Sunday, December 13, 2015

RV we getting mail on the road?

What to do about getting mail on the road is an issue all longtime RVers–to-be face. Should we ask a family member or friend if we can have our mail forwarded to them and then have them send it along to us? Should we use a commercial mail service? Or?

What you decide can have implications you may not have thought of.

Many national RV organizations offer mail forwarding services, and they probably work very well. Before you go this route, especially if your mail will be sent to another state, check with your insurance companies. Some consider your mailing address to be your legal residency, which means you could find yourself having to license your vehicles in that state.

We knew from the start, we didn’t want to change our legal residency until we bought a house. We opted to contract with our local UPS store to handle our mail. We got a mailbox and they filled it with our mail. All we had to do to get our mail forwarded was call or email them, and we got it via USPS Priority Mail about three days later.  (I found it somewhat ironic that the post office was cheaper than UPS for delivering the mail.)

To cut down on the amount of mail, I requested ebills as much as possible. I also paid our bills via my bank’s bill pay. All of this worked very well, until we bought a house in another state.

We filed change of addresses with the postal service and promptly got a reply they do not forward mail sent to commercial mail receiving agencies, which services like UPS are.  Plus, these agencies are only required to forward mail for six months, not the year that the postal service does. To make it even more interesting, while the post office just slaps a yellow sticker on the envelope with your new address, they require the mailing service to pay for new postage for any mail forwarded.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Our tips for successful RV travel

We’ve lived in our 28-foot travel trailer now for almost two years, traveling back and forth between Washington and Arizona. This wasn’t exactly what we planned to do when we sold our house in Washington and headed south in December 2013. We’re buying a house just outside of Tucson and in the future will limit our RVing to short trips. 

Along the way, we learned a lot about RVing and caring for out trailer:

1.    Pack light. We brought too much stuff. The more stuff you have in your trailer the harder it will be to pull, and the lower the gas mileage you’ll get on your tow vehicle.

2.    Pack small. You don’t need a full-size vacuum; a small one will do the job and take up less room. Pillsbury makes a line of plastic kitchen tools, such as a cutting board and collapsible colander, that fit nicely in a kitchen drawer. Get a Swiffer Sweeper or something similar. It comes apart for easy storage and does a pretty good job of keeping floors clean. The generic wet pads available under the Kroger label, work just as well as Swiffer pads and are cheaper.

3.    You’ll need two garden hoses. If you bought your RV from  a dealer, they probably gave you a white hose to connect to the freshwater tank. You’ll also need a hose to connect to the black water tank to flush it out after you’ve drained it; just make sure this hose is a different color. You can get a little device at a hardware store that allows you to connect both hoses to the RV park’s water line at the same time.

4.    Sewer hoses don’t seem to last very long. We’ve gone through about six in the time we’ve been on the road.  A device reminiscent of a Slinky toy is handy to have as it will facilitate draining the tanks if you put the hose on top of it.

5.    Don’t expect to drive long distances, especially if you’ve been parked in an RV park for a month or more. It takes time to readjust to pulling the trailer again. We try to limit the first day to about 200 miles – you could do more if you have two drivers – and about 300 to 350 miles the other days. Some days we’ve only gone a hundred miles. We’ve also found that after three to four days of consecutive driving, we need to stop and regroup for a few days.

6.    Be sure to leave plenty of room between you and vehicles in front. It takes longer to stop n RV than it does a passenger car.

7.    We have our refrigerator set to automatic, meaning it will switch back and forth between electricity and propane as needed so you don’t have to remember to do this. Check with the RV manufacturer to see if it’s okay to do this with the fridge in your rig. We haven’t had any problems while traveling, and it’s nice to have cold food when you stop for the night.  Most refrigerators will keep stuff cold without power or propane for a few hours, but it takes about a day to cool the refrigerator down again if you do this.  
8.    To internet or not to internet, that is the question. Most RV parks these days offer free wireless. It connectivity is really important to you and you don’t want to end up in  park that doesn’t have wireless,  portable hotspot may work for you. We got one shortly after we started out; it was handy to have, but expensive. We later cancelled the contract. If a park we’re staying in doesn’t offer wireless, we’ll head to the nearest public library. If you take your own laptop, you’re not bound by their usage limits of 30 ot 60 minutes.

The fine print: The FTC requires me to tell you if I received any compensation for products recommended here. I did not; it's all stuff I bought and used.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Climbing steep hills or where's the Avon Lady?

Water jugs and Union Pass
RVers traveling around the United States will soon find out that hills are a fact of life.

Some are short gentle hills, others are steep monsters climbing over several miles. I think the steepest hill we encountered was in northern California. We were traveling east from Eureka to Redding; the climb into Weaverville, a former mining town, was short but extremely steep. We crept up it at about 10 mph. Going down the other side wasn’t a piece of cake, either.  It was a long grade with lots of curves over several miles. We had to have the truck brakes replaced in Redding.

