Lee and I had read so much about RV shows on the various forum that we decided to take a weekend and drive to the Hershey, PA RV Show which is one of the biggest RV show in the northeast. I travel quite a bit for work so had some free hotel points available and the drive was only 6 hours for us, so it seemed like a fun way to see what was out there. We have been talking about 5th wheels as the next logical step in our adventure and this would be a great way to see most of the available new models in person, plus I had read the seminars were really great and you could find neat vendor items that weren’t easily available anywhere else. We were pretty excited (you would have thought we were kids going to Disney World) and we ended up getting up and on the road by 4 am. The drive was fine and put us down at the park by 10:30 which was really good timing.
We bought a 3 day pass for $30, which was well worth it since we didn’t have to stand in the long line as much on Saturday and off we went. Our strategy was to walk the aisles and look at floor plans, then pop into anything that looked interesting. This was pretty important as the grounds were absolutely huge and walking up and down into the steps into the RV repetitively can play havoc with the knees. We are still pretty young and in good shape, but 10 hours walking in a day is not part of our normal routine 🙂 I also am a little claustrophobic, which can be an issue when dealing with some models. So Lee was kind enough to pop in, and then stick his head out and give me the nod if he thought it was worth going into. This really was incredibly generous as he must have saved me the steps on at least 100 models. We really like the floor plan where the living room is raised and in the front and we looked at this type by all the manufacturers (hence the 10 hours per day of walking) and also liked one floor plan where the rear was a living room with a door. As we walked we realized what criteria mattered the most to us.
- Price – we are not independently wealthy so anything above $70k was rejected out of hand (This may sound as a lot of money and certainly is, but we are considering this our vacation home and it would be tough to buy a condo in Florida for that money)
- Weight – we are resigned to buying a larger truck but any weight over 18,000 and you are constantly watching what you carry. I don’t want to vacation like that where you can’t boon dock in a national park because the fresh water you need weighs too much. The models we liked were around 16,000 lbs which gives us an extra 5,000 lbs for stuff.
- Separation – we love each other, been married for 25 years, but at times frankly we need to go to our separate corners. Since I know in those situations Lee will grab the premium space, that leave me with the “other” area. Unfortunately in 90% of the models this is a very small bedroom which is in front and not a great place (for me) to hang out
- The feeling of claustrophobia. I never realized I had an issue with this until we started looking at campers, but many models I walked in and walked right back out. Kitchen islands for example (which are all the rage now) enhance the feeling of claustrophobia so any model with a kitchen island was out. Low ceilings same thing, so any models with particularly low ceilings not possible.
- Bathroom shower you can easily turn around in. Don’t need a tub but the little seats so you can easily shave your legs a big deal.
- Cabinet space in the bathroom. So many models have almost none and the ones we liked had lots which was a huge plus.
- Cabinets with full depth drawers. I can’t tell you how many models we saw where you would see these fancy drawers and you would open them up and they would be shallow. Made me crazy.
In short walking around was a great way to determine what really mattered and significantly reduced the choices. We narrowed it down to 5 then 2 then finally 1. The winner is the Open Ranger Roamer 386FLR . Incredibly excited!!!
On the outside Lee loves that the propane tanks are 4 – 20# and they are on slide-out trays, the hard sewer case permanently attached and did I mention TONS of STORAGE. We plan on trying seasonal camping next summer (leave your camper on the same site all season long) and the extra storage will allow us to avoid schlepping stuff back and forth.
In addition to seeing darn near every 5th wheel on the grounds, we also went to see some seminars. I really enjoyed listening to the wisdom of folks who have been camping since the 1960’s and learned tons which I have shared in the lessons learned section below. Combine all that with excellent meals at Bob Evans and Texas Roadhouse and we were VERY happy campers!!! The only downsides were I had made arrangements to meet a couple I had “met” on RVForum.net (something I have never done before, but since every talks about meeting when they are at events together I decided to give it a try. Despite tons of texts we were unfortunately unable to meet up which was a bummer. Also we stayed in a Residence Inn using free points I had and it was a pretty crappy. Normally I like Residence Inn’s but this one was not up to their usual standards. … I should have known what I was in for when the clerk gave us room 113 on Friday the 13th 🙂 One positive thing though was I realized how much nicer it is to vacation in our camper then in a hotel and it really went a long way towards solidifying out decision. I suppose in a way the universe was watching out for us.
Matching your truck to your trailer – Presenter Walter Cannon (on of the founders of RV Safety & Education Foundation)
- Pulling and towing are two totally different things. You can pull many trailers with many trucks but can you safely stop it at 70 mph??
