RV-Curious? 10 Ways to Start Learning About Full-Time RV Living

A full-time RVer marvels at sunset at Imperial Dunes near Winterhaven, CA, January 2018

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” -Fyodor Dostoyevsky (photo by David Goldstein, at Imperial Dunes near Winterhaven, CA, January 2018)

I often find myself talking with a non-RVer about full-time RV living and how it has changed our lives. Usually, the other person is in their late 40s or their 50s, with grown children and a successful career. But they feel that they are missing out on something important in life: time with their partner, opportunities to enjoy new experiences, or just a chance to relax, breathe and be, without any external demands. Or perhaps they have started to feel burdened by decades of accumulated, mostly meaningless possessions, realizing that although their stuff should be working for them, their reality is the other way around.

Whatever the reason, they feel a gnawing urge to alter the trajectory of their life. At the same time, they lack an understanding of any viable alternatives. And so they continue to trudge down the traditional path of working until–or beyond–retirement age, and then settling down in some vaguely-envisioned lifestyle that they hope will finally yield the fulfillment they currently lack.

At this point, the conversation turns to full-time RV living as a potential alternative. And then the same questions bubble up: I’m not independently wealthy, so how can I support myself on the road? What would I do with all my stuff? What would my family think? How would I stay in touch with my friends? What should I look for in an RV? Are there people like me actually doing this?

After telling them our own story, I usually refer them to these resources that will help answer their questions and get them started on their journey of discovering whether full-time RV living is right for them. So, if you yourself are “RV-curious”, pour yourself a cup of coffee and do some reading of your own.

 

1. RV-Dreams

Back in 2014, I happened to start my own research at RV-Dreams.com, Howard & Linda Payne’s website and blog. The site design isn’t modern or flashy, but don’t let that dissuade you—Howard and Linda have been living on the road for 13 years as of 2018, so there is a treasure trove of information here.

Start with their About Us page, and in particular the story of how they made the decision to go full-time. See if it resonates with you like it did with me. Then, head over to What is Full-Timing? and follow the series of links there, including their detailed Financial Considerations index page.

 

2. Escapees RV Club

If you’re intrigued at this point, next visit the Escapees RV Club. (This is the organization that I now work for part-time.) Escapees is a 40-year-old “total support network for all RVers” with more than 60,000 members across North America. They support full- and part-time RVers with discounts and other benefits, extensive educational opportunities, and most importantly, connections to a community of like-minded people.

Many future RVers join Escapees long before they actually purchase an RV. For $39.95/year, you get a subscription to the excellent Escapees magazine as well as access to all of the club’s member resources.  If you do join, we’d appreciate it if you’d select “Landmark Adventures” (that’s us!) when you’re asked how you learned about the club.

Escapees also has the definitive course on RV systems operation, maintenance, safety, legal issues, and other topics that are most relevant to new RV owners. It’s available several times a year in person as RVers Boot Camp, or online anytime as RVers Online University. Either way, you’ll be learning from a panel of industry experts in their respective fields. You don’t have to be an Escapees member to sign up for either Boot Camp or RVOU, but you do receive a nice discount on your registration fee if you are.

 

3. Xscapers

Within Escapees, Xscapers is a diverse community of today’s active and adventurous RVers, dedicated to enabling their dreams of working and sharing life on the road. Although their shared mindset and traveling style define this group, Xscapers tend to be more youthful than the average RVer, and a majority of them are working at least part-time on the road. If you’re like us and are seeking a tribe of interesting, fun and like-minded people with whom to share your journey, Xscapers is the group for you.

Xscapers gather at Convergences in various locations around the country throughout the year. These may range from boondocking (camping without utility hookups) in the desert southwest, to camping by a river or lake in a private RV park with full hookups. But regardless of the location, Convergences always feature group activities such as hiking, off-roading, kayaking, winery and brewery tours, dine-outs at local restaurants, and late-night karaoke and dancing.

You do have to join Escapees to attend a Convergence, but it’s a great way to meet some of the people in the RV community who are “like you” and get a chance to experience the RV lifestyle first-hand. It’s not unusual for some people at a Convergence to be on their very first RV excursion, so don’t worry about being a newbie. You can even attend in a rented RV (more on that below). You’ll be welcomed into the community and you’ll learn a lot. Plus, you’ll probably have so much fun that you just might get hooked.

 

4. RVNetwork

I would especially encourage you to read and participate in the Escapees discussion forum, RVNetwork, where you’ll find sections specifically devoted to how to begin RVing and the full-time lifestyle. You don’t need to be a member of Escapees to participate in the forum, and it’s free.

 

5. RV Love

Although I happened to find and begin my research at RV-Dreams.com, there are several other popular and informative blogs by more recent full-timers that you should check out. The first one I’d recommend is RV Love, by Julie and Marc Bennett, good friends of ours whom we met through Xscapers. They’ve been on the road for more than four years, and their blog is full of great insights.

Julie and Marc have developed an online course, RV Success School, for future RVers. They have also authored a new book called Living the RV Life – Your Ultimate Guide to Life on the Road, which will be published in November 2018. I’m looking forward to reading it, and I bet it will be a great resource. (You can pre-order it now on Amazon.)

