Saturday, April 21, 2018

New Directions in Our RV Travels

The time is soon coming for us to relocate to a different RV parking spot, and it is long overdue. The situations in this parking spot have changed, and even if there were no other reasons, it is time for us to move on.

When we started our full-time RVing adventure, we never intended to set in a park for this long, but here it is at 13 months already, as of May 1st, our new departure date. The way I look at it is that at our age, the longer we sit still in an RV park, the less time we have left in our lives to do what we intended to do... to get out and see the country... and that was our original goal. Life is too short to live it in only one spot.

Although we are far better off than many retirees, with having our Social Security and other methods of income at our disposal, we still see no need to waste any of it. And paying park rent is a waste... unless you really hate to travel and are satisfied to sit inside the same four walls day after day after day... and if you are going to do that, then you might as well be in a house! That has never been our style, although we are as guilty as others of having indulged in it from time to time. Wisdom often comes late.

Nor do we want to pursue things that are of no benefit to us. That includes the Amazon ads. As of this post, I will no longer be attaching their ads to my posts. I make money with other strictly sales sites and don't need Amazon to do it. You will still see product links in the text, provided by Skimlinks, but those appear automatically. I will never commit to anyone ever again to do something for them while traveling, whether paid for it or not. The last commitment turned into a total waste of our time! In our rush to get there, we had to pass up many things that we really wanted to see, and it will NOT happen ever again!

It seems that no matter what you do, something is going to be a waste. If you buy an older or larger RV, the maintenance costs can take away from traveling with it. If you buy a newer or smaller RV and can't pay cash for it, the payments (which include interest) can be a waste. If you do pay cash for it, then taking that money out of savings or investments and losing the interest on it can be a waste. And the depreciation on any RV is certainly a waste! Selling your real estate to pay for an RV, and then losing all future appreciation in value on that real estate is yet another form of waste.

There is no winning, other than the peace of mind of being able to travel in your own RV, have your own bed, your own meals, your own bathroom and shower, and be able to come and go as you please. Some people just choose to waste their money on many things they do not need in order to accomplish that satisfaction, when there are many ways that they could do it much cheaper!

For those of us who live to travel and experience what the world has to offer, the best we can hope for is a fair compromise between waste and gains. That can be accomplished in many ways. I know of many people who travel with nothing but a back pack and a tent. They own no vehicles at all, and prefer to hitch-hike or rent transportation when they really need it. And what they save, they use for airfare or other transportation costs, and splurge for a reasonable hotel now and then. They may not own much, but they are rich in so many other ways. Yes, it's a rough way to do it, but the point is... they are at least doing something besides sitting at home and staring at four walls!

Others may have more money coming in than they know what to do with, and insist on a huge, expensive RV with all the luxuries of home, even though they may have an equally expensive piece of real estate to return to. And many of those only use the RV to travel to the same place year after year. Now that is what I call a real waste! Just because they own an RV and use it for a few weeks out of the year does NOT make them true Rvers! All they have done is trade a real house for one with wheels under it, and still have all the same expenses when they use full hook-ups!

I read an article a few years ago that was based on a study that says that humans need no more than 260 cubic feet to live in. That's not 260 square feet (which would be generous), but 260 CUBIC feet! Picture a box that is 6.38 feet on any side, and that will give you an idea of the size! Within that space can be everything you need for day to day living, including kitchen and bathroom facilities.

In contrast, there are many Chinese factory workers (including some of those that made your cell phone) that live in cubicles much smaller than that. For them, home is more like a cell in a beehive, and some even have to climb a ladder to get into them. They have enough room to sit on their beds, or to lie down, and that's about all. Any other functions... cooking, bathroom, shower, etc. are all done in communal areas. This makes it more efficient to be at their jobs every day. On days off, they are out and about doing other things, and only return to their cubicle to sleep.

