Gut-Check Tour – Let’s Review!

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

I finally had a chance to sit down at the computer and review all of our data from our 16-day Gut-Check Tour, and thought I’d share some of the interesting statistics.

For those of you who are new to the blog, we travel in a 24′ Class C RV which Andy drives, and I follow behind in our 2004 Toyota Tacoma Prerunner with a camper shell. We also travel with two cats.

We left Tupelo on Saturday, April 7, and returned on Sunday, April 22. I don’t have the actual miles traveled on either vehicle, but according to Google maps, the route for our trip covered 933 miles. This would be the miles that the RV covered ONLY, and would not include the miles that we drove in the Tacoma for side trips.

Here are some of the numbers for what we spent:

Campsite Fees (including taxes, miscellaneous fees)

We stayed at five different sites on our travels, and were able to get discounts at four of them. Our total campsite fees were $382.96, which were broken down as follows:

Gasoline

We started our trip with over three-quarters tank of gas in the RV, but we haven’t refilled the tank since we returned. Therefore, these figures don’t accurately reflect the amount of gas that we used for the trip, but only shows what we spent while traveling. The total amount spent was $316.42:

  • For the RV – Two stops, $184.40 for 74.6 gallons, average price $2.47/gallon. (On the second stop, the pump cut off at $100, so we didn’t actually completely fill the tank, and that has prevented me from calculating our MPG until the next fill-up.)
  • For the Tacoma – $132.02 for 51.97 gallons, average price $2.54/gallon

Attractions and Entertainment

We really enjoy our sight-seeing excursions, but we didn’t try to go somewhere or do something every day. We’re perfectly happy reading a good book, walking on the beach or taking hikes, which are free. But we also enjoy learning about new places and their history, so we allowed time and budget for exploring. In addition to the list below, we also spent $24 playing the penny slot machines in Biloxi, Mississippi, but we won more than we spent, plus we got free drinks, so that was more of an investment, right? The total for attractions and entertainment was $85:

Food and Drinks

One of the best things about RV life is having access to a full kitchen for all your meals. We eat a primarily whole-foods, plant-based  diet, which means a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, oats and other whole grains, big salads, beans and legumes, and nuts/seeds. We do splurge occasionally, especially on Sunday mornings when we have Pillsbury cinnamon rolls baked in our convection microwave oven, and we did eat out a few times when we were sight-seeing during the day, but most of our meals were in the RV.

Total food cost was $341.03, broken down as follows:

  • Groceries – $181.36, including stocking up on the day before we left.
  • Wine – $21.99
  • Dining out – $137.68, includes four meals plus two treats (Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy ice cream in Biloxi, and beignets and sno-balls in Panama City Beach)

Other Miscellaneous

We picked up a few new items for the RV, most of which will be used after this trip, but I’m throwing them on this report anyway:

  • Consumables (dishwashing liquid, cleaning supplies, toilet paper) – $9.92
  • Equipment (step-stool for accessing the over-cab area, windshield mount for iPhone) – $48.89
  • Furnishings (shoe organizer, matching towels to cover dinette cushions to protect from cat hair) – $23.65

Adding It All Up

And that brings our total spending on our trip to $1,207.87. I don’t think that’s too bad for a 16-day vacation for two people and two cats!

What We Learned

While this was a vacation, the main purpose of the trip was to give ourselves a gut-check, to make sure that we can be happy living in and out of a small RV for an extended amount of time, without having a concrete plan or schedule of where we’re going to be for the next week or two. We needed to see if we could function without getting on each others’ nerves too much, and if we could deal with the inevitable stress that comes when things don’t go exactly as planned–things break, campsites are not as advertised, weather gets nasty, cats want to be fed EVERY MORNING at 5AM. Just the little things in life.

And I think we came through with flying colors! This trip only reinforced our decision to follow our dream of twenty-five years and pursue full-time travel while living in an RV. We feel like we’ve done our homework and due diligence, and that we’re making an informed decision concerning how we want to live our golden years. We’ve saved money all our working lives, and we’ve invested in vehicles and equipment that will serve us well in the future. We’ve educated and tested ourselves, and now we’re both excited and anxious to get this show on the road, literally!

On this trip, we got lots of experience at finding enough wireless signal to enable us to use the internet to research campgrounds and parks where we wanted to stay. We got more experience at managing our gray and black tank capacity when staying at a site with no sewer hookups. (I wish we had done more dry camping, but we’ll save that for another day.)

We tried some new recipes for the Instant Pot, we found places to refill our drinking water jugs, we verified that we can stock enough fresh leafy green vegetables in our small refrigerator to make our huge salads, and we confirmed that we can easily stick to our WFPB diet while living on the road.

