Third Year – By The Numbers

November 14th is our “road-a-versary” and since the format I used the past two years worked for me, I decided to go ahead and keep it. There will be a separate post with our emotional arc for the year and a third one on our financials.  Since I track our budget on the calendar year, that summary will be out sometime January. This post is all about the other numbers and gives a broad overview of our travels. So let’s start with what it looked like:

Travel Information

Finally, we got to cross in the middle of the country.  I felt really bad for those middle states the last couple of years and was happy that our route took us through the middle.  We also earned four new state stickers this year, which were Oregon, Colorado, Iowa, and Kentucky. We have pretty specific rules on earning a new state sticker (we have to spend the night in the RV and do something specific to the state) and four new stickers wasn’t that bad. Despite our desire to stop criss-crossing the country, as you can see we did exactly that starting in Texas and ending in Kentucky, with the intent to travel back to Texas when we are done at Amazon.

Travel Miles – The trailer traveled 7,215 miles in Year Three with a lifetime total of 33,902 miles. The truck traveled 20,123 with a lifetime total of 78,866 miles.  And for those who are keeping track (Bill!) the truck engine has 54,038 miles. The reason we keep track separately is the truck engine was replaced at 24,828 miles, but our warranties go by the truck mileage, not the engine mileage.

Travel PatternThis year our travel pattern was largely driven by our work schedule.  We did have the opportunity to do some exploring between jobs in April and October, but mostly travel was dictated by where we went to work.  Well, that’s not exactly fair, we certainly had some say in what jobs we selected, but getting from job to job placed restrictions on where we could explore and for how long. This is what the year looked like. 

  • November – December Selling Christmas Trees in New Braunfels, TX
  • January – March Gate Guarding in Dilley, TX
  • April – Time off in Phoenix, Sedona, and Flagstaff, AZ, and Las Vegas, NV
  • May – September – Working for a utility company parks department in Estacada, Oregon
  • October –  Visiting with friends in CO and IA , Mor-Ryde Installation in Elkhart, IN, Visiting family in Columbus and Charleston, SC
  • November- December  – Working in Amazon Distribution Center, Cambellsville, KY

One of the major benefits of work kamping is our campsite is free and we only paid for campgrounds 37 days this year.  This year for the first time we truly traveled with no reservations.  We went from Texas to Oregon with no reservations, and then again from Oregon to Ohio the same way.  Traveling in the shoulder season gave us a higher level of comfort that we could find a spot and we are just more comfortable in general with finding campsites on the fly.

Truck and RV Repairs and Upgrades

I would have to say at this point I don’t really see a pattern with truck or RV repairs.  It is true that several of our friends had some pretty major issues in year three, but I didn’t feel for us it was any worse than any other year.  It might even have been better because we are much better at living with/working around issues rather than letting them derail us.  Case in point; we were without a working furnace for the entire year.  It obviously isn’t optimal, but we did prove to ourselves that we can manage.  Some repairs though, like our refrigerator slide being broken, absolutely have to be fixed quickly, and in those cases we were lucky enough to be able to schedule the repairs during our non-working time.  Here’s what the year looked like:

December – First attempt to fix the furnace.  The mobile tech who worked on the issue was in a motorcycle accident and was unable to finish the repair before we moved on to our next job.

January – We attempted to have the furnace, axle, and front left jack fixed.  This was a fiasco from start to finish.  The warranty company refused to fix the axle despite their independent adjuster telling them it was needed, Camping World said they fixed the furnace but we later learned they didn’t even reassemble it, and we didn’t have enough time for the front jack repair. We did spend $592 on two new front tires and an alignment for the truck this month.

October – We got the furnace fixed and our refrigerator slide which was stuck in the “in position”.  We also got a Mor-Ryde suspension upgrade and new disc brakes which you can read about here.

The furnace and refrigerator repairs were covered by our extended warranty, but the new tires and Mor-Ryde suspension were out of pocket expenses.

Patterns I am Seeing

I wasn’t really sure where to add this and it’s important to note this definitely is not based on comprehensive data, but I wanted to share some trends we are seeing with folks in our little community who are hitting their third or fourth year.  This is definitely based on a limited sample size, but I do think it is interesting and wanted to pass it along.  I’ve gotten some heat in the past for over generalizing, so please understand that this is really just a little slice of a pretty huge RVing pie and these thoughts are presented in that context.

  • Everyone has sold their house.  The longest anyone took selling their house was three years compared to the the shortest of 3 days.  Eventually though everyone’s house sold.
  • At least 1/3 of the people I know have changed RV’s. Some upgraded to newer/larger models and others changed from Fifth wheels to Class A’s or vice versa.
  • Repairs, repairs, and more repairs.  The first couple of years the RV’s seem to hold up pretty well, but around year 3 and definitely year 4 stuff starts to break. Almost everyone I know has had their travel detoured or delayed by the need to stop and make a repair.
  • Family emergencies.  Unfortunately these also have occurred, and at least 1/2 of the people I know have had their travel interrupted by either a health issue or a death in the family. This is real life after all and I wrote about how challenging these situations can be while on the road in this post.
  • Some people have settled on a home base of sort.  After traveling for 3-4 years many people start to think about developing routes or establishing a home base. Partly this is to help keep costs down, but it’s also to have consistent medical care or be able to see family on a semi-regular basis.  Folks are either staying on family land, buying a small piece of land, or returning to a job they liked.  This trend is of particular interest to us because we definitely see it in most of the folks we have met who have been full time RVing 7 years or longer. At this point we are not opposed to developing a route (a major change for me) just haven’t figured out the right one.  For us this is going to depend primarily on our job situation, but we are definitely open to settling into a routine that works for us, which is again a major change from how we started.
  • Almost everyone we know has volunteered or work kamped at least once.  Partially this is done to help supplement or generate income, but it is also done for the experience.  It’s nice to stay in one place for awhile and really get to know an area and community. And we know several people who have continued to keep their old jobs despite being on the road three years.  I don’t regret giving up my old job, for a variety of reasons, but it’s nice to see folks continuing to travel and work full time in a corporate environment.
  • Finally, we only know two couples who have left the full timing lifestyle.  That really surprises me, but most folks remain deeply committed to this lifestyle, despite it’s challenges.  Not to say people don’t talk about eventually getting off the road, but the general consensus seems to be, we aren’t ready yet.  There is still more we want to see, still places to explore, and in general this life is better overall than the old lives we had.  We talk about this stuff around campfires and dinners, but for most of us the end-game is not well defined.  That isn’t because we don’t know how to transition back, but because we have learned to live a life with more ambiguity.  For me at least, that is huge personal growth and something I will be grateful for no matter how long this lasts.

So again, this is my attempt to pass along some patterns I am seeing, and I am sure they are greatly impacted by my own personal experience.  My reason for sharing them at all is to show that Lee and I are not an anomalous couple, but part of a larger group of people that are experiencing similar things.  When I was researching the lifestyle and reading blogs, I was very skeptical and thought that the people who managed to do this successfully were one-offs, and that is not the case. We have met lots of people who are very happy and fulfilled in their full timing lifestyle and that has not changed even after three years of travel.  And it’s easy to see why.  Ask any full timer to rattle off their favorite experiences and they are all things that they probably never would have done on a traditional vacation.  There are very special moments that people usually stumble across in their travels that simply would never have happened in our old real lives.  A picture is worth 1,000 words though, so let me share some of ours for year three.

Top 10 Things We Saw

This is always my favorite part of the By-The-Numbers post and this year, despite working so much we saw many wonderful things.

  1. Of course number 1 is a waterfall..and what an amazing one it was. Lee read about Grand Falls when he was researching the area, but even he didn’t expect what we found.  The falls are taller than Niagara and very, very wide. It was a special experience and I highly recommend making the trip if you are ever in the Flagstaff area.
  2. Lee’s favorite experience of the year was when we went to Hecata Head Lighthouse at night.  We were with good friends Jim/Diana and Rick which added to how special it was and neither one of us have ever seen anything quite like it.
  3. Seeing Crater Lake checked off a big bucket list item of mine and experiencing it with our friends Kat and Bert made it really special.
  4.  More waterfalls of course and sharing all of the waterfalls in Columbia Gorge with Lee was really special.  I had seen them before on a work trip, but loved showing them to him and thankfully we did this early in the season as a large wild fire burned most of this area later in the summer.
  5. What a wonderful surprise Walnut Canyon was.  I absolutely loved it and when you combine it with Sunset Crater and Wupatki it’s sister locations it makes for an amazing day.
  6. I loved, loved our visit to Winslow, Arizona.  Yes, it is super cheesy, but getting to “stand on the corner,” was very special for me and I was giddy most of the day.
  7. Ahhh Sedona.   We had a frustrating experience in Sedona but the views were absolutely amazing.  Definitely a place we want to go back to.
  8. Being in the Path of Totality during the Eclipse made this list to my complete surprise.  I really thought it would be much ado about nothing and it was only sheer dumb luck that put me in the path, but obviously it was meant to be because I truly loved it.
  9. The Petrified Forest was very special for me because it was a place I have wanted to see since I was a little kid.  Sometimes those places disappoint, but this time it did not.
  10. We stayed at Lost Dutchman State Park and had spectacular views of the Superstition Mountains.  I really liked the park, although it wasn’t one of Lee’s favorites, but either way those mountains are truly something special. Plus we got to hang out with Deb/Steve and Cori/Greg and that always is a fun time no matter where we are.