 

6. More Than a Wheelin’

More Than a Wheelin’ is the blog of Camille Attell and Bryce Cripe, also good friends of ours. In addition to their blog, Camille (who holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology, and was a corporate trainer and coach in her professional life) has created some excellent materials on remote working and on the emotional aspects of making the transition to full-time RV living. You’ll find those on their site.

 

7. RV to Freedom

In addition to the fantastic content on their site, RV to Freedom, Brandon Hatcher and Kerensa Durr have an extremely active Facebook group with a community more than 37,000 strong, as well as an online training course for future RVers. We know several people who have successfully gotten into the RV lifestyle through one these channels.

 

8. Mobile Internet Resource Center

For anything and everything to do with technology on the road, especially mobile connectivity, just about every RV nomad will tell you that the go-to resource is Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard’s Mobile Internet Resource Center. Chris and Cherie live on their boat six months out of the year, and in their vintage bus conversion the rest of the time. They share in-depth know-how, professional-quality reviews and product recommendations that can help to keep you connected almost anywhere you go. Their personal blog, Technomadia, also makes for interesting reading.

 

9. Rent an RV at Campanda or Outdoorsy

The best way to truly learn about RVing is to try it. If you’ve never experienced a modern RV, try renting a privately-owned vehicle through Campanda or Outdoorsy. Both of these sites operate similarly to Airbnb, by allowing RV owners to rent out their RVs on a short-term basis. You’ll find all varieties of rigs here, from top-of-the-line Class A motorhomes to small travel trailers. You could try a rental for a weekend at a location near you, or–like we did, twice, before we bought our own RV–drive or fly to another city and pick up your rental there for a week or two. Either way, you’ll likely have a more authentic and accurate experience than if you rented from a corporation that offers lower-quality RVs to the mass market.

 

10. No Sidebar

The sheer quantity of information available on full-timing can be overwhelming. So as you do your research, remember that a lifestyle change like full-time RV living should not be an end in itself, but rather a means to living a more fulfilling life.

To help you stay focused on this goal, my final suggested resource is not about RVing at all. It’s No Sidebar, a wonderful and beautifully-designed destination all about living a simpler, slower, more intentional life. It started around the same time that we were considering our leap to full-time living, and we found (and continue to find) their articles inspirational. Start with the one I linked to above, and then explore the rest of their site.

Two Texans Become Floridians (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Domicile)

Florida's newest residents, at our new legal domicile address in Bushnell

Florida’s newest residents, at our new legal domicile address in Bushnell

Cheryl and I have been Texans for the last 55 and 39 years, respectively. But a couple of days ago, we both became Floridians. No, we’re not giving up the RV lifestyle. And in fact, our RV and truck never even left Nevada. What we actually did was change our legal domicile from Texas to Florida. Here’s why and how we did it.

 

What the heck is “domicile”?

In legal terms, your domicile is the state to which you intend to return. Your domicile determines where you vote, where (and if) you pay state taxes, where you register your vehicles, where you get insurance, and how much that insurance costs.

When you live in a “sticks and bricks” home, your legal domicile is pretty obvious. It’s usually the state where your primary residence and most of your property is located.

But when your home has wheels, like ours does, domicile gets both more complicated and more flexible. We no longer own any real estate, and don’t even have stuff in a storage unit. Virtually every tangible thing we own is in our RV. Without ties to any specific state, our domicile can be pretty much anywhere that we choose to maintain a permanent address for legal purposes.

For the last year and a half, our domicile was at our son’s apartment in the Dallas area. We used his address for our driver’s licenses, vehicle titles and voter registrations. All the rest of our mail went to our mailing address, a private mailbox at the excellent Escapees Mail Service in Livingston, Texas.

 

Why we changed our domicile

The main reason, in two words? Health insurance.

When I left full-time employment, I technically “retired” and then my company re-hired me as a temporary employee. As at most companies, temps or part-time employees aren’t eligible for regular group health insurance coverage. Instead, we’ve had coverage through COBRA for the last 18 months, but that will run out at the end of this year.

As most people know, it is very difficult to obtain health insurance other than through a group (employer-sponsored) plan. All individually-issued policies require risk underwriting, and the insurers can and will decline anyone who isn’t in perfect health. Like many others in their mid-50s, neither of us fits that description, so we knew an individual policy was out of the question. And it will be almost 10 years until we’re eligible for Medicare.

So what to do until then? Our remaining options, in increasing order of preference, were:

  1. Go uninsured, which we deemed to be much too risky at our age
  2. Purchase a fixed-indemnity insurance plan combined with a preventive healthcare plan, like the package offered through Escapees Healthcare Solutions. The challenge here is the “fixed” part of fixed-indemnity. The benefits are capped at a maximum of $10,000, which is not nearly enough to cover the costs of a major illness or catastrophic injury.
  3. Join a healthcare cost-sharing ministry (HCSM) such as Liberty HealthShare or AlieraCare. Both of these HCSMs will admit anyone regardless of religion, an important issue for us, and they’re both popular with many RVers. While an HCSM would have been our next-best option, it’s not insurance. There’s no guarantee of payment, and any pre-existing conditions are excluded for one to two years.
  4. Purchase insurance coverage on HealthCare.gov, the federal exchange created by the Affordable Care Act.

