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

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.

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

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.

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2016 – End of the Year Expense Report

doing-the-budgetEvery year since we became fulltime RVers I’ve posted an expense sheet, but 2016 wasn’t a typical year. As I’ve written in previous entries to this blog we took an unexpected break from traveling to serve as interim pastor. That assignment lasted six months. Add to that around five months (January-March and then November-December) volunteering at San Jacinto Battlefield/Battleship Texas and there’s not much of the year left!

Our campground costs this year, as you can guess, have no connection to what anyone else would pay. Also, our F350 pickup has been mostly parked. We have a small car that doesn’t travel with us when we are on the road, but this year we ran the wheels off of it. In other words, our camping and travel costs in 2016 wouldn’t be of much help to anyone.

Basically, our expenditures are just living costs and don’t have anything to do with fulltiming. Because of that I’m not publishing an expense sheet for 2016.

A few months ago I did a blog entry on Second Wave Expenses. This was a terrific year for us to take on several replacements and do some upgrades. We also had a couple of major unwelcome expenses: a new air conditioner for the 5th wheel and a major repair on the car. These two items amounted to several thousand dollars. The fact that we weren’t traveling enabled us to absorb these biggies.

And, as I said, we had some other, more voluntary, expenses. They included stuff like:
• A new backup sewer hose
• Two-Way Radios
• Wilson WeBoost and antenna to replace our worn out Wilson Sleek
• Replaced all incandescents with LED Lights
• Two new Recliners
• Heated Mattress Pad (nice on winter nights)

All said and done, even with the major repairs plus all the voluntary purchases we came out on the positive side of the spreadsheet. Had we traveled as planned, I think we would have been about on budget but maybe a bit behind on the year.

Our plans are to return to touring in the early spring and to make our 2017 Adventure a good one. Stay tuned!

Reflections on our 2016 Adventure

Things didn’t go for us as planned in 2016. Our intention was to head west to Moab, Utah and then north to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, and then east to the Black Hills of South Dakota before turning south again in the late fall.

Instead, we left our winter volunteering position at San Jacinto Battlefield and Battleship Texas and drove less than 100 miles to Conroe – and then right back to the Houston area, having accepted an interim pastor position at our home church, Clear Lake Church of the Nazarene in Webster, Texas. Our stay was an enjoyable and blessed six months of ministry during the pastoral transition. We also were glad to be close to family through some challenging days. Once our time of ministry at the church was finished it was back to San Jacinto to begin another winter of helping out on Battleship Texas.

As you can guess our 2016 travel map isn’t very impressive and our expense sheets wouldn’t be especially helpful to anyone who is looking into the fulltime RV lifestyle.

One of the neat things about this life is that we have wonderful flexibility. In small ways it is seen when we decide to change our travel plans to stay an extra day or two in a spot while we wait for better travel weather. In a big way it showed up as we scrapped an entire year’s worth of travel plans to do what we felt the Lord wanted us to do.

Moving on to a less lofty discussion, I’ll mention that not having campground fees or big diesel costs this year allowed us to spend money on several extras. Some were unwelcome, like a major repair to the car; and some were purely an extravagance, like the cruise we booked. We spent money on the 5th wheel, taking on projects both large and small, including buying two small recliners.

We’re looking forward to a return to our touring RV lifestyle in 2017. In the early spring we plan on heading to the southeastern part of the country, then we’ll head north looking for cooler summer temperatures, and then we may try for the Black Hills again in the fall.

Those are our plans. That is, unless the phone rings.

2016 – 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.

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.

2016 – 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.

2016 – 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.

2016 – Planner or freelancer?

compassPlanner or freelancer, which will it be?  That’s a question I come across fairly often, and I’ve written about it before.  Should a fulltimer create a travel calendar, make reservations, and follow a schedule?  Or should a fulltimer go with the flow, setting sail in the morning, not worrying about where they will spend the night till closer to the end of each day?  I think there’s room for individuality on both sides of this issue (and certainly some compromises to be made on either side).  A lot, though, depends on your travel style and budget.

If you don’t mind a bit of uncertainty and enjoy the adventure of dropping anchor in an unknown port, freelancing can be a lot of fun.  You’ll have some misadventures along the way, especially if you try to be a pure freelancer who doesn’t even plan for  summer holiday weekends.  However, that will become part of your story.  After all, there’s most often a Walmart or a grocery store in the area that allows overnight parking.  Also, people who like to boondock on public lands are especially suited for freelancing.

Other than the boondockers, though, freelancers often end up paying more than their planning counterparts.  There are some great camping deals out there, but they generally go to planners who research campgrounds in an area and make advance reservations, sometimes months in advance.  For people on a tighter budget this is a bigger deal that it is for others.

Planning has it’s advantages but lacks the spontaneity some people associate with the RVing lifestyle.  Still, many of us simply enjoy working with maps and researching – looking for the perfect campsite and the best route to get there. They are able to land in some of the more popular spots on busy weekends.  Such travel is generally easier on the expense sheet; not only because you aren’t at the mercy of the campground owner who has the last available spot in the area but also because you tend to travel point to point rather than wandering between undetermined destinations.

