Our One-Year RV Anniversary

One year ago today, we took the plunge and bought our first RV.  It’s been “quite a ride,” too!

Seriously, we have not regretted our decision at all, and we look forward more and more to our trips out in it, even more than I thought we would a year ago when we first got into this new hobby.  Over the past year, we have visited eight state parks, some closer and some further away, as well as a national forest, a nice private lake, and yes, even a quick overnight stay in the parking lot at a Wal-Mart when nothing else was available in that area.   Most have just been long weekend trips, but two trips were full week-long trips and were just awesome.

We have especially enjoyed having our two dogs along with us.  They have adapted to RV travel well, especially our younger dog who has pretty much grown-up spending time each month in the RV with us, and we no longer have to worry about boarding or finding a pet sitter for them while we are gone.

RV Dogs

Our area is mostly lacking in quality boarding facilities, and we really do not like to board them unless there is no other option available.  That is a story for another post sometime, especially after I spent much of last Friday visiting boarding places around town again for the first time in a few years, which was not a good experience at all.

I can best describe the work that we have done on our RV as basic restorations and a few upgrades.  Ours is a 1990’s model motor home, but it was used very little in its lifetime with only about 30K miles when we bought it last year.  The interior was in very good shape, and there was only a small amount of exterior paint fading on the front and rear.  We have since repainted the front and rear stripes that were faded, and that simple restoration is the single thing that outwardly improved the look the most.  The rest of the exterior received several treatments with a chemical paint restoration product, and we are quite pleased with the exterior look now.

Inside the RV, we painted the ceilings in the two bathroom areas and the wood trim in the driver’s cab, which was in need of some attention from sun and heat exposure over the years.  We also added matching wood molding around the skylights in the main cabin to dress them up a bit.  We replaced all four of the roof vents/skylights right away, as most had holes in the netting where bugs could have flown in.  We also updated all of the plumbing fixtures throughout the rig to avoid any issues with possible leaks in the future, and we also recently updated the hardware in the bathroom.  Everything has been steam cleaned at least twice throughout the RV, including the curtains which are in great shape.  I have also lemon-oiled all of the woodwork once a month, too.  Even though a few of the cabinet doors were a little dry from lack of attention, the lemon oil has brought them back very nicely, and regular oil treatments seem to be working just fine.

My husband has spent quite a bit of time on general engine maintenance over this past year, as he likes to tinker with it in his spare time.  Every belt and hose has been replaced, as well as other work that he wanted to do on it.  We paid a professional RV mechanic to do a few things, including the replacement of pretty much everything associated with braking system and the master cylinder.  We also had the fuel tank removed and boiled out, and we also replaced the fuel pump and filter.  (This is something that we recommend to anyone buying an older motor home now, too.)  The Onan generator was repaired by a certified Onan mechanic, and it has run perfectly since that repair.  We put six new tires on it the day after we bought it, which along with the generator repair, was factored into the price we paid upfront.

At this point, we have a great 31 foot RV that has everything working perfectly on it and many things brand new.  We have beds for four or five people, a new refrigerator and freezer that runs on propane or electric (thanks to the previous owner), microwave/convection oven combo, gas range, double-sided sink, lots of cabinet storage space inside including a slide out pantry and a large closet, a sofa and two nice rocking chairs, two captains chairs that swivel around to the living area when parked, a table for two that folds back against the wall when not in use, two additional tables that can be set up inside when needed, two ceiling mounted refrigerated air conditioners, central heat with a thermostat, bathroom with separate shower and toilet areas, bathroom sink, HD TV with an updated TV antenna on top of the rig and electronic signal finder inside, DVD player, new sound system and speakers, phone connection (if we want it, when available), cable TV connection (when available), automatic step for the main door, gas grill outside (on the side of the rig), and an 18-foot awning, We are out less than $11K on everything, too, including the repairs and updates we have done, which is still well within an acceptable price range for a good RV of this age.  On any given four-day / three-night weekend trip to some nice destinations within a three-hour drive, we save at least $300 in hotel, boarding fees and food costs, even when we factor in the cost of the fuel for the motor home.  But of course, hotels are not even available inside the parks, so camping in the RV has finally opened up this great option for us, rather than having to commute in and out of the parks when we go.