Texas, unfortunately, is one of the states that has fought implementing the ACA at every turn. Combined with the shortcomings of the ACA itself, that meant that most insurers have withdrawn from the Texas market. In both Dallas and Livingston (which we could use as our domicile if we wanted to), the only viable plan was a Blue Cross HMO. It’s not bad coverage, but as an HMO, the provider network and the benefits end at the state line. That wouldn’t be much use for us if we need medical care as we travel around the country and can’t get back to Texas.

For that reason, we started looking at other states’ plans on the federal health insurance exchange. To enroll in another state’s plan, however, we knew we’d need to be domiciled in that state. Thus began our search for a new state to call our “home”.

 

Why domicile in Florida?

First, we wanted to be in a state that didn’t tax personal income or investment earnings. That narrowed the list to six states other than Texas: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming. Theoretically, we could have chosen any of those. (Note that state tax laws vary based on where you earn your income. If you earn income in a state that taxes it, you might still have to pay tax there even if you’re domiciled in a non-income-tax state. You’ll need a professional tax advisor to figure that out.)

Besides Texas (which is a popular domicile for RVers), two other states, South Dakota and Florida, have very RV-friendly laws. It’s relatively easy to become domiciled there without physically residing in the state for some period of time, and it’s also simple to handle matters like vehicle registration and driver’s license renewals by mail. And of those two, we’d heard from other RVers that Florida had the best health insurance options.

Indeed, on the federal health insurance exchange for Florida, we were able to locate a variety of PPO plans with Florida Blue, the state’s Blue Cross affiliate. Just as in other states, these plans require members to use a Florida Blue network provider when you’re in the state. But when you’re “traveling away from home”, you can use providers in any other state’s Blue Cross network. In other words, it’s true nationwide coverage—exactly what we needed. And with our now-reduced annual income, the price was right, too: just under $400/month with a $2,000 per person deductible, but first-dollar coverage (not subject to the deductible) with reasonable copays for routine doctor visits and prescriptions, and a maximum out of pocket limit of $5,500/year.

Healthcare.gov plans for RVers who domicile in Florida

Florida had 24 EPO insurance plans available. Texas had zero.

 

Other benefits to Florida domicile besides health insurance

Although health insurance was the primary motivator for our “move”, we discovered a few other nice benefits to becoming Floridians.

Most significantly, the cost for our RV insurance through Progressive, which includes “full-timers” coverage—basically equivalent to the liability insurance portion of a homeowner’s policy—dropped almost 39%, from more than $1,800 a year to only about $1,100. We’re not quite sure what accounts for the difference. Insurance premiums are determined largely by the loss experience in the zip code of your address, so maybe hail and tornadoes cause more losses in Texas than hurricanes and alligators do in Florida? In any case, it was a nice surprise. (In contrast, the premium difference on our truck through USAA was less than a dollar a year. Go figure.)

In addition to this cost savings, the vehicle registration fees in Florida are a bit less than in Texas. And, we can renew (online and by mail) for two years at a time, so we’ll save a little money there each year too.

The next benefit was non-monetary, but still psychologically important: we’ll now be voting in a political “swing state”, where our vote could potentially make a difference in national elections.

And finally, I’m told that Floridians get significant discounts at Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando, and other theme parks! 🙂 I hope we’ll get to take advantage of those at some point.

 

Preparing to make the change

Just as we had read in the research I did online, changing our domicile to Florida was surprisingly simple. The Escapees RV Club has a helpful step-by-step guide to Florida domicile. In addition, we followed the excellent guidance provided in “How to Move to Florida in 1 Hour” by a fellow full-time RVer on her blog, Winnie Views. I won’t go through all the steps here, but if you’re considering changing your domicile to Florida, those two pages tell you just about everything you’ll need to know. Chris and Cherie at Technomadia also went through the process, which they documented in a post titled “Setting up Domicile in Florida as a Full Time RVer“.

The first thing we needed to obtain was a Florida address. Escapees has a perfect solution for that, called Escapees:HOME. Members can use the Sumter Oaks Escapees RV park in Bushnell, Florida (there’s also a South Dakota option) as their legal address, and any mail received there gets forwarded on to Livingston and processed with your other mail. You do need to subscribe to the Escapees Mail Service, but we already did, so adding the Florida “home” service just required signing an agreement and sending it back to them.

Now, we needed to “move” to our new address. We informed both our auto insurers of the change, and they issued us new Florida policies and ID cards using the new address. Our mailing address on Rainbow Drive in Livingston, Texas remained the same for everything other than legal documents.

We then began filling out the various forms we’d need when we made the required personal appearance in Florida. One of these was a VIN affidavit. The State of Florida doesn’t require that your vehicles be physically present in the state to be registered and titled there—which was nice, because ours were on the other side of the country. As an alternative, a law enforcement officer can sign an affidavit that verifies the vehicle identification numbers (VINs) on the Florida forms. It took a few calls in Pahrump, Nevada, where we’d been staying, to find the right department, but eventually we learned that what we needed was called a “VIN check”, and that the sheriff did that. Within an hour, a friendly sheriff’s deputy came to our RV, checked the VINs, and signed the affidavits.