There were many more special views this year but those were the ones from a pure picture taking perspective that really stood out. We really did see some very special things, despite the fact we worked most of the year.  I wasn’t completely sure that would be possible to be honest, but picking Oregon for our summer job really helped make it possible.  But I’ll be talking more about all of that in the next post.  


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First Year – By the Numbers

Although I often post about the emotional aspects of full timing, when it comes to reading blogs, the annual recap posts that I like best are the ones that have lots of data.  When I was researching the lifestyle and trying to figure out whether or not this was possible for us, I gathered as much information as I possibly could, and I vowed to pay it forward by posting my own information when the time came.  This post will not include a complete financial recap, though, as we are tracking our costs on a calendar year basis, instead of one year from when we hit the road, which was November 4, 2014.  I will be including some financial information, but for the full analysis on that you will need to wait until January. The other data is roughly one year starting November 14th.

So here goes, our first year “by the numbers”, but please keep in mind that every single person’s situation is different.  Although you can certainly learn from what we have done, ours is only one of the myriad ways to live this lifestyle.

Travel Information

Travel Map

First Year Travel Map with the major stops and general route shown. This map does not have every place we have stayed, but it shows a high level overview of our general route. We started in Keene, NH on November 14, 2014, and our last stop for the year was Susanville, CA. Interestingly, we are scheduled to leave Susanville on November 14, 2015.

Truck Miles –  Roughly, we towed for 8,000 miles and we used the truck separately for approximately another 2,000 miles.  We also had my company car from Nov 2041- July 2015, and put about 9,800 miles on it. 8,000 of those miles were spent following the truck when we towed, so we used around 1,800 for sight seeing, errands, etc.

Travel Pattern – In general we like to travel to an area and stay for several weeks then move on to another area.  For me the benefits are truly getting to know an area, keeping our costs down, and not feeling unsettled all of the time.  We prefer a “hub and spoke” approach where we settle in a place, see everything we can within a reasonable distance from it in all directions, and then move on to the next thing.  Of course the schedule has also been driven by family, friend, and work commitments, but even if that was not the case, this pattern would be my preference.  Below are the longest periods of time listed in chronological order along with the main reasons we visited there.

  • Rock Hill, SC6 weeks with my sister and her family.
  • Clearwater, FL10 weeks while Lee attended mobile RV Tech school.
  • St Augustine, FL 3 weeks getting our state residency established.
  • Outer Banks, NC4 weeks with Kelly, Bill, Cori, Greg, Jo, Craig, Sue, Guy, Eileen, and Gene, all from the RV Dreams Graduating Class of 2014.
  • Columbus, OH – 2 weeks in our hometown with our parents and friends.
  • Minneapolis, MN/Luck, WI – 4 weeks  with our daughter Katy and her husband’s family getting ready for her wedding.
  • Lake Kabetagoma, MN 4 weeks with Howard and Linda of RV-Dreams; Lee worked on a video project for them
  • Glacier, MT – 3 weeks in the Glacier area with Deb, Steve, Ellen, and Mario.  Bucket list item of mine!
  • Susanville, CA – 8 weeks work kamping at a BLM day use park.

Major Expenditures

Although I will be providing a detailed financial accounting at year end I thought it was important to mention the major expenses we have incurred getting ready to go on the road (Year 0) and during Year 1.  All of these expenses are “one-time costs”, and most were planned, although some were not.  The important thing is to understand that the “getting ready period” and Year 1 is the most expensive. Although you may choose to not invest in some of these items, I am including them so you can get an accurate idea of what your start up costs might be.  Note: The costs are rounded up

  • Kat’s wedding – Roughly $7,000  This is an “all-in” price that included wedding clothing, gifts, and incidentals along with the portion of the wedding itself that we paid for.  We had money set aside in savings for such an eventuality, but didn’t expect it to happen this year.  Word of advice, if you plan on helping your kids with their wedding have that money set aside before you go on the road. (There is no need for you to worry about this as a line item on your budget, unless you have a daughter, and her name is Kat, and she might be getting married in the near future. – Lee)
  • RV Tech School $6,200  This was a 10 week program covering all systems of the RV.  We chose to complete the course for two reasons.  Lee needed to be able to work on our home, which the school absolutely made possible, and wanting to earn additional revenue as we traveled.  The revenue generated in Year 1 in no way covered the cost of the school but this was largely due to our choices around where to stay and for how long.  Like solar, this is an investment we expect to pay off over time. Speaking of which…
  • Solar$5,400  This included  4 AGM batteries, 4 solar panels, and an inverter, and was completed by RV Solar Solutions.  Between the tax write-off and lower campsite costs we fully expect this eventually to pay for itself, but even if that doesn’t happen, it makes camping in the more remote places a possibility. 
  • Rose Bowl HOP – $1,700 This is an Escapees event to attend the Rose Bowl Parade which has been a dream of mine since I was a small child.  I consider this our vacation for Year 1 and the money came from our savings account.  The cost includes some meals, campsite, tickets to all events, transportation, and the ability to work on a float!
  • New Tires and Installation$1659  Although many of our purchases were discretionary, I would definitely put these in the category of necessary and I truly wish we had negotiated them into the price of our new camper. As is often the case we were given cheap, foreign “E rated” tires and after not one but two flats (the second of which was a blow out at highway speed, which could have caused us serious injury) we knew we would have to bite the bullet and replace them.  We ordered the tires online, which is way cheaper than any price we could find locally, and with some difficulty found a place that would replace them while we waited. Since the markup is mainly in the tire cost  AND not all tire places can replace tires on an RV, this was challenging.  Couple that with the logistics of getting our home there and getting it done and this was painful both financially and personally.  
  • Surge Protector and Voltage Regulator$1100  These items were recommended by our good friend Red when we first started out, actually before we started, when we took our brand-new rig on its maiden voyage to the 2014 RV Dreams Spring Rally, and although we had major sticker shock from the cost, it turns out it was a wise investment. Within the first three months of full timing, while we were staying at a very nice high end snow-bird campground, the inside of the Voltage Regulator was completely fried from a power surge.  Not just a little, but totally melted and black. Not only did it save our electrical system (costs to replace can run upwards of $2500) but since it was still covered under its manufacturer’s warranty we got a replacement for free. 
  • Mobile Tech Tools – $1,000  This is a rough estimate as Lee had to spend around $300 on mandatory tools in order to graduate, but then found he needed some additional tools to get started.  My only regret here is some of the tools we had and sold at our garage sale before we knew he would be doing this, but most of them were things we did not own before such as a propane gas leak detector. Speaking of the garage sale….
  • Sea Eagle Inflatable Kayak$840  We took the money from the garage sale to pay for this, and although we haven’t used it very much I am glad we have had it the few times we had the opportunity to kayak with friends.  Plus it is a well made product, and we expect we’ll get a lot more use out of it in the future.
  • New Couch – $800  I am a couch person and absolutely hated the “couch” that came with the 5th wheel after using it in our seasonal site for the summer.  So, we found a regular two person reclining love seat that we could disassemble and fit through the door.  It looks a little goofy because it sits about 5 inches higher than it should due to the design of our slideout, but it sure is comfortable.
  • Camera and accessories$499  This was my big splurge before we hit the road, and I don’t regret it for one second.  I have had so much free entertainment out of that camera, and we are actually going to use some of my last bonus check to buy a second camera body for Lee so we can both have one.  We highly recommend investing in a good camera. (When we bought the camera, we chose a kit with two lenses, and we’re constantly switching out the lenses on the fly, “in the field”, which is not a good idea at all. Too much opportunity for dust or other things to get into the camera or lens, and it’s also a pain in the butt, and awkward. There’s only so many times you can do it before one of the lenses (or both) or the camera hit the ground during the lens-changing ballet. So we’re getting a duplicate body, and that way we can both carry a camera, and switching lenses will just be a matter of swapping the cameras back and forth between us. Plus, both cameras can be used to shoot beautiful HD video, which will come in handy when I get video gigs. – Lee) 
  • TPMS$490 Lee really wanted the tire pressure monitoring system for peace of mind.  I don’t know that I am a huge fan, but I don’t do most of the driving. (The system in the link is for 6 tires, we got the one for 10 tires.-Lee)
  •  Blue Boy” and Waste Pump Kit – $475  This is one of the best purchases we made, for two reasons.  First it gives us a ton of flexibility when we want to extend our stay in a site without sewer hookup.  We can stretch the black tank two weeks but the grey only four to five days at best, and the Blue Boy allows us to extend our stay beyond those dates.  Small price to pay to not have to physically move at those intervals. (Lots of people use these, you often see them pulling them like a smelly wagon behind their truck at campgrounds. the way they’re designed, you are supposed to dump your grey and black tanks into them using gravity, then haul them using a ball hitch to the dump station, and dump them, again using gravity. When researching them, I was concerned about two things with this plan; The max speed they can be safely towed at is 5mph. I can’t even imagine having something go wrong while pulling one of these things through a campground while full. All I could picture was something going wrong, and the contents….spreading across the road. The other problem i was imagining was being out in the middle of the desert on BLM land, and trying to tow this thing to town along the road. At 5mph. So, I decided instead to keep it on the back of the truck, between the tailgate and the 5th wheel hitch. That’s why I bought the macerator pump. I can pump the rig’s tanks into the blue boy, then gravity dump from the bed of the truck at the dump station. I also use a gate valve to have more control over the process. And if ever I need the extra space in my truck when we’re sitting somewhere, I can take the blue boy out and stow it under the camper. A word of caution, though, use straps or bike lock cable, because when you’re travelling at highway speed, the 5th wheel creates a little hurricane between the hitch and the tailgate, and it’s enough to lift the blue boy up, and possibly out.-Lee) 
  • RV Driving School $455 Not only did this two day class make me more comfortable driving, but it also saved me from a possible accident when I followed what I was taught and hit a tire tread that was in the middle of the road straight on instead of swerving to avoid it.  I would recommend at least a four hour class for every driver. 
  • Dyson Slim Vacuum – $400 I love this vacuum. It fits in the closet and works great, plus the attachments cover anything we need to clean. (A sexist word to the wise to all the dudes out there: If you’re wife wants a vacuum, buy it. Duh. – Lee) 
  • Magma Stackable Cookware – $400 Probably the most expensive cookware I have ever owned, and I absolutely love it.  The quality is extremely high and it fits neatly in a little bit of space as it is stackable. (A culinary word to the wise to all the slightly chubby or soon-to-be slightly chubby dudes out there: If your wife wants cookware, buy it. Duh. – Lee) 
  • WeBoost$400 Wifi and cellular booster.  This was on our list of things to buy, but we waited until we absolutely had to have it.  In retrospect I would have had it from the beginning and saved myself a lot of aggravation.  It works great, and is totally worth it.
  • Signs for Lee’s business $360 Magnetic truck signs and a realtor style “yard” ‘sign which people have called us from, so they do work.  Unfortunately we lost one in South Dakota somewhere so they need to be replaced.  
  • Electric Valves  $300 Early on the grey valve pull handle broke in my hand and Lee bought the electric valves and then used the warranty labor to install these.  They are much much easier and you don’t have to worry about the cables breaking.
  • Stenciling for the camper  $300 This was definitely a vanity purchase as we have some custom lettering on the RV.  It makes me happy though and since Lee applied the lettering himself, I consider it a bargain.
  • Flagpole Buddy –  $205 Allows us to extend our antenna which increases the cell signal we are getting, and/or Wi Fi signal, if you have an external Wi fi antenna. 
  • Valve Extenders for Tires – $167 Allows Lee to check the tire pressure on our dually while we are traveling. 

