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  1. Over the past 16 years, I've done a considerable amount of travel in Florida. I did some of this travel as a vacationing tourist, then as a cyclist, and more recently as a Florida snowbird. Living on the east coast, Florida has been an easy and warm place to get to. It's also a diverse and fun place to visit. I can't say I've been everywhere (like Johnny Cash) nor am I an expert on Florida. But I've been to enough places that I felt I could share some of my Florida snowbird wisdom. This post is not meant to be complete or exhaustive. It's just my take on some areas and things to consider when snowbirding in Florida. Let me start by telling you why I started going to Florida. Discovering Florida Growing up in Maine, I endured my share of harsh winters. As a kid and young adult, it was actually a fun time because I was an avid skier. But as I got older and couldn't handle the black diamond trails any more, winters became something that I had to tolerate and wait out. When I became a long distance cyclist, spring became a favorite time to head south for a week-long biking vacation. Even though I was still working, each March I would head to Florida for a week-long bike ride with the Bike Florida group. I did those rides for 8 years and got to explore many areas of north and central Florida from the seat of my bike. It was these rides that gave me the notion for escaping the New England winter and spending that time in Florida When I retired 8 years ago, the winter escape notion became a reality. It was so easy to hop in my car, drive south for three days, and be back in summer like weather. At first, we started out going down to Florida for a month and renting a condo. We began our stays near the northern east coast areas, which I was familiar with. Then we tried extending our stays to two months. We rented houses in The Villages and in New Smyrna Beach, condo's in St. Augustine Beach, and quickly got hooked on the snowbird lifestyle. When I started RVing, I did the math and found out that renting a site at a Florida RV park for 2 months was much less expensive that renting a condo. It was a no brainer to turn a two months stay into three months. This year we'll be staying for four months. We've spent our snowbird time at many places in Florida. You can see the places we've stayed on the map below. Some of these places have been for months at a time and others have been for a week or more. Areas of Florida Some may think that once you cross the border into Florida winter weather disappears and summer time magically appears everywhere. Based on my experience, that's not the case. Some areas can be down right chilly during the winter. Here's how I separate Florida into climates zones. North Central - from the GA border down to Daytona, over to Ocala, and up to Lake City. Jacksonville, the east coastal areas, and Gainesville are the populated areas. Everywhere else is pretty rural. This area is more of as summer time destination and less of a snowbird destination. Winters can be chilly with daytime temps getting up into the 60's. Some days may hit the low 70's, but those are infrequent. Other than Daytona, the coastal areas are not as developed with high rises as they are in the southern area. There are some nice coastal State Parks in this area. Fort Clinch, Little Talbot Island, and Gamble Rogers all have camping near the water. Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine is one of my favorites places to stay. The Panhandle - those areas west of Lake City to the Alabama border. Other than Tallahassee and the coastal areas, it's very rural. It's one of the most diverse and prettiest areas in Florida. Also, it's my favorite area to visit. The Emerald Coast with its white sand beaches and emerald colored water are beautiful. The area from Panama City to Fort Walton Beach is densely populated and a very busy area. Winter temps can be cold (in the 40's and 50's) and the weather can be wacky (e.g. snow, hurricanes). Like the North Central area it's more of a spring summer destination and winter is the off-season. My favorite area in the panhandle is the Forgotten Coast near Apalachicola. There are several nice beach side coastal State Parks in the panhandle. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is my favorite. Central - those areas south of Daytona to Melbourne then over to Tampa and up to Ocala. The big cities of Orlando, Tampa, and St. Pete dominate this area. The large 55+ community of The Villages just south of Ocala is in this area. There are lots of RV parks along the I-4 and I-75 corridor. I did theme park trips when my kids were young so those aren't a draw for me but they are for many. We have spent snowbird time in the Tampa area and found the winter temperatures to be moderate with lots of days in the low 70s. Southern - everything south of Melbourne to Tampa. The winter weather in this area is more warm with daytime temps in the 70's and 80s. Overnight freezes are rare. The coastal area from West Palm down to Miami is very developed. It can also be pricey. The gulf coast side is less developed and more laid back. I don't know the reason but this area seems to attract folks from the Canada, Central and Mid-West states. I like the gulf coast side the best. To me, folks on the gulf coast side seem more friendly. The winter weather is warm, it's doesn't have the high-rise sprawl like the Atlantic side, and the casual atmosphere is easy to take. Securing a Place to Stay If you want to spend some snowbird time in FL, I recommend that you reserve a place ahead of time. Heading to FL during the key winter months of January thru March without any reservations is a recipe for major disappointment. Most of the nicer RV parks and campgrounds in popular areas are booked months in advance Florida's State Parks are popular places during the winter because of the price and their locations. But stays are limited to 14 days. Sites can be reserved a year in advance and in some places like the Keys, they are booked within minutes of becoming available. The demand for campsites seems to follow the weather. State Parks in the southern area get booked up more quickly compared to the Northern areas. For my winter stays at Florida State Parks, I've booked six months in advance and have always found a site. If you wait until October and November, the selection and duration will be limited. Many state parks hold a certain number of sites for walk ins. The popular municipal Fort Desoto Park near St. Petersburg gets booked up quickly. Non-residents can reserve sites 6 months in advance and the good sites get taken quickly. Private RV parks are popular places for snowbirds. Many offer amenities like swimming pools, pickleball, tennis courts, and cable TV. The social amenities like theme dinners, card nights, golf outings, and dances are also draws for the snowbirds. Parking shoulder to shoulder for a few months in an RV park may not be for everyone. But I have found that the social interactions and making new friends is an unexpected benefit of the RV park lifestyle. Many RV parks offer seasonal discounted rates for month-long stays. The park where I stay in Fort Myers Beach offers seasonal rates for 3 month stays. Many snowbirds find a park they like and then keep returning year after year. Some parks cater to their returning customers and will let you keep the same site as long as you reserve it a year in advance. This is what we have started doing. Before we leave Fort Myers Beach in April, we'll book our reservations for the following year. Renting a house or a condo, works almost the same as getting a campground or RV site. You need to book in advance. Many local realty companies offer rentals or you can try sites like vrbo.com and airbnb.com. If you rent a house or condo, you may not get the social interactions that you can get at an RV park. I found this to be true when we rented at St. Augustine Beach and at New Smyrna Beach. The Villages is an exception to that statement. We spent one winter renting a house in The Villages and it was one of the most fun times we've had. I played golf all winter on the free golf courses, rented a golf cart to get around, took several dance lessons, and went to music events just about every night. It was a blast and I really got hooked on that lifestyle. When my RVing days come to an end, I may settle down in The Villages. One strategy for finding a place is to select some different areas and do short stays to see how you like it. Trying different areas for a week at a time is a great way to explore Florida and find out which areas appeal to you. Cost The cost to stay as a Florida snowbird is all over the place. As I mentioned above, the coastal areas are more expensive than being inland. The Florida State Parks are the best deal at around $28 per night for most parks (some are less and some are higher). But you are limited to a 14 day stay. You can move around to different sites within a park, but in many parks you must leave the park for 3 days before you can return. The max number of days you can stay at a specific State Park is 56 days within 6 month window. Moving to different parks is also an option. Private RV park rates vary widely. A beach front site at the Red Coconut RV Park in Fort Myers Beach will run you over $100 per night (no seasonal rate is offered). The monthly winter rate at Bryn Mawr RV Resort at St. Augustine Beach is around $1,200 per month ($40/night). A seasonal 3 month rate at Blueberry Hill RV Resort in Bushnell will cost around $600 per month ($20/day). For a 4 month stay at Fort Myers Beach (just a mile from the beach), I pay a monthly winter rate that averages out to be around $37 per night. The normal daily rate is $62 per day. Boondocking opportunities in Florida are limited. There is dispersed camping in the Ocala National Forest and in the Apalachicola National Forest but stays are limited to 14 days in a given month. I've been through both of these forests and they are very remote. Not all Wal-Mart in Florida allow overnight parking due to city and county ordinances. There are some truck stops along the key Interstates that allow overnight parking but these aren't intended for snowbird stays. Boondocking may work in some places if you're doing a short stay or just passing thru but it's not a strategy I would recommend for an extended stay. Condo and house renting prices also vary by location. We rented an ocean view condo in St. Augustine Beach for around $2,900 per month. A small house in The Villages will cost around $3,300 per month and higher during the winter months. Snowbirding in Florida can be pricey, If you are focused on reducing expenses, then look for places away from popular areas and try for places in the Northern and Panhandle areas. The Snowbird Lifestyle For me, I put lifestyle over cost. It all about how I want to spend my days. I prefer to spend my winter months in a warm climate near the ocean. I like to spend my days being outside walking, biking, kite flying, or just sitting on the beach. I also like not having to drive to get to places. In the afternoon or evening, it's an easy walk to several places where I can enjoy some live music. Also, I have grown to enjoy the RV park lifestyle where I get to socialize and spend time with my fellow snowbirds. We attend the weekly Saturday morning breakfasts at the RV park and play in the weekly corn hole tournament. Sunday afternoons are usually spent dancing at Doc Fords Rum Bar. It's a great way to spend the winter. You can see more or my journeys at my website: jdawgjourneys.com Disclaimer: References to specific campgrounds, RV parks, or websites is for example only. These aren't listed as recommendations and I have no affiliation with any of the businesses or websites that are listed in this post. All rates and prices listed are approximate based current published rates at the time of this posting.
