My wife, Nadyne, and I arranged to be in Yuma, AZ, this winter long enough to pop over into Mexico for some vanilla, prescription drugs, alcohol and a new denture. Without debating the pros and cons of buying prescription drugs there, my wife’s denture was a priority due to our lack of dental coverage since we retired. We had been receiving a lot of great feedback regarding Los Algodones and decided to give it a try.
Nadyne was born and raised in Tucson and she used to travel into Mexico on occasion at the Algodones crossing in California and the Nogales border at Arizona, and the former was always the least troublesome for her. I had only crossed from the U.S. into Mexico once, a day trip into Tijuana several years ago, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
We drove from Yuma to a parking lot at the border, costing $6 a day. Walking into Mexico was like walking into a shopping mall. There were no guards, no metal detectors, no drug-sniffing dogs, no gates and absolutely no waiting. Just a fenced walkway that ends in the edge of town. To walk anywhere from there, one has to run a gauntlet of aggressive shop hands willing to drag you into whatever store, vision clinic or dental office employed them. They acted as if they were being paid per customer delivered, and probably were.
Making no eye contact with vendors and exiting the crowded sidewalks to the street, we were able to hike the three blocks to Dental Solutions, one of about a hundred dental offices in town. We chose this one after some prior research, including reaching out to customers we knew of and a few phone calls. The office was in the middle of the street with an eyeglass storefront on one side and a pharmacy on the other. It didn’t look like the building could withstand an earthquake of more than about 4.5 on the Richter scale.
Once inside, the office was old but clean. Its minuscule waiting room was painted a stark white and had a single sofa, oversized for the room. I found out later that there was an additional small waiting room in the back. Nadyne had her appointment and the total for her new upper denture will be about $350, a great price without insurance. We had to return in 90 minutes, so we took the time to have lunch, again avoiding as much of the sidewalk chaos as possible.
We chose a restaurant in the rear of an indoor alleyway, about a hundred feet in from the street, named El Rancherito. On a narrow stage near the front door was a middle-aged Mexican couple providing a variety of live music and singing, mostly of a Hispanic nature with a few Patsy Cline numbers thrown in. The food was good, including the imperative deep-fried tortilla chips, and the prices were reasonable. We tipped the entertainers on the way out.
We made it back to the dental office and Nadyne had her follow-up visit, then we went to a purple-painted pharmacy and liquor store to fulfill our shopping list. This was one of the “Purple Shops” and is definitely as professional and knowledgeable as we had hoped. I got my asthma medicine and Nadyne got her drugs and a cheap bottle of Mexican vanilla, plus my chocolate tequila, which I have been searching for ever since our cruise a couple of years ago.
The afternoon exit was not as quick as the morning entrance, with a line of about 300 travelers patiently waiting, passports in hand. It took about an hour to get through the border guard station, time that I didn’t count on but not a terrible wait. There were no metal detector or police dogs, just a couple of border patrolmen pushing us cattle on through.
Now that we’re back in our rig, I’m going to try that chocolate drink…
Address: 1470 Bucksport Rd, Ellsworth, ME 04605
Phone: (207) 667-7600
# of sites: 144
Full hookup price: From $258/week
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Warnings: Reserve as early as possible
We always wanted to visit Maine and Thousand Trails gave us a couple of options there. Patten Pond is a 750-acre lake with fishing and boating and one corner of the campground includes a beach and boat docks on the lake.
Smaller than some of the Thousand Trails parks we have stayed in, Patten Pond RV Campground has plenty of room to maneuver and lots of living space. There are trees shading many of the sites and beautiful views of the lake from the beach. The lake sports trout, bass and walleye and the park rents canoes, rowboats and other watercraft. Many campers were taking advantage of these services.
From their web page: "You can canoe, fish, swim, boat, or just relax and watch the loons from our peaceful and private beach."
This is a great base from which to explore the Maine coast, including Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. We took several scenic drives while staying at Patten Pond. Though Acadia is not the eastern-most point in the U.S., its elevation at Cadillac Mountain gives it the distinction of having the first rays of morning sunlight in the continental US. I happily checked the Acadia sunrise off my bucket list...
If you like lobster, you can't do better than Maine, which has an abundance of restaurants serving them large, fresh and cheap!
Though you can fish in this lake, you must travel elsewhere to get a license -- they don't sell them at the park's shop. If you plan on fishing early, you won't be renting a boat for that -- boats aren't available to rent until 9am. Speaking of fishing, this is a family-oriented park and there are always many children staying here.
Situated in the far northeast coast, weather can be extremely unpredictable. Rain, fog and sunny skies alternated throughout our stay, and at one point I didn't know if I would ever have a sun-filled day for a photo jaunt.
