Who are we? And why did we decide to RV full time?

We are two adventurous seniors who love life and want to see new places and meet new people so we began searching for a way to fulfill our dreams.

First, there’s Roger. He comes from an IT background, and worked with FEMA and Texas Task Force One doing search and rescue in disaster situations for several years. He also retired from a major school district here in Texas as Director of Technology (without a degree!). He does ham radio, develops software, networks, and anything related to computers. He also loves to cook and has worked for many different types of places from short order cook to developing recipes for major restaurant chains. Then he decided to go back to school, to finish his degree that he started back in the 1970’s. He got his Associates (with high honors) and really enjoyed it. But it wasn’t enough….so he went back to get an Associates in Criminal Justice. He was involved with the Masons and was a Shriner for several years. He drove the children to and from the hospitals in Galveston, Houston and Shreveport when they needed treatment (along with their parents). While all this was very rewarding for him, he knew that he wanted to experience more! He had visited his daughter in Europe (while she was in the military) and stayed for about a month, traveling around wherever they wanted to go, seeing whatever they wanted, and he loved it! He had found another passion!

Around 2009, we met online while I was recovering from a broken knee. This was a different experience for us both! We talked for several weeks before ever meeting in person and it was well worth it! We found we had mutual interests (travel, food, helping others) and also a curiosity to see what else was out there waiting…
My background is varied: I was a licensed deaf interpreter (self taught), worked in data processing, and finally spent over 20 years in retail management and customer service but I was unable to go back to this line of work after my recovering from my broken knee. I transitioned into call centers and worked that until I ended up in therapy due to the stress of dealing with people facing foreclosures on their homes. I was not happy so left that work and stayed home for a couple of years. We needed (wanted, really) more of an income so we looked around at options. First, we tried a few multi-level marketing companies, thinking this would provide us with the income we needed to travel. WRONG! Nothing but stress! It was horrible! Then we tried going back to work….to save money, to pay off bills, and to travel. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way unfortunately. Our next adventure was going into security work in 2015. Roger had gotten his Criminal Justice degree and we thought this would allow us to work when we wanted and travel, perhaps consulting. Boy, were we wrong!! Security is a tough business and very demanding. I have since retired again as of October 2018, after working as Area Manger for one company and then as an unarmed security officer for two others. Roger is still working as an armed officer at his third company (we moved companies together, along with my son.) and it’s afforded us the financial ability to pursue our new adventure! Traveling! WHEN we could get the time off, of course! Sigh

What prompted the search for something better? A solution to issues we faced when we traveled! We visited Roger’s son in Missouri for his granddaughter’s birthdays, but had to stay in hotels which was very costly, or with family which can be stressful for their pets and children (having strangers in the house). We traveled to Illinois to visit Roger’s family in 2017 after Roger’s mom became ill. We had to stay in hotels during that trip and they were far from what we dreamed of, even though they were costly. It just wasn’t an ideal situation. We had just returned to Texas in July of 2017 when we got word that Roger’s mom had passed away. We knew we were going to head back up North and wanted to be able to do it on our terms. So, we bought a new truck (wrong order!) and then a new travel trailer, a 24 foot Keystone Cougar. We were in a rush due to the time crunch for the funeral so the very day we picked it up, we headed out to Illinois and Missouri! (We managed to survive!) We knew very little about travel trailers, even though we had been watching YouTube videos for almost a year. We had no practical experience! Roger had pulled horse trailers while in New Mexico, but no travel trailers! We knew about some apps for finding campgrounds, dump stations, etc but it was a whole new world for us. It was a bittersweet trip due to the funeral, but we also got to experience the eclipse in Missouri with Roger’s son and granddaughter. We met many nice people along the way and had a good time. We were ecstatic! We had a way to travel, not pay for hotels, and go where we wanted. Or so we thought….

