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The Transition to RV Fulltiming – Factors to Consider

The decision to live full time in an RV is not one that should be taken lightly.  The transition from brick and mortar – also ‘stick house’ living to full-timing in a recreational vehicle entails a lot of lifestyle changes.

These are some of the many factors you will need to think about if you are considering adopting the RV lifestyle. There is certainly a lot involved in making the transition, so it is well advised to thoroughly research what is involved before making the leap.

Preliminary Research in preparation for RV living.

One good investment for people considering moving into a recreational vehicle is to subscribe to magazines ahead of time.  Publications such as trailer life magazine can provide lots of insight into exactly what life living in an RV full time is like, and can also be a great source of information about different types of RV’s available for purchase. The Trailer Life Campground Directory campground directory is a perennial favorite with RVers, and well worth purchasing.

Membership in one of the many RV clubs – the Good Sam Club is a very popular one – is another great way to immerse yourself in the RVing world even before you leave home.  Even if you do not yet own an RV, there is a lot of fun to be had just flicking through these types of materials daydreaming about the day when you will make the transition.

What do I do with my possessions?

Cars, clothing and furniture; there are just a few of the items you will have to find a home for when you downsize from a regular full-sized house to a small coach or travel trailer.  While you can – and will – keep some of your clothes for life on the road, space limitations mean that you will more than likely have to cut back on your wardrobe.

How about your furnishings?  There is no place for a three piece sofa sets or dining room tables in a travel trailer.  Along with your clothes, you will have to come up with a way of dealing with these when you start RVing full time also.

As for your automobiles, there is a good chance they are inappropriate for RV living also.  If you will be towing you require a large truck with a towing capacity large enough to tow a big trailer or a fifth wheel motorhome.  On the other hand, if you purchase a motor-coach you may want to keep a small vehicle for use as a toad vehicle.

Clearly all these superfluous personal possessions need to be handled somehow.  One option is to simply sell everything.  The advantage of this is that you can potentially raise quite a bit of cash, which can come in handy in covering some of the upfront costs associated with the transition to full-time RVing.

An alternative is to simply store your belongings.  This can either be in a secure storage facility – which entails a hefty monthly bill – or simply by leaving them with a kindly friend who has some space to stare.  If you are trying out the RV life for the first time, this may be the better option.  While RV fulltiming is a great lifestyle, it is not for everyone.  If you keep your possessions ‘stored’ somewhere then they will still be there for you, making a possible transition back to stick home living more economical.

Can I (and/or my spouse) handle limited space?

As mentioned, adjusting to the limited floor space in an RV can be a challenge.  If you are one half of a couple, not only do you need confidence that both of you will be comfortable in tight quarters, but you must also be sure that you are comfortable in each others company!

In an RV even the most loving couple will sometimes find themselves needing space now and then.  The inside of an RV is small enough that any underlying tensions in a relationship will be heightened due to close proximity.

Are you both excited – indeed, even looking forward too – spending more time in each others company?  Great! If not, then perhaps a larger home better suits your needs.

Should I sell my home?

A lot of the factors that relate to disposing of your possessions also are applicable to retaining ownership of your home.  If you go ahead and sell your house, you lose the ability to move back into if you decide after a few months or a year that full timing is not the right life for you.

Reverting to a more traditional lifestyle will then entail finding yourself a new place to live. The transactional costs – buying, selling – of a home are substantial, so should be avoided if at all possible.

If you are not 100% confident of your commitment to the full-time RV lifestyle, you may want to keep your house.  Of course, this presents its own combination of challenges.  Very few people can afford to carry the service costs of their home as well as finance their life on the road.

A great option for people in this situation is to keep their home and make it a rental property.  If this can be done in a near cash-flow neutral manner, and the work taken care of by a property management firm, then you have the best possible situation.

What is my exit plan from Living in a RV?

Unfortunately we all reach the age where the full time lifestyle is no longer possible – no matter how much we may enjoy it.  For some people it is aging, others failing health, or perhaps you simply want to return to your hometown to be closer to kids or grand-kids.

If you will want to purchase another stick home, it is important to have funding in place to finance this when the time comes.  If this sounds like an expensive proposition, thankfully there are alternatives.

Some RV clubs have parks that combine some of the benefits of fulltiming – living in your recreational vehicle – with the safety net of on-site care.  This type of life allows you to share your post travelling years with many like-minded individuals and couples.

How will I get mail?

Once you are on the road you no longer have a house with a mailbox.  This, naturally, raises the issue of what do you do for an address? While this matters with regards to receiving your email, it also has other consequences.  Items such as registering to vote, insuring your vehicle and paying taxes are also impacted by your choice of domicile.

RV’ers refer to their address of record as their ‘home base’. There are certain states that are preferred by full timers over others.  Texas, Alaska, Florida and Nevada are popular due to their lack of state income taxes.  Oregon is also a frequent choice due to its lack of sales tax.