  2. When I think about RV travel, I envision places, destinations, camping, adventure, and the open road. There's also lots of mechanical and how to stuff that comes to mind. But RVing is also a people activity. It can be done with groups, by couples, or solo. I have yet to RV with a group, but I've done it with my wife, son, and solo. I don't mind traveling solo. But, having a partner along to share the fun and adventure with enhances the whole RV travel experience. There are blogs and articles written about how to do solo RV travel. But, I haven't seen much written about the interpersonal aspects of RV travel. And, that got me thinking about this subject. I was going to write a piece about how to enjoy RVing with your partner. But, then I turned it around and thought, perhaps writing an antithesis piece on this subject would be more fun. Being married for almost 40 years, my wife and I have quite a bit of experience in driving each other nuts. In fact, I may be an expert at it. My wife and I are polar opposites. She's an extrovert and I'm an introvert. She's left brain and I'm right brain. She's a touchy feely socialite and I'm analytical loner. But most of the time it works really good for us because we complement each other and fill in each others gaps. Author Robert Fulghum said - "Where ever you go, there you are." When we're RVing, our personalities and behaviors come with us. I can attest that what drives us nuts in our normal life, also drives us nuts in our RV life. Driving someone nuts is not all bad. It's just part of normal life. We are all capable of doing it. When traveling with a partner it's good to know what some of the triggers and behaviors are so you can minimize the breakage and misery. I know from my experiences that these nine things can drive your RV partner nuts! 1. Never Doing What Your Partner Wants A trip plan / idea has to start with someone. On many trips, I usually take the lead on the trip planning. But, not soliciting input from my wife on the timing, schedule, places, or attractions is a sure recipe for a trip disaster. Also, not listening to her ideas on things to do is just asking for fight and will easily lead to items #3, #6, and # 7. I always review a trip idea and potential schedule with my wife before I book anything. I know how she likes to travel so I plan accordingly - no long drive days and plenty of rest stops. I also try not to over schedule so there's extra time for unexpected stuff that she might come up with. 2. Over Reacting to Little Annoying Stuff I've been guilty of this. Your partner cooks a meal and sets off the fire alarm in the RV. How about flushing the toilet while you're flushing the black tanks. Or, your partner doesn't understand conserving power while boondocking and drains the house batteries by leaving all the lights on for hours. Some of this stuff can be maddening. But I have to remind myself - it's all little stuff, it's all easily fixable, and not worth having a hissy fit over. 3. Holding a Grudge The small confines of an RV are a bad place to hold a grudge. Driving down the road with hours of the silent treatment takes the fun right out of a trip like a flat tire. When I sense that something is bothering my wife, I try to get the issue out and discuss it. At least we're talking. And I try to resolve the issue before nightfall so we don't ruin another day. If it was something I did, I am quick to apologize and try to make amends. And, I try to remember the adage - "Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?" 4. Not Sharing the Work I don't expect my wife to do all the cooking and cleaning on a trip. We share the chores. I cook about half the time and do my own laundry. When traveling we've worked out our routines. I do the driving. She cleans out the RV when we stop, helps with the setup, and keeps me fed with snacks and treats when we're on the road. We've found a good balance so no one person feels overburdened. 5. Constant Critiques This rarely happens with me or my wife, but it is one I'm sensitive to. I have certain codes of conduct that I live by. One of those codes is to never ever criticize or make fun of your partner in public. Also, if you feel you have to give a critique, then pick the right time, say what you need to, and be done with it. Don't belabor a point or constantly relive a bad experience. Constant critiques will lead to the next item. 6. Not Wanting to Be on the Trip Traveling with someone who is miserable is no fun. My wife doesn't enjoy traveling as much as I do. So, when contemplating a trip, I always make the offer to my wife - "Is this something you want to do or do you want to pass?" I don't want my wife to feel pressured to do something she won't enjoy. It's no fun for her and no fun for me. That's the main reason I travel solo at times. My wife is fine with me going off on a solo trip. She's not holding me back and I'm not imposing something on her. If a trip isn't going well, it's best to turn around and head home. RVing shouldn't be the source of misery. 7. Non Stop Texting & Talking on Your Cell Phone This is sort of related to #6 above and a pet peeve of mine. If you can't be present on a trip or can't stand to be away from your friends, then don't go on the trip. It's fine to be sending pictures and messages to friends while on a trip and to stay in touch with family and friends. And, if a real family or friend emergency comes up, then you need to deal with it. But, ignoring your partner so you can be consumed with the daily minutiae of your friends lives or spending the day on the phone helping them deal with their child's latest bad behavior crisis, is bad behavior in my book. It doesn't happen often but when it does, it drives me nuts. 8. Not Giving Your Partner Girl / Guy Down Time RV travel can foster closeness with your partner. But unlike being at home, when you're in the RV there may not be many opportunities to go off and have some girl time or do some male bonding. I'm sensitive to this. My wife needs her nap time, shopping time, Facebook time with friends, etc. Every so often I need to go off and do some male bonding or zone out on TV sports. Not respecting these needs will cause discord. My wife and I are pretty good at respecting each others needs for down/alone time. 9. Driving Around Aimlessly This one drives my wife nuts. Trying to find a place to park the RV when out shopping or dining can sometimes be a challenge. I'm a little picky about where I leave my RV. I want enough space to get in and out and need a space that's fairly level. My wife doesn't seem to fully appreciate this because she doesn't drive the RV. So, when she catches me driving around searching for the right spot, it drives her nuts. It's right up there with being lost and not asking directions. I know this behavior can set her off. So, I have to prep her, keep talking about what I'm trying to do, give assurances, and make fun of myself when I'm caught driving around aimlessly. Otherwise, there's a risk of getting the silent treatment. So that's my list. My wife helped contributed to the list so it's really our list. Such a list may make us look like a couple of psychos, but we're two lunatics who love each other and most of the time enjoy traveling together. We've learned to be aware of each others crazy quirks and are doing our best to deal with them or make light of them. Driving each other nuts has been part of our 40-year journey. It's not all bad, because driving another person nuts is one of the key features of real true love! Follow more of my travels at: http://jdawgjourneys.com
  3. This question is not a new one. Just do a Google search with the words - "the cost of rving" and you'll see lots of articles from RVer's detailing their costs. But, it's a question that seems to keep surfacing. I recently got some emails asking about the cost of RVing. I also got an email from someone asking if I would write a blog post about how to travel frugally in an RV. I'm not into writing "how to" articles or into giving advice. Also, there's already bloggers who do a really good job covering the frugal RV travel subject. But the emails got me thinking. There's probably folks who read travel blogs or articles and aspire to get into RVing. They probably have questions about what it costs. Not about the cost to buy a rig but what it typically costs to travel in an RV. The idea for what I could write began to jell. I could do a post to share my insights and info about what an RV lifestyle really costs. And, while writing it, I'd figure out what it's really costing me. Before I spent any money on RVing, I first had to answer some questions. Planning My RV Lifestyle The first thing I had to figure out was what type of RVer I wanted to be when I grow up. Was I ready to sell the homestead and go full-time or just be a part-time RVer? Was this RV travel idea just a temporary itch that needed to be scratched (like a one time year-long trip around the United States) or a permanent part of how I wanted to live? Did I want to do road trips and always be on the road or do more stay put seasonal RVing? I figured out that I wanted to be a traveler and spend much of my retirement years exploring the United States. My wife wasn't into doing all the travel but she was fine with me traveling solo. We weren't ready to uproot and sell our house, so I'd be traveling part-time. I also wanted to do a little seasonal stay put RVing (e.g. wintering in Florida, vacationing in Maine). My RV lifestyle also needed to support my regular lifestyle. I'm a minimalist and somewhat frugal person. I like to keep things simple. I also needed to travel within my means. Figuring this out was key to determining the type of RV I wanted and it was a driver in what my RV lifestyle would cost. The Costs are All Relative For me, my RV lifestyle is an added expense to my current living expenses. It hasn't displaced too many costs. I look at it as all relative to my current living expenses. Many things like food, health insurance, medical bills, taxes, car maintenance, property maintenance, other insurances, utilities, clothing, cell phones, and entertainment have all stayed pretty much the same since I started traveling. Some have gone down slightly. I don't drive my car as much anymore, especially when I'm in FL, so I am saving some of fuel. Also, my electric bill goes down when I'm traveling and in Florida. I also got rid of the newspaper delivery, all subscriptions, cut my cable TV, and got rid to my land line. I did some of these things before I started traveling and even more after because I saw less value in them. But, my RV lifestyle did add new expenses and those are the ones I'll discuss - the ones that are directly related to my RV travel. I won't get into minutia with spreadsheets of costs. I'll keep it simple and put them into three categories - RV Related, Fuel, and Lodging. RV Related Expense The upfront cost of an RV can be the biggest expense in an RV lifestyle. Which one you buy is all related to what type of RVer you want to be. Towable versus motorhome. Class A bus versus Class B van. Gas versus Diesel. New vs Used. And the costs for RV's are all over the place. You can buy a used towable for $5,000 or spend $500,000 on an upscale diesel pusher. Which one a person buys is all based on that person's needs and budget. I won't try to answer the question of which one is the right one to buy. The only right answer is the one that's right for you at the moment. But, the type of RV will be a factor in the ongoing RV maintenance and related expenses. I wanted an RV to support road trip type travel. I wanted something I could drive anywhere. I wanted something that would be efficient and not be costly to maintain. I wanted something I could live comfortably in for