We worked, and planned, and bought things to set up the trailer for living. The only problem was, we were NOT living in it so many of the items ended up being wrong for storage: the wrong size, or not needed. And then, there was the dilemma of getting time off work if we wanted to take a trip. It seemed we had many roadblocks to overcome! Another one was where to store our trailer? We didn’t want to have to pay for storage and wanted to be able to stay in the RV if we had time. So, our trailer is parked at my son’s house on his land when we’re not traveling so we can stay there on the weekends or longer if work permits. We have electric but no sewer or water hookups. There is a park about ½ mile from his house where we go to stay over the weekend when we are dumping our tanks (same cost as just dumping thanks to our Passport America membership!) and we have full hookups. We have learned a LOT more from watching thousands more videos, going to RV shows, RV stores, and talking to people at the park or friends who have begun RV life. We also attended the RV Nomads gathering in Wellington, Texas for the premier of the RV Nomads Movie in October 2018!! We were amazed at the number of RV’s there and the feeling of community that we had as we interacted with the other attendees. It’s like one big, fun family! We also got to meet many of the YouTube celebrities that we had been watching! We were so excited to talk to them and see that they are just real people (like us) who were living their dreams! We knew we had to make it happen….and SOON!

So, we are in the process of downsizing (that’s a whole other blog!)and getting rid of our years of “stuff” that we have accumulated, remodeling and selling the house. Roger also just finished a major solar install on the trailer to facilitate boondocking when we get on the road. Our goal was October 2018 but we still have a lot of work to do. We are now aiming for Spring 2019 to be out of the house and traveling full time!

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Our Travelogue

trav·e·logue

/ˈtravəˌlôɡ/

noun: travelogue; plural noun: travelogues

a movie, book, or illustrated lecture about the places visited and experiences encountered by a traveler.

Our hope is to share some of our adventures with you here. Please let us know in the comments if you like this approach. Also post any questions you may have about a particular place we have been.

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Best RV Upgrades – First Investments

Usually the first thing a new RV'er does (or should do) is upgrade the things the manufacturer might have gone “cheap” on. In today”s world they do that on many items. For safety reasons I would recommend checking out the tires. Manufacturers will almost always put on tires that meet the minimum requirements. Typically, they will be from an foreign country and only meet the minimum requirements to be legal on the highway. I would recommend upgrading the tires to help prevent blowouts going down the road. Cheap tires can ruin a trip quicker than anything else and can be quite dangerous. Good tires, inflated to the manufacturers recommended pressure along with remote tire pressure/temperature sensors are first. We will discuss tires and some ideas for improvement.

I would recommend upgrading the power system. Most trailers come with one 12v lead acid battery. Upgrading the battery/batteries will greatly increase the time that you can RV without being hooked up to shore power. You can get by with the original battery but not for long. Dry camping will drain it quickly. Lights, refrigerator, and other low voltage accessories will drain it fast. And don’t even expect to watch TV or use that microwave. We will talk about several items that will improve your power capabilities and how to extend your power while in the field.

Another common upgrade is the mattress. RV’s today come with just a foam pad covered in some material. Usually only a couple of inches thick. Believe me, the first night you try to sleep on it you will understand. There are several options to improve your nights sleep and we will cover them below.

If you have a pull-behind trailer, you should have gotten the weight distribution option and a sway-bar option. If not, I will discuss them and try to convince you of their importance.

Let’s examine some things that will improve your RV experience.

Tires

Replacing those tires that came with the RV is almost always a good idea. Issues relating to tires are tire weight-load and heat. Most original tires are too undersized (weight wise) to make me comfortable.
Get the specs on the ones that you have and do some research. Good RV tires are not cheap but they will save you money in the long run. The safety factor cannot be emphasized enough. A good review of tires for 2018 is at the theactivetimes.com. It lists five tires that would be excellent replacements for cheap tires. My research also uncovered Goodyear Endurance tires, from Discount tire. I replaced my “almost new” tires with them. I also kept one of the old tires for a second spare. I need to get another wheel to mount it on so I will have two spares with me at all times. Marc Leach of the channel
“Keep Your Daydream”, on YouTube, came up with that recommendation. You can follow the link to the right to see what Amazon is selling them for currently. The bottom line is to check the quality of your tires. If they are foreign made and don’t have adequate weight handling capacity, I would upgrade to the best tire you can afford. Make sure they are 10 ply. Get the road hazard insurance also. A National chain like Discount Tire will give you some piece of mind that you will be taken care of if you have a tire failure.

Heat is another thing to watch. Always keep your trailer tires inflated to the manufacturers specifications. Mine says 90 lbs. Anything less than that can cause the tire to become unnecessarily hot and cause premature failure. You do NOT want a tire blow-out doing 60 down an interstate because you let the tire pressure drop.

Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS)

That leads to the next item to update. Chances are your trailer did not come with a Tire Pressure Monitor System or, TPMS. My truck came with one so I only needed to get a system that would watch four tires. There are systems that can watch up to 22 tires! My choice was the EEZ RV Products EEZ-RV-TPMS4 , and I bought it on Amazon. Use the link to the left to see the details. What it does is places a small screen in the cab of your vehicle and continually displays the pressure and temperature of each tire. The tires are monitored by a small sensor that screws on to the valve stem. It send a radio signal to your monitor and keeps it updated. You can set alarms at whatever tire pressure and temp
you feel is too high or too low. Click on the image to the left to see Amazons current price and more details.

Solar Panels

Almost everyone is adding solar panels to their RV today. Why? Because it provides free energy! Your RV battery/batteries can only last so long without being recharged from some power source. If your RV is a tow-able type then you will be recharging while it is hooked up to the tow vehicle and the tow vehicle is running. Hooking up to “Shore Power” at RV Parks, the 110v connection will recharge it/them also.

However, when you are camping and the tow vehicle is not connected, all your power needs are being provided by your battery/batteries. Solar panels provide an alternate source of energy to recharge them. There are several kinds of solar panels. I think the topic deserves an entire post of it’s own. In brief there are solar panels of all sizes. For RV use, 100 watt to 240 watt panels are common. Usually the higher wattage panels are 24v. This overview will not get into the specifics of choosing the right panel for that you. Some additional research will be necessary. For this discussion just understand there are many options for solar panels. Choosing the right configuration for you will vary
from RV to RV. The image on the left will show you the Renogy RNG-100Dx2 2 Piece 100W Monocrystalline Photovoltaic PV Solar Panel package available from Amazon. It is a great starter set of panels.

Batteries

Batteries come in a variety of types. Flooded Lead Acid, Glass Matte, Lithium Ion are common types. Flooded Lead acid are the oldest and most common for both RV, Marine and Auto use. The upside of Lead Acid is price. The downside is weight as well as the ability to deliver all of it’s stored energy. Typically, that you can only expect 50% of the rated capacity for your use before the battery needs re-charging. Discharging any further than 50% may damage the battery. Most RV’s are delivered with Lead Acid batteries from the manufacturer.

Glass Matte batteries are an improvement. The upside for them is they don’t give off the gases that Lead acid batteries can. The downside is weight as well as the number of times they can be discharged and recharged. They are better than Lead Acid but marginally.

Lithium Ion batteries have improved on all the downsides of the other types. They are lightweight. Typically, one third of the weight of Lead Acid. They can be discharged to next to nothing without damaging the battery. They charge much faster than either the Lead Acid or Glass Matte. They also have duty-cycles that are eight to ten time other types of batteries. Eight thousand discharge/charge cycles are not uncommon.

The big setback with Lithium Ion is cost. Where a 100 Amp Hour Deep-Discharge Lead Acid battery might cost $250 and a Glass Matte $400 or so, a 100 Amp Hour Lithium Ion battery currently costs around $1000
each. When you factor in the duty cycles it is obviously a better deal in the long run. The up-front costs are a major hurdle to overcome. The image to the right will take you to Amazon for more information and pricing.

Charge Controller

The charge controller is the manager between your solar panels and your batteries. Today’s charge controllers are usually intelligent. They have computers that examine the energy coming from the panels and the batteries it is charging and will manage the charge current flowing to the batteries so the health of the batteries is maintained. There are smart controllers that will charge up the batteries and at some point, when fully charged, will switch to a “float” mode to keep them topped off. Investing in a good charge controller will help maintain the health of your batteries.

Another device is the “Inverter” that takes the 12v from the battery bank and converts it into 110 volts for larger appliances like TV’s and Microwaves. Air Conditioners require a great amount of power. They can usually only be used when the trailer is connected to shore power. Some people have built huge battery banks that can supply enough power for an A/C to run for a short period of time. That is unusual and very costly. The best inverters are “Pure Sine Wave” inverters. The charge controller
to the right also contains a large converter. You can click on the image to see more details and the price on Amazon. Be prepared. The price is quite high but the item is one of the best out there.

