I have been debating (mostly with myself) which date to use as our full-time anniversary date. Believe it or not, yes, there are a few to choose from. The first one we could choose to use is August 9, which is the date we moved our bed from the house and the kitties to the RV and we stopped sleeping at the house. Some feel that is “the date” b/c it is when the RV became our “home”. That is completely valid, and a lot of people would use that date. The next date up for consideration is Aug 29, which is the date we closed on our house, and we were “houseless”, which some would say is when the RV truly became our “home”, since the house wasn’t an option any more. Still others might choose to use the date we were free to roam as we want, which was Bill’s last day of work at his job, which is Sept 26. I really never considered using this date, as I know plenty of full-timers that still have their jobs and work from the road. The last possible date could be Oct 25, which was our “launch date”, the date we pulled out of PA to begin our adventure. We had spent October in PA, near where our house was, getting solar installed, getting Bill a toolbox for the truck and doing other things to get the rig ready for leaving. I never really considered that date either, as the rig had been our “home” for a while before that.
I ultimately decided to use Aug 29. That seems like the date of no return, the rig truly became our home b/c we no longer had a house to call home. Some may agree, some may disagree, but for us, this seemed like “the date”. Either way, it is no big deal, just a silly technicality, a date I will use when calculating the things I want to summarize, that’s all.
First and foremost, I want to say one of the most frequent questions we get asked is: “Do you miss having a house?” – to which we will both reply “NO!”. Of course it would be silly to not admit that there are times an extra closet or half bath or guest room wouldn’t be convenient (more on that in another post), but ultimately, we do not miss the house. We did not miss shoveling snow this past winter, we do not miss cutting the grass, we do not miss all the maintenance things we needed to do to keep the house in good repair and up to date. Owning a home (house) is a HUGE responsibility. We created many happy memories in each of the homes we lived in while raising our family, each served it purpose in our lives at that time, as our 5th wheel now does. Of course, there are things that need to be done with the rig to keep it running smoothly, and also the truck and car, but on a much smaller scale, so far at least. We have no responsibility for grounds keeping or any of that, but also no control either, some places we visit (Surf and Stream for example) could use a bit of TLC, but we are only here for a short time and then we move on to the next place.
Guess summarizing campgrounds would be a good place to start. In the past year, we have stayed in 26 (we stayed at one CG twice – Mountain Top outside of Pittsburgh) campgrounds in 8 states.
– Our longest stay in one place was at Clearwater Travel Resort in Clearwater FL, where we stayed for 38 nights. Read more about this CG: Clearwater RV Resort
– In contrast, our shortest stay (other than overnights boondocking – more on that later) was at Stony Fork Campground in VA, which was only 3 nights. Read more here: Flanners Beach Campground
We have stayed 3 other times for a month, Flanners Beach in New Bern, NC (28 nights), Ocean Waves, Rodanthe, NC (more info here: Ocean Waves Campground) for a full 30 nights and Mountain Top Campground in Tarentum PA (near Pittsburgh) for 30 nights (more info here: Mountain Top Campground). (as a side note: we have also learned that a “month” is different in different places, some consider it more 28 days – the “in on a Wednesday – out on a Wednesday” – some are “in on the 5th – out on the 5th) We also stayed at Brandywine Creek Campground in Downingtown PA (more info: Brandywine Creek Campground) for 32 nights, but we were gone in the middle for 11 nights when we went to IN for rig repairs, so the nights weren’t consecutive. We have learned that we do appreciate and enjoy longer stays, and generally try to stay at least 2 weeks before moving on.
Next, I want to talk about least expensive vs most expensive campgrounds, and also talk about the different ways we have saved some money.
– The most expensive place we have stayed so far and by far was Sunshine Key in the FL Keys (review here: Sunshine Key ) at $109 (including taxes/resort fee) per night. We stayed there for 2 weeks and was our splurge b/c Bill worked an extra 3 weeks at his job, and it was to celebrate both of us turning 50 and also starting this new chapter of our lives.