weeks or months at a time. My first RV was a Class B Roadtrek van. That RV fit all my needs except the "live comfortably in for weeks or months at a time". After two years, I traded the Roadtrek for a Class C Winnebago View Profile. The View provided just the right amount of added space and was still small enough to be able to go anywhere. I wrote about my experience with the View in this post - My Winnebago View - A Two Year Summary. My ongoing annual RV related expense for the View over the past two years have been as follows: RV Maintenance: $1,800 RV Vehicle Insurance: $763 RV Excise Tax: $1,081 RV Registration & Inspection: $79 Incidental Expenses: $375 Total $4,098 The RV Excise Tax expense is a value related tax that applies to my domicile state. Not all states have this tax or they may call it a license tax. Some have personal property taxes instead. Some states don't have this type of tax. There are some incidental expenses that come up like replacing a sewer hose each year or replacing RV parts that break. This might total around $200 each year. Also, there's memberships (FMCA, Coach-Net, Good Sam) that total $175 each year. These expenses are specific to my RV and they're some what static. The Excise Tax reduces as the value of the RV goes down. I do some of the routine maintenance on the RV (oil and filters) to save a few bucks. Fuel This expense is driven by how many miles I travel, the fuel efficiency of my RV, and the price of fuel. I drive all over the country each year and log about 20,000 miles per year. Some drive more and some drive less. If you stay in a certain geographic area, then it's easy to limit the miles you drive and save money on fuel. My RV is a very fuel-efficient vehicle. I average 16.5 miles per gallon. Some days I get 18 mpg and some days I get 14 mpg. At 16.5 mpg, driving 20,000 miles per year, I burn about 1,212 gallons of fuel per year. My RV uses diesel fuel. This year the price of fuel has been falling, which has been great. Using an average of $2.30 per gallon (It's lower now), my cost for fuel last year was about $2,800. Last year, when diesel was close $3.80 per gallon, my cost was $4,600. Price is a big factor as is efficiency. If I had a similar sized gas RV that got 8-9 mpg, my fuel cost would almost double. The fuel efficiency of my a rig was a big factor in selecting my specific RV because I planned to drive a lot each year. If you don't drive a lot then fuel efficiency will be less important. Lodging By far, the largest RV lifestyle expense can be for parking the RV overnight. It's also the one that can be controlled the most by where and how often you travel. Campgrounds and RV parks all charge fees for overnight stays. The rates can be all over the place based on type and location. National and State Parks usually have rates lower than private campgrounds. I've seen fees typically in the range of $20-30 per night. Some places with minimal facilities can be as low as $12 per night. These places may be lower in cost but they're also at some of the most beautiful places. Private campgrounds or RV parks are usually slightly higher in cost. These usually can be in the range of $30-$45 per night, but it can go a lot higher. I've seen some high-end RV parks in Florida with water front sites charging over $100 per night. Prices at private campgrounds can also vary by season or special event. Campgrounds near Daytona all raise their rates for Speedweek and Bike Week. RV parks tend to have more amenities like full hookups, wi-fi, swimming pools, and cable TV. And some offer discounts for weekly or monthly stays. But there's also some places where you can stay for free. Many federal lands such as Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or US Forest Service areas allow free camping for a certain limited time period. These areas are usually undeveloped (undeveloped = no hookups or facilities) and many are in the western states. A good resource to find these areas can be found at this website : Ultimate Campgrounds. It's also possible to park overnight for free at many Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel Restaurants, and truck stops. The OvernightRVParking website is a great resource to find these locations. It cost $25 per year to use this website, but it pays for itself with just one overnight stay. The key to staying at these places is to always ask permission to see if overnight parking is allowed. When I travel across country, I try to stay at truck stops or Wal-Mart while I'm going to or from a destination. Once at a destination, I usually stay at public or private campgrounds. When on a road trip, I try to use free overnight stays about 15-20% of the time to save some money. When I'm in Florida or on a stay put vacation, I'll stay at a campground of RV park because I want water and electricity hook ups. I don't track my detail expenses in this area. I'm usually in FL for at least 12 weeks each year and stay at an RV park. That's my largest lodging expense at around $4,200. There's another 12 weeks of road trip and vacation travel that I do each year. Looking at the number of days and an average rate, I probably spend another $2,100 for that lodging. That adds up to around $6,300 for lodging for about 6 months of travel. Many probably pay much less for lodging. You can boondock in Quartzsite, Arizona for the whole winter for less than $200. You can find RV parks in California, Arizona, or Florida that have monthly winter rates for around $500. If you're don't care so much about location and don't want to pay a lot there are many opportunities to save money on lodging expenses. And there's some who do all their road trips staying at truck stops or Wal-Mart. Summary So, I figured out what it's costing me for my RV lifestyle. It adds up to around $13,198 per year for me to be part-time RVer. I didn't include food as an RV travel expense because I pretty much eat the same or more simply on the road as I would at home. There are also some incidental expenses like tolls and propane for the RV that are minimal (maybe $250 per year). I buy a National Park pass each year for $80 which gets me into all National Parks / Monuments for free. I'm not much of a shopper so I don't tend to buy souvenirs. I may take a tour sometimes, but that's part of normal entertainment expenses. When I plan a trip, I use an average daily expense of about $100 per day to plan the budget for a trip. That figure includes food, fuel, and lodging but it's what I use to figure out the cost. Some do it for less, but it's good have this type of figure for planning a trip. When I retired and before I started RVing, I budgeted around $6,000 for a two month Florida condo rental each year and still had a vacation condo that cost me $6,000 per year in fees and taxes. I sold the condo to buy an RV and use the RV now for Florida so my savings close to what it costs me to be a part-time RVer. For me, that $13,000 is money well spent. Some spend that much keeping a vacation home or taking a couple of week-long cruises each year. That amount would probably only pay for one day stay in a hospital. But for me, it's buying some priceless experiences and memories. I'm traveling 6 months of the year, seeing some great sights, and having a ball. You can read more about my travels at: http://jdawgjourneys.com.
  4. Over the last few years, I've acquired some things that I feel are pretty essential to my safe and successful RV travel. These are not household items, camp site bling, or basic RV items like sewer hoses, water hoses, or electrical cords, but more in the tool and gadget category. This is not a complete or recommended list for other RVers. It's a list of the essential RV gear that I tend to use frequently and key items that I figure might save my bacon. I'm publishing this list in the spirit of sharing the information on what I use. I purchased and use all of these items listed. I make no warranty as to how well they work, only that they work for me Safety First Aid Kit - I made up my own kit. It's got band aids, gauze bandages, alcohol swipes, pain meds, cold meds, ointments, antacids, etc. I can get sick on the road just like I do at home. I keep it handy near the driver seat in case I need it if there's an accident. Fire Extinguisher - A no brainer, every coach should have at least one. Flashlights - I have a bag with at least 4-5 small led flashlights. This KJL LED Flashlight is super bright and can be used as a spot light. This one - Mini Cree LED flashlight is also bright and easily fits in a pocket. I keep a small mini Cree LED above my visor so its handy. I also keep one in my back pack/bug out bag and keep one in my bike bag to use at night on my bike. I just can't have enough of these things. Emergency Beacon Lights - I carry a set of Emergency Beacon Lights just in case I break down on the road at night. Electrical Non-contact voltage tester - This is an essential item for checking for hot skin conditions, testing for current, and testing outlets. I use it every time I plug in the RV. Surge Guard - I use the Technology Research 34730 30 amp Surge Guard. It protects my rig for open grounds, open neutral, low voltage, and voltage spikes. Electrical pedestals get lots of use and the outlets get worn. I've had it work on electrical pedestals that have worn or broken outlets or a faulty breaker where its easy to have loose ground wires or poor connections. 50 amp to 30 amp adapter - I've used this quite a bit when the 30 amp plug on an electrical pedestal is bad or worn. I've also used it when a site only has 50 amp service. For me, it's a good back up item to have. 30 amp to 15 amp adapter - I use this when a 30 amp outlet isn't available. Electrical Connectors - I carry an electrical connector kit with a wire cutter / crimper tool. This comes in handy if I need to replace a DC appliance or fixture (alarm, water pump, light). Spare Fuses - I carry a selection of spare fuses for the coach and the RV. I haven't blown a fuse yet but have used these to help out other RV'ers who have blown a fuse. Plumbing Water pressure regulator - I carry a couple of these items. Many campgrounds have high water pressure and I need these to protect the plumbing in my RV. Water Container - I carry a 3 gallon container to fill my water tank when a threaded spigot isn't handy. It comes in handy when boondocking or camping at festivals. Spare Water Pump - The water pump is one of the RV's most critical mechanical components. It's fairly easy to replace but may not be easy to find one for my specific rig if it breaks while on the road. A spare one is pretty inexpensive to carry. Miscellaneous Temperature Sensor - I just got a Non-contact digital temp sensor. It's inexpensive, small, and easy to use to check the temperature of items like tires, hubs, and electrical components that can overheat. Tire Pressure Gauge - My RV doesn't have a TPMS. I carry long stem dial tire pressure gauge that can reach the stems of my dual tires. Portable Air Compressor - I carry a 12V portable air compressor that will inflate a truck tire. It's good to have if I notice an under inflated tire while on the road. Leveling Blocks - I carry a set of Lynx Levers and Lynx Caps for leveling my RV. Waste Cap - I've gone through a couple of these so far when the plastic tongs have broken. Another inexpensive spare item that I carry. Tool Kit - I carry a bag of basic tools with an assortment of screw drivers, pliers, nut drivers, teflon plumbing tape, and socket set. To see a list of my technology gear, see the Tech Stuff page on my blog at http://jdawgjourneys.com. Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. I earn a small commission if you use any of the Amazon links to buy a product. It doesn't cost you any more for the product.