We become Floridians

Next, it was time for us to fly to Florida for a couple of days. With all our forms and identity documents in a large envelope (which I was terrified we’d somehow lose during the trip), we set off for our new home state. Here’s a complete list of everything we took with us:

  • Current US passports (primary identification for new driver’s licenses)
  • Original Birth certificates (not needed because we had our passports)
  • Original Social Security cards (you can also use other documents, like a W-2, as proof of Social Security)
  • Texas driver’s licenses (to prove we were already licensed)
  • Documents proving our new residential address (only two per person are required, but bring more in case the clerk decides one of them isn’t acceptable for some reason):
    • Copy of insurance declaration pages for both vehicles, with our Florida address and both our names on them (as proof of our residential address)
    • Escapees:HOME Florida verification letter from Escapees (as proof of residential address)
    • Copy of Escapees:HOME Florida agreement (as proof of residential address)
    • Completed & signed Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles Form 71120 (Certification of Address) (one for each of us)
  • Florida liability insurance cards for both vehicles
  • Original Texas certificates of title to both vehicles (surrendered when we received our new titles)
  • Completed & signed Florida DMV Form 82042 (VIN affidavit) for each vehicle
  • Completed but unsigned Sumter County, Florida Declaration of Domicile form (must be signed before a notary in Florida)

Because our new address is in Sumter County, we went there to do the paperwork. (Sumter County is a largely rural area, about an hour from Orlando, an hour from Tampa, and pretty much an hour from anywhere else in the state, too.) Our best flight options were to Tampa, so we stayed the night in a hotel there, and headed for the tax collector’s office in Bushnell the next morning.

Sumter County, Florida

Sumter County, Florida

In Florida, the tax collector’s office is a one-stop-shop for driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and voter registrations. The ladies clerks in the tax collector’s office were accustomed to Escapees changing their domiciles to Florida. Thanks to the two resources I mentioned above, we had all the correct documents with us. About an hour later, after a vision test, answering a few legally required questions (no, we’ve never been judged mentally incompetent, have not been convicted of a felony, etc.), and handing over some cash, we walked out with our new license plates, new Florida driver’s licenses–the actual plastic cards, made on the spot, not a paper temporary license like Texas and most other states give you–new certificates of title for both vehicles (again, originals, although this costs $7.50 per vehicle rather than having them mailed, which is free), and as registered voters.

We then went next door to the property appraiser’s office, where we had our Declaration of Domicile form notarized, and then across the street to the county clerk’s office to file that document. The county clerk representative saw our address and volunteered, “do you want the filed document sent back to you here, or in Livingston?” They all understood exactly what we were doing, and they’re quite happy to have all the new Floridians!

And with that, we were done! Total time was about 60 minutes, start to finish. After a quick lunch, we headed over to the Escapees Sumter Oaks RV Park to see our new “home”, meet a few folks there, and take a photo of Florida’s newest residents.

Sumter Oaks RV Park--our new legal domicile in Florida

What our domicile change cost, and what we’ll save

The costs involved with our change of domicile were as follows:

  • Travel for two people (airfare, hotel, rental car, gas, meals, airport parking): $884
  • Governmental fees totaling $543:
    • New driver’s licenses (2): $108.50 (one-time cost)
    • New vehicle titles (2): $191.50 (one-time cost)
    • Truck registration: $143.10 (good for 12 months)
    • RV registration: $89.70 (good for 17 months, because my May birthday is the expiration date)
    • Filing fee for Declaration of Domicile: $10.00 (one-time cost)

So the total up-front cost of our domicile change was $1,426, of which $1,194 was one-time costs.

But here’s what we will save:

  • Health insurance: $5,136/year compared to our current COBRA payment
  • RV insurance: $713/year
  • Vehicle registrations: $57/year

That makes our total annual savings $5,906, even before we take into account the intangible benefit of peace of mind (and possible enormous financial advantage) of having decent health insurance. Those savings will cover the up-front costs of changing our domicile in about 2 1/2 months. So economically as well as practically, this decision was a no-brainer.

 

Things we learned

If you’re an RVer thinking about changing your domicile to Florida, here are a few minor things we learned in the process that aren’t covered in the resources linked above.

  • We hit up a couple ATMs to bring a wad of cash to the tax collector’s office. But we didn’t have to do that; they also accept debit cards (with a flat $2.50 fee) and credit cards (with a stiffer fee of 2.5% of the charged amount). I would have preferred using our debit card to carrying that much cash around.
  • As with any other time you get or renew your driver’s license, you’ll have to take a simple vision test. Bring your glasses or contacts if you wear them while driving.
  • Unlike in Texas, where you’re legally required to have a non-commercial Class A or Class B driver’s license for larger rigs, there is no special license needed in Florida to drive an RV of any type. (Yippee! No driving test!)
  • Most Florida vehicle registrations renew on your birthday (they prorate the fees for the first partial year), but registrations on larger trailers renew at the end of the twelfth month after the original registration date. So our truck and our fifth wheel now have different registration renewal dates–a little odd, but not a big deal since we’ll get reminders and can renew online.
  • Florida driver’s license numbers are a long series of 17 letters, numbers and dashes. So much for the easy-to-memorize, eight digit long Texas driver’s license number I’ve had for the last 40 years!