- GCWR = Gross Combined Weight Ratio
- GVWR = Gross Vehicle Weight Ratio (for a diesel truck this info is found in the diesel supplement of the owner’s manual)
- GAWR = Gross Axle Weight Rating
- Payload = weight trailer resting on the truck bed or hitch
- Truck GVWR = base weight + options (ie: 4×4 weighs extra) + hitch + weight of passengers, firewood, tools, bikes, etc
- The way I understood it (and I am by no means an expert) the weight of a 5th wheel is essentially divided into thirds. One third on the rear axle, one-third on the front axle, and one-third on the hitch pin (payload). Your towing safety can be fine in one single area but not fine in another. Indeed according to RV Safety.com, over 50% of the vehicles weighed are over weight.
- When assessing your safety you MUST look at the weakest link and make sure ALL areas are safely rated. RV Safety weighs vehicles using full -time RV’ers across the country and will help provide an assessment. In addition, we spoke to Peter from Ford at the event and he is VERY helpful in educating us about towing safety. We met him in the safety seminar (which he used his lunch break to attend) and then talked to him later and he was absolutely amazing. He worked with us once we picked the trailer to help us determine what Ford truck will work. That being said, everyone (including Walter and Peter) stated salespeople lie about this issue all the time. Whether they are truck salespeople or RV salespeople, they often tell you the towing ratios are fine to make the sale. The only way to be sure is to an independent source weigh both truck and front and rear of trailer and do an assessment.
- Make sure you have a full tank of fuel when weighing the truck
- Make sure you take into account the weight of a full tank of waste water (8 # for every gallon of waste water) and/or fresh water especially if you are planning on boon docking.
- Finally, don’t listen to me on this. Visit RVSafety.com and research with the experts.
Extended Living in an RV – Bob and Cheryl Marx
I was really curious as to what a “snow bird” couple would say about spending extended periods of time in an RV. Since we are going seasonal next summer and thinking about maybe taking a two-week cross-country trip I was dying to hear the wife’s perspective. Unfortunately Cheryl didn’t speak at all, but she did answer one-on-one questions at the end. Some of this doesn’t apply to us, but I found it fascinating anyways and there were some awesome tips. Well worth the hour and a half plus it was nice to sit for a while and take a break for all that walking.
- Prescription emergency options
- Local Pharmacist can mail them if they are not narcotics
- National chain’s will fill them in a remote location (Walmart, Walgreen, etc) as long as they are not narcotics
- Check with the campground to see where the closest medical facilities are in case of emergency
- Carry hard copy medical records with you if going on an extended trip. Medical facilities will NOT accept electronic copies on a flash drive due to virus issues
- Mail forwarding
- Give prepaid envelopes to a family member or neighbor and have them forward mail (cost roughly $5.50 a week
- Post office has a snow bird mail forwarding service $25 to sign-up and $15 a week
- Escapees Club out of TX offers a mail forwarding service for those folks going on extended cross-country trips
- Every year check your RV for weight and/or clutter. You collect things in an RV just like in your home and in such a small space it can quickly get out of control.
- Carry different credit cards than your spouse so if either the wallet or the purse are stolen you can cancel those cards and still have access to credit if away from home. Great tip!!!
- Check fuel prices from state to state as state taxes can make a big difference and fill up before leaving the cheaper states even if you are not on empty. For those who smoke the same would go for cigarettes. Gas and cigarettes were WAY cheaper in PA than in NY so we stocked up on both prior top leaving Hershey to come home.
- RV specific GPS’s are great. You can type in the type of vehicle you have and it will route you accordingly and show fuel and gas stops that are appropriate to your size along the way. Lee was looking at one of these and did not buy one, but after listening to Bob rave about his we are going to get one.
- Check local papers for restaurant coupons if you get tired of cooking, you can get some great deals
- Agree to driving time up front and stick to it. If you can only drive 5 hours a day, plan your route accordingly.
- Many people don’t make reservations at campgrounds in advance when in “traveling” mode because they don’t want to be held to a schedule. We are going to try that for the first time on the way back from Minnesota in a couple of weeks. Will let you know how it goes.
- Try to finish traveling by 2pm every day if possible. Not only do you have a better shot at getting a prime campsite, but you miss the rush hour traffic.
- Only use encrypted wireless for any sensitive information (ie: banking websites). This one seems obvious but honestly never really though about it much.
- If you want to meet people put four chairs out at your campsite. This was a great piece o advice because if someone comes up to chat you can invite them to sit down and I guess this is camper code for let’s chat!!!
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