We also discovered that there are some gorgeous city parks (specifically Bonita Reservoir Park in Meridian, Mississippi and Johnny Henderson Family Park in Enterprise, Alabama) that make wonderful spots to stop for lunch on travel days, providing a place to rest and revitalize while getting a good home-prepared meal.

Finally, we confirmed what we expected, that once we go full-time we will want to stay put for more than just two-three days at a time. Not only are moving days more stressful for everyone, including the kitties, it’s also more expensive to move more often due to fuel costs. The beauty of full-time RV life is having the flexibility to park your house in a different place on a different day. In the future, when we find a spot we like, we intend to stay as long as we’re comfortable there, or until we hit the time limit for the site.

What’s Next?

We will definitely be moving forward with our plan to become full-time RVers. We’re not ready yet to publicly announce anything as concrete as a date, but we’re already in the process of downsizing and getting rid of our “stuff”. We’ll be ready to give more details in the next 60 days, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, we’ll be taking a few short trips locally, since that’s what fits into my work schedule for the time being. We have a few maintenance items to take care of on/in the RV – fixing the drawer that won’t close all the way, replacing the stabilizers that got bent up in Alabama, implementing some storage/organization solutions in the bathroom, etc.

But, yeah, we’ve definitely stirred up our nomad blood, so the rest of this year is going to be EPIC!

Gut-Check Tour – Day 16, Back to Sticks and Bricks

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Sunday, April 22, 2018 – Tupelo, Mississippi

Well, we’re back at our sticks and bricks home, and already I can feel the stress piling up. The difference is so stark.

We started off the morning at The Woods RV Park and Campground in Montgomery, Alabama after spending our third night there. We had our usual Sunday morning RV breakfast of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls and coffee, and then got busy preparing to hit the road.

As usual, I handled the inside of the RV, including putting fresh linens on the bed so it will be ready for our next trip. I really hate changing the sheets on that bed–it’s hard to do when you can’t walk around the sides of the mattress, and you’re trying to smooth out the sheets while you’re kneeling on top of them. Andy took care of things on the outside–dumping the tanks, unhooking the utilities, etc.

We pulled out of the campground just shortly after 10AM, and headed north toward Birmingham. The forecast had called for rain, but fortunately it was just overcast when we were preparing to break camp. The drive up I-65 was fine, and we only stopped once so I could put gas in the truck.

We drove straight through Birmingham and hit I-22 West toward Tupelo, and only then did it start raining. There is almost nowhere to stop and park on the side of the road on I-22, so we wound up pulling into a Love’s Truck Stop near Jasper for lunch. We parked in the back lot, in the middle of the big rigs, and had our chopped salad, chips and salsa, and other odds and ends that we wanted to nibble on. We used the restrooms in Love’s and I got a cup of coffee, and then we were on the road again.

It rained pretty heavily on us all the way in to Tupelo, and when we pulled up to the house it was still pouring down. We crated the kitties so make sure we got them in the house safely (didn’t want them to squirm away from us in the rain), and then we only unloaded things that we might need tonight or tomorrow morning. It was just raining too hard to totally unload Lizzy.

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We’re home, safe and sound! #rvlife #lifeisgood

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We took Lizzy back to the storage lot and plugged her in so the food in the fridge will be fine. Andy will drive her back to the house tomorrow since the rain should be ended by then, and  he’ll finish the unloading and do the final cleanup then.

The dreary, cold rain was a perfect metaphor for how I felt now that our trip was over.

I logged in to my work email and took a good look at my schedule for the next few days. I’m going to be driving all over North Mississippi from one small town to another, so I had to take care of getting a rental car reservation and getting my schedule organized. No such thing as easing back into work on this job. I can feel the stress in my neck and shoulders just thinking about it.

Since we didn’t have groceries in the house and it was so cold and rainy outside, we decided to just order a pizza for delivery. I ordered from Papa John’s using the iPhone app, and was told that it would take 29-39 minutes to arrive. An hour later it wasn’t here, and I had not received the usual email receipt from Papa John’s, although their app showed the order had been placed, and I had received an email from my credit card provider showing the charge. I called Papa Johns, and they said that it was on the way and should be here any minute. Fifteen minutes later, still no pizza, so I called again. This time, they asked if I wanted to speak to the GM, and I said “Sure”, and then they hung up on me. I called right back, and as I was speaking to the person who answered the phone, the pizza delivery gal showed up in the driveway.

I still had the GM on the phone when I answered the door, and I’m sure they could hear my conversation with the delivery gal. I asked her how long the pizza had been out of the oven and she said she didn’t know. I asked her if it was still hot, and she said yes, but said we could check it. Andy checked it and said it was only slightly warm. She offered to void the charge, and I said that was fine. Anyway, we warmed up the pizza in the microwave.