What’s left? 

  • Mor-Ryde suspension – At some point we are definitely going to want to upgrade to the heavy duty suspension but the $3500 price tag is enough to make us wait for awhile.
  • At some point I would like to get custom furniture made in Indiana but I am pretty happy with what we have now and that truly is a down to road nice to have item because it is expensive.
  • The unexpected.  We have contingency money in place because we know stuff will happen.  Hopefully those events will be few and far between, but we need to be prepared.  I would recommend a minimum of $10K contingency before going on the road because that should buy you out of any situation that is not totally catastrophic.

Memberships

Which memberships to buy are one of the big questions new full timers ask themselves.  Since we never really camped before we relied heavily on the advice of others and ended up buying the  memberships below.  I don’t regret any of them, and have used them all, but not sure all of them will have value the same value in Year 2.

  • Good Sam Lifetime $299  We bought this because it was the only way to get an $ .08 discount on gasoline at all Pilot and Flying J stations.  What we didn’t realize is that you also have to get a pilot gas card and use that as well, plus the setup was a real pain in the butt and took months to get the complete discount.  The lifetime Camping World discount is nice, and we use it, so over time I am sure we will get the money back.  If you have the money, go ahead, but if not, I wouldn’t.  I haven’t used their camping discount at all. (I totally disagree. I think the $300 is totally worth it. For one thing, I like having the Pilot/Flying J credit card, and I think the discount on diesel is awesome. We’re saving about $3 every time we fill up, so we will absolutely get that $300 back in diesel alone. It’s just a matter of time. It’s also nice for me to have a record in the form of the credit card statement for exactly where we got fuel, and how much, and how much it cost. I could write all that down, but it’s an added bonus. And the other benefits are basically “free” since you’re getting your money back in fuel discounts. 10% off at Good Sam campgrounds, lower prices at Camping World, and a free annual RV inspection. – Lee) 
  • Good Sam Towing$179 for two years.  We have used this service twice for flat tires since we got it so a tow service was definitely worth it.  I was disappointed, however, in the level of service we received and when it expires I may try AAA for RV’s.  Need to research.
  • Mobile Internet Resource Center – $47  We purchased Technomadia’s e-book and annual membership with updates and found it very helpful for the first year as we were researching the various internet solutions.   Since Lee is very technically saavy we will not be renewing for Year 2, but would recommend trying this service if internet/tech issues are something you struggle with. 
  • Passport America$40  We used this several times on the East Coast and saved at least $100 in camping fees if not more.  I am a big fan of this program, but find it much less valuable when traveling out west, so won’t renew it until we start heading back east.
  • Escapees$40  I bought this membership because I thought we would be using their mail service, but then we changed our minds and decided to be Florida residences and all of their mail service options in Florida have a Texas mailing address which made me very uncomfortable.  I did end up signing up for the Rose Bowl HOP which I am excited about, but other than having the option to do that I have not used this service at all.  I find their website to be very antiquated and much prefer the RV-Dreams forum.  It just seems designed for a less tech saavy crowd, although I think that is changing as more Gen Xers enter the RV full timer world, but I am not planning on renewing the membership at this time.  I may in the future.
  • Work Kamper News Silver Membership$40  I am a huge fan of this membership and have used it the most.  I receive daily work kamper emails (one of which we used to get our current work kamper position) and I have set up a free resume online with them and even written a free situation wanted ad for Alaska next summer.  I think their website is very user friendly and informative.  Even if you are only researching and not actively searching for work, I recommend this site.  It has some terrific information on it. 

Truck and RV Repairs 

When your home is on wheels, things will break.  It does catch people by surprise though, especially in Year 1, because if you bought something new you have an expectation things will last a little longer.  The sticks and bricks rules do not apply to an RV though so just expect it, and buy a good extended warranty.  The items that broke are listed below in roughly chronological order.

  • Washing Machine – During our walk-through when we picked up our rig we noticed that we had not received a Splendide Washer/Dryer combo as ordered.  According to our dealer they were on back order and the replacement brand was just as good.  Faced with a delay in getting our rig and needing to use it at the RV-Dreams rally immediately, we accepted the replacement with some reservations.  It broke after a couple of uses and by broke I mean clothes were stuck in it and it was full of water.  It took a month to get a manufacturer certified tech out and then after three months it broke again. This time we demanded the Splendide we had ordered and have not had any problems since. No cost, other other than massive inconvenience. (You don’t even want to know what month-old water coming out of a washing machine smells like. Not detergent, I can tell you that. – Lee) 
  • Grey Tank Valve Stem – Early on I pulled on the handle for the grey tank and it broke off in my hand.  This left the grey tank stuck in an open position, which was OK for a short time  because we were on full hookups.  Lee decided to replace the valves with electric ones and used the dealer warranty labor hours to install the electric valves, which thankfully the tech was happy to do.  Parts cost us $300, but that was our choice.  An exact replacement would have been free, and would likely have broken after a while.
  • Fantastic Fan – This started squeaking not long after we got it and was acting as if it wasn’t balanced correctly.  The dealer was very surprised as these “never” break and they replaced it.  They said it was only the second time they had seen it and since Fantastic Fan has a lifetime warranty was no cost to either us or them.  They replaced it when they fixed the grey tank handle.
  •  Trim coming off – We have had two pieces of trim come off.  One from me bringing the slide in without the bedroom TV being flush against the wall and the other just shook off with time.  Lee fixed it with wood glue and clamps so there was no cost, but it did take me several weeks to get him to do it.  It apparently bugged me a lot more than him and I had to pull out the “it’s making my home look cheap” speech.
  • Gear box on both front living room slides – in both cases this was my fault because I was putting these stuffed animals up in the slides area when they were out and not once but twice sucked an animal into the gear and chain mechanism while closing the slide and stripped the gears.  Yes I am a complete idiot.  Lee was great about it and Open Range sent us the replacement parts and let Lee do the work which not all manufacturers will do.  No cost to us except serious stress because you can’t physically move if the slides won’t go in.
  • Burners lighter doesn’t work – We have had this problem since very early on.  Our solution was to get a plastic wall hanger and put a butane lighter next to the stove so I manually light them.  Honestly I don’t even think about it anymore since it never worked right from the beginning.  Cost was a couple of dollars for the hangar. Something like this might drive someone else crazy, but for me no big deal.
  • Light switch cover in bedroom – This got knocked off because a picture that was hanging above it shook loose and fell on it, and snapped the little clips that hold it in. Lee had to replace it.  For some reason this really upset Lee and he had a couple of rants about poor manufacturing.  I countered with the “our home is on wheels” speech and eventually he settled down about it.  I am sure that since he is primarily responsible for the maintenance, it represented something bigger for him, but for me it was just a light switch cover.  Cost to us couple of dollars to replace. (This was just me getting used to the idea that the overall quality of such things is lower in a rig than in a S&B house. In a house, you can have a light switch cover take massive amounts of abuse for 50 years, but in a rig, you have to be a little more gentle. Also some things are just not fun or interesting to fix. Like light switch covers. A cat could do it, if it had thumbs, and cats are just plain stupid. – Lee) 
  • Slide wood getting wet – There is a design flaw in our rig where the “gutter” drops rain water right down the side of the rear slideouts, and the corner bead seals also break loose because one of the two materials flexes too much. that allows a teeny little bit of water to seep in, which then causes the wood underneath to swell, which makes the crack in the seal bigger, which lets in more water, which sort of snowballs. Lee became concerned about possible rotting and on a very very hot sunny, dry day pulled back the siding to expose the wood to the sun.  Once everything was dry he put it all back together with a more flexible sealant. He also rigged a new spout that would put the water much farther way from the rig.  Cost to us was about $20 for parts, but without him addressing this it could have been much worse.  There is plywood in these slides and it will rot given enough water saturation, and time.
  • Replace bathroom door hinges – Because we are shaking as we travel the nylon spacers between the two halves of the bathroom door hinges break and then the door is super squeaky.  Lee fixed it the first time by replacing the hinges, but now it is happening again.  The problem is there are limits to how many new holes you can put in the wood, so we really are going to need a better solution.  Cost to us is minimal for new hinges, irritation from squeaking is very high. No clue how costly a permanent fix (if there is one) will be.
  • Truck alignment and two new front tires –We believe the truck’s alignment came from the factory wrong as both front tires wore out quickly and the same.  One of the few items not covered by our warranty, this one stung as we were unprepared for it.  We covered it with extra money we had saved from our monthly budget but it was pricey at $560.
  • Truck Insurance Deductible – $1,000 Lee accidentally put regular fuel in the diesel truck causing a significant amount of damage. (Significant is a rather gentle word. This shockingly easy to make mistake completely destroyed the engine, requiring an entire new engine, at a cost of $15,000. Repeat after me, people, because it can happen to anyone: “PUT YOUR FINGER ON THE WORD DIESEL BEFORE YOU PUMP IT.” – Lee) Luckily accidental fuel contamination was covered by our comprehensive policy and we only had to pay a deductible.

