Home Getting Started

Choices

So you think you want to travel for an extended period? 

Fulltime?  Just for the summer?  Keeping your home?

Class A?  Class C?  Tent Trailer?  Tent?  5th-Wheel?  Motorcycle(s)?  Boat?

Who is going?  Just you?  Spouse?  Children?

Where are you going?  Part of the USA?  All of the USA?  Canada?  Mexico?

Where are you going to eat?  Campfire?  Restaurants?  Inside the RV?

You have many choices to make.  You do not have to make them all at once.  You do not want to make them all at once.

So.  Where to Start?

By the way, this is not the web page for serious backpackers, hikers, or other fulltime outdoors people.

I know little about boats or tent trailers.

Education

Two years is a reasonable duration from the time you start planning to the time you take off on your first serious travel.  You can do it in less time only if you already have some experience.  When living the mobile life you quickly learn that more is not better.  You bring along those things that you need and those things that you want and have space for.  More space means a bigger rig.  A bigger rig means more hassle and more gas (or diesel).  Some parks limit the size of an RV to 32 feet.

Empirical

Let’s presume that you have a history of travel: motels, tents or rentals.  If you do not have this history, start now.

Do not invest in major vehicles until you know you can do this.  For example, if you and your spouse move from a working life-style to an RV, you will be crowded.  That is, you and your spouse will suddenly be closer than 30 feet apart at all times.  Can your relationship handle this?  Mine could not.  There are many 2-year-old RVs on the market for this reason.

You will be outdoors virtually all of the time.  Carry lots of sun block, hats, and other solar protection.  The weather will not always be warm and sunny.  Be prepared for alternative clothing and reading materials.

You will see wonders of the world.  You need media equipment:  cameras.  If you have children, video cameras are a requirement.  You need a computer to store the images.

Get out there and see what you like and don’t like.  Then reconsider your mobile life-style.

Seasons

During the summer there are many families traveling around the country enjoying the RV life.  You can rent RVs to do this.  You will get a better rate off-season.

The other 9 months of the year are primarily full-timers.  If this is what you want to do, this is a good time to try it out.  In this group you will find a few families who are home-teaching their children.  The remainder is retired.

The number of people retiring early is growing and so is the RV population.  Nevertheless, the greatest number of people in this life-style is over 60.  These are going to be primarily reasonably affluent Republicans with very strong opinions: “America Love It or Leave It”.  I often wonder how so many semi-intelligent people ever earned enough money to retire into this life-style.  Sorry if I have offended anyone here: if you are looking for academic discussions or engineering expertise, run for your life.  If you want to argue about how bad things are with so many immigrants stealing jobs, you will find many takers.  If you want to hear what a philanderer Clinton was and how Bush is saving the world, this is definitely NOT your home.

Internet

Your next step is the Internet.  Visit web sites that aim at the recreational life.  Find your own links or use mine.  Spend family time for this.  Plan a few short trips.  Do them.

Talk

You will be doing a lot of this when you start so get used to it.  Talk to each other.  Talk to others in the life-style. 

Do not talk to salesmen.

When you are fulltime, you live two weeks at a time.  That is, you move frequently and you have friends which last only as long as you are in the same location.  I am impressed with how many people I run into multiple times.

Supplies

See my inventory list for starting points.  Nothing is worse than getting out the cooking gear and find you have no sharp knife.

In a larger sense, get yourself organized for the life-style that you want.

It took me a very short time to realize that when I was buying durable goods that when I looked at them in the store, I must also have a specific location for them to go in the RV.

Take what you need: leave the rest behind.  Take a few trips and keep lists of things forgotten either at home or need to buy.  I am sure that what you need and what you think you need and what you never thought of are not the same list.

Transportation and Mobile Living

By the way: learn the terms!  A mobile home is not mobile and not part of any traveling life style.  Remember the Buddhist concept that you do not own things: things own you.  This lifestyle is not free and you need a fair amount of money to be comfortable in a large motor home.  Large starts at 25 feet.

