My how time flies. Two years ago we embarked on a completely new journey in life, and not only because we became RV-ers, but full-time RV-ers.
So given this anniversary, we thought it was time to cover some of the things we've learned, and some of the highlights and (fortunately few) low-lights of the past two years.
Fortunately, due to the 3 ½ years of research undertaken before we even ordered our Tiffin Open Road 36LA, this list is blessedly short. As far as equipment or supplies we didn't start out with, we've added a bunch of 2'x10” boards in order to combat excessive slopes at certain sites, or to shore up wet, sloppy ground before extending our leveling jacks. I had intended to have them at the beginning, but just plain forgot. Also added a NOCO battery charger/jump starter to take care of the occasional jump starts needed when the unexpected happens. It's small, lightweight and can actually jump start something as big as our RV if needed.
Another thing we've learned: do as much homework on potential campgrounds as possible. No one app or website has all the answers, nor all the potential campgrounds listed in the area. RVParky is our usual go-to app for checking out campgrounds, but if someone hasn't put a review into that app, you can miss a bunch of other campgrounds in the area. Additionally, we found that checking out a website called Campgroundphotos.com will give us pretty good pictures of many individual sites within a given campground, and has kept us from booking some sites that would ultimately have not met our needs.
We've also learned that each state generally has an online camping guide that pretty much covers all their campgrounds, so hopefully some missed opportunities will happen less often. Some are very cumbersome, while others are very basic, but easy to navigate.
We've paid as little as $0 per night while boondocking on BLM land outside of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico (10 days free was very nice!), to as much as $80 per night at Compass RV in St. Augustine, FL (fortunately only 3 nights). Otherwise, our ranges have been from $11.50 a night for an overnight stay at a Passport America campground passing through Mississippi, to no more than $60 per night depending on where we've stayed. We try to keep things in the $25-$40 range whenever we can. It doesn't get us into the swankiest resorts around the country, but for what we want (water, electric and sewer), it's been fine.
The best value so far? Corps of Engineer (COE) parks. Our National Parks Senior Pass gets us 50% off the daily camping rate in Federal parks anywhere across the country, and since COE parks are developed around the lakes and rivers the Corps has managed, we're always near water. Sometimes they only come with water and electric hookups, but we can always make due with a dump station on site if we have to. Our usual rate for COE parks is about $13 per night.
This is a gas-powered motorhome, not a diesel motorhome. During our travels, we've paid as little as $1.39 per gallon at a small station (Mr. Fuel) off of I-20 in Mississippi, to as much as $3.06 just outside of Hershey, PA at a Flying J off of I-81. Average prices in the first year were in the high $1's (only paid more than $2.00 once in the first year), but they have grown significantly higher to the $2.85 range since 2021 began. It's well within our travel budget, but it doesn't make us very happy.
RED BAY HAS BECOME OUR SECOND HOME
Our Tiffin was manufactured in Red Bay, AL. As such, we have made a few post-sale pilgrimages back to the mothership. The good news: Only two were for warranty work that needed to be done (detailed in earlier posts you can read about from Nov 2020 or Aug 2021). One additional visit was for body work caused by both me and a campground that doesn't know how to handle Class A motorhomes. Another one was for strictly voluntary cosmetic purposes. And one was for a place to stay over the July 4th weekend because our plans changed suddenly and we couldn't find an open campsite anywhere.
Tiffin, and their many third-party providers in and around Red Bay, have always taken great care of us
GETTING TO KNOW OUR GRANDSON
If you've read our blog before, you've seen lots of pictures of our now 5 year-old grandson, Jace. The first ever trip we took in September of 2019, we had him on board, and have had him with us for more that 10 months of our 24 months on the road. He's grown from having to be escorted to the half-bath while we're driving down the road (with Barbara doing the escorting), to becoming a veteran RV-er in his own right. Helps his Mimi around the inside, and helps me dump tanks on the outside, and he's seen sights that will hopefully stay with him for a lifetime.
SOME PET PEEVES
There's a few things that have surprised us (and disappointed us) in our two years on the road.