Top 10 Things We Have Seen

  1. The close up encounter with grizzly bears and trip to Kintla Lake- Related Post 
  2. Going to the Sun Road and the mountain horn sheep- Related Post 
  3. Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park- Related Post 
  4. Dolphins swimming along side our sailboat cruise in Tarpon Springs-  Related Post
  5. Vermilion Falls and my first Bald Eagle Sighting- Related Post 
  6. Charleston S.C. – Related Post
  7. Jekyll Island – Related Post
  8. The house in Dickinson, ND where Lee’s mom grew up and the Enchanted Highway- Related Post
  9. Kitty Hawk- Related Post
  10. The Nolichucky River Gorge- Related Post 

Top 5 Lessons Learned

If you would like to review all my Lessons Learned please click this link, but I wanted to try to pull out the ten most important things.  I have put my choices in chronological order.  Some reflect good decisions and others were learned after poor decisions, but they all have had a large amount of impact on us.

  1. Take your time when selecting your perfect rig.  Visit an RV show.  Know your criteria.  Be honest with yourself and your partner.  We did all of these things and absolutely love our rig to this day.  Your rig  can make or break the full-timing experience, so take all the time you need in the selection process.  Also, learn from our mistake and get new, American made tires when you buy your RV.  Replacing them later is expensive and painful, but living with the fear of having a tire related accident is much worse.   Related Post 
  2. Attend an RV-Dreams Rally.  If nothing else you will have a fun and informative vacation and it might give you so much more.  I walked away from that rally with so much information, a true belief this lifestyle was possible for me, and most importantly some of the best friends of my life. (Not to mention Sue’s recipe for the greatest dip ever in the history of all things in any way related to any variety of chip. – Lee)  Related Post
  3. Finding the right campground isn’t always easy and it takes awhile to work out your methodology.  What works for some will definitely not work for you and vice versa so the best thing to do is stay in different places and see how you feel.  Don’t panic if you stink at this at first because it gets much easier with time and practice. Related Post
  4. The first six months is a time of great change which can cause a great deal of stress.  Being outside of your comfort zone in so many ways can put pressure on both you and your relationship.  Take a deep breath and realize this is perfectly normal and as time passes it should get better.  The answer is to communicate honestly and give yourself a break when the inevitable mistakes happen.  Even if you have camped before, you are new at full timing and all newbies make mistakes. Related Post
  5. Buy all of the warranties, seriously, every single one.  Things break, accidents happen, and if you have a warranty you will hopefully be partly covered.  Having a problem with your home on wheels is seriously complicated.  You are generally in a strange place, your travel plans are interrupted, and finding qualified repair personnel isn’t always easy.  Don’t add money concerns to all of that.  Spend the money, for the piece of mind if nothing else, and if you are anything like us you will more than get back your initial investment. Related Post

So that’s my “by-the-numbers” report. Next,  I have another post that deals more with the emotional aspects of things as well and look for my annual full budget accounting in December.  Hope you find all of this helpful, and please remember your mileage will definitely vary literally and figuratively.

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First Time with One Vehicle

One of the things that some people with a fifth wheel struggle with is whether or not to have a second vehicle. As you are getting rid of your stuff and selling your house, you might start talking about whether or not to keep a car. It truly is a big decision because it will impact the day-to-day logistics of your life, and to some extent, your budget.  In our case it was a no brainer because I had a company car and the small monthly fee I paid included insurance and gas, so financially it was a really good deal.  Plus, I worked many years to get to the point in my company where I qualified for a company car and frankly was in no big rush to give it up.  So for the last 8 months, Lee has driven the truck/fifth wheel on travel days and I drove behind him.  Where the second car will be is always a big discussion point. Our friend Kelly drives in front of Bill in their second car, and others (myself included) prefer to follow. Early on I was in front of him and we got separated once and that stressed me out so much that from that point on I would only follow.  (That was actually a pretty cool experience. We were driving to Cori and Greg in PA, and somewhere we got separated; totally different roads. Because I was dangerously low on fuel, I didn’t want to try to turn around to find her, and I couldn’t navigate her over the phone, so I just told her where we were going, and that we would meet up there. After an hour or so, our roads converged again, and we were within a mile or so of each other. – Lee) Unfortunately I never found following him to be relaxing either.  Lee tries to use cruise control as much as possible to help with safety and fuel economy, but traffic, construction, and just general road speeds cause you to speed up and slow down more than you would think.  (Not to mention the fact that even with more truck than we need, using cruise control  I generally climb hills a little slower than a car, and coast down hills faster, so she’s constantly having to adjust to keep a reasonable distance behind. – Lee) So I am looking at the back of this big rig (I have it memorized) and would really need to watch his speed constantly.  If I lagged more than 1-1/2 cars behind, other cars were always jumping the space between us as well.  Plus it just wasn’t a great view. (That’s just rude. I have a nice butt. – Lee) Some of these drive days can be long (although we try as much as possible to keep them short hops) and I missed seeing the vistas.  In a nutshell, we tried every combination and I never found one that I was totally comfortable with.

The larger problem though for me was how two vehicles limited my flexibility on when to drive.  The best time to drive obviously is midweek after morning traffic and before rush hour, but those are prime work hours and I never felt right about driving too much during them.  I am a salary employee and apart from scheduled conference calls I can work whatever hours I need to, but I didn’t like being away from email for so long.  On the few days we traveled mid-week I would stop at every break and lunch and check emails, but it just added a lot of extra pressure for me to an already stressful travel day.  As a side note, Lee and I still find travel days pretty stressful, but they have gotten much better as we have gotten a routine down and Lee has simplified the tasks I need to do on the inside to minimize the time.  (Tweaking the pack/unpack process to simplify and speed it up has been one of my favorite things about moving around. I love process improvement. – Lee) Still, imagine you are driving to some place you have never been, on roads you are not familiar with.  You need to make sure you map out places to stop for gas (not always easy in more rural areas) and rest stops (I have to stop every two hours or so for a bathroom break) and lunch (try to find a nice place you can eat inside the rig to keep costs down) and then add to that “Oh honey, I just got an important conference call thrown on my schedule and we need to stop at 2:30 for it!”, and it gets pretty complicated.  (I highly recommend a few apps for this. Pilot/Flying J have a great trip planner app that shows you their locations on your route, and gives you detailed info on each location, including if they have RV lanes, propane refills, fresh water fill, dump station, etc. iExit is another great app that tracks your location and tells you where rest stops are, as well as what is at every exit. The best feature of that app is that it knows which direction you are travelling, so doesn’t tell you about rest stops that are on the opposite side that you can’t get to. – Lee) Lee was totally awesome about it though and incredibly sensitive to the fact that work always had to come first.  I am sure there were times he got extremely frustrated with the restrictions but he truly never said a word about it, just taking the logistical challenges and making them work.  But really the simplest and least stressful thing was to travel on days off or weekends which we tried to do as much as possible.  The down side to that of course is that I was losing some of my  precious off time.