Battery Monitor

Battery monitors display the relevant information regarding the health of your batteries. They can display the level of battery charge, the amount of current being drawn from the batteries as well the total amount of current that has been consumed since your last reset. Some have Bluetooth built in so that you can monitor your battery bank from your smart device. Some will also maintain the charge on your house battery. You can choose to keep your “House” battery”, that came with the trailer, for use with just the trailer hitch. This way, if your solar battery bank should fail, you have power to raise and lower the hitch. There are many types and styles of Battery Monitors available. The more options it will perform, the more it will cost. The display, like the one on the left, mounts inside the trailer at a convenient location. Wires are run to the battery bank and attach to a “Shunt” device that is necessary in order for the display to work. If you are installing it yourself the instructions are usually very clear. It’s not terrible complicated. The image on the left will take you ta Amazon so you can see more details, including price, of the one I use.

Mattress

It won’t do to be in the most beautiful spot in nature if you cannot get a good nights sleep. Stand fare for new trailers is nothing I want to sleep on. There are many options from getting a 3 to 4 inch foam pad and placing it under the mattress. Cover that with a sheet and will be an improvement. There are more costly options that include a custom memory foam replacement. It comes rolled up and ompressed so you just unpack it and it self inflates back to its natural form. Many people swear by them. There are even more costly options like a custom, layered solution. Mattress Insider; makes great replacement mattresses for a reasonable price.

Trailer Hitch

If your trailer hitch did not come with a weight distribution system, you should upgrade to one immediately. Trailers that just sit on the hitch ball will bounce up and down like a rocking horse as you go down the road. This is very dangerous and adds to the stress placed on both the ball and hitch.

Weight distribution bars will connect your vehicle and trailer as a more cohesive unit. They will allow the trailer and hitch to flex, somewhat, but at the same time cause them to act as a team. It greatly reduces the rocking horse affect as well as reduces the weight pressing down on the ball somewhat.

In addition, an anti sway bar will help prevent the trailer from swaying back and forth. It is a friction based device that slows the amount of sway. The kit at the right contains both the weight distribution and the anti sway components. Click on it to see more details on Amazon including price.

Conclusion

There are many, many upgrades that you can perform on a new RV. These are just a few of important ones, in my opinion. Safety should be the goal when that you prioritize upgrades. Any upgrade that allows that you to travel down the road with a bit more confidence will be worth the upgrade.

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RV Trailer Cover – Is It Necessary?

Is a cover necessary for your RV? It depends on who you ask. It also depends on whether you RV part-time or full-time. I certainly would not want to struggle to put a cover on my RV if I knew I was going to use it in a week or two. So, why have one? When would it be appropriate? Let’s dive into those questions.

Why Have One?

Take a look at this example.  Classic Accessories OverDrive PolyPRO 1 Travel Trailer RV Cover, Fits 24′ – 27′ RVs – Breathable and Water Repellant Travel Trailer Cover

The first and most obvious, answer is protection from harmful UV rays. They degrade color in the paint and will disintegrate fiberglass over time. Any rubber seals will become hard and loose the ability to seal.

* It keeps the outside AND the inside cleaner. Dust will still get in.
* It protects from the elements. Rain, snow and other things (think
birds) falling from the sky will accumulate on the roof.
* They can help shed water down the sides and not stain the RV itself.
* They can help ward off critters inside the RV.

Many people are against covers because of several factors.

* It usually takes more than one person to put it on and take it off.
* They can rip on sharp corners and objects on the RV.
* When they are wet they are very difficult to handle.
* You can easily break components on the roof while dragging the cover
on or off.
* Many have zippers and clips that can be quite confusing.

When Would It Be Appropriate?

A great deal of the need for a cover comes from the environment in which it will be stored. Many store their RVs in storage lots for long periods. These almost always require a cover for both cleanliness and safety. Storing your RV under a canopy of trees? A cover would help protect against sap and other droppings from above (think birds).

What Kind Of Cover?

Here is another example  ADCO 52245 Designer Series SFS Aqua Shed Travel Trailer RV Cover – 28’7″ – 31’6″ , Gray

There are many types of covers. Various fabrics are in use. Some are coated with UV resistant paint. Others have the UV built into the fabric itself. Some will have as many as three layers for the roof portion. There are cheap covers that only have one layer of fabric over the entire cover. Many have zippers or snaps. Some are modular and can be adjusted for many types and sizes of RV. If you are going to get one, get the best one you can afford. It will save you in the long run. RV repairs can be extremely costly.

A Fabric Cover Or A Structure?