Some travelers can relate to that, because traveling in a tear-drop trailer or a minivan is roughly the same size. There are countless people who are living full-time out of such vehicles every day! For them, it is more important to get out and travel and experience what the rest of the world has to offer than to worry about temporary comfort, or what their friends, relatives and neighbors think! During the day, they are getting out of their four walls and living life! They only use their vehicles as a place to sleep! And how much space do you really need for that? Think about it! The rest is mostly storage space! If we could quit buying every little thing that comes up on sale, we don't need a lot of storage space for what we actually use on a daily basis!

Most of us could never tolerate a life like that, but many of us are spoiled when it comes to luxuries that few other countries enjoy. For dedicated workers with the right work ethic, those little cubicles allow them to remain close to work, and to cut down on commuting costs. And with the price of apartments and real estate in many over-crowded major cities, it cuts down on the amount of real estate they actually need, and keeps their costs of housing down. They have grown up with this work ethic, so to them, it is a normal part of life. Some never escape it!

RVers would be better off to think small, as reducing size and expenses would also make travel much more affordable, so they could do more of it, and more often. My favorite saying is "no bigger than you need" and it has always worked well for me. The times I have gotten away from that, in such things as housing and vehicles, it has never been an advantage on anything. I have either lost money on vehicles or broken even on real estate.

The larger a piece of real estate is (with buildings on it), the more useless crap we buy to fill it up to keep it from looking empty! And the broader the expanse of it, the more it costs to maintain it, whether it be in repairs, taxes, insurance, and utilities. And most owners don't keep track of their own time. They should. If they had to pay someone else to take care of all the things they do to maintain their property, they would likely see that they are losing money! Even talking on the phone to call a repairman would cost you money if you were paying a caretaker to do it!

The larger and more expensive vehicles are, the more they cost in repairs, fuel costs, taxes, insurance and everything else. And yet they all do the same thing... to get you from point A to point B. I have owned everything from a brand new Lincoln Mark VII LSC that got maybe 15 mpg if I was lucky, to a brand new Volkswagen Rabbit diesel that got 45 mpg consistently. I even built my own 1929 Mercedes Benz SK touring car, just for fun. And I was just as comfortable driving the Rabbit as I was the Lincoln, and saved a whole lot more money doing it!

In RVing and camping, many know that I was a Boy Scout, and my first experiences camping were with a grain tarp hung over a rope between two trees and staked down at the corners. A piece of Vis-Queen plastic was used as a ground cloth. I didn't even have a mattress pad or a sleeping bag. My family didn't have a lot of money back in those days, and since my parents weren't into camping, I never had the luxuries like a mosquito and rain-proof tent, fancy cookware, lanterns or other camping equipment. I used what I could scrounge up to do the job, and got by with it. And when I think back on it, I had more fun in those days without all the stress of larger RVs and equipment to maintain!

After meeting Sharon, our first RV was a $600 pop-up tent trailer (and our cheapest RV). It still had the basic luxuries that a tent trailer can have. But our most "sparse" RV, was soon after that, in the form of a used, empty Dodge Maxi-van cargo van. I discovered that I could buy a "factory second" fiberglass top for it for $400 from one of the RV manufacturers (now out of business) in Middlebury, IN, and I hauled it home, cut out the top of the van and installed it myself, just so we could have standing room (another luxury).

I added a plywood floor and installed carpeting over it, but that was as far as I got with it, before getting busy at work and on other projects. The only other thing we added that took any "creating" at all was a make-shift side gaucho couch that opened up into a bed, right behind the driver's seat. Behind that, we had a card table and two folding chairs, a portable sink, a camp stove, a porta-potty and an ice chest. We put our clothes into two duffle bags, and food into cardboard boxes. That was the way we traveled on several "long weekend" trips with that van, and had less expense, less stress, and more fun than we have had in any RV since.

After that, we traded the van for a Toyota Mini-Cruiser. That brought slightly better fuel economy, but more payments, width that was too short to lay in for our height, a bathroom door that wouldn't close comfortably if we were sitting on the pot, and smaller door and window openings which made for less ventilation. And with no generator or air conditioning it was very uncomfortable. So we traded again a couple years later...

