Saturday, May 6, 2017

Things That Went Well and Things That Did Not

The Trailer:

When we were looking at trailers, there were two things which we felt were really important: an outdoor kitchen and work space for Kay to be creative. The reasoning seemed sound because, as a seasonal, I had setup a nice outdoor kitchen with a BBQ grill, a table with my camp stove on it, my pots and pans hanging below the table and my utensils hanging from a rod at the back of the table. During the summer we lived outdoors. The reasoning for a work space for Kay also seemed sound. We did not want the dinette covered with an art project at meal time. So we bought a trailer with a bunkhouse and built a workstation in that area for Kay.

Lessons learned:

I need a bigger indoor kitchen, not an outdoor kitchen. We lived mostly inside during our recent travels because it was cold outside. Because the electricity was free and the propane was not, I cooked almost everything in the microwave, toaster oven and/or electric fry pan. Having a portable grill that mounts on the trailer and has a quick connect to the trailer's propane is a plus. The outside stove top, sink and refrigerator just were not used enough to justify the loss of space.

I overestimated how much time Kay would spend on her art projects. Yes, her art supplies filled the upper bunk but she now realizes she can downsize her supplies because she could get along without much of it. Her projects were short and easily cleaned up. Kay does not need her own work space and we can share the kitchen table.

Our next trailer will have a bigger kitchen with more cabinets and counter space. The living space will also have more room and be more comfortable.  I will also buy the extended warranty for at least the first year. Things seem to happen when you take it for a ride over bumpy roads.

Solar Panels:

There were problems with the install from the start. Perhaps I chose the wrong place to get it installed. On our first trip, the solar panels did not charge the batteries. I watched the installer trouble shoot the problem, which I found helpful. There was a wire which was not tightened properly when installed.

There was then a learning curve on how to use the system. 

When we returned, the power cord did not seem to work. I found that the installer of the solar panels and the inverter had made a poor splice on the power cord and the wiring burned up at the connection point between the two systems.

Lessons learned:

Check out the company doing the install. Get a one-year warranty in writing, including workmanship.

I learned early on not to leave the inverter on unless I needed to run an appliance. The first night out I left it on and it drained the batteries. That meant there was no heater, no refrigerator and no lights. Fortunately, the sun charged the batteries up and I did not make that mistake again. I also learned that the batteries do charge on cloudy days.

Camping Plans:

When we left, we bought two zones for the price of one in Thousand Trails. We bought the Southwest and Southeast zones because those were the areas where we were planning on spending the winter. Some of the campgrounds were nice and some were horrid. 

We also joined Harvest Hosts, a group of wineries, breweries, farms and museums which allow an RVer to dry camp overnight for free. My free overnight stop usually cost me more than if I stopped at a campground, but it was always worth it.

When we were boondocking at Mittry Lake, someone offered us 3 free nights of camping if we would listen to a sales pitch. The offer was so good that we bought a membership to Colorado River Adventures. This membership also included a Good Sam's membership and a Coast to Coast membership. Suddenly the cost of camping improved allowing more choices in more locations.

Lessons learned:

This is still a work in progress. We are considering joining Boondockers Welcome to open up even more free camping across the country.

Harvest Hosts was a good investment and we bought a lifetime membership. We have stayed at so many nice places. When we are moving across the country, this is a much better option for a place to stay than a Walmart, Cracker Barrel, or a truck stop.

Colorado River Adventures was our best investment. CRA has 10 resorts and members are guaranteed a place to stay. We are allowed two free weeks in and then must spend one week out of the system or pay a fee to stay in on an out week. We can sell the membership for what we paid for it, and in essence get our money back, or we can pass it on to a child who can pass it on to their child. Next winter we are planning to stay for 5 weeks at their RV Resort in Mexico. We love the desert Southwest.


There are a lot of resources on-line. My favorite is I also use this in conjunction with Google Maps and use the satellite view to look at access to the area.

