lifestyle. We’re not stuck in undesirable sites for too long and there’s always the next campsite to look forward to.
Now that I've broken the ice with this blog rambling that took me way too long to write, I'll be more diligent to write more often. As I wrap this up, Elizabeth and I are sitting in The Mighty Thor up in the Colorado Rockies just west of Denver at a KOA campground overlooking the gambling town of Central City on this snowy day, cozy & comfy. We’ll be here for a month before we move further west towards Aspen and Grand Junction, then into Utah, up to Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota for the summer. Not sure where we’ll go after that, we just know there’s a campsite waiting for us back in Florida for the winter months.
Blog entry by Al Rodriguez
It’s been a while since we’ve posted a blog. Mostly, because we were in the same park for three months (John Prince Park, Lantana, FL), and just too caught up in the daily routine of our normal lives to truly enjoy the “RV Lifestyle”.
We’ve been in Florida since the beginning of October, and had planned to stay through the end of January. Due to our business, it’s more profitable for us to be in South Florida during these months. Al usually has many jobs that have him traveling all over the nation the rest of the year, and we were going to use these jobs as a road map of sorts to plan our travels for the year. But our calendar has not filled up for the year to show us which direction to head. That keeps us very tied to South Florida (where the money is).
In my heart of hearts, I want to be out west. Ideally, spend a month in Arizona before it gets too hot, a month or more in Utah, a month in Colorado, etc. But we just can’t force these things to happen. Whenever we do try to force it, our guides throw up a minor road block. So, we stay put and play the wait-and-see game. The problem with this game is that many favorable campsites in Central and South Florida are fully booked October – Easter. So we were unable to extend our stay at John Prince Park after January 31st. That sent us north to the Orlando area for the month of February. But due to limited availability, we’ve had to park hop this month.
This has been a very elegant lesson in surrendering and flowing. Our situation makes it hard to have firm plans. And we run the risk of great camp sites being fully booked during peak seasons throughout the US. Not having a plan is a bit of a stress factor for me. We try to be proactive where we can. We have already booked our South Florida campsite for Oct. 2018 – Feb 2019 in the Broward County area. We chose this over John Prince (Palm Beach County) because it is more central to working jobs in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. It felt like I was driving from Palm Beach to Miami three times a week last season!
At this point, we do not know what the Universe has in store for us March – September. It is exciting because, quite frankly, the Universe is always gifting us with surprises. And it is nerve wracking because we want to stay in nice places.
HIT OR MISS CAMPSITES
We knew that this first year was going to be a huge learning curve. We’d figure out where we like to stay so we can go there again, and learn what to avoid. You cannot always choose your campsite. You may be planning to stay at a beautiful park for three months, and hate your campsite. And there are many factors that contribute to a site being good or bad. You may be able to choose your exact campsite in advance based on a map, but you really don’t know what it will be like until you are there. The site we’re in right now is a dirt pit, but the ones all around us have lush grass. I hope we don’t try to exodus from here during the rain, because we may get stuck in a mud hole.
Some parks will resonate with you more than others. I felt so much more peace and joy once we left South Florida and got into the Orlando area, but I do not like the campground we are in for the next three weeks. It’s our fist time staying at an Encore / Thousand Trails park. There are many people who live here year round, and it’s a weird mix of campground and trailer park. It has a very different feel from the KOA’s we’ve stayed at the past few weeks. (I LOVE KOA’S!)
This lifestyle, especially if you are moving around a lot over the course of a year, can keep throwing you into different extremes, vacillating between “I love where I live” and “I hate where I live”. Luckily, you won’t be there too long. But this extreme is the difference between me wanting to go out and play, and staying inside and hiding.
MOVING DAY – ARG!