Other steep routes we’ve encountered were i-70 across Utah, with elevations that reached more than 7,000 feet; Montana’s Beartooth Highway that connects Billings with the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park; and Highway 395 through eastern Oregon. This is a very complete list, but when you’re traveling the western United States you need to be prepared for lots of climbing 

Start with always making sure your brakes are in good working condition. Always have water and antifreeze handy in case your RV overheats going up a steepy. You can always get water from your RV’s freshwater tank, but antifreeze for the radiator may not be as handy.

Our truck, which pulls a 28-foot travel trailer, has only had one bad overheating instance in the last two years. We were driving east from Bullhead /City to Kingman in northern Arizona. It was a long, slow climb that was steeper than it appeared. We saw several overheated vehicles as we climbed. We made it to the summit at Union Pass without any problems, or so we thought. We pulled off the road at the summit to eat lunch. My husband had just gone back to the trailer when smoke and steam started pouring out of the truck’s hood. Yep, the truck had overheated.

While we were waiting for the radiator to cool down, I noticed three jugs of water sitting by the elevation sign. Tucked between two jugs was an Avon catalog left there by Amy’s Avon of Bullhead City.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take the number off the catalog so I couldn’t call her and find out how long she’s been leaving water up there for stranded motorists and how often she replenishes the jugs.

It’s more than 30 miles between Bullhead City and Kingman; I would guess the elevation sign is more than halfway, so taking water up there would be time-consuming.  I hope she gets lots of orders from grateful motorists for her efforts.  

Not all stranded motorists will have water with them, so leaving water jugs there provides a real benefit, not to mention good customer relations for Amy’s Avon.



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

BLM campgrounds easy on RVers' budgets

BLM campground in northern Arizona
Many RVers are on a budget and always looking for ways to cut costs. Campground fees are one area where they can do this. Private RV parks charge monthly rates as low as $10 per night, plus electricity, where they may charge overnighters as much as $40 to $50 a night.
Camping facilities operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management make it easy on an RVer's budget with dirt cheap, even free, fees.
As we drove through Arizona and Nevada, we’d see RVs parked in the middle of nowhere, with no other rigs in sight. Camping like this on BLM land is free.  Slightly more organized are BLM campgrounds like those on the outskirts of Lake Havasu City and Quartzsite in Arizona.  At Quartzsite, especially, you’ll see hundreds of rigs in BLM campgrounds that cost $140 for three months during the winter season. Rigs must be self-contained; businesses selling propane and potable water, or collecting waste water in the black and gray tanks, come to you. I don’t know what these services cost, but they should be factored into the budget.

We boondocked a couple of days at a BLM campground a few miles out of Lake Havasu City. Located just off a major highway, you had to drive over a very bumpy road to get there. The camping area itself was not level and covered with a fine, almost sand like, gravel. We stayed there two nights, enjoying the peace and beauty, and would have stayed longer if we could have had a level spot where the trailer jacks didn’t sink into the ground.

BLM campgrounds generally aren’t very fancy, like those operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but they’re workable. Not all of them are like the BLM campground at McKays Bend, about 20 miles east of Lewiston, Idaho, on Highway 12 to Missoula, Montana.

McKays Bend campground in Idaho
McKays Bend is gorgeous, better even than some of the private RV parks we’ve stayed at. Picnic tables sitting on concrete pads, barbecues, asphalt pads for parking the RVs on, spacious sites with beautiful green grass and lots of shade trees, and full hookups, all for $18 a night ($9 if you have federal access or senior passes). Oh, it even has showers, which I’m told makes it the only BLM campground to have them. BLM generally isn’t into showers. But they were here when BLM took over managing the campground from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

And did I mention McKay Bends is on the Clearwater River? The river is just a short walk away. Strolling along the river bank at sunset is a nice way to end the day.

There's another BLM campground a few miles east of McKays Bend. We took a look at it. Sites seem bigger, but there's less shade and green grass. Still, it's nicer than some private parks we've been in, But, clearly, McKays Bend is going to ruin us for other BLM campgrounds.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Not all RV spaces are created equal

Camping at an Oregon State Park
It’s no surprise to learn that all RV parks are not created equal, but it may surprise some, especially those new to RVing, that not all sites within a park are equal. They’re not.

Some spots are gravel, others gravel with concrete pads and still others are all asphalt.  In some parks, what you pay for a site determines the surface of your spot. Some sites have lawn, picnic tables and shade trees, yet in the same park, other RVers will find themselves wilting under a hot sun.

In some parks, the sites are different widths.  It never fails that park management will put the smallest rigs in the wider spots, while big rigs get sites so narrow they can barely drive through them. I’ve seen this happen at parks where every site pays the same rate.