  5. Blake; Building my website was a great learning experience. I had never done it before. I took me 6 months of researching, experimenting, and trying things out. It's not as hard as you might think. Thanks for commenting. J. Dawg
  6. It's been about two years, since I traded my 2012 Roadtrek 190 for a new 2014 Winnebago View Profile. In those two years, I've logged about 40,000 miles and spent over 300 days traveling in the View. The View has worked out to be a great motorhome for my travel lifestyle. It's small enough to be a nimble traveling vehicle. And it's just large enough for me and my wife to stay put for months at an RV park for the winter. I've had good luck with my View. Lots of people ask me how I Iike it so I figured I'd write about my experience with it over the past two years. I wasn't asked to write this, I'm not getting any compensation for writing this, and I don't have any affiliation with Winnebago or any dealer. I'm just writing this in the spirit of sharing my experience with others. What I Like Best Two things. First, I like that it's efficient. My fuel mileage averages right around 16.5 mpg. I travel about 20,000 miles per year. At my fuel mileage, that translates into about 1,212 gallons of diesel fuel. Using an average price of $2.40 per gallon, I spend about $2,900 on fuel per year. If I had a comparable sized gas motorhome, my fuel mileage would be about 8.5 mpg and I'd be spending almost double what I currently spend on fuel. Second, I like that it's nimble. The motorhome is small enough so I can pretty much go everywhere and stay everywhere. Because of this, I don't tow a car. When I stay put in Florida for 3 months, I travel around by bike, trolley, or rent a car for a day at a time, when needed. It's also easy to unhook the RV and drive to a store. What I Like Least I really don't have much to complain about. There are two things I can think of that would be nice to have. I have a model 24V with two twins beds that turn into a king size sleeping area. The bed is comfortable and I sleep fine on it. But, It would be nice to have a walk around bed with a regular queen size mattress. The second would be having a little more counter space for cooking preparation. It's tough to cook a big meal in the kitchen. The diesel engine does require some extra steps to resupply the DEF fluid every few hundred miles, but it's an easy DIY task. Problems My motorhome has been very reliable and I've had very few problems. When I took delivery, the refrigerator did not get cold enough and was replaced before I drove off the dealers lot. Some drawers also had to be adjusted. In the past two years, I've only had two failures within the motorhome. One was the spring on the refrigerator catch latch broke. I was able to replace this myself and the cost was a couple of bucks. The second was a pressure relay switch in the AC unit failed necessitating the whole AC unit being replaced. This was replaced under warranty. On the chassis side, I had some issues with the Check Engine Light (CEL) and the exhaust treatment system. I had several check engine light incidents which we believe were caused by bad fuel. I wrote about one of these problems here - The RV Breakdown Blues. One incident was caused by the DEF tank sensor being out of calibration. One other was caused by a bad NOX sensor, which was replaced under warranty. None of these problems caused any performance issues or caused the engine to stop working. I also had an issue where the Mercedes Benz key fob stopped working for the coach and passenger side doors. Winnebago replaced a wiring harness to fix a short in the wiring. This was covered under warranty. I need to have a Mercedes Benz dealer reset or replace the door SAM unit to resolve the problem. Maintenance I'm a firm believer in having all the scheduled maintenance performed. Every year, I take it back to the dealer to have all the appliances checked, burners cleaned, the AC unit checked, and have the propane system tested for leaks. This service usually costs me $250 each year. I replace the under the sick water filter every year, sanitize the water system twice a year, and flush out the hot water heater each year. I also do the winterization my self. I replaced the original two 12V dual propose batteries with two 12V true deep cycle batteries after two years. I got the replacements at Sam's Club for $80 each and installed them myself. The original batteries where working fine, but they were starting to discharge faster. I could have tried to get one more year from them, but decided to replace them before I went to Florida. On the chassis side, my 2014 Mercedes Benz 3.0L turbo diesel engine has a very long service interval - 15,000 miles for oil changes, 30,000 miles for a fuel filter, 40,000 for air filters, and 60,000 for transmission fluid. Some of these seem excessively long and being an old shade tree mechanic, I do the oil changes myself about every 10,000 miles. I can do an oil change for about $130. The dealer charges about $290 for this service. The fuel filter can go for 30,000 miles, but I have it done at 20,000 miles. It's easy to access but can be tricky to disconnect and reconnect cable and hoses. It's a $60 part, but I have the dealer to this for $300 parts and labor. The cabin and engine air filters are easy to change. They cost $20-30 each. I do these myself and save the extra labor that the dealer would charge. I also replaced the original tires at 36,000 miles. The original Continental tires had some tread life left and I probably could have driven on them for a few more thousand miles, but I wanted to replace them before going to Florida. I replaced the Continentals with Michelin LTX M/S2 tires. Here's a summary of my maintenance cost for the past two years; RV Appliance and AC Tests $396 RV Propane Tests $120 Water filters $120 Coach Batteries $160 DEF Fluid $150 Oil Changes (4) $631 Fuel Filters (2) $632 Air Filters $45 Tires (6) $1355 Total $3,609 So, for the first two years, all my repairs were covered under warranty at no cost to me. Routine maintenance was typical for the annual mileage that I drive (20,000 per year). I could have saved some (maybe $430) if I had stuck to the recommended service schedule. And, I could have saved some money by going with less expensive tires. Looking at these expenses caused me the question what my maintenance costs might have been for a similar size gas engine model RV. If I had a gas engine motorhome, I may have done twice the number of oil changes, but they would have required half the amount of oil that my diesel engine requires. So, my guess is that the oil change expense would have been about the same. I would have avoided the Fuel Filter expense and the DEF Fluid expense, but all the other expenses would have been incurred had I bought a gas engine motorhome. Summary Overall, I've had good luck with my Winnebago View Profile. I didn't have any breakdowns but I did have a few unscheduled trips to Mercedes Benz dealers to diagnose some CEL incidents. The coach part has been pretty good other than the AC unit failing. I think my experience has been typical of other View owners. Also, the dealers I've dealt with (both Winnebago and Mercedes Benz) have all been very accomodating and helpful. I like that I'm saving a lot on fuel expenses having a small motorhome with a diesel engine. Over two years, that savings is almost $6,000 compared to a similar sized gas engine model. That savings is substantial to me. Given the efficiency, nimbleness, quality, and reliability of my View, it's been a good choice for my travel lifestyle. You can read more about my travels at: jdawgjourneys.com
  7. My LP genset burns .6 gals per hour. At about $3/gal (for LP) here in NE, $600 equates to about 400 hrs of generator time. I live in my RV about 6 mos of the year. I have a 13 gal LP tank on my rig. Its peace of mind not having to worry about having to find a place to refill the LP tank during a week or more of boondocking And never having to worry about starting the generator or waking up to dead batteries. A DIY set up of $600 is much less than $2K for a professional setup. And I can take it with me on my next RV. For me, it was money well spent.
