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We just finished an 8-month, 23,000-mile journey living full time in our
2017 [email protected] 320 S Outback that took us from the Florida Keys to Connecticut via Alaska
with many points in between.
We are not campers and have never owned an RV, but when we decided to retire and see America, doing it in a camper seemed to be the right way to go about it. The thought of searching for, and checking into and out of, hotels for this journey made no sense to us. Having our own bed every night and being able to sleep wherever we were, and cook our own meals, made the decision to RV it easy.
I have written this article for two reasons:
1. If we can do it – so can you!
2. It may be helpful for newbies to learn a little through our experiences from buying our camper to outfitting it, finding campsites, daily life on the road, and surviving our relationship.
Note: there are many people who are far more worthy of giving advice on full-timing in an RV than us, and so this is not about advice, it is simply the sharing of our experience for anyone who is interested in reading about it. THANK YOU to all the selfless contributors who post here on this site. We learned so much from reading, reading, and reading - on all topics from electrical to solar, water, towing, problem-solving etc. We really don’t know how we would have done this without you!
The short story:
We retired, bought our trailer, and safely drifted through North America without much of an itinerary for 8 months. We loved it and recommend it for anyone thinking about doing it.
The long story:
CHOOSING OUR RV
Having researched all shapes and sizes of campers we chose our [email protected] 320 S Outback for the quality and size of the rig, and we have never once regretted that decision. It is small and with its challenges and surely not for everyone, but we are minimalists and wanted nothing to do with trailering a big rig or driving a motorhome, so the decision was easy. This tiny teardrop trailer caught our eye early on and outlasted all the other candidates we considered. We liked the idea of pulling a trailer that we could disconnect and then use our truck to venture out to the sites. Our trailer was adorable, rugged, lightweight, and had everything on our checklist. There were two configurations to pick from. One is called CS (stands for clamshell) and has a full outdoor kitchen built into the back end of the trailer. You simply lift the back to expose a full kitchen setup. We noticed that this unit has a smaller bed than the S model and so for the bigger bed, we chose the S model. It has a toilet, shower (deal-maker), small refrigerator and a stove on the inside, perfect for making coffee every morning without having to go outside 😊.
OUTFITTING OUR NEW [email protected]
We wanted to outfit the rig with just what we needed, and not a thing more. This was a challenge even for us minimalists. Storing all that we might need in a small space was the puzzle we needed to solve.
For outdoor cooking, we chose a Coleman grill/burner that uses the small green propane bottles.
For power, we chose the Renogy 100-watt suitcase solar kit and loved it!
We upgraded from the 12-volt battery that comes with the trailer to two 6-volt batteries. This (along with the solar kit) gave us the confidence to boondock it as often as we wanted to without worrying about losing power. We were able to camp off grid typically up to 5 days or so before needing to find a dump station, so we were never limited by lack of power.
We installed a tube that holds our sewer hose to keep it covered and out of the way, and several items that would prove to be useful: A bit for my cordless drill to lower and raise the stabilizer feet (saved much cranking with the tool that came with the trailer); a sewer hose kit that included covers and a donut to fit all dump stations; various cables and locks for the solar kit, spare tire, bikes, cooler, and our trailer coupler. An electrical sure protector for plugging in at campsites power posts, a water pressure regulator to protect our plumbing from city water pressure, 50 amp to 30 amp converter (used only twice but nice to have), 15 amp to 30 amp converter (never used), and a box for tools (a whole other list could be made for what we kept in this), bedding and kitchen supplies. In the back of our truck we kept bins for clothing, tools, a cooler, an EZ Up canopy, and folding chairs.
PLANNING OUR ROUTE
We wanted to take our time and see as much of the west and north as possible, and our soft goal was to make it to Alaska. We didn’t have any “must see” places on our list, and we did very little research before our trip. We enjoyed driving roughly 4-5 hours on any travel day and would stay 1-3 days wherever we stopped. We started out by relaxing during winter in the Florida Keys, and when we were ready to move on (Feb 7th), we followed weather patterns that allowed us to “migrate” along with temps that were pleasant in the daytime and not too cold at night. We ended up looking at the weather maps for nighttime temps not lower than 35 degrees, and mostly found 40-50-degree temps suited us best. We have navigation in our truck, and Maggie followed along with her i-Pad map. Having both proved to be very useful in comparing best routes. Our final path took us up the FL panhandle, and west through LA, TX, NM, UT, AZ, NV, CA, OR, WA, then up through British Columbia and the Yukon to Alaska. Alaska is so big it bears mentioning that we stayed in Skagway, Haines, Denali, and Valdez before making our way to Jasper, Banff, MT, WY, and SD before heading back to CT through IA, IL, IN, OH, PA, NJ and NY (stopping nowhere for more than a night in these last 7 states).