No matter what home base you choose, you will need to arrange a mail forwarding service.  Firms offering this service provide an address – in the state of your choice – that your mail will be sent too.  They then arrange to get the mail to you, no matter where you happen to be in the country.  Some firms will forward your packages to you for ‘general delivery’ at a post office near your present location. Many RV parks will even allow you to have your mail delivered to their office while you are staying there.

What type of RV?

Selecting an RV for your fulltiming life is a very important decision that needs to be addressed carefully.  There are many different types available.  The largest option is Class A motorhomes, these coaches resemble Buses and are mounted on a large truck chassis.  Diesel pusher motorhomes are very popular for those with plentiful funds, but those looking for motorhomes for sale may find better prices on a gasoline powered Class A RV.

Fifth wheel trailers are another popular option if you enjoy substantial space.  These are towed behind large pick-up tricks.  Their mount point is in the truck bed, allowing for very large tow weights.

Class C recreational vehicles are smaller than Class A motor homes, making them easier to maneuver in space restricted camp sites. These units are mounted on cutaways van chassis’, and the bunks are usually located above the drivers cabin. One advantage of this type of RV is the ease of moving back and forth between the driving area and the living area.

Class B camper vans – reminiscent of the 1970’s – are small RV’s popular with those on a limited budget.  They are relatively cheap to purchase, and some people even buy a regular van and convert it for full-time living themselves.  Another plus is this van type of RV can be used for ‘stealth parking‘, a great way of reducing campground costs. While not exactly a luxury RV, Class B RVs are great options for those who do not require high end amenities.

The final practical fulltiming RV are travel trailers.  These caravans are pulled behind a towed vehicles. Even small sedans are able to tow small travel-trailers, so they are a good way to get started with RV’ing if you do not wish to purchase a new car or truck.  Although some people are able to fulltime in tiny teardrop trailers, unless you are a true minimalist you will want to consider a trailer that is a little larger than that.

Can I afford fulltiming in an RV?

Probably the most important consideration of all for potential full-timers is handling the financial aspects.  While living in a recreation vehicle can potentially – if wise choices are made – be substantially cheaper than living in stick home, clearly you will still need to be bringing in some income.  Many people fund their fulltime RVing lifestyle with pensions; social security, military pensions or corporate pensions.

Not everybody has these types of resources however. Another option is to build substantial savings before making the transition – perhaps through selling a house, or showing a lot of financial discipline over many years.

Hundreds of thousands of RVers are instead funding their lifestyle as they go.  They either pick up occasional part time jobs when they run short on cash, or take advantage of programs such as workamping or camphosting to make ends meet.  Some adventurous souls will take advantage of free – or very cheap – boondocking sites on BLM land, while others will make a habit of stealth parking in places where they really aren’t welcome.  While not without drawbacks, these are great ways to reduce the cost of living in an RV.

People with an entrepreneurial bent often run small business from their coach or motorhome.  These can be the production of handicraft for sale at RV fairs, doing freelance telecommuting work, or looking for income opportunities online.

Maintaining, Repairing and Protecting your Motorhome – RV insurance

When you spend your life on the road, you are taking your RV almost everywhere you go.  While a motorhome is a lot smaller than a traditional stick house, they can be quite expensive to repair – especially those types of coaches that include an engine.

Good Sam RoadsideAs well as the traditional wear and tear items to your accommodations, you also have extra damage caused over time due to the vibrations and bumps of taking your home down roads, interstates and even gravel driveways. Specialist RV repairs are unfortunately rather expensive, so it can be good to purchase insurance against these. A Good Sam Extended Service Plan can be a great way to shield you from these costs, and potentially save you thousands in repair costs.

Another thing to keep in mind is what if the unthinkable happens.  What if your RV is consumed by fire, or even stolen?  While we like to think these things won’t happen to us, it is wise to be prepared for this type of situation.  Unless you have cash on hand to buy a replacement RV should yours happen to be lost, you will want RV insurance that covers this.  Many lenders will require it – just an homeowner insurance is required for a stick house. I recommend getting a free quote for Good Sam VIP Insurance for RVs, these guys have been around for a long time and have a lot of experience working with RV owners.

Dealing with the Weather

The great thing about year-round RV living is the mobility it offers.  It allows you to follow the sun as the seasons change.  There are many permanent campsites in Florida that make gerat places to stay during the winter.  Cheaper ones will not offer a lot of amenities, but even upscale RV resorts can be relatively affordable in the Southern States if you are paying by the month.  Some people enjoy living in a particular RV park so much that they will return each winter, if you adopt this practice you can form an ongoing community of sorts with other like-minded folks.

The more adventurous – those hardy souls – who do not mind the cold, also have the option of staying in the Northern states.  While it can be difficult to find year round RV parks – many shut for the winter season – they do exist. RV owners just need to be sure to prepared for extremes of weathers.  I suggest driving South when the cold sets in myself, it’s a lot more comfortable.

