RV Tips Traveling with Pets

Home Sweet Stationary Home

It has been a solid 2 years since we first moved into our 32′ Travel Trailer.  While I have enjoyed meeting and making new friends and spending time with old buddies, I think I am done with long term RV living for a looooong time.  Below is a list of reasons why I am so glad to be back in a house:

  1. BATHING:  The RV had a small bath tub and I use the word tub in the sense of one you could bathe a medium sized dog, uncomfortably.  We also had a 6 gallon hot water heater so long “Hollywoods” are not a option.  Now we are in a house where i can actually float in my jacuzzi tub and we have a 40 gallon hot water heater.  I finally feel clean and I can shave my legs without worrying about a leg cramp or slicing to an artery.
  2. KITCHEN: Now most of you know, I DONT COOK (only on Holiday occasions).  Its hard cooking for 2 people.  Its even more hard cooking for 2 people when you don’t have enough room in the fridge.  The RV fridge is the size of a dorm room fridge.  This makes it difficult to have enough meats and fresh produce to use for more than 1 week which makes your shopping more frequent which makes your spending eating out go though the roof.  Now that we are in the house with a BIG FRIDGE, our dining out moment consist of a sandwich once in a while at Subway and Monday night trivia at Smoky Mountain Brewery.  Needless to say, our pocket books are not screaming nearly as loud.
  3. ENDLESS POWER: In our RV you cant use the microwave, hairdryer and the AC at the same time.  You will blow fuses and breakers left and right and we even managed to fuse the power plug together.   It is very hard to NOT turn off the AC when using your hairdryer because it is such a  normal thing to do.  This inconvenience nearly caused Brian to have no less than 67 mini strokes telling me what i can and cannot use regarding power.   The first time I used the hairdryer in the house, Brian came flying out of the office/library and barked at me “What are you DOIN?!?!?!”   I looked at him like he had roaches crawling out of his ears.  It finally dawned on him that he didn’t have to worry about power draws into the RV.
  4. ANIMAL HAPPINESS: Our animals are tolerant and patient and very, very sweet.  Short jaunts in an RV are no big deal but when they are living in 285 sq feet 24/7  they start getting cabin fever.  Being in a place where we can throw the ball into the river, acres of running land and plenty of stuff to roll around in, Gracie’s cabin fever has subsided and shes not as twitchy.  The cats are well, cats.  Cats have their own agenda but their happiness level at being able to wander the house and run and get away from each other and us has improved their temperament.
  5. CLOSET SPACE: It is nice being able to hang my clothes if I chose and having enough room in which i can have more than 6 outfits at any given time.
  6. SOLID FRAME CONSTRUCTION:  Storms in an RV are interesting to say the least. Its almost like being in a sailboat rocking back and forth in the high winds with this roaring sound of rain pelting the aluminum roof.  Being in a home with solid frame construction, we can actually enjoy the storms and not have to worry about floating out into the swamp somewhere.
  7. WASHER AND DRYER:  I NEVER liked going to the wash house to do laundry.  The bags are heavy, its inconvenient and I am not going to spend $800 on a  RV washer that takes 4 hours to wash and dry 1 pair of pants.   Being back in the house I can wash and dry our clothes whenever we please and no one else can use our stuff.  If it breaks we call somebody to come fix it but we have more modern appliances than the RV parks so breakdown issues are negligible.
  8. LIVING SPACE: We have a 32 ” TV in the RV but no living space to actually enjoy it.  Just 2 really uncomfortable semi rocker chairs.  Here at the house we have a reclining couch and a 50″ TV.  I can stretch and not have to worry about punching Brian in the face by accident.  We have a pub style table and chairs which I use as my office space here at the house instead of the dining pod area in the RV.  I can move, bend, jump around, be messy, and most importantly sleep comfortably  in our KING SIZED bed.


RV Tips

30 Amp Lesson The Hard Way

When we got our camper the electric usage wasn’t really a major concern. We knew we couldn’t run the A/C, the microwave, and the hot water heater all at the same time. No biggie. We adjust. After the first few times of ‘thinking’ while getting ready to cook, turning things off is now a natural reflex. I’m happy to say we’ve only popped the main 30A breaker in our camper once and it wasn’t me, it was the Mrs. 🙂 I’ve popped a 20A when attempting to cook because I had something else plugged in and on…the coffee maker maybe….I don’t remember.