Your home is your home.  How much home you need is up to you.  I need walls, a kitchen, bathroom, and windows.  Even though your home is mobile, it may not be so mobile that you can enjoy the sights.  For example, I think San Francisco Bay is a place that either you have seen or you are missing a part of your brain.  You are not going to be happy seeing these sites in an RV.  You park fifty miles away in an RV park then drive around the area.  You take mass transit to see the downtown.  In San Francisco, you want to drive across the Golden Gate to the Marin Highlands, take a day trip to Angel Island.  Visit Alcatraz, if you are morbid.  You want to see the bathhouse.  You will see none of these if you just have the RV and no toad. 

With no toad, you must pay the high prices and make reservations in Yosemite Valley.  With a toad, you camp on the rim and drive to the valley for day trips.  Much better unless you like crowds and have excess money.  Sooner or later, if you have an RV, you will get tired of shopping for food two weeks at a time and seeing only the confines of the RV park.

Boat

I know nothing about fulltime boating.  If you are thinking of this, follow similar rules for RVs except visit marinas and rent boats, etc.  I know a couple that are touring the country via waterway.  I admire their courage.  I think I will do that in my next lifetime.

Motorcycle

I have done this.  I would like to do it again.  You have to love the life on the road and the wind in your hair to do this.  It is the only way to fly and be free.  Because I am tied to my CPAP, I was afraid to try this.  I wish I had.  But this life is for only those who know the freedom of the wind.  Many of the rules are the same as for RV except you cannot stop for the night at Wal-marts, rest areas, or other random stopping points.  You may need more planning than an RV.

There are Motorcycle Travel Web sites.

Automobile

The Lord help you if you have a Dodge Minivan but otherwise, this is OK if you live in motels or in tents.  I get claustrophobia in a motel room and get upset with the unclean rooms.  My Dodge Minivan cost me $500 in repairs for each 1000 miles on the road.

I do not really consider car/motel travel as part of this life-style.  Car travel is just a way to visit the geography.  It is not really getting out in the world.

I do not meet many fulltime tenters.  They are out here and they live more free.

Tent

If you have only a motorcycle or a car, you need a tent.  The larger the tent, the larger the inventory of things to go in the tent.  The investment in camp setup/teardown is a consideration.  I have never been comfortable in a tent when it rained and I hate porta-potties.

Tent Trailer

I have not done this.  I shall not do this.  I sort of would like to try but I am not about to give up the comforts of real walls for the increased mobility.

Some of the new tent trailers come with all amenities: slides, kitchens, shower, and electricity.  Make sure your tow vehicle can handle the load.  I have seen an increasing number of hard-sided tent trailers.

5th-Wheel and Truck

There is ongoing discussion whether a 5th-wheel or an RV is better.  It is your choice here.  Either way, if you are full-time, you tow something.  You either tow a little car (toad) or you tow a fifth-wheel.  If in doubt, talk to others and maybe try them yourself.  Many times I think I should have gone to the 5th-wheel.

The real advantage of the 5th-wheel is the expense of changing homes.  If you buy a good diesel truck, you can exchange 5th-wheels up or down more easily than exchanging an RV.

RV

This is a self-contained home on wheels.  You can pay anywhere from $70K to $1M for a new RV.  If in doubt, buy a used one.  The dealer markup for an RV starts at about $18K.  Therefore, your RV loses $18K+ as you drive it off the lot.

Now you may want anything from a little Toyota thingy to a bus.  I have little to say about these extremes.

Slides are a consideration.  If you have an equal choice of space, price, etc., buy the one without slides.  For example a 34-foot RV with no bedroom slide is comparable to a 32 foot RV with a bedroom slide.  Buy the 34-foot and save the expense of the slide.  Expense?  My rear slide went out twice in 2 years and never did work right until the second replacement.

If you are fulltime, the cramped driving quarters of the Class C may be an issue.  The overhead bed is vertically cramped and I have seen the area used for mulk storage for lack of better use.

