After an eventful time in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we wanted to venture to Ocean City, Maryland, to visit some friends we had made on our 2022 transatlantic cruise. Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel offered the quickest, most direct route, saving 95 miles and about three hours of travel time through the congested Washington, D.C., area.
Considered one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is a 17.6-mile crossing of the Chesapeake Bay. Since opening in 1964, it’s taken more than 140 million vehicles from Virginia Beach to the state’s Delmarva Peninsula, or vice versa, traversing both over and under the water.
The bridge-tunnel includes not one, but two tunnels, each about a mile long. Crossing the bridge-tunnel takes only about a half hour but can be nerve-racking in an RV if you’re unprepared for it.
To Cross or Not to Cross?
As the time approached for us to travel to Ocean City, Bob put his excellent research skills to use to explore our options to get there. The bridge-tunnel’s direct route and time savings made us give it serious consideration. Had other RVs made it through? Did semi trucks use the route? How tight were the travel lanes?
We had read that the max vehicle height for the tunnels is 13 feet, 6 inches, the size of semis. Our rig is 3 inches shorter, so we took some comfort in that, knowing we had a little more clearance than trucks did.
Because of the potential stress of driving the bridge-tunnel, Bob had decided we’d forgo it and take the long, inland route instead. But advice from a friend made him reconsider. Jim had traveled the bridge-tunnel numerous times and had seen semis and RVs make it through with no issues. The only potential risk was weather. If conditions are too windy, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel Commission closes the bridge-tunnel until conditions improve.
We decided to keep our trip short and take the direct route across the bridge-tunnel.
The weather looked good on our day of departure. We waited to leave our campsite at First Landing State Park until about 9 a.m. to let traffic die down. Navigating to the bridge-tunnel proved easy enough. We made it to the toll plaza with no problems.
Because we have E-ZPass, a transponder in Gulliver that electronically pays tolls we encounter, we didn’t have to exchange any funds. The toll worker asked if our propane was off. We assured her it was, and we were on our way, starting across the bridge.
A semi-truck passed us, relaxing any remaining frayed nerves. Prior to this experience, we had thought the dimensions listed before tunnels and overpasses — 13’ 6” max height, in this case — were the measured distance from road to overpass/tunnel bottom. We learned those signs actually mean the listed dimensions are the maximum height for a vehicle to safely pass without hitting the bridge/tunnel.
As we approached the first of the two tunnels, Thimble Shoal Channel Tunnel, and two-way traffic, Bob concentrated on keeping Gulliver and Tagalong in the middle of our lane. Clearance under the tunnel was fine. We had no problems, although we still got excited when we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We emerged onto another bridge that led us to the second tunnel, the Chesapeake Channel Tunnel. As we approached that one, a semi-truck came out toward us, clearly demonstrating plenty of clearance. After that tunnel, we crossed another bridge before finally returning to land.
Thankful for an uneventful experience, we pulled into the Eastern Shore of Virginia Welcome Center. There, we turned our propane back on to keep the food in our fridge and freezer cold as we journeyed to our destination in Ocean City.
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When your home is on wheels — and it’s everything you own in the world — you can’t leave it just anywhere to travel via airplane, train, or ship like you can if you live in a sticks-and-bricks house. Instead, you have to put a lot of thought into planning to identify where you’ll be when you want to start your travel, what airport you’ll be flying out of, and things like that.
Living the lifestyle we do, we don’t like to plan very far in advance. We’ve learned that plans change and things break. It’s nice to have flexibility to adjust accordingly.
But, when it comes to long-distance travel outside our rig, we can’t afford not to make far-out plans. It’s a necessity for peace of mind that our home and truck will be OK while we’re away. So, where do we park for these getaways? It depends.
RV/Mobile Home Parks
When we’re stationary during the winter months, we stay in a gated, 55-plus mobile home/RV park. We know our neighbors and the maintenance man, so we feel quite comfortable leaving our rig and truck there. The fact that the community is gated adds to our peace of mind.
We left both Gulliver and Tagalong there while we ventured to Las Vegas and again when we went on a cruise out of Long Beach, California.
When we’re not stationary, we reach out to friends or family in the area from which we want to depart. If they have room for our rig and are willing to have it sit on their property while we’re gone, it’s a win.