– The least expensive place we’ve stayed was Flanners Beach in New Bern NC, where we paid $11 per night. I’ll get into how we got that rate later when talking about memberships. We stayed there 28 nights. Check out more into on this CG here: Flanners Beach Campground
I mentioned memberships above. Let’s get into that now. We have joined Passport America, Escapees, Good Sam,Thousand Trails and America the Beautiful.
– Passport America – you basically get 50% off regularly published rates, subject to (sometimes a lot of) restrictions. IF there is the resort fee, you pay that over and above the nightly rate and you don’t get 50% off that. It is well worth the $44 per year to join. We have used it at only 3 places we’ve stayed – I’ll break it down below for you:
– – Sands of Time, Avon, NC (OBX) – We stayed at this CG for 13 nights and they let us use Passport America for all those nights. Their regular rate is $48 per night, so we paid/saved $312. This campground does not offer weekly rates. Here is a review of this CG: Sands of Time
– – Clearwater Travel Resort, Clearwater FL – We used Passport America for our first week here, as they have a 7 night limit. Their regular rate is $47 per night, so we paid/saved $164.50. To be fair, they do offer a weekly rate of $275, but we still saved $110.50 off that.
– – Surf and Stream Campground, Toms River NJ – We used Passport America for our entire 14 nights there, which was their limit. Their regular rate is $56 per night, so we paid/saved $392. This campground does not offer weekly rates. More info about this CG: Surf and Stream
Total savings with Passport America: $868.50 – if you take out the $44 per year, we are still ahead by $828.50! Now, we do have to keep in mind, we may or may not have chosen these campgrounds if they weren’t part of the Passport America membership, but the rates I told you are the going rates for those areas.
– Escapees: We joined Escapees more for their magazine and access to their information for full-time RV’ers and to just support an awesome organization, but when staying at one of their parks, being a member does save you some money. We have stayed at one of their parks. We paid a special rate to join – $35 (usually $39.99)
– – Sumter Oaks, Bushnell FL – We stayed here for 13 nights. Their regular rates for non-members is $28.50 per night, for members $21 per night. So, for the 13 nights, we saved $97.50. Review here: Sumter Oaks
So, a total savings at Escapees CG’s of $97.50. If you account for the $35 we paid for the membership we are still ahead $62.50.
– Good Sam: We joined Good Sam, not only for discounts on CG’s, but also for the $.03 off a gallon of gas/fuel at Flying J/Pilot’s and also discounts at Camping World. We have only used them twice for their 10% off discount at CG’s.
– – Stone Mountain Campground, near Atlanta GA: We stayed here for 8 nights. Their regular rate is $45 per night (for the site we were on), so we saved $36. Review here: Stone Mountain
– – Clearwater Travel Resort, Clearwater FL: We used Good Sam discount for only 3 nights of our stay, which were inbetween using Passport America and then using their monthly rate. For those 3 nights, we saved $14.10.
So, our total saved with Good Sam (at CG’s) for the year was $47.10, if you, take into account we paid $25 for the membership, we are still ahead $22.10, and that doesn’t include gas/fuel discounts.
– Thousand Trails: This one is a bit more complicated. We joined this one b/c we knew we would be in the northeast for the summer and rates here can be crazy high. We got a show special (Tampa RV Show was going on when we purchased) of buy one zone at regular price $545/get one for $100, and then b/c we were staying at an Encore Park, they gave us $200 off for that, plus we had them “sweeten” the deal a bit more by adding a Ready Camp Go card, which normally sells for $99 and you get 30 nights at $20 per night. So, our total cost was about $500 with taxes. (as a side note: if you are going to get this, if you can help it, don’t buy it where tax is 12% – just a suggestion) Included in the $500 is 30 nights camping – with no fees, nothing, then all nights after that are only $3 per night. Of course, there are restrictions, in a TT park for 14 nights max, then out for 7 nights minimum before you can stay again (or I should say stay using TT rates) I know, it’s confusing, and there are tons of different “plans” out there, but this is the one we have. We have used TT nights at 3 places and so far the Ready Camp Go card at one.