As we explore this lifestyle we have adopted as a couple this idea that we are collecting data.  We try things in different combinations and if it doesn’t work out, oh well, we got some good data.  That attitude about things has helped us tremendously because rarely do we feel like we have failed when things don’t go well, instead we collect the data that a particular  set of circumstances doesn’t work for us and really, how could we have known without doing it first?  The full-time RV lifestyle is so subjective that you can only learn so much from others experiences.  Often you have to try a thing to see if you like it or not and that’s totally fine, it’s all part of the “There is no one true way” mentality.  So after we collected the data over eight months I decided to turn in the second vehicle.  This was 100% my decision and although I was leaning in that direction already,  the timing catalyst was my company completely refreshing our fleet, which meant I would be getting a new car in July.  That sounds like a good thing, who doesn’t want a brand new car, especially one you get for free, right? Well not really, because I am now a “resident” of Florida and Florida requires onsite VIN verification for initial registration of a vehicle, so I would need to fly down to Florida, pick up the car and get it registered, then drive it back to Minnesota where I needed to be for the wedding.  Basically I decided God/the universe was trying to tell me something and it seemed a perfect time to just turn the car in.  Luckily, my company has offices in every major city across the country, so all I needed to do was drop the car, key, and fuel card off at the Minneapolis office. I have to mention here that my boss has been really great about all of this.  He didn’t even blink when I told him I wanted to turn the car in and he seems to have a really good handle on the fact that I am moving every month or so.  So Monday morning (after all the family left Sunday) I went back to work and Lee and I headed into Minneapolis very early to drop off the car.  Dropping off the car itself was painless, the two hours worth of traffic each way not so much, but when it was done I did feel a bit “lighter” about the whole thing.

One thing I talked to Lee about in advance is how I would react to feeling like I didn’t have a vehicle.  We haven’t shared a car for 23 years and our truck has been his vehicle since we bought it.  I knew I might have an emotional reaction, especially since I was coming off the emotions of my daughter’s wedding, and gave him a heads up to please be sensitive about it.  (This is new behavior btw, in the old days I would have just expected him to recognize all that and act accordingly and then get mad if he didn’t do it…frankly life is too short for that nonsense). Not only did he listen but he acted.  When I stepped into the truck he had set aside one of the sunglasses holders for me. (MY truck has two sunglasses holders. One for my primary set, and one for my spare. Now she’s hogging one of them. I have no idea where to put my spare set. Might need to get a new truck. – Lee) He also set up a phone cradle on the window and a charger cable. Very cool. (Very difficult for me to see out of that lower right corner of the windshield now. I hope I don’t have an accident because of that, and dent my truck. And now I need to go buy a new power outlet. Her phone, iPad and iPod are going to be eating up a lot of power outlets. And power. I might have to get a bigger truck just to handle all the power drain. Also, while it’s fresh in my mind, I should mention that her iPod is packed with questionable music choices, about which there will be much discussion and debate before she accepts that it won’t be played in my truck. Also also, no romance audio books. I’m uncomfortable with that kind of dirty talk. Especially if it’s about Amish people. I’m sure it won’t take long before she’s storing shoes in there, too. – Lee)    Plus he had done a considerable amount of research and bought a mobile laptop mount, the same kind that are used in police cars, and as soon as he could he installed it for me. (It’s really self-defense. Otherwise I would be balancing her laptop on the steering wheel while she played Candy Crush worked. – Lee) Now I have my own little office space in the truck with laptop, Wi-Fi, and phone and I can work while we are driving if we chose to.  I am really excited about it because this completely opens up our flexibility when traveling.  I will still want to be in one place if I have an important call that I am running, but 90% of my work can now be done from the vehicle. Will I miss having the second vehicle, I am sure I will and there will be a financial impact for sure, but we are going to try it this way, collect some data, and if we want we can always buy another car.  It’s not like they quit making them.

(All kidding aside,the laptop mount is very, very cool. It’s made by RAM Mounts, which sounds very masculine and strong, and that’s important. They also have a ton of other things that travelers might find useful. Do not blame me if you spend your money on cool stuff, instead of squandering it on food and insurance. There is a “no drill” version for pretty much every vehicle in existence, and for the rest, you can either create holes and tap them or have that done to do the installation. They’re pricey, but I think they’re worth it, even for people who don’t work from their vehicle. You can use a computer to plan routes, look things up, watch a movie, play video games, whatever. The instructions recommend that the driver not do any of these things while driving, which I think is pretty bossy and fascist, but whatever. Installation took me less than half an hour once I had everything together that I needed. They are very solid and infinitely adjustable. I do NOT recommend going with a cheaper “consumer” product. They just won’t hold up. More info below on how it works. – Lee) 

Loving my new truck office

Loving my new truck office. (This is totally fake, she’s not even working.)

Lee

Sexy, isn’t it?

 

Y046

The base is installed by removing the two front bolts that hold the seat to the car, and then replacing them with included standoffs and longer bolts.

Y047

The mounting platform is then bolted to the base. The kit includes stabilizer feet to go between the base and the car floor if there’s too much “wiggle” from the length and the “top heaviness” of the system.

Y048

The vertical upright post is in two pieces, and can be easily adjusted for height and swivel using a gigantic knob. Then there’s a “swing arm” with another slightly smaller knob that allows to further fine tune the position, and distance from the user, and finally, the tray mount is attached using a very large ball mount that allows to adjust the tilt, angle and roll of the “desk” to literally any position. Everything is big, and as a result, there’s tons of surface area on anything that grips. It would take a gorilla to move this thing once it’s locked it place, and there’s no room in the truck for a gorilla with all of Tracy’s crap, and shoes and stuff.

 

 

Y049

The laptop is held to the desk via four rubber padded grip arms that can be placed anywhere on the sides of the desk to allow for ports and air vents. The top is spring-loaded so putting the laptop on and taking it off takes just a second or two. The whole rig is very strong and stable. There is  some “bounce” and “wiggle” because it’s top-heavy and things that don’t flex break, but it’s not bad.

 

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Six Months on the Road

On November 14, 2014, Lee and I closed on our house and headed out on the road.  I thought the six month mark would be a good time to summarize what’s happened so far and share my overall thoughts.

What we have done in the last six months

  • Stayed six weeks in Rock Hill, SC;  ten weeks in Tampa,FL;  three weeks in St. Augustine, FL;  and four weeks in the Outer Banks, SC.
  • Camped with Cori and Greg, Deb and Steve, Jo and Ben, Kelly and Bill, Eileen and Gene, Jo and Craig, and Sue and Guy.
  • Spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with my sister and her family. Celebrated my nephews birthday in person.
  • Lee became a certified mobile tech graduating from RVTC
  • Was able to be with my grandfather, mother, and uncle and aunts when my grandmother died in Florida.  Although this was incredibly sad I was grateful I was so close to my grandfather and could be with him.
  • Earned four state stickers (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida)
  • Visited (for the first time) and listed in the order we would be most likely to return: Charleston, SC; Jekyll Island, GA, Outer Banks, SC; Clearwater, FL; Tarpon Springs, FL, Asheville, NC; St. Augustine, FL.  (Charleston and Jekyll Island were long time bucket list places for me and completely lived up to my expectations)
  • Established Florida State Residency.  It was painful but we got it done.
  • Stayed at two state parks, numerous private campgrounds, and one 55+ RV community
  • Established and maintained a monthly budget.  Still a work in progress, but we put a stake in the ground.
  • For  activities we have taken a sunset cruise, conquered an adventure ropes course, watched taps being played at sunset, gone on a ferry, kayaked on the ocean, sang karaoke in a bar, enjoyed campfires on the beach, and gone on numerous nature walks.
  • We have visited (among many other places) Kitty Hawk, Charleston Waterfront park, The Citadel, Charleston Provost Dungeon, Roanoke Island, Bodie Lighthouse, Kennedy Space Center, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, The Florida Botanical Gardens, Angel Oak, Patriots Point, and The Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

Some of our Favorite Moments posted roughly in chronological order

  • Seeing Cori and Greg in PA our first night on the road.  Stopping to be with them made it real and spending the first few days with them was very special
  • Holding my new nephew for the first time and having him give me big smile.  There were many moments with us and Abram but that first big smile was a killer.
  • Having breakfast at Anna J’s with Deb and Steve.  Deb got eggs and catfish and inspired me (not for the first time) to try new things  in this new life.  (the catfish was excellent and I would never in a million years have ordered it)
  • Lee taking my nephew Alec to the magic store.  Alec is 10 and the perfect age for Lee to share his love of magic with.  They spent the entire afternoon together and had a blast.
  • Stumbling across Looking Glass Waterfall in Pisquah National Forest.  I was struggling with a big decision regarding work at the time and when we accidentally found this amazing waterfall, I felt God was giving my my answer.
  • Making my edible “Christmas Tree” for the birds and squirrels.  Lee was not only supportive but really helped me make it a reality and I felt great when it actually worked out the way I pictured it in my head.
  • Spending a weekend in Charleston.  I have wanted to visit the city every since I first read the Prince of Tides and it completely lived up to my expectations of it.  Every single thing we did there was special and I loved it.
  • Spending a day at Patriot’s Point and touring an air craft carrier. Lee absolutely loved it and I had more fun than I thought I would.
  • Spending Christmas morning with my sister and the kids.  Watching the boys open their soccer presents, having Bailey actually like the gift card I got her, and being with Abram on his very first Christmas was so special and something that would never have happened if we hadn’t gone out on the road.
  • Seeing the turtles at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island.  I love sea turtles and they do an amazing job there of caring for them and releasing as many as possible back into the wild.  Plus Jekyll island itself was an amazing place and I would love to go there again.
  • Kayaking with Gene and Eileen
  • Seeing Jo, Ben, Kelly, Bill, Eileen, and Gene in Fort Meyers. Plus taking a boat ride with Jo and Ben.  Didn’t see any manatee but what a wonderful relaxing day.
  • Seeing Cori and Greg in Florida when they drove down for the boondocking rally.  They drove extra long  so we could spend time with them and I started crying as soon as I saw Cori.  Was so glad she had made it.
  • Getting to spend time with everyone the day we visited the BoonDocking rally.  It was really nice of Linda and Howard to let us crash for a day.
  • The dolphins swimming next to our boat on our amazing sunset cruise with Jo and Ben and Kelly and Bill.
  • Watching taps being played with Lee at Indian Rocks Beach and having Lee take off his shoes and walk in the surf.  
  • Dinner with Jen and Nando at the Pub Waterfront Restaurant
  • Lunch at the turkish restaurant in Epcot with Kat and Micah
  • Seeing where the Apollo missions launched at Kennedy Space Center with Kat, Micah, and Lee
  • Seeing the MD Oriental Market with Lee and buying some crazy stuff
  • The few times one of my new recipes was a home run and watching Lee’s face as he enjoyed every bite.
  • The farmer’s market in St. Augustine, Florida
  • Driving through Pea Island on the way to Ocean Waves campground  and seeing the wild dunes
  • When Cori and Greg rolled into Ocean Waves Campground.  They were finally on the road after such a long wait and it was a very cool to share in that moment with them
  • Bill making me a fantastic rum sour with a little umbrella in it.
  • Walking the same ground where the first flight took off at Kitty Hawk
  • Celebrating Cinco De Mayo with Sue, Guy, Cori, Greg, Bill, Kelly, Jo, and Craig
  • Conquering the adventure park with Lee and Kelly.  I was so proud of Kelly for overcoming her fears.  She inspired me to push my own limits.
  • Watching my very first ever full moon rise.  Very very cool.
  • The night the beach fire exploded
  • Kelly and I singing Karaoke together.  Rocking a little “Jack and Diane”
  • Walking Hobie on the beach and collecting shells
  • Girls night with Jo, Eileen, Sue, Cori, and Kelly and making our shell picture frames
  • Sue cutting my hair outside her camper.  It was so sweet of her and she did a really terrific job.
  • Our last campfire together on the beach where we all talked about what we liked most about the life.  It was a very special moment