Some parks leave plenty of room between spaces, which is nice. Others force rigs to  park so close together, you sometimes are unable to put out your slides; sometimes rigs are so close together, you can hear the people next door snoring or making other bodily noises.

Some pull throughs are so short, the back of the trailer or the front of the truck, sometimes both, extend into the street, making it difficult for other vehicles to get through.

Price doesn't seem to matter. Two of the most expensive parks we've stayed in had the worst facilities. In both cases, we would have not stayed at these places if we'd had other choices.

Some of the nicest parks we stayed at were the least expensive with clean, nice facilities and friendly managers.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

RV friends with casinos? You bet!

Players club cards
I’ve collected many things in my life: stamps, baseball cards (when I was a kid), souvenir wine glasses (but only if I liked the wine)…but one thing I never thought I’d have a collection of was casino players club cards.

I’ve never been much of a gambler, so I never bothered with players club cards. Then I became a full-time RVer. Casinos became a favorite stopping place when we were on the road. And not just to gamble, either.

Casinos are good places for RVers to stay overnight. Free. Some casinos have specially designated parking lots for self-contained RVs; some parking lots are paved, with spaces outlined in white lines. Others can be just dirt or gravel fields. Some casinos offer shuttle service between the RV parking lot and the casino.

Some casinos limit RV parking to players club members; others don’t care, but look upon their freeloading guests more favorably if they belong to the casino’s players club.

Players club memberships are free; many come with benefits, like $5 in free play or discounts at a casino restaurant. If we’re boondocking at a casino, we’ll usually eat at least one meal there, maybe spend a couple of bucks in slot machines.

If we have a choice of boondocking at a casino or a truck stop, we’ll go for the casino every time. We tried a truck stop one time and only one time, because we were tired and couldn’t find any RV parks or casinos. The only overnight parking was at the entrance, and trucks coming and going all night made it impossible to sleep. At 4 a.m., we said the heck with it and got back on the road.



Friday, May 1, 2015

RV breakdowns on the road

Before they even hit the road, RVers worry about what happens if their RV or tow vehicle breaks down, far away from their familiar repair shops. It’s a legitimate worry.

Basically, repair shops can be a crap shoot. Some are good, others are rip-offs. In 15 months on the road, we’ve had experience with both types. A couple of times, we’ve had the luxury of asking locals for recommendations, while other times we had to settle for the first repair shop that came along.

We encountered a great example of good service in Cedar City, Utah. The truck started having problems as we neared Cedar City on Interstate 15. We stopped at a Love’s truck stop; the clerk recommended Rolling Rubber and gave directions to find it. We pulled in there. A mechanic stopped what he was doing, quickly diagnosed and repaired the problem, and we were on our way in less than 30 minutes. He refused to accept payment for the parts or his labor.

In this day of big box stores and online shopping, finding a business that provides this high level of customer service is extraordinary; it is even more extraordinary when a business goes out of its way for customers who are just passing through.

Contrast this with the repair service we received at an RV dealership in a small Arizona town. A water pipe broke and flooded the bedroom. The shop billed us more than $100 to fix the pipe. A week later, the leak was back. It turned out the repair shop had only taped the broken piece back together. This time, Jon fixed it himself with an 89-cent part he got at a hardware store.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that sooner or later you’re going to have breakdowns on the road. There are, however, a few things you can do to make the experience less painful.

One, if your RV is new or less than five years old, buy a maintenance service contract, either from the dealer or someplace else. These are expensive; ours cost $1,500 for five years, so we thought seriously about spending that much money when we bought our trailer. We’re glad we did; the first repair bill was $2,300, but our cost was only $100. So far, repair costs total more than $6,000, but we’ve only paid out $400.

Which brings us to No. 2: be prepared to make simple repairs yourself. Jon’s changed three of the overhead lights in the trailer; replaced a circuit breaker by upgrading it from 20 amps to 30 amps so we could use the microwave and the air conditioner at the same time, and fixed a broken toilet, among other things. When we were in Yuma, one of the parts guys at the RV Super Center was a whiz at diagnosing problems based on Jon’s explanation of what he thought was wrong. He knew the parts we needed as well as any special tools it took to do the repair. (Jon brought along about half his tools, so he’d have what he needed if our scooters or truck broke down, but some just wouldn’t work on the trailer.)

Three, get a roadside assistance plan. You can get these through your vehicle/RV insurance company, but they may limit you on dollar amount or the distance towed. We have Good Sam’s roadside assistance, and it’s been a godsend. You get five service calls a year for $79 plus Good Sam membership. We used it three times the first year, including for one tow that would have cost us $700. We’ve also used it when we ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere, had a flat tire and no spare, and got locked out of the truck, with spare keys in the trailer, which was a hundred miles away.