August 28, 2020

RV Travel: What Did We Learn?

Now, with many of us trying to figure out safe ways to vacation and explore, there has been a strong surge in interest in RV travel. Just try to rent one, or even buy a moderately priced unit without a lot of leg work, and you will agree. Any type of recreational vehicle is a sought after item.

This article was first published over seven years ago, I know there are mostly new readers since then. RV travel and our trips always generated lots of interest, so it seemed logical to post this one more time. I have left it unchanged, so just remember there are a lot of miles under our tires since 2013 (Betty looks the same, but Bailey and I are older!)




Betty and I are spoiled. Living in Scottsdale has lots of advantages. OK, there are a few not so good parts like high costs and searing summer heat. But, one thing we take for granted is warm, sunny weather in April. We rarely have windy conditions any worse than a gust high enough to make me crank down the backyard umbrella.

So, the last 14 days on our RV trip have been eye-opening. The winds have blown pretty much without ceasing since we drove through Southern Arizona, traveled across southern New Mexico, and have spent the last 11 days in Texas. In Fredericksburg, there were two days when the wind was under 20 miles per hour most of the time. We celebrated the relative calm. At home, those days would have been considered a gale!

Driving a 12,000 pound RV through wind gusts of 35 or 40 miles per hour and steady breezes of 15-30 mph has tested my driving skills and patience. But, after getting used to how RT reacts in the wind, we have simply accepted this as usual. Santa Rosa, New Mexico, has had afternoon winds over 40 miles per hour as I write this.  

It has been cold, too. In fact, the area around Amarillo had two nights of a hard freeze, with overnight lows in the '20s. Looking ahead to the next several stops, Santa Fe and Flagstaff have had lows in the teens! If things don't warm up, we may decide on a different route home. An RV is poorly insulated, to begin with, but in temperatures below freezing, there are concerns of frozen or burst water pipes and plumbing. The propane furnace does a decent job of keeping the living space comfortable, but not being able to go outside much does make the small space close in a bit.

I have learned that April in Scottsdale does not represent April in many other parts of the country. Future trips will involve a bit more research into weather and wind averages!

Since we left Fredericksburg, we have spent nights in Big Spring and Amarillo, Texas, and are now in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. At the end of the trip, I'll post a list of all the parks where we have spent time, along with some feedback, just in case you ever find yourself passing through in your RV or tent.

I have already shared the dodgy nature of Wifi availability. I will add that the pictures of an RV park on their web sites and in directories usually involves a few liberties with reality. They are never quite as lovely as described or photographed. So far, we have not stayed at any place that made us uncomfortable. But, as a general rule, bathrooms, and showers are usually in need of some repairs and upgrades, swimming pools don't really belong in RV parks, and those who live in these parks for months at a time aren't really focused on keeping their site neat.

Even with these glitches, the trip remains a real joy. Bailey, our cocker, is becoming less nervous with the travel and different accommodations most nights. The number of meals Betty prepared and froze ahead of time will run out the night before we get home...right on schedule. How did she do that? I give her full credit for such excellent planning. 

We are actually under budget, even with $125 gas bills every time I pull into a service station. We are eating most of our meals from our supplies. A dinner out once every 5 or 6 days and a lunch from a fast food place (usually Subway) every 4th or 5th day gives us enough of a break to not get tired of what is in the refrigerator or pantry. The RV parks have averaged $35 a night, after an RV travel club 10% discount. There may be enough left over at the end of the trip to allow us to buy two urban bikes and hitch for the next trip.

A few nights ago, after dinner, we were playing a board game, and I asked if Betty felt the trip was too long, too short, or just about right. Like me, she thinks this three-week adventure has been the right length and sees us tackling longer trips in the future with no problem. 

Betty will not leave the RV without her camera. I have lost track, but I think she is already close to 2,000 pictures with 6 days still to go. Here is a tiny sample of more photos from the trip so far.








LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson 














Holding onto the door to keep from being blown away in Amarillo

Oh, by the way, we have discovered that every town in Texas with a population larger than 1,800 has a DQ restaurant. Betty likes their dipped cones, so she is pretty much in dessert heaven! Who knew?