Some people, usually those with more funds at their disposal, may spend most of the year living in their RV, then move out for a few months in the Winter.  They winterize their RV for the cold months while taking ‘vacations’ from their normal lifestyle.  A visit to a Latin American country – where the dollar can go a long way – allows these people to enjoy a Southern Hemisphere Summer while waiting for the USA to warm back up.

What about Health Insurance?

Obtaining quality – yet affordable – Health Insurance is a challenge for any individual not working for a major corporation.  If you are maintaining a corporate job while living in an RV, then you can probably rely on your existing employer provided health insurance.  Finding in-network providers can be a challenge however if you are travelling around the country.  While your health insurance will be ‘based’ on your home-base address, you may well be at the other end of the country when the time for medical care arises.

If you have just recently retired from your corporate job to take up the RV lifestyle, then you are probably eligible for COBRA coverage. This provides you ongoing health insurance for 18 months or more after you leave employment.  To take advantage of this you will have to pay the entire premium – you will not get the employer subsidy – but this is often a cheaper and better option than seeking an individual plan.

Medicaid offers basic medical care for some low income – which describes many RVers! – groups.  Unfortunately it is of limited use to full-timers as the category’s of people it covers is rather limited.  If you are on the road full time with young children or teenagers however, you may be eligible.  Medicaid is handled by individual states, so eligibility criteria will vary depending on your chosen state of residence.

Medicare is an insurance option utilized by RVers who have passed the age of 65.  This is the standard senior citizen health coverage provided – and managed by – the Federal Government through Social Security offices.  Almost all travellers who have reached a ‘traditional’ retirement age will find themselves eligible for Medicare.

There is another option for the many ex-military personnel enjoying the fulltime RV lifestyle after retirement.  As a way of saying thank you to our veterans, the government provides them some health care options through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Unfortunately there are still many people, particularly younger retirees, who fall through the gaps of the US health care system. Thankfully there are ways to take advantage of the RV lifestyle to get health care on the cheap even without coverage.  Many full-timers will routinely travel to the border with Canada or Mexico once or twice a year to avail themselves of cheaper prescription prices available in those countries.  While care must be taken – particularly in Mexico – to get your medicines from a reputable pharmacist, there are significant savings to be had.

Services such as dental and hospital care are also available at steep discounts in Mexico.  It is possible to obtain high quality work – again, get references from trusted friends first – from top notch Mexican dentists and doctors at very reasonable prices.  The RV community as a whole will easily be able to tell you who does good work, and whom does not.

With careful planning snowbirders can get a years worth of scheduled medical care taken care of on their yearly trip down South each winter.  Unfortunately, if you need emergency care during the rest of the year you will still be subjected to the high costs of the American health care system.

 

 

 

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Health Insurance for RV Nomads

Being self employed and working out of your home is a dream for many of us.  Having internet access makes this possible for a lot of people.  Wifi coverage is available in metropolitan areas and satellite technology is available for those areas not covered by the traditional internet providers.  This allows anyone to live in an RV and run their business literally anywhere in the country.

This provides some unique challenges.  One major one is finding health insurance.  We live in a country that regulates the health insurance industry on a state by state basis.  The portability of health coverage can be restricted and limited.

Currently, there is no one carrier that can offer a health plan that provides HMO coverage for all 50 states.  Normally, HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) coverage provides the most comprehensive coverage at the best price, but normally limits access to specific providers and hospital except in an emergency.

To get around this issue, PPO (Preferred Provider Organizations) plans and Indemnity plans are available.  These type of plans offer coverage that are not as restrictive as HMOs.

The first item on the RV Nomad’s agenda would be to have a permanent or local address when looking to purchase a policy.  This can be accomplished by getting a PO Box at the UPS store, Mailboxes, Etc or using your home address.  What is important is in what state and your purchase your policy.

Different states have different medical costs and regulations.  You need to shop around and find what a similar plan would cost in the state you want to have as the permanent address.  This can be accomplished online by using your favorite search engine and looking for health insurance.

Note:  the HealthCare Reform Act will require all US citizens to have health coverage.  This will come into effect on January 1, 2014.  When this comes into effect, health coverage will be costing more.  This is due to mandated benefits and guaranteed issue.  Depending on your circumstances, you may want to look at quotes for coverage effective before January 1, 2014 and those that become effective on January 1, 2014.  Getting a policy sooner if you qualify may save some money.

The easiest way to do your comparison shopping is to select a PPO Plan with a $1000 or $5000 deductible and $20 or $30 copays and 20% coinsurance.  Most carriers will have a plan close to this benefit configuration.

With the selected plan, look at coverage costs in several states you may want to purchase your coverage in.  Also look for carriers that offer coverage in each state.  Blue Cross/Blue Shield has a national PPO network.  Aetna, UnitedHealth, Cigna and Humana are also national carriers that can offer nation wide PPO coverage.

