The more things change the more they stay the same

camping

It goes without saying that moving to fulltiming from a traditional “stix and brix” life is a major transition. We made the move and have never looked back. While the many changes are obvious, I’ve concluded that more stays the same than some might think. In spite of the downsizing involved, I think most people morph to a life that is similar to what they lived before. Now, let me hurry to say that if the move to fulltiming is connected to retirement or a new livelihood lots of major changes are baked in, RV lifestyle or not.

P2248680.JPG If, for instance, you enjoy watching TV, there’s a good chance that you’ll want a decent TV solution in your RV – probably satellite TV and a nice TV to watch. If you spend a lot of time surfing the Internet, you’ll want the best cell Internet package you can afford.

P2248685.JPG I see people on forums debating whether or not to have a washer/dryer in their RV. The answer is actually pretty easy: if you had a washer/dryer in your house you’ll probably want one in your RV. If you enjoyed going to a laundromat before, you’ll probably want to keep going to one. Admittedly, this approach has its limits – for instance, while dish washers are available, they aren’t all that common so you might have to surrender to dish washing in the RV even though you always used a dish washer in your old life.

Without doubt, living as a fulltimer means that some things will be more challenging than they were in your pre-fulltiming days. There will be times when you won’t be able to get the satellite signal or when you are camping without a sewer connect, thus limiting your use of the on-board washer. It’s all part of the adventure and you will have to find ways to accommodate such things.

Still, though, thinking that one is going fulltime and that once you are “out there” that everything will be different is probably mistaken. Lots of things will be different – hopefully, in great ways. However, you will still be the same person who wants oatmeal for breakfast most mornings, wants to do your laundry “at home,” and wants to watch the evening news on TV. Knowing this will help you make decisions about stuff like whether or not to sign up for a big data cell plan or buy a combo washer/dryer or get a fancy satellite setup.

Campground Review: Advanced RV Resort, Pearland, TX

20161004_085542.jpg Advanced RV Resort’s location in Pearland, TX makes it ideal for people who want to be close to downtown Houston. Astros, Texans, and Rockets games, the museums, and the medical center are all a 15-30 minute drive. It is close to nearly every restaurant chain you’ve ever heard of and there’s shopping of all kinds within minutes. The resort is right at the intersection of Highway 288 (an expressway) and Beltway 8 (a toll road) providing easy access east/west and north/south. The entrance to the resort is actually on the Beltway 8 feeder road. That means if you intend on going any direction aside from east you have to travel down the one way road, cross over to the other side of the toll road and come back to continue in the desired direction.

That, in itself, is no big deal. The noise of the traffic, and the traffic itself, can be a nuisance, but is part of the price one pays for being in such close proximity to the major city that Houston is.

The resort itself, although pricier than we’re used to paying, is well kept in every way. The grass is constantly mowed and edged. The roads are excellent and wide enough for two big rigs to pass. The restrooms and laundries are the nicest we’ve seen in any RV park. There’s an Activity center, multiple laundries and restrooms, two doggie parks, a pool, and a spa – all well cared for.

20161004_090527.jpg The pull through sites are long enough for any rig. The back in sites are limited to rigs 35’ or less. As is true of most any urban RV park, the sites are quite close together. Some of the back in sites are narrower than others. There wasn’t room on our site for both pickup and camper. We could squeeze our small car in next to the camper so we parked the truck in overflow parking.

In any campground the sites nearest the highway are more prone to be noisy and that’s especially true of this campground. Beltway 8 is actually elevated at this point, so the walls do little to block the noise and those sites get the brunt of it all.

Tom Bass Regional Park adjoins the resort and there’s actually a gate one can go through to enter the park. However, the grass on the other side of the gate was generally tall and one had to wade through it quite a ways to get to a better cared for section. Many people, though, took their dogs into that area so they would have more room to roam.

20161004_090226.jpg Our stay at Advanced was our longest stay since retiring as we accepted an interim position, filling in between pastors at our home church. I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone if I mention that it was very hot and humid through the summer!