Lessons learned:

I found that it was better to scout out the area when we were not towing the trailer. When we camped on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land near Organ Pipe National Park, I did not check it out first and the area had too many trees and bushes and I scratched up the trailer. When we were in Carlsbad, we dropped our trailer at a Harvest Hosts site and scouted out the area. We found a great place, but the site I really wanted on a lake had a non-maintained road that we could not take the trailer through. 

Solar with an inverter allowed me to do some cooking in the microwave or toaster oven, without getting dishes and pots dirty. We used paper plates, plastic utensils, and plastic or paper cups to help conserve water. Conserving water was essential when boondocking. 

Other Stuff:

RVillage is a great useful site which all RVers should belong to because, when used properly, it helps keep people connected. It has helped us connect with other RVers and to then stay connected. It is a free site, but I bought the lifetime Gold membership because I believe in supporting a site as good as this one. They have a terrific app for your smart-phone.

After hooking up, I always have Kay check everything. A second set of eyes could help avert disaster. Maybe I should make a checklist. Occasionally, we both miss something. Once, I got to the dump station and noticed that I had forgotten to lower the antenna. No harm done, I lowered it and then left the campground. The worst thing is being interrupted when packing up because it breaks the routine allowing something to be overlooked.

No map, no pictures. I just wanted to share the challenges of being a full-timer on the road. The next blog will cover what we liked, what we did not like and what we will change or keep the same on the next trip.

Thanks for stopping by. Kay loves it when you leave a comment.


Greg said...

Kay and Russ Sonja and I have been following your travels and taking notes. We plan on traveling the USA and Canada in five years. I appreciate hearing about the snafus that happen so that we me be able to avoid some of them. We have started looking at various types of trailers and there are a lot to choose from. We look forward to hear more about your travels and wish you all the best.

Mark from Missouri said...

Nice summary.

What is your opinions of outside televisions? Did you guys see any on the road that were being used? I've thought about them as an option as long as it's not taking up part of the basement in a fifth wheel.

Russ, I'm also thinking about starting off with just two batteries and adding solar after I see what our needs are. Other said start off sizing batteries for 400 amp hours and add solar earlier. Do you have an opinion on this after living with your solar system? I've read if the batteries are too old you have to replace the existing when adding additional. We are going with a gas/electric fridge which is in-keeping with our idea to avoid limiting where we stay.

Good points on the outside kitchen layout. I knew that was one of the deciding factors on your trailer. We are just going the old fashioned way which is setup a stove and table for longer stays. Definitely not going to be using my 25 year old pump up Coleman stove however. Heck my 35 year old Coleman lantern is even still working great. We are heading down to southern Missouri this month for a family campout. Finally bought a battery operated lantern but still using the old stove.


Kay and Russ Wallace said...

I hope that we will still be traveling and can tag along during part of your journey.

Kay and Russ Wallace said...

I saw a few televisions being used outside. My trailer is setup with a bracket on the side which allows us to remove it from its bracket inside and mount it outside. The trailer has an outside outlet and cable connection. We do not watch much TV, so I never took it outside.

If you plan on being off the grid, solar really helps. I did not need to charge my batteries with the generator, because the solar took care of it. I also did not need to run the generator to make coffee or use the toaster and microwave. Having 4 AGM batteries allowed me to use the inverter in the morning before we had solar charging by the sun.

If you plan on dry camping it is wise to have the propane/electric refrigerator. I also have a propane/electric water heater. When we are plugged in, the electric is free. When dry camping I turn off the electric and heat the water with propane when I need it. Once I forgot to turn off the electric to the hot water tank and I overloaded the inverter when I tried to run other electric appliances. There was definitely a learning curve.

If you get a trailer that has a portable grill with a quick connect to the house propane, you can avoid carrying loose propane bottles by getting a hose with a quick couple for the camp stove.

I look forward to coming through KC next Spring.

Linda DeVoe-Wilde said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda DeVoe-Wilde said...

Thanks Russ for sharing your learning curve. It brought back some memories from when we first started out. Can't wait to read the next installment. Say hi to Kay from John and I and give Jake a few pats and scratches from me.