Can I just say here that seriously this list amazes me.  I was a real couch potato before we started on this adventure and spent a whole lot of time reading, watching TV, killing time on the computer.  That I managed to do all the things above in 6 months is absolutely incredible.  And I don’t feel over stressed or tired…I feel invigorated and am looking forward to doing more.

Lessons Learned

  • We really don’t like moving days.  And no it isn’t as simple as changing the time we move or how far we travel.  We like to spread out when we stay in a place and the chaos of moving day still isn’t any fun for either of us.  We have gotten better at it, but not our favorite day by far.
  • We like staying in one place and really seeing things.  We are fine with staying in a place 2-4 weeks as a matter of fact we prefer it.  Because of my work schedule we are limited in the things we can do during the work week so need at least two weekends to really see what an area has to offer.
  • We like full hookups.  I say that knowing full well we haven’t gotten out west yet and we are excited about exploring the possibilities of boon docking, but all other things being equal we would take full hookups every time.  It enables you to do laundry in the RV, take long showers, and not worry about how much water you use when washing dishes.
  • The best things to do are free or near free.  The most rewarding experiences we have had to date cost very little money and are fulfilling in ways I rarely experienced while on vacation.  Speaking of vacation you do have to remind yourself frequently you are not on one.  The desire to see and do everything right now is very strong.  Slowing down and really experiencing the life is in our opinion far more rewarding.
  • We do watch television.  Yes I know you think you’ll be out exploring with all of your free time, but sometimes you just want to sit an veg in your coach and watch some TV.  Plus it gives you a sense of normalcy when you’re in a strange place and bad weather days do happen.
  • Everything you read in the forums just isn’t true. Since we knew nothing about camping, let alone full timing, I tended to take everything I read on the forums as the gospel.  Many “facts”  are situational, others are opinion presented as fact, and the one only one thing I have found to be absolutely true is there is no one true way.
  • Being with friends is complicated but well worth it.  The country is a big place and if you want to be with people you need to go to some trouble.  But, for us, the trouble is well worth the added benefit with being with others who truly get the lifestyle.  These friendships have grown deeper and stronger because we are investing in them.
  • Not everyone will be happy for you.  Some people are jealous, others think you don’t deserve it.  Still others think it’s all a scam or a big lie.  That’s ok.  I care less and less what others think as the days go by and that is a wonderful side benefit to the lifestyle.
  • This life can make or break a relationship.  It is not easy and it definitely isn’t for everyone.  If you have problems in your relationship this lifestyle will initially make them worse not better…but that being said if you can truly be honest with each other and communicate, communicate, communicate your relationship can grow in ways you never imagined.

 

Campground Reviews

Ocean Waves Campground  Rte 12, Rodanthe, NC 5 out of 5 pinecones  (2015)

Absolutely fantastic campground with easy access to National seashore.  Their off-season monthly rate was a very reasonable $630 with a $55 electric fee.  Cable television is available.  Wifi in the campground is very strong.  We did have a bit of issues with ATT coverage on some stormy days, but I was able to work consistently the month I was here.  Restrooms are very clean, the staff is paying attention without being intrusive, and they were very good about allowing us to accept packages.  We stayed in site 45 which was fabulous.  We were centrally located and could go north or south to see the sites.  The city of Rodanthe itself is one of the least populated and I like the wild dunes in Pea Island which is right down the road.  I would absolutely return to this campground and give it my highest recommendation.

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Pondering Friendships on the Road

I started this blog to write about things that mattered to me.  It was part therapy ( well, mostly therapy) and a way to work through feelings I was having about the big change.  I’ve found that the more honest I am the more it helps me, and hopefully the more it helps other people who might read it.  Then along the way, I got some readers and you find there is some pressure (don’t know how else to explain it) to censor yourself.  Let’s face it: no one wants to look like an idiot, and I don’t want to inadvertently upset anyone, but if I censor too much I lose the point of the whole thing.  So I want/need to write about friendships on the road, but I do it with heavy trepidation as these relationships are very precious to me and I don’t want people to stop being friends with me because they are worried about what I might say…actually that is the very last thing I want.  But, it’s 3am and I can’t sleep, and sometimes I just need to write. So please keep in mind these are my truths and my issues and I absolutely don’t speak for anyone else.  Well, Lee gets a final edit, but I don’t speak for him either.

Last summer as we were preparing for the transition  Lee and I realized that in order to be OK as a couple we first needed to be OK individually with what we were doing.  It seems self-evident in retrospect, but it was a pretty big breakthrough for us at the time and the acknowledgement that we each individually had to be responsible for managing all the emotions we were dealing with was a big deal.  Once you get yourself solid (the best you can) then you start to deal with it as a couple.  Let me give you an example.  I have some issues with claustrophobia.  That is 100% a me issue and has nothing to do with Lee…so I had to decide whether or not I could live in a space this small, whether it was worth it to occasionally feel closed in, etc.   Once I dealt with that, then Lee and I as a couple had to talk about what he could do to make this better.  He’s a very touchy person (which I love) but sometimes in the small space it makes me feel more claustrophobic.  So I had to communicate that in a way that wouldn’t hurt his feelings and make sure he understood I was asking for help with a “me” problem.  Long story short, in order to make sure he didn’t feel rejected when I moved away from him or put a hand up, I needed to say the words out loud so he understood.  Again, it sounds simple, but it wasn’t…at least not for us, and working through that one thing was a bit of a breakthrough.  There have been many things like that, and I assume there will be many more.

So you are working though the changes individually, then working through them as a couple, then adding more people.  There are lots of dynamics going.  Everyone has their own stuff…then they have their couple stuff…and that couple has their individual stuff and couple stuff and there’s a lot of emotions flying around. What’s interesting is on the right day with the right group all of those individuals can make magic, but not always of course, because we are people and we have bad days and frankly we are all dealing with a lot of stuff.  Wow, this is vaguish… OK I will give you an example; My mom left her hometown and went to Philadelphia with my dad and me while Dad went to medical School.  Some of the wives in that group bonded in a way that they would not have under normal circumstances, because despite their differences they were all going through this huge thing together.  They needed each other, they helped each other, and formed a support system that is still in place over 30 years later.  I watched that happen as a child, and now going through something similar myself I can see the similarities.

The people I have met in this lifestyle are all very different.  We have different religious backgrounds, different politics,  and in general different life experiences.  What we have in common is a willingness to color outside the lines, a desire for a high level of freedom, and an attraction to the wide open spaces. And I don’t know if this is just dumb luck or representative of full-timers in general, but the people we have become close with are all very intelligent and have a great sense of humor. So, it’s perfect right?…well, no, of course not.  First and foremost we are dealing with long distance relationships here, which are complicated under the best of circumstances.  And don’t forget we are all dealing with our individual stuff, then our couple stuff.  So it’s complicated.  Plus (and this is where I am totally speaking for myself), I am not so great at friendships.  I spent the last 15 years having work relationships (which can be very meaningful and special) but are different from friendships in outside life.  Work people come and go in each other’s lives and generally there are rules that govern those relationships.  People don’t cross certain lines (at least I didn’t) because you could impact your livelihood and possibly end up in HR.  Those were cleaner in a way and easier because you always had something to talk about that was impersonal.  Not to generalize, but it’s like guys and sports.  They can talk forever about sports and never delve too deeply into their emotional connection.  Not that they don’t care about each other, but well, you know…

Wow,  I really am taking the long way around here.  And it’s largely I don’t want to say this wrong, but let me just jump in…thankfully Lee will tell me if I am over thinking all this.  So here I am, woefully ill-equipped to manage friendships and for the first time since college finding myself with an embarrassment of riches in this area.  Add to that the fact that I am not necessarily at my best due to all the individual pressure and couple pressure and whew, it’s tough for me.  Now at this point I am sure many of you are thinking…man she is wound tight…and you would be absolutely correct.  That’s a big part of why I decided to do this…to loosen up and let go and these friendships are an excellent way to do just that.  Believe it or not I am slow to trust, yet I find myself jumping into the deep end of the emotional pool with people I barely know.  Frankly it’s scary as hell, but if I continue my old ways in this new life…then really, what’s the point? It’s just a change in geography rather than an opportunity to grow as a human being.