Bob’s brother Bill let us park on his property in Massachusetts in 2020 while we went on tour with the B-25 as part of the Commemorative Air Force. Our good friend Darryl drove us to the airport, so we left Gulliver at Bill’s too.
In 2021, we left Gulliver and Tagalong at a fellow CAF member’s home in Iowa. Like Darryl, Gene drove us to the airport.
Our friends Greg and Sharon, also from the CAF, let us leave our rig in the driveway of their central Florida home while we went on a cruise out of Tampa. Because their place is a couple of hours’ drive from Tampa, we drove Gulliver and left him in long-term parking there, researching the lot first for peace of mind.
Other options we’ve looked into but haven’t used yet are RV storage lots. This is a practical choice if we ever depart from an area where we don’t know people. Having paid for RV storage when we first purchased our rig before moving into it, we know the storage fee should include some level of security that our rig will be protected while we’re away.
Depending on the storage company, we may have to pay for a month of rent. Many don’t offer weekly storage options. But the extra cost of that full-month fee may be worth it to set our minds at ease that our home is in good hands.
Two blogs weren’t enough to cover the myriad questions we get about our RV lifestyle. The questions keep coming our way, and it only makes sense to answer them in a public forum since they tend to recur. So, here we go.
Do you ever find things on the floor after arriving at your destination?
The simple answer is yes. We arrived at a campsite, opened the trailer, and found a ceramic mug on the floor in pieces. We also found a glass tumbler once, miraculously still in one piece. We’re happy to report these are not common occurrences. We’ve learned how to pack our interior belongings in a way to prevent them from falling from cabinets.
We use spring bars in our pantry to keep canned goods in place and in our refrigerator to keep eggs and other things from falling out in transit and making a mess. Securing any loose items is key before we drive anywhere.
What do you do in storms?
We got this question in Michigan a few days before a tornado warning came through. Before that event, we hadn’t really thought about storms. We do our best to avoid driving in them, but sometimes they do occur while we’re in a location.
We weathered windstorms, for example, by closing our slideouts and hunkering down. When the noise got to be too great, we loaded into Gulliver and drove into town for the afternoon, leaving Tagalong to fend for himself. He did fine.
In northwestern Michigan, we stayed at a campground that had “Storm Shelter” signs on its concrete public restrooms. At many campgrounds, the best place to stay safe from a storm is in structures like those.
If we were to encounter a dangerous storm while boondocking somewhere and didn’t have time to relocate our rig, we’d likely secure it as best we could, pull in the slideouts, and leave it to find shelter elsewhere until the storm passed.
What about shoes?
Honestly, we don’t need a lot of shoes. I work from the trailer, so most workdays I’m in my slippers or flip-flops. Bob typically wears sneakers or sandals. But the makers of our rig created it with hidden shelving in the back of our bedroom closet that allows for storage of extra shoes, if needed.
How do you prevent being in vacation mode?
I transitioned to a remote job before we moved into the trailer. That turned out to be a good stepping stone for me to get used to working in a different location from my team and connecting via video calls and instant messaging.
My work is part of our lifestyle, so we’ve figured out a way to prioritize it while enjoying traveling to different parts of the country. We move on weekends for the most part. After arriving at a location and getting set up, we like to take the rest of the day and possibly the next to explore the area.
Come Monday morning, I’m back to my typical work week, and Bob finds plenty to do to keep busy. It’s a win-win, as the job helps keep us in this lifestyle.
How long do you plan to full-time RV?
We don’t have a definite end date in mind. We still have a lot of the country to see, and we’d like to keep doing what we’re doing until we get sick of it or are physically unable to, whichever comes first. We’ll have to reevaluate that in 15 to 20 years.
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As we travel the country and come across people from all walks of life, we get a lot of questions about our RV lifestyle. You may have the same questions. Here, we’ll answer some common questions we get asked.
What do you like most about RV living?
We enjoy a lot of things about RV living: visiting new places, seeing family and friends, exploring this beautiful country. But if we had to narrow down our favorite aspect of this lifestyle, it would have to be sleeping in our own bed every night. No matter where we travel, we always have the comforts of home. It’s great to be able to take our house with us everywhere we go.
What do you like least about RV living?
Sticks-and-bricks living (traditional, stationary homes) has some not-so-favorable characteristics. RV living does too. We addressed some of those in our What RV Living Is Really Like blog. We don’t really mind the things we mentioned there. Our least favorite thing about RV living is probably the movement of the trailer when we walk through it.
