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2019 – Gettysburg Farm Thousand Trails – Dover, PA (take 2)


We are just finishing up our second stay in as many months at Gettysburg Farm Thousand Trails near Dover, PA. Since I have done a couple of recent reviews of this nice campground there’s no need for me to do another at this time.

The main reason we returned here was that we needed a base of operations to attend a wedding 100 miles from here. I was graciously given permission to leave the camper unoccupied for a couple of days (something not normally allowed for traveling members of Thousand Trails).

This stay is, though, part of a bit of an experiment for us this summer. During our previous years a stay of longer than 11 days was unusual for us. We “land” for the winters and travel throughout the summer. This year we returned to south-central Pennsylvania, bouncing between the various Thousand Trails for just over six weeks. Considering that we enjoyed a couple of visits from family and then attended a wedding it worked out. However, one outcome of our experiment is that we think we’d rather, in general, keep to less-than-two-week stays. There’s no right or wrong in any of this. We’ve known some folks who move nightly or close to it. For me that would be like having a job. Touring fulltimers have to find the approach that suits them best. For us, 10-11 days gives us the right mix of sightseeing and “just-living” days.

Just thinking: Make every day count

As we’ve enjoyed the fulltime lifestyle we’ve met some interesting people. Many fulltimers tell me they have a blog, and if they do, I bookmark their site intending to keep up with them. To be honest, I tend to forget those bookmarked sites and seldom look at them.

Tonight, something brought those blogs to mind and I decided to check in on those folks we’ve meet along the way.

To my surprise many of them have left the road. As far as I can tell, the lifestyle changes were pretty much voluntary although I know of a few folks who have had health issues that forced a change of lifestyle (I wrote about that here). The others, I think, just came to a “been there done that” time in life and decided to find a place to land and start a new chapter in their lives.

While I was surprised at the number of fulltime RVers we’ve met that are no longer traveling it comes as no surprise that things change. In fact, as someone has wisely said, change is the one constant in life.

It is, though, good to be reminded that as enjoyable as fulltiming is, for most of us it’s an all too brief passage of life. Hopefully, for us, the adventure will end because we done all we wanted to do and are ready for a different sort of adventure. There’s a pretty good chance though, that it will involve something less voluntary.

I guess the point of this philosophic rambling is a reminder that the fulltime lifestyle, as enjoyable as it is, is a temporary passage in life. We don’t want to take this blessing for granted and we don’t want to get sidetracked from it by anything that doesn’t measure up, although it is reasonable to be reminded that some things do measure up and can make an unexpected appearance at any time (we’ve had that happen once). As it is, though, this chapter will end soon enough. Whether we have a short or long time to go in this adventure we want to make every day count.

2019 – Motorhome Owners!

After fulltiming in our beloved 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 5th wheel for nearly 6 years we have made a big change to a little driven 2005 Safari Cheetah diesel pusher coach.  The new (to us) rig has many bells and whistles.  I’ll have much more to write about this new chapter in our fulltiming adventure as time goes by.  For now we are very busy getting moved in.  Right off we have learned that a 39′ motorhome has considerably less storage than a 34′ 5th wheel!  Our family came through for us big time, helping us move out of our Hitchhiker and into the Cheetah – I don’t think we would have made it without their help.  Honestly, we aren’t nearly settled in yet.  We have time though, as we don’t intend on beginning our 2019 Adventure until mid-March.  No doubt about it, this is a big move for us that we hope gives us several more years of rv adventures.

Click this for full screen photos

 

2018 – End of Year Expense Report

doing-the-budget
Here’s our 2018 end of year Expense sheet…

I’m listing the camping related expenses as line item monthly averages. Then, I total everything else up and give just a general dollar figure. If you are researching fulltime RVing you already know what you pay for food, health insurance, etc. (or even if you don’t, my figures for such things won’t have any real world connection to what you spend on them). Also, by combining the non-RVing expenses I feel I’m better able to maintain our privacy.

During the year we spent three months volunteering and receiving a campsite at no charge. For the purpose of this report, I’ve estimated the value of these months at $325 each. Also, we own a small car that doesn’t travel with us.  We have it 4-6 months a year.  That lowers our diesel use and adds a gasoline line to our expense sheet.

