Living full time on the road requires a number of things: a spirit of adventure, confidence in one’s driving ability, and an affinity for travel. But the most important element is flexibility. Here are three reasons why:
Six months before we started full-time RV living, we had planned our first two months of stops. Having been stationary to that point, we had no idea what constituted ideal travel distance for a day. Nor did we know I would lose my job, the keeping of which necessitated moving only on weekends. The biggest variable we didn’t account for was COVID-19, which closed a lot of campgrounds.
We ended up hitting the road earlier than originally anticipated. Two weeks before leaving, we canceled most of the campground stops we had booked. And we quickly learned some lessons that required flexibility. Having that flexible attitude allowed us to enjoy our daily circumstances despite the changes and upsets that came with them.
If you’ve been following our journey, you know we broke our fifth wheel on the very first leg of our grand adventure. The cosmetic damage ended up breaking our pride more than anything else. Bob fashioned a weather-proof fix that we continue to live with because, although we tried to get replacement parts while near Elkhart, Indiana, that didn’t pan out. We’ve decided to live with the constant reminder of our error and get it fixed this winter.
More recently, we encountered railroad tracks preceded by a sign that read, “Rough Crossing.” If you come across a sign like that, believe it. There’s a reason these warnings are not a common occurrence.
Well, we didn’t slow down as much as we should have and lived to regret it. After arriving at our destination and opening our closet, we discovered the upper closet rod had bounced out of its secure position, dropping all of the clothes it held on top of those hanging on the lower closet rod. The additional weight put pressure on the closet doors. We couldn’t even open one of them.
We were able to remove all of the fallen clothes from the closet, but one end of the rod holder had broken off. That meant we couldn’t rehang the clothes until finding a fix. Bob secured the holder in place with a nut and bolt and put the rod back in position, and we rehung the clothes.
Fearing it would only be a matter of time before a similar incident occurred, we rigged a support to secure both 4-foot closet rods. Not only will this prevent a recurrence of what we experienced, but it will also keep the two rods from sagging under the weight of the clothes they hold.
Other things have broken too. And those events always require flexibility as we may have to alter plans and make a trip to a hardware store in order to fix something.
One of the most significant things requiring a flexible attitude is the weather. We learned the importance of this before ever hitting the road when a fellow RVer delayed his trip by a day to allow a storm to pass at his next destination.
Keeping an eye on the weather is paramount as a full-time RVer. You don’t want to pull in your slides during rain and get water (and possibly resulting damage) in your coach if you don’t have to. Neither do you want to set up in a storm if it can be avoided.
If you know one day is going to be more blustery than another for travel, it’s best to move on the less windy day and not take a chance of a gust blowing your rig off the road.
To ensure success in any type of travel situation, especially RVing, it’s best to take a bit of advice from Frank Waturi in “Joe vs. the Volcano” and “get yourself into a flexible frame or else you are no place.”
We planned our RV lifestyle around me working full time. Although that’s not currently happening, I have been doing some contract work. To successfully complete and submit any work requires reliable internet service — no matter where we are in the U.S. So, how do we ensure that necessity? Through a combination of technologies. Let me explain.
One of the ways we connect to the internet is through our cellular network. For us, that’s Verizon. We can use our phones as mobile hotspots when needed. Just as our cellphones can access the internet anywhere we have Verizon service, they can transmit that same service to other devices nearby, such as our laptops.
Some full-time RVers have personal Wi-Fi devices or hotspots from multiple cellular carriers rather than just one. That way, travelers can get the best internet coverage no matter their location.
For example, we have a Verizon Jetpack MiFi device and a T-Mobile Mofi hotspot device we purchased from a third-party company called Millenicom. While moochdocking at my cousin’s farm in southwestern Michigan, we found the Mofi device worked better than its Verizon counterpart. In our current location elsewhere in Michigan, the Verizon device performs more effectively.
Both of our devices offer unlimited data. Some cellular providers, however, throttle hotspot service when you hit a certain threshold of use, which results in super slow internet. We acquired the unlimited Verizon device shortly before the company ceased offering that feature. You can do some digging to find other unlimited options, such as the one from Millenicom.
Sometimes we can hop on our camping host’s Wi-Fi network, whether that be a moochdocking location or a paid campground. In either case, we get the stability and strength of the host’s Wi-Fi.
In situations with spotty Wi-Fi from a host, we can transform our router into a repeater. That means the router grabs the host’s Wi-Fi signal and rebroadcasts it inside our trailer. Why don’t we just capture the host’s signal directly from our phones? Because the router has a much wider range than our phones to pull in the Wi-Fi.
