IF WE CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU!

Liam_n_MaggieLiam_n_Maggie Posts: 20Member
edited July 28 in Camping & Travel

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.

 

CHOOSING CAMPSITES

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 😉.

 

THE MONEY

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



2017 [email protected] S Outback. 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
Islamorada, FL & Westbrook, CT.
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Comments

  • webers3webers3 Posts: 111Member
    edited July 24
    What a great adventure and an informative recap, we are in CT as well and planning something similar but maybe not 8 months.  Thanks for sharing and good luck.
    2017 [email protected] 320S   2019 Jeep Cherokee - Southern Connecticut
  • wooperwooper Posts: 75Member
    I really enjoyed your story...looking forward to doing something similar at some point.  Just curious...the 100 watt solar panel...how well how quickly does it charge your batteries?  And why did you go to two six volt batteries?  Rookie [email protected] owner here looking for ways to improve my trailer..thanks!!
    2017 [email protected] 320S, 2011 2WD Honda Pilot, Coming out of The Woodlands, TX....Mark & Carolyn
  • Liam_n_MaggieLiam_n_Maggie Posts: 20Member
    Thanks for your comments webers and wooper.
    The solar panel netted me 14-32 amp hours a day when deployed for 6-8 hours, depending on how clear the sky was. This put my batteries up to 12.7 or more when reading the gauge in my trailer. I learned that keeping batteries above 12.2 is best. Before this I knew nothing about solar or even electrical power, but reading up (mostly on this site) I learned that having two 6 volt batteries would be the better choice. I was in fear of losing power and decided to spend the extra up front. 
    2017 [email protected] S Outback. 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
    Islamorada, FL & Westbrook, CT.
  • db_cooperdb_cooper Posts: 521Member
    Great write up!  Any interesting McGuyver fixes you had to do on the road?  Or was the [email protected] super reliable?
    2015 Max S Outback | 2010 Xterra



  • greggillgreggill Posts: 39Member
    Thank you for sharing. Enjoyed reading about your adventures. Just curious what tow vehicle did you use?
  • Liam_n_MaggieLiam_n_Maggie Posts: 20Member
    Hi db,
    Haha love the McGuyver reference! We packed everything we thought we might need including tire plugs and in the end we needed none of it. We felt really fortunate that nothing major went wrong.
    A few minor items were small stuff like the bungee in the trailer got stretched out, a few of the plastic hinges in the cabinets failed, and a screen broke. NuCamp shipped new ones to us at no cost (part of the original warranty). Our biggest challenge was cleaning dead bugs off the front :-)
    2017 [email protected] S Outback. 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
    Islamorada, FL & Westbrook, CT.
  • Liam_n_MaggieLiam_n_Maggie Posts: 20Member
    edited July 25
    Hi Greg,
    Our tow vehicle was a '16 Toyota Tacoma. 6 cyl. Pulled the trailer easily, but gas mileage hovered around 12 mpg.
    2017 [email protected] S Outback. 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
    Islamorada, FL & Westbrook, CT.
  • SebastianSebastian Posts: 20Member
    Did you have a visor? Is it a must-have? but less important than solar panel?
  • Liam_n_MaggieLiam_n_Maggie Posts: 20Member
    In trying to keep our "stuff" count as low as possible, we opted not to get one. We never missed having a visor, but never had one to know the difference.
    I'd consider solar a must-have item if you plan to boondock. I could see a visor being a good option to keep sun from coming through the window and heating up the inside, or nice to have when going in and out during rain. 
    2017 [email protected] S Outback. 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
    Islamorada, FL & Westbrook, CT.
  • scaupscaup Posts: 48Member
    Glad you enjoyed WA.

    Did the battery fit easily into the box in front? Is the Outback box larger than the S box?

    What did you use as the for the hose tube? Where did you mount it?

    Thanks
  • Liam_n_MaggieLiam_n_Maggie Posts: 20Member
    edited July 26
    WA was beautiful. The batteries were put into a hard plastic box that was mounted in front of the diamond plate tub that came with the camper. The dealer secured a plate under the box to give it stability, and the batteries fit perfectly inside.
    I don't know if the Outback box is bigger than the S model specifically, but the one that was on my trailer is metal, and had shelves on each side which came in handy for my water jugs. I looked at non-Outback model [email protected] which had only plastic tubs and no shelves.
    I ordered the hose tube from Amazon, and I mounted it on the back of my trailer just under the utility rack. You can see it in my photos. It doubled as the perfect spot to display our brewery stickers that we added along the way ;) .
    Valterra Adjustable 50"-94" A04-5094BK EZ Hose Carrier-50, White.Size:Adjustable 50"-94"