So, what can we run while on 30A service? I went through our camper and logged the amp usage of each device plugged in. I then found the owners manual and logged the amp usage of installed items. The A/C uses 12.4 amps, the hot water heater uses 12, the microwave uses 13. These are the big pulls on the electric as expected from any item that heats or cools. The fridge pulls 3.5 amps but could be switched to gas if needed…or just temporarily turned off as we learned in a previous article I wrote titled Can I Tow with my Propane On So the Refrigerator will Stay Cold.

On a daily basis we’ve had the A/C on and when lunch time rolls around we’ll throw something in the microwave (12.4 + 13 = 25.4 amps). We’ve got our computers plugged in as well but they’re only .5 amps so 2 amps total. We’re still under 30amps at 27.4 amps. Again, this routine has never popped a breaker on the pole nor has it popped a breaker in our camper.

A few days ago our A/C kicked on and it sounded like it was struggling to come back up to power after the compressor engaged. I made a mental note and thought to myself I’ll see if I can check the amp usage at the pole to make sure what I show us pulling is accurate. However, at times when the A/C sounded like it was struggling we were not cooking nor did we have the hot water heater on. My next thought was that the A/C may need to be serviced as we’ve been in Florida for most of the summer and on some days it’s all the A/C can do to keep up. We weren’t popping a breaker and the A/C was still running so it wasn’t high on the priority list.

The other night we were sitting outside and my wife said “Somebody is cooking toast”. I couldn’t smell what she was smelling so it made no difference to me. A few minutes go by and the next thing she says is “Why is our electric box smoking”. WHAT?!?!? I run over to the power pole to find it smoking pretty bad. I lift the panel and trip the breakers manually. I then grab our 30A cord about a foot from the connector and pull it from the plug. One of the pins on socket had overheated and melted through one of the male metal plugs on our main cord.

30 Amp plug30 Amp Socket

It was 9pm and electrical work is not my strength. We call the park to report the incident. They immediately sent over a maintenance crew to replace the outlet on the pole. A friend of mine and I headed to Walmart in hopes to get a new male connector to splice in. Walmart didn’t have any so we bought an adapter, cut it, and spliced it in to get us through the night until I could get to Camping World the next day to get a new connector. In talking with my friend he says this is common for people who run the A/C and microwave at the same time. It doesn’t go over the 30 Amps allowed but it does pull quite a bit of electricity through the lines which causes heat which causes breakdown which ultimately ends up in a “Somebody is cooking toast” situation. : )

From what I understand 50 Amp service is not as prone to this type of occurrence.

So the moral of the story is: Just because you have 30 Amps to use, doesn’t mean you should.

BTW, when I bought the new connector, I bought an extra just in case. : ) Now that I know, I can at least be prepared or can help someone else who might end up in our situation in the future.

RV Tips

The Dreaded Black Tank

Let’s talk about poop.

On second thought, let’s not talk about poop. Nobody wants to discuss it, it’s gross, but necessary. We all do it. Some more than others, some less. Sometimes those that do it less wish they could do it more. LOL!

I’m somewhat of a germ-o-phobe. There are several bottles of germ-x throughout our camper. Sometimes germ-x isn’t enough and I use soap. Public restrooms are NOT my thing, but I knew with this adventure came….well…adventure. So if I’m going to use the public restroom at a campground, I watch for the cleaning crew and go in after they’re done. That’s sort of cheating but it helps me adjust.

I probably did more research about the black tank than any other topic on RV’ing. Am I going to need a full on chemical warfare suit when I dump the tank? How thick do the rubber gloves need to be? Should they come all the way to my shoulders or is elbow length ok? Remember the scene in the movie RV when Robin Williams dumps the black tank? Poo spews everywhere, it’s a mess. This had me somewhat paranoid.

This is probably THE BEST video on YouTube on how to dump your black tank.

Not all RVs/Campers are the same. Ours doesn’t have a hookup for a hose to fill the black tank from outside. So we drag a hose inside after the initial dumping of the black tank, fill it up, and dump it again. Afterwards, we do a sniff test and if it passes, we open the gray tank to flush the hose. My method differs in that I dump the gray tank first for about three seconds. I check all of the connections. If I don’t see any leaks, then I proceed with the black tank.