  8. I just got back from eight days of dry camping and got lots of comments and questions from people about my RV solar setup. I installed the system last year and wrote a blog post about my DIY Solar Install. It was something that I researched, designed, and installed myself. I added a second 100W flexible panel this spring and have used the full setup a few times this summer. Thought I'd do an update on how it's all working. As a "sometime" RVer, most of my overnight RV stays happen at establish campgrounds. I'll boondock at trucks stops and camp Wal-Mart when on the road for quick overnight stays. And, I do a little bit of stay put dry camping in the summer -- usually at music festivals or beach/lake-side camping. So, my needs for off-the grid power tend to happen infrequently. This is one of the reasons I decided to go with a portable solar setup. Something I could use when I wanted and needed. I wanted it to be low-cost. I also wanted to have something I could take with me when I trade RVs. So, my install is pretty simple, small, and inexpensive. My electrical needs are also small. My 25-foot Winnebago View is pretty efficient with all LED lights and DC radios and TVs. My basic needs for power are for lights, monitors, and the water pump. (my frig runs on propane, AC, and DC). The biggest draw I tend to have is for charging battery operated electronic gadgets (phones, laptop, cameras). I have a 1,000-watt inverter (that powers half the coach outlets) which I use mostly for charging this stuff. I have two 12-volt group 24 wet cell batteries in my RV (they came with the RV) which gives me about 170 amp-hours of electricity. There are probably better battery setups, but these work for me. Here's a link to a vlog that I did on my solar setup: I'm very pleased with the setup. With the two 100W panels, I can avoid having to run the generator to charge my batteries. I camped for a week at a festival this summer and didn't use the generator at all. Just two weeks ago, I dry camped for eight days and only ran the generator two to three times for short bursts when I needed to use the microwave (luckily I didn't need to use the A/C). The solar panels kept my batteries fully charged each day. I did all my electronic charging during the day, watched a little TV, and listened to my satellite radio every morning. The portable setup is pretty quick to put in place. It takes about five to seven minutes to hook everything up. The downside is that I have to unhook it all and put it away if I move the rig. With the portable set up, I get pretty good efficiency being able to move and tilt the panels towards the sun. They even work good on cloudy days putting out 2 to 3 amps. The two panels can fit in my storage compartment under the right rear bed. The rigid panel is a tight fit and I only carry it when I know I'm going to do some stay put dry camping. I really like the flexible panel for weight and ease of storage. It only weighs 4 lbs vs 16 lbs for the rigid glass panel. I carry it with me on all trips just in case I stay as a stop that doesn't have electricity or allow generators. I've read that Renogy has put a temporary hold on selling the flexible panels due to some reported problems with the panels. You can read about one persons experience here Winnie Views RV Updates. I've had no problems with my panel so far. As I said above, I like my setup and it works just fine for me. Total cost was about $600. Considerably less than having a professional company do a permanent install on my roof. The list of materials and suppliers is listed in my prior post (DIY Solar Install). So far, I've been pleased with the Renogy panels. The portable install was easy for me to do because I'm familiar with wiring and working with electricity. When I have it setup (i.e., on display) I get lots of comments and curious people stop by asking me how it all works. Hopefully this write-up and vlog will help some others. Let me know if you have any questions. You can follow more of my journeys at: http://jdawgjourneys.com Disclaimer: I received no compensation from any of the suppliers or manufacturers of the equipment that are discussed in the article or video. I purchased or made all of the equipment discussed in the article and video. I make no warranty or claims as to how this equipment will work, only that it works for me.
  9. Several of the travel blogs that I follow are written by people living full-time in their RV. I'm not talking about trailer park living. These are folks who, as part of a plan (not necessity), sold their house and most of their possessions and live a life of what seems like perpetual travel. Their RV is their home and many say Home is where they happened to be parked. It's fun following their adventures because many times they're moving around, having new experiences, and seeing different parts of the country. Some of these bloggers have large followings. I guess lots of folks may like to follow people who are living a different or unique lifestyle - one that appears to be filled with constant adventure. I've been a traveling RVer now for 4+ years. Along the way, I found my RV / travel lifestyle. I'm what I call a "sometime" RVer. I'm different from the full-timers. I still have a stick and bricks home, a permanent residence, and I'm not always on the move. But I'm away traveling in my RV for what equates to about 1/2 the year. Sometime RVing is more that just taking short RV vacations now and then. It involves being gone for weeks or months at a time. Its a way to live two different lives - the at-home life and the travel life. Same person, but changing my habitat when I want. At Home in the Winter, In Florida three days later I like my sometime RV lifestyle. I get as much adventure and go to the same places that the full-timers go. I may not stay as long or travel as often, but I figure I'm having just as much fun. And I don't aspire to change it or be a full-timer. I'm very happy doing just what I'm doing. Many of the full-timers blog about their travels and lifestyle, but I don't see as many sometimers doing the same. I think there are some advantages to my sometime RV lifestyle so, I figured I'd write a post about the joys of being a sometime RVer. 1. I Still Have a Place Called Home As a kid, I moved a lot - about every 2-3 years. It was because of my Dads job working for the Federal government. When I got married and had kids, I didn't want that for my family. I wanted to find a place and job where I could put down roots. I was lucky with the job, found the perfect small town, a nice chuck of land, and I built just the house I wanted. I hammered many of the nails and cut many of the boards. My wife and I planted several of the trees and bushes, did the landscaping, and made it our Home. Its become our Tara. Owning a place can be a lot of work but having a Home is important to me. It's mine, I built it, and its the place I'm most comfortable being at. Its a place where I can rest, recuperate, and recharge. I know I'll have to trade it someday soon for a smaller place, but It's not something I could ever give up for a 5th wheel trailer of a Class A bus. 2. I Get to Live Multiple Lives As I mentioned above, I get to live different lives. Part of the year, I live in rural New England. Its bucolic. My neighbors are cows, corn, and trees. The nearest store is 3 miles away. There's one yellow blinking light in my town. It's life in the slow lane and I live as a country gentleman. When I travel, I get to leave it behind for a time and go live a different life. When in Florida, I stay in a busy beach side town, where tee shits, shorts, and flip-flops are the normal daily attire. I can live the life of a beach bum where I'm constantly surrounded by people and all the convenience of eateries, shops, and night spots. It's a nice change of pace. When I take a road trip, I can be gone for a week of a couple of months. I can be a wanderer or explorer going from place to place and staying in places with beautiful scenery. When I've had enough or need a change, I don't need to find a new place. I just go Home. 3. I Get to Go When I Want, Come Back When I Want Full-timers get to do part of this. Vacationers, not so much. If I'm home and there's a few days of good weather, if I feel like taking a road trip, or if I just get bored, I can easily take off and hit the road. My RV stays parked in my yard and is kept fueled up, packed, and ready to roll. It works the same in the other direction. If the weather turns bad, the RV is acting up, I get sick or bored, I can just head Home. I don't have to worry about where to head or making a new reservation. Just select the Home choice on my RV's GPS and drive. 4. I Have a Less to Worry About I like to focus on the positives and try to tune out the negatives. Think about all the good that will happen and not worry about the bad. I am an old Boy Scout and follow the Be Prepared motto. When I'm RVing, I'm prudent and try to be prepared for the small stuff and don't worry about the big things that are out of my control. Like what will happened if the RV had a catastrophic failure (engine, tranny) or what if it's damaged by weather or an accident. As a sometimer, my RV is just another vehicle, something replaceable. It's not my home and it doesn't hold any treasured possessions. If something bad happens to it that can't be fixed on the road, I'll call for a flatbed and just head Home. 5. Its Easy to Take A Break from Traveling When I was really sick in 2011, I didn't go to Florida for the winter or travel at all. I was pretty ill and just didn't feel like going anywhere. Going to doctor appointments was the only travel I did. Luckily, I got better and when I felt confident and good enough, I started traveling again. Bad **** can happen to anyone and at anytime. I'm not sure what I would have done that year if I was a full-timer. That's one thing I like about being a sometimer. I don't have to travel. I can park my self at Home and take a break anytime and for as long as I want. 6. I Can Stay Married My wife is also a sometime RVer, but she's more in the once-and-awhile category (like a vacationers). She likes going to Florida for the winter and maybe will join me on a beach stay-put vacation. But that's it. Her type of adventure is a girl's game night or a day shopping at a new outlet mall. She needs to be rooted somewhere, have friends / family around, and doesn't like wandering or always moving. And that's ok. It's no fun traveling with someone who's not happy. We've been married for 38 years and she's fine with me going off and doing my traveling thing. I just have to keep coming back to her and keep checking in with her. Behave myself while on the road and leave her the check book. She's happy, I'm happy. 7. I Have a Place to Go When It's All Over I see my RV lifestyle as temporary. Maybe it's not a joy but it's something I'm at peace with and comfortable knowing it will have an ending. RVing is something I'm doing now, I'm really enjoying it now, but it ain't gonna last. Some may not agree or look that far out and that's ok. I'm not a fatalist, just a realist. At some point, I know that I will either lose interest in traveling, lose my confidence, or just lose the physical ability. Some times I joke that we're all one doctor's appointment away from a calamity. One bad test result can change your life. I'm not at all focused on that and I'm taking each day as it comes. But when it does happen or if I get sick, I want to know I've got a place to go and deal with it. I've got doctors and specialists who know me and I know the good places to get care. And I can just park the RV and forget about it. I don't have to worry about finding a place to park or a place to find care. And for me, that is what's good about being a sometime RVer. It's not better than anyone else's RV lifestyle. Just what I like about mine. I get to go when I want, come back when I want, stay put when I want, and I can easily give it up when I want. And I've still got a wonderful place called Home. Follow more of my journeys at: http://jdawgjourneys.com