    2017 [email protected] S Outback. 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
    Islamorada, FL & Westbrook, CT.
  • MissstsomewhereMissstsomewhere Posts: 82Member
    @Liam_n_Maggie. I have the same camper. Which batteries did you use that fit perfectly? It looks like the NOCO box from Amazon. My dealer is acting like this is a big deal to do this but it seems like such a common modification. 
    [email protected] 400 Boondock lite - 2020
    Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited w/ tow package - 2019
    Hudson Valley 
  • Tundra57Tundra57 Posts: 194Member
    You mention a cost of 2000 to 4000 per month. I will be retired in 4 yrs and i intend to do similar. The monthly cost is a little expensive for me on a pension. Do you have a rough breakdown just of costs on the road?
  • wooperwooper Posts: 75Member
    I'm looking to enlarge my storage area like you have...but my spare is where your battery is.  Where did you get the platform extension for you blue jugs?

    2017 [email protected] 320S, 2011 2WD Honda Pilot, Coming out of The Woodlands, TX....Mark & Carolyn
  • Sharon_is_SAMSharon_is_SAM Posts: 4,920Moderator
    @wooper, they have an Outback/Boondock that comes with the aluminum platform.  You can get these from nuCamp via a dealer or fabricate your own as some members have done.
    Sharon / 2017 [email protected] CSS / 2015 Toyota Sienna Minivan / Westlake, Ohio
       
                                           
  • Liam_n_MaggieLiam_n_Maggie Posts: 20Member
    Missstosomewhere,
    The box is in fact NOCO Marine, the batteries are Interstate.
    The batteries fit easily, with a little extra room.
    My dealer mounted a flat plate underneath the battery box to give it stability, as it is plastic. You can see it the photo above.
    Here are some additional pics that should prove to be useful:



    2017 [email protected] S Outback. 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
    Islamorada, FL & Westbrook, CT.
  • Liam_n_MaggieLiam_n_Maggie Posts: 20Member
    edited July 28
    Hi Tundra57,
    The cost will vary based on how many days per month you plan to drive, and your spending habits of course.
    Example:
    Gas: I got 12 mpg with an 18 gal tank. or ~ 216 miles per fill up.
    So in driving 200 miles every two days, figure $1000/month for gas at $4/gallon.
    Gas is more expensive on the west coast and in Canada & Alaska, and less everywhere else, so this is just a rough budget. Huge tip - when in Alaska stop and fill up any time you are at half a tank. Gas stations are few and far between.
    Food: grocery store visits every 3 days at $60/visit = $720/month.
    Restaurants: We saw $50-$80 a meal depending on where we went and what we ordered. So 6 meals a month = $390.
    Campsites: figuring $20/night x 15 nights, (boondocking the other 15): $300.
    Touristy stuff: Hard to estimate but we did a helicopter/glacier tour at $700, and an whale watch tour at $280. Safely estimate $150/month.
    3 oil changes and new brakes ~ $500 over 8 months = $63.
    Clothing or other things you may buy as mementos etc, etc. It adds up. $100/month?
    So when you add the above numbers, you'd be looking at $2723.00.
    You'd spend less or more depending on where you choose to stay, how far you go per month, and how much spending you do on food and entertainment.
    Don't do this because it's cheap, but because it's an adventure that should prove to be memorable and amazing.
    Pension? How nice. Some of us don't have pensions. Just sayin...  :|
    Hope you find this info useful to your plan.



      
    2017 [email protected] S Outback. 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
    Islamorada, FL & Westbrook, CT.
  • Liam_n_MaggieLiam_n_Maggie Posts: 20Member
    edited July 28
    Thanks Sharon, on the tub/extension answer.
    My camper just happened to come with it, and it worked very nicely for us.
    2017 [email protected] S Outback. 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
    Islamorada, FL & Westbrook, CT.
  • Tundra57Tundra57 Posts: 194Member
    My pension is from my mining days in the UK. Not very much. Social security is a joke. Not much savings, so maybe i can do some part time stuff along the way to fund it. I really want to go. Specially Alaska and Arizona. (Total opposite lol). Your article really has boosted my travel lust. Probably will do things in multiple trips as i have young grandchildren to see, dont want t. I have two in connecticut and one in florida. Great article. Thanks for the travel estimate.  i really hadnt thought of the gas cost. My Tundra does about the same mpg as your Tacoma when towing a tab 400.