During 2018, in addition to our months of volunteering, we spent a two months paying monthly rates. The rest of the time we were traveling, moving an average of just over one week.

2018 was a tough year for us financially.  We did one major repair on our 5th wheel (over $5000!) and a couple of costly pickup repairs that drove our costs quite high.

Also, we had some bigger medical costs this year, driving up our “just living” numbers.  Other expenses are drifting upwards, primarily, I think, due to inflation rather than any big changes in our lifestyle.

One takeaway here is that if you stay in the fulltime lifestyle long enough you are going to have some big, undesirable costs – the same as can happen if you live a more conventional lifestyle.  If you get in by stretching your finances to the limit, sooner or later, you will face a financial crisis.  This year our reserves were hit hard, but we are thankful we had those reserves to draw from.  Hopefully, 2019 will be kinder to us, allowing us to recover a bit.

2018  Monthly Expense Averages
Camping fees (Value of volunteering + out of pocket + pro-rated annual memberships*) $424.12
Cell/Internet/TV $253.84
Diesel (During the months in which we have a car the truck doesn’t get driven much) $285.88
Gas (note: we only had the car with us about 5 months but this is a 12 month ave.) $19.41
Misc $17.35
RV Maintenance and upgrades (OUCH!) $548.06
Vehicle Maintenance (More financial pain!) $443.22
Registrations/Vehicle Insurance (prorated to monthly) $198.07
Propane $11.62
Mail Service $15.75
TOTAL $2217.29
Non RV expense – food, medical, “just living”**                                    TOTAL $1817.21
MONTHLY GRAND TOTAL AVERAGE
$4034.50

*Note 1: Like Thousand Trails, Good Sams, etc. – prorated to monthly cost -but NOT including original buy in costs, if any

**Note 2: These expenses include items like: Groceries & Dining Out, Clothing, Hair, Medical & Dental Expenses, Charity, Health Insurance, and Entertainment – but not Income Tax and a few other expenses

PS: If you find this information helpful, please leave a short comment so I’ll know it is worth the effort needed to provide it. Thanks.

Reflecting on our 2018 Adventure

Schoodic Woods Campground – Acadia National Park, Maine

Our 2018 Adventure included lots of travel. We towed the 5th wheel over 5100 miles, visiting 34 campgrounds in 17 states. Our average travel day was 150 miles and our average stay was about 11 days (although that is skewed a bit because of two longer winter stops).

We had lots of opportunities to enjoy our upgraded Thousand Trails membership, spending 120 nights at their properties. Our membership saves us a lot of money and much of my travel planning consists of stitching together a route that includes these campgrounds.

We also stayed 45 nights in Corps of Engineers campgrounds. These are our favorite campgrounds: almost always well laid out, spacious, and in beautiful locations. With our America the Beautiful pass we average paying $11-12 per night. Really, the CoE campgrounds spoil us for staying in tighter, urban campgrounds. If there is any negative at all it is that these campgrounds often offer only water and electric hookups and are generally rather out of the way, off the beaten track.

Generally speaking, we like alternating our stays between campgrounds right in the middle of the action and quieter, more laid-back spots. That approach was really evident during our two weeks at Acadia National Park in Maine. The first week we were in a commercial campground located in the heart of the action on Mt. Desert Island. The second week we were at Schoodic Woods campground located in the “quiet side” of the National Park. That week was our favorite week of the entire summer. In fact, we enjoyed our month in Maine very much. It is a beautiful state with friendly people.

We also spent quite a bit of time in Pennsylvania.  We had been there before, but this stay was longer and we had time to get acquainted with more areas.  It is a great state to visit with lots to see and do.

One change for us is that after volunteering at Battleship Texas and San Jacinto Monument the past several years, including the opening months of 2018, we decided to take a break upon our return to the Houston area. Instead we settled into a residential RV Park in Dickinson, TX for a few months.

This year, in spite of the enjoyable travels, wasn’t trouble free. Right off I knew I needed to take the 5th wheel in to the factory for service. It was a major repair and rather expensive. Then, in Indiana I had the pickup in the shop. I knew the repair was coming, but there was another big hit to the bank account. A couple of months later the pickup was back in the shop not once, but twice, for both maintenance and work again. All in all, this was our most expensive vehicle/5th wheel year to date. These expenses will be obvious when I release our 2018 expense sheet in a few weeks.