Unlike a motorhome that has a front set of tires and a back set of tires, a fifth wheel has two or three back sets of tires. (Ours has two.) That makes the rig less stable, to the point that one of us sitting can feel the trailer moving when the other one walks around in it. It’s similar to the sensation you might feel on a cruise ship when it plies choppy waters. It’s a good thing we like cruising.
This inconvenience is bearable, but sometimes it would be nice to have a stable foundation.
What’s it like to ride in the trailer while it’s moving?
Although riding in a fifth wheel is legal in some states, it’s not legal in all. When the slideouts of our rig are closed, we can get to the bathroom and bedroom — and that’s it. So, neither of us rides in the trailer while it’s moving. Honestly, I don’t think it would be very fun. Instead, we take turns driving Gulliver pulling Tagalong and navigating our route.
Do you work while Bob drives?
I have a full-time job Monday through Friday for a tech company in California. Because of that, we typically only travel on the weekends, sometimes starting Friday after work. There have been a few rare occasions when I’ve worked from the passenger seat of the truck while in motion. For those times, we take our Verizon MiFi device with us inside the cab, along with our cellphone booster antenna, to get the best internet performance.
What kind of gas mileage do you get when towing?
Gulliver is a Dodge Ram 3500 dually with a Cummins 6.7-liter diesel engine. We intentionally ordered him from the factory without four-wheel drive to save on gas mileage. We only wished we had four-wheel drive one time.
When towing Tagalong, we get about 8 miles per gallon of diesel. When not towing, we average about 16 miles per gallon. Gulliver’s fuel tank can hold 32 gallons, so we stop for fuel about every three hours of travel. It works out well because we typically need a bio break after that time span too.
Have more questions? Check out our first Answers to Your Questions blog. If you still don’t see the answer to your question, go ahead and send it our way. We’ll address it in a future blog.
You may be wondering how we plan our trips. As you can imagine, many considerations go into our location choices, including weather, travel distance, and people we know in a certain area.
The year before we started full-time RVing, we thought we were super smart and organized. We planned our stops based on the distance we thought we could travel in a day, having never driven a big rig, and even booked campgrounds.
After taking ownership of our fifth wheel, we wised up a bit and looked at the map differently — so differently, in fact, that we canceled all of the campgrounds we had booked. We had originally planned to hit the road toward the end of June 2020, but we moved up the date and completely rerouted our course.
Start with a Goal
Now, we start our course planning with a goal destination in mind. In 2020, we wanted to make it to Bob’s homeland of Massachusetts, as we hadn’t been there in about six years. We also needed to deliver some items to our son, Joshua, in Eugene, Oregon, and to our daughter, Megan, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So those had to be stops on our journey as well.
For 2021, we set a goal of traveling to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, somewhere I’d never been even though I was born in Michigan. For 2022, we’re planning two destinations: Florida and Maine. And 2023 may include a trip on the Alaska Highway to the Last Frontier.
Add Stops Along the Way
Since we had a target destination of Massachusetts in 2020 and needed to visit Oregon as well, it seemed fitting that our debut cross-country RV trip should be from the West Coast to the East Coast.
We also wanted to visit family in South Dakota and Michigan and planned to be in Washington, D.C., in September for a warbird flyover. So, we plotted those points. We had planned to travel only on the weekends and only one day at a time. That objective quickly changed since I had a freer schedule being out of work.
In 2021, we had originally planned to visit the northern Midwest states: Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. But, we also planned to leave the Phoenix area at the end of February. We knew heading north wouldn’t be the smartest thing, but our love of adventure convinced us otherwise.
When we learned, however, that the average accumulation of snow in Bozeman, Montana, in March is more than 13 inches, we decided to alter our course. And it worked out for the best. We spent three weeks with my parents in Yuma, Arizona, and then headed east — staying south — with fellow full-time RVers Tom and Molly Gates.
The location of friends and family, as well as visiting places we haven’t been and filling in states on our map, all weigh into our overnight decisions. And internet coverage is a must for us at any RV stop as I need it to be able to work.