– – Lynchburg RV Resort, Lynchburg VA: We stayed here for 4 nights. Their regular rate is $38 per night X 4 = $152. We paid $0. More about this CG: Lynchburg RV Resort
– – Circle M Campground, Millersville PA: We stayed here for 14 nights. Their regular rate is $62 per night ($58 per night fee + $4 per night resort fee), for a total of $868, we paid $0. Here is more about this CG: Circle M
– Timothy Lake South, East Stroudsburg PA. We stayed here for 7 nights. This one we didn’t use TT, we used our Ready Camp Go, since we had just left Circle M, we needed to be out of the TT system for 7 nights. Their regular fee is $71 ($68 per night + $3 per night resort fee), we paid $20 per night, so we saved $357. Here is more info: Timothy Lake South
– – Lake and Shore RV Resort, Ocean View NJ: We will be here 16 nights, but only 10 are in the first year, so that is what we will use here. Their regular rate is $44 per night ($41 + $3 resort fee), for a total of $440, we paid $0.
So, for Thousand Trails and the Ready Camp Go card, we have saved a total of $1817. Accounting for the $500 we paid for the membership, we are WAY ahead with a total savings of $1317! Again, I want to mention, we may or may not have stayed at these EXACT parks without this membership, but we did want to be in the areas where we stayed, so it is likely we would have paid similar “regular” rates for other parks nearby. Also, keep in mind, our year is not up with this membership. We are using at least the Ready Camp Go 2 more times before the year on it runs out, once will be at Sunshine Key, where we will pay $20 per night instead of $109 per night – YAY!
– America the Beautiful: We purchased this “card” when we arrived at Flanners Beach, New Bern NC. The cost was $80 and it is good for a year. We knew we would get our money worth just for the one stay, but we did use it again another time also. This card is also good for admittance into National Parks, so I am sure we will use it for that as well in the future.
– – Flanners Beach, New Bern NC: We stayed here a total of 28 nights. Their regular fee is $12 per night, plus $5 per night electric = $17 per night. With America the Beautiful, we saved 50% off the per night, but not the electric, so we paid $11 per night, for a savings of $168.
– – Stony Fork Campground, Wytheville VA: We stayed here 3 nights and it was the same deal as it was in NC. $11 per night instead of $17, so a savings of $18.
So, for America the Beautiful, we have saved $106, after taking out what we paid for it. Good deal!
If you are looking for another way to save money on CG fees, look into staying a month vs another length of time, we have found that monthly rates are usually around 3’ish weeks of daily rates. It’s like getting the 4th week for free! Just a reminder, make sure if they consider a month 28 days or the full month.
Another way we have saved some money is by boondocking for quick sleep-only stops during longer drives. In the past year, we have done this for a total of 10 nights. Seven of those nights were at rest areas/truck stops, 2 have been at Cracker Barrels (it’s kind of hard to say you are saving money staying at a Cracker Barrel when you go in for dinner and then again for breakfast, but at least you have a happy tummy, right?) and one night we arrived the night before our scheduled arrive date at a CG and spent the night in their staging/parking area. This happened b/c we were going to spend the night at a Walmart, one we had stayed at before, but the atmosphere had changed completely and we didn’t feel safe, so we just continued on to the CG. Of course, we called ahead and explained the situation and asked if it was ok. They said “sure – come on down!”, so we did! In figuring out how much we saved, we averaged what we spent per night and came to about $25 per night – we did not include the Keys in that b/c that was our celebration splurge that will not be repeated, so we saved about $250 by boondocking.
I’m going to switch gears now to modifications we have done to the rig. “Mods” as they are commonly known in the RV world are changes we make to our rigs to make them more “homey” and useful to us individually. I may use “we” or Bill or hubby, but just to clarify – I had little, if anything to do with any of this, other than to help make the decisions to do them. All installs, except the solar, were handled by Bill. Although he did help with the solar quite a bit, he has this “need” to know how things are done and how they work – so glad one of us has that!
