Living on the road in an RV is not difficult, but you do need to do some things differently than if you were at home. If you are only a weekend camper, then you don’t have as many things to consider before you shut the door and drive off toward your favorite camping spot. If you are an extended traveler and will be gone from your home base for two or three months, then there are additional things that you must consider and take into account before you depart. And, finally, if you are going to be a full-timer, then you have a long list of considerations and actions to take before you sell your house and move into a motorhome or fifth wheel.
For weekend campers and extended travelers, the biggest headache is loading and unloading the RV—with your clothes, personal items, and food. Don’t take half of your wardrobe. You will find that you use a few clothes frequently, but seldom use most items.
Many people find it easier, food wise, to prepare many meals ahead of time, freeze them, and then only defrost and warm them up when they are camping. Be a bit cautious, though, since RV refrigerators and especially freezers are not as roomy as what you are accustomed to at home.
Many people find it convenient to have a second set of personal grooming items that remain in the RV, so that there is one less bag of “stuff” to load and unload before and after each trip.
If you have pets, be sure that you remember their food, bedding, and special toys. If you have dogs, be sure to have an extra box of baggies. Remember that all courteous RVers always pick up after their pets—always!
If you plan on taking your pets with you into Mexico or Canada, be sure that you have a copy of the form showing their latest inoculations and any medications that they require on a frequent basis. Be aware that it is usually much more difficult to get your pets back into the United States than it was to take them out of the country. Many immigration stations require that you have a certification from your veterinarian showing that the pets were examined and found to be in good health within the last six months.
It is prudent practice to not travel with large amounts of cash. For most travel expenses these days, having a single credit card (such as Visa or MasterCard) is all that you need. Just remember to pay off the charges at the end of the month, so you don’t get socked with hefty finance charges.
My lady and I always use a credit card that earns us frequent flyer miles on a major airline. Every couple of years, we are able to splurge and take a flight to areas where we choose to not take the motorhome.
If you are traveling to Canada, always use a credit card whenever you can, because you get a better rate of exchange between the Canadian dollar and the US dollar.
If you have a cell phone (and it seems that almost all of us do these days), take it along with you, but remember to load it with all of your important telephone numbers before you leave. Most of the well-traveled roads throughout the country now have cell phone coverage, but the coverage does vary depending on your cell phone provider.
My lady has AT&T and I have Verizon, and it is interesting to see that sometimes I have coverage and she does not, and sometimes it is the other way around.
Because of the many areas where cell service is quite weak, many RVers add an external cell phone antenna to their RV. Adding an outside antenna can sometimes make the difference between no service and acceptable service, but usually adds at least two bars to signal strength.
However, for those of you who like to get off the beaten path and explore the more remote places—away from metropolitan areas and well-traveled roadways (as my lady and I like to do), and especially the mountains, be aware that most of these places have no cell coverage or service at all. Be sure to have a mobile charger (that works off of 12 volts) for your cell phone, since you may not always be in areas where you have electrical hookups.
It seems that RVers have joined the computer literacy group in big numbers, and most of us have a need to keep in touch via email, but many are not sure how to keep connected to the Internet while they are traveling.
The easiest way to keep connected while on the road is to stop into just about any public library in whatever town is near. Most of the time, you can ask for 15 minutes or a half-hour of Internet time for checking your email or paying your bills (we will talk about on-line bill paying in another section). Usually, you need only sign up and wait for a computer to become available and you are soon on your way again. In some libraries, however, you are limited to email access only and you are not allowed to surf the Internet. If you only want to pay some bills, however, quite often the person in charge will tell you to go ahead.
If your Internet provider has a web mail feature, you can go directly to your email. For those of you with smaller Internet Service Providers (ISPs), you can usually connect to a neat Web site that provides you with a way to access your email through that site. However, you need to know your ISP's email web server name.
Another, more costly and complicated method is to use your cell phone for Internet access. While this method can work, the connection speed is very slow—which works fine for emails (unless someone sends you an email with a 600Kb attachment), but is far too slow for surfing the Internet except when you are in dire need.
There are two ways to access the Internet with your cell phone. The oldest way, most accessible throughout the United States, but slowest way is to use your cell phone in analog mode (if it is compatible with an Ositech laptop cell modem) and dial up your regular ISP number that you use at home—or the ISP's local number if you happen to know it.
When we are traveling, my lady switches her cell service to nationwide with no long distance and no roaming, and we can then access our email anytime after 9 PM without incurring charges for the minutes used. We simply dial up our ISP using the same telephone number that we use at home. In the past, our combination of a Nokia cell phone and the Ositech King of Clubs cell modem for our laptop computer allowed us to access almost any cell network, wherever we were, since our setup used the older analog connection, and we didn’t need to be in one of the newer digital cell networks. The only drawback was that the connection speed was seldom better than 9600 bps.