Acadia National Park is invariably packed at sunrise, assuming there is one. My first attempt was foiled by rain and overcast weather, as is common on the Maine coast. If weather does permit, make sure you go at least two hours early to get a parking space and primo photo spot in front of the 2,000 or other photographers that will invade the mountainside. I didn't do that and had to walk about a mile to get to the peak for photos. I almost missed sunup.
If you don't like lobster (we don't), getting good food is a challenge everywhere in the region. Meals other than lobster or crab were mediocre at best.
Overall, we really enjoyed this resort. We plan on returning and spending more time in this area. Maine can be breathtaking!
I must admit, RV manufacturers do not build their rigs for full-time use. If they did, these recreational vehicles would likely be twice as expensive. No, they build them for price. They build them to be pretty. They build them for weekends and campouts. I don’t blame them. How many people would buy RV’s at double the current prices? A business must supply a market.
We purchased our 31’ 2011 Crossroads Cruiser in 2014 knowing we would be going full-time in just three years or so. We loved the floor plan as it gave us space for a dual-office and had opposing slides for a full 16’ wide living space in the “great room.” Since then we have changed every piece of furniture and many fixtures, starting with the RV mattress, continuing with the plastic toilet and finishing up with the dinette, chairs, sofa and recliners. We have even replaced our RV stove with a toaster/air fryer oven, and in the process added more counter space.
All of that said, we have found some common themes and several differences among RV’ers living full-time in their rigs and those who just go for vacations and weekend jaunts. Here are some things to ponder...
Probably the largest concern when moving from vacationing to full-time living in an RV is storage space, or rather, the lack of it. This is primarily what we spent months thinking about before we launched our new lifestyle. No matter how much you downsize your stuff, you will have too much of it. Even after all of our planning and repurposing, we still had to chuck a lot of stuff once on the road and we realized we didn’t need or use it. You accumulate unneeded junk in a house or apartment, but it doesn’t usually matter because it’s often out-of-sight and out-of-mind. In an RV, out-of-sight belongings still affect weight and available space. In other words, they very well may be taking up space for things you’d rather be carrying but don’t have room for.
Besides pure space considerations, everything you load onto an RV adds to its towing or carrying weight, so it is a good idea to make sure your vehicle has the power and capacity you need in the long term. This might not be a big deal for someone towing five or six times per year, but the more you tow or carry, the more your truck or motorhome is affected.
We found out the hard way that manufacturing recommendations can be unrealistic. Our first truck was a Ford F250 (3/4 ton) gas model that had a tow rating of 12,000 pounds. Besides, a dealer had said we'd have "no problem" with that weight. Our loaded 5th wheel ended up only about 11,000 lbs., but the truck took a beating and after several major repairs within the first 30,000 miles, we traded it in on a 1-ton diesel. That made a world of difference.
A weekender might not use it enough to notice, but one of the first things to wear out in an RV with full-time use is the carpet. Carpeting is made and installed for light use and to soften the look of an interior, not for continual traffic. We finally removed our living room carpet when cleaning actually made it worse. We now have vinyl plank flooring throughout the kitchen and living room and plans to do the same in the bedroom and bathroom.
Décor and “Redecorating”
Décor isn’t usually a necessity for weekenders, but when your rig is your home, you may just want it to feel, well, homey. Full-timers will all join in the chorus about how little wall space they have. Framed artwork, knick-knacks, elaborate lamp shades and other sticks-and-bricks-based décor will not always fit in moving house, let alone look warm or elegant. To be fair, a weekender probably doesn’t care. They just want to go fishing or hiking, or 4-wheeling, and then go home.
My wife calls our driving time a “continuous earthquake” and travel jaunts are “redecorating days.” The constant vibration of the highways, local streets and gravel roads can cause even the hardiest décor to tumble or crumble. A full-timer with lots of décor, like us, is always faced with the dilemma of what to pack and what to leave out for travel days, with the added inclination of not wanting the nuisance of packing and unpacking on each leg of their journeys. Museum gel has been a revelation, but even that’s not foolproof. Multiple straps and wall anchors have also helped and we continue to tweak that arrangement. However, every time we stop we hold our breath when we open the door to see what the earthquake has redecorated.
Part-time camping usually means a higher clutter tolerance. A vacation or long weekend is expected to be messy, so throwing your sweater on a chair or setting dirty plates on a counter is far from a crisis. Everything can easily pile up and wait for one big cleaning session before (or after) finishing the outing. In a full-time life, there is no end in sight for which to wait.
A smaller living space magnifies clutter and it doesn’t take a neat freak to be affected by it. A simple sock on the floor, crumpled napkin on a table or dirty dish minding its own business on the kitchen counter can seem to turn a clean, comfortable room into a new episode of "Hoarders." For many, cleaning must happen continuously.
