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 13

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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018, The Woods RV Park and Campground, Montgomery, Alabama

It’s moving day again, and we’ve arrived at the last campsite of our journey.

I got up fairly early this morning and fixed some refrigerator oats for our breakfast, giving them time to let the chia seeds gel while I updated my journal. We had breakfast and cleaned up the dishes, then I went to get a shower. This time I used the showers in the newer ADA restrooms. These are cleaner and roomier than the ones in the older bathhouse, but only the handheld shower head really worked. The shower head that was fixed higher on the wall was just barely spitting water. Regardless, I got a good hot shower and felt refreshed for the day.

I started getting the inside of the RV cleaned up and ready to move while Andy got his shower, and then he got things ready to go on the outside. This time we did not have any of the issues we had on the last move–he remembered to raise the stabilizers before moving Lizzy off the leveling blocks, and he made sure to disconnect all the hoses and fittings and put them away.

We pulled out just a little after 10:30, but had to stop at the dump station on the way out to empty the tanks. Then we were on our way. I hated to leave Falling Waters State Park, it was such a beautiful spot!

We headed north from Florida into Alabama, and made our lunch stop at Johnny Henderson Family Park in Enterprise, Alabama. This is a beautiful city park that has numerous baseball and softball fields, a lake with swans and a walking bridge, several playgrounds and a splash pad for kids, and a walking track that goes around the lake.

We got a parking spot near the restrooms and had our lunch of salad and pinto beans. It was a beautiful sunny, breezy day with low humidity, so we opened the windows and the door and were completely comfortable without the air conditioner.

After lunch we took a walk around the park on their walking track, and could not get over how gorgeous it was. This was one of the most beautiful city parks I’ve ever been to, and would love to be able to walk here every day.

After our walk we got back on the road. Andy needed to stop for gas for Lizzy, and Apple Maps wasn’t really cooperating with either of us, but we finally got to a gas station where he pumped $100 worth of gas before the pump shut off (37.894 gallons @ $2.639). He doesn’t think she was completely filled up, but it was close enough.

We came into Montgomery from the southeast side, and the part we drove through did not appear to be the best part of the city, although we haven’t seen the rest of it for comparison yet. We got to the RV park just before 4:00 PM, got checked in and assigned to site #205. It’s a typical RV park, with gravel pads, full hookups, and no shade. It’s near the freeway so there’s the background noise of traffic but it’s not that noticeable inside the RV. There’s a small lake at the rear of the property but it’s not visible from our site. They have three washers and three dryers at $1.50 a load. And, they have GREAT Wi-fi!

After we got hooked up and settled in, we relaxed on our front porch for a bit with some wine and snacks, and then I cooked dinner. I made Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca with Chickpeas and Artichoke Hearts, one of my favorite one-pot dishes. I didn’t have any capers to go in it, so we just spritzed it with lemon juice on the plate. It was a good, warm, filling meal, and there’s enough leftovers for our last night here.

The evening was cool and breezy. We tried taking a walk around the park after sundown but it was uncomfortably cold and windy so we only made one loop. We spent the rest of the evening listening to music and reading. There’s nothing I love better than getting into bed with those speakers right over my head playing some good music, and reading a good book until I can’t keep my eyes open. It’s so relaxing!

There’s a lot to see here in Montgomery related to the Civil Rights movement, and I’m hoping that we can do some exploring tomorrow. This is the city where Rosa Parks inspired the bus boycott, where Martin Luther King, Jr. pastored as a young man, and where the Freedom Riders made history. There’s also the first capitol building of the Confederacy which doesn’t interest me at all. Oh, and there’s the Hank Williams museum and memorial. That’s enough to get us out of the RV for a bit.

I’m sad that this trip is almost over! But it has been amazing, and has given me a small taste of what our future life will be like. It will be AWESOME!!

