Reflecting on our 2019 Adventure

Click on the map for details

Our 2019 Adventure was our first year in our 2005 Safari Cheetah diesel pusher motorhome. Traveling in the motorhome as opposed to the 5th wheel presented a bit of a learning curve for us. We got the Cheetah in January and put a lot of effort getting comfortable on the “camper side” of the rig. However, when we started traveling in April (and in spite of our having taken a few shake down cruises in it) we began finding mechanical issues that needed attention. Not only that, but we had a few mishaps that added to the list of needed fixes. We worked our way through them as we traveled and finally felt we had resolved most of problems.

Over all we drove the motorhome just over 4200 miles, visiting 31 campgrounds in 17 states. Our longest move day was 305 miles but our average move was just 136 miles.

Our winter stay was a bit longer than usual. Our year started and ended at Green Caye RV Park in Dickinson, Texas – 150 days total for the year. This isn’t anything close to being our favorite park, but it is near friends and family (and doctors) so it is a reasonable winter landing spot for us.

Our Thousand Trails membership continues to be a good investment for us. This year we spent 154 nights at Thousand Trails campgrounds in six states.

Our favorite campgrounds, though, remain Corps of Engineers campgrounds. Our America the Beautiful pass makes these great campgrounds a real bargain for us.

One of the highlights of the year for us was having our family join us at Hershey, PA Thousand Trails. We had a great time visiting all the sights of the Hershey-Lancaster-Gettysburg area. It was especially fun sharing with them some of our favorite attractions in the area – places like Jiggers in Mt Gretna and the Bird In Hand Farmer’s Market.

The other highlight of our year was celebrating our 50th Wedding Anniversary at Niagara Falls.  We celebrated all week, exploring the area everywhere from the beautiful Gorge to taking a boat ride through locks on the Erie Canal.  We saved our day at the Falls for the actual date of our anniversary and then went out for an excellent meal after a busy day at the Falls.

In a couple of weeks I’ll finish the year with an expense report – admittedly, it has been a pretty expensive year. Still, as you can see, we got a lot of bang for our buck!

Comparing a 5th Wheel and a Diesel Pusher Motorhome

After 6 years in a 2007 34′ 5th wheel we moved to a 2005 39′ Diesel Pusher. Since the two rigs are from the same general timeframe I think they make for good comparisons. However, please understand that some observations are specific to these rigs – because of that our experience might be different than that of others. Both rigs were gently used by their previous owners. The motorhome only had 34,000 miles on it and the 5th wheel had been garaged and well cared for. The 5th wheel was a Hitchhiker II LS – a mid-level unit from a first class manufacturer. The motorhome is a Safari Cheetah, basically an industrial twin to a Monaco Knight – another mid-level unit. The 5th wheel was pulled by a 2008 Ford F350 with a 6.4 engine. As you read, remember that I am comparing our experience in these two specific rigs. Here are some observations on the two rigs.

Liveability: 5th Wheel
The 5th wheel has more storage and a better living layout. We did move the motorhome TV from over the driver’s area to over a couch on the side. It helped a lot. We originally thought the motorhome would have more storage but that didn’t prove to be true. It has less room inside and the bays don’t offer as much space as the big basement did in the 5th wheel. Things like heating and cooling are pretty much the same with either one.

On the road: tie
The motorhome is more comfortable and the big window up front offers the best view. When towing the car the motorhome can’t be backed up. Generally, this isn’t a problem, but if you make the wrong turn somewhere the car has to be disconnected, the motorhome moved, and then the car reconnected. Not a huge deal, but a negative when it happens. Some people said that the ride would be much smoother, but we haven’t found that to be true with this motorhome, even with new shocks. Getting fuel was better with the pickup simply because it could be filled up when not towing the camper.

Landing in a campground: tie
The motorhome is easy to park. The backup camera makes backing into a site a snap. Also, since the motorhome doesn’t bend in the middle it is easier to situate. However, in an unlevel site the 5th wheel wins. It doesn’t care how high you have to crank the landing gear. With the motorhome, you can easily end up with the front wheels off the ground. Some people say that doesn’t matter, but in the manual that came with our rig it clearly says not to do that. Getting level can be a challenge even with the hydraulic levelers.