As depressing as this afternoon and evening have been, I have to say that this was the best two weeks of vacation that I’ve ever had.  And yes, I’m totally ready to move forward toward full-time RVing as quickly as possible. Andy agrees, so it’s a green light.

After a couple of days of getting back in our normal groove, we’ll sit down and map out the next steps. We have a few maintenance items to take care on Lizzy–replace the bent stabilizers, fix/replace the non-working taillight, fix the pantry drawer correctly, track down the source of the drip in the vent hood. Then there are really major things like selling the house and the car. But now that we’ve had a taste of the lifestyle that lies ahead of us, we can’t wait to get started!

Gut-Check Tour – Day 15

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Saturday, April 21, 2018 – The Woods RV Park & Campground, Montgomery, Alabama

This was another one of those days when you just know that you’re where you’re supposed to be at just the right time.

We started the morning with some coffee and refrigerator oats, then we both got showers in the rig. For some reason, this morning it dawned on me just how bad it might be if one of the cats jumped up on the kitchen or bathroom sink and bumped the water faucet while we were gone. The holding tank would quickly fill up and start flooding the RV, and no one would be here to stop it. I mentioned it to Andy, so before we left to go sight-seeing, he turned off the water at the faucet outside. This will now become SOP (standard operating procedure).

Our first stop on our tour today was the Rosa Parks Museum and Library, but first we had to find a parking place. The only public parking we saw that wasn’t metered was a lot that charged $10 for the day. It was covered parking, so we took it, as it was almost directly across the street from the museum.

The Rosa Parks Museum and Library is part of Troy University and is located on the very corner where Rosa was arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus to a white person. There are two main parts to the museum, but we only toured one, the main exhibit dealing with her arrest and the resulting bus boycott (we also toured a temporary exhibit of artwork while we waited for the main tour to start at 11 AM).

The tour was more of an “experience” than anything else. It started with a short movie that introduced the social reality of 1955 Montgomery, setting the stage for what happened. The movie was shown in a small room on three overhead screens. The walls of the room were covered with pictures and descriptions of the main characters in the boycott.

As soon as the movie ended, two double doors opened to the next room and we walked through to find a reproduction of the bus that Rosa was riding. They had it set up so it seemed as though we were standing on the sidewalk looking into the windows of the bus. Inside the bus, the scenes were projected (like a movie through the bus windows) showing Rosa entering the bus and getting seated, then the bus pulled to the next stop and more people boarded, looking for seats. Another stop later, white people were grumbling to the driver because they were having to stand, and then the driver stopped and told Rosa and the three other black people in her row to move.

It was a powerful experience because of not only the truth of the story itself, but also the way it was presented. It really put us right in the scene, as if we were witnessing it as it happened. The scene continued until Rosa was arrested and led off the bus, and then we moved to the next exhibit that replicated the Holt church where mass meetings were held to organize the boycott. They had actual recordings of the speakers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the congregation singing in the meetings–very powerful.

From there we moved into the next room where they presented the timeline of the boycotts and how they worked. They talked about the car pools, about how the white employers would provide transportation for their black maids and employees, and how the white power structure tried everything in their power to break the boycott.

I learned so much that I didn’t know about this particular part of the Civil Rights movement, and the day was just getting started!

We left the museum about 12:30 PM, and my plan was to go to Touch of Soul Cafe for lunch, but we found it closed (even though their website said they were open on Saturday). Right next door was the D’Roads Cafe, which I had read good things about, so we decided to go there. From the outside, it looks like a decrepit storefront, but inside it’s beautiful. There were just a few other people there, and the waitress told us  we could sit anywhere. Our only complaint was that it was really cold, so Andy had to go back to the truck to get his jacket.

The server showed us the day’s menu written on a small whiteboard (it changes daily based on what’s in season). It all looked and sounded good but wasn’t vegan, but at the bottom of the board was written “Vegan, vegetarian and paleo options available.” I asked the server about those options and she said she would have the chef come out to discuss them with us.

The chef came to our table a few minutes later. She was a short Latina (Cuban?) woman wearing a tan drivers hat, and she was so helpful. She talked about the different vegetables she could prepare. We asked her if she could fix fried sweet plantains, and she smiled a huge smile and said “Of course!”. Then she asked if we were picky eaters, and we said “No, as long as it’s not meat.” She said, “Don’t worry, I’m gonna fix you something beautiful!”

And she did! A little later the server came back with two plates of different vegetables, seasoned slightly spicy, with lots of onion. There was also a small cornbread-type bun, split almost like a pita pocket, that was stuffed with fresh spinach–it was scrumptious. And a little later, the chef came out with the fried plantains, done perfectly.

After our meal, she came back and talked with us for a bit about our RV life, and how she also wants to travel by RV after her daughter gets out of school in a few years. She gave us her business card and told us to keep in touch. Janett Malparlida, thanks again for a wonderful experience at D’Road Cafe!