If you find this process overwhelming, contact a Broker that specializes in individual health insurance.  The first place to start is with the agent you get your other insurance coverage from.  If they do not offer health insurance, they will know someone to recommend.  Be sure and tell them you are looking for coverage that will accommodate your living in different parts of the country.

One benefit from the Health Care Reform Legislation is preventive services are now covered with no cost to the member.  This means you can get your annual physical done at no cost to you.  This should be done as soon as the coverage becomes effective.

One of the major concerns is the cost of coverage.  You need now is to figure out how much you can afford to pay out of pocket vs what you pay in premium.  A good Broker can help with this calculation.

What is key is to know how much medical services are you going to need to purchase for the year.  If you are healthy, then a higher deductible plan and higher coinsurance percentage will lower your premium.  If you know you are going to need services done in the next year, then estimate the cost of the service and see if a lower deductible and coinsurance percentage and corresponding higher premium will be right for you.

Another consideration is prescription drug coverage.  Make sure you do not pay for extra coverage that will not be used.  If you have no ongoing prescriptions, then a high copay or deductible plan would suffice in emergencies.  On the other hand, if you have a specialty medication that is needed, make sure the coverage can reduce the financial burden of the drug cost.

Finally, if you are running your business from an RV and there are two of you involved, look into getting coverage as a business.  Or, hire your spouse to do work as an employee.  Consult your tax professional to make sure you have the correct forms and reporting requirements in place.  There are many tax benefits for small businesses including the ability to include your health care premiums as a business expense.  This can be an advantage over paying for coverage as an individual.

Health care reform is moving the country to having everyone covered by some type of health care insurance.  This is a positive development.  Don’t ignore this situation.  The states will be providing ongoing information as we move closer to 2014.  Depending on your situation, subsidies may be available to you.

 

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Funding the Lifestyle

Making money to support living on the road can be done in any of several different ways.  One potential method is to live off your investment profile.  I am personally a big fan of dividend investing for a growing income over time, and maintain a blog on my efforts and thoughts in that arena.  Feel free to click here to learn more!

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Hiking Knob Hill Trail Dallas

Knob Hill Trail is an 11 mile trail to the West of Lake Grapevine in the DFW area.  I hiked this fully for the first time last Monday afternoon and evening after having previously visited for a short one hour like just before sunset a couple of weeks ago.

The first thing I noticed this trip is that in just the first half mile the trail was been completely rerouted since my original visit.  It was previously a hard packed – obviously long used – path with lots of ups and downs thru mostly dry creek beds.  Now this old path has been blocked off with tree branches, and a new much flatter path is open.  I don’t know if this is a permanent of temporary change, but I’m sure the offroad bikers will not be happy with this new more mellow path.

Anyway, moving on!  After the first half mile the path rejoined what was clearly the normal hard packed path,  following this for another half mile it weaves thru trees and follows Denton Creek – which flows into Lake Grapevine.  Shortly after the first mile marker the path levels out and becomes very simple to follow, so for other Knob Hill hikers know that the first – and the last on the return – mile will be the most physically challenging.

The walk is pleasant in general.  I’ll touch a few of the ‘highlights’ briefly.  At about the 2.5 miles mark it gets a little shady…and not in the cool sense.  Lots of empty beer bottles, trash, and a bench that looks suspiciously like part of a meth lab can be seen in the remote woods off the path.  While I wouldn’t want to frequent that spot in the dark, it is fine during the day.  Thankfully this rather ugly area only lasts for about a half mile and things improve again.

At the 3.5 mile is a nice little bench on a hill.  You can sit here for a snack or a break and look out over Lake Grapevine.  It is not Grade A scenery, but a nice reward for making it out that far.  Knob Hill trail itself does go further, so do not head back thinking you are at the halfway point!

One point worthy of note – the mile markers on this trail are marked on both sides – so you can tell both how far in you are and how far there is to go.  For example, when I got to Mile 4 the backside of the pole indicated I had 7 more mile left on my hike.  Shortly after mile 4 I was surprised to see another hiker – only the second person I had seen all day – materialize shortly ahead of me.  When I got to the point he had appeared I discovered there was another short trail joining the main path from a parking lot.

The Knob Kill Trailhead is accessed by road from Hwy 377 just south of FM1171.  Apparently this guy had discovered another way in about four miles from the beginning, but I’m not quite sure what road he was parked on.

Shortly after this point the trail gets a little tricky.  It splits into two, and lacking a map I wasn’t sure which way to go.  I ended up veering right simply because the left path looked muddier:)  I was now a little worried about where I should be going however, I knew that I should get back to the fork within the next 3 miles (according to the 11 mile round trip rule) so I decided if I went that far and wasn’t sure where I was I would just double back.

