Friday, October 13, 2017

The Debate Over RV Lifestyles...

... is debatable... because there doesn't need to be a debate! Confusing, I know.

I saw a post (or maybe it was a comment) not long ago about how there are two kinds of RVers/campers... those who prefer the solitude of the open (and free) lands, and those who prefer the safety and convenience of full-hook ups in a RV park. In reality, there is no cause for debate about this, because people travel in far more ways than just two.

As for us, we like to take advantage of both of those lifestyles and everything in between, and I'm sure many feel the same way. To a full-time traveler, every day can be different and bring new challenges. But it takes two things to accomplish both lifestyles, the knowledge of how to do it, and the means to make it happen. There are still WAY too many out there who have no idea that you can camp for free and do it indefinitely, nor how to locate the resources to find out how to do it. And at the other end, are those who have everything they need as far as a proper RV, but can't afford the costs of fee-based campgrounds and resorts.

Over 35 years ago, in 1982 when we bought our first RV, an old (even at that time) '72 Reco pop-up tent camper, there was no Internet. We started out with the very comprehensive Woodall's Campground directory, and thought we had everything we needed. The big problem was that every single place listed in that book came with a fee. After all, if there were free camping spots, there was also no income for them to pay advertising fees to get them into a directory, so no one knew about them!

In 1976, the concept of private parks belonging to membership systems which allowed reciprocal visits from other parks came into being. Some systems were comprised of single parks, while others belonged to chains of parks, sometimes either owned or leased to a larger system. They could trade usage with each other, but they were often in the same area, and people wanted more. Two other organizations (clubs, actually) were soon founded to allow different systems to trade reciprocal use privileges with over 500 various parks all over the country. This really opened up "nation wide" camping and traveling.

One of those was Coast to Coast Resorts, and the other was Resort Parks International. When you bought into a membership park, one or the other of these was usually offered on a one-year trial basis, although we have found from our own experience that it was usually Coast to Coast. Even today, you have to be a member of a park or system to belong to either of the other clubs, and I don't even think RPI is in existence anymore, except through resellers. No web site came up when I searched for it.

These paid memberships usually offered totally free stays at the member campgrounds for up to three weeks, or if you went out of the system you were in, the other two clubs allowed you to stay for a week, usually twice a year. But they weren't free, either.

Back when we bought into Coast to Coast there was no web. You had to call to purchase "red cards" at $4 each per night. The parks had to keep their own books on how to handle them when you got to the resort. There was a lot of confusion and lack of communication. We have never been with RPI, but from what I have heard and seen from their paperwork, they operated very similar. The last we knew, the Coast to Coast cards are now an online system where you can make your reservations online and have them confirmed the same day, but the price has grown to $10 a night. We haven't used them in nearly 25 years.

Back in the mid-80's when we bought into these memberships, it sounded like a great deal. We could pay them off while still working, and then for a modest maintenance fee each year, we could pull into any of the resorts in our system and not pay anything at all to the resort to stay for the allotted time. We could then rotate between parks or go out of the system and back again.

For awhile, it all seemed like it was working quite well... as long as a park could sell enough memberships to have the maintenance fees take care of the upkeep. The actual membership fee was supposed to "acquire" the resort, either by purchase or by building it, while the ongoing maintenance fees were supposed to pay for the every day maintenance expenses of running it.

The problems came about when some parks could not get enough members and the ones that did had to subsidize the upkeep of the lesser parks by relinquishing some of the earnings. In the end, this distribution of wealth hurt them all, and the systems started to collapse. Many were forced into bankruptcy, and some of those parks aren't even there anymore. The members at the nicer parks became disappointed to find that their own park's income was being siphoned off to keep others alive while maintenance of their own park was suffering.

Most of the parks started offsetting certain costs, such as utilities, by charging a daily usage fee of a buck or two. Other amenities, such as electronic games, laundries, and even group meals had to raise their prices, and even add some where there wasn't any before. The free stuff was no longer free. Most systems came up with "upgrades" to be able to charge extra for access to certain "elite" parks that regular members could no longer use. But in the end, even that wasn't enough.