In addition, we have added some outdoor amenities, too.  We each have a nice outdoor chair, and we purchased a great outdoor rug from Camping World that folds up with little effort, is easy to clean and will not mold.  I also made side panels and a front panel for our awning to help us claim a bit more shade in the hotter weather months.  I bought the sun shade fabric and sun shade grommets from Home Depot in their garden section, and the panels were simple to make and just attach to the awning with velcro strips on the sides and to on our regular clips on the front.  Similar awning panels are quite expensive to buy and would have cost over $300 for ours, but I made these for around $80 total.  We also bring along a mister and a good utility fan to use outdoors when it is really hot, too.  Of course, we also have a selection of awning lights and solar light stakes to use at our campsite.  The solar light stakes are great to have, especially when walking outside on a moonless night to walk the dogs, as it gets really, really dark in the middle of nowhere.

The most important benefit of RV travel for us, by far, is the quality time that we’ve been able to have away from home and cell phones and email and news and the everyday stresses of life these days.  We have also been pleasantly surprised at the number of family and friends that have also jumped on the “RV bandwagon” since we bought ours, too.  It’s fun to have family and friends that also enjoy this hobby, and we are looking forward to all the great new experiences in store and the fun new memories that we will make.  We certainly did our part over this past year to make some new camping memories, and it’s been a great ride indeed!

Lakefront Camping Sunset
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A Welcome Break in the Mountains

We just returned from several days in the wonderfully cool mountains of southern New Mexico at Cloudcroft and loved almost every minute of our time there.  As I previously mentioned, this was our first real boon-docking trip in our RV, and I’m happy to say that our preparations for such a trip, along with preparations for colder weather, proved to be good ones.  We only ran into a couple of issues that we were able to work around, including rainy weather conditions and an unexpected issue with noisy next door neighbors, which combined, caused us to move our camp to a drier and more quiet location nearby on our third day out.

The Cloudcroft area was quite beautiful and very green, and the views to the west toward White Sands from the Tularosa Basin Overlook were stunning.

Tularosa Basin Overlook with White Sands National Monument in the distance
Tularosa Basin Overlook with White Sands National Monument in the distance
The scenic Mexican Canyon Trestle west of Cloudcroft, listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Happily, we did most things right on this trip, especially having a full tank of propane and a full tank of water when we set up camp. We also carried along extra water bottles for drinking, too.  Fresh water was available nearby, but we didn’t want to have to break camp to drive to get more if we didn’t have to do so.  Our house batteries worked well for the battery power we needed, as long as we ran our generator a bit during the morning and evening generator times to recharge those batteries.  Cooking outside on our Coleman propane stove and our portable charcoal grill allowed us to conserve the propane in our RV’s tank, which was a good plan for us on this trip, as a big cold front blew through the area late on Friday night, and we needed more propane for the house heater than we originally thought we would need for this time of the year.

On the cooking front, our new little red percolator was a perfect addition to our camping gear, and we really enjoyed the coffee that we brewed in it so much that we may just use it going forward when we camp.  We also used our Coleman oven, which worked great.  Below is a picture of the cornbread that we baked outside on our first night at camp, along with our new Six Can Soup recipe that I recently discovered through Pinterest and was quite good.

Cooking outside with our Coleman oven

The next day, as we learned that the cold front would be blowing through within a few hours, we opted to grill our remaining food items all at once for the remainder of our trip while we had our little charcoal grill fired up, and that was a good decision for sure, since it rained most of the next day and night without a break.