What I eventually discovered is that the last couple of miles of this out and back trail is in fact a loop – and judging by the mile posters I probably took the loop the wrong way.  No harm done however!  The ‘far point’ of the trail occurred at a rather run down looking road with a ‘NO PARKING’ sign.  Up the road I could see a house, and in the other direction I saw the lake.  From memory I also believe I saw a sign saying ‘Cross Timbers’.  Hopefully that helps if you find yourself in the same spot.

From there I simply followed the loop around, and eventually I ended up back at the fork.  From that point it was simply a matter of trudging 4.5 miles back the same way I had come.  As usual I had overestimated my hiking speed – as opposed to my road speed – so the route as a whole took a little longer than anticipated.  I left around 2:45pm, and returned to the car close to 4 hours later.

Unfortunately, dusk is about 6:15!  While this did make for good wildlife viewing – I had an up close encounter with an Armadillo who didn’t even seem to notice me 10 feet away while he snuffled around off the edge of the trail – I did run out of light.  I was close enough I could have found  to the car in the darkness  – I could see the lights of road traffic in the distance – but I might have sprained an ankle getting there.

Thankfully I had placed my recently purchased Petzl Tikka XP2 headlamp in my backpack for just such an emergency! I tried briefly using its red light to illuminate my way, but kept losing the path.  Being rather tired, and admittedly a little stressed at finding myself roaming around in the woods in the dark, I cranked up its powerful white LED and finished up the last quarter mile of my trek.

While the route is marked as 11 mles, my GPS said I walked closer to 12.  I will put that down to the occasionally stroll off the trail – and doubling back a couple of times in the dark at the end off the hike:)  The weather was great, overcast and slightly chilly but no rain.  I completed the hike feeling fine physically, my legs are definitely gaining endurance as they could easily have gone further.

I really need new shoes!  My old walking shoes are really not up to off road hiking,  and I’m paying for it in blisters.  My feet are definitely building character, but I’m sure they will appreciate decent hiking boots when they arrive.

I recommend Knob Hill trail for anyone looking for an uncrowded hike or run that is not too difficult.

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Hiking – Perfect Pursuit for RV Dwellers

One downside about living in a Recreational Vehicle is that it can impose some limits on your hobbies.  Even the largest RV has only so much space for the various accessories associated with different activities.  Hiking, however, is the perfect passion for this lifestyle choice.  Both for reasons of freedom of movement and due to the minimal gear requirements of the hobby.

In an RV you can easily go to the best hiking locations.  This is a huge advantage over stick home living.  Even if your house is in the most scenic location imaginable – Colorado perhaps? – there are only going to be so many hiking options nearby.  If you read about a great hike that sounds appealing half way across the country, it is going to be a really big deal to actually go out and experience it.  You’ll need to schedule time out of your regular routine, budget travel and accommodation expenses, determine how to get to the trail head, etc…

With an RV, most of these issues go away.  See a great hike you’d like to go on in a far flung state like Oregon?  All you need to do is make a note of it.  Next time you find yourself out that way (maybe 6 months, or even 6 years later) you can make a point of stopping nearby to experience it.  If you are a really keen hiker, you can even plan your roaming across the country around the best hiking locations; the freedom of living in an RV is unprecedented in the advantages it offers in this regard.

 

 

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RV Holding Tanks – Fresh, Gray And Black

Something that often isn’t thought about when people dream of living in an RV is how to handle the fluids we use – and wastes we produce – in daily living.  While not pleasant to think about, they are a fact of live and you need to consider them!

If you are used to living in a stick house they you are accustomed to rarely having to worry about your water.  You turn on the tap – water comes out, you pull the plug on the sink or flush the toilet, and water and waste is whisked away.  Your chief chore is to pay the water bill once a month.

Unfortunately, RVs require a little more thought about such things.  Don’t worry however; while it may not be pleasant to deal with wastes in a recreational vehicle, it really isn’t that difficult. First, some background.  Most RV’s have three different tanks for water.  These are the fresh water tank, the gray water tank, and the black water tank.  So, what does each of those do?

Fresh Water Tanks for RVs

The fresh water tank is pretty straight forward – it is like a big water bottle for your RV that supplies water when you are not connected to a permanent source.  Whenever you need water for activities such as showering, washing dishes, cooking, or flushing the toilet; it is drawn from your fresh water tank.

The size of this tank will depend on your vehicle; on a small trailer like a Casita it may be at little as 12 gallons, while if you own a large Class A Diesel it may be 40 gallons or more.  Your RVs fresh water capacity can be a limiting factor in the time you can spend on activities like boondocking, but carrying extra potable water in your tow vehicle can stretch your supplies.

RV Gray Water Tanks

Gray water is non-sewer water that you have used in your RV.  Water that has gone down the drain in the shower, or in sinks in the bathroom and kitchen goes to the gray water holding tank. If you take long showers in your RV, you may find yourself filling this tank quite regularly.

