We left my cousin’s farm in southwestern Michigan and spent three nights in the Jackson, Michigan, area, moochdocking and spending time with our sister-in-law and her family. We just missed my brother, who was in Arizona at the time to wrap up the sale of their home there.
First Boondockers Welcome Experience
On our way from Michigan to a beautiful campground on Lake Ontario in northwestern New York, we made a pitstop in Fremont, Ohio (between Toledo and Cleveland), and stayed on the property of a wonderful couple as part of Boondockers Welcome. It being our introduction to Boondockers Welcome, we hoped for the best but didn’t know what to expect. We couldn’t have asked for better.
The open-air location erased any fears of our rig hitting low-hanging branches. The host greeted us on his electric bike as we arrived and led us around the property to our parking spot — complete with full hookups: electric, water, and sewer. Hookups are not required for a Boondockers Welcome host and are really more of a luxury. We welcomed the amenities and gave the host a small stipend in gratitude for their use.
Situated on a small paved road that spanned the farming area, the property offered nice sunset views. We rode our electric bikes down to the end of the road and back — about 4 miles — enjoying the flat landscape and the cool breeze in our faces.
Living the Campground Life
We slept in the next morning, packed up after a quick oatmeal breakfast, and headed toward the campground in New York. Gulliver led us on an uneventful trip around Lake Erie and through Cleveland, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Buffalo, New York.
We arrived at Four Mile Creek State Campground to find a lot of other people had the same idea of staying in the area. Bob backed into our spot like a pro, missing posts on the driver’s side and in the front of the rig, while wowing our new neighbor — and doing it on the first try.
This was our first true campground stay since the one night in the campground in Minnesota where we tore our roof didn’t really count. The majority of campers, weekend warriors, left the New York park the day after we arrived. We stayed five nights and enjoyed sitting outside, observing and listening to the birds, riding our bikes to explore the campground and Lake Ontario, and watching the dancing flames of campfires.
We also ventured to Niagara Falls to view God’s amazing creation there. The sight is truly awe-inspiring.
Preparing for Uneventfulness
We thought this campground offered full hookups but learned it really only provided electricity. Water was available relatively close by. Bob and our neighbor connected their water hoses together to fill his fresh water tank and ours. When the time came for us to leave, we carefully maneuvered to the on-site dump station to empty our gray and black water tanks.
Remember the tank-emptying adventure we shared while in Michigan? This experience proved somewhat similar in that we spent a couple of days leading up to our evacuation day driving around the campground both in Gulliver and on our bikes trying to determine the best route to maneuver our coach to the right position at the dump station. Overachievers? Maybe. But we’ve found it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Bob even rigged a contraption where he can connect three lengths of PVC pipe together to measure low-hanging tree branches and wires. And he made a football goal-like U for the top of it for those rare occasions when we need to lift branches or wires a bit to pass by without snagging one of the air conditioners on our roof.
Toll Roads and Truck Stops
After a successful tank dumping, we headed across upstate New York, paying close to $50 in tolls due to our four axles. Ouch! It felt more like fees for trolls from the children's stories we grew up reading. We also lost the cover to our electric cord compartment somewhere along the way. Thankfully, that’s not a huge deal, and we should be able to replace it.
Because we spent six to seven hours on the road that day and wanted to ensure plenty of time to set up at our new destination, we spent that night at a truck stop in Massachusetts about an hour from our intended endpoint. A good friend met us for breakfast the next morning before we ventured on our way for the last leg of that journey.
Bob’s PVC contraption came in quite handy for maneuvering through low-hanging wires to our new moochdocking site in Massachusetts. We didn’t have to do any lifting, but we were able to measure the wires to finagle the best way to fit our rig through.
Now we’re parked and happy, hanging out with family and enjoying lots of fresh seafood.
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.
We left South Dakota with plans to stay two nights at a Minnesota campground overlooking the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin border. After an uneventful trip, we exited the highway, followed a curvy dirt road to the campground, pulled into our very uneven spot, and set up camp.
Because the site was so uneven, we ended up using every single one of our leveling blocks to prop up the tires and stabilizing jacks on the passenger side of the trailer. Breathing a sigh of relief at having just the right amount of blocks, we tried to get into the trailer. I couldn’t even reach the door handle from the ground.