I must admit that I enjoyed not having television on this trip.  We spent some wonderful time outdoors hiking, walking the dogs, and riding our new motorcycle around the area for the first time.  During the day of non-stop rain, we were able to watch a movie on my laptop during generator time at lunch, and we just enjoyed the peace and quiet the rest of the time, opting for some walks in the gently falling rain and just relaxing.

Hiking in the Trestle Recreation Area in the Lincoln National Forest

We had cell signal for phone calls but little to no data service, so we had to use our little handheld weather radio to get updates on the unfolding weather situation.  That worked fine for us, but I confess that I missed the handy weather app on my phone for more informative updates.  But overall, it was good to just “unplug” from the world for a few days.

Our decision to move our camp on the third day due to weather and noisy neighbors was an unexpected development, but overall, it made the rest of our trip much more enjoyable.  We are learning to just deal with these unexpected situations as they arise and go on about our fun, and I think that is a good attitude to have when camping.  It is obviously a situation that is beyond our control in so many ways, and that is part of the fun and challenge of camping in a few respects – learning to adapt.

We moved to a more open area in Silver campground with fewer trees, the overflow area, which allowed us to dry out a bit better once the rain broke since we didn’t have water dripping from the trees above us.  The group next door at our original spot didn’t even arrive at camp until 11 pm on day two, and they spent about two hours setting up their tent camp, talking, laughing and hammering tent stakes literally right next to our bedroom window.  The next morning, they also fired up a very loud sound system, and that is what ultimately caused us to move.  Personally, we think that loud radios and sound systems should be banned at places like this in national forests and some remote state parks, as literally everyone in the campground had to listen to their very loud music.  Many of our fellow campers were unhappy with these folks, just as we were, since most of us were there to actually enjoy nature and have some peace and quiet for a few days.  No officials in the park ever asked them to moderate their noise either.  We could have remained in our original spot and been miserable or just take an hour, pack up and move, which we did.  Our new spot was one of the most quiet spots we’ve ever had, so it all worked out fine for us, and we were grateful that we were able to move away from all the noise.  We just wish that some rules regarding loud noise like this in these beautiful places could be implemented to make camping a more enjoyable experience for all that make the trip there.  The overflow lot is lined with nice, tall pine trees, so it really was not bad at all.  Our motor home is 31 feet in length, and we were fortunate to find a spot in the main campground for that first day, too.  Rigs that are longer would likely just need to camp in the overflow lot anyway.

It is rather disappointing that the campgrounds here in the national forest pretty much shut down after Labor Day weekend, with the exception of this one extremely crowded campground, Silver Campground.  The weather in this part of New Mexico is generally quite nice in the early fall months, and it would seem that the national forest folks that run this area would just rather not mess with campers any longer than they must do so.  I’m so glad that state parks are run with a different attitude toward overnight guests.  We will likely just focus on visiting state parks going forward and only plan a return trip here on some less frequent occasion.  That is a shame, since this is a gorgeous place.

D
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RV Bathroom Organization Idea

Update 10/12/2014: For those of you coming to this post from Pinterest and/or Buzzfeed – welcome!  I am truly amazed at how popular this little post has become since I first posted it, but it is a great, simple modification for the RV.  Feel free to check out more posts here on “camping,” “travel” and “RV” by looking under my “Fun” category at left, too.

Now on to my original post on this little helpful tip.  (FYI – we found this bathroom set at our local WalMart.)

As we continue to make preparations for our upcoming camping trip to the mountains in a few days, we made a decision to update all of our bathroom accessories in the RV to something a bit more attractive.  In the process, I also wanted to find a way to secure some of the taller items that we typically leave out on our bathroom cabinet.  While I initially had something in mind like a shallow tub with a bottom in it, my husband came up with an idea that we both really like now – a simple, matching towel bar!

Towel Bar for RV Bathroom Organization
Towel Bar for RV Bathroom Organization

This is just the perfect solution as far as we are concerned, and it looks so nice with the other matching accessories, including the toilet paper holder, a small hook, a round hand towel ring and a longer bath towel bar.  Our larger bottle of lotion was a bit too wide to fit in the gap between the towel bar and the wall, so we just bought the next smaller sized bottle.  Everything else fit perfectly, and we are once again very “happy campers!”