If you do find yourself moving around a lot, you may want to think about a simple rig set-up. We have a 38 ft. bus, with a tandem tow dolly in the back that adds and extra 10+ feet once the car is on the dolly. Because the dolly is so large, this usually means we cannot navigate the park with the dolly attached to the RV, and must store it in the overflow lot. So aside from our normal prepping (bringing in the awning and chairs, disconnecting the hoses and power, etc.), we have a huge chore dealing with the dolly and car that looks something like this:
Needless to say, moving day can really take ALL DAY, even if you are just going to a campground a few miles from where you were originally.
When we were planning for our trip to Burning Man in 2016 with our little trailer camper, my sister-in-law said “It’s only as complicated as you make it”. Wise words. Are we making this too complicated?
We love to travel, both abroad and within the USA. Quite frankly, we can’t believe how much we have gotten to travel and see this year, and there’s still two months left in the year, with a Thanksgiving trip to Colombia and a Christmas cruise planned.
When we lived in the house, it always seemed that we returned from a long foreign trip to something that needed repairs, usually the AC. We had a lot of trepidations about leaving the RV for two weeks. Will it be safe? Will it be painfully obvious that we’re not there, making it a target for break ins? We’re on the beach, will a wicked storm or hurricane hit the area while we’re away? We didn’t realize it when we checked in to this campground, but they have a rule that no campsite or RV may be left unattended overnight. Opps! Will they tow it? They mentioned that they may be changing the gate code soon. Will it get changed while we are away, making it difficult to get in and forcing us to explain that we’ve been gone for two weeks?
We got home at 2am. Code at the gate worked fine. RV still there. No notices on the door. All is well… or so we thought. The temp went down to 49 degrees that night, so we opened the windows and went straight to bed. It wasn’t until the morning that we realized some things were amiss. There was no power going to the microwave, refrigerator, heater, or any of the outlets. I think Al made about a dozen calls or more in two days time trying to figure out how to fix this. It would be the first time using the extended warranty insurance, and we weren’t certain about the process. But the biggest frustration was that every repair shop was completely booked for the next 5 weeks, and independent repair techs were too overwhelmed with work to even answer their phones. WTF? Why is everything so booked? Seems that many people received damage to their rigs during the hurricanes. But you would think a full timer could get in ahead of people who use their RV 2 months a year for vacation.
Calls to the Thor manufacturer gave us some guidance that it may be the automatic transfer switch based on the symptoms. We were able to get the fridge to work off the batteries when we turned on the inverter, but still minimal or no power to most everything else. We finally got a highly recommended repair tech on the phone who offered us some suggestions (he was also too busy to come out and help). Following his guidance, Al turned off the inverter and the unplugged us from shore power. He placed the RV in “Store” mode, and flipped all the circuit breakers a few times. He then flipped the switch on the shore power external box a few times before plugging it back in. Abracadabra! The RV came back to life! It took some time for the power to reach all the outlets, but they finally did.
In the house, Al tended to stress more about repairs and the cost. In the RV, he has a very different mindset. He is willing to learn and understand the intricacies of the unit. It is so very different than maintaining a house, and I still find it a bit daunting, but Al has thoroughly embraced it. I have nightmares that I have to unhook the unit, get the dolly hooked up, load the car, and drive cross country with it all on my own!
We are also learning that critters find every nook and cranny to get in here. While Al was on his fourth or fifth call for repairs, I started unpacking and putting stuff away when I came across a large ant colony that had made a nest in my wardrobe closet. It looked like Aliens Covenant happened in there while we were away. Sigh. Truth be told, it could have been worse.
Patience is needed, and a willingness to learn. It helps when you are truly embracing the lifestyle. Be willing to get hands on, and do some research into repairs. The freedom outweighs the challenges.
Our first full month as full time RV’ers was a jam packed adventure. We put 3,359 miles on the Mighty Thor, and drove through 14 states, and stayed in 8 of them. All those miles taught us a lot.
Stay safe! See you on the road!