If you are looking for a nice place and close to the Houston action this is a good one.

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Downsizing in preparation for fulltiming

garagesaleA lot of people ask for advice on downsizing in preparation for fulltiming.  Given that everyone’s specific circumstances are unique, there’s no one size fits all approach to this but I can tell you what we did.

Related post: What does it cost to start full time RVing?

Early on in the process we just did a more thorough than usual spring cleaning.  It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulate through the years that just needs to be put on the curb.  For us the focus was on the shed and the garage.

As we moved forward, we picked a little used room in the house and emptied it out.  It became our “sorting room” where we began to put things we knew we didn’t intend on keeping.  We also cleared a wall in the garage for stuff we didn’t want in the house, but intended to get rid of.  We worked through each room of the house, moving items into the sorting room, more or less putting them into boxes with similar things.  That room got surprisingly full.  One key to this process is, I think, at first, if you don’t know what to do with an item, just leave it and move to something you do know you don’t want.  That stops you from getting constantly sidetracked.  It’s kind of interesting, but as the house began to empty, some things that froze us in our tracks were much easier to deal with when they were all that was left in a closet or room.

We also invited family to put their claim on items they wanted.  Those items stayed in place, but we knew they were spoken for.

As we got to a more serious level, we began to put larger items on Craigslist.  I also created a custom group of local friends on Facebook and posted those items there.  Being in a metro area probably helped, but a lot of stuff went out the door.  Usually, items sold for about half what they would have cost new.  We were much more interested in downsizing than we were in making money.  Our bicycles, couches, and dinette made some people quite happy.  Selling them made us happy too.

At that point we took another room, now empty, and made it our “holding room.”  Items we knew we were going to keep (plus those promised to family) were moved into that room.  The house was starting to feel pretty empty.

It was now time for the big garage sale.  All the items in the “sorting room” were priced at yard sale prices and we staged everything for the sale.  A LOT of stuff walked out the door over those two days.  We concluded the sale by loading all that was left and heading for Goodwill.

Family was given a deadline for getting their stuff, a few items (winter clothes, photo albums, and the like) went to a family member’s attic. We moved into the 5th wheel and our new, less-cluttered-with-belongings life began.

Advice: getting Internet while RVing

A lot of people are interested in being able to get on the Internet as they RV. While campgrounds may advertise the availability of WIFI your internet experience will be iffy at best. We’ve found decent WIFI to be the exception rather than the rule. Your best chance of getting good WIFI is to stay in more upscale facilities and/or in urban campgrounds. Even then, we’ve found that some places that advertise WIFI only provide it if you go to a specific location. At that point you’ll generally be competing with other RVers who are on the same Internet connect. Evenings and weekends can be brutal for even the most basic internet operations. If you want to do Netflix – sorry, but it will be practically impossible to do on WIFI at 99% of the campgrounds you visit. So, the bottom line on WIFI is this: for the occasional user; for the person who just wants to check email once a day – campground WIFI will probably be sufficient. For Facebook addicts, for people who like to surf the web, and especially for people who “need” internet for business or home schooling – you’ll need a different solution. Many people get WIFI boosters to extend their reach to the campground WIFI (we have a WIFI Ranger). Just know this: reaching out farther to connect to a pitiful campground WIFI won’t make the connect speed any faster, it will only save your walking to the Activity center, etc. to access that same poor connection.

The alternative is cell data. Companies like Verizon will happily sell you big buckets of data for a price. If (and that’s a big “if”) you are staying in an area with decent cell coverage for your carrier, you can do fairly good using your cell phone as a hot spot or, even better, using a dedicated hot spot device. There are two big cautions here. First, you do have to be in range of a cell tower for your carrier. Verizon is the undisputed leader in coverage but for the RVer who truly wants to get away from it all there’s the real possibility that you’ll get away from cell coverage too. Second, it’s going to cost you. Be ready to fork over serious cash if you want to web surf and Facebook to your heart’s content. Again, forget Netflix. Just streaming one movie will eat up a good part of your month’s allotment of all but the biggest buckets of data. Also, even as there are WIFI signal boosters there are cell signal boosters. Our Weboost Drive can make a real difference in internet connectivity. Just remember that you have to have a signal to boost. If you have, say 2 bars of 4G a booster can give you a boost of a bar or maybe even two. Sometimes that is a noticeable difference in connect speed.