  10. Earlier this year, I wrote an entry about Ten Great Smartphone Apps for RVers. It was a popular article with my readers. My smartphone has become a vital tool for me when I travel. In the past few months, I’ve added some more apps that have come in very handy while I’m traveling. So, in this post, I’ll share info on eight more smartphone apps. I've got an Android phone (LG G2) and all of these apps were free from the Google Play store. I didn't check, but most likely most of these have iPhone versions. Also, I don't receive any compensation or benefits for writing about these apps or for posting links to the apps. Weather Underground Previously, I used The Weather Channel app as my main weather app. But, with the latest update, I noticed that my battery life was dramatically shortened. When I checked my battery usage, this app was always running and I could not force it to stop. So I searched for an alternative that wouldn't be running all the time. I found one with Weather Underground. It doesn't suck the life out of my battery and the weather forecasts are very good. RV Parky I use this to help find camprounds. I like the interface and built in reviews. It doesn't have as much content as Allstays but I find it much easier to use. Stitcher I like listening to podcasts. This app lets me setup a station of favorite podcasts and it will list the latest episodes. When I want to listen (it does require either wifi or a mobile data connection), I just open my favorites and select an episode. The entertainment system in my RV has bluetooth capabilities, so when I'm parked I can pair my phone with the system and listen to a podcast on the speakers inside my RV. Feedly I also like reading blog posts from other bloggers. There's about 14 travel blogs that I follow. Feedly is an RSS reader app. With Feedly, I can search for blogs or any publications and then select to follow the blog on Feedly. When I open Feedly, it will show me a list of new entries from the blogs that I follow and let me read them from my smart phone. Easy peasy. No more subscription emails from bloggers, no more bookmarks, or having to get on a browser to look up the blogs. It works great for blogs that are mobile friendly. Flipboard Flipboard is a social network, news portal, blog, magazine content aggregator app. The content is organized into magazines and you can select magazines to follow in your profile or build your our. Its an interesting way to select news content that you want to see versus reading the mainstream media news sites. I use Flipboard to follow headline news, sports, travel tech, camera news, and blogging magazines. I follow a few custom RV magazines like RV Lifestyle, RV Camping, and RV Full Time Living. The RV magazines are put together by people who aggregate travel blog content into a magazine. I created my own Flipboard magazine called RV Journeys where I list my blog posts and posts from other bloggers that fit into the RV Journey category. It's another way to promote my blog and other blogs that I like. WordPress I recently moved my blog from Google's Blogger platform to a self hosted WordPress site. The WordPress app makes it very easy to access the admin parts of my blog from my smart phone so I can approve and reply to comments, check my stats and even create new blog posts. It makes managing my blog super easy right from my smartphone. I only have to use a laptop when I want to compose and publish a post. OOKLA Speedtest This app is useful to me as a blogger and the other 50M users who have downloaded it. If I'm using campground wi-fi or my mobile data, it lets me test the speed of the connection. This is helpful to see if I'm going to be able to upload photo's or videos. A good connection will have at least a 4-10 Mbps download and a 2-3 Mbps upload. Most internet traffic is download (e.g web surfing, email) so the ISP's pay more attention to their download speed. But upload is important to me. Uploads speeds below 1 Mbps are almost unusable for uploading pictures. I also use OpenSignal to test for cell or wi-fi signal direction and strength. It helps when I'm using my wi-fi booster or using an external cell antenna. With OpenSignal, I'll know where to place my external equipment to get the best signal. That's it. If you have questions, please leave me a comment. You can see all my apps at J. Dawg's Tech Stuff page. And follow more of my journeys at: http://jdawgjourneys.com
  11. I've owned my 2014 Winnebago View Profile now for over a year. Its a 26 ft class C with a small diesel engine (3.0L V6 Turbo diesel). I bought it new, have driven over 28,000 miles, and have been very pleased with it. For me, Its got just the right amount of living space and and just the right size for driving around. This has been my first vehicle with a diesel engine and prior to getting this RV, I had no experience with diesel engines. I thought the only change would just be going to a different pump at the gas stations. But I've found it's a little more involved than that. So, I thought I'd share some of what I've learned about diesels (more specifically my diesel) in the post. 1. Diesel Fuel has More Stored Energy that Gasoline A gallon of diesel has about 13% more stored energy energy than a gallon of gasoline (based on BTU ratings). Basically, you get a more powerful explosion in the engine cylinder with diesel than you do with gasoline. A bigger explosion means more power. That's why most big trucks and the big RV's have diesel engines. And that's why my 11,000 lb RV can get along with a small 3.0L V6 engine vs the 4.8L V8 that was in my 9,600 lb class B. My Winnebago with the 3.0L diesel has more than enough power for going up big hills, towing, and for passing. Its also why diesel engines are more fuel efficient than many gas engines. Because of the higher stored energy, you need less diesel fuel to accomplish the same amount of work (e.g. horsepower) as gasoline. 2. Diesel Fuel is More Expensive I'm not sure of all the reasons why this is so. I read that the Federal tax on diesel is 6 cents higher than gasoline. The introduction of ultra low sulfur diesel added costs to the refining and transportation process and accounts for about a 10 cent premium over gasoline. And the final reason appears to be demand. Demand for gas is falling and demand for diesel (which powers most commercial vehicles) is increasing. If you own a diesel powered RV, you're going to pay more for fuel, but depending on your RV size, you may save some money based on fuel efficiency. My Winnebago View averages about 16.5 mpg. A similar sized gas Class C would get around 10-12 mpg. So, for me it works to my advantage. Diesel fuel is currently about 20% more expensive that gasoline, but I'm using about 30-40% less fuel per mile. 3. Not all Diesel Fuel is the Same. With gasoline, regular unleaded gas is regular unleaded gas. The octane ratings may vary slight from supplier to supplier, but you can pretty much count on regular gas at any pump working fine in most gas engines. Some engines may have minimum octane requirements that require a premium gas grade. With gasoline, there are higher octane grades. In the US, most gas is labeled as E10 which means it has a 10% ethanol content. There's also E15 in some places. And, gas will go bad if it sits for a few months but, for every day use in standard engines, most regular grade gas works fine. Not so with diesel. First, there's #1 diesel and #2 diesel. Most of the diesel in the US is #2 regular diesel, which is similar to home heating oil. Then there's #1 diesel, which is a lighter thinner weight diesel (more like kerosene) used in cold climates. Sometimes you will see places with pumps labeled #1 or #2. Most diesel in North America and Europe is Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD), but sometimes you'll see a pump labeled for off-road or tractor diesel which is not ULSD. Then, there's this thing call biodiesel, which is regular diesel that is mixed with vegetable oil or animal fat. Biodiesel has less energy (about 10% less) than regular diesel and not all engines will run ok with it. Biodiesel has designations. B5 means 5% biodiesel (5% vegetable oil content). There's B10 and B20 meaning 10% and 20% biodiesel). Biodiesel is less expensive and you will see it at many truck stops or no name fuel stations. Sometimes the pumps are labeled and sometimes they're not. States like Minnesota and Washington mandate that all diesel be at least B2 (2% biodiesel). Minnesota also mandates B10 during the summer months and is going to B20 by 2018. My engine can only handle up to B5. If you own a diesel, you should know what your engine can handle and look at the pumps to see if they're labeled with Biodiesel stickers. I've seen that many truck stops, like Pilot, Flying J, and Love's sell diesel with up to a B20 content. Because of my engine's requirements, I avoid fueling at these places. Lastly, diesel fuel can get contaminated with water and certain microbes. Most diesel engines have fuel filters to trap this stuff and keep it out of the engine, but fuel filters can also become contaminated. Contaminated fuel or fuel filter can cause poor engine performance and /or an engine fault code to set off the Check Engine Light (CEL). I know this because I've had it happen a few times. Dirty fuel can affect the burn temperature, O2 content, and fuel pressure. My last CEL episode was caused by filling up at a small no name fuel stop and later necessitated a stop at the MB dealer to clear the fault codes for high fuel rail pressure. The tech who worked on my engine said that 80% of the time, high or low fuel rail pressure is caused by bad fuel or a dirty fuel filter. He gave me some good advice which I'll share. Always fill up at a high volume brand name fuel station near a highway. Places like Sunoco, BP, Shell, and Exxon. The high volume places go through a lot of diesel so it doesn't sit in the ground for long and collect water. Also, he said with a Mercedes diesel to avoid using biodiesel. I've followed his advice for the past 6 months and have had no CEL episodes. 