After extending the legs of our stairs as far as they’d go, they hovered above the terrain. If we had tried to climb the stairs in that situation, we could have broken them and/or caused more problems.
We searched the area for anything that could support the stairs and spotted three thin boards under the site’s picnic table. Unfortunately, those still left at least a 3-inch gap — and only helped one side of the stairs.
After more exploration, Bob found some leftover firewood at a vacated campsite. It was just enough. We stacked the small pieces of wood to create the base our stairs needed and made it into our coach to complete setup. Whew!
A Mistake and Low-Hanging Branches
The next morning, as Bob climbed the ladder at the end of our coach to attach our Wi-Fi antenna, he noticed something didn’t look right around one of the vents. Upon further examination, he discovered a major issue: A screw had pulled out about halfway from securing the TV antenna to the roof and, as a result, had pulled the rubber membrane — the main roofing material — out from under the nose cap.
With a storm in that afternoon’s forecast, Bob secured the roof with duct tape and the shiny type of duct tape that’s used on water heaters.
It seems I had failed to secure the TV antenna, which sits toward the front of the trailer, in the proper position for travel. Normally, the rounded portion faces front. This time, however, the rounded portion had faced the driver’s side, leaving the metallic parts of the antenna free to grab onto leaves of low-hanging branches we passed.
As we had entered the campground the day before, we encountered some branches that hung a bit low for our 13’ 3” rig. Tagalong made it through, and we didn’t think anything of it. Evidently, we should have.
4 States in 1 Day
Gulliver is not a storm chaser. No, he’s more of a storm evader — at least when he’s pulling Tagalong. After hemming and hawing about staying at the beautiful campground and risking roof leakage, we ceded to Gulliver's nature and quickly packed up the trailer, hooked up, and hit the road — and some more low branches in the process of leaving.
We had planned to spend at least one night in Wisconsin, but storms were expected to blow through there that afternoon too. So, we hightailed it through three states all the way to my cousin’s fruit farm, Piedt’s Farm, in southwestern Michigan, where we could be close to Elkhart, Indiana (RV mecca) if we needed more repairs than we could do on our own.
After a two-hour round trip to Camping World the next day to get roofing supplies, we spent the following day hanging out on the roof in the hot sun trying to get all the wrinkles out of the rubber membrane. We taped it down with super sticky tape made especially for RVs and succeeded in fixing the roof.
Despite the trials, we’re still having fun, especially since the electric bikes we ordered arrived. We’re enjoying time on the farm, eating fresh produce, spending time with family, exploring my old stomping grounds, and traveling down memory lane. I was born in the area and spent my fifth-grade year here after moving out of state at the age of 4.
South Dakota doesn’t have the most attractive climate — unless you believe an early-period brochure in the Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls that advertised a nice climate with very little snow. (If you’ve ever followed South Dakota winter weather, you know that’s far from true.)
Chicago may be the windy city, but we quickly learned why South Dakota ranks as the third windiest state. We’ve been here nearly two weeks, and the unending wind is blowing us on. The whole trailer sways, the coverings over our slides rattle, and the annoyance doesn’t stop. We had one day, maybe two, when we could put out our awnings. The other days were too blustery.
So, why are we making South Dakota our home? Well, most full-time RVers choose one of three states as their state of domicile: South Dakota, Texas, or Florida. If you’re on the road full time, you have to have a place of “residence” in order to register your vehicles, get driver’s licenses, etc. These three states make it relatively easy to do so and have no state income tax and low sales tax.
What do the states get out of it? They benefit from income and fees they wouldn’t otherwise have, and they get more voters to boot.
Attracted to Lower Fees
We chose South Dakota for its lack of state income tax, low vehicle registration fees (compared to Arizona), absence of annual state vehicle inspection, low vehicle insurance rates, and low-cost driver’s licenses — which must be renewed in person every five years.
In addition, the state makes it easy to take care of what could otherwise be complicated matters, such as out-of-state vehicle registration transfer. How? Through RV-friendly, third-party, mail-forwarding agencies such as DakotaPost, Americas Mailbox, and Your Best Address.
It quickly became apparent that registering our vehicles in the state would be way more arduous than we anticipated. Arizona holds the liens and, thus, titles for our vehicles. But South Dakota is a title state, meaning the title is needed in order to register a vehicle.