Our original purchase into Cutty's of LaPorte, IN, is a good example. It was taken over by All Seasons Resorts, who soon found out that the sewage treatment leaching pond was overgrown with trees, and would cost too much to dredge and clean. So they offered members a membership in one of their other resorts, and shut Cutty's down and sold it. It's a subdivision today. Did they know about the tree problem ahead of the purchase? Probably. Sometimes it's simply a part of "big business" to acquire problem properties and shut them down to eliminate competition and drive the member's payments to other parks who can use the added influx of income.

After Cutty's was closed we were offered a move of our membership to one of the other surrounding resorts. The alternate park that we decided on was in Dowagiac, Michigan. That was fine for quite a few years, until after we had left there to move south and manage a park ourselves with that same system. When we left their employment at our own request, we opted out of that system (actually, I think they lost our address, as we no longer received a bill from them), and learned later that in the mid-90s All Seasons filed for bankruptcy and lost nearly ALL of the parks (76 of them at my last count) that they had leased or managed. Our park at Dowagiac was sold to a private owner, who (from what we heard) used it as a private college retreat for awhile, before selling to a new owner, who turned it into farmland. (If anyone has first-hand and/or visual knowledge of it today that differs from what I have stated, please advise. We haven't been there since the early 90s.)

They also lost the park that we had managed in Arkansas, and the entry has been chained off ever since. Obviously the beautiful buildings that we had there are falling into disrepair, and after twenty years, I would find it hard to believe that they could even be salvaged. Such a shame.

Of course, the Internet was just getting rolling in the early 90s, and we weren't even on it back in those days. We didn't even own an Internet capable computer until 1990 (thanks to Radio Shack's Tandy brand), but even then, we only used it for business. We didn't actually get on the web until 1997, after our purchase of a full Gateway system. Since then, the Internet (and our own use of it) has grown nearly exponentially! The equipment has become obsolete just about as fast, too!

Then in the mid 2000s, touch screens, along with tablets and mobile devices started to take over the web. As ideas grew on how to make use of the new technology, such things as apps were opened up to private developers. Now, anyone can learn how to create an app with free training on the web and if they're lucky, they'll make money with it!

Today, anyone with a computer, tablet or smart phone can do a simple search for anything that their mind can think of and find answers to their queries in seconds, including where to find no cost and very low cost places to camp, whether it be for a night or up to three weeks at a time... sometimes even longer. There are apps for not only free camping, but where to find dump stations, propane, rest parks, where the cheapest gas is near you, where low clearance bridges are, highway grades, what's available at the next exit, where to find any service you can think of, and hundreds of thousands of other things. All you have to do is use the search bar on either Google or the app store on your device (something which I see too many people on Facebook fail to do, and would rather ask other clueless people just like themselves for answers).

Since I started my blog about "creating"... not "building" a minivan camper at the outset of 2012, I have done a LOT of research, and subsequently gained a lot of knowledge about things that didn't even exist as little as five years ago! Anyone who does not take part in the new technology and resources is going to be lost in today's world, and many of them don't even know how much they don't know! If used properly, the cost of a smartphone will literally pay for itself in the savings that one can find on the web, whether it be in shopping, or for places to stay that you don't have to pay for! And the amount you save from not having to run around and spend money on fuel to find things on your own is immeasurable!

So, the bottom line is that even though we started out camping in fee-based campgrounds and resorts over 35 years ago, it doesn't mean that we haven't learned along the way how to do things much better and cheaper! Why on Earth would we want to keep doing things the way they were done over 35 years ago? It doesn't work anymore! And we're not "dinosaurs" (yet)!

Today, we have sufficient solar (although we could use more) to boondock and get by with reasonable electrical needs. We have enough fresh water and waste water capacity to get by for about a week at a time. We have a generator to make up any difference in power needs if we start to run low. We have propane to run the refrigerator, hot water heater and stove and can go for months between propane refills, which also saves on electrical needs.

But the most important thing, is that we have become involved with the communities, groups, blogs and web sites online to gather over five years of information (and will still be gathering for years to come) on how to do things better and cheaper, so that we don't have to spend all of our retirement income on foolish things, like campgrounds.

OK, so we have settled into one of those "campground" situations for right now, but we don't intend it to be a "forever" thing. Our RV is old and tired, despite having low mileage, and with a constant barrage of repairs and fuel expense to cross the country twice since last year, we are currently satisfied to let it rest, and let our finances play catch up". In fact, the RV may never leave here (driven by us).