Don’t Plan Too Far in Advance
We’ve learned to be flexible and generally don’t plan each stop very far in advance. That frees us to modify our route as desired based on weather and other circumstances. For example, we try to avoid driving in the rain or strong wind whenever possible. We made the mistake toward the end of our 2021 travels of driving in the rain, only to find puddles of water inside the trailer when we set up camp.
When we knew we’d be in Michigan’s UP over Memorial Day, we booked a campsite a month in advance to ensure we had a place to stay. But typically, we don’t book more than a week or two out — although we may have an idea in mind of the area we’d like to stay.
Even though we already have a general route in mind for our 2022 travels, we only have a couple of stops planned. One is because we’re going on a cruise out of Tampa, Florida. When you’re a full-time RVer, you have to plan ahead to keep your home somewhere safe while you’re away.
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We’ve been enjoying catching up with family and friends and visiting old haunts in New England. Bob successfully replaced the cover to the electric cord compartment on our rig, the original of which we lost somewhere in New York. And I’ve picked up some more work (though still not a full-time job).
Other than that, we haven’t had a lot of adventures lately, unless you count walking up and down hills in the neighborhood we’ve been staying in to try to get some exercise. But, we thought it might be a good time to address some common questions about our RV lifestyle. So, here we go:
Does Lana drive?
Yes, I do drive when we’re towing Tagalong. Bob and I both took an RV driving course and found it well worth the cost as it gave us the confidence needed for driving the rig all the time. The instructor, Jordy, met us at the dealership when we picked up our rig. We wanted Jordy to drive the rig off the lot, but he wasn’t allowed to. So Bob did it, with good guidance.
Jordy sat in the passenger seat and gave us tips and advice and lots of instructions for eight hours that day and the next. We went to an empty parking lot, where he set up cones for us to weave in and out of to get used to handling the truck-trailer combination. And then, he made us do the same course in reverse, weaving in and out of the cones going backward.
So, yes, I drive, and I actually think it’s kind of fun. Gulliver was made to tow, so he handles Tagalong quite well. We just have to remember to make wide turns and to watch for low-hanging branches and wires. I haven’t backed up our rig into any parking spots yet. I’m not opposed to it, but I’d rather attempt that in a wide open space than in a tight campground.
How do you get mail and packages?
We signed up for a mail-forwarding service in South Dakota, our state of domicile. Any mail or packages sent to that address can be routed to an address of our choice.
When we need to order things from Amazon or another delivery service, we have them sent to an address we plan to visit. For example, we had a number of packages delivered to my parents’ house before we reached their area. We did the same thing before arriving at Bob’s brother’s in Massachusetts.
If we’ll be at a campground or some other venue that doesn’t accept packages, we can arrange to have them sent to an Amazon locker and pick them up there.
Do you have a washer and dryer in your fifth wheel?
Although our rig is plumbed for a washer and dryer in the bedroom closet, we opted not to cram them into that space. Instead, we use the area for clothes storage. We do laundry at friends’ and families’ when moochdocking. And, when we don’t have that option, we go to a local laundromat, which we don’t mind at all. We can wash and dry all of our laundry in two hours.
How long do you stay in one place?
That really depends. Ideally, we like to stay in one place for at least a week. But there have been a number of times we’ve stayed somewhere overnight on our way to a certain destination.
We spent two weeks In South Dakota near my parents’, a month in Michigan on my cousin’s farm, and it looks like we’ll be at Bob’s brother’s for a month (sandwiched around two weeks when Gulliver and Tagalong stay and we fly to join the B-25 tour in Montana).
Why did you decide on a fifth wheel? What is a fifth wheel anyway?
A fifth wheel is a travel trailer that connects to the towing vehicle inside the bed of the truck rather than off the back of the bumper. We chose a fifth wheel for a number of reasons. For one thing, we only have one engine to maintain.
Another factor that influenced our decision is the variety of layouts available in fifth wheels. Motorhomes have limited layout options because of their drivability. But fifth wheels come with the bedroom upstairs or in the back, the kitchen upstairs or in the middle, the living space in the back or in the front, etc. They also usually have a kitchen island, which gives them more of a homey feel.
We chose the Jayco Pinnacle 37MDQS because it’s designed for full-time living (some are designed for weekend getaways), and it includes an office, with a closing door, in the middle of the layout, right off the kitchen. A separate office topped our priority list when evaluating rigs because I wanted to be able to close the door at the end of the workday and be home.
This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.