We’ve been reminded in unwelcome ways that traveling in a RV doesn’t take us away from real life as we’ve had our share of doctor’s visits and expenses. Happily, the outcomes to this point have been reasonably good although the final chapter hasn’t been written on some issues. One silver lining to these clouds is that we’ve had a chance to affirm that traveling fulltimers can walk into most any Urgent Care and get help. Another is that all the money we spend on insurance actually gets us decent coverage. Still, I’d rather just buy the insurance without needing it!

We still enjoy the nomadic RVing life and hope to continue for the foreseeable future. With both 5th wheel and pick-up being in the shop this year we’re thinking about doing some trading, likely to a motorhome. However, at this point we’re just thinking about it. Stay tuned on that front.

Reflecting on our 2017 Adventure

Our 2017 Adventure had both ups and downs.  It was a year with several unexpected expenses that included a broken windshield and various camper repair projects.  Later on we decided it was time to put new tires on the camper.  At four and a half years they still looked good but camper tires are notorious for failing at about that age.  We also ended up putting new tires on the truck, but, sorry to say, that came after a major tire failure that did damage to the truck.  Not long after that the truck ended up in the shop for a bigger repair.  After working through the issue with the warranty company, the repair ended up costing us hundreds rather than thousands of dollars.  Still, it was an expense that hit the bank account pretty hard.  The lesson learned wasn’t a new one, but still hit us in the wallet: when it rains it pours.

2017 also brought some medical issues our way, some are still ongoing.  That reminds us of another old lesson made new: life happens, even when you are living the RV dream.

During the year we tried a bit different approach to travel.  Rather than moving every 1-2 weeks during the months when we aren’t volunteering we decided to slow down in the early spring while we waited for warmer temperatures up north.  We spent a month on the Alabama coast, then another month near Knoxville, TN.    The result was mixed.  The month in Alabama wasn’t bad at all.  We were in a park that had lots of winter people and lots of interesting activities.  The month in Tennessee, so close to the month in Alabama, seemed longer.  The campground was crowded and the weather was wet.  All this added up to a less than enjoyable stay for us.  Lesson learned: be careful when scheduling longer stays to be sure the campground/area is worth the lengthy stop and don’t schedule longer stops too close together.

While we were in Indianapolis we were joined by our son and family for a few nights.  The camper was really crowded.  Still, it was fun seeing our loved ones and accommodating our “guests.”  None of us would have enjoyed this set up for a longer stay, but for a few nights it was great and we would happily do it again.   The lesson learned is that changing things up for a special occasion can be fun even if it is inconvenient.

We enjoyed family a couple of other times during the Adventure, spending a week near Jackie’s brother and his wife, Jim and Phyllis. This was followed by a couple of stays near Jackie’s family in Iowa.  Then in the fall, my sister Susan joined us and traveled with us for a couple of weeks.  These family times are a real bonus and make traveling even more fun.  Same lesson: it’s a real bonus being with family and friends.

We always enjoy worshiping with the various congregations we visit in our travels.  This year we especially enjoyed the Church of the Nazarene in Summerdale, AL.  Being that this was one of our longer stays we got to know the folks a bit rather than just being one or two Sunday visitors.  Then, we finished the year by filling in for a month for a pastor friend of ours in Denison, TX and then accepting an interim assignment (still ongoing) at Baytown, TX.  A good lesson is that while being a perpetual church visitor is always interesting, nothing takes the place of being part of a worshiping community.

During 2017 we towed the camper nearly 5000 miles, visited 17 states, and stayed in 34 different places.  This year, when we arrived in South Dakota we completed visiting all 50 states (although not all in the RV).  We started and finished the year volunteering on Battleship Texas.  This marks our fourth season of wintering in this unique location on the Houston Ship Channel.   We are still working on our 2018 Adventure and expect to continue our journeys in this New Year.