We would be just as happy with a trailer and a one-ton high-top extended van. That combination would solve several problems that we face right now. One of those problems is low ground clearance. Knowing about all the places we can camp for free doesn't do any good if we can't get into them! Our next vehicles will have much higher ground clearance so that we can take advantage of many of those places we had to pass up this past year.

Another problem is that we now have a third vehicle, and it can't be towed. Besides, I would have to use the RV to tow our existing trailer, while Sharon drives the new van separately. Our goal (by the end of next year) is to have a two-vehicle setup... a travel trailer and a high top van to tow it with, and nothing else.

A conventional trailer (less than ten years old, and less than 22 feet) will get us into any RV park or resort that we choose to stay at for awhile. The trailer could be our "home base" while we would still have a fully livable van to do our shorter travels with. If we don't want to come home at night... we won't have to! In fact, we could almost use the trailer we already have for storage, rather than living, although some of the parks might object to it because it may not meet their requirements! They don't care as much about what the tow vehicle is unless it is the main vehicle for living! Anyway, the rules are confusing and complicated.

But just because we are "technically" IN a RV park situation right now doesn't mean that we prefer it. We literally hate having other people so close to us that we can hear their TV (and other things). We would much rather be out there on the road, only parking a trailer for no more than a couple weeks at a time in a safe spot (if we felt a need to), while we go out and explore with a van that gets reasonable miles per gallon. And in between parks, it will still be feasible to get into places that we need to with it... certainly not tight touristy areas... but most places. Our overall length will be less than we have right now.

Even most state parks allow for up to two weeks of staying time, and that would be fine with us. Most of the things worth seeing in an area can be seen in that length of time. While traveling from place to place, we have no problem with free and low cost parking wherever we can find it, because we have learned how to get by for at least a week at a time without constantly plugging into services at campgrounds and resorts. Why would we foolishly spend that money when we don't have to?

I know... some of you are going to say that you have more than enough income to pay for luxury RVs and cover all your expenses with money left over... so why not? If that is your situation, then good for you... but is that any kind of logical excuse to waste money? Just because you can afford something doesn't mean you should buy it!

But my thoughts will never convince those who insist on doing things their own way, or who refuse to use smart phones, apps or make use of all the resources available to them to save money. It's their life and they have every right to live it in whatever way makes them happy. I don't care what they do.

But I see an awful lot of people out there on Facebook joining various RV groups and asking a lot of questions. Some have waited all their lives without doing any RVing or camping, and suddenly want to go out there and see the country without an ounce of experience to go along with it. Most of them just "assume" that paying campground fees is a normal part of RVing! NO... it's NOT! Not anymore!

Some have no idea what kind of RV to buy, where they can go with it, or even how to fill the water tank. What is even more scary is the fact that some of them, who have never driven anything larger than a passenger car, want to go out and buy a 45-foot RV so that they can have everything they had in their house with them, and have no idea how to drive or maneuver a rig that big! They're a danger on the highway! Most of them haven't even taken into consideration all the expenses that go along with owning an RV of that size!

We have been full-time for nearly two years as of November 17th (RVing for over 35 years before that), and the things we have learned lately have totally changed our minds about how to travel in the future! We have owned at least sixteen different RVs/camping/traveling vehicles in 35 years... a pop-up tent trailer, two Dodge Maxi-vans (one was a high-top), a Toyota Mini-Cruiser, a 23-foot Jayco Class C, a 34-foot Honey Class A, a 40-foot Bounder Class A, a North Star TC-650 slide-in truck camper (custom ordered brand new to fit our brand new Dodge Dakota Quad-Cab), our custom built (by me) 6 x 12 cargo trailer (which we still have), two conversion vans, four minivans, and now a Gulfstream Sunsport 27-foot Class A. That doesn't even count station wagons (2), pickups (3) or other vehicles that might have worked for us, nor all the vehicles and 6 motorcycles that I owned before we met.

Out of all of those, we had the most fun and freedom with the first Maxi-van, on which I installed the new fiberglass topper myself, for a full 6-feet+ of standing height. Other than the flooring, it had nothing else in it other than portable stuff. In fact, I used it for work when not camping in it. And yet it did more for us than any other RV or vehicle we have owned since then. Had we known about the free camping spots back then that we know about now, we could have saved ourselves tens of thousands of dollars in payments, expense and hassles, and we will be just as happy to go back to that style of traveling after we get rid of all the useless stuff in our lives.