Toad

A toad is your towed vehicle.  It is almost impossible to live fulltime in an RV without a toad.  You will end up in the RV Park with no place to go.  I do not own a toad.  I shall buy a motorcycle for my toad next year.

By the way, the reason you see so many Saturn Toads is because the Saturn was specifically designed to be a toad.  You can tow a Saturn with no modifications right out of the showroom.

Make sure you know what needs to be done to tow anything else.  More other makers are discovering the need to be a toad and have some models ready to go.  Make sure you know if your standard transmission toad needs a pump.

Your automatic transmission toad needs a transmission pump or axle cutouts.  Check before you buy to see if the vehicle is designed to be towed.

You need to modify the car to attach the hitch.

Hitch

This is critical for you and you need to look at this.  A cheap one is about $200.  A good one is about $500.  You want the good one.  The good one has an extendable fork.  This means that you drive your car close, connect the extendable arms, connect the wiring cable, connect the chains/cables, and drive away.  If the arms are not extendable, you must drive up to the exact location, manhandle a big steel, inflexible fork, maybe lie on the ground, and spend about 15 minutes instead of 5 minutes.  The good one is welded to the car frame and has minimal damage to the front end of the car.  The cheap one bolts to the frame and you will always worry about it.

Installed, the hitch will cost you from $500 to $2500.  If you buy a new toad, you almost start over with the expense.  Remember that on almost all toads, the odometer runs whether the car is driven or towed.  I hear Subaru advertises that the odometer only runs when the toad is driven.

Use a good, lithium grease on the hitch moving parts and the ball.  See Lubricants.

Brakes

A good hitch arrangement includes a braking mechanism.  In general, if your RV has good brakes and your toad is small, you can get away with no braking in the toad.  The operative words are ‘get away with’.  There are all sorts of braking systems available.  Inertial braking is contained in the car and hitch and is activated by the car pressure against the hitch.  Electric braking is activated by the RV with a wire connection through the lamp wiring cable.

The brake may be permanently installed under the hood or there may be a movable lever pushing the actual floor brake pedal.  The latter requires hydraulic pressure which, in turn, requires an air hose from the RV itself: one more cable to attach when you connect the toad.

The key things about brakes are the law (some states and Canada require brakes in the toad) and your life (you sit in the front where the action is if you cannot stop). 

Fleetwood is under a class-action suit because its vehicles are not properly rated to brake with a toad.  If your toad is over 1,000 pounds (it is), then you need auxiliary braking.

Tow Dolly

In place of modifying your car to be a toad, you buy a tow dolly for about $2500 new or $800 used.  Buy one with brakes and you meet all of the laws.  Use a dolly and your car mileage does not run up.  The only drawback to the dolly is that it extends the total length of the rig a few feet and that you have three things to worry about all of the time.  For example, you must take the car off the dolly and then the dolly off the RV when you back into a site.  Then you have to pull the dolly into the site and then drive the car.  Or you can require that you use only pull-through sites.

Brooms and Shields

A toad needs to be protected from the stones and dirt thrown up by the RV wheels.  You need a broom or mat across the rear of the RV to keep most of the debris away from the toad.  In addition, a shield should be across the front of the toad to protect it from the rocks and other hard things that make it past the broom.  The RV broom or mat should come as close to the ground as possible without dragging.  I see lots of brooms.  I have one.  I also see a mat named “Rock Solid”.  I think next time I shall buy one of those.

Used or New

One consideration here is that you can buy a used RV, truck, or a fifth-wheel.  You may want the new truck.  There are many used RVs available.  There are many people who do not do their homework or their trial runs.  They buy the RV and discover they cannot handle being transient. 

For the first time, buy used.  Here is the deal.  In 1979 I took the family on a tour for 6 months.  We did it in 4 months (and regretted it).  We shopped for several months.  One day a local dealer had an ad for an RV that was just right and low-priced.  2 years old, Dodge 440 (my favorite), Class A.  Just right.  We saw it and loved it.  We continued that day to look at others.  Mostly new.  Another dealer tried to match price with a better brand, new coach, and, to his real dismay, we returned to buy the used RV.