But as you know, growth can be painful.  You screw up, you get hurt, you hurt others and it can be supremely uncomfortable.  So why do it?  It’s a good question.  Lee has been my best friend for over 30 years and generally we do just fine with just the two of us.  For me, having one person who truly gets me and one person who unconditionally supports me has always been enough.  So I know I don’t have to have it.  Lee and I could wander around the country together and be just fine. I choose to have more people in my life, and by making that choice for myself I am also making it for Lee.  And let’s face it, life is more complicated with other people in it.  I need to invest in these relationships to keep them going.  I need to make sure I give more than I take.  I need to be on guard against emotional vampires who take and take and take.  I need to lighten the hell up.  And while I am doing all this, Lee needs to do it as well.  Because these friendships come in pairs and it’s not just about me and what I want and need, but also about him and what he is comfortable with.

So why do it? Because I love these people.  Really love them, which is odd because truly I am not that quick to love. Is it situational?…sure.  (The same way you may have bonded deeply and quickly with people in high school, college or the military) Will it last?…I have absolutely no idea.  I imagine some friendships will deepen, others will trail off and become nice memories, and still others will explode in a fiery blaze.  Because that is life, and people are people, and not everyone gets along with everyone no matter how much you want it.  The important thing I realize as I write this for me is to try.  Be willing to risk myself and accept the outcome.  Be who I am and allow others the same courtesy.  And to some extent it will be what it will be. Dr. Jo is probably really proud of me right now 🙂

I did want to say, that I had a chance to talk to Linda briefly about this at the rally.  She’s been on the road over 8 years now and as much as an expert in this lifestyle as I know.  I asked her about how hard it was to go months maybe years without seeing people, and she smiled at me and said not to worry (she says that to me a lot..lol), when we met up with people we hadn’t seen in a long time down the road it would be like we had seen them yesterday.  To a large extent we would pick up right where we left off.  I find comfort in that.

I feel better writing this…there is power in saying something out loud (metaphorically speaking).  I would just like to add to my friends…you matter to me.   I would ask that you would forgive my craziness the best you can.  I am really not that good at this, but I am trying.  To the rest of you, thanks for listening.

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Feeling Closed in

If you enjoy the adventure part of the posts more than the day to day stuff please feel free to scroll down to the picture of the sunset and start there.  Don’t worry you won’t hurt my feelings 🙂

This week started a little rough.  I really like where we are staying. We are in Rainbow Village, Largo  a 55 plus community and it was by far the best of the choices we had.  The people are very friendly, the facilities are spotless, and I feel completely safe.  But I definitely miss my view and it’s much less fun working from the RV when you can’t step outside for a moment and look at something pretty.  We aren’t within walking distance of anything and it would be a stretch to drive to the beach on my lunch break so I am feeling a bit stuck here.  Lee is going to school everyday and getting out, but to be honest I am feeling a bit stir crazy.  Then, to prove things can get worse, the site next to ours (which has been empty most of the time we’ve been here) was filled by a huge motor home.  For some reason, their main slide-out with their dinette is facing our awning area and now I am staring right into their kitchen window.  I am trying not to, but I don’t really have anyplace else to look, I mean it is really right in front of us.  Can’t be much fun for them either since their windows open to us and now we can hear each others conversations.  Geez. (They’ve got the better end of the deal, our conversations are much more interesting than theirs.-Lee)

So I know we need to start getting away from our site more, but just like in a sticks and bricks it’s tough to come home from work, make dinner, then have time to do anything.  It’s odd really that here we are doing this crazy adventure and I am ending up being a more “traditional” wife than I have been in years.  To be completely clear, I have tremendous respect for anyone who fills that role in a marriage, that was just not who I was in our marriage…mainly because I worked farther away, traveled quite a bit, and wasn’t nearly as good at it as Lee was.  (Further evidence that I rock. She rocks in her own special way. – Lee) But things are different now, and as our life is evolving our roles and interactions with each other need to evolve as well.  

I know we are both experiencing situations where behaviors we have been totally fine with for years are no longer OK.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  This gives us an opportunity to “reset” as a couple and figure out not only who we want to be individually but as a couple.  (I want to be Benedict Cumberbatch. – Lee) One of the things you tend to do as a long-term couple with kids is divide and conquer.  So we are just not that used to doing this together.  I can count on one hand for example when we went to the grocery store together and now we are doing it every week.  That might seem like a simple thing going to the grocery store, but when you have $150 for the week and two different opinions on where to go and what to buy, something that was previously very simple suddenly becomes a conversation and in some cases a negotiation. Everyone says communicate, communicate, communicate to deal with the transitions of the full-timing lifestyle and conventional wisdom is absolutely correct, but what they don’t say is all that communicating is exhausting.  You’re working out “muscles” that you haven’t needed to use in a long time and sometimes it can be painful. (She’s right. Communicating with her is exhausting. I am more of a ray of light and joy in an otherwise grim world. – Lee) 

So what does that all have to do with where we are staying?  Well, the amazing views, moving about, and seeing cool new stuff for us makes those conversations briefer.  They still happen but you’re trying to get through it as quickly as possible so that you can go see the cool things. When you sit for awhile and are living more of a “regular” life those conversations happen more frequently and take longer.  Plus you are having them in a relatively small space and in our case we really need to be careful about how we have them.  You can’t go to separate corners, raising your voice is a bad idea since it’s really loud in your tin box, and arguing outside isn’t an option because you have tons of neighbors. So you not only have to talk about issues that have been resolved for years you may also need to do it in new ways. You don’t have to do any of this of course.  You could transplant your old roles into this new life but I wouldn’t recommend it.  I truly believe that all of this communication is a VERY good thing.  (She drinks. You should keep that in mind while reading her stuff.) Relationships can get stale and if nothing else this life is forcing us to reevaluate who we are with each other.  I would however recommend that you do all that with a really pretty view. (I don’t know what she’s talking about. I always have the prettiest view there is. – Lee)

I know I am a bit all over the place with this post, but all of these feelings seem to go hand in hand.  Frankly it’s too tough to be able to separate what’s a symptom and what’s the source at this point so I am working through all of them simultaneously the best I can.  Not the best scenario.  I also find myself missing having a dog.  Not Molly (the cavalier we gave to a friend before coming on the road) but just a dog in general.  (I have offered to lick her face to simulate having a dog, she seems uninterested. – Lee) Molly would have hated this lifestyle…she traveled terribly even short distances, but she was just one of many dogs I have owned in my life.  Plus ALL of our friends have at least one dog and even though we get the occaional envious comment about the freedom a “no-dog” life offers, they all seem pretty happy with their choice despite any limitations the dog might cause.  Cori/Greg and Gene/Eileen both have the same kind of dog (cavachon) and we love both of these dogs.  They are small, smart, active, and cute as a button. I mean seriously look at these pictures…how can you resist these dogs faces.

Hobi the wonder dog

Hobi  “The Wonder Dog”

Max the cutie patooty

Max  “The Cutie Patooty”

 

I know getting a dog is a long term commitment and should not be done on a whim.  I also know that our concerns regarding us living with a dog in this lifestyle have not changed.  But I really miss puppy kisses….don’t know what else to say.  (The offer still stands.) So I went on my lunch break to a nearby puppy store to check them out.  Let me say for all of my New England friends, I do know puppy stores are not the best place to get a dog. People feel so strongly about it there that I think I only saw one puppy store in the 13 years I lived there.  But in other parts of the country they are pretty common and if you’re not in a circumstance to locate a local breeder or adopt through the local humane society they are an option.    On a side note, my stepfather, who is 65, wanted to adopt a dog from the Columbus Human Society and because of his age they would only let him adopt a dog that was 8 years or older.  Seriously not cool.  People are living a lot longer and as much as I love dogs I definitely fall into the “they are animals and not people” group.  Anyway, there is a puppy store right around the corner that I have been dying to go into, so I I took a quick trip on my lunch break on Wednesday.  The place was very clean and they had tons of puppies…so lots and lots of puppy kisses and the staff was very nice and helpful.  They didn’t have any cavachons but  the trip certainly brightened my day.   After the visit I spent some time researching the cavachon breed and am more convinced than ever that when we do eventually get a dog again, this is a great breed (by temperament) for this lifestyle.  So I did some research and found a private home breeder in Sarasota and they had a white male puppy who was exactly what I was looking for.  Lee and I had a serious conversation about it, but in the end his common sense won out over my puppy fever.  We really don’t know what our life will look like (being here in Largo for 10 weeks is not an accurate representation) so the responsible thing to do is wait and see.  I hate being a responsible grownup.