After lunch, our next stop was the Freedom Rides Museum, located in the old Greyhound Bus station a few blocks away. When we entered the museum, we were greeted immediately by the receptionist, who told us that there two actual Freedom Riders visiting today. She introduced us to Al and Kredelle Petway, brother and sister, who were part of the Freedom Riders movement in 1961. They were in town because Kredelle is participating in a panel discussion about the Freedom Riders tonight, so they had stopped by the museum to visit.

It just so happened that a small group of students and their teacher from Georgia also showed up at the museum at the same time, so they set up an impromptu question-and-answer session where we could all learn about their experiences. Al and Kredelle, along with their father, didn’t ride a bus (I mistakenly thought the Freedom Riders were all on buses). They actually flew on a commercial flight from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi, where they were arrested upon arrival (other Freedom Riders also took trains).

I knew vaguely about the bus bombing, and about the mob violence in Anniston, Birmingham and Montgomery when the buses would pull in. But I didn’t realize that Jackson became the focus of the movement when it became apparent that it was too dangerous for all of them to try to continue to New Orleans. Over 300 people were arrested and held in Jackson jails and Parchman Penitentiary. Their treatment was horrendous. It sickens me to think about it.

We felt so fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to meet Al and Kredelle. They were so gracious and generous with their stories and experiences, and the young students especially were enthralled. I know I’ll never be the same because of today.

After we left the museum we walked around downtown some more, looking at the architecture. There are some beautiful old buildings in Montgomery, including the First Baptist Church and the First Presbyterian Church buildings. There’s a wonderful fountain in a traffic circle from where you can see the State Capitol building up the street.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of downtown Montgomery, but we started feeling a few sprinkles and decided we had better get back to the RV since we had left windows and vents open. We got home and set up our lawn chairs on our “porch” and enjoyed the afternoon–I eventually came inside and took a short nap.

We ate leftover Spaghetti Puttanesca for dinner, did a little route planning for tomorrow and called it a night.

I checked my work schedule for next week, and sure enough, Julie has me booked up with travel on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so there won’t be any re-entry recovery time. It’s going to be a huge shock to the system, going back to work next week. 😦

Gut-Check Tour – Day 14

This entry is part of a series recounting our experiences on a two-week RV trip we took to southern Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. The goal of this trip was to test ourselves, our two cats, and our rig to make sure we all have what it takes to be full-timers. While we posted highlights of our trip on Instagram and Facebook, these entries are some behind-the-scenes notes on our trip and experiences.

Friday, April 20, 2018 – The Woods RV Park & Campground, Montgomery, Alabama

Today was just a day for staying around home, getting some chores done and taking care of some maintenance items.

I spent my early morning working on some bill-paying and bookkeeping, as well as blog entries. After Andy woke up I did some house-cleaning.

While I was making the bed this morning, I noticed that the vent cover on the fan over the bed had a lot of mildew on it. I told Andy that I would get up on the roof and clean it as soon as the wind settled down a little bit. He decided to tackle it himself, so he gathered the cleaning wipes and paper towels and headed to the roof. He did get it pretty clean, but of course the paper towels and wipes were blowing off the roof, so he had to walk around the park picking up his trash when he finished.

He also decided to try and fix the pantry drawer that wouldn’t shut all the way. He did get it to close but it’s still just a little bit wonky and he says he will probably just replace the slider hardware when we get back home. For now we’re leaving the drawer empty in case the extra weight might damage it further. We have what few grocery items we have left stored in bags.

We both did some walking around the campgrounds for some exercise, and were surprised to find a herd of cows grazing in the pasture right next to the campground. Such a bucolic scene!

Cows!

We also explored the small lake at the back of the campground, and it seems like it would be a perfect place for smaller rigs to boondock or for tent campers to set up.

Lake at The Woods RV Park

We had a big salad and some black beans for lunch, and then decided to go out for dinner. I did some research to find out what vegan options there are in Montgomery, and there aren’t many. I found a Thai restaurant, Noodle Cafe in northeast Montgomery that looked good, so we tried that. It’s about a 15-minute drive from the campground, mostly on freeway, and it’s located in a nice strip center.

I had the pad thai with tofu, and Andy had the fried rice with tofu/no egg/extra pineapple. Both dishes were very good. We planned to order mango sticky rice for dessert, but were told that they had run out–all too typical for Thai restaurants in our experience. Don’t put it on the menu if you aren’t going to have it!!

The campground really filled up last night with lots of big rigs pulling in. It seems like every rig parked near us has at least one dog, and so Maggie and Molly are spending a lot of time at the screen door and the windows making sure they know who’s in charge around here.

Tomorrow is our last full day on the road–so sad! I’m hoping to visit some of the important Civil Rights memorials here in Montgomery, depending on what’s open on Saturdays.