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My New, Old Fashioned Coffee Pot

Fall camping is right around the corner for us again!  We have not boon-docked on our camping trips so far, except for one quick night in route to another destination.  Hopefully in a couple of weeks, though, we will finally make our first boon-docking trip.  The campground will have some facilities nearby, but no direct hookups will be available for our RV.

Since I have a fairly slow week this week, I’ve been working on some of the changes that we need to make for this next trip.  Even though we have a good Onan generator, we are going to try to use it as little as possible on this trip, since the hours are pretty limited for generators in the campground anyway.  We are looking forward to “getting away from it all” a bit more on this trip, and we don’t mind being without a few conveniences to do that.  I will confess that I will likely miss using my crock pot on this trip, though.  Crock pots are so great to use when we go camping in our RV.

One of the first things that has stood out to me is the fact that all of our small appliances will not work unless we run our generator.  Even though we are planning to use our propane stove inside and the propane grill outside for our meal preparations, we are still left with no way to brew our coffee, since we only have an electric coffee maker in the motor home.  Doing without our morning coffee is just not an option for us, as we really enjoy our morning coffee before and with breakfast when we go camping.  So, I started looking for other options.  I considered buying VIA instant coffee, as those single serving packets are actually quite good when mixed in hot water.  But, after doing a bit more research, I decided to opt for a more traditional camping solution by buying a camping percolator at Gander Mountain.

Camping Percolator – Red

Isn’t this the cutest thing?  I’ve never owned a traditional percolator in my life, but I remember my parents using their percolator on the stove every morning.  I could not remember specifically how to use one, so I looked up instructions on the internet, reading several different posts to make sure I got consistent instructions.  We only brew premium coffee in our big coffee maker at home and when camping, so I don’t ever want to waste any coffee if I can help it.  I simply bought a pound of fresh coffee and had the Barista grind it for the percolator with a coarse grind, which is the grind that this type of coffee pot needs.  I also used a regular coffee filter in the basket for the grounds and just gently cut a small hole with a sharp knife in the center to fit it tightly on the stem.  This may be an unnecessary step, but I wanted to make sure that no grounds got in the coffee.

Percolator Basket with Regular Filter

For this first pot, I used six Tbsp. coffee, six cups filtered water and brewed it for six minutes, commencing that time when the water in the lid just started to turn brown.  After the coffee finished brewing, I removed the pot from the burner and let it sit for a couple of minutes to let the coffee finish dripping from the basket.  At that point, I just removed the basket, replaced the pot lid and put the pot back on the burner turned down to the lowest heat setting.  This was really good coffee, too.  I like my coffee hot, and sometimes our drip makers don’t brew the coffee hot enough for my taste.  Lukewarm coffee was not an issue at all with this cup.  Yum!

Watching coffee percolate for the first time in more than thirty years actually brought back some nice memories of family and waking up in the mornings as a kid to the smell of fresh coffee on the stove.  It also reminded me of classic Maxwell House commercials that we saw on TV growing up.

I just love the sight and sound of percolating coffee.  We will certainly enjoy having our new, old-fashioned coffee pot on our next RV trip, and my cute little red percolator may have to stay here at home when we aren’t camping, too.

D
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Buying Our First RV

After almost a year off from blogging, I guess it’s time to catch up a bit.  The past year has certainly brought some new adventures to our lives, and I mean that in a good way on what I’m about to share!

In September 2011, after several weeks of searching, we finally made a pretty monumental decision (for us) and bought a used motor home.  Even though we tried to find one in our area, we ended up in the Metroplex where there was a larger selection of good, used motor homes for sale.  We looked at two and bought the second one that we looked at – a low mileage 90’s model Tiffin Allegro.  It needed some work, so we made a deal with the owner that we all agreed was fair, signed the paperwork, paid him the cash, drove our new “toy” off the lot, and began our new adventure as RV owners.