... for a 23-foot Jayco Class C on a Ford chassis... more weight, bigger tires, less fuel economy, higher payments, higher insurance, higher licensing costs, more maintenance expense, etc., etc.  Yes, we could get around with it without too much difficulty, but it was still a jump in size. On the other hand, it had a generator, an air conditioner, a microwave and a little more space.

The biggest problem was that back in those days, we were both still working. So any RV use was mostly on long weekends, or a rare week-long trip. It wasn't a matter of setting and enjoying leisure time for a couple weeks at a time to save fuel. We had to rush to get somewhere and then rush home to go back to work to pay for all that wasted luxury! The rest of the time the RV was setting in our driveway taking up space.

Nor could we choose where we wanted to go... such as out of the heat or cold. We mostly went to the RV parks that we had also wasted money with to become members, and the yearly fees were more than we would have paid in normal campground fees for the few times we were able to use them! And being in the Midwest, it gets hot in the summertime, so we really needed the plug-ins and air conditioning most of the time. So the memberships and campground fees were (mostly) more wasted expense! 

Was it worth it to have our own RV available when we wanted to use it? Probably not! We could have added a portable generator (solar wasn't readily available yet in those days), a portable air conditioner (or window unit), and a microwave to our (paid for) Maxi-van, for far less than the payments on any RVs we have ever bought since! But it didn't stop there!

After a couple of years, we decided we didn't like having to climb up into the Class C's upper bunk, and the jack-knife couch was very uncomfortable. We could have bought a new couch... but no... we came across a one-year old, 34-foot Honey Class A with a rear queen bed, and went into debt again! Being a newer RV didn't matter much, because we soon discovered that it liked to throw fan belts, it needed new air bags in the front, new tires, and many other things, all at additional expense! And the patio awning that we had them install was not installed right, and created problems the whole time we owned that RV!

In the six years we had that RV, we also remodeled it, with new countertops in the bathroom and kitchen, relocated the couch to the opposite side, eliminated the dinette in favor of two brand new FlexSteel rocking, swivel recliners ($450 each) with a hidden pop-up wall table, plus reworking a pantry with a new side opening and new matching cabinet doors to gain more space! I didn't even keep track of all the remodeling costs. We even added a brand new Splendide washer/dryer combo unit to it (another $1,000), plus all the necessary plumbing! And after all that, a salesman talked us into an even larger RV!

We had stopped to buy a replacement hubcap (for one we lost in our travels) coming up and out of Florida, and came away with a 40-foot Bounder instead! What a stupid mistake that was! Now we had a rig with all the comforts of home... and at the expense of 5-1//2 mpg with a 90 gallon fuel tank! During the next seven years that we had that rig, we spent another $10,000 on all kinds of add-ons and accessories to it and for it, besides several expensive repairs to the chassis ($1200 for a water pump replacement, and $125 to have the frame welded, plus several fuel pumps, just for some that I can still remember). Whenever we did go somewhere, the fuel costs and stress of driving and parking a rig that big was enormous... just like the rig itself!

When we finally got rid of that rig, we downsized to a North Star TC-650 slide-in camper, specially designed for the Dakota Quad-Cab, and custom ordered by us for a cash payment of over $15,000. At least we didn't have payments or interest, but we were still working. And for the few times we actually used the camper during the next nine years that we owned it, we could have traveled in a much more fuel efficient vehicle and stayed in Hyatt Regency Hotels!

And even though everything was like new on the camper, it developed a leak in the roof, right over the kitchen counter after being parked with us not using it for months at a time. There's no straightening a bowed roof on one of those units, and a roof unit replacement at the factory was over $2500. After thirteen years the Dakota had developed some problems too, so we sacrificed both for whatever we could get on a trade, which was more money down the drain, especially on the camper!