4. DEF and All that Entails Most all diesel engines built after 2010 require the exhaust to be treated to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. This is done by having a separate system that spays a mixture of water and urea into the exhaust to reduce the nitrous oxide that gets emitted out the tail pipe. The water urea mixture is called DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) or also called Ad Blue. Its a consumable that you have to remember to fill up every so often. My RV can go about 3,500 on my small 3.2 gallon DEF tank, but I keep it topped off every 500 miles. How much DEF you'll use is based on driving conditions, weight, terrain, etc. In my RV, the exhaust treatment system is a complicated system of sensors, tank, spray nozzles, heater, pump, level sensors and a computer system to monitor it all. If something doesn't go right with exhaust system, I get a fault code and CEL light that may inhibit the engine function. Too much nitrous oxide comes out the tail pipe, I'll get a CEL. My DEF runs low, I'll get a warning light. A sensors voltage goes out of range, I'll get a CEL. It's a whole other area for faults or maintenance that doesn't exist in a gas engine. You can get DEF at most Walmarts or trucks stop, I always carry a 2.5 gallon jug with me. 5. There's Less Maintenance, But Maintenance Can Cost More My engine can go 15,000 between oil changes and service intervals. That's a long time. But the engine takes 13 quarts of a special oil that costs $8 a quart. An oil change on my RV can cost about $130 if I do it myself. Double that if I bring it to the dealer. The only other regular maintenance for the engine are filters that need changing at specific intervals. The key one being a fuel filter. My engine has one, but some larger RV's have 2 or 3. It important to know your service schedule and not to skip the regular maintenance. On gas engines, the service interval is usually around 5,000 or 7,500 miles. Gas engines use about 1/2 the oil and it cost 1/2 as much. An oil change might run $50-$60 but you do it more often with a gas engine. 6. There's less Places that Can Work on My Engine My Class B with a Chevy 4.8L gas engine could be serviced just about anywhere. My Mercedes Benz can only be serviced at a MB dealer that services Sprinter vans. It seems like these are few and far between. Its because of the computer system. The MB engine has its own proprietary codes and system for diagnostics. Luckily, I live about 20 miles away from a MB Sprinter Dealer, but it can sometimes take up to 3 weeks to get an appointment. Its key to know where the closest engine service is when you're buy an RV. Luckily, engines today are pretty reliable but there have been times where I needed to drive 150 miles out of my way to get a CEL diagnosed while on a trip. Just something to be aware of. That's what I've learned so far. One of the big questions for many when buying an motorhome is the gas versus diesel question. The gas motorhomes tend to be less expensive a because they're built on a standard medium or heavy duty truck chassis. They also may be a little less fuel efficient. If you don't drive a lot and have a limited budget, a gas model may make sense. If you want a bigger coach or drive a lot of miles, a diesel may make more sense for the fuel efficiency and power. I'm glad I went with a diesel. I drive a lot each year (over 25,000 miles) and I figure I'm saving about $1,800 per year in fuel. Yes, I paid more for my RV than a comparable gas model, but I was after a rig that was a certain size, had a certain level of quality, and had a high resale value. Time will tell if it was less expensive. Let me know if you have some more interesting facts or lessons you've learned about diesel engines. Follow more of my journeys at: http://jdawgjourneys.com
  12. If you have an RV, you probably spend a fair amount of time behind the windshield seeing beautiful places or driving on scenic roads. It's part of the fun of RVing, seeing landscapes and vistas that take our breath away. Taking pictures of these places is great for creating a memory, but I also like to capture what it's like driving in scenic places. I want to remember what is was like so I can relive and share my experiences. Using video is a great way to do this. I always try to shoot some video of places I visit, but it's not that easy to do when I'm driving. Early this year, I happened to read a tech blog about dashcams and decided to try one out. Dashcam is an abbreviated name for a dashboard video camera. These are very small digital video cameras that have a wide angle lens and record high definition 1080p video to a SD card. They easily attach to a vehicle windshield and use a 12V outlet for power. They're easy to operate and can start or stop by pressing a single button. There's no big name favorite model or brand for dashcams. Companies like Sony, Panasonic, Canon, JVC, and Nikon don't sell them. Some may use a GoPro as a dashcam, but, in my opinion, can be a bit pricey. All types of dashcams are readily available on the internet at places like Amazon and prices are all over the place. You can buy one for a little as $40 or pay as much as $400. A good place to get info and compare models is the Dash Cam Talk website. I used the Dash Cam Talk website and Amazon reviews to do my research and then bought the Panorama G (GPS) - DashCam from Amazon. It has a 154 degree wide angle lens and records HD 1080p video at 30fps. It has a built in GPS to record location and speed. I bought a 32GB Class 10 SD card separately. The camera came with everything I needed to mount it on my windshield (suction cup mounts) and a power cable that I fished around my windshield and ran to a 12V outlet on my dash. However, It didn't come with a manual, but I was able to find one on the Pier28 (the supplier who supplies the camera to Amazon) website. The operation is very basic. I can record video, take still pictures, playback video, and turn the microphone on or off. It has a menu button for set up. Here are some pictures of my installed dashcam. Inside view Outside view When powered up, the camera automatically starts recording. It will record video in either 3 or 5 minute segments. I have mine set up for 5 minute segments, so when it records it will record a video for 5 minutes, store that in a file, and immediately start recording another 5 minute long file. It will keep doing this until it fills up the SD card, then it will loop back and start recording over the oldest file. A 32GB SD card can hold about 4.5 hrs of video. To get the files on my computer, I just take out the SD card, put it in the SD reader on my PC, and open the video file folder on the SD card. The files are all MP4 format and can be read by Quicktime or Windows Media Player. Some use their dashcams for traffic safety or for accident / theft protection. These folks usually leave them on recording all the time. I keep the camera powered up but in pause mode and only press the record button when there's something I want to record. When I see something interesting, its real easy to reach over and press the record button. I usually record segments that are less than 30 secs but sometimes will let it run if I'm on a very scenic road. During recording, the screen will turn off after about a minute, but I can reactivate it by pressing the record button once. Also, there's a blue LED on the back that flashes to let me know I'm recording. I can stop recording by pressing the record button again. I like to piece together several short segments to make a video of a scenic road or area, which gets me to the next key thing about dashcams. To make the best use of the video files, it helps to have and know how to use some video editing software. This software lets me view, edit, and piece together various video segments from my dashcam to make a full video of my experience. I can also add title slides, text, still photos, and add audio commentary with this software. I use Cyberlink PowerDirector to build my video's. I find it pretty easy to use - just drag and drop segments, add start and end fades, and add text overlays. Below is a video of Florida's Route A1A that I made with PowerDirector using several dashcam segments that I recorded with my Panorama G. You can see the quality of the video. The date and time from the dashcam are on the video header. The heading, speed, and GPS coordinates from the dashcam are on the footer. I really like using my dashcam and its been a good addition to my RV. I like being able to record small segments of the best and most scenic parts of an area and then piece them together into a short video. I've been able to record some nice campgrounds, national parks, and scenic roads that I can relive whenever I want. Its a great way to preserve those RVing memories and it's enhanced my ability to create a record and share my journeys. I've been recently adding videos that I made from my dashcam to my YouTube channel. You can see more of my videos at my J Dawg YouTube Channel Feel free to send me a comment if you have any questions about how I use my dashcam or video software. You can follow more of my journeys at: http://jdawgjourneys.blogspot.com Footnotes: 1. I received no compensation of any kind from the manufacturer or supplier of the Panorama dashcam for this write up. I participate in Amazon's Associates Affiliate Marketing Program and will receive a small commission from Amazon if you use the link I provided to purchase this camera. The link does not add anything to the price you pay from Amazon. 2. The information in this write up is about my experience and should not be consider as an endorsement or expert advice for any products. 3. It's recommended that you use a high speed SD card to record on. A class 10 SD card is recommended for use with most dashcams. 4. When recording with the dashcam, remember to turnoff your radio, CD player, or MP3 player or have the dashcam microphone off when recording. If there's a song playing in the vehicle, even if its faint, it will get recorded with the video. If you then upload the video to Youtube, it will detect and identify the song (even if its a faint short clip). Based on the songs copyright, YouTube may flag your video for copyright infringement or place an unwanted add in your video. I know this because it happened on a few of my videos. A faint 15 seconds of a song put an ad for vitamins smack in the middle of my video. I had to go back and edit out the audio and redo the video.