Local Transportation: Motorhome
With the 5th wheel, the daily driver is a big pickup – poor mileage and challenging to park in tighter spaces. We now pull a small car with the motorhome. A much better daily driver.  Not only that, it can be a real plus to scout a campground in the smaller car before driving the rig to the campsite – especially in pick-your-own-site situations.

Maintenance – Repairs (engine/chassis side): 5th Wheel
If the pickup needed work, we could take it to most any shop that worked on diesel pickups while the 5th wheel was comfortably parked in a campground. When the motorhome needs work, we have to find a shop that works on big trucks that will also work on a motorhome. You see, some truck and trailer shops will work on motorhomes, some won’t. Then, while the work is being done the house is in the shop too. If that work includes an overnight stay arraignments have to be made for accommodations (although it should be noted that depending on the type of work, many shops will let you stay in the motorhome overnight in their parking lot). In addition: work on the motorhome is almost always more costly than on the pickup.

Maintenance – Repairs (camper side): tie
Getting camper stuff worked on (or doing it yourself) is about the same on either one. Refrigerators, water heaters, awnings, etc. are pretty much the same. It is much easier to get work done by mobile techs on the camper side of the motorhome than on the engine side.

Cost of routine operation: motorhome
The motorhome gets about the same mileage as did the pickup when towing the camper. However, once in the campground, we drive a small car that gets much better mileage. Oil changes, etc. cost a lot more on the motorhome, but only have to be done yearly, making the annual cost about the same. Also, remember, the motorhome is only run when actually changing campsites, keeping mileage low compared to the pickup which is also a daily driver.

Storage accessibility: 5th wheel
I’ve already touched on this, but looking at it only from ease of access, the 5th wheel bay is much easier to use. All the bays of the motorhome are under the 4 slide outs. I wear knee pads and have to get down on my knees to reach into the bays. It is harder to get things in and out of the motorhome bays.

Propane: tie
The 5th wheel had two big removable propane tanks. A bit heavy, but taking them out and getting them filled was a reasonable amount of effort. On the motorhome the tank is built in. You either have to take the rig to a station and have it filled or you have to see if anyone is delivering (not all that uncommon in larger parks with long term residents).

Dry camping: motorhome
This is only about our specific rigs but I have the idea is it more common than not. The motorhome has a big diesel generator, an inverter, and 4 6-volt house batteries. It has larger holding tanks too. There are ways to do all the above with a 5th wheel, but the motorhome is pretty much ready to go without any special add-ons (neither had solar of any kind).

In-motion convenience: motorhome (but not as much as you might think)
Prior to getting the motorhome we were told how great it would be for the passenger to be able to get up and move around while in motion. We haven’t found that to be the case. It is downright dangerous for anyone to be up and moving around while on the road. Sometimes we take advantage of a stoplight or a nice straight stretch of open interstate to get up and do something, but most of the time the passenger needs to stay strapped in.

Getting in and out: 5th wheel (but not as much as you might think)
There are more steps getting into the motorhome and they have to be navigated every time you go in or out whether on the road and traveling or stationary in the campground. On the other hand getting in and out of the pickup is just a bit harder than getting in and out of a car. Then, in the campground, there are fewer steps coming and going from the 5th wheel. However, this advantage is somewhat diminished by the additional steps going up to the bedroom and bathroom. I’m giving the 5th wheel the win here, but not by much.

Cost: 5th Wheel
Bear in mind that I’m talking about used rigs here. The cost of a big late model diesel pickup plus good 5th wheel is at least in the same neighborhood as a used low mileage diesel pusher motorhome of similar vintage. However, you have to then add in the cost of a small towed vehicle. Then, chassis-engine repairs will cost more on the motorhome. The price difference is offset a bit by the better motorhome resale value. The results are mixed – but I give a slight plus to the 5th wheel. Frankly, the startup on our motorhome has been very expensive for us as we found issues that had to be fixed. I’m counting those costs in with the purchase price – hopefully, these expenses will come to an end very soon.