Highlights (hard to keep this so short, but…): FL Keys, Café duMonde and other restaurants in New Orleans; San Antonio and Austin, TX; Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands National Monument, and Gila Cliff Dwellings in NM, Organ Pipe Cactus Monument, Tombstone, Bisbee, and Grand Canyon in AZ; Hoover Dam in NV; Zion National Park in UT; Sequoia National Forest, Redwood Forests, Napa, and Big Sur in CA, all of the beautifully accessible and natural Oregon coast; Anacortes and San Juan Island, WA, British Columbia’s wildlife, all of our camping spots and driving in AK; the stunning scenery of Jasper and Banff; fly fishing the Missouri River in Montana; Yellowstone Nat. Park and the Tetons in WY; and finally seeing Mount Rushmore and The Badlands of SD. The biggest highlight of all was driving. It was amazing to see new landscapes everywhere we went. We never stopped being surprised by the unique and stunning beauty of every turn. We are pleased to report that; indeed, America is beautiful.
We began by looking at the map, seeing where we were, and looking about 200 mi +/- for our next spot to stay. We looked ahead geographically for places we wanted to visit and followed the roads in that direction.
We relied heavily on campendium.com to find sites. We checked pricing, reviews, amenities, cell service reports, and location before settling on a spot to stay. We preferred to boondock for free, but not in Walmart or casino parking lots, although we did stay in Cabela’s lots on two occasions, with free dump stations. There are many places that offer camping for free or for a small fee, and we took into consideration what we needed at the moment. If we were paying for a site, we liked to have water and public toilets but not porta-potties. If the site had showers, that’s a bonus. Dump stations were nice if we needed it. We never needed electrical hookups. In reading reviews, we looked for safe, private, and pretty. Finding a campground not too far off the highway when travelling is nice but not critical. The most we paid for a site was $45 for full hookups, concrete pad, big resort with many amenities; and over the course of staying roughly 70 places, half were free, most others were $7-$26/night. We seldom made a reservation but just pulled in and got a spot. Best to arrive by 2:00 in the afternoon anywhere you go to get a spot. Checkouts are typically 10 am to 1 pm and people start arriving shortly after that. We wrote many reviews on the campendium site, under the username “Liam n Maggie”. It felt good to help others looking for a good site to consider (or one to avoid).
The reality of campgrounds: While some are very peaceful, others have people. If you’re social and want to connect with people, you will find them at the biggest campgrounds. There were usually spots within a campground that have some privacy, but the advantage of not reserving in advance gives you the ability to drive around to find a spot to your liking, and if you can’t find one you can move on. We appreciate that camping for some is a big weekend event. Bring the kids, the firewood, the beer, the family pets and have a blast. For us full-timers, we wanted a place to enjoy more peacefully. Things we looked for (in order to avoid) as we drove into a campground: generators, firewood, playgrounds, kids bikes, dogs, heavy smokers, large groups. Hate to sound grouchy but screaming kids, generators, fire smoke, barking dogs, and late-night drunks gets old when you want to sleep.
SURVIVING EACH OTHER
The very first agreement we made with each other was simple. If during our travels, either one of us feels done with it – we’re done. No commitments were made to make it as far as [anywhere], but we did have Alaska in our minds as the “soft” destination goal. It had always been a goal of mine to visit Alaska but not by cruise ship. We put no pressure on ourselves whatsoever, and in the end it was this attitude that kept us relaxed and entertained by the journey. Living in such a small space takes away all privacy, and in order to survive these conditions was a matter of finding our groove. There was only enough room for one person to stand in the common area inside our tiny home, and so patience was needed. Asking each other to reach me the [anything] was a common occurrence. For me to walk into the camper and get my toothbrush which was stored at the back behind the bed meant crawling across the bed. So, when we were inside together, the one on the left retrieved the stuff on the left. Same for front and back – whoever’s closer retrieves the item for the other. Attitudes about these tasks were not even allowed. It was just how it was, and it worked well to understand the situation and to be helpful. We shared in making coffee and toast every morning. With no room for two to stand in the kitchen, it was a one-person task. We shared in doing all the chores – making the bed up at night, putting the bed away in the morning, and making meals. When it came to setting up/breaking down at campsites, we each had specific chores in order to be sure they all got done. I was “the outside guy” hooking the trailer up, leveling, electrical cords, safety chains, packing chairs and bikes. Maggie took care of “inside guy” stuff - wrapping and storing the coffee pot, cups, glasses and dishware, locking windows and doors, puzzling the cooler, table, and water jugs on the floor so they wouldn’t shift while moving. We always worried when driving over a bump that our coffee pot would break which of course would be tragic. There was no option of doing anything quickly because everything took time. A common question asked by people who saw our rig was “…and you’re still together???” Luckily we’re best friends and very much in love so no problem for us. Almost all the time 😉.
Initially we thought it would be cheap to travel this way but in the end our credit card bill remained about the same as it always is. We saved by not staying in hotels (not one night the entire 8 months), and cooking almost all our own meals, but we spent on gas, groceries, campgrounds, craft breweries, vehicle maintenance, a few tourist activities, and clothing. We were fortunate enough to have found a renter for our house while we were away and so that helped a lot. She was kind enough to forward important mail to us at designated post offices along the way. If you do this, figure $2000-$4000/month depending on how far you go, where you stay, and your eating/drinking habits.
And so our planned adventure has come to an end. We are home safe in Connecticut with an abundance of great memories and the confidence of knowing that we did what we set out to do – with amazing success. Our trailer is now being offered for sale and can be seen in the area: "FOR SALE new/used trailers."
Bill & Maggie 7/24/2019
“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” -Mark Twain