Gut-Check Tour – Day 11

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.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 – Falling Waters State Park, Chipley, Florida

Today was pretty laid-back. We didn’t do anything exciting, but that’s a nice kind of day as well.

I spent some time in the morning working on creating Google Maps of our route so I can start publishing these daily accounts as blog posts. Trying to figure out Google Maps is a challenge, so I felt good when I got the maps done.

I fixed us some oatmeal for breakfast, then we both got showers at the bathhouse. The facilities are certainly not five-star caliber, but the water was hot and plentiful, and the place was clean. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait for a shower, as there was no one else in the bathroom.

Andy fixed us a big salad for lunch, and I made the cashew dressing and heated up some pinto beans to go with it.

After lunch we drove into the nearby town of Chipley to visit Walmart for groceries and to refill our four drinking water containers. Since we eat so many fresh fruits and vegetables, and our refrigerator is small, we need to restock fairly often.

I knew that most Walmarts have good complimentary wi-fi in their stores, so I had brought along my laptop. After we finished shopping, we pulled the truck around to the back of the store, parking close to the wall, accessed the wi-fi, and from there I was able to research and book us a place to stay after we leave our current location. I’ve learned a lot from watching various nomads’ YouTube channels! LOL

After we got back from town and put the groceries away, I decided to take a walk to the crown jewel of this state park, the waterfall. According to the information I could find online, it’s a 1.1 mile round trip hike (walk), so it didn’t seem that it would be too bad, but Andy didn’t feel like it was something he wanted to tackle. So I did the walk myself, and it was beautiful!

The trail starts from here in the campground, just a couple of sites away from ours. The first part is downhill on hard-packed sand with steps cut into the hill using landscape timbers. There’s a boardwalk section at the bottom of the hill that crosses a wet area full of ferns, and then you emerge from the trees onto the beach and swimming area of the small lake. There are some nice bathrooms there along with a picnic area. There’s also a sign saying that there are alligators in the area.

Crossing the beach, the trail continues on a concrete sidewalk, before turning into boardwalk for the remainder of the walk. And not just any boardwalk–it’s NICE boardwalk with railings and the occasional covered bench for rest and reflection. Along the way there’s a plugged oil well from when there was an unsuccessful drilling attempt (they seem to be inordinately proud of this failure), and not far past the oil well is the waterfall.

The boardwalk turns into steps that descend into a sinkhole, and the waterfall cascades over the lip of the sinkhole into a cave 75 feet below. We were lucky that we had all that rain come through on Saturday night because the waterfall only runs like this after there’s been a good rain. It’s not a huge amount of water, but it’s really beautiful, and the air is nice and cool standing on the observation point halfway down into the sinkhole.

I took some pictures and video and showed them to Andy when I got back, and I told him how easy the hike was, so he’s going to go with me to revisit it tomorrow.

We spent some time reading on our front porch, and then I prepared hobo packs for Andy to cook for dinner. I used onion, small yellow potatoes, peppers (red, yellow and green), garlic, and sliced Morningstar Farm Breakfast “Sausage” (veggie) links. (We usually use Tofurkey Italian Sausage, but Walmart didn’t have those.) I added a generous shake of Mrs. Dash Southwest seasoning and wrapped everything up into big foil packages, one for each of us. Andy cooked them on the grill for an hour and they were delicious! This was the first time we had used the Morningstar Farm sausages, but they weren’t bad, and it’s good to know they work as an alternative to the Tofurkey brand.

After cleaning up the dinner dishes (not many since we cooked in foil packets), we enjoyed the evening sounds of birdsong while reading and chatting, and turned in around 9:00 PM.

It’s interesting that we have not even attempted to use the television or watch a DVD the entire time we’ve been on this trip. We both prefer to read, and the television just seems like an invasion of chaos when you’re parked in such a beautiful peaceful space. I don’t miss the TV at all.

Gut-Check Tour – Day 10

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.