Power and Water
Of course, RV’s are made to be self-contained for a weekend, or maybe slightly longer. Full-timers stretch the limits of their tanks, and fresh water must be sustained. A long weekend may not require air conditioning, TV or electric appliances, but residing in the rig usually does.
Battery power only goes so far, and rarely will supply a microwave, toaster oven, an electric fireplace, an induction stove or big screen TV’s, all of which we have. Staying in resorts with full hookups is nice but difficult to manage from park to park over a long period of time (unless you’re a seasonal resident). We stay 1-2 weeks in a park then move on, usually boondocking (or dry camping- without hookups) for one or two nights between resorts. Occasionally we boondock longer, like the 4 days we parked in the middle of nowhere in the South Dakota Badlands, where electricity was a concern.
We use a Wen 2000i generator that will power everything in the 5th wheel except the primary A/C and bought a smaller, portable A/C unit that the generator will run. It can run continuously for hours and is relatively inexpensive, costing a third of a gallon of unleaded gasoline per hour. More importantly, it will recharge our two Lithium Ion batteries very quickly.
Recently, many nomads expecting to boondock for longer periods have been installing full solar systems that will provide electricity from a few days to almost indefinitely without hooking up to shore power. Solar is expensive to purchase and install, though costs are coming down. It requires a bit of real estate on the RV’s roof for the panels and in the basement or other storage space for the bank of batteries. In addition, solar power can be affected greatly by weather and the amount of sunlight available. We decided early on not to go solar and depend solely on our generator and batteries while dry camping, but if pricing keeps coming down, we may revisit that decision.
Parks vs. Boondocking
As I mentioned, an RV’er has the option of full-hookup camping in an RV park or dry camping, aka boondocking or dispersed camping. Weekenders will tell you that there are other options as well. State and federal parks may have power or water, but not often both. Also, most do not have sewer availability at the campsite but have dumping stations you can use in a central location in the park. This would require tearing down camp and moving your rig if you need to dump or get fresh water before you are ready to complete your stay, but at least the option is there. Again, full-timers have a much greater need for these services because otherwise their limitations will be reached at some point in time.
Another choice some full-timers (or backwoods-type weekend adventurers) decide on is a composting toilet, which uses almost no water and doesn’t require a sewer connection to empty. So far that has not been necessary in our travels.
Reservations vs. Wingin' It
We have seen two distinct types of RV’ers- those that travel without any plans and those that want everything reserved as far in advance as possible. We are the latter. In fact all next year is already planned, at least tentatively. One reason for this is that we are Thousand Trails members and need to reserve in advance to make sure we can take advantage of the free stays.
It’s fairly easy for a weekend warrior to find a place to camp, even on the fly. One might say, “Let’s go to the Snake River and get some fishing in this weekend!” Then the family loads up and goes. On more extensive outings they need only worry about reservations for that week or for those few days. Full-timers on the road, other than the most daring of nomads, must always be considering their plans and whether to make reservations. Wait too long, especially for the more popular parks, and there may not be space available for you. Try to make them too far in advance and the park may not be allowing reservations yet. It’s a continuous juggling act we just deal with and must keep on top of.
Expenses- Vacation vs. Living
Excursions of shorter lengths are "vacations," almost by definition. Home, then, is what you leave behind for a few days until you return. Vacation travel and eating expenses are figured in to be spent throughout the trip.
One of the most difficult parts of living on the road is remembering you are living a lifestyle and not on a long-term vacation, unless of course you have tons of money and don’t have any desire to cook. Successful full-timers will limit their restaurants and tourist spending to just a few venues in each location, more or less depending on their budget.
It’s interesting to think about RV’ers taking a vacation from their lifestyle, since many think their lifestyle IS a vacation.
Repair and Maintenance
If something isn’t quite right for a part-time camper, it can often wait until next trip, next month or next summer. Full-timers can attest to the fact that they should fix small problems well before they become big problems. Because of the continual nature of the lifestyle, parts or devices with small issues can take a beating.
Just think about taking your sticks-and-bricks home in for repair. Even if you could, where will you live while it’s in the shop? Definitely not a weekender’s worry. Since big problems in RV’s are expensive, sometimes VERY expensive, repair costs can immediately affect your quality of life, or even dictate whether you can continue living on the road.
The Neverending Story
I told someone that I was writing this piece and their comment was that I could spend a lifetime discussing it. In a way, she was right. However, I thought it was better to touch on the subject and begin the discussion than wait until all of the explanations are clear and all the questions are answered. Send me your thoughts and suggestions!
The advantage of purchasing a three-year-old fifth wheel was that everything worked, far beyond the initial break-in period when most mishaps occur. However, the older floor plans were not really set up for full-time living, so each room needed upgrades, modifications and updates. I've already posted about updating our master bedroom and our entryway, and this post is all about our kitchen.