– The largest and most costly modification we have done has been adding solar. A lot of thought went into making the decision to do this, mostly due to cost. I will not be posting what we paid for our system, as each rig and couples needs are different and I don’t want anyone being misled by what we paid. I will tell you this is what the system we have includes:
– – 6 (later added a 7th) 160 watt panels – made by Grape Solar
– – 2800 watt Magnum Pure Sine Inverter (the rig came with a 1000 watt Magnum Pure Sine Inverter, which we kept and still use just to run the residential refrigerator)
– – 6 6 volt Lifeline AGM batteries for a total of 660 amp hours at 12 volts
– – Morningstar Solar Charge Controller with remote display
– – Magnum remote display with D/C shunt monitoring
– – added a separate A/C sub-panel for solar circuits
– – associated hardware (catastrophic fuse; D/C solar circuit breaker; isolation switches, etc)
You can read more about it and see some pics of the install here: Solar Install
– Bill switched out our bathroom faucet. It had started leaking and even though he felt like he could fix it, we both hated it, so a new one was bought and installed. I LOVE my bathroom faucet now! Faucet
– Another larger project was cutting down the bed platform from a king size to a queen. Most manufacturers just have one size platform and the size of the piece of plywood on top of it is different, but not Heartland. They actually have a larger platform (the box the bed sits on) for king size beds. We wanted to bring our queen size sleep-number bed from home, so a cut-down was done. He did a great job, with my Dads help and we gained 10 inches of room! I just realized, when going to look for the link to the page describing this that I never posted about it. It was done in Dec around the time my nephew was killed and I just never did it. Guess I should. Check back for it another time! Bill really did a great job!
– A smaller project, but one that made a much needed positive impact was changing the back splash. The rig came with this fake tile thing glued to the wall and there was nothing to protect the wood cabinet that was right next to the stove. We picked out some thin glass mosaic tile at home depot, and after removing what was there, installed the tiles pretty easily. Not only does it improve the look of the area, it is also much more functional, being so much easier to keep clean. Here’s the link to it: Install backsplash
– Bill also changed out all our incandescent lights for LED ones. Most of the rig was already LED lights, but a few were the old style, but not any more.
– Speaking of lights, hubby also added a new light to my closet. I use the one that is where the washer/dryer would do if we had that option, but it didn’t come with a light. He ordered it online for me and installed it in no time at all. Now I can SEE! Closet Light
– The newest addition to our rig is the drawers Bill built and installed in the closet we use for our pantry. It is a HUGE space, very deep and plenty of room, but the problem was you couldn’t see what was in the back. I would be looking with a flashlight to see as best I could, and when I saw something I thought I wanted, I would have to take EVERYTHING out to get to it. Not any more! The drawers are awesome! Check out all the pics of the install here: Pantry Drawers
– This isn’t exactly a modification, but something we added to accommodate taking our bicycles along. We got a bike rack that could be used on the back of the rig, car or truck. Originally, we got a Rola 2, which came highly rated, but it failed and we replaced it with a Swagman. Hopefully, this one holds up better. Pics of failed bike rack here: Broken bikes/bike rack New bike rack with fixed bikes here: new bike rack/fixed bikes
– This last item I want to mention isn’t really a rig mod either, but I think it counts just the same. Bill wanted to bring along a bunch of tools, but they added a lot of weight to the rig when they were in the basement, so after EXTENSIVE research, he purchased himself a BRUTE 5th wheel toolbox for the bed of the truck. It fits in between the hitch and the tailgate and does not need to be removed to hook up, as it has a V for the kingpin to fit through. There is a great pic of it in this post: tool box
– Ok – I was only kidding – that wasn’t the last thing I want to mention. We also purchased 2 Honda 2000is generators that live in a locked container in the back of the truck, right behind the window. He has them there so we aren’t adding weight to the rig.