Owners of RVs with small gray tanks often purchase an additional tank to provide extra storage, which is connected to the grey water drain by a short hose.  These ‘blue boy’ portable tanks can get very heavy however, and even those with built-in wheels you may find are not particularly portable.

Black Water Tanks

Black water is the sewerage of the RV world.  When you flush your toilet the waste goes to the black water tank.  As you can imagine, problems with this tank can result in a big stinking mess; thus proper operational procedures are a must!

Be sure to use appropriate chemicals in a black tank.  There are various enzyme based chemicals available on the market designed to break down your waste, and also remove smells.  A wise RV’er makes use of these chemicals every time they dump their tank.

Don’t flush just anything down your toilet, the only thing that should go down there apart from your organic wastes should be toilet paper designed for RV use.  Regular toilet paper can cause clogging. No paper, napkins, tissues, etc… should be flushed down the toilet – including feminine hygiene products.  Dispose of items like this in your trash, not in your toilet.

Managing your Waste Water Tanks

There are two basic options for your black and gray water tanks at any particular campsite.  You can operate self-sufficiently, i.e. without sewer hookups, or else connect to a campground sewer system.  Either way you need to possess sewer hose(s) to drain your tanks.

Rule number one – never use a gray or black water sewer hose for moving around fresh water, and likewise never use a fresh water hose for your waste water.  I think the reasons for this are obvious!

Try to keep your black water tank in a state so that there is always fair amount of liquid in it.  If you have a lot of solid waste without much water to dilute it, you are likely to get smells – or even clogs.  After draining your black water tank place a little clean water in the bottom with some fresh tank chemicals, this will help keep odors down.

If you do choose to hookup to a sewer system, it is advisable not to just drain directly into it.  Instead keep the valves closed until you ready to drain.  This means the chemicals you add to your tanks don’t drain straight to the sewer – giving them a chance to work their anti-odor decomposing magic.  It will also prevent any stench in your campgrounds sewer system from finding its way into your home.

Dumping Your Tanks

No matter how you travel with an RV, at some point you are going to have to dump your waste tanks.  Remember this – never dump your black water tank except at an approved dump station!  There are certain circumstances where it is ok to dump you gray water – perhaps via an adaptor to a garden hose to water a garden – but I advise that in general you should aim to do this at a dump station also.

You should have a couple of heavy duty sewer hoses like the Rhinoflex pictured (it is always good to have a spare).  Don’t go cheap on these items, saving a few dollars on a cheaper model is not worth the increased risk of tears or leaks when you are dealing with raw sewerage!

Always dump your black water first – preferably not until it has a substantial amount of fluid in it, to ensure the best possible flush.  Dump the grey water tank second, as the cleaner water in this tank will help clean the sewerage from your sewer hose.

If you are ready to dump your tanks but there is not much in them – say for example you are taking a long trip, or putting your RV up for a while – then go ahead and add some additional water until both black and gray tanks are two thirds full first.  This additional volume will ensure more of the undesirable contents flush out.

After dumping, thoroughly flush both tanks.  This may take a bit of water, but it is well worth doing to ensure you remove as much odor causing material as possible.  Finally, be sure to add a little fresh water to the bottom of each tank, along with your normal holding tank chemicals.  At all costs you should avoid holding tank sludge buildup.

While nothing can quite prepare you for the experience of dumping your tanks for the first time, thinking the process through carefully ahead of time and not taking shortcuts will maximize the chance of avoiding issues. If you want to see what dumping the tanks looks like, check out this video (courtesy of RV geeks).

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Stealthy VanDwelling – An Alternative To A Traditional RV

Why Stealth RVing?

Some people love the idea of living in an RV, but don’t have the money – job, savings, or pension – to support it.  One option available to folks in this situation is to try and live an ultra-frugal RV lifestyle.

One of the largest costs for many ‘traditional’ (I’m not sure that is really the right word for anyone who lives in a recreational vehicle, but I will use it nevertheless) is the cost of campgrounds of RV park sites.

While it is possible to find cheap or even free sites in some place, many times they will have restrictions as to how long you can say.  Also, sometimes these lower priced sites are not in a great location – they may be way out in the middle of nowhere, next to a loud interstate or railroad, or in a somewhat dodgy urban neighborhood.

Why A Van?

The way some people get around having to pay for camping sites at all is by choosing to live a lifestyle heavily dependent on stealth parking.  The main requirement in order to be able to do this successfully is possession of an RV that does not look like an RV.  For this vans are ideal!

A van can look very commercial.  This means they can be parked many places inconspicuously where a regular RV would stand out like a sore thumb.  People who own vans can frequently get away with spending a night for free in an office district or near a warehouse without drawing unwanted attention from the authorities.

What Type of Van?