  13. I just returned home from almost four months of living in my RV. It was a first. I took the RV south in December and spent a wonderful 2 1/2 months at an RV park in Fort Myers Beach, FL escaping the cold New England winter. From there, we hung around St. Augustine for a couple more weeks and then headed west for a month on the road exploring west Texas. I had a great time. The Fort Myers stay was the first time I had stayed parked in an RV for such an extended time and it worked out just fine. And the roadtrip was paced with several multi-day stop overs. I was gone 111 days and drove over 7,000 miles. It was a long time to be away, but I grew very accustomed to living in the RV. My sons did a fine job of taking care of my house while I was gone, but there was still a lot of work to do upon my return. The RV needed to be unpacked, washed, and re-winterized. Piles of mail had to be culled and gone through. I had to fix a broken dryer, broken screen door closer, a malfunctioning electrical outlet, and get my VOIP phone system working again. Then the cars needed to be washed and cleaned, garage swept out, and two truck loads of trash taken to the dump. Then the taxes needed to get done. I was going non-stop for a week and hadn't even contemplated the yard work. As I was laying in bed one morning thinking about my to do list for the upcoming day, a stark thought entered my headed. When I was living in the RV I didn't have this much work to do. It gave me a pause. Having just worked my butt off for the past 5 days, I began to ponder the simplicity of RV living. I've been RVing for almost 4+ years now. It took a couple years, a couple of RV's, and several major trips to find my groove in how I like to travel. I'm now spending about 6 months out of the year in the RV and have grown accustomed to living in a small mobile space. For me, living in the RV is pretty simple. Here as some comparisons of my home living versus my RV living. Less Space Means Less Stuff At home, I have a closet full of clothes and a bureau full of more clothes. All this stuff needs to be washed and cleaned. With all the space in the house, its easy to accumulate stuff. There are books, DVD's, electronic gadgets, tools, art work, do dads, heirlooms, and toys. Then there's the stuff you don't want to get rid of because you might use it someday like the tennis racket, cross country skis, extra bicycles, camping gear, and spare stuff. With the RV, there's only room for a couple change of clothes and a weeks worth of underwear. I travel with two hats, two coats, a couple pairs of shoes, and two vests. I might travel with a couple books but those get recycled when I'm done and a couple new ones get picked up. There are a few DVD's for rainy days. There's just a few electronic gadgets (laptop, tablet, cameras) and there's no room for art work, heirlooms, or the spare stuff. Just the basic stuff I need to live. There's less clutter and no daunting cleaning chores. The inside of my RV home Less Stuff Means Less Stuff Needs to be Maintained Maintaining my property can sometimes feel like a full time job. It seems like something always needs to be fixed or cleaned. With a house, there's always something that needs painting, a cracked or rotted board that needs replacing, and a gap that needs caulking. There's carpets that need cleaning, floors that need sweeping, windows that need washing, and rooms to be dusted. There's always cars to wash and maintain. And then there's the chests and racks of tools to maintain it all. With the RV, much of this goes away. Cleaning the RV can be done in less than 20 minutes. The single bathroom can be swabbed out in about 3 minutes. I usually use the RV park shower and there's no washer or dryer to worry about. The RV maintenance is pretty easy - checking batteries, flushing tanks, lubing the steps and seals, checking the roof, etc. I carry a simple tool bag because it something major breaks in the RV, I'm not equipped or skilled to fix it and need to bring it to a dealer to get serviced. The RV is much simpler and easy. No Yard Means No Yard Work When living in an RV at an RV park or on road, there's no yard work to be done and no yard machines to maintain. There's no weeding to be done and no leaves to rake. There's no pool to clean and chemicals to check. There's no lawn and patio furniture to clean and have place to store With the RV, all this stuff is provided and maintained by the RV park. Its included in the "rent" and frees up a lot of time. My RV "yard" - no maintenance! Less Work Means More Time for Enjoyment What I found while living in my RV for 4 months, was that I had much more time for creative pursuits and enjoyment. At home, my routine on many days is driven by what I'm going to fix or clean or what project I'm going to start. When I'm in the RV, my routine is more driven by where I want to go for lunch, where to go for a bike ride or hike, is it nice enough to hang out at a beach, is there a activity I'm scheduled for, what happy hour am I going to, or where to go for some picture taking. While I like fixing things, it can become daunting when it piles up. And as I've got older, I'm becoming more interested in enjoyment and less interested in fixing things. J. Dawg kite flying Which brings me to what I've concluded. My RV lifestyle is a much simpler lifestyle and one that I enjoy. It has shown me that my days of owning my big country home are numbered. I'm not ready to chuck it all and go live full time in a RV. I like having a home base with family and my support mechanisms. But, I'm going to want something a lot smaller, with much less maintenance, and something I don't have to worry about while I'm out RVing. Because right now, this Dawg likes being out traveling to different parts of the country and enjoying what they have to offer. Follow more of my journeys at: http://jdawgjourneys.blogspot.com
  14. Last year, we did a brief one day stop over while passing through the Texas Hill Country. This is a pretty area about 70 miles west of Austin. In my opinion, it one of Texas's nicest areas. Its a rural area of rolling hills, sparse trees, small towns, cattle ranches, and wineries. You can read my blog post about last years visit here - Texas Hill Country. Last year, we agreed that one day was not enough and planned for a return visit. This year we did a three day stop over so we could explore and see all the things we missed. The base for our stay over was the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal RV park in the town of Fredericksburg. This is a reasonably priced RV park. It's 3 miles out from the town center, but for $30 per day, you get nicely spaced paved sites with full hookups, cable TV, and free wifi. Its not fancy, but does a good job providing the basics for a place to park an RV. Fredericksburg is a nice small town with lots of trendy shops, art galleries, restaurants, and historic buildings lining its Main Street. Its a popular destination stop for vacationers and weekend getaways. There's also a lot of unique culture and history in Fredericksburg. The area was settled by German immigrants in the mid 1800's. German people emigrated to this area seeking land and political / religious freedom. In the early 1840's, a group of Germans acquired land grants in the area when Texas was The Republic of Texas and it was promoting colonization. Their purpose was to establish a new Germany in central Texas. The land was smack in the middle of Comanche land, but Baron von Muesebach secured a formal treaty with the Penateka Comanche. It gave the Germans an advantage for settling the area, because much of central Texas wasn't settled until 1870 when the remaining Comanches were finally defeated. Muesebach established settlements in New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. Happy wife at the Auslander One the things that makes Fredericksburg special is that it retains a lot of its German heritage. There are several German restaurants serving authentic food. We ate a meal at the Auslander Its a popular tourist place in the middle of town with lots of German decor. We had German potato skins (potato skins stuffed with sausage, sauerkraut, red cabbage, and cheese) and reuben rolls (think small reuben sand which egg rolls). It was all delicious as was the local beer. Last year, I had spent a couple hours at the Museum of the Pacific War, which is a major attraction on Main Street. This is a huge museum focused on the WWII pacific war. Last year, I had only made it half way thru so this year I spent two more hours and finished touring the exhibits. It is an extensive museum and does a great job explaining the events leading up to the war and then has numerous exhibits of each battle. If you're into history, its a must see stop while in Fredericksburg. The admission is $14 and good for 48 hours. Freshman Mtn from Summit Trail Another must see stop is Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. This is a popular state park which has large pink granite rock outcroppings. Its 18 miles north of Fredericksburg on a twisty turny road. You get to see where the hill country got its name from driving on this road. The park is very popular and gets a lot of visitors. It offers hiking, camping, rock climbing, and picnicing. On the weekday we visited, the parking lot was just about full. The key draw is hiking up to the top on Enchanted Rock, which got its name from the Apache and Comanche who felt the rock had magical and spiritual powers. The climb up is short, relatively easy, and offers good views of the surrounding area. My 60 yr old legs, lungs, and knees made it up with ease. Admission to the park is $7 per person. View towards Fredericksburg from Enchanted Rock Enchanted Rock While there, I got to meet another blogger who I follow. Becky Schade from Interstellar Orchard and her friend Julie were working at the park this spring. They happened to be helping with traffic so I got a chance to introduce myself as we parked the RV. Both are super nice people. Becky is a full time RVer living, blogging, and traveling in her Casita travel trailer. She is by far the best writer of all the bloggers I follow. I wish I could write half as good as she does. It was a treat to meet her in person. Becky Schade and J. Dawg While is Fredericksburg, we visited the Wildseed Farm. Its a huge farm and retail operation dedicated to growing and selling wild flowers. With all the cold weather, the flowers had yet to bloom so we didn't get to see a lot of color. But its a nice place to visit. It has a retail store, wine shop, gourmet food shop, and food concession. Its just the type of place the wife likes to visit. Admission is free, but beware, you'll probably end up buying something. The last place we visited was the Pioneer Museum. Its a small living history museum dedicate to the early settlers of the region. There are several historical buildings showing how the early settlers lived. There are also volunteers in period attire who will anxiously tell you stories about the history of the area. For $5, its a worthwhile visit. Last year, we visited the LBJ Ranch, which is just a few miles east of town. It is a very worthwhile stop to see LBJ's Ranch and "Texas White House". Other than eating more German food and the "retail therapy" my wife undertook on Main Street, that's pretty much what we did while in Fredericksburg. It was all the popular tourist stops, but it was all the stuff that makes Fredericksburg appealing and it was fun. There are hundreds of Fredericksburg type towns in this country that have their own unique appealing attractions. And that's why I'm out in my RV, seeing and experiencing as many as I can. On our last day, we got resupplied for our next destination - Big Bend National Park. Follow more of my journeys at: http://jdawgjourneys.blogspot.com
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