2017 – End of Year Expense Report

doing-the-budget
Here’s our 2017 end of year Expense sheet…

I’m listing the camping related expenses as line item monthly averages. Then, I total everything else up and give just a general dollar figure. If you are researching fulltime RVing you already know what you pay for food, health insurance, etc. (or even if you don’t, my figures for such things won’t have any real world connection to what you spend on them). Also, by combining the non-RVing expenses I feel I’m better able to maintain our privacy.

During the year we spent four months volunteering and receiving a campsite at no charge. For the purpose of this report, I’ve estimated the value of these months at $325 each. Also, we own a small car that doesn’t travel with us.  We have it 4-6 months a year.  That lowers our diesel use and adds a gasoline line to our expense sheet.

During 2017, in addition to our months of volunteering, we spent a two months paying monthly rates. The rest of the time we were traveling, moving an average of once a week.

2017 was a good year for us, but we had some extra expenses including replacing a windshield, buying new tires for both camper and pickup, and a couple of bigger pickup repairs.  These costs are included in the figures below.  We did one major RV upgrade.  However, since it was completely discretionary I’m not including it in these figures.

Because our travel was very limited in 2016 I can’t compare this year’s figures to last year, however, these numbers track pretty well with other years, although they are drifting upwards, primarily, I think, due to inflation rather than any big changes in our lifestyle.

I have to brag just a bit here.  At the beginning of the year I did an estimated budget.  To my surprise, my end of the year figures are within $30 for the entire year!  I’d say that was mostly luck and not skill at budgeting!

2017  Monthly Expense Averages
Camping fees (Value of volunteering + out of pocket + pro-rated annual memberships*) $478.06
Cell/Internet/TV $226.15
Diesel (During the months in which we have a car the truck doesn’t get driven much) $204.35
Gas (note: we only had the car with us about 5 months but this is a 12 month ave.) $23.89
Misc $38.50
RV Maintenance and upgrades $149.81
Vehicle Maintenance (had a couple of big repairs on the truck) $257.75
Registrations/Vehicle Insurance (pro-rated to monthly) $178.48
Propane $1.81
Mail Service $12.08
TOTAL $1570.88
Non RV expense – food, medical, “just living”**                                    TOTAL $1727.28
MONTHLY GRAND TOTAL AVERAGE
$3298.16

*Note 1: Like Thousand Trails, Good Sams, etc. – prorated to monthly cost -but NOT including original buy in costs, if any

**Note 2: These expenses include items like: Groceries & Dining Out, Clothing, Hair, Medical & Dental Expenses, Charity, Health Insurance, and Entertainment – but not Income Tax and a few other expenses

PS: If you find this information helpful, please leave a short comment so I’ll know it is worth the effort needed to provide it. Thanks.

2017 – Farm Island State Recreation Area, Pierre, SD

20170818_145911.jpg After driving nearly 200 miles across the corn and hay fields of the South Dakota Prairie we dropped into the Missouri River Valley and arrived at a beautiful lakeside campground on the outskirts of Pierre, SD. Farm Island Recreation Area is a pretty spot with large, level sites and 50 amp electrical hookups. There is a convenient water and dump station near the entrance. We arrived, happily with reservations, on an August Friday afternoon and the campground was nearly full. There were many families and the kids had a blast swimming in the lake. The lake is fed by the Missouri River. It has a sandy bottom and is pretty shallow for a good distance out – making it perfect for children. Because of the layout of the campground only a fourth of the sites are by the water. Because of that, people pretty much walk through those sites to get to the lake. I know some people get bent out of shape when that happens, but at this campground it’s just the way it is. We smiled and said “hello” and they smiled in return. By Sunday evening, though, that was all over. The place was nearly empty and we pretty much had the campground to ourselves the rest of our stay.

20170818_141312.jpg Here are a few things you might want to know if you plan on visiting Farm Island. In addition to the camping fee there is a South Dakota State Parks vehicle entry fee of $6 a day. Since we were intending to stay four days and then visit Custer State Park later on we got a $30 annual pass instead. There is also a $7.50 out of state booking fee. I had no problem getting satellite TV which is a good thing because I don’t think there was any over the air TV. My Verizon signal was solid. When I tested the water with our TDS meter it reported numbers as high as 1000. That’s really high and at the limit of what is considered fit for human consumption. I suggest you bring drinking water. Finally, the flies are real pests throughout this area. Be prepared to defend yourself unless the wind is blowing.

