Friday, November 20, 2020

The Down Side of Traveling Full Time

Some people have wondered the real reasons why we have bought a house again, after saying that it would probably never happen. As I have often said, we should "never say never". The problem was that no one ever told us the down side of traveling full time. 

We were on the road for 4-1/2 years, using our converted cargo trailer to start out, then adding a 27-foot Class A motorhome, and then literally giving that away to a young couple from Ohio, and going back to just the trailer for the past year. And some of that was only possible and made comfortable by the use of a friend's farm during the summers. To him, we are eternally grateful for his hospitality and friendship.

Circumstances change and sometimes they are things beyond our control...or at least, our desire to control. It is often better to just ride the winds of change, rather than try to fight them. Everyone has different wants and needs, but here are the reasons that "we" decided to get off the road.

1. Conveniences (or lack of them).

Regardless of how much other "experts" tout the "glamorous" lifestyle, many things have to be given up. Some are budget related, and have to do with the size of your RV or traveling vehicle, but since much of it has to do with my motto of "no bigger than your need", let's keep the huge RVs and their lavish lifestyles out of it. We started out with a shoestring budget and minimal vehicles in an attempt to stay "minimal" and simplify our lives. Getting rid of possessions that we had accumulated over 35 years was the first thing that led to "inconvenience".

Much of our cooking gear was either sold, given away or put into storage. What we had room for left a lot to be desired when it came to meal preparation. That also changed what foods we bought, in what quantities, how many trips we made to the store to replace our stock, and in turn, how much we paid for that privilege, especially when parked for longer terms, where we weren't just passing stores every day.

Although it is hyped that cooking outdoors is such a great thing, it is also inconvenient. Fires take longer to get started and take longer to put out. For people whose intentions are to get out and see the country and do things, building a fire to prepare a meal while enroute or in an area that isn't designed for such use (like parking lots) is out of the question! And to cook indoors involves space for food preparation, especially in inclement weather. In a small vehicle, there is no room for excess counter space. You may not even have a table. If in a minivan, you may not even be able to stand up to prepare the food or have a table inside.

Refrigeration is going to be limited, and if not limited, will take more power to keep it running. If you plan to boondock extensively, a propane fridge is definitely the way to go, but then who wants to cut a hole in the side or top of a luxury minivan for the vents!? For smaller campers that need a portable fridge or freezer, one of the newer, more efficient chest type units is probably best, but they are far more expensive than a "Peltier effect" cooler. 

Even if you have solar power, it has its limits and is undependable. A few cloudy days in a row will keep your system from charging to its full potential.

The power produced is never "free". A good solar and battery setup can cost as little as a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, and must be prorated out over the life of the system, which is ongoing. Occasional equipment failures and battery changes and upgrades all cost money. 

And if solar isn't enough, you can figure on the cost of a generator and fuel adding to your cost of electricity, and then worry about where to store it.

Bathroom use and hygiene are also going to be inconvenient. No matter what type of portable toilet you use, it isn't going to be like having one at home. They all require maintenance and emptying, none of which are convenient. 

Showering is never going to be convenient in a small camper. Even if you have one, it is going to be smaller, and keeping the camper supplied with enough water to shower regularly is going to be an inconvenience in itself. The alternative of using public showers is also inconvenient and comes with its own hazards, especially now.

If traveling with a pet, especially in hot weather, you can't just leave them in the vehicle. Even if you have an RV with a generator and air conditioner, what will happen if the generator quits, or some low-life shuts it off intentionally while you're away? Having a pet can mean missing out on seeing many things where the pet isn't allowed. So traveling the country may not seem all that glamorous when it becomes inconvenient to take your "buddy" with you. 

2. Costs, both expected and unexpected.

First, the larger the RV you have, the more expensive it is to maintain and operate. Most people that think they have to have a huge RV to replace the house they lived in are usually going to expect full hookups wherever they go, which usually means camping fees of one kind or another. It is getting difficult to find a campground or RV park that is under $400/month, "IF" you choose the monthly option. On a nightly basis, at $20-$40 per night, it can cost far more than that.

If you choose free places to park, about the longest you can stay is two weeks, so then you pay more for fuel between stops. If you only stay one or two nights, the fuel cost goes up dramatically due to being on the road more. 

The larger the vehicle you have, the more repair costs are going to be, especially if it is a diesel-powered RV or truck. An ordinary gas engine can be completely rebuilt or replaced for $3-4,000. A diesel engine rebuild can cost 3-4 times that much. Even smaller component parts are going to be higher.

If you are on the road when a breakdown occurs, you are at the mercy of looking up reviews online or word-of mouth by locals, and "hope" to get someone reliable and reasonably priced. If your living quarters end up in a shop where you can't live in it, you'll be forced into a motel for as log as the repairs take, adding even more expense!

This past winter, we suffered first, a damaged plug on the trailer and had no rear lights until it got fixed. That was over $136 at a half-assed repair shop, and then it still didn't work, and I got it working myself! Next a blowout on the trailer resulted in an emergency road service call at well over $240. The wheel was also damaged, so we had to order a new wheel and a tire at the next town. Then we hit a pothole after it was too dark to see well in a construction zone, and bent the rear wheel on the van as well as blowing a tire, and had to wait another ten days in a Walmart parking lot until a new $457 wheel could be ordered, along with a new tire plus the installation.

If we had a home address to ship to, I could have bought the wheel for far less than dealer prices, but when traveling, that isn't always possible.

For most people, a mailing address is going to be extra cost...at least if you want it dependable and secure. A good mail forwarding company can run $200 a year or more, depending on the level of service you choose, and then the actual cost of the postage to forward the mail is on top of that. Even if you plan for that, surprises can come up.