 

Closing thoughts

Although reasonable people can disagree on how to fix the United States’ current health insurance system, I think everyone agrees that it’s a crazy mess. We are incredibly grateful for the safety net provided by the Affordable Care Act for us and the millions of other Americans with pre-existing conditions and without employer-sponsored group coverage. But the fact that just by changing our state of domicile, we were able to radically change the insurance options available to us is a little silly, don’t you think? There has to be a better and saner way.

Until then, however, we full-time RVers have a unique opportunity–to shop other states for better insurance options–that isn’t available to owners of traditional houses. If you’re a full-timer, don’t be afraid to change your domicile if necessary to get the coverage you need and can afford. The process is a little complicated and arcane, but not all that hard. And there are plenty of resources online, as well as people like us who have done it, who are willing to help guide you.

9 Truths We Discovered in Our First Year of Full-Time RV Living

June 22, 2017 marked one year since Cheryl and I pulled out of the RV park in Aubrey and began the adventure of a lifetime.

It’s hard to decide exactly which date to call our “nomadiversary”. Was it when we moved into our rig (June 5), when we closed on the sale of our townhouse (June 14), or when we hit the road (June 22)? I prefer to think of the last date as the most important one, as the others seemed to be mainly part of the transition. Until then, we were still rooted in one place. But on June 22, we truly became nomads.

As I was thinking about what to write in observance of our first nomadiversary, I realized that the year flew by with very few surprises and little drama. I’m a researcher by nature, so I had the benefit of the knowledge shared by thousands of full-time RVers who had gone before us. Overall, our experience has been pretty much what I expected, if not even a bit better than I’d hoped for. But here are nine truths we’ve learned along the way.

1. Patience and practice make perfect (or at least close to it).

Over the last year, we gradually became comfortable, and ultimately fairly proficient, with driving our big rig. Towing it on the highway is not much different from driving any other vehicle, provided that you have an adequately-sized tow vehicle, and our Ford F-450 Super Duty has proven to be a reliable and relatively comfortable workhorse. But maneuvering almost 60 feet of truck and trailer in tight spots is another story. I remember our days of learning how to communicate well when we were backing it into a parking space, the numerous attempts it usually took to accomplish that task, and the frustration and frayed nerves that sometimes resulted. Somewhere along the way, we evolved into a smooth-functioning team with the skills and confidence to get around obstacles and into some ridiculously tight spaces with a minimum of fuss and friction. Onlookers (parking a big rig inevitably seems to attract an audience) went from grimacing and shaking their heads–or at least that’s what I imagined–to complimenting us on our ability and precision. That was (and still is) a good feeling.

Cheryl & David with rig in Blaine, WA

All 59 feet of our rig, hitched up and ready to roll for our drive to Alaska (photo by Lisa Reich)

2. It’s important to find and maintain your own rhythm.

We have slowly found a rhythm of travel and living that suited us. We learned that we like to avoid back-to-back driving days whenever possible, and to plan for no more than about four hours of driving to allow for unexpected delays or scenic stops along the way. And although it was sometimes tempting to rush to our next destination, we realized that it’s far more relaxing to spend more time at each location, with some days devoted to doing basically nothing. In our former life, there were so many things always begging to be done, so much pressure to be as productive as possible, that I felt guilty if I didn’t maximize my waking hours every single day. Simplifying our lives eliminated much of that pressure, and now these “down days” have become an important part of our routine.

Relaxing by Resurrection Bay

Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all.

3. Reap the benefits of slowing down.

Living life at a slower place has also made more room for serendipitous experiences: beautiful sunsets, breathtaking views as we turn a corner, interesting discussions with locals and fellow travelers, and unexpected learning opportunities. RVers tend to be a friendly, outgoing bunch, so it’s not unusual for someone to walk over and strike up a conversation moments after we arrive in a new location. By not being on a strict schedule, it’s no big deal to spend half an hour or more sharing stories with new acquaintances. After decades of living in a fast-paced world, I’m still a work in progress at slowing down, but at least I’m headed in the right direction.

Incredible sunset over Carlsbad Caverns NP

This stunning sunset surprised us as we came out of Carlsbad Caverns last November

4. Avoid over-planning.

Cheryl and I are both natural planners. But full-time RV living has shown us the benefits of keeping our plans flexible. We’ve learned to plan, but not too much. Although we have a general idea of where we’re headed, we often don’t know exactly where our next stop will be until a day or two before we get there. We try to avoid making campground reservations unless they’re really needed (like over a holiday weekend, or when we need to be in a specific place). That gives us the ability to extend our stay if we’re enjoying a particular location, which we’ve done many times.