20170821_123147.jpg Our final day at Farm Island was “eclipse day.” We woke to a severe thunderstorm that was pretty scary – wind, hail, and a downpour. Really, we should have bugged out to one of the shower houses. However, the storm was on us before we knew it. After 10 or 15 minutes of (thankfully) small hail, things let up. We feared the heavy clouds would block our view of the eclipse which was at nearly 90% for the area. However, at just the right time the skies cleared and we had a good view of the impressive display of God’s handiwork.

Click this for full screen photos

2017 – Campground Review: Raccoon Valley Escapees, Heiskell, TN

20170421_193013.jpg We’re just finishing up a one month stay at Raccoon Valley Escapees RV Park at Heiskell, TN, just north of Knoxville. The setting of the park is scenic, in a pretty valley with tree covered ridges on either side. Of course, this is eastern Tennessee, home of the stunning Smoky Mountains. Without doubt, this is a great area. The campground itself is basically a gravel parking lot. Sites are very close to one another with one’s neighbor’s utilities in your front yard. The grounds are well kept, the rest rooms clean, and there’s a nice activity center.

The campground hosts a weekly gathering of local musicians who sing and play for a few hours each week. Anyone who plays an acoustical instrument is welcome to join in. The music ranges from pretty good to “not pretty good” (if you get my drift.) However, everyone is having a good time and it makes for a friendly, easy going evening.

The monthly prices here are quite good and that has drawn a variety of residents. There are traditional Escapees who travel in their RV’s full time and there are working people who had never heard of Escapees, but joined to get the discount rate as residents of this park. Most everyone is friendly or at least cordial. Because of price, location, and limited sites the park stays pretty busy.

My Verizon signal was good. Our satellite TV is via Dish Network. There are plenty of over-the-air TV stations but the primary Dish channels are on the Dish “eastern arc.” Since my dish is a western arc one, and since the trees pretty much blocked my western satellites I decided to bite the bullet and buy the replacement LNBs. I found them on Amazon for around $25. After swapping them out and aiming the dish to the eastern satellites I had all my channels again. From what research I’ve done, I’ll be using the eastern satellites for another month or two and in the future I’m sure I’ll be glad to have the option of switching between satellite sets when we travel east.

Honestly, a month was too long for us to be at this park. Had the campsites had a bit more elbow room we would have liked it better but it still would have been longer than we really wanted. I’d return here for a week or maybe two, but that’s about it.

Click this for full screen photos

2017 – Campground Review: Escapees Rainbow Plantation – Summerdale, AL

20170303_130911.jpg We really like this campground. The Escapees club is the largest (maybe only) organization for fulltime RVers so when we are at an Escapees park we enjoy the company of like-minded people. This campground, being in the sunny south and in such an interesting area, attracts lots of folks who maybe aren’t RVing fulltime but are at least “long-timers” who spend the winters as “escapees” from the cold north. Everyone is friendly and welcoming and there are lots of walkers who enjoy stopping for a chat.

20170307_093549.jpg Not only are there many people in RVs, there is also an entire neighborhood of houses occupied by folks who have “retired” from RV travel or at least have decided this would be a good place to put down some roots. There are a variety of houses but nearly all of them have some kind of accommodation for a RV. It’s fun to walk around and see all the innovative ways people have built houses that also provide for RV parking and use.

20170313_183016.jpg The RV area is grassy on packed sand. We enjoyed the spacious site and a nice shady oak tree. In the past we have parked under oak trees in the fall and didn’t enjoy the acorn bombardment on the camper. This being spring we mainly had to put up with leaves falling (the oaks don’t shed leaves until new leaves come in and “push” them out).

There are lots of activities in the park’s activity center: everything from a music group to quilters to a chair “caning” group. Of course, there are plenty of eating opportunities as well.

Let me include in this review a special mention of Robertsdale Church of the Nazarene. We worshiped with these fine folks the past month and enjoyed it very much. Pastor Melissa and her congregation made us feel right at home and I recommend this church to any who visit Escapees Rainbow Plantation.

Click this for full screen photos