If you’re on vacation, you most likely want to be a planner.  No one wants to waste precious vacation camping nights parked at a truck stop.  I think fulltimers are more likely to be planners, although there are a lot of fulltime freelancers out there.  Even then, though, most fulltimers make reservations for holidays, planning to arrive early and then stay on a day or two after all the poor weekenders have to return to the daily grind.   Even fulltimers who do a lot of freelancing tend to set a few hard dates and then freelance between them.

Fulltimers, more than most people, tend to march to the beat of their own drummer so there’s lots of wiggle room on this one.  Really, there’s no right or wrong way to do it – just “your way.”

2015 – End of Year Expense Report

doing-the-budget
Here’s our 2015 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 at a state park campground. 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 2015, in addition to our three 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.

2015 was a good year for us. Not only did we enjoy our travels, our finances benefited from the much lower fuel prices and a break from the needed repairs of the past couple of years.

2015  Monthly Expense Averages
Camping fees (Value of volunteering + out of pocket + annual memberships*) $407.95
Cell/Internet/TV $200.50
Diesel (the lower fuel prices made a big difference compared to previous years) $181.64
Gas (note: we only had the car with us about 5 months but this is a 12 month ave.) $21.37
Misc $31.20
RV Maintenance and upgrades $131.13
Vehicle Maintenance (finally, a year without big repairs) $36.32
Registrations/Vehicle Insurance (pro-rated to monthly) $172.02
Propane $5.57
Mail Service $9.58
TOTAL $1197.28
Non RV expense – food, medical, “just living”**                                    TOTAL $1796.60
MONTHLY GRAND TOTAL AVERAGE
$2993.88

*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.

Just thinking: for those who dream of going fulltime in a RV

No one knows just how many fulltime RVers there are. For one thing, there’s no official definition of just what a fulltime RVer is! It’s obvious that there are a lot of us who are, as it has been called, “living the RV dream.”

Since I post a lot of fulltime budget information my blog has attracted folks who are still in the “dreaming” stage and researching information on the lifestyle. While I’m no expert and there are lots of people who know more about this stuff than I do I’m glad to share what we are learning. This post is directed to those dreamers who want to sell everything and hit the road in a RV. (It isn’t for people who have jobs that require or allow them to travel or people who have lost their jobs and are thinking of getting a RV as a source of housing, etc.)

Recently we received news that a fulltiming couples had a health emergency. I’m glad to have received good news on the immediate prognosis but this crisis will quite likely change the rest of their lives. Some folks have concluded that one lesson to be learned from this is that they should stop dreaming of going fulltime and jump to it while the jumping is good. On one hand, I agree that for some people this is a good takeaway. For instance we met a couple who actually retired and went fulltime. However, his previous employer made the man an offer he couldn’t refuse so he went back to work for a short stay. That short stay has now lasted three years! It’s their business but I can’t help but wonder if the day will come when they will wish they had returned to the RV dream rather than stay in the 9:00-5:00 environment.

Here’s a related article.

Frankly, though, I’m not sure “just do it” is the right message for everyone. Again, these remarks are in reference to those who see fulltiming as pursuing a dream and not for those who are considering the RV life as alternative housing and such so please read this from that point of view.

  1. First, “now” isn’t the right time for everyone. There’s a right time and a wrong time for all the stages of life. While I’m not saying that you need millions of dollars socked away before you go fulltime you do need an income that will support the lifestyle and that includes a source of health care insurance. Put more directly: if you can’t afford to go fulltime then don’t. Instead, continue working toward a fulltime RVing retirement by planning, preparing financially, and taking care of yourself physically.
  2. Second, don’t get in if you don’t have a way out. Don’t mortgage your future for the present. You may not have an exact plan but have a way to conclude your fulltime life and move to the next phase of life. Aside from those who suddenly pass away, sooner or later everyone has to hang up the keys. Hopefully, that will come as the result of the decision that you’ve “been there and done that” but it may come in the form of a trip to the emergency room. As you contemplate entering this lifestyle be sure to include at least a basic framework and capability for leaving it. Also, related and worth mention, is that your vehicle(s) and RV have a limited lifespan. While you don’t need money to replace them hidden under your mattress there needs to be at least some thought given to what you will do if and when your need to upgrade these vital items.
  3. Third, remember that life is uncertain but is also a blessing. Don’t squander today dreaming only of pie in the sky. Appreciate what you have right now: family, friends, health, and other good things. Make planning for the future part of the joy of this day.
  4. Fourth, know that real life continues even out on the road. Hitting the road in your RV means leaving a lot of things behind. However, a lot of stuff will follow along too, some things good and some things bad. Fulltime RVers get sick, as did the person I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Vehicles break down and accidents happen. If you think that pursuing the RV dream means everything will always be wonderful you are in for some big disappointments.

Don’t get me wrong, we love being fulltime RVers. It’s our chosen retirement lifestyle and we would do it all over again if we had to choose. If this life appeals to you then we’d say come on in, the water’s fine. Still, remember that part of moving to this lifestyle is preparing for getting into it, maintaining it, and then leaving it. Don’t forget that being a fulltimer doesn’t exempt you from real life problems. Beyond all that, remember that life is precious. Appreciate the blessings of each day even while dreaming of the next big thing coming down the road.