Boosting the Signal
To ensure stable internet with our Verizon and T-Mobile solutions, we use the Wilson Signal Booster Reach Extreme RV Kit. An external antenna captures cell service from all providers in the area and sends that service to a booster unit. Then, an internal antenna rebroadcasts that cell signal throughout our trailer. The only caveat is that the hotspot or mobile phone has to be within 10 feet of the internal antenna in order to access the boosted signal.
Another booster we use is a MIMO antenna. This one assumes your mobile hotspot has external antenna ports. Our Verizon one has those ports, but our Millenicom one does not. This booster plugs into your mobile hotspot device and sticks to a window to amplify the cellular signal.
Up in the Air
Still another option RVers use to deal with online matters is satellite internet. This requires a satellite internet antenna to capture the signal and a satellite modem to transmit the captured signal to your rig. Antenna options include offerings from MobilSat, Winegard, iNetVu, and AVL.
We’re eagerly awaiting the release of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink satellite broadband internet, which promises fast internet access from anywhere in the world for a reasonable price. Relying on 12,000 satellites in a row in low-earth orbit, the technology is expected to be available in the U.S. and Canada later this year. And, it’s targeted for nearly worldwide availability in 2021.
As our time comes to a close at my cousin’s apple farm in southwestern Michigan, I find myself reflecting on the peaceful, relaxing experience we’ve enjoyed. After dashing across western America, we’ve been able to slow down to a calmer pace of life.
A farm environment has a lot to offer to those not responsible for the heavy workload involved. We’ve eaten fresh heirloom tomatoes right off the vine, peaches and cherries from the tree, blueberries directly from the bush, and freshly picked summer squash and cucumbers.
That fresh produce is only one of the many benefits we’ve reaped here. We’ve also spent quality time with family, watched the mystery of fireflies, and seen sparkling stars. Gentle breezes have cooled otherwise humid days, where the sun stays up until 10 p.m. The pitter-patter of rain has lulled us to sleep. We’ve taken daily walks in the woods and witnessed wildlife in its natural habitat.
Our eyes have been opened to the inner workings of a successful farm. We learned farmers don’t get a day off during harvest time, even if it’s the Fourth of July. They work tirelessly for little pay to ensure fresh produce and dairy get to your table.
This is our first moochdocking experience and one we’ll treasure for quite some time. Did you know you can get a similar experience if you have a self-contained RV, even if you don’t have relatives who live on a farm? There are a couple of ways to do so:
Designed to leverage RV holding tank and battery or solar capacities, Boondockers Welcome caters to those who like to camp without hookups. People who have room to park RVs on their property offer to host travelers for between one and five nights. For $50 per year (at the time of this writing), campers can elect to accept the kindness of these generous hosts.
You can search the Boondockers Welcome website by area and rig length to see your vast options, from driveways to expansive meadows, ranches and — you guessed it — farms. Some hosts even accommodate multiple RVs at once. And some offer hookups for a small fee.
What do hosts get for their generosity? For one, they get to meet passers through. But they also gain discounts and credits they can use when traveling and boondocking themselves at other host sites.
Another option to take advantage of farm-like country camping is Harvest Hosts. This organization allows you to stay not only at farms, but also at wineries, breweries, and museums. Paying the membership fee of $79 per year grants you access to stay overnight at more than 1,100 different venues.
Hosts join this organization to garner business. In other words, they expect you to view and purchase their wares in exchange for a single-night stay at their place of business. Harvest Hosts encourages campers to spend a minimum of $20 per stay. So, if you would have frequented this type of business anyway, why not stay there for a more immersive experience?
If you have an opportunity to take advantage of one of these camping options, we highly recommend doing so. It will give you a greater appreciation for all that goes on behind the scenes at these types of businesses.
Having been away from full hookups for two weeks, our black holding tank (the one that holds what gets flushed down the toilet) approached full capacity. Not wanting to reenact a scene from the movie “RV,” we got busy exploring our dumping options.
Our last blog mentioned the sweet moochdocking setup we have at my cousin’s farm in southwestern Michigan: “with an electric hookup, access to water when we need it, and even a place to dump our black and gray water holding tanks.”
Weighing the Options
Leaving Tagalong behind, Gulliver escorted us to the designated septic tank cleanout on the farm. We drove the different dirt roads approaching the spot, trying to determine the best way to get Tagalong there and in position for a successful fecal matter dump. My cousin’s son and those in the work camp probably thought we were stalking them.
For one route, we would have had to remove some fallen branches from the road and maneuver slowly and purposefully through a tight area to clear a sedan and the bus used for harvesting watermelons late in the summer.
Another path presented an area where a seasonal thunderstorm had gouged a trench across the road, necessitating creative filling in to get the trailer across.