Everyone doesn't fit into just two categories when it comes to where to park for the night. There are so many different RVs to choose from, incomes to work with, likes and dislikes in general, that no two people or couples will ever be perfectly matched to doing the exact same things the same exact way. And like us, I'm sure there are many people/couples who enjoy a little bit of everything. Just traveling in itself presents many options, some of which we have no choice in deciding.

Even some boondockers will occasionally have to pay for a campground if they find themselves in an area where there is nothing free. Or they may go to a campground once a week by choice, just to do laundry and enjoy a full shower. It doesn't mean they like being there, or that they are "that type" of people!

On the other hand, even travelers who normally enjoy a campground with full hook-ups and amenities, plus the company of other like-minded individuals like themselves, will find themselves between resorts and/or can't find a campground close to where they want to be, in which case they might be forced to boondock for a night or two.

But they can't do it if they aren't prepared for any eventuality! If you have installed a compressor fridge to replace a RV fridge and figure that you can get by long enough to get from one park to the next before it thaws out... and then find that you have to be without hookups for a night... well, it could create a bit of a problem! An inverter can run the coach batteries down if you don't have enough battery power, or a generator for backup power.

If you have a generator, that's great! But no one around you wants to listen to your generator and smell your exhaust fumes, so unless you want to come across like a total dumbass newbie that makes everyone angry, you'll reserve that generator for times when you are in places where it won't bother anyone! You still need sufficient battery power to get by for at least a night, and preferably more.

To be prepared for anything, you really need a sufficient solar system so that you can keep the minimum of things running if you find yourself broke down in the middle of nowhere, or parking in a Walmart for a couple of days just because it is the only thing close to something you want to visit. And even then, you can't run air conditioning or a major electrical appliance from a solar setup unless you have huge capacities on both panels and batteries.

Some people have no choice but to live a minimalistic lifestyle because of finances. They may not have a refrigerator to worry about, and may not watch TV or even own a computer. It's not always a choice. Others choose to do it for any number of reasons, and not all of them are financially related.

Some choose to work part time to make up for any deficiencies they have in income. That brings other things into play, such as having your RV/vehicle declined at some places because of age or type. Many places do not allow converted buses, cargo trailers, vans or other things, and some may have requirements like no "porta-potties" (you MUST have built-in holding tanks), or no pop-ups (fabric or not)!

So if you plan to do any workamping and want the best chance at success of getting in anywhere that you apply, you had better figure on a conventional RV built at a factory, one that is less than ten years old, has holding tanks, and no pop-ups or fabric on it. Even then, would you feel comfortable in a 9-year-old mid-sized Class A in a resort that caters to million dollar 40 foot+ motorhomes? I don't think so. And they probably wouldn't feel comfortable with you being there, either!

There is no right or wrong when it comes to how anyone camps, what they live in, what they pay for the privileges they get, or anything else. It's no one else's business! The one thing that is hard to quantify in regards to where everyone fits, is what a resort or campground expects. Sometimes it isn't clear in the rules and guidelines that they publish online, and you may only find it in the fine print on the literature that they hand out at their place of business. If you happen on to one of those places late in the day, and they say your rig isn't suitable to be there... well... it's kind of late to be searching for another place in the dark!

After you have a few years of experience in knowing what to look for, you'll find it easier to fit into the places you've chosen. Until then, the best thing is that if you have any doubts, call them and ask questions if those questions haven't already been answered on their web site. If you don't see something answered, do you even know enough to know what to ask about in regard to what "isn't" shown? Only experience can teach you that!

Just know that there are places out there for everyone, no matter what your income, what kind of vehicle you drive or what kind of vehicle you live in. And you should always be able to find places to park at night for as little as nothing, even though some may be well over $100 per night for overflow parking in prime tourist trap areas at the peak of the season. Don't waste your time wandering and guessing. Do your research and know what is available before you get there, and you won't have any problem.

As always, thanks for reading, and if you have questions concerns or comments, please feel free to ask in the comment section. And thank you for any clicks on our links or ads, as we do make a small commission from them. As they say, "every little bit helps".

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