I am not talking about a Class B Motorhome like those from Roadtrek, which are blatantly residential – I mean a regular commercial van.  Preferably a white one that is in good shape, if it has some decals indicating it belongs to some kind of business so much the better.

You should also avoid buying a van that looks…well…creepy.  We are all familiar with the stereotype of the beat-up panel van that looks like it belongs in an episode of Law & Order – SVU.  If you are going to live in a van buy one that looks respectable.

The intent is that the local police or sheriff won’t figure out you are actually inside that van parked on the side of the road.  The hope is that if the van catches their eye they will just figure it belongs to a local business and not be bothered by it.

How to Avoid Hassles from the Authorities

While your presence – as long as you behave yourself and don’t make a mess – really does any harm to anyone, a lot of people will be uncomfortable at the idea of someone living in a van, especially nearby.  While I will leave the psychology of this for another article, it is fact that you will have to deal with anytime you stealth camp anywhere people are likely to observe your vehicle.

An attractive vehicle is an important starting point, but being discrete matters even more.  Don’t setup a chair outside of your van; keep all your gear inside.  Keep the rear doors closed as much as possible and access the van from the front if possible.  Make sure your windows are covered – preferably by a dark tint.  Cute fluffy curtains may hide the fact that you are inside, but they do suggest the vehicle is lived in.

Don’t stay to long!  It is important to note that this type of stealth living really requires you to move on a regular basis – preferably daily.  If you spend a week parked in warehouse parking lot, it is likely that eventually you are going to draw unwanted attention from either the owners of the local constabulary.

Is Stealth Van Living for Everyone?

The answer to this is definitely no.  You have to be pretty good at handling the stress of never knowing when someone is going to come and demand to know why you are camped somewhere you strictly shouldn’t be.

I really wouldn’t recommend this lifestyle to anyone unless they are in dire financial straits.  If you are pulling in much over a thousand dollars a month you should be able to afford to buy a cheap used ‘real’ RV and pay to camp somewhere legitimately.

Alternatively you could just take that van and go boondocking on BLM land in the middle of nowhere,  but that is assuming whatever income you have is portable…another subject altogether!

 

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Red River State Campground – East Grand Forks – Minnesota

Upon leaving Walhalla we attempted to follow the Rendezvous Region Scenic Backway, which traverses a remote part of Northeast North Dakota.  This took a bit of luck to find the starting point but we were soon off and running.  The drive took us on some rather poor roads that would probably not be open year around, but we did stumble across a couple of neat things along the way.

One noteworthy item was a large field full of old decaying cars.  Of course these are a dime a dozen, but in this  particular case all the cars looked to be at least 40 or 50 years old.  At the very back of the group were some vehicles that looked to be significantly older again.  This would be a great place to visit for vintage car buffs, as you can see many – although admittedly not in the best of shape!

Next we stopped at the Icelandic State Park.  The park was quite attractive with a pleasant lake and attractive campsites.  We decided to walk one of the local hiking trails which seemed to correspond to an electrical easement judging by the flags – and the walk was enjoyable.  There was a lot of elevation change, but the path itself was mowed – helping somewhat with treading the uneven terrain.
At one point the path started heading down to the  river side thru a shaded tunnel of trees – this looked very enticing until the mosquitoes came out in force and we decided a strategic withdrawal was in order.  A good walk nonetheless.

Next we found our way to Pembina on the border of North Dakota and Minnesota, extremely close to the Canadian border.  We found a great free museum there, the Pembina State Museum, and took some time to explore it.  It had a lot of great information on the Métis culture that developed there, a blending of Native American and French European peoples.  I found this very informative, and it was a good counterpoint to all the Scandinavian heritage information we had seen the day before – clearly demonstrating the local population was not completely homogeneous even in recent times.

From here it was determined we needed to find some lunch.  Driving for quite some time we came to the town of Hallock, where we found a wonderful little restaurant called the Caribou Lodge.  After eating way too much we determined there were very few camping options in the local neighborhood, so we made our way to East Grand Forks, and setup camp in a large campground on the Red River.

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Walhalla Riverside City Park – Walhalla – North Dakota

Started the day by traveling north again past the Minot Air Force Base.  Again had no luck seeing any aircraft take off or land, but did manage to catch sight of a bunch of B52s sitting on the runway.  They don’t make it easy – you have to go down some paved roads, and you really don’t see all that much.

This done, we headed again towards the Canadian border, this time we paralleled the border along highway 43, and travelled the Turtle Mountain Scenic Byway.  Driving this route we saw ‘Mystical Horizon’ which was actually less new-age than it sounds.

This is a modern interpretation of Stonehenge on a hilltop with a great view incorporating a sundial, a scope for sighting on Polaris and old school stone markers for determining the change of seasons. Unfortunately the sky was full of clouds so we couldn’t do much with any of those.