19 comments:

  1. Okay, Bob, so you had to know I couldn't let this post go by without a comment, right? Actually, I have several . . . (1) Betty's photos reflect a wonderful eye for composition - they're just lovely! (2) In the east, we think it might be having a Dunkin Donuts rather than a Dairy Queen that identifies a gathering of homes and businesses as a real "town." (3) The RV industry set a record that hasn't been seen in four decades with its July wholesale shipments: 43,035 units. That number was split almost evenly between towable and motorized RVs. (4) When we drove from the east coast to the west coast to buy our current travel trailer a few years back, we saw overhead signs on the interstate in Wyoming warning truckers of the risk of rollovers due to the 50 mph winds. That was frightening - and we weren't evening towing the trailer yet. As it so happened, we changed the route for our return trip at least twice in an effort to avoid the high winds you mentioned. (5) Although a number of companies claim that their RVs are "four season capable," there are only a few manufacturers who actually make rigs that you can comfortably and safely camp in during cold weather. Some manufacturers heat the underbelly of the RVs so water doesn't freeze in the tanks and they stop there. Our travel trailer (made by Outdoors RV Manufacturing in eastern Oregon) has a heated underbelly with additional wrapping around the holding tanks, extra insulation all over the trailer, dual pane windows, a larger furnace and a cold weather kit on the refrigerator which allows it to operate at temps down to -10 degrees. (Not that you'd find me camping when the temps hit negative numbers.) RVs that are four season capable make camping much more comfortable in the heat, as well as in the cold. (6) We put 40,000 miles on our first travel trailer and, with the savings from campgrounds fees vs. hotel costs, the RV paid for itself a long time ago. We don't have nearly as many miles on our current travel trailer, but we're working on it. (7) RVing really is a lifestyle choice. Many people who travel this way wouldn't travel any other. Certainly, there are lots of ways to see the country, and most of them are truly delightful. But having our own food, our own bed and (especially now during this pandemic) our own bathroom and shower makes a huge difference in our comfort level as we travel. But it's the opportunities that RVing provides that are its best advantage - waking up inside a National Park surrounded by the most gorgeous scenery imaginable, pulling into a State Park on the spur of the moment, changing into bathing suits and enjoying a swim in the lake, followed by an outdoor lunch at a picnic table - RVing allows us to take advantage of nature's bounty. Yes, we will take automobile road trips. Yes, we will fly when absolutely necessary. (Well, not right now.) But, when given the option, RVing will always be our first choice, hands down. While some people may argue that tent camping is the only pure style of camping, our aging bones and joints know that's no longer a comfortable possibility for us. As outdoor enthusiasts, we believe there's no better way to enjoy nature than to tow our home behind us and get out to experience the grandeur of America.

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    1. I will make sure Betty sees your compliment. She does have a good eye for what makes a memorable picture.

      You have highlighted all the the things we loved (and miss) about RVing. I called it my Freedom Machine because it provided a real sense of security. In addition to the travel aspects, having it parked on the side yard meant we had a place to go if the AC failed in the house or there was some plumbing emergency. It also made a good temporary guest house on occasion.

      My days of feeling comfortable driving a large C or A are over and we don't own any vehicle capable of towing. So, if we reenter the life it would likely be a smaller C or Class B.

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  2. Your RV looks very much like the one we had for many years. Your blog post gave me great memories of our RVing days, even went to Texas in ours as well. I was not as organized with food and meals as Betty. We ate our main meal of the day in restaurants and sought out the small town, non-chain types and made some great memories doing so.

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    1. With the dog with us, we didn't ever want to leave her for more than a few hours, so meals in the RV were our normal choice. They were simple and usually leftovers for another night.

      We ended up driving through West Texas three times on various trips, and every one was windy to the point of white knuckle driving. A 30 foot RV towing an SUV makes for quite a wind magnet.

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  3. And every rest stop gas station in texss has a DQ. Even if they are just down the road from each other!

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    1. We had a Garmin satellite unit that could be programmed to alert you to close by restaurants, specifically DQs. It beeped rather continuously in Texas.

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  4. Seems like a great way to travel these days. But honestly, burning all that fossil fuel seems ... well, it's not part of the Green New Deal.