In our case, our surprise was Sharon's diabetes diagnosis. Suddenly we had to figure out where and how to get her subscription supplies while on the road. We eventually discovered that she could get her insulin for free and shipped for free to our "home" address, which was South Dakota. But to have our mail forwarding company get the two insulated coolers to us in South Texas cost us another $94 in postage! Then when she went to a CGM system, we also paid another $25 for postage to get that forwarded to us!

If you can't take everything with you, and have to put some stuff in storage, that can easily run $40 to $60 a month for a small unit, or even more for a garage-sized unit.

Even water while traveling can cost money! Many places, especially in the western states, provide free water and trash disposal with dump station use, but often the use of the dump station comes with a fee,  which can be as little as $5 for a porta-potty, or up to $20 for a large RV. If you choose to drink bottled water for quality and consistency, you'll pay for that, too.

You'll need propane if you expect to do any boondocking. Whether it be 1# bottles for a portable heater, more efficient 20-40# bottles that can be exchanged or refilled, or a chassis-mounted tank like on a motorhome, trying to camp remotely for extended periods without using propane is just plain foolish. If you buy 1# bottles at Walmart, you're going to be paying roughly $13.30 per gallon for that propane, and it won't even run a portable heater on low all night! Using refillable tanks with an extension hose, you can get your cost down to under $2.50 to as much as $3.70 per gallon. You'll use far more gasoline to run a generator, because they aren't as efficient. 

So in general, traveling full-time, no matter what size vehicle you use, is going to come with costs, some hidden, some unexpected, but always inconvenient! You can't just walk away from a house and figure that all your utility and other costs are going to go away! They'll be replaced by other things!

3. Comfort in general.

Traveling in a RV of any size can be uncomfortable, and to remain comfortable can be expensive! Smaller RV's don't have enough roof to hold many solar panels, nor do they have a lot of storage space for heavy deep-cycle batteries to hold the solar charge, and none of them are meant for high-draw appliances like an electric heater or air conditioner. So you can forget about running an electric heater at night to stay warm. 

Even a 12-volt electric blanket can draw enough overnight to where you will have to recharge your batteries in the morning before doing anything else. And if it's overcast or raining, you can forget about a quick solar charge! The same goes for running an air conditioner. Unless you want to deal with running a noisy generator and having to to store gasoline and keep the generator topped off, you can forget about having good usable power all day long. 

Oh sure, if you have a high-powered inverter, you can probably have enough power for a small fridge, electronics and LED lights, but again, no heaters or air conditioning!

If you have a larger RV with a furnace, that furnace requires plenty of electrical power just for the fan, and your batteries probably won't last for more than a night. So the fact that the heat itself is provided by propane doesn't mean much if you don't have power enough to keep the fan running.

We used a Buddy Portable heater for heat, and did without air conditioning most of the time. The Buddy was OK for the RV, but way too much for the little trailer. It was either too much heat or none, with no in between. And at night we usually slept with NO heat, and woke up to a cold camper! Had I spent more money for a Camco Wave 3 catalytic heater, we would have been better off. The Wave 3 can be set to a lower btu rating which is roughly a third of what the Buddy can be set to. None of these small heaters have a thermostat, so you have to manually turn them off or on as needed. That, in itself is a major inconvenience, plus, it wastes propane! 

A smaller RV isn't going to have room for nice recliners to kick back and relax in. You'll have to have a decent-sized fifth-wheel or motorhome for that, and again, those come with more expense to buy, maintain, and provide fuel for. And for two people plus a dog in a small trailer, someone is always going to be in someone else's way! Going outside is not always an option if the weather is bad, so you'll have no choice but to deal with it!

4. Personal safety.

This Covid-19 pandemic hit quickly, but at a fortuitous time for us. We were already headed north from South Texas, but we were seeing it on the news. By the time we saw lockdowns coming, we were in Beebe, Arkansas, only a few hour's drive from our next planned stop. We managed to make the drive back to Northern Indiana in only a couple days, and arrived the very day (March 24th) that the Indiana lockdown went into effect that night. It was a little earlier than expected, and a little cooler up here than we preferred, but so be it. We certainly didn't want to be caught on the road during this problematic time.

Between that, and the election turmoil coming up, we knew it would not be good to be on the road. The rioting proved us right. The sad part is that it may not be over yet, nor is the pandemic under control, and may not be for many months yet.

We're more than happy to sit it all out here in "small town America", and stay away from major cities and their problems. Maybe life will get back to where it used to be, and maybe not. But at our age, we don't need to be dealing with it, nor do we have a lot of time to wait.

In Summary

Living in a van or small trailer and seeing the country may sound adventurous and glamorous to some, but the older we get, the less it seems to be that way. We've traveled with just our minivan for a whole summer, in our cargo trailer alone for nearly two years at the beginning and end, and in a motorhome during the middle years, and NONE of them were as convenient as having a house to live in!

I have said many times that we had far more fun with our first empty high-top van than with anything since. And we didn't have a pet back then. We piled in our portable equipment and what we needed for short trips, didn't have to drag everything we own with us, and had the freedom to do whatever we pleased, see anything we pleased, and park anywhere we pleased. We could even arrange the inside as we pleased, because nothing was attached or permanent! We could have been comfortable for weeks or even months at a time. As we started getting into larger RVs, that's where the stress started...in buying them, driving them, parking them, paying more camping fees, and paying more to fix and improve them!

We'll eventually get back to some kind of larger van again, preferably an empty high-top cargo van like we once had. And we'll maintain a "home base" to come back to when we get tired of being on the road. We'll likely do shorter trips, drive less and have more fun! We'll get rid of the down side of traveling full time. Never again will we try to drag everything we own with us!

As always we welcome comments that are on topic. Thank you for following along with our little adventures and our reasons for doing what we do! Stay healthy and safe travels to you!