It has definitely been a non-stop first month, which really needs to be covered in full in another post. Right now we are looking at a beautiful lake scene in Hermitage, Tennessee. This was not a planned stop when we took off in August. We were actually suppose to head back to Jupiter, Florida on Wednesday, with the plan to spend 2 weeks there before going to Cape Canaveral and eventually Palm Beach till January 31st. But then the threat of Irma became very real. So instead of heading home, because let's face it, Florida is home for us, we came to Tennessee instead. We could have gone anywhere, or just stayed in Virginia, but Al has a 2 day conference in Nashville next week, so it seemed like the logical choice. That logical choice may have put us right in Irma's path based on the 5 day outlook, but by then it should be a Tropical Depression. We've been through so many of those in our years of Miami living, and we're not too worried. But we've never been in one while living in an RV. Not sure if we are underestimating the severity. But Al has to be here regardless to work those days, and I'm not confident enough to move this bad boy on my own.
We downsized tremendously when we took that leap to full time RV'ers, with only a 5x10 storage unit. Not much in there that would devastate us if lost, but my car was still in Florida. We bought a plane ticket so that I could fly down and drive it out on Friday, but we started to worry that the traffic getting out of Florida would be at a standstill and gas would be hard to find come Friday (36 hours before the storm). So I called my friend to find out what her evacuation plans were. She had none at the moment and didn't know what to do. So I told her to pick up my car and drive it out of there on Wednesday. Traffic was pretty bad then too, but it gave her an exit plan in a safe vehicle and a place to stay to weather out the storm. As small is this RV is compared to our house, I knew we'd have house guests, and she wasn't the first one!
At this point, we really don't know where we are going next, or when. We have reservations in Cape Canaveral, but how much damage will that area receive from Irma? Al has a job in Atlanta for a day. Maybe we'll just head that way and hang out in Atlanta until the parks in Florida are ready to receive guests again. We're willing and able to be flexible. The beauty of living in an RV full time. We feel as if we dodged a bullet and had divine guidance that led us to sell our South Florida home so close to the water and get out while the getting was good. We're grateful that we won't have to worry about the clean up or damage to our homes and lives. But so many people that we love are still there, and we do not wish to see their lives be negatively impacted by this. The wait for them is the worse, not knowing if you are getting a direct hit, or how bad it will be. We are praying for them and staying in touch.
We began the process of moving out of our 3 story, 3/3 townhouse on August 1st. We gave ourselves a full week to make the transition, and we needed every bit of that week. Life and work don't stop just because you are moving. Family was in town to celebrate Grammy's 97th birthday, and clients were calling, so we had to juggle our time and responsibilities wisely.
We had been storing Thor at Pop's home out in the country. We brought it over to TY Park in Hollywood, FL, to make it easier for us to move into it. It was too large to fit into our townhouse complex, and TY Park was the safest and closest place to us. And by closest, I mean 17 miles away from the townhouse through heavy highway traffic in the heat of August.
Moving into an RV is not like moving into another house. You can't just load up a Uhaul, and unload everything in the middle of your new home and sort it out during the course of a week. There just isn't room for that. You have to load up your car and break it down into many small trips, and put everything away before you bring in the next load.
One of the biggest frustrations for me was realizing that although my clothing drawers measure 26x7 on the outside, the are actually only 23x4.5 on the inside. I'm still crying a little on the inside over this deception.
We were hoping to keep what we put into storage very minimal, but still ended up with a 5x10 unit in Palm Beach (64 miles from the townhouse). We felt keeping it close to family was smart and would allow us to visit family and our storage unit in the same trip if need be. We still probably put too much in storage, but considering the vast amount we got rid of, and the huge change of life this is, I think we did pretty good. I'm sure in a year we will realize that most of that stuff is not needed too, and reduce it down to a 4x4.