Monday, April 16, 2018 – Falling Waters State Park, Chipley, Florida

This was easily our most challenging day on the road yet.

We started off the day preparing to check out of the Escapees Rainbow Plantation RV Park in Summerland, Alabama. Their checkout time is 11:30 AM, which is earlier than most of the places we’ve stayed, but we didn’t anticipate any problem meeting that deadline.

We had a problem with the bottom drawer under the stove, the one we use to store our groceries. It didn’t want to shut all the way, so Andy decided to try to fix it. After unloading the drawer, it took us awhile to figure out how to get the drawer off the sliders. Then Andy spent over an hour and a half trying to figure out how to fix the problem. By 10:15, it still wasn’t fixed, it stuck out further than ever, and we only had an hour to get ready to leave.

I bagged up the groceries and put them on the bed, and I started getting the inside ready to leave while Andy worked on the outside. I made a quick batch of hummus for lunch, and then cleaned up the breakfast dishes. By about 11:00 we were almost ready, and I walked the trash down to the dumpster. When I came back, Andy had already moved the rig off the leveling blocks.

I got in the rig and helped him set up his new windshield mount for his iPhone so he could use it for navigation instead of the Garmin, and I got him connected to Spotify for his Paul Thorn fix. Finally we were ready to go, and I left the rig and got in the Tacoma to leave. Suddenly Andy appeared at my window and told me he had screwed up the stabilizers.

It turns out he had forgotten to raise the stabilizers when he moved the rig off the leveling blocks. They had dug up the ground and gotten bent and twisted when he had backed up. So he tried moving the rig forward, which helped straighten them back up, but they are still somewhat bent. He was able to raise them with some effort, but will likely need to be replaced.

So we were finally able to pull out of our campsite right at 11:30. I was following the rig in the truck, and as we were about to turn onto the highway, I noticed that our brass water spigot was still attached to the city water inlet on the side of the rig. I radioed Andy to let him know, so he stopped and removed it.

We drove a little over an hour on Highway 90 and then I-10 to our first stop, the Santa Rosa County Rest Stop in Florida (mile marker 30). We cut up some veggies to go with the hummus I had fixed earlier, and we had a nice lunch in the rig as it was a little too windy and cool to eat outside. The rest stop was nice, if a  little noisy from the big rigs parked around us. There was a walking path around the perimeter of the property which we took advantage of to stretch our legs.

The second part of the drive was pretty non-eventful. Molly rode under the passenger seat, while Maggie rode in Andy’s lap. We got to Falling Waters State Park near Chipley, Florida around 4:30 PM. Andy pulled up to the gate and got instructions from the ranger. He pulled ahead and left for the campsite while I waited for the ranger to finish a phone call so she could give me the permit tag to hang in the truck. By the time I got to our campsite (#17) Andy was nowhere to be found. He had missed the turn into the camping area. I tried raising him on the walkie talkie but could not, so I turned around to go look for him. I met him coming into the camping area, and then turned around and followed him back in.

We got set up in our campsite (electric/water but no sewer) after using every leveling block we have on board, including the wooden ones that Marty (previous owner) had left us. Andy was even able to get the stabilizers lowered to the ground with some effort and choice words. He met our next door neighbors who seem nice–they have a new-to-them Class B Aspect that they are just getting acquainted with.

Finally we were set up and able to enjoy the surroundings. Our campsite is very wooded and rustic. It’s on the side of the tallest hill in Florida (372 feet) so our cell reception is poor. The bathhouse is decent, with toilets and two showers in each bathroom. They even have a dishwashing station for tent campers (haven’t seen one of those since we camped in Big Bend National Park years ago).

While Andy relaxed on our front porch, I took a walk to the end of the road where we came in, and found that cellphone reception is actually really fast at the top of the hill. We enjoyed our front porch until dinnertime, when I fixed baked sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli/carrots for our evening meal.

We were pretty tired and turned in early. The campground is full but very peaceful.