While we’re camping with full hookups, we leave the gray tank open and only close it a couple of days before we’re due to dump the black tank.

We dump our black tank about every 10 days.

Once I got over the fear of dumping the black tank, I no longer use the campground bath houses. I poop in the privacy of my own camper without the fear of dumping the black tank.

The process is so simple and clean that I don’t even wear gloves. My hands have never touched poop. It’s not gross. But I do wash up afterwards…trust me. : )

RV Tips

Things To Consider Before Changing Residency

uncle-sam-taxesIt’s common talk amongst full time RVers about which state is the best to become a resident. When you really don’t live in one place, most folks have the option of changing which state they’re currently tied.

There are some snags. Whichever state you choose, you’ll have to show proof of residency to get a driver license or to register a vehicle.

Why would someone want to change their state of residency? One word, taxes.

The subject of changing state residency always involves tax rates, vehicle registration rates, and insurance.

There are only 7 states that don’t have income tax. They are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. Two other states only tax dividend and interest income. Those states are New Hampshire and Tennessee.

If you’re a resident of California and make roughly $100k per year, the state is taxing you about $4,500 per year. That breaks down to $375 per month. That’s lot rent for one month in a lot of places. So, if you change your residency from California to a state that doesn’t tax personal income, you could essentially save enough money to pay for camping. If you finance your RV and find good rates and a great deal on a camper, your payment could be less than $375 meaning the tax you’re no longer paying California would cover your RV payment.

Vehicle registration rates are most likely cheaper as well. To register a vehicle in California, it’ll cost you $46 plus additional fees based on the type of vehicle, license plate type, and the owner’s county of residence and driving record. If you register a vehicle in Tennessee it’ll cost you $24 per year. Did I mention that Tennessee doesn’t have a smog check. More savings. To find out how much it costs in each state, you can follow this link:

In speaking with a few folks that live in Florida that register and insure their vehicles in the sunshine state, insurance rates are a bit more here vs. Tennessee. I’m not sure how they compare to other states, but I found this useful link that shows Michigan with the highest car insurance rates.

So, several things to consider before changing state residency. Do your research before making the decision. I think it would be smart to talk to an accountant before making the decision. When speaking with an accountant, I would recommend talking to one that knows the rules of the state you are considering, not one from your own state.

RV Tips

How to Stay Connected

Trailervania Wireless
Trailervania Wireless

Many of you know that Charlie and I both work online. This 2 year trip is dependent on a few things and one of those is the internet. Without the internet, we can’t work. Without work, we don’t get a paycheck. Without a paycheck, we don’t have a camper, and many other things. You get the idea. I did a TON of research on this topic and with cellular coverage getting better everyday, I was nervous but confident that we’d be able to connect in most places. : )

What happens when we can’t get a connection? Thankfully we’ve not had to deal with this yet. There have been several times when the campground wireless would slow to a crawl and getting anything done online was very frustrating. We’d mentally make a note of the time of day and eventually we could time when the internet was good and when it was bad. The demographic at RV parks consists of mostly retired folks so they’re out adventuring during the day. We knew we could work after 9am ish until around 1pm or 2pm. Around 1pm or 2pm maybe everyone is in their camper enjoying lunch and catching up on email, facebook, pinterest, etc. This became our lunch time to step away from the computer. Then between 2pm and 3pm the internet would free up again until around 6pm. After 6pm, forget it. I’m not even sure how people who are using the internet at that time even have the patience to stay connected. It’s worse than my first 2400 baud modem. LOL!

There were days where the schedule above didn’t work out and we had to resort to other options.

My job provides my with an iPhone and an iPad. Both of which now are 4G capable and both are hotspots. This works well, but you’ve gotta watch the usage as data limits apply. My job requires me to be online every Tuesday for our weekly Skype meeting (voice only so I can stay in my pajamas). I checked data usage prior to a meeting and then after. With 4 people on Skype voice only, the meeting lasted about 3.5 hours and used about 550MB (megabytes). Not bad since the work plan has a collective 10GB (gigabyte) usage limit. I use the word ‘limit’ loosely as Verizon will let us go over the 10 GB plan allowance and bill us for every 1 GB over.