I've numbered several items on the attached photos so you can see what I'm describing. Our kitchen is now 100% better than when we purchased our 5th wheel.
We were sceptical that a plastic stick-on backsplash would look good but hated the awful wallpaper border so much that we installed it anyway. Surprisingly, the results were very attractive and the backsplash has held up well.
10. Kitchen Knife Set
This unit was purchased at Walmart for our kitchen in our house and it was moved to the RV when we went full-time. The set includes a wood and plexiglass knife holder, a set of six kitchen knives and 4 hard plastic cutting boards. It was meant to sit on a counter but i decided to save that space by attaching it to the wall.
11. Dinnerware and Paper Towel Caddies
To save space in the cabinets we moved our primary dishes and silverware into a caddy that, along with the paper towel caddy, could be carried outdoors to a picnic table or other eating area.
12. Dish Strainer
To save time for travel set up and break down and to keep more counter space available after washing dishes, which you have to often when your sink is RV-sized, we found a metal fold-up rack at Ikea.
13. Counter Top Extension
We purchased a standard cutting board and applied water-proofing before installing it on fold-up hinges. This is folded down to allow the slide to come in and adds important counter space when parked.
14. Kitchen Faucet
The factory-installed kitchen faucet was plated plastic and did not have an extended head. This new Dura model was purchased at Lowes is metal and does have an extended water head for better cleaning options.
15. Sink Caddy
With movement and vibration the norm on travel days, this wire shelving helps stabilize some of the accoutrements of the sink area, allowing much more to stay out of the set up and tear down process.
This is an inexpensive battery-operated clock that has lasted for 5 years so far.
17. Pull-Down Tray
Utilizing wasted under-cabinet space, this metal tray pulls down and out and is filled with open dog-treat bags and a few rolls of doggy poop bags.
18. Ice Maker
An absolute necessity, we bought a countertop ice maker pretty early on in our RV life. This one is an RCA model and has been running great for several years now. It makes a set of round cylinder-shaped ice cubes every 12 minutes and recycles any ice not used before melting.
19. Battery LED Lights
These are from Ikea and add some needed light to the stove area.
20. Storage Basket and Tray
To utilize empty space over the tall cabinets, we could have placed decor, plants or storage trays and we chose the latter. To accommodate the taller paper towel rolls on the left cabinet, we added a tension bar.
21. Wire Utensil Bins
Like other metal or wire bins we installed, these we purchased from Hobby Lobby.
22. BBQ Grill Utensils and Hooks
BBQ utensils were too heavy for Command hooks so I attached a wooden 4-hook key holder to the side of the rolling cart and they are now out of the way and taking no drawer space.
23. Spice Racks
You would think the RV would have come with spice racks, but none were to be found.
24. Keurig Coffee Maker
I don't drink coffee but Nadyne loves it. Our Keurig 2.0 was a nice appliance but took up far too much counter space, so we went looking through the Keurig product line and found a similar model with a small footprint by comparison.
25. Wire Bread Basket
26. Wooden Counter Top
When we removed our built-in stove (see #27), an opening was left that we filled with a piece of pine taylored for the spot and stained dark to be compatible with the surrounding cabinets. This wooden counter is removable.
27. Convection/Toaster/Air Fryer Oven
The oven and stove that came with the rig had been causing continuing issues, culminating with the oven pilot not working. With Nadyne already frustrated with the stove burner limitations and the cost of a new combination oven/stove appliance in the thousands of dollars, we decided to replace the stove unit with a small convection/toaster oven that included an air fryer. We had a small eir fryer that we loved using and had been missing our toaster oven, so this really wasn't a difficult choice. I had to make sure propane line was properly stopped and stowed, and we tied the unit down with metal strips.
28. Oven Shelf and Cubby
With the size of the new oven (see #27) so much smaller than the original, we added a shelf to sit it on, leaving a nice storage space beneath.
29. Pull-out Wire Drawer
At the floor below the stove was a storage space and drop-down cabinet door that was very difficult to use. Nearly every time we needed to pull or put away something in that area, we had to almost lay down on the floor to reach in the back of the space where everything migrated to. This was resolved with a wire drawer we purchased at The Container Store. We use this spot for storing all of our dog food and meds, plus other canine odds and ends.
30. Floor AC Outlet
The one drawback with adding a portable island in the middle of the kitchen floor was the difficulty in getting power to any appliances we wanted to use on the island. This was resolved by having an RV shop install a dedicated circuit (with GFI) in the floor where the island would sit. This cost nearly $1,000 but it was done by professionals and the outlet has been used almost every outing since. Now that we're full-time, it has been essential.