For those of you with newer cell phones where a Mobile Office Kit is available, (consisting of a cell modem, a data cable, and special software) and you are consistently within a digital cell network, you can access the Internet at higher speeds. Be aware, however, that with this arrangement, some cell providers charge you an extra fee for the amount of data that is transferred back and forth—sometimes quickly making this method rather expensive. If you choose this method, go to a regular store that is dedicated to your cell service provider—not to a place that sells many different brands of cell service. Ask lots of questions about the connectivity and costs involved in accessing the Internet and checking your emails. Once you know, and understand, the facts, then you can make the decision that is right for you.
If you are a full-timer, the Escapees RV Club offers a dedicated email address for members to use for all their email.
There is another company that provides email service (with your own email address), called Pocketmail, via a small hand-held terminal. To use the device, you type in your emails (ahead of time) on a very small keyboard (that some people find to be an annoyance) and head to a local pay phone. When you are ready to send and receive your email, you go to any pay telephone, hold up the email terminal to the pay phone handset, and the terminal will even dial the 800 number for you. When a connection has been made, then the terminal will send any outgoing emails and receive any incoming emails.
To use this service, you first have to buy the hand-held terminal, and then you pay a monthly service charge.
A note to you techies out there—since the terminal uses an acoustic modem, the data transfer rate is awfully slow (would you believe an archaic 300 bps)! And, because of this, any incoming emails are restricted from having any attachments. Many full-timers use this email service, but also keep a “Hotmail” account for those messages that have attachments —but their friends need to know when to send messages to Hotmail instead of to Pocketmail.
If you are going to be on the road, either full time or for several months at a time, you will need to make arrangements to have your regular mail (often called snail-mail by the computer crowd), forwarded to a location nearby your current travel location.
If you have children or trusted friends near your home location, you can have them forward your mail every week or so. If you are going to be full-time RVers, then you might want to investigate some of the commercial mail-forwarding services. You should also check out the mail forwarding services of FMCA (the Family Motor Coach Association) and the Escapees RV Club. Both of these organizations offer mail forwarding services to their members for a very reasonable fee.
A word to the wise on where to have your mail forwarded (and where not to have it sent). If you are going to be in a major metropolitan area, you are urged to not have your mail sent to the main zip code of that area—since your mail may take quite awhile to get put in a General Delivery bin, and then you may have to wait in an endless line to retrieve your mail.
You are advised to have your mail forwarded to General Delivery at a small Post Office outside of the metropolitan area. You can determine the proper zip code for the General Delivery section of any Post Office by looking at the Zip Code directory in any Post office or by going online to the USPS web site and selecting the zip code look-up function. By sending your mail to General Delivery at a small Post Office, you will be able to retrieve it more easily and, usually, without having to wait in a long line.
Many people like the idea of having a voice mail box (or message service) where others can call you and leave a message. Full-timers especially like this service where they can call their voice message box (using an 800 number) whenever they have the time, and check on any messages that may have been left for them. Both the FMCA and Escapees offer this service to their members for a reasonable fee.
However, with most RVers these days seeming to have personal cell phones whose providers already offer this service, the need for a separate voice message service seems to be less and less of a necessity.
Many banks today offer a free (or for a fee) service that is called something like On-line Bill Pay. For many full-time RVers, this method of paying bills works out very well, since they can stop at any local library and get on the Internet.
When you have signed up or registered for on-line bill paying, you then set up each of the companies to which you regularly send payments. You enter the company name and full snail-mail address and your account number or name. For those payments that you make every month for the same amount—such as your house payment, motorhome payment, or car payment—you can set up automatic payments for the same amount at the same time each month.
For all your other payments, you simply get on the Internet once a month and specify how much to pay each vendor and when to pay them. The most difficult part is remembering to transfer enough money into your bank account to cover the bill payments. This method is really very easy to use, and saves you tons of labor, envelopes and stamps.
I have my regular “income” checks deposited directly into my savings account (where the balance earns interest), and I only transfer money into my checking account (which earns no interest) to cover the amount needed to pay the monthly bills. I am able to make the transfer from savings to checking via the Internet, so I never have to worry about finding a branch of my bank when I am on the road.
Every month I use the Internet to find out how much I owe on my credit card and pay off the balance in full—unless there are very extenuating circumstances. (And since I use my credit card for most payments, I seldom write a check anymore.)
For those bills that vary each month and which I cannot check on the Internet, such as the water and electricity for the house, I usually send an amount that is slightly higher than the normal amount—which keeps the company happy, and they credit my account for any overage.
I personally have closed out all of my accounts that had a credit card, such as department stores and gasoline companies—and use only my credit card for my purchases. Then, almost all of my expenses show up on one statement that is easily reviewed and paid via the Internet.
All of us need some green legal tender as we travel, but it is unwise to carry large amounts of cash with you. The easiest way to obtain the necessary spending money is to use the many ATM machines that have proliferated throughout the country.
However, many banks want to stick you with a hefty transaction fee if you use an ATM that is not associated with your particular bank name. You may wish to do a little research and find a bank that has branches in most of the states were you regularly travel, and keep money in an account that you use solely for incidental travel expenses. If you are lucky you will already be banking with a large institution that has ATMs throughout your travel area.
In an emergency, you can always use just about any ATM that you find, but be ready to shell out as much as $1.50 extra for the privilege.