How does Charlie stay online? We have a personal Verizon Wireless plan as well and purchased a 4G hotspot. She also has an iPad that’s 4G capable and a hotspot as well. Her iPhone can become a hotspot but it’s only 3G (slower than 4G) so she only uses it for a hotspot when absolutely necessary.

We realize not all places will have 4G, but so far the coverage with Verizon has been pretty good. The campground in GA was on the outskirts of 4G so our 3G signal was pretty good, although there seemed to be some interference as we would often bounce from the 3G network to the ‘O’ (older) network. Very odd and annoying, but again, the campground wireless was sufficient for most of our needs.

We arrived in Kissimmee, FL for our 5 months stay to avoid winter completely. The cable provider here is Bright House. We asked the front desk if they provided cable internet for long terms stays. They do, we signed up, and on day 2 we now have cable internet in our camper….just like home. It’s $29 per month and no data limits. We’ve got our Roku box connected up and we’re streaming from Netflix and Hulu once again. You can stream Netflix and Hulu from your computer or mobile device, but again, data limits apply so be very careful when doing this. HD shows/movies use a TON of bandwidth. Research shows that a standard definition movie or show streamed from netflix uses about 400MB (megabytes) per half hour. That same 30 minute show in high definition uses about 1.5GB (Gigabytes). Compression works a little differently for movies. A standard definition movie would need about 500MB to 700MB depending on the length of the movie and a high definition movies uses about 3.6GB (gigabytes) for a 2 hour film. If you have a 6GB plan from Verizon this means you could watch one HD movie, and about 3 standard definition movies and reach your limit. Needless to say, we’ve done zero streaming using our hotspots.

Here’s a few alternatives I’ve looked at but have not yet moved forward. Once we get out west, staying connected may become more difficult as coverage is more sparse. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but at least it looks like we have options.

Exede Satellite Internet: Their pricing seems reasonable and they boast of speeds rivaling those of a home connection. I’ve not tested or tried this service, but they’ll be the first I call if the need for satellite internet arises. You’ll still have to be mindful of data limits.

Millenicom: I recently learned of this service. From what I can tell, they use Verizon towers, are 3G and 4G capable and don’t have data limits. Pricing is very reasonable.

As we plan future trips, if we decide to go ‘off grid’ we’ll do so for only a limited time as our livelihood depends on the internet. One of the top items on my bucket list is to make it to Montana, go completely off grid, turn everything off, and just stare up at the stars on a clear night.

RV Tips

Can I Tow with my Propane On So the Refrigerator will Stay Cold

RV Propane
RV Propane

After doing a ton of research on this subject the decision is really split. There are as many arguments for towing with propane on as there are towing with propane off.

Why would one want the refrigerator running while they’re towing? Simple, so when they pull over at a rest area, they can have lunch in their RV with cold drinks, cold lunch meat, ice, etc. A pretty good reason if you ask me.

Since we’re newbie’s the first time we towed, we decided to tow with the propane off. We put the refrigerator on high the night before so it would be nice and cold when we cut power. We cut power, hooked up, and headed out. If you haven’t read our other posts, we were going from Pigeon Forge, TN to Brunswick, GA. A trip that should’ve taken about 8 hours actually took about 10 hours.

10 hours later, we arrive at our destination. We did stop for lunch at a Pilot, but didn’t get into the fridge because we had let our food supplies run low since we were moving. I was pleasantly surprised to find the fridge still nice an cold when we arrived in Brunswick. 10 hours without power, without propane and the ice was still frozen.

When towing to our second destination 4 hours from Brunswick, GA to Kissimmee, FL again, we left the propane off, turned the refrigerator on high the night before, cut power and everything was nice and cold when we arrived in Kissimmee. Ice and all. : )

I’m guessing even on the 10 hour trip, we could’ve open the fridge to get out whatever we needed to have lunch and everything would’ve still been fine when we arrived in Brunswick.

In the end, it’s really going to boil down to a personal preference, but I like to err on the side of safety. I realize the propane system on an RV is very safe, but if an accident were to happen while towing and propane line gets busted open, that could really spell disaster. And now that we know the fridge will stay cold even on long trips, there’s no need to tow with the propane on.