Later we drove to Strawberry Lake.  This site has great campsite potential, as it is very secluded but has generous facilities, and is quite close to the attractive lake.  The heavy forest also includes – according to signage – many fruits, though I wouldn’t advise anyone to randomly grab foliage without a solid knowledge of botany.

Next we made our way around Lake Metigoshi.  From what I can see this is a popular retreat with the well heeled,   as there were many expensive looking properties on the water line.  We considered stopping in the local state park, as the town offered a long pedestrian path that looked worthy of further exploration, but decided to continue on.

Several hours later we reached Pembina Gorge thinking it would offer some camping opportunities.  Unfortunately it turned out to be an ATV trail type destination, rather than a place for campers, so we carried on.

In the town of Walhalla we thankfully discovered a nice campground – the Walhalla Riverside City Park – so we set up camp there in the grassy shade for the evening. The ground at the site got wet by dew during the night, but it was a pretty quiet and comfortable site which allowed us to sleep in for the first time for a long time.

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Fairfield Inn Marriott – Minot – North Dakota

Coming up from Bismarck to Minot, the direct route involves taking Highway 83.

We however, chose an alternate more scenic pass.  ND 1804 hugs the Missouri river for several miles, and offers some enjoyable sights.  The highlight to me was the site of the Double Ditch Indian Village, a former location for members of the Mandan Indian tribe.

This impressive site is very large, and the sheer scale of the land involved is a vivid reminder of how different these agricultural based communities are from the more commonly thought of nomadic Indians.  The North American continent had several native populations that had settled ‘villages’ which could be best categorized as small towns.

Walking the site was enjoyable.  While there are no buildings present the dents, bumps and other landmarks clearly identify the former locations of earthen mound lodges, middens, ditches and other fortifications.  I did have to be careful strolling around however, as there are many many critters who have dug dangerous holes in the ground – some hidden by long grasses.  There is a thriving prairie dog community present, and I suspect some larger animals such as rabbits and foxes also.

Also present at the location – which is on a bluff over the Missouri – was a stone shelter built by the new deal Works Progress Administration.  It was unclear to me why they built this, but it was certainly sturdy.

After driving along ND 1804 a while longer, near the town of Washburn is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  While not cheap to access, they have some great displays and provide great context for understanding their Corps of Discovery Expedition.  Although the center is undergoing expansion, the display they already have I think were worth paying to see.

Included in admission is an interpretive tour of a replica of Fort Mandan. While not an exact copy of the original fort, it is a fair duplicate based on what is known of the original.  As well as describing life in the fort, staff also give presentation on various topics of interest.

We were there for a talk by Jeffery Carlson, who gave a run down on life for new army recruits on the expedition – ‘the Kentucky nine’.  A lucky volunteer from the audience was dressed up in a replica of their uniforms, and Jeff fielded question.  It was clear he has a great knowledge of the relevant topics, as he was able to provide detailed answers to some relatively complicated questions.

The final stop before arriving at Minot was when we crossed the Garrison Dam, that forms the very large Lake Sakakawea.  This impressive edifice is an earth fill dam, it is 60 feet wide at the top and very very wide at the base.  Without a lot of concrete visibly involved there is a lot of grass growing on the down river side, and it was thus to me a rather unusual looking dam.

While the trip from Bismarck to Minot is only about 2 hours direct, we managed to spend most of the day with all our detours and stops; they were well worthwhile however, and the day was much more interesting than I anticipated.

We opted to spend two nights in the Marriott in Minot, as we had quite a bit of activity planned.  Since it took so long for us to get there taking our scenic drive, we didn’t get to do much more than eat dinner the first night.  The next morning however, we were up brighy and early and went down to the local tourist information office at the Minot Scandinavian Heritage Park.

The buildings weren’t open to explore when we were there, but we took a stroll around the grounds and checked out the various items on the grounds.  The Gol Stave Church was particularly impressive, and I’d have to say it was both unique and beautiful.

After leaving we drove downtown to explore the old main street.  There are quite a few stores there, and while it has to compete with the Dakota Square mall is still seems pretty functional.  I spent some time in ‘Bravs Shoe Store’, a shop selling a range of Western goods, and picked up some great gifts.  The elderly gentleman running the store told us it was the oldest in town, and was operated by his father before him.

We briefly attempted to locate a rumored river walk in the downtown area, but were unsuccessful.  Minot is a very easy town to get lost in!  Instead, we headed out of town up Highway 83 in the hopes of seeing some planes taking off or landing at Minot AFB.  Unfortunately the weather was pretty overcast, so we couldn’t see much of anything, and the visit was a non-event.  Probably unsurprisingly they are not setup to receive tourists.

In the name of following 83 as far as we could – since we have been roughly driving it since Texas – we headed North about an hour until we reached the Canadian border near Westhope in the northern tip of North Dakota.  We took some quick photos – probably to the bemusement of the border guards – and then drove back to the hotel in Minot.