31. Power Strip
Rather than having multiple cords running to our dual outlet in the floor, I installed a power strip that makes plugging in very simple.
32. Towel Rod
We lost our towel holder with the removal of the stove (see #27) in which we utilized the oven door handle, so we found an inexpensive drawer attachment that holds kitchen towels.
33. Decor and Shelving
Some of this came from our house, including the four French chefs. We have left plenty of room to add knick-knacks and souvenirs from our travels.
34. Wireless Doorbell
I may have mentioned this on the Entryway blog post, but I thought some would ask about it, since it's so prevalent in one of the photos.
Next up: Updating the Bathroom
Address: 28 CCC Rd, Salisbury, MA 01952
Phone: (717) 867-3967
# of sites: 163
Full hookup price: $46/night
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Warnings: mosquitos, caters to seasonals
We wanted to camp somewhere between Boston and Cape Cod and ended up staying in Salisbury, not too far from family. This is a very wooded park which provides a discount for Good Sam members
Aptly named, this is a very lush, green resort. There was shade from the forest in every nook and cranny and every site was nestled in between trees and up against shrubbery. Each site had plenty of space and there were a few large rigs camping when we arrived. The staff was friendly and can help guide you to the Hampton Beach tourist area about a 10-minute drive away. Several campsites face a marshland and have a view of the Merrimack River. Plum Island with its Parker River Wildlife Refuge is also a short drive away.
Like many of the campgrounds we've stayed at this year, The Pines has a old community of seasonal residents living in decaying or purely ancient RV's or park model homes. It was rather depressing hiking through the campground, making us feel like we were visiting an old trailer park.
That being said, the pathways through the park are very narrow and can take some complex maneuvering to park in or leave a site. One turn in particular was difficult to undertake without scraping tree limbs and shrubs, and I could foresee a rig or two bottoming out in some of the ruts.
Also like many of the parks we stayed in this year, the mosquito population was exceptionally large. The wetter-than-normal summer may have had something to do with that, but don't forget about the marsh nearby, the perfect breeding ground.
All-in-all, we would recommend The Pines to anyone traveling through and not needing a long-term stay, as long as their rig can manage its terrain.
Our fifth wheel is going on eight years old and, like most RV's, wasn't built for full-time living. That wasn't more evident than with the living room carpet. We researched our options but no matter what we chose to do, we couldn't get an installer to work in the rig. We had two alternatives- go to an RV repair shop along our route and plan on leaving the fifth wheel for a couple of weeks or do the job ourselves.
We watched several Youtube videos and chose to install vinyl plank flooring from the Home Decorator Collection at Home Depot. The Stony Oak Smoke style comes in cases of 8"x 48" planks for a total of 18.22 square feet in each and a cost of around $40 per case. We bought 7 cases and used 5.5 cases for the living room/kitchen (we'll use the remaining planks in the hall and bathroom).
We decided against replacing the slide carpets at this time. The Stony Oak color scheme is mostly gray with a hint of brown, which is what we are converting our main space to over time. We had already bought furnishings and curtains in the gray/brown/white scheme.
We also purchased an installation kit that has plank interlock tools, which I found absolutely necessary, a razor knife and some matching replacement trim. All told, this project cost us around $400 in materials and took two days.
We decided to place the planks on top of existing linoleum in the kitchen but we did have to pull up the living room carpet. Like many videos showed, there were a great many staples but the only real problem we had was rear side walls, which apparently were installed right on top of the carpeting. I used the razor knife to cut it as close to the wall as I could. Fortunately, trim would hide the leftover.
Rather than having to cut planks lengthwise along both slide frames, which extend the length of the slide on both sides of the main space, I decided to make one side the baseline, placing the left edges of that line of planks along the frame and tack them down like they were along a wall.. You would think the frame would be installed in a straight line, right? I ended up moving the baseline row out from the slide frame about a half-inch to avoid its bulges and crooked edges.
The vinyl planks are made to snap together and tapped tight. It looked easy and even the videos made it look simple. For some reason, they didn't exactly line up all that snugly. I finally did get the hang of it after nearly half the floor was laid and I just couldn't bear to leave the furrows showing. I tore about 2/3 of the flooring out and re-laid the panels, this time with my newly-learned plank-installation skill. The result was much, much cleaner.
The one thing that did live up to its hype was the ease in cutting the planks. I set up my Workmate bench just outside on our patio mat and used a combination of t-squares, clamps and a razor knife to score, bend and snap the flooring pieces apart for installation. The sheer number of cuts was time-consuming but simple to perform.
The process includes starting on one corner and working down and across until you reach the opposite corner. Planks are cut down to stagger seams, just as with regular wood flooring and the unused ends are saved to cut to size on the opposite end of the floor. I made sure that none of the planks joined right above the linoleum edge, but otherwise, it all went as laid out.