Walt the puppy I found at a local breeder was perfect but the timing was not

Walt the puppy I found at a local breeder was perfect but the timing was not

So in order to combat the “closed in” feelings and  “no puppy” sadness,  I have planned a nature day for us on Saturday.  There are several wildlife parks/gardens in the area that are free or near free and I want to get out there with my camera and immerse myself in some wildlife.  Plus, my good friend Jo (who seems to have a sixth sense for these things) sent me a text and asked me to come down and visit her and Ben, Gene and Eileen, and Kelly and Bill on Martin Luther King day.  I totally forgot I have that day off and replied back with a huge enthusiastic YES!!!   Lee has school that day so I will go down on my own and it’s great to have friends where being half a couple if not an issue at all.   So this weekend is covered and I need to find something to do during the evenings and maybe on the occasional lunch to break up the day.

While I am talking about going to see Jo and Ben in Fort Meyers I wanted to mention the differences in weather.  Even though they are only 2 hours south there is a 10-15 degree swing when you travel there.  I think because Largo is in between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and surrounded by water on three sides it is cooler.  I don’t mind the cooler temps…I’ll take 50-60 over 10-12 degrees any day, but it is cloudy here.  Not the Florida I am used to where it rains a bit in the morning and then is sunny the rest of the day, but overcast most days until early afternoon and then a little bit of sunshine.  Again, waaay better than up north, but I could use some more sun as I think it would help improve my overall mood.  So excited about seeing the gang, not just for the company, but for a little dose of warmer weather.  It reminds me a bit of New Hampshire in that we could drive two hours into the Green Mountains in Vermont and get totally different weather.

This week we also spent some time dealing with some rig repair issues.   When we originally got our rig they did not have a Splendide and gave us another washer/dryer combo.  This never worked at all from the first day, so we made the dealer replace it with the Splendide we had ordered originally. Four months into use the Splendide just stopped working and locked tight with clothes and water inside it.  When we called our warranty folks they said it was still covered under the Splendide warranty and Lee then had to call them and they told him to call a local RV tech to do the work and they would pay for it. The first tech he called refused to do anything but replace it (which Splendide would not accept) so Splendide provided the name of another tech.  It took several days for the guy to call us back, another week to get on his schedule, and after waiting all day Monday for a no show he finally came on Tuesday.  The tech was very nice and I was grateful I finally got my clothes out of the washer, but he said the board was fried and would need a part.  We spent the rest of the week trying to get Flagg RV to send us some sort of paperwork that we could send to Splendide to prove it was under warranty.  Meanwhile, doing some research on the Open Range site I also discovered that there was a recall on our slideout switches.  Open Range Technical Service Bulletin 07092014 from Highland Ridge RV on July 09/2014:  “Highland Ridge RV has identified a potential issue regarding the function of the slide-out systems with the Open Range products. Models affected are new unsold models and models that currently under the limited 2 year warranty…Highland Ridge RV has determined that the slide-out in/out switches that were installed may not produce enough electric amps for the system to function correctly. Due to this there is a chance of slide-out motors, gears boxes and/or drive shafts failing.”  Other people on the forum stated they called their dealer and they either sent them new switches or scheduled a service visit. Our dealer (who has gone through four Service Managers in a one year period) didn’t notify me about the recall.  I asked them if they could just send the switches and we could replace them. This was really a good thing, because we noticed the motor was making a funny noise the last time we put the slideout out and hopefully this explains it.  I generally avoid the more technical discussions in the forum, but I have to say I am glad I stumbled across this as we could have had a much more serious problem down the road.

So enough of all of that not-fun stuff.  Friday’s weather was absolutely beautiful, so Lee and I drove to Indian Rocks Beach (about 15 minutes away) to watch the sunset.  Lee has gone a couple of times, but it was always too cold for me, but tonight was just perfect and we took the most beautiful pictures.  We also got to listen to taps being played when the sun goes down.  An older vet comes every night and plays his bugle as the sun falls beneath the waves.  Absolutely lovely moment and a very nice man.

Sunset at Indian Rocks Beach in Largo Florida

Sunset at Indian Rocks Beach in Largo Florida

Gentleman who plays taps every night at Sunset beach

Gentleman who plays taps every night at Sunset beach

 

On Saturday we got up early and decided to check out one of the four local parks.  Pinellas County has a large park about 15 minutes away called The Florida Botanical Gardens We went there first because it’s so close to the house I could go on a lunch break and hang out.  We ended up spending several hours there because it was so amazing.  It is totally free and it is divided into multiple sections so we took a while to walk around.  They have the east and west gardens, a tropical section, wedding area, herb garden, butterfly garden, alligator area, and a wonderful historical village with over 25 buildings.  The buildings were largely left to the historical society in wills with enough funds to completely transport the building.  Then other members of the historical society fill it with antiques.  Very, very cool, completely free, and totally unexpected.   The historical area also has volunteers in several of the buildings who explain about the time period and the particular building they are in.  I spent quite some time talking to a woman about how quilting is done today versus how it was done in the 1800’s.  Really neat. 

Camellia

Camellia

I had no idea bananas had a large flower at the bottom. Reminded me a bit of the flower from Little Shop of Horrors

I had no idea bananas had a large flower at the bottom. Reminded me a bit of the flower from Little Shop of Horrors

My first alligator. The duck swimming close by didn't interest him at all

My first alligator. The duck swimming close by didn’t interest him at all

Turtles sunning themselves on the bank pretty near the gator but they seemed unconcerned

Turtles sunning themselves on the bank pretty near the gator but they seemed unconcerned

 

Center of the historical village

Center of the historical village

One of the volunteers was in the Grocery Store

One of the volunteers was in the Grocery Store

Village Garage

Village Garage

The garage was very cool

The garage was very cool

After such a great time at the gardens I really didn’t want to go anywhere else, so we will save those for another day.  We went back to the RV for lunch and then we puttered until 5pm when the RV Resort was having a pig roast.  Lee wasn’t terribly thrilled about going, but I thought it would be good to at least put in a short appearance, plus free food, so we walked down at 5pm.

On Sunday Lee went to a study session held by one of his fellow students who is a retired Air Force Colonel and a whiz at all things electrical, so I decided to go and visit the Sunken Garden.   After the great experience on Saturday, I almost didn’t go because I didn’t want to be disappointed, but the weather was beautiful so I drove the 20 minutes to St. Pete.  Sunken Garden’s claim to fame is that it is a 100-year-old garden and I really wanted to see plants that were that old.  The $8 admission threw me off though.  Not because $8 is a lot of money but because I have found the free or near free attractions are often better.  I was pleasantly surprised however and definitely felt I got my money’s worth.  Although it was a bit crowded (there was a line when it opened at noon on Sunday) and not as big as I would have liked (only took me 45 minutes to walk through), it was jam-packed with huge beautiful plants and there were many more flowers in bloom than I would have expected in January.  Also the gardens boast many plants from tropical regions around the world, so I got to see plants and flowers I had never seen before.  Definitely worth a trip, but I would recommend going during a weekday if you can manage it. 

The growth was huge and dense which makes the relatively small place feel bigger

The growth was huge and dense which makes the relatively small place feel bigger

Beautiful paths are cut at multiple levels so you could be very close to someone and not see them.

Beautiful paths are cut at multiple levels so you could be very close to someone and not see them.

I have never seen flowering vines this high in my life. They were like two stories tall and hanging from the tops of giant trees

I have never seen flowering vines this high in my life. They were like two stories tall and hanging from the tops of giant trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The limestone was excavated when the gardens were originally built

The limestone was excavated when the gardens were originally built

You sit on it and feel peace and serenity. IT was a really cool, smooth rock

You sit on it and feel peace and serenity. IT was a really cool, smooth rock

This was the view across from the growing stone which did make me feel peaceful

This was the view across from the growing stone which did make me feel peaceful

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful beautiful flowers

Beautiful beautiful flowers

Never seen one of these before

Never seen one of these before

 

I've never seen this flower either. Wish DeDe was with me she would have loved it.

I’ve never seen this flower either. Wish DeDe was with me she would have loved it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday was a holiday for me and it was great because when living in New England I thought it was a waste to have a holiday in January (no disrespect to Martin Luther King just wish it would be a different day), but down here it was amazing.  The day was absolutely gorgeous with temps in the high 70’s and sunny skies.  Lee had school unfortunately , but I was free so got up early and drove down to Fort Meyers to see my friends Jo and Ben, Kelly and Bill, and Eileen and Gene.  I had an absolutely wonderful time talking with my friends and we had a nice dinner (thank you so much Gene and Eileen for treating me…that was incredibly sweet) and I reluctantly left at 7:30pm to start the two-hour drive home.  It was a long day but absolutely what I needed to brush the last of those “closed in feelings” away.  I know I’ve said it before, but I absolutely love these people and they are the best support system in the world.  No matter how you are feeling, they are there for you and although the experience does vary from person to person, we are all absolutely committed to supporting each other as we transition to the full timing lifestyle.  There was lots of laughter, great advice, and some commiseration which is all a wonderful thing.  And most importantly it reaffirmed that I am not alone in this.  So thank you all so much for the wonderful day and I can’t wait until we are all together again.

From back left Tracy, Ben, Kelly, Bill, Jo, Gene, and Eileen

From back left
Tracy, Ben, Kelly, Bill, Jo, Gene, and Eileen

Lessons Learned

  • When you are feeling closed in get out and do something.  See friends, visit a nature park, go see an attraction.  
  • You can fill an entire weekend without spending much money (I spent $8 this weekend).
  • Be careful of making any big decisions when your feeling antsy or closed in.  Give it some time to pass.

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