Some people are content with parking their RV under some sort of permanent shelter. They will protect from much of the water and UV damage. Unless it is RV Pole Barn entirely closed in, the UV rays will still affect an uncovered RV. Even under a structure pests can drop little presents on the roof with can erode paint and roofing material. If you have solar panels on the roof they can get covered with debris. Be prepared for a lengthy process getting it ready for use when you are ready to camp. A covered shelter does not protect from blowing dust. Critters can still get in no matter what you do. They will require some other means of repelling.

Conclusion

The ultimate decision is yours. How much do you want to spend to protect your investment. Are you willing to wrestle putting the cover on and
off? For the best protection a cover over the RV and a shelter over that is required. Some sort of rodent/critter deterrent would help protect
the underside.

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Solar Power – What the heck is it?

There is much dialog today about the future of solar power. But just what is solar power and how am I affected? Knowing what solar power is will be important if you ever want to remove yourself from the grid or the grid goes down and leaves you powerless. An understanding of what it is and how it works will allow you to make knowledgeable choices if you ever decide to build your own system. Arm yourself with some knowledge and don’t allow snake oil salesmen to sell you an overpriced solution.

What is Solar Power

Simply put, solar power is the process of capturing the suns’ energy, in the form of light, and converting it into usable electricity. One can either use that electricity directly to power devices or you may store it in battery banks for later use. The magical device that converts the light from the sun into electricity is called a solar panel. Solar panel technology has gone from very expensive, inefficient, and difficult to buy to relatively cheap and efficient and easily obtained. They are available from local stores like Harbor Freight to online giants like Amazon. Today you can get solar panels, such as this Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Panel, for a little over $1 per watt. More about that later.

The next thing that is needed is some kind of charge controller that will take the energy coming from the solar panel and provide a consistent output power that can be used to charge a battery or a bank of several batteries. Typically these are 12 volt batteries like you would find in a car. Solar systems use a specific type of battery designed to take a long time to discharge and accept a charge very quickly to bring it back to full charge. Golf Carts use the same type of battery.

There are several types of batteries made up of different materials and have characteristics that make them more or less desired. The first is the Flooded Lead Acid battery. This is the same kind found in your car, normally. It is heavy. It charges slowly. You can only drain about half of the energy stored up before you start to do damage to it. Another type is what we use in flashlights. The Alkaline Battery has been the staple of portable handheld devices for many decades. They cannot provide the kind of power we are talking about for serious solar power systems. A few volts and a few milliamps was all you could expect from them. Another you might remember is Nickel Cadmium. These were the ones that had a “Memory” characteristic. If you recharged them before they deeply discharged they would not charge completely after that and became useless. They lasted longer then Alkaline but had serious flaws.

We now have a technology called Lithium Ion (LI) that has changed everything. LI batteries, such as this Battle Born 12v Battery are usually half the weight of lead acid batteries. They can be discharged to almost zero without harming them. They will charge back up quickly. All these characteristics make them ideal for Solar Power Systems.

Why is Solar Power important

With all the debate today about fossil fuels killing the atmosphere, Nuclear Power being extremely dangerous, think *Fukushima* Daiichi reactors, there is great concern about their safety and cost. Solar, on the other hand, is safe, clean, easily scaled and cost effective. With your own solar system you can disconnect yourself from relying on power being delivered to you from a costly source. Independence is a beautiful thing.

Today, the most expensive part of a solar system is the battery bank. A normal lithium Ion battery, capable of delivering 12 volts and 100 amp
hours, costs just under $1000. This sounds terribly expensive. If you think bout it they will outlast 10 Lead Acid batteries of the same capacity which sell for $250. The upfront cost is high but the overall costs over time are less.

A good charge controller, capable of handling the output from several solar panels, will cost in the neighborhood of $400 to $500 dollars. It is best to get one with remote management capabilities. There are some with wireless Bluetooth capabilities you can use with your smartphone to manage how the controller will act. It can also track and report usage.

Is solar right for you?

Building a solar power system is within the abilities of most people today. Components are easily obtained and are almost plug and play. Complete systems, such as this  Battle Born Batteries Keep Your Daydream 200ah Lithium bundle with 320 watt Solar kit can be purchased from Amazon. Assembling the kit is pretty straight forward. this kit is designed for RV’s to enable them to camp without hook-ups for days.

What are your needs? How much power do you need to have to make yourself utility free? When the power goes out, how much will you need to keep your food cold/frozen until it’s back on? Answering these questions can put you on the right track to solar freedom.

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