From start to finish this project took most of two days. I still have a few pieces of trim to tack down in the kitchen, but we're pretty pleased with the final outcome. The bathroom doesn't seen as daunting now, even though nearly every plank will have to be cut to fit.
Two years before our planned launch into the full-time RV unknown, we decided to purchase a Thousand Trails membership, especially after doing a fairly thorough investigation. We had seen a few Youtubers talking about it and the formula seemed pretty simple: Pay a big membership fee upfront, pay a small annual fee each year and camp for free at any of their 80 or so campgrounds around the country, mostly in the east and west coasts. We did the math and it seemed like a good plan, and you'll see below that it actually has been working in our favor.
The first thing we did was discuss the purchase with a reseller. He was able to get us a Platinum Thousand Trails (TT) membership for about $2,100 and an annual fee of $549 that gave us access to all TT resorts for up to 21 days at a time and no required out-of-network time. In other words, we could move from park to park without a waiting period in between. Keep in mind that the current initial price of such a membership from TT directly is between $5,000 and $7,000. There is also a reservation lead time of only 60 days, though the current (expensive) Elite plan allows up to 180-day lead times.
Last year we added the Trails Collection to our annual membership fees, which went up to $849, to add several Encore properties to our availability list, giving us 168 total resorts to stay in. These come with a few caveats: The max stay in the Trails parks is 14 days (or less, depending on the park and season), you have to be out of the system for at least 7 days between Trails stays (a non-Trails TT stay counts as out of the system), and some Trails parks charge up to $20/night out-of-pocket.
So, there we were in Colorado, fresh new TT members and nowhere to stay. We were both still working full-time and the midwest is terribly lacking TT resorts. There were none within a reasonable distance for a long weekend. We bided our time and were finally full-time on the road in April this year. However, our first several stops were still in Colorado, eastern Utah and southern Wyoming, none of which sported TT campgrounds.
Eventually, in June, we stayed for 14 days in a TT resort for the first time. It was a huge park, the O'Connells Yogi Bear Park in Amboy, IL, with over 600 sites plus a small village of seasonal residents. But the campground was very clean and spacious, and other than a bad rust problem with their water lines and huge numbers of mosquitoes, we enjoyed our stay. As advertised, we were not charged a camping fee, but did pay an up-charge of $3/day for 50-amp service. We have only had to pay this fee in a couple of resorts and it seems a small enough fee, if annoying.
So, the math:
Up until next Sunday, 10/28/18, we will have stayed in TT parks for 82 nights. By the end of the year, that will total 119 days and nights of camping. Keep in mind that we didn't go full-time until April and our first TT stay wasn't until June. At an conservative average of $35 per night in equivalent full-hookup resorts (i.e. O'Connell's Yogi Bear Park charges the public $75 per night, Hershey's Thousand Trails is $108 per night, while most KOA's are between $30 and $70 per night) we would have been out-of pocket $4,165 in 2018. In 2019, we have tentatively planned 230 nights in TT and Trails parks, which would be over $8,000 using the $35 average cost per night. This year we will be money ahead, even adding in the past annual fees and next year is golden.
There have been downsides. Thousand Trails parks are typically older and less maintained, though usually clean. TT corporate actively sells seasonal sites, often selling park models for those sites, but some of the parks we've stayed in felt more like trailer parks than camping resorts. The 60-day reservation limit is a pain, since our plans are laid out well beyond that timeframe. There should be more visibility of the available hookups and additional fees at each park. Finally, when you want to call in a reservation in from spring until fall, you may spend up to 45 minutes on hold waiting for the next specialist to pick up. However, the good news is the their online reservation system is working now and that has made reserving space or changing reservations faster and much simpler. They also have added a feature on the account page that lists all the resorts available to us in our membership contract. In the past, with all the different plans and park groupings it was often difficult to tell what park was on our plan.
We would definitely recommend a Thousand Trails membership as a cost savings device for full-timers who don't spend a lot of time in the Midwest. You could spend the big bucks and purchase from Thousand Trails directly and still expect cost saving over time, but these savings will come much quicker if you get a "used" membership from a reseller. Make sure you read and understand the contract fully before pulling the trigger.
We lived near Buffalo, NY, for several years but did not yet own an RV, so most of our travel back then consisted of day trips and the occasional long drive to visit relatives. Since becoming full-time RV'ers last April, we have worked our way across the country from Colorado and spent most of the summer in far eastern Midwest and the northern east coast.
Most of this was new to us, especially staying in the areas' campgrounds, and we have made several observations about travel in the northeastern United States, especially compared to travel in the west. Here are the top 9 of those observations.