5. Open yourself up to new relationships with fascinating people.

Many people think of full-time RVing as a rather solitary life, but that’s not the case. In fact, one of the best surprises of our first year has been the number of new friendships we’ve made on the road. While we were in a tiny town in central Colorado painting our living room, Sylvia walked over with a bottle of wine and said, “you look like you need a break.” (She was right.) We became friends, keeping in touch online and later meeting up with her and her husband in December in Phoenix. In Terlingua, Texas, just after we’d returned home covered with mud from a hike in Big Bend, a neighbor who had pulled in earlier in the day invited us over for a drink, and that was the start of a wonderful friendship with Rupert and Holly from South Carolina, whom we subsequently traveled and went sightseeing with for a few weeks through New Mexico and Arizona. At the Xscapers annual Convergence in Quartzsite, Arizona in January, we became friends with dozens of like-minded travelers, some of whom–like Jason and Lisa, transplants from British Columbia to the US, and Stacey and Gary from Spokane, Washington–we later met up with at other destinations. And through RVillage, a social media site specifically for RVers, we met Patrick and Judy from DeLand, Florida, who were also making their way north to Alaska.  Even though we all eventually go our separate ways, the internet allows us to keep in touch with all these new friends, share their travels, and plan for the next time we’ll get together in person.

Movie night in Quartzsite

On a chilly January evening at the 2017 Xscapers Annual Convergence in Quartzsite, AZ, we joined some of our new friends for an impromptu movie night

6. Make a point of catching up with friends and family.

Another benefit of full-time travel is the opportunity it gives us to catch up with friends and family. Instead of waiting for them to come to us, which may never happen, we are able to go to them. We’ve gotten to visit with friends from Plano who now live most of the year in Summit County, Colorado (twice); one of Cheryl’s college roommates in Denver; the girl who lived next door to me when I was in elementary school who is now a teacher in Grand Junction, Colorado; the son of friends of ours who is attending college in Gunnison, Colorado; Cheryl’s great aunt and cousin in El Paso; several friends from our congregation who now live in Phoenix and Tucson; Cheryl’s numerous cousins scattered throughout California (including some she had never met), as well as her great-uncle Jack for his 80th birthday in Los Angeles; my brother and his family and Cheryl’s aunt and uncle in San Francisco; former colleagues of mine who now work in Hollywood and Silicon Valley; and probably a couple others that I’ve neglected to mention. Without the constancy of relationships that we enjoyed when we stayed in one place, these visits feel even more important and special.

Just a few of Cheryl's cousins whom she got to meet while we were in California

Just a few of Cheryl’s cousins whom she got to meet while we were in California

7. A small space and limited “stuff” are still more than enough.

We have learned that 400 square feet is plenty of room in which to live. We truly don’t feel cramped, and if we ever crave more space, all we have to do is step outside into the great outdoors. We’ve also discovered that even though we sold, gave away or donated most of our possessions when we moved, we still have plenty of “stuff”. In fact, we’ve both been surprised at how little we actually need. With few exceptions, we haven’t missed most of what we got rid of, and there were only a couple items that we later had to repurchase. On the other hand, we kept some things that we haven’t needed, and there will probably be a comprehensive purge of that excess before the end of this year.

Deciding what to keep

Deciding what to keep and what to get rid of during our move was much harder than living with less stuff has been

8. Finding your way around a new location is part of the fun.

Being away from the conveniences of living in one place in a big city has taken some getting used to. There’s not always a Home Depot nearby when I need one, Cheryl misses her regular massage therapist, and almost every week sees us trying to find what we need in an unfamiliar grocery store. And yet, experiencing how people live in each new area has also become part of the fun: we’ve enjoyed exploring small towns, trying out the local cuisine, and finding the odd sights that imbue each place with its own personality.

Finding and trying out the local ice cream shop is always one of our favorite activities in a new town

Finding and trying out the local ice cream shop is always one of our favorite activities in a new town

Wandering through a weekend market is one of the best ways to discover a town's personality

Wandering through a weekend market is one of the best ways to discover a town’s personality

9. Adventures like this are meant to be shared.

Finally, we have loved having the privilege of sharing our experiences and memories with you and the rest of our friends and family. That was one of the reasons that Cheryl was such an avid scrapbooker in our previous life. Although space and weight constraints make paper scrapbooking impractical in an RV, sharing our stories, photos and videos online here on our blog and on our Landmark Adventures pages on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube is faster and has allowed us to reach a wider community. So many people are intrigued by our new lifestyle–or even wish they could do what we’re doing–and they look forward to our updates almost as much as we enjoy sharing them.


In the last year, we’ve seen countless amazing sights, witnessed the incredible grandeur and beauty of our country, deepened our knowledge of the environment and our responsibility for it, and–perhaps most importantly–gotten to spend more time together than we ever have before. We hope that we’ve inspired at least a few people to ask themselves if they are living the life they really want to live, and if the answer is “no”, to have the courage and conviction to change that while they still can. Every day, we remember how very blessed and lucky we are to be able to be on this journey at this point in our lives.

We can’t wait to find out what our second year on the road has in store for us!

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Laying Low Before Heading North

In the almost two months since we left the Los Angeles area, we’ve been on a steady march up the West Coast (see the map of where we’ve been this year at Our Travels). The longest we’ve stayed in any one place during that time was one week, and many of our stays have been only two or three nights. We knew that we needed to be near Seattle for a flight back to Dallas for a few days in early May; we chose that location so that after we returned, we’d be ready to cross the Canadian border for our summer trip to Alaska.