So, we enlisted DakotaPost to request transfer of our vehicle titles, as well as to help us get both vehicles registered. And, bonus: Because we signed up for the DakotaPost mail forwarding service (a requirement to use any of its other services), we can have our South Dakota license plates forwarded to the address of our choice when they’re ready.
If you are or become a full-time RVer and use DakotaPost as your mail-forwarding service, please mention that Robert and Lana Gates sent you.
South Dakota offers other benefits to us as well. For one, we’ve been able to take advantage of a rare opportunity to spend the past two weeks playing games and interacting with my parents. They moved to Sioux Falls nearly three years ago to be part of the Union Gospel Mission, which my great-grandfather, Thomas F. Morse, started in 1900.
My parents had a good run here but grew tired of the cold winters and, unfortunately for us, put their South Dakota house on the market. It’s already under contract, and they plan to leave the state in August.
I still have an aunt in the area, however, and we’ve enjoyed spending time with her as well during our stop here.
Did I mention this was our first time in South Dakota? Yep, and we didn’t even have time to stop to see Mount Rushmore or the Badlands on our way to Sioux Falls as we were trying to stay ahead of some storms. It’s just as well, though, because parts of the Mount Rushmore state memorial are under construction. We’ll come back when we can see the whole thing and explore the Badlands as well.
We haven’t been on the road all that long yet, but we quickly discovered some items that make full-time RV life easier. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a full-timer driving a motorhome, fifth wheel, travel trailer, truck camper, or something else, you may find the following gadgets helpful as well.
I should note, we don’t get any type of benefit or kickback from mentioning these. Here are our top six must-have RV gadgets, in no particular order:
1. Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
If your rig didn’t come with a TPMS, this is an important must-have to avoid tire issues while traveling. Although Gulliver came with a TPMS, our fifth wheel did not. If we were to have an issue with one of our four trailer tires while en route, we might not even know until arriving at our destination — which might not be near a tire service center.
The RV tire pressure monitoring system we purchased and installed, EEZTire TPMS, includes the ability to set alert notifications at parameters of our choosing, such as if a tire reaches a certain temperature or pressure threshold.
2. Solid Rubber Wheel Chocks
Our very first camping spot on our RV journey wasn’t super level. We had prepared for such an event by purchasing what we thought were heavy-duty wheel chocks. When we detached our fifth wheel from Gulliver, however, the trailer moved and crunched one of the chocks. That didn’t give us much confidence in their ability to keep our rig, which can weigh up to 17,000 pounds, from rolling.
After that, we invested in some solid rubber chocks that are so strong our trailer tires can’t run over them. They may be bulkier and take up more space in our storage compartment, but they also give us great peace of mind. You can’t put a price on that.
3. After-Market Tank Level Monitoring Kit
If you only stay at campgrounds where you have full hookups, then the built-in gray, black, and fresh water tank sensors that come with your coach may suffice for your needs. But, if you plan to do any boondocking (dry camping), knowing the accurate level of your holding tanks becomes paramount.
Like many other RVers, we faced the dreaded problem of our black tank always registering full, even right after we emptied it. Because we like to boondock, that proved problematic. In addition, our tank monitor dashboard only displayed levels in thirds, which didn’t provide the degree of detail we wanted. So, we invested in the Tech-Edge iSeries Tank Systems Monitor.
Tech-Edge is located in Sweet Home, Oregon, only about an hour away from our family in Eugene. We took a nice drive to the manufacturing plant to pick up our kit and enjoyed a scenic lunch stop overlooking a reservoir. No, you don’t have to go to Tech-Edge in person. The company does ship its products. We just didn’t have time to wait for the shipment.
Installing these monitors on your own can be challenging. You have to be able to reach an end of each tank in order to attach aluminum tape and sensors and then wire them to the monitoring dashboard. Bob called the company while installing the black tank sensor and found the staff to be extremely helpful. And, we can now gauge the actual percentage in our black tank.
4. Portable RV Surge Protector
This item can cost a pretty penny but, compared to the potential damage it protects against, it more than pays for itself. Plugging in at campgrounds comes with its own set of risks. If you get a faulty hookup, you could fry all the electronics in your coach — refrigerator, microwave, TV, etc. This gadget ensures that doesn’t happen.
RV surge protectors come in various sizes and strengths, depending on your needs. We bought the Progressive Industries EMS-PT50X RV Surge Protector as we have a 50-amp rig. Not only is it surge-proof, but it’s also weather-resistant.