  • Sharon_is_SAMSharon_is_SAM Posts: 4,920Moderator
    @Tundra57, there is Camp Hosting that will get you a  free or greatly reduced site cost.  Boondocking out west is all over.  Don’t forget the coveted Geezer Pass for National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges, etc.  Lots of ways to save money.  The cost of a Long Term Visitor pass out in Arizona is a bargain.  https://www.blm.gov/documents/arizona-colorado-river-do-california-california-desert-do/public-room-frequently-requested
    Sharon / 2017 [email protected] CSS / 2015 Toyota Sienna Minivan / Westlake, Ohio
       
                                           
  • lkc001lkc001 Posts: 481Member
    @Sharon_is_SAM  this year in December I will be able to get my coveted Geezer lifetime pass!  Yea!
    2016 Nissan Frontier SV V6 4x4
    Finally!  New Owner of a 2017 Tab 320S! 
    Woohoo!
  • Sharon_is_SAMSharon_is_SAM Posts: 4,920Moderator
    Almost makes you look forward to that birthday, huh😀
    Sharon / 2017 [email protected] CSS / 2015 Toyota Sienna Minivan / Westlake, Ohio
       
                                           
  • 2Cougs2Cougs Posts: 689Member
    @Liam_n_Maggie - LOVED your write up.  Remember folks... do it now!  You may not be able to later. ;)
    2016 [email protected] CS-S silver with white trim and WSU themed
    Pulled by a silver 2017 Chevy Silverado
    Leaves on [email protected] from Spokane, WA


     



  • Liam_n_MaggieLiam_n_Maggie Posts: 20Member
    Thanks 2Cougs. 
    Your advice to those considering a trip is spot on. 
    Two of my favorite quotes:
    “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
    -Mark Twain
    ”Don’t wait. The time will never be just right”.
    -Napoleon Hill 

    2017 [email protected] S Outback. 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
    Islamorada, FL & Westbrook, CT.
  • siroisssiroiss Posts: 10Member
    I found your estimates to be very helpful.  Thanks for that!
  • NomadPilgrimNomadPilgrim Posts: 46Member
    Tundra57 said:
    My pension is from my mining days in the UK. Not very much. Social security is a joke. Not much savings, so maybe i can do some part time stuff along the way to fund it. I really want to go. Specially Alaska and Arizona. (Total opposite lol). Your article really has boosted my travel lust. Probably will do things in multiple trips as i have young grandchildren to see, dont want t. I have two in connecticut and one in florida. Great article. Thanks for the travel estimate.  i really hadnt thought of the gas cost. My Tundra does about the same mpg as your Tacoma when towing a tab 400.


    Definitely get the lifetime national parks senior pass. They raised the cost by a lot last year but still the best deal anywhere http://https//www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/senior-pass-changes.htm
    2016 [email protected] Maxx CS-S  following a 2008 4Runner Ltd

    Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.-
    Paulo Coelho
  • 4ncar4ncar Posts: 622Member
    @Liam_n_Maggie my GF & I have a similar plan. I retired 2 years ago, and she plans to stop working next year. Our plan is much like yours and to just meander around & across the country. She is colombiana and has not seen much of the interior, and I spent my youth (and middle years) hanging from a rope in the mountains, so I want to show her “my places” and see many others. I am inspired by your battery box, as I have been hesitant in loosing my tub space, and the “shoehorn fit” of [email protected] volts in the diamond plate tub. I am also inspired by your report of state of charge with a 100w panel. I have been leaning toward 150/160W, but maybe can save a buck or two...🤷🏻‍♂️. When we leave, our plan is a full year. Thanks for the insights.
    TV- '16 Chevy Colorado LT Crew Cab-DuraMax
    2018 320S Outback
  • CherokeeCherokee Posts: 61Member
    Just went across country to see daughter, Grand kids and friends - "don't check gas mileage and you'll enjoy your [email protected] much more " BEST advice for a long trip. 
     

    1999 Jeep Cherokee XJ (2" lift and 30" tires) 2019 [email protected] 320 Boondogle
  • ontheroadontheroad Posts: 110Member
    have thoroughly enjoyed your recommendations on Campedium newsletters... thanks 
  • gulfareagulfarea Posts: 180Member
    Liam, did you have any flats? I am debating even carting  a spare as it is a very. common tire and wheel at Walmart. Art
    2019 Boon-dock Edge
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