9. Even though we were at or near sea level for most of the summer, in many places (when we had the elusive clear skies), the lack or blocking of city lights made the night sky enjoyable. Often the Milky Way was visible, as were the Pleiades and Little Dipper, constellations that are seldom seen near cities. Before this trip, I had only seen them from the mountains or high deserts in the west.
8. It rains a lot in the summer in the northeast. Like someone said, it takes a lot of rainfall to keep all those trees green. But, c'mon, a dozen clear skies in three months? I now have a full assortment of scenic photos featuring white sky.
7. The entire east coast and as far inland as Upstate and Central New York seems to be one gigantic forest out of which cities, towns, streets and neighborhoods have been carved. I sometimes felt claustrophobic, with dense woods closing in on me wherever we drove, and the abundance of trees left little in the way of viewpoints or scenery.
6. Speaking of lack of scenery, I have been taken aback by the sheer amount of shoreline, both lake and ocean, in the eastern US that is privately owned and not accessible to the public. As I tried to get photos of certain lakes and seashore, I was foiled again and again by the lack of access, and a couple of times got into some hot water by sneaking a shot or two from in-between houses. Ditto on access for fishing, too. If you don't own a boat (I don't), good luck.
5. Cigar smoke often permeates campgrounds at evenings and nights in the east more than I've ever experienced. Unfortunately I am allergic to cigar smoke so it's more than an inconvenience for me, but I do hate the smell. I'd rather have skunk odor...
4. Speaking of campgrounds, it's astounding how many easterners do their best to convert their campsites into cityscapes. Why come to the forest if all you want are bright colors, flashing lights, complete tiki bars, carpet and big screen TV's (outdoors)? It would be so nice sometimes to experience nature while you are actually visiting nature.
3. For many reasons, streets can be very narrow in New England and surrounding states. I found myself in a Philly neighborhood with at most two inches of space between my rig and the lines of parked cars on both sides of the street. I have had to be very deliberate about my driving path, even when driving my 1-ton pick-up and not towing. I was told that when the Mormons came west and created new towns, they made streets wide enough for a 6-oxen-drawn wagon to make a full U-turn. That may be why the west doesn't have the same street-width issues as the east coast.
Sticking with the driving theme, low-clearance bridges are everywhen in the northeast. The aforementioned Philly drive was caused by a bridge over the Delaware River only having 13' 5" of clearance. Rather than chance it (my fifth wheel is 13' 5" tall), I took the last exit and that's where we landed. We now use a trucker's app to avoid low-clearance bridges and overpasses, but it's not infallible. In Binghamton, NY, I turned a corner and was greeted by an overpass that had not been mentioned in any apps and had a clearance of only 11' 2". That would have left a mark. I was profoundly fortunate to have spotted the sign in time. It took nearly a half-hour to stop traffic and back out and onto a side street to turn around.
2. In the entire time since leaving Colorado on the road, we have seen a sum total of zero wild animals that aren't your regular turkeys, crows and other ordinary birds -- no deer, no elk, no moose, no rabbits, no bear, no porcupines, no possums, nothing. We have stayed in or near the forest nearly every stop longer than a day and have made many day-long excursions through the most remote geography in the midwest and eastern US with no sightings at all. We've never NOT seen deer and antelope in Wyoming and usually see a moose or a bald eagle as well, not to mention the abundant wildlife we often saw in the Rocky mountains. The funny thing is there are moose crossing signs throughout New England, but I still don't know why.
1. If you don't like lobster, rarely will you experience food in northeast restaurants that is particularly good. Nadyne and I both dislike shellfish, including lobster, and every restaurant we visited (in Maine, Cape Cod, Central New York, Vermont, etc.) had mediocre food. Yes Buffalo and New York City are exceptions, but they were a very small part of our journey this summer.
Honorable mention: Easterners often use their horn before their brake. This is definitely an east coast thing.
The advantage of purchasing a three-year-old fifth wheel was that everything worked, far beyond the initial break-in period when most mishaps occur. However, the older floor plans were not really set up for full-time living, so each room needed upgrades, modifications and updates. I've already posted about updating our master bedroom and this post is regarding our rig's entryway.
I've numbered several items on the attached photos so you can see what I'm describing. Who would have thought I could find 26 things we did just in the entryway?
4. Solar motion-sensor lights
We found relatively inexpensive motion-sensor lighting that are powered by solar cells built on them and install six of them around the fifth wheel for safety and convenience at night.
5. Screen-door lever
It's a minor thing, but always having to slide the screen panel over to open the screen door with the main door open was a small frustration that installing this lever removed. Just lift the lever up and the door can be easily opened.
6. White metal storage cubes
We installed a pair of metal cubes along the ceiling of the hallway into the bedroom for additional storage. It's well out of the way and we store prescription drugs and overflow meds from the bathroom in these nicely-sized cabinets.