RV Tips

Weekenders vs. Full Timers

Cousin Eddie Dumping Shitter
Cousin Eddie Dumping Shitter

About 2 weekends in to life in the camper, we could immediately tell there was a clear difference between people who only camp on the weekends, vs. people who are either long term or full time campers.

We’ll call them weekenders just to keep it simple. We’ve found that a lot of weekenders don’t clean up after their pets, let their kids run wild, are noisy, don’t clean up after themselves, and generally don’t respect privacy.

My first trip to the big house to shower on a Saturday morning was shocking. Water everywhere, towels forgotten, trash not in the trash can, toilets not flushed. I had not seen the bath house in this shape on any weekday. Thankfully, parks have clean up crews that come through at least once per day to straighten up. Needless to say, I quickly learned the schedule of the clean up crew and would go immediately after they were done on Saturdays.

Non weekenders have a great deal of respect for space, privacy, and cleanliness for the most part which depends greatly on the campground owners/rules.

Some parks allow long term and full time. Some long term folks and full time folks that stay in one spot tend to collect more stuff than they need. So they add a shed. When that fills up, they stack stuff outside of the shed and around the RV. In my opinion, it makes the campground look a bit messy. My idea of living in a camper full time is to keep to minimums and so far, after an initial adjustment, it’s been relatively easy. I don’t see myself needing a shed or a bigger RV just to hold my stuff.

I know a weekender is going to read this at some point and disagree. Just remember, I didn’t say ‘ALL’ weekenders. : )

I also know that a full timer is going to read this and think I’m bashing them for having a shed. For some, sheds are necessary and I’ve seen many that keep it looking nice…again, I didn’t say ‘ALL’. : ) It’s actually the campground that lets some full timers get away with a messy campsite. So far we’ve been very fortunate to have chosen campgrounds that have better rules in place to keep the trash out. Sure, these campgrounds cost a little more in some cases, but I’d rather spend a few extra bucks and live where people respect their stuff and others.

Don’t let this scare you. Just know that people are people no matter where you go. It’s the same at apartment complexes, it’s the same with neighborhoods, it’s the same in RV parks. So, you make the best of it. You lead by example. If you keep your place clean, smile at folks, say hello, that attitude is contagious and will get through to others.

RV Tips

How Far Should You Tow In One Day

Truck with camper connected
Truck with camper connected

The first time I towed the camper was from American RV in Maryville, TN where it was in storage to our first campground in Pigeon Forge, TN on 8/28/2012. It was about 30 miles. Most of which was on 321 through Wears Valley with a couple of switchbacks, no shoulder, etc. A perfect storm for a first time camper tower.

A little history about me. I was active duty Air Force for about 13 years as an aircraft mechanic. Part of that job involved towing airplanes, and support equipment. So, I’m not a newbie to towing, but when towing an airplane we had a team of people to make sure wingtips were clear, we also had an open flight line with no oncoming traffic.

Thankfully, I had a great friend with me, Louis Caldwell. He has been a huge help in the process of Charlie and I getting our first camper. When I had camper questions, I’d go to him or our neighbor, Rick Gates, who has also been a huge wealth of information. I’m sure Louis and Rick are glad that we’re finally in a camper instead of still nagging them with questions. LOL!

Other than cutting some turns too tight, we made it through Wears Valley and to King’s Holly Haven RV Park without incident. It took me about 3 times to back in to our spot before the camper was situated correctly, but it was a good experience.

By this time we had already planned our next trip and booked our campsite. We were going to Coastal GA RV Resort in Brunswick, GA. It was right off of I-95 so very convenient for me having little experience. On 10/1/2012, we headed out of Pigeon Forge for Brunswick, GA. A 465 mile trip that would take us about 8 hours. Remember my drive for a day, live for a month motto? Well, driving a car for 8 hours is VERY different than towing a camper for 8 hours. Big newbie mistake. One we’ll never make again. When driving a car, you can set cruise and just sort of go. Not so when towing a camper. The speed I felt most comfortable towing was between 55mph and 60mph. Anything over 60mph I felt like the camper was pushing me. I’d much rather the truck pull than be pushed. The slower speed resulted in better gas mileage though. We averaged 12 mpg for that trip. I had really only expected 10 mpg. When trucks pass you they kind of blow you all over the road. And because of this, you’re ‘driving’ the entire time. No cruise control because you’ve gotta let off the gas when the trucks pass to make it a little easier on you. 10 hours later, white knuckled, and having to fill up once next to all the big rigs at a pilot gas station, we made it to Brunswick, GA.