One strategy people use is to have service from two different providers. You might be in range of one but not the other. Again, though, you are buying that capability.

This is, of course a very general overview. There are websites and books on the topic that get into the weeds of this subject. Depending on your needs, you may want to spend some time researching this topic using these resources. One of these best is Technomadia’s RV Mobile Internet site.

Budget: Second Wave Expenses

Dollar-signMany fulltimers are in it for the long run. We’re not just out seeing the country for a year or two before returning to “real life.” Rather, this is our preferred lifestyle and we intend to enjoy it as long as possible. We’re now well into our 4th year of fulltiming which is longer than many, but barely getting started when compared to some fulltime “pros.” We spent quite a bit of money getting started in this lifestyle. That included several upgrades to our used 5th wheel, a couple of camping memberships, and other related items. Now, we’re starting to run into secondary costs more and more often.

For instance, our air conditioner was laboring and not keeping up. When we had it checked out the tech said it was mostly just showing its age. He recommended replacing it rather than spending money trying to get it to hobble through the summer. If we were RV weekenders and vacationers it would have lasted longer, but, as fulltimers we wore it out sooner than would have happened otherwise. Even major appliances have a lifespan so it’s wise to keep some reserve budget money around.

Aside from the biggies some things we bought new for our RVing adventure have begun showing their wear. At the beginning of our adventure I bought a nice Wilson Sleek cell signal booster for use when we were out on the fringes of cell coverage. It died a few months ago and had to be replaced with the new version. When we started out we got a couple of nice chairs. The thing is, in a RV there are few sitting choices so the same chairs get a lot more use than they would in a house. We recently decided to treat ourselves to a couple of small recliners. Hopefully, they will give us another 3-4 years of good use. This is a “second wave” expense that everyone will have after a few years of fulltiming in the same RV.

Another thing to think about is camping, etc. memberships. We got multiyear Passport America and Escapees memberships. In a year or so they will have to be renewed. Our Coachnet vehicle policy (happily never used) has expired and needs to be renewed. This sort of thing is predictable, but it eats into the budget every so many years.

Having said all that, there are more common expenses that everyone faces but tend to come around more often for retired fulltimers than they do for other people. We often tell people that we don’t need as many clothes in our closet as we used to. However, that means that we wear the same sets of comfortable clothes quite often. This summer, for instance, I’ve had to replace a couple of pairs of jeans. I only own two pairs and wear one or the other most every day. So, while I only own two pairs of jeans, they do need to be replaced a bit more often than they would otherwise. Most of our clothes are the same: comfortable and worn a lot. It’s a sneaky expense that shows up surprisingly often.

Of course, beyond all these kinds of budget hits lurks the major one. Most fulltimers upgrade their RV at least once. Depending on what you buy, you can spend a year’s (or even more) budget in one purchase. Since RV’s are generally repairable (aside from something catastrophic happening) you may avoid this expense altogether. Still, sooner or later, most people end up replacing the motorhome, 5th wheel, truck, and/or towed at some point.

So, while you are running the expense numbers for the fulltime RV lifestyle you might be wise to look beyond initial costs, nightly camping fees, and the cost of fuel. You might want to think, for instance, about more than what the purchase of a nice RVer specific GPS costs and consider what it will cost when that one stops working or becomes obsolete.

I won’t spend time on it here, but there are ways to combat some of this. Fulltimers who have been hit with unexpected expenses will slow down their travel and save on camping fees by paying the discounted monthly rate or they will take on a work camping gig for a few months to save money or even make a few bucks.

Still, as you work on your fulltiming budget you might want to be careful that you aren’t bumping up against 100% of your expendable income. In a few years, you’ll face a “second wave” of expenses as things wear out, break, or just need upgrading. Sorry, but that’s life.