I have to say here, I am one very lucky lady to have such a handy man to call my own. He is great at figuring out how to do things like the things I have listed above and doing them well! VERY well!
Another question we get asked all the time – maybe even more than about missing the house – is about having my car with us and driving separately on drive days. At the end of the day, it is totally personal preference, and there are pros and cons to it. For us, we have found it is totally worth keeping it. I will mention here that we have not been out west yet and things are a lot further apart out there, but for this first year we have found it worth keeping the car. (I am actually going to use Oct 1 as my start date for this, as Bill’s last day at work was Sept 26 and he used the truck for going back and forth to work)
Since Oct 1 we have put a total of 22,510 miles on the car, 16,231 of those miles were not “move” miles, but local miles put on while exploring, doing errands, etc. We have averaged 25.5 mpg, and spent an average of $0.095 per mile for gas it in. On the truck, we have put 7,238 miles, which all but 959 of those were towing the rig. When towing we get an average of 10 mpg and they cost us $0.284 per mile. For the 959 miles we put on while not towing, we got an average of 16 mpg at a cost of $0.178 per mile for fuel. FYI – the way he calculated the per mile cost for fuel/gas was he took the total of what we paid for fuel for the truck and gas for the car and divided by how many miles for each. Yes – he keeps track of EVERY gallon and every mile (and separates towing vs not towing for the truck) – he uses an online page called “Fuelly.com”.
In trying to figure out if it has been financially worth keeping the car, Bill used the above numbers to come to some conclusions. It might become slightly confusing, but he is my numbers guy, this is how his brain works. He can explain it to me an it makes sense, hopefully I can translate it in a way you can all understand. By keeping the car, we put 16,231 less miles on the truck, saving us about $1,347 in fuel costs. That is a HUGE number! Now, we do have to account for a few other things as well. It cost us $1,038 for the year to insure the car. We are still ahead by $309 for the year. Here comes the REAL confusing stuff – Bill looked up how much more the truck is worth on Kelley Blue Book with 16,231 less miles on it, which came out to be $1,960! If we had sold the car last year, KBB says we could have gotten $7,275, this year selling it with the increased miles, KBB says it is worth $6,829, so $446 less. So, we are ahead $1,514 on saved depreciation. So, hopefully you are following me in seeing that we are ahead by $1,823 by keeping the car. Some people might not “see” or use the depreciation when calculating this stuff, but Bill believes it to be a real number, and I agree.
Another thing to keep in mind, that by putting 16,231 less miles on the truck, we can keep those $$$ tires a bit longer, change the oil less, buy less DEF fluid, etc. We didn’t get into those details at all here, but Bill says it amounts to about $568 in saved maintenance on the truck. Maintenance on the car cost about $240 so we are ahead on maintenance by $428 for the time period.
All things considered, the savings for keeping the car is: $1347 fuel + $1823 depreciation + $428 maintenance, which equals $3598; – gas for “travel” miles $596.50, – $1038 car insurance = $1963.50 total savings!
WHEW! That’s more numbers than I usually like to deal with at one time!
Of course, there is the whole driving separate issue. For us, so far anyway, it has not been a big deal. I am going to, again, recognize we have not been out west, where places are further apart. We like to “drive” differently. He likes the windows down, usually no radio, no a/c. I like the windows up with the a/c and radio on, sometimes making phone calls, etc. Sometimes it is nice to just have some time to myself, I’m sure he feels the same way. I like being able to lead the way, making it easier for him, giving him a heads up on things that are coming up. I like being able to scoot ahead and check out an area that we can’t see into to make sure we don’t get the rig into a bad situation. So, we planned all along to re-evaluate keeping the car at the end of the first year, and here we are – and we will be keeping the car! Maybe at the end of year 2 – we will come to different conclusions – I’ll let you know!
I believe this has become my longest post to date!
I really want to give you guys a summary of my feelings at the end of our first year. This has been an amazing journey so far, and we are looking forward to our second year. I think I will post this for now and type another in a week or so to talk more about our thoughts on our first year.