Almost immediately the next day I mapped out our next destination which was a month away. It was 200 miles, about 4 hours. Perfect. I’m happy to say we made that drive from Brunswick, GA to Kissimmee, FL on 11/1/2012 in about 4 hours and without having to pull over for gas. The drive was relatively easy with the exception of a few idiot drivers in Orlando.

As my friends Louis and Rick both said, just go slow. And that’s what we did. We took our time. People made their way around me, and we made it in one piece. It worked out for everyone.

So, future trips will probably not be longer than 4 hours (ish) at a time. I’m even thinking about taking a state 4 lane road on the next adventure vs. the interstate. Less traffic, less big rigs, slower speeds. I think I’d be happy with that….we’ll see.

RV Tips

RV Shopping

RV ShoppingBefore buying our camper, we did a TON of research. Which was better fifth wheel, travel trailer, motor home, etc. The truth of the matter is, you just need to buy what’s right for you. That’s what it’ll really boil down to.

Don’t worry that a certain percentage of RV owners prefer one over the other. The one they own fits their needs so that’s why they have a preference.

After at least a year of searching campers online we finally went to a dealership to actually put our hands on some. We went to Camping World in east Knoxville. They had a ton of used campers on their lot all unlocked and without salesmen crawling the place. How refreshing. We could look at our own pace, see models, layouts, designs, prices, and everything else we needed to see before talking with a salesman. I’m liking this no pressure approach.

Our first day at Camping World we must walked through 30 campers. Pointing out things we liked, and disliked. We left probably a little more puzzled than we expected. There are so many brands, layouts, and designs, but you’ll know it when you see the right one.

We went back a couple of months later to walk through again. We walked through many more, but didn’t find the one that was quite right.

In the meantime, we’ve been searching online. Pictures are great, video is even better, but there’s nothing like seeing things in person.

We went to Camping World in south Knoxville because we had seen a camper online that we felt fit our needs. We looked at the camper, liked it, and went to seek out a sales person. We found a sales person and told him what we were doing and why we were interested in the camper we found online. He asked us questions about our needs, etc. and offered to show us a few before we made a final decision. After walking through about 10 more campers, we went to the one we wanted. He looked at it, looked at the price and said, let me show you one more. We walked a few campers down and into the one we ended up purchasing. It was almost everything we wanted. I say almost because it’s a little longer than I would’ve liked. And that’s only because I’ve never towed a camper before. Now that I’ve towed it a couple of times and it’s got the office in the back, I’ll deal with the extra 3 feet. I wanted a camper that wasn’t longer than 30 feet and this one has an overall length of about 33 feet.

It met all of the requirements we had listed. It was a little more than we had planned on spending, but it was brand new, had a 2 year warranty so it was worth going over budget. With all of the campers we had looked at online and in person, this one is the one.

My suggestion when you’re searching, don’t buy the first one you see. Take your time. Research and ask questions. There are TONS of online communities that focus on RVing. I’ve found that everyone is very friendly and willing to help.

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RV Tips

RVs and Guns

Sig Sauer P226
Sig Sauer P226 – Charlies Firearm

In May of 2012, we took a conceal carry class so we can legally carry a gun. Knowing that we’re going to be traveling, it can’t hurt to have a firearm with us, maybe not on our person, but at least in the camper. Our Tennessee carry permit has reciprocity in 38 states. When we go through the states where our permits are not recognized or handguns are illegal, I haven’t figured out yet what we’ll do, but we want to obey the law so I’ll have to research that before our adventure out west.

Being space conscious my brother recommended a gun cleaning kit. It’s small, lightweight, and does the job. Otis Professional Pistol Cleaning System

Before leaving Pigeon Forge, we use to fire our guns at the Sevier Indoor Shooting Range. Now we’ll have to find ranges on the road to stay in practice. Ironically enough, our first stop on the road was Brunswick, GA. The deep south. No indoor firing range. I suppose everyone here has land outside the city limits where they don’t need a range since they have their own. : ) Only a guess though.