On still another avenue, an electric wire hung low. We scrounged around the farm to find a tool that would help us calculate the height of the wire: 13 feet, 2 inches. Our trailer stands at 13 feet, 3 inches.
After returning the implement that helped us measure, we drove across another area of the farm, hoping to find a more easily accessible place to dump our tanks. We happened upon a promising, easy-to-get-to location, only to discover plumbing pipes but no drainage hole.
Feeling defeated, we ascended a hill adjacent to where the farm’s handyman busily worked on a construction project. We chatted with him about other possibilities: driving an hour away to a truck stop that had a dump station, finding a sewer cleanout or designated dump station in the area, or navigating to a local campground.
We researched a suggested campground and, yes, it did indeed have a dump station, only charged $10 for using it, and was less than 4 miles away.
A Better Alternative
Because we’ve encountered myriad low-hanging trees in the area, we ventured to the campground sans Tagalong to make sure we could take the coach there without issue.
Finding the campground office vacant and the dump station challenging to access since it required a U-turn (not an easy maneuver with a 42-foot trailer), we pulled up to some campers and Bob got out to chat with them.
Most campers are laid back and friendly, and these were no exception. They told Bob they lived at the campground for months at a time and knew the owner well. They recommended that, rather than using the dump station, we pull into an empty campsite, pay the fee at a deposit box, and dump at the hookups at the site.
We jetted back to the farm to get Tagalong. After packing up everything in and around the coach, closing the four slides, and hooking up to Gulliver, we returned to the campground and pulled into a pull-through site. We successfully hooked up to the sewer and emptied our excrement without incident. Whew!
The next morning, our poop became a family matter. Unaware we had dumped at the local campground, the handyman called my cousin with a recommendation for another way to dump our tanks: paying the company that cleans the farm’s port-a-potties to come to us to empty our tanks.
Not a bad idea. It’s nice to have options, especially since we plan to stay on the farm for one more week or so to be around when another cousin and her husband relocate to the area.
Acquiring the recreational vehicle you want is only one step of owning it. After that comes the best part: taking it out and using it. For that, it’s important to know your options. Here are three major types of RV camping:
1. Full Hookups
When you think about camping in an RV, an established campground may be the destination that comes to mind. And there are plenty of good campgrounds from which to choose. But they’re not all created equal.
Some include full hookups, which means you can plug into an electrical box, connect fresh water to your rig, and hook up your sewer hose. This “all-inclusive” option is sometimes referred to as “glamping,” or glamourous camping, because it provides all the normal luxuries you’re likely accustomed to.
This is the type of “camping” we did when we first moved into our fifth wheel. We parked it at a mobile home/RV park with all the bells and whistles, which provided the perfect setting for us to move our belongings into our new home, get used to it, and fix up a few things.
It’s also the type of camping we did in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which freed us to spend more time with my parents, who were about a 10-minute drive away.
Also referred to as “dry camping,” boondocking is the opposite of glamping. This is a much more rustic option with no hookups whatsoever. That means you have to run your rig off batteries, solar panels, generators, or a combination of these sources of energy.
For us, it means our microwave doesn’t work, among a few other things. And it’s definitely not glamping without a microwave.
You can find boondocking options in some campgrounds, but you have many more (free) opportunities on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, national forests, and places like that. Some websites, such as Campendium and freecampsites.net, are dedicated to helping campers find these options.
We boondocked in northern Arizona and really enjoyed being in nature, despite dust. Our site was private, remote, and refreshing — and close enough to the city when we needed supplies. We also boondocked one night at a Minnesota campground with no hookups on the Mississippi River and relished the beautiful view.
This is a bit of a hybrid of full hookups and boondocking. Essentially, moochdocking is camping on the property of family or friends for free. As Bob likes to explain, “It’s where we ask, ‘How big is your driveway?’”
Moochdocking is what we’re doing at my cousin’s farm in Michigan. We have a sweet setup on the property with an electric hookup, access to water when we need it, and even a place to dump our black and gray water holding tanks.
Not wanting to take advantage of family or wear out our welcome, however, we’re helping around the farm and keeping track of the amount of electricity we use so we can pay for it. After all, it’s hot and humid in southwestern Michigan in July, which means we’re running our air conditioner.
What’s Our Favorite RV Camping?
These three types of RV camping are not the only options. Many others combine different pieces of each. For example, you can find campgrounds that offer partial hookups, such as electricity and water but not sewer. In those cases, the campground usually has a dump station where you can empty your holding tanks before moving on to your next destination.
If we had to pick a favorite type of RV camping, we’d probably say moochdocking. But we like any option that allows us to spend time with family and friends. And in some areas, boondocking or a full-hookup campground might facilitate that best.
This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.