5. Leveling Blocks
Once you arrive at your camping spot, it’s important to level your coach. This makes for a more enjoyable camping experience while moving about and sleeping in your rig but, more importantly, it protects your refrigerator. RV refrigerators are designed to be as level as possible in order to work properly.
One thing that can greatly help in your quest for a level setup is a collection of Camco Leveling Blocks or Lynx Levelers. These can be stacked in pyramid format like LEGO building blocks to build a ramp and resting place for your tires. They can also be used under your rig’s leveling jacks.
6. Command Hanging Strips
We learned about these amazing pieces of technology by 3M on YouTube. Command Strips come in various shapes, sizes, weight capacities, and colors to help you organize your coach and make it more homey.
We use them to store our TV remote, organize belts, hang our shower squeegee, hold our keys, hang pictures and our all-important United States RV map on the wall, and a whole lot more.
Those are our six must-have RV gadgets. What are yours?
I never thought we’d be the kind of RVers who spend a night in a rest area or Cabela’s parking lot on their way to a destination. At the outset, we had planned to stay a week in each location we stopped. As is typical, however, those plans changed because our new lifestyle requires us to pay close attention to the weather.
After a relaxing, rejuvenating time with family in Eugene, Oregon, we picked up our rig in Medford, Oregon, the morning of June 3, happy to have our home back. Instead of embarking on our transatlantic cruise to London that day as originally scheduled, we departed on a cross-country trek to South Dakota.
Since I’m still not working full time (I have had interviews, and I’ve picked up some contract/freelance work in the interim), we decided to make the journey in five days. That would allow us ample time to recover at the end of each day to make the trip enjoyable.
Knowing where we planned to be which days, we checked the weather in those locations and learned about some developing thunderstorms. Not wanting to set up or even drive in inclimate weather if it could be avoided, we condensed our five-day journey into four days in an effort to beat the storms.
That resulted in some intense drive days — and saddle soreness — but we enjoyed seeing the varying country and wildlife in the states we crossed. Which states were they? Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming before arriving in South Dakota. We weren’t able to put Utah on our map as we only drove through it and didn’t spend a night there. (Sorry, Andy and Erin, but rest assured we’ll be back at some point.)
Along the way, we learned some more important RV lessons:
1. Everything Takes Longer Than We Think
Just because we’re full-time RVers doesn’t mean we get special treatment when our coach needs service or repairs. We have to wait in line behind the weekend warriors just like they have to wait behind us.
Although we had hoped to drop off our coach for only three days, the service center had it for eight. Similarly, just because we think our rig will be ready for pickup at a certain time doesn’t make it true. Even though we arrived at the service center at 9 a.m., we didn’t leave there until 11.
The same longer-than-we-think concept applies to packing up and getting on the road. It always takes us longer than we think it will. And, if we have to stop at a dumping station, we can plan on adding another hour to our trip.
2. Use Produce Before Dropping Off the Coach
Not expecting to lose our rig for as long as we did, we left everything in the fridge and freezer. Not only did our ice melt and meld together, but our produce also went bad, making for a messy, smelly reunion with the coach. We should have thrown out the ice and eaten the produce or taken it with us rather than leaving it.
3. Cleaning Is a Full-Time Job
Gulliver eats a lot of bugs while traveling for days. We need to clean his grill every 1,000 miles or so to keep him looking shiny. Our trailer also needs regular attention.
I had asked my fellow full-time RVer sister-in-law if she cleans her rig before or after moving. The answer was both.
We need to clean the coach before closing it up for a journey if we’ve been in a single location for more than a few days. But we also need to clean the trailer once we arrive at a destination if we were on the road for a while because dust enters from the slides and from the tires jostling things around on the highways.
4. 200-300 Miles Is Ideal for One Day
We arbitrarily chose a goal date of August 1 to arrive in Massachusetts. That meant ambitious journeys between locations spaced a week apart. Because we’ve learned lesson 1 above, we know those targeted destinations aren’t ideal and have made some changes to our schedule and itinerary as a result. (That’s also what’s resulted in our long-haul treks.)
In the future (at least after August 1), we plan to go a little slower and cover less ground in a single day — and not choose arbitrary dates to be in a certain location if we can help it. It’s more important to enjoy the journey.