Our route up the West Coast

Our route up the West Coast (click for live map)

That’s quite a fast travel pace for us. We prefer to spend at least a week, if not longer, at each place that we stop. These longer stays allow us to mix sightseeing with work (for me at least), household chores like cooking, cleaning and laundry, and taking care of the constant maintenance and repairs on our home-on-wheels. We just don’t want the pressure of needing to pack in a bunch of activities that we used to feel when we were “on vacation” for a limited time.

As a result of our accelerated schedule, we were both feeling a little road-weary by the time we were ready to leave Portland. And, my list of “squawks” on our rig that needed attention had gotten rather long. We knew that once we started toward Alaska, the quick pace would resume: the summer in Alaska is short, and we’d have thousands of miles to cover. So we decided to skip going back to the Oregon coast (we’ve been there before), and instead head directly to someplace where we could lay low and catch up for a couple weeks.

The Evergreen Coho SKP RV Park in Chimacum, Washington, an Escapees co-op park in the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, fit the bill. It was relatively inexpensive, and we also knew it would be a secure place to leave our rig while we were in Dallas. And, it turned out to be beautiful–a spacious and immaculately-kept park surrounded by tall conifers, with snow-capped mountains in the distance–exactly what we needed.

Evergreen Coho RV Park panoramic view

A panoramic view of the beautiful Escapees co-op park in Washington, as seen from the roof of our RV.

We managed to stay extremely busy during our first 10 days in Chimacum, even though we played tourist for only a couple afternoons. I was beginning to stress a little over our Alaska trip, because we’d done so little planning for it, so that occupied much of our time. I first worked out a rough 98-day, 6,500-mile route and itinerary; that’s much more advance planning than we usually do, but we knew that we would need to make reservations near Denali National Park and for the ferry from Homer to Kodiak Island (where we are staying with friends), so we had to lock down some dates.

Then Cheryl went to work learning about things to do and possible places to stay in British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska. Because internet access may be spotty or non-existent along many parts of our route, we wanted to have done more legwork ahead of time. We will have a couple of great reference books–Alaska Camping and The Milepost–with us, but we didn’t want to leave everything until the last minute, because there was so much to learn. At the same time, we haven’t locked ourselves into a firm itinerary, except for the few places we have reservations; we included some unallocated days at several points along the route, so that we can stay longer somewhere if we want.

Roof of our RV

Each penetration on our RV’s roof is sealed with a caulk-like lap sealant that needs to be replaced every couple of years. Instead, I covered all those joints with a permanent sealant tape (the white strips). But first, I had to scrub years of grime from the old sealant–the dark area around the skylight at the right is one I hadn’t cleaned yet when I took this). This little task took three afternoons, but man, my arms are RIPPED now! (click for larger image)

While she was reading up on our trip, I tackled some of the maintenance items that had been languishing on my to-do list for…well, let’s just say, for too long. An RV rolling down the road is like a house that gets hit by an earthquake every few days: things are constantly breaking and in need of repair. Our electric fireplace/space heater had died several weeks ago, and needed to be replaced; the joints and seams on our roof needed to be re-sealed; a couple tire pressure sensors on our truck needed replacement; a mud dauber screen on our furnace vent had come off and needed to be replaced; the freezer needed defrosting; wheel lug nuts needed to be re-torqued; various latches needed adjustment and lubrication; and so on.

As with internet service, cell connectivity is not guaranteed along our route. So there were also many phone calls to make: our RV insurance renewal, planning for the rally we’re hosting in central Oregon for the solar eclipse in August, ferry bookings, campground research, and more. And we took advantage of plentiful bandwidth to update our GPS database, sell some stuff on eBay that was left over from last summer’s purge, and research cell phone options for Canada, among other things.

Because groceries (like everything else) will be more expensive and with less selection in Alaska, we made a marathon Walmart run to stock up on non-perishable staples to take with us. And finally, I cooked several dishes that went into that now frost-free freezer, so that we have some easy meals to enjoy on our long travel days.

Our little freezer is stuffed with food for our trip up north.

Our little freezer is stuffed with food for long driving days when we don’t have time to cook. (click for larger image)

Being in one place for a while also allowed us to have some Amazon orders shipped to us: a new electric fireplace and trim kit, a propane-fueled campfire (because we’ve discovered that many campgrounds don’t allow wood fires), a heavy-duty emergency tire repair kit (a tip we learned from watching one of the many videos by Gone With the Wynns from their own Alaska adventure), and some other staple consumables that we knew would be harder to find up north.

So now, we feel much more prepared for our Canada and Alaska adventure. And after all of that work, I think we’re ready for a vacation!

“Experience Comes from Bad Judgment”: A Nail-Biting Drive Through San Francisco

Our planned route through San Francisco. Simple enough, right? (click for larger image)

As a general rule, we don’t take our rig off of major roads and highways in large, crowded cities. At almost 62 feet long, more than 13 feet high, and nearly 13 tons in weight, the truck/trailer combination can’t just go anywhere. But heading north from Half Moon Bay, CA yesterday morning, we knew that we couldn’t avoid traveling through San Francisco to get to the Golden Gate Bridge and across the bay into Marin County. There just aren’t any other reasonable routes. The camp host at our park recommended we skirt up the far west side of the peninsula, which promised less vehicle congestion and bicycle traffic than plowing through the heart of the city on the route recommended by Google Maps and our RV-specific Garmin 760RV GPS. As a bonus, we’d be treated to scenic views along the coastline.