So, after daily trips from the RV to the townhouse and to storage, we felt as if we were moving everyday for an entire week. We were so happy to turn in our townhouse keys on Monday and officially be done moving. But then on Tuesday we had to move again, this time to take the RV to CB Smith Park in Pembroke Pines, FL. While Broward County has some amazing parks, their websites only let you make arrangements for 7 day stays. Being newbies at this, we were just trying to follow the rules and learn as we go. Upon checking in at CB Smith, I asked if it was possible to stay beyond the 7 days, or if we need to check out and check in again with a new reservation after 7 days. Turns out that you can stay at a single Broward County park for up to 6 consecutive months! Lesson learned: Call the park, don't trust the online reservation process.
We were so busy and physically exhausted from the move, that we didn't get to take advantage of the beautiful trails and amenities at TY Park while we were there. But yesterday we finally got to get a taste of the life style that inspired this transition. A bike ride through the park on a beautiful evening with a gentle breeze. While TY Park has more charm to me, the RV parking area feels more like a cement parking lot with sparse trees and shade. CB Smith RV parking is lush and beautiful. Great shade and a view of the lakes.
So much more to learn, and you can only learn it by getting out there and doing it. We'll be at CB Smith till Tuesday, then we head up to Kentucky for the Solar Eclipse.
See you on the road!
We just got back from our first road trip in the new RV. This was sort of a practice run to get to know the RV (now called The Mighty Thor), before actually moving into it full time. It took us four days to drive to Virginia Beach from Miami; two days longer than normal. We were hoping to pick up the tow dolly we ordered in Atlanta, but it just wasn’t ready yet. So that meant I had to follow Al in the Jeep as he drove Thor. Sirius radio made for a very enjoyable drive, switching back and forth between The Spectrum, The Garth Channel, and Road Trip Radio (I’ll definitely be missing Sirius radio while driving Thor).
Because we were taking our time and getting familiar with the RV, we opted for shorter driving days in order to get to camp sites before their check-in offices closed at 5pm. This had its positives and negatives. It allowed us to practice set-ups and breakdowns repeatedly, and learn what needs to be absolutely locked down to keep if from flying all over the place. Al enjoyed the process. Me, not so much. I don’t like being on the road day in and day out. I need time to get into my own routine and find my own structure and grounding. I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing a lot the days we were just driving. Al has assured me that it will be quite different once we have the tow dolly since we won’t both be driving at the same time, and we won’t always be on the road. There will be plenty of times when we’ll be able to put our jacks down for a week or more (hopefully!).
We did run into some technical difficulty. On the first day out, the trim that goes around Our Big Windshield came loose and was flapping in the wind as we were driving 70mph down the turnpike (oh, the irony). Our automatic steps stopped working and were stuck in (better than stuck out), the emergency escape window started to come off its hinges, and we had a toilet clog. A big THANK YOU to the US Navy (my brother) for helping us fix the steps and emergency window. He tried to add the trim back to the windshield, but all the old silicone in the crevice made that task impossible. He assured us that it was just to give it a finished look and make it a bit more weather resistant, but that the glass itself was very secure (since he repairs fighter jets, I’ll take his word for it). Al still wants to get someone to look at it and see what the cost is to replace it, but we may just end up filling the crevice with a black silicone to seal it completely.
This trip did give me a bit of a reality check. It made me realize how little room there really is and that I need to cut back even more on clothes and books. There were moments when I was like “Holy shit! I’m going to be living in this thing!”. It’s starting to freak me out a bit, but there’s no turning back now. It’ll mess with your head when you realize that your home is flying down the road going over 70mph and vulnerable. Luckily, Al is so excited and loves learning about, and taking care of, his new toy. He was sweeping 3 times a day! I’ve never seen him sweep before. A girl can get used to that!
We don’t have a date yet for the full move in, but it will be sometime in August. We’ll keep you posted. Till then, we are getting down to the nitty gritty of clearing stuff out, and we have a big trip planned in July to Iceland and Scotland. So our plate is pretty full. It’s going to be an amazing summer!
Blog entry by Elizabeth DiPace