Prestige: Motorhome
If you like compliments on your rig (and who doesn’t) the motorhome is the hands-down winner. I’ve had guys in a pickup truck pull up beside me in traffic and give me a thumbs up (never had that happen with the 5ver!). It isn’t unusual for people in campgrounds to complement us on our rig. Honestly, the first thing that got our attention about this motorhome was how good it looks. Apparently, a lot of people agree. This kind of stuff is no big deal to us, but it has happened often enough to convince us that it is more than a coincidence.

So the jury is still out
As you can see, at this point it’s a mixed bag. It would be untrue for us to say we haven’t missed our 5th wheel. Of course, after living in it for six years we knew all of its quirks – we are still learning the motorhome. At this time the thing we like best about the motorhome is the small car we tow – making it a pleasure to go sightseeing or just to run to the store. The thing we like least is how much more difficult it is to get work done on the chassis side of it. It is a much more difficult thing to find a shop to work on it and then to take it there as opposed to taking the pickup into the Ford dealer.

Note: this article is a work in progress. I’ll likely be back to add/edit items as things become apparent to me.

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.

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.

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 – 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.”

2016: A different sort of Adventure

2016 - Lake Conroe, TX Thousand Trails
2016 – Lake Conroe, TX Thousand Trails
A funny thing happened as we began our 2016 Adventure: it got sidetracked to an entirely different sort of Adventure. Our plan was to head for the high country, specifically, the western slope of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. We said our goodbyes and made the short drive to Lake Conroe Thousand Trails, the place where we’ve always started and ended our big Adventures. However, we already knew the alternate Adventure was a possibility. Then the phone rang with the invitation to stick around for a while and serve as interim pastor at our church. Again, we knew that our good pastor had resigned to accept another assignment in Tennessee and we had been asked if we would consider filling in for a while. We prayed about it and decided that, while we sure wouldn’t mind just heading north that we were willing to serve for a while if asked.

Being travelers as we are, I haven’t been asked to do much preaching since retirement after 40 years of fulltime ministry. Many pastors stay busy filling in here and there. However, I’ve usually been on the road and unavailable when people called. This time, since we’re just finishing up our winter volunteering gig we’re still in the area. Also, since we’ve called this church our home church for nearly three years now I feel more of a responsibility to help where I can.

2016 - Clear Lake Church of the Nazarene, Webster, TXSo, in a couple of weeks I’ll be back on a Sunday preaching schedule at Clear Lake Church of the Nazarene in Webster, Texas for a couple of months, maybe longer.

Honestly, we’ll miss the travel. After all, that’s what we retired to do and we’re having a great time doing it. Still, my life’s calling is ministry and I’m looking forward to this different sort of Adventure – doing something both new (being an interim pastor) and old (pastoring). Also, this church already has several terrific leaders who are ready to step up and accept various pastoral responsibilities. I’m looking forward to working with this leadership team.

So – for those still reading – our travel blog won’t be as active as it normally is during our Adventures. Next week we’ll add a quick update to our Lake Conroe Thousand Trails entries and then, over the next couple of months we may take on a minor camper upgrade project or two. Otherwise, our 2016 Adventure is on hold as we begin an entirely different sort of Adventure.

2015 – Reflections on our 2015 Adventure

We enjoyed our 2015 Adventure very much! It took us to the northern Midwest with an emphasis on Wisconsin and Michigan and included some great stops along the way, both coming and going.

In 2015 we decided to try out volunteering at the San Jacinto Monument Texas State Historical park in the Houston, TX area. We spent the first months of the year there, helping out at both the Monument and on the Battleship Texas which is on the same property. In return for volunteering 25 hours a week we were given “free parking” there. We enjoyed the experience enough that we signed up for another stay in the new year. For us, this is a great win: it is interesting and fun, close to family and many friends, and a real money saver. We also enjoyed being part of the community of volunteers and staff. That’s not to say there are no negatives, but overall, it’s a positive experience.

As you can see we had a good 2015 Adventure and, yes, we’re already working on the 2016 Adventure. We plan to head for the Rocky Mountains – Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and then across to the Black Hills of South Dakota!