This was a good choice.  On the entire trip, I spent some time tuning the engine for performance: after all I started my career at Chrysler Engineering.  We lost 4 hours in Saskatoon with an alternator problem.  $12.  That is all for a trip of 8,000 miles.

If you want new, go to the Internet.  I bought a new, sticker-priced $85K RV for $63K. The commissioned dealer salesmen cannot compete with this.

I bought a new Fleetwood Flair 32V.  It took over a year to get the bugs out.  Sure, there is a warrantee.  My Flair had to go back to the factory for 3 months.  Some repairs at the dealer took several days.  I do not think well of Fleetwood for this but it proves my point.  Had we originally bought the Flair and attempted the 8000-mile trip, we would have been very disturbed and probably abandoned the adventure.  Oh, and the next model year of the 32V, Fleetwood rearranged the model to correct some design deficiencies which I have to live with having bought an early model.

You want an extended warrantee in any RV.

Life Style

Your life-style is up to you.  You can live in RV parks with full hookups or you can live in the desert with solar panels.

You can even make a habit of staying at Wal-Marts.  Please do not abuse the Wal-Marts.  No slides, no junk, no setup.  Just park for the night and go.  Buy lots of things while you are there.

Figure that you will average $20 per night in parks.  Sometimes more, sometimes less.  I joined a couple of membership parks and the average cost is down but there were serious up front fees and you restrict your travel to where the member parks are located.

The federal government has coined the term ”semi-affluent homeless” for fulltime RVers.

Places to Stay

RV Parks

See my discussion of RV Parks for choices.  You can stay at many for $20-$50 per night or be a member and follow the schedule rules.  Or both. 

National Parks (NPS)

National Parks are never a bargain because the campgrounds are contracted to private enterprise.  Bypassing National Parks seriously restricts your site seeing.

Enter Zion from the West as they charge a major fee to clear the east-end tunnel for your RV.

Oh.  I think that the campsites in the National Parks were designed by the mentally deficient.  All of them.  Sites are better now that the campgrounds are being contracted and reworked but these come with a high price.

There are annual passes for the National Parks.  Even as the pass price escalates, they are a good deal as these passes include the National Monuments.  NPS has gotten nasty about the passes.  They used to be for a family and its members.  Now it is for one person who may bring his family.  And they will steal the pass if you do not sign it when you buy it.

National Forests (NFS)

The National Forest Campgrounds are the best you will find anywhere.  Most do not have hookups so you will be dry camping.  Some, like Ocala National Forest Juniper Springs, had all of the amenities and were beautifully designed by the WPA but the new contractors have taken a beautiful park and let it run down to a graveyard.  Sad.

Then there is the new annual fee for just existing in the park.  Not a fee for all parks.  Just for the parks in one location.  The ultimate rip-off.  These are found in high usage areas but are contemplated for everywhere.  Write your Congressman and complain – this is pure evil.

Many National Forest parks were created by the WPA and the CCC.  If you do not know what these are, look them up and be thankful.

If the National Forest has undeveloped areas, you can boondock in them.  If you see one campground in an NFS forest, that forest is probably considered developed.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

You can generally boondock on BLM land similar to NFS.  In high-use areas, such as Quartzite, there is an annual fee if you go there during season.

State Parks

State parks can be a bargain.  Or not.

Local Parks

I actually found a free city RV park with full hookups north of Denver.  They ask for donations.  Anyplace that asks for donations and gives for free should get a good donation or it will not be available on the next go round.

Boondocking

Ahhh.  There are books on boondocking.  Buy one – even if you do not plan to do this.  Your RV is designed to be self-contained.  Using this ability is appropriate.

Just remember that the cigarette lighter on the dash will drain the engine battery.  If you drain all of the batteries, you cannot start the engine.

Urban Camping

I have mentioned the Wal-Marts.  Many cities are banning RV parking outside of licensed RV parks within the city limits.  Montana is trying to make it statewide.  When on the road, and I do not want to set up for the night, I find places to stay.