When we decided to sell off our real estate and travel full time, there were no RVs like we wanted within a day's drive, so since we already owned the cargo trailer, I built that up into what we needed, and we actually lived in it for seven months, using our conversion van to pull it. But size does matter, and with no real estate to use for storage, we also ended up paying for two rental storage units for our excess "stuff" that we couldn't carry with us, or bear to part with... yet.

If we had bought a big Class A with deep "basement" storage compartments, we probably could have taken it all with us, but again... at what cost? A rental storage unit is far cheaper!

The other issue we had was that most "RV resorts" will not let a converted van or cargo trailer into their parks, so we were limited on where we could go, even with our memberships. Thankfully, by then, we were more aware of "alternative" places to park (national forests, federal lands, COEs, private campgrounds, and even private residences), but with low ground clearance and sometimes length, we still had problems getting into some of them.

Now that we are retired, we can justify some of the expense of owning an RV, because it is now our permanent home. We can choose to travel when and where we want to, with the better weather, and stay a couple weeks at a time. Most national forests and other free land is within a couple hundred miles of each other, so that's all we would "have" to travel within any month to save fuel costs. Or, if we wanted to choose parks with full hook-ups, with a larger and newer RV, we could get into any park we would want to, and stay for as long as we wanted, to save on fuel expense. But that's not seeing the country as we had planned to do! We don't even like staying somewhere for as little as two weeks! A week at a time is more our style, and that's often too much!

And even though we have purged enough to eliminate the second rented storage unit, we seem to still be destined to retain at least one... probably for a long time yet. As long as the price stays reasonable, I really don't mind that. It still beats the cost of owning real estate, or forcing us into a larger RV just to hold it all. One way or the other, we have to pay for holding onto "stuff"!

But our wanderlust is getting to us once more, and for many reasons, it is time to do the traveling that we started out to do. We are leaving here on May 1st, with no intentions of ever returning to this place. We have made other arrangements for a spot to return to after this summer's trip, but when we return, this RV will be sold as soon as is possible, and it will be replaced with something far easier to get around with, more fuel efficient, and less stress to deal with.

The newer unit (much less than ten years old) will be much higher off the ground, slightly shorter, and just as able to pull whatever trailer we might want to pull (until we decide we don't want to pull one anymore, and then it will go, also). Our future traveling vehicle will be able to get into the national forests, over somewhat rough terrain, and be able to park in touristy areas when we want to stop and see something. We will be able to access far more free places to park than this RV ever could, therefore, making the next one more affordable in all respects.

For now, we will make do as we need to with this one, but come next fall, the direction of our travels may change entirely... in going to traveling full-time (as opposed to setting in a park), in what we will return to as a winter locale, in what kind of vehicles we will have, the places we will visit, and much more.

As planned, places will not be disclosed until after we have left them, and several weeks may pass before I write about them. I may not even write about them in the order in which they were visited. (No one needs to know where we are at any given time!)

Rest assured that our travels have not stopped, and this past year that we have sat in one place was more of a fluke than anything else. It was a time for catching up, for settling certain affairs, and for planning what we wanted to do next. That plan has been completed, a new direction established, and barring any unforeseen happenings, will continue as planned... while always allowing for the unexpected. We cannot allow anything to keep us from our plans any longer.

We have no idea where we will end up, and no plans of settling down anywhere. We plan to remain "mobile" and not stay longer than two weeks at any particular location, if even that long. Other than saying we will be heading north in the summer and south in the winter, there's nearly 3,000 miles between coasts that fit that description, and we may see every mile of it, and everything in between north and south, before we're ready to stop traveling. We have yet to see Seattle, or Bar Harbor, Maine in the opposite direction. Only serendipity will guide our future travels!

When the time comes to settle down, we still don't want to go back to snow country, nor do we want all desert. There are certain things about the west that still pull on us (low humidity, sunsets, lack of storms, etc.), but there are also certain things about the eastern states that pull on us, too (beautiful green forests, etc.). We want a combination of both, and yet remain close to either type. There is lot of beautiful country to see yet, and as the Carpenters sang... "We have only just begun".