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    1. RV travel is actually less damaging than taking a long jet flight. Most RVers will drive to a destination and stay for several days or a week. Once you have the "let's see how far we can go" bug out of your system, it is more about finding a few nice spots and settling down.

      That said, yes, larger RVs get very bad mileage. Class Bs (like a large panel van) can average upper 20's....about as good as most older cars.

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    2. We actually looked into renting an RV to go visit my daughter this summer. But we didn't because 1) my wife didn't want to drive it; 2) I thought it's a gas guzzler; 3) I also thought I would get claustrophobic; and 4) renting one these days is super expensive. So we stayed home ... and got infinity mpg! (However, now we have cabin fever.)

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  5. Sounds like a great trip Bob, even with the gale force winds! We've never been to the South Western USA. We both love Mexican culture (and food!) so we're planning to go at some point in the future. I guess picking the correct time of year is crucial: I don't think we'd last long in the heat of Summer there.

    Derek

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    1. Avoid the heat but also know that the windy seasons are spring and fall in Texas. Even so, the scenery is so dramatic that you should certainly make plans to see what the Southwest has to offer.

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  6. Since RV sales are through the roof could anyone comment on the current availability of campsites. Thanks in advance.
    I would move to Fredericksburg this weekend but the wife is not leaving big D. Guess I am stuck.

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    1. Here is a web site that purports to have up-to-date info on campgrounds: https://www.campendium.com/camping/covid-19-state-by-state-campground-closures-responses/

      National, state, county, and private campgrounds are a mixed bag. Your best bet is to plot a trip and then contact possibilities along the way. As a general rule, it appears the majority of privately owned ones are open, while government owned ones are still partially or completely closed.

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    2. Fred, RV sales have been in a general upswing for a while, with production previously peaking in 2017, as I recall. The addition of new campgrounds has in no way kept up with the increase in RVers. So, in recent years, it has been a bit more difficult to snag a good campsite. That being said, there are still campers who travel successfully without reservations, calling ahead to campgrounds a few days before arrival, relying on the availability of remaining spaces or the cancellations of others. This year, the pandemic was probably responsible for many cancellations, even if the campgrounds in question were open. Did the influx of new RVers take all of those sites and then some? I'm not sure that there's a hard and fast way to tell.

      I would think that campsites in private RV parks or smaller, less well-known city and county parks might be easier to secure. Sites at popular State and National Parks tend to be more difficult to come by. If you are in a position that allows you to plan ahead and reserve sites ahead of time, you'll be able to find places to stay. In addition to Campendium, which Bob mentioned above, you may find the CampgroundReviews.com website helpful, as well. Wishing you good luck and safe travels!

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    3. Thank you to Bob and Mary. Very good info.

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  7. As a Texan, I think you visited some real low points that the state has to offer... Big Spring (where there is no big spring), Amarillo? I hope you got to the Canyon near there at least. Next time try the Austin area or piney woods of East Texas, much prettier to visit!

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    1. Fredericksburg was very nice, as were the parks and lakes nearby. San Antonio with the Riverwalk is a favorite. We had plans to spend some time in Austin but missed it, for some reason.

      Unfortunately, to travel east from Arizona one must pass through the rather barren parts of New Mexico and Texas. Having been to Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston many times on business, I know the windy parts of West Texas are not representative of the whole state.

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  8. As I read the comments, I cannot believe it. I thought people would say something about not having enough food, or money to live. Apparently, these retirees are very spoiled. My very last "vacation" was March 2006 but I live on Aquickneck Island, in Rhode Island, a popular vacation spot in New England year long. What I value, as a retired registered nurse, is my health, and my husband's health. I could not believe how people wanted to travel, as if that is so very important.

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    1. This is somewhat ironic: sorry it took a few to post and respond to your comment but I was on a mini-vacation. My wife and one of my daughters and I just had to escape the unrelenting heat of Phoenix for a few days.

      I understand your reaction. I would just respond that one of the great things about retirement is that each of us can follow a path that makes us happy. For some, that is travel. I think we can assume that if someone does worry about food and money, then they would not be dedicated travelers, and would not have found this particular post of much interest.

      So, those who did respond in a positive way have their basic needs taken care of, and choose to satisfy one of the things that makes them happy. I would guess they are still aware of many other issues, including health.

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