We programmed the route into the Garmin, and it didn’t raise any objections based on our size and weight. So off we went. And it looked great until we got just past the San Francisco Zoo…where we discovered that the coastal road northbound was closed for some reason. There was a semi-permanent gate across the road, but strangely neither Google Maps nor the Garmin (which receives real-time traffic and road closure updates) had told us about it.

A sign on the gate told us to detour to a major north-south road a few blocks to the east, which we did. We had no idea how much of the coastal road was closed, but I kept expecting to see another detour sign telling me when it was safe to turn back west to our original route. That sign never appeared, however. It looked like we were going through the heart of the city after all.

The route we actually ended up taking. It felt much more complicated than it looks! (click for larger image)

As soon as we’d turned off, Cheryl was on Google Maps, trying to plan a new route that would avoid any problems. Meanwhile, the Garmin GPS was giving new instructions that didn’t seem to make any sense, including going around blocks (a right turn and two lefts) to make a simple left turn. Ideally, we would have pulled into a parking lot to sort out a new plan, but that was impossible in this congested city area. With all this input and trying to read all the street signs and avoid hitting anything, my brain was soon overloaded. Pilots call this “getting behind the airplane”. I was most definitely behind the RV at this point.

Red alert…

I’m sure San Francisco’s traffic engineers know what they’re doing. But to me, the surface roads around Golden Gate Park seemed to be a tangled mess of random “no left turns” and one-way streets. Cheryl was giving me directions, but either she’d tell me too late and I’d miss a turn, or I couldn’t make it because it wasn’t allowed.

To add to the fun, I noticed in my left mirror that one of our slide-out rooms was open a few inches, and seemed to slowly be creeping out as we drove. Worrying about that further added to my mental workload.

And finally, it all caught up with us. Prohibited from turning left on the north-south street that would have pointed us in the right direction, we crossed it instead. The Garmin told me that there was a cloverleaf-type turn on the right that would turn us around and allow us to turn right on the street. As I headed into the turn, I remember saying out loud, “I sure hope I don’t regret this.”

Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

Where we got stuck (Stanyan St. at JFK Dr./Oak St.). The yellow arrow shows where we wanted to go. The red arrow is where we tried to go. (click for larger image)

Yeah, I regretted it almost immediately. The turn was very tight, and like most streets in San Francisco, parked cars lined the inside of the turn. Well into the turn, I realized there was no possible way I’d be able to complete it without hitting one of the cars with the trailer. We couldn’t go forward, and with a busy three-lane thoroughfare behind us, we couldn’t back up, either. We were well and truly stuck. I said a few choice words, because I knew I should have known better than to drive into a place that I wasn’t certain I could get out of.

We had no choice but to stop traffic on the road so that we could back up out of the cloverleaf. Cheryl got out and started to play traffic cop. Not surprisingly, most of the San Francisco drivers weren’t too happy about that, and they let her know it. Finally, a kind driver in a construction truck stopped in the lane and turned on his yellow flashing lights. Other drivers grudgingly gave in, and I was able to back the rig up into the main road.

I pulled the rig into along the curb, blocking traffic in the right lane, and put on my four-way flashers. But now, Cheryl was on the opposite side of the street, and traffic wouldn’t let up long enough for her to cross over to get back in the truck. Much honking ensued, but after what seemed like an eternity, she was finally able to cross the road, climb in, and we were on our way once more–headed further east, but at least we were moving.

I was still worried about the slide-out, but there was no way I was stopping again until we were out of the city. So we found our way to the Golden Gate Bridge, crossed it, and drove several miles into Marin County until we found a wide shoulder on the highway where we could pull off, gather what was left of our wits and retract the slide. The rest of the trip, fortunately, was without incident, except for sitting in heavy traffic on US 101 for about 20 miles.

Another popular saying among pilots is “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” That was certainly true for us yesterday. What would I have done differently?

  1. I maybe should have stuck with the original route that Google and the Garmin GPS suggested, and just put up with the traffic and construction. It was the most direct route, on major streets, with the fewest turns.
  2. When the GPS said to go around a block to make a left turn to go north, I should not have ignored the advice. It turns out that the left turn was prohibited, forcing us to continue further east into unknown territory. (But, I had no way to be sure that I could have navigated the streets to make the turn, either.) Every time we don’t follow the GPS routing, it takes several seconds to calculate a new route, putting me further behind the RV because I don’t know where I’m going until then.
  3. When I had that bad feeling about turning into the cloverleaf, I should have passed it by until I could find a turn I was sure I could make. Here’s where I should have ignored the GPS’ routing. That Garmin is pretty smart, but it doesn’t know about turning radii or cars parked on a road. A cardinal rule for driving a big rig: Never drive your RV into someplace that you’re not certain (or at least reasonably sure) you can get out of.
  4. We need to add a yellow highway safety vest (like this one) to our gear. If she had been wearing one, Cheryl would have been much more visible (and maybe more official-looking?) when she was trying to direct traffic.

On the other hand, we both kept our cool–pretty much, at least–and by slowing down and thinking through the problem, we managed not to damage our rig or anything else around us. At the end of the day, I’ll take a bruised ego over something that could have been much worse.