So we have a couple of maintenance items to take care of–trying to get the pantry drawer to close and replacing the bent stabilizers. Andy was pretty discouraged after such a rough day, but this is not anything we can’t handle, and it’s the type of thing we’re going to encounter on the road when we go full-time. That is the point of this two-week gutcheck cruise, to make sure that both we and the rig are cut out for this lifestyle. We’re learning a lot, sometimes from our mistakes, but we’re definitely enjoying the lifestyle. Today we learned that even when we have a time crunch, it is imperative that we take the time to check EVERYTHING before we move the rig. Checklists are helpful, but only if they are followed.

I haven’t yet made any reservations for our last stop, which will be Thursday-Saturday nights. Most likely it will be in the Montgomery area at an RV park, since the state parks are pretty much booked on the weekends. Andy is not inclined to boondock for three nights. But I need to get some better cellphone service so I can do my research. That will be my task for tomorrow.

Spring Travel Plans and Google Maps

I am SOOO ready for winter to be over! We’ve had colder-than-normal weather even here in the Deep South, along with rain and even a decent snowfall in January. I am so antsy to get back in the RV and hit the road.

As I mentioned in my last post, we decided to keep our 2004 Toyota Tacoma to use as our “toad”, which we will drive separately from the RV. The only precondition that I had for this arrangement was that we would replace the factory-installed audio system in the truck with a new one that has current technology, including Bluetooth capability. Hubby was agreeable to that (and why wouldn’t he be since he got to keep his beloved Tacoma!), and we got the JVC KW-V230BT system installed this week. It sounds great, and it will make it much more enjoyable to drive the truck while Andy is driving Lizzy.

So now we are planning our spring travels, which will be more-or-less shake-down trips before we move into the RV permanently later this year. And in order to give Lizzy (and ourselves and the kitties) a good shake-down, we need more than just a weekend trip to a local state park.

Fortunately, I have quite a bit of paid time off accrued at my job, so I was able to get approval for a two-week vacation in April. Our plans are to head south toward the Gulf Coast and then go east into the northern part of Florida and possibly southern Georgia. Our goal is to become more comfortable with making up plans as we go, boondocking for as long as possible before paying for hookups, and learning to locate essential services while on the road (dump stations, fresh water, propane, etc.).

However, at this point I’m not really ready to just hop in the vehicles and start driving. I need to have at least some idea of where we’re going and how long it will take to get there, especially since I do need to be back at work on a certain date. So this week I’m teaching myself how to use Google’s “My Maps” to pin interesting locations and then map routes between them.

TripMap

First draft of our route for April 2018

I’ve been playing around with the map today, primarily to learn how to use the application. It’s not exactly intuitive, but I found a few YouTube video tutorials that gave me a pretty good overview of how to use it.

The first step is to mark or “pin” locations where you might want to stop along the way. I’ve been using Campendium.com to research possible free/cheap campsites along this general route. We do plan to limit our travels to the less congested areas of Florida, and we know that we will be competing for camping space with the last of the snowbirds who will still be in the area before they head back north for the summer.

After pinning your locations, then you use the “Directions” function to link these pins in the order you plan to visit them, and Google maps your route for you, providing you with distance and driving time between the pins.

As I said, I’m just starting to put our route together, but I can already see just how much time it takes to plan your travels when you have to consider things like road conditions, hookups, proximity to services and amenities, physical demands of driving, and possible bad weather conditions. I think it will be much simpler when we don’t have to worry about being somewhere on a particular date and we can just plan our route as we go. Ahhh…just a few more months!

We do plan to do a short weekend trip, probably to our local state park, sometime in March so we can shake the cobwebs out. We may try to dry camp on that trip, but it will probably depend on how cold or rainy it is when we go.

So that’s what’s going on with us at the moment. We’re making sure to get all our medical, dental and optical needs taken care of before the summer. Andy just got his first new pair of glasses in about