The pandemic has hit this country pretty hard, and it affected the RV world in a couple of ways. First, was the hit campgrounds took in the early months of 2020, when travel became restricted in many states. This kept many RVers from going out on vacations, or even weekend trips, and it hit campgrounds big-time in their pocketbooks. For us, we had to stay in place (fortunately we were already in Georgia in our go-to campground, Leisure Acres), which meant we had to stay in one site for 4 months. While we were able to help the campground out with some guaranteed money for an extended period of time, there were far fewer of us, and we all got much lower monthly rates instead of bringing in shorter term daily or weekly rates. For example, that site of ours brought in $20 per night instead of the usual $45 per night to the campground for 4 months. Do the math; not a good business model.
The other issue has been a what looks to be a temporary boom to campgrounds, and it's what Barbara has termed “COVID-Campers”. Lot's of people thought it would be a nice time to go out and buy travel trailers and 5th-wheels to help isolate themselves from potentially infected people, plus enjoy the great outdoors like the rest of us full-timers. Not to put too fine a point on it, most of these people have no business camping. Very few of them did any research before they bought, and it's apparent every time one of them comes into a campsite to hook up. They, nor their kids, have any respect for another camper's site, running through or playing in what is some cases a relatively small piece of acreage. They unload countless toys, chairs and stuff; more than could ever be used in a typical weekend. They put carpet down on grassy sites which kills the grass. And they don't know (or care) about or respect quiet time (usually 10 pm in most campgrounds).
And they bring fireworks.
The worst thing (for them in the long term) is that they don't know a thing about their campers. They don't use pressure regulators on their water hookups, which can blow the internal hoses inside their campers if water pressure is too high (and many times is). They don't use surge protectors or power management systems to protect their campers, and worse yet, they don't shut off the breakers to the power poles before plugging in or disconnecting their power, which can cause arcing and melt the connectors, and damage the power pole for future users.
And finally, for those of us who make this our living, they are taking up valuable spaces in campgrounds, making it difficult to find open sites on the move as we used to do. We now have to plan our trips much more in advance, and it takes away from the casual lifestyle we used to enjoy (and ties up money we could be using today). If there is a bright side to any of this, it's that it appears that the shine is wearing off with COVID Campers, and many are now trying to sell their rigs because it wasn't all the fun and games they thought it was going to be. Hopefully, the pendulum swings back to the middle in the next year.
I realize that you have to have some decent power in order to pull one of those big 5th wheels around, so I understand the need for size and power.
But do the exhaust systems have to be so damned loud? This is really a factor of “boys with their toys”, and while they sound great to motorheads, they are very disturbing either at night or in the early morning when people are trying to sleep. Especially with people who drive from job to job in their campers, and who have to leave at 4AM or 5AM to get to their job site, and they fire up that big rig with the modified exhaust system next to your bedroom window.
Many full-timers (like us, and countless others) bring dogs with them for companionship. They are family. And most animals do NOT LIKE fireworks. Fireworks are usually prohibited in most parks, but more than a few do not enforce their rules unless you complain. And sometimes they don't have an after hours number for you to complain to.
But in the end, despite all the problems that can come with RVing, it all comes down to this:
THE MAJESTY OF OUR COUNTRY IS BOUNDLESS
Whether it's the Atlantic shore, or the limitless vistas across the Great Plains states, this country has a LOT to offer. Many people have flown out west; but it is nothing as compared to DRIVING out west. Peaks that reach majestically into the sky that you can see for hours before you can get there. Endless plains of grass, corn, wheat and other crops that are responsible for feeding much of an entire planet. Livestock roaming the rolling hills. From the White Sands of New Mexico to the awesome sights of Mt. Rushmore and the rest of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The museums and monuments that honor our heroes and their sacrifices.
And yes, the quirky stops along the way like the World's Largest Popcorn Ball, or the World's Largest Pistachio, or Carhenge.
And we've only scratched the surface. Our map has about 18 state stickers on it as I write this, with plans to do a dozen or more in the next year. Canada awaits, as does the great state of Alaska in 2022 or 2023.
We've also met some really great people along the way; fellow Tiffin owners, folks traveling in 5th wheels and travel trailers, and some of the nicest people you'll ever meet at attractions, local stores and restaurants across this great land. It's the people who help make this journey fun; and we hope to meet many more great folks in the years to come.
I can't wait to see what the next two years bring.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.