7. Cherry wood coat rack with mirror
One of the few pieces of furniture that we moved from our sticks-and-bricks house, this coat rack has a mirror, two curio shelves and two spaces for pictures
8. Door valence (re-covered)
We re-covered the valence over the door to match the valence updates we made in the living room.
9. Baseball cap holder
I had a couple dozen caps I didn't want to get rid of and this was the best storage device for them I could find. It's a vertical strip that has hanging flaps from floor to ceiling and I've attached it to the wall.
10. Wooden CD cabinet (converted)
We took a large CD/video cabinet from our house, painted it with chalk paint, distressed it for an antique look and covered its glass panels with a semi-clear treatment. I attached it to the hallway wall and added tie-downs so it would be secure in transit. We use this cabinet as our primary backup storage space for bathroom and first aid supplies
11. Carpet strips
We cut three carpet rolls to fit the steps up to the bedroom. The original carpet underneath is very low quality and was always dirty.
12. Wood carving (decor)
We have a wood carver as a friend and I had him make us this artistic tree bark carving as a birthday gift for my wife.
13. Wood handrails
There were no rails in the stairway to the bedroom so we found molding that would fit the bill and not intrude into the space very far.
14. Fire Extinguisher
15. Magnetic pinup board
We found a neat sheet of metal with magnetic "pins" and baskets and installed one across from the main door. It is a convenient spot for keys, RV remote, flashlight and other items that come and go often.
16. Entry mat
This is the space that accumulates the most dirt in the rig, so we put an extra-heavy duty mat there. It is easily shook and cleaned.
17. Wire birdcage coat rack
The space between the slide and the door was wasted, so we placed a nice metal coat rack there that also has artistic value.
18. Wood board with weather station
A small craft project was all that was needed to create, stain and install this mounting board, then we added the weather station with three sensors (outside, freezer and refrigerator) . The unit itself senses inside temps and humidity.
19. Shoe rack
Shoes were always piling up around the door and into the living room and kitchen, so we made a shoe rack out of coated particle board and large coat hooks. Four pairs of shoes fit perfectly and we make sure we don't let other pairs creep into the space.
20. Wire bins
Again wanting to use otherwise wasted space, we installed two wire baskets next to the door that we use for dog cleaning supplies and other canine accessories.
21. Motion-sensor LED light strip
Night-time lighting was deficient in the hallway, so a specialty light strip was the solution.
22. Coin sorter
Another item that made its way from the house to the RV, this coin sorter uses standard paper coin rolls and is battery-powered.
23. Wicker bin
We attached a small wicker basket on the white cabinet for odds and ends.
24. Antler hat rack
What can I say? Antlers belong in an RV somewhere...
25. Over-door hanging rack
It's the only door we have, so we put a hanging coat rack on the hallway side and a hanging towel rack on the bathroom side.
26. Framed US map
This was a gift from our friends in the New Directions RV group so we always know where they are.
Next up: Updating the Kitchen
A Thousand Trails Resort
Address: 493 S Mt. Pleasant Road, Lebanon, PA 17042
Phone: (717) 867-3967
# of sites: 320
Full hookup price: From $108/night
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Warnings: mosquitos, caters to families
This park was and still is our favorite Thousand Trails park (so far). It's a large park, set on 200 acres of rolling forest and farmland in the vicinity of the Chocolate World theme park area. We wished we had been able to stay longer than the three days we had planned, but we are certain to return.
Very well maintained, there are a ton of amenities at this resort, including all the services one would expect at a high-end park plus fishing ponds, pickleball and basketball courts, a nice game room and a hot tub accompanying the pool. They have family-oriented events and crafts going nearly every day.
I had a really good experience at a craft beer tavern called Funck's. I still wear the neat cap I got there, too.
While this is a well-maintained park, some things didn't make sense, such as making the check-in staff cover the propane supply tank. I had to wait quite a while for him to be free, then he closed the entrance gate to help me a hundred yards away. Mosquitos were an aggravation we had to endure. Though not unusual in this part of the country, I still believe there is more a park can do to help limit the problem.
That it's a tourist area is a double-edged sword. Traffic was difficult, and the narrow roads didn't help with my larger pickup. Tourist prices were common for gas and groceries.
Hershey RV & Camping Resort is a very lush, well-run and maintained park that has an abundance of amenities, I rated this campground 5 out of 5 stars, one of the few parks to receive a perfect rating from me. We are anxious to return and spend more time here.
Jack Huber is a novelist with 6 mysteries published, along with several books of poetry and photography. Now retired, he and his wife, Nadyne, are free to travel the country in their 32' 5th wheel and 1-ton Ford pickup.