Over the past eleven months since that purchase, repairing and updating the RV has been our little (and sometimes bigger) project to keep us busy in our spare time, but we have also made several great trips, too.  We started out with some overnight trips to a nearby lake that has good RV hookups to test everything out.  Sure enough, there were a few things that needed a little attention, but thankfully, all of the major things worked well except the generator – something we knew upfront and factored into the price.  That repair required some professional attention by an Onan certified mechanic, and it has worked perfectly since having that work done.  A couple of months ago, we also had a mechanic pretty much replace the entire braking system and shocks, and at this point, we honestly do not know of anything else major that needs to be done.  Even with the money we have put into the RV, we are still in good shape as far as value if we decide to sell it at some point, especially because of all the work we have done ourselves to fix it up, which has been pretty significant in labor but not so much in actual dollars out-of-pocket.

As we approach our one-year anniversary of being RV owners next month, I can safely say that we have not regretted our decision one bit.  RV travel enables us to pack up and get away for a night, a weekend, or a week with very little advance planning, and it also allows us to take our two dogs along as well, which is a big bonus for us and saves a lot of money in boarding fees.  Our RV doesn’t get the best or worst gas mileage, as it only gets about 10 mpg, but since this is a vehicle that seldom gets driven except to and from a vacation destination, we just factor in that cost with all the other vacations costs.   We can get away to a nice state park for a three-day weekend for about $200 in gas and camping fees.  Staying three nights in a hotel with gas and boarding fees would cost us right at $500 for that same long weekend trip.  We love camping and always have, and having the amenities of the RV now makes that experience even so much more enjoyable for us without losing the adventure of being in the great outdoors.  We are also discovering that we even save money at times, since we take our food along and avoid dining out at restaurants while we are gone, something we are far more likely to do when staying home on a long weekend.  We always carry our mountain bikes with us, but at this time, we have not taken another vehicle with us.  On one longer trip from home for a week, however, we did rent a small car to enable us to see the area a bit easier, and that was a great solution for us and no different from renting a car at a destination if we flew in like we used to do on longer trips.

The whole RV experience has just been great fun for us so far, even the trip preparations.  I’ve had to develop some new habits and procedures for RV camping that have been good for us overall, too, especially in meal planning and shopping.  It’s no fun to get to the campsite and realize that I’ve left some food at home in the refrigerator that I was supposed to bring.  So, I now regularly use checklists and plan our meals more efficiently for both home and RV travel, utilizing a great checklist app for my phone that is always with me.  We have spent quite a bit of time developing our checklists for everything RV, and those are serving us well.

Without a doubt, the thing we love most about RV travel is being able to really “get away from it all.”  We love being in nature for so many reasons, and it is a wonderful way to escape the rat race of everyday life for a brief time without breaking the bank.  There is really nothing I enjoy much more than just sitting out under the stars at night, far away from the city lights in a remote state or national park, and feeling that I’ve almost been transported to a different world.  It provides us a fun way to get some good exercise in hiking and biking more regularly, and as a hobby photographer, it has also provided me some new photographic adventures, although I try to balance that with leisure time to just relax and enjoy my time wherever we are.

We just love our new hobby and highly recommend it to anyone that is seriously interested.  I would recommend starting out with a good, used motor home or trailer if you are just beginning and are willing to do a few repairs to get it up to speed for travel.  There are some really great deals on used units, and we have found that those good ones, especially the motor homes, often sell quickly, too.  We missed out on more than one good RV when we started looking by taking too long to make our decision.  I think other people are discovering the same thing that we have discovered over the past year.  RV travel makes more and more sense as other travel costs continue to skyrocket, and it provides more options for travel, too.  I never met a kid that didn’t like to go camping either.  😉  Our only regret is that we did not do this a long time ago.

I will try to share more about our experiences and work that we have done on the RV as time goes on, so stay tuned!

D
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