As you know by now, my RV was stolen in Richmond, CA while parked on a major city street while I was out for a bike ride.  If I park on the street, I do not leave the RV.  Sleep and out.  And the sleep may not be good.

Driving

If you are traveling in excess of 60mph, you have chosen the wrong life style.  The idea is to enjoy the trip as much as the destination.  Some guy went flying past me the other day in a rental class A.  I was doing just under 60 (shame on me) and he was driving faster than the traffic on US 101.  That means he was driving his RV at 75 mph or better.  Maybe his daughter was dieing in the back bed.  More likely the guy is just stupid.

I have learned to respect the cross-country truckers.  They have learned a level of patience generally only found in Zen monks.  You will find that on the road your only friends are other RVers.

I just drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles at 50-55.  My mileage (with a  toad) was 13.6 mpg.  The last time I drove the same trip at 65-70+, my mileage was 9.  If you want to save money, drive between 50 and 55 mph.  This speed lets you save money and lets you enjoy your life.  You will also have to pull over when you are not on an Interstate to let the other traffic go buy.  Many cars will beep a little thank you.  Ignore the yokel in the Volvo with his horn blaring and his finger out the roof: he will never know what you are learning.

I cannot emphasize this enough: the getting there is the real pleasure of the life on the road.

Where to Go

This country is 1,800 miles from Seattle To San Diego.  It is about 3,000 miles from Seattle to Boston.  There are only about 4 states where you can be comfortable in the winter.  For me, Arizona is too cold in the winter.  I go to Mexico.

As you know, it is very wet in the east these days.  Wet and full-timing are not a good combination.

I have been everywhere.  You name the place and I can tell you what to see.  But it takes a long time to go everywhere.  I think a travel maximum is 250 miles per week in an RV.  You can do more but you will not enjoy it.

What to See

If I have to tell you, there is a problem.  I love mountains, forests, and seashores.  I love black nights with stars. (Pet peeve: Yokels with bright lights on their RV that keep them on at night).

All National Parks are great to see.  Most State Parks are nice to visit.  All major cities have some attraction.  I would never skip San Francisco.  I always skip Los Angeles – but then my kids are grown.

If you go to a city, find a safe place for your RV (Richmond, CA is nationally known for car theft) and take mass transit into the city to se the sites.  Many RV parks near major cities have transportation and tours to the local sites.

Synopsis

How you live is up to you.  I live real cheap.  I can continue my current life-style on my current income but I am getting bored fast.  I need a toad.

Take pictures.  Eat at nice restaurants.  Take pictures.

Security

Maybe I am not paranoid enough.  Maybe I am too paranoid.  In any case, there are many things you can do to increase your personal and property security.

Dog

A dog is about as good as it gets.  A big dog is better.  I heard about someone with a pet panther.  Pets have their own problems and you may need licenses, health permits, etc.  See Pets.

Weapon

It goes with you or it may be stolen.  It may protect you.  It seems many people in this life-style silently carry a weapon.  You shall need to know local laws and license information.  See Guns.

Ignition Locks and Alarms

These exist for RVs and after my experience, absolutely necessary.  A steering wheel lock can be easily removed by cutting a slice out of the steering wheel.  A hidden battery disconnect switch is good.  There are electronic signature ignition locks.

I do not think much of alarms that make noise.  These mostly are ignored or irritate neighbors.  When more people realize that there is a market in stolen RVs, Lo-Jack type alarms will catch on.

A little red LED blinking next to your door entry may deter a thief.  Buy one of these at Radio Shack if you are handy at all.

Exercise

It is easy to become lazy in an RV: everything you need is within 5 steps of where you are.  Make sure that you see enough sites to get your minimal exercise.  If you cannot do this, have an exercise program.  I did not and now I have diabetes.

Suggestions?nbsp; Questions?  Comments?  Push Home/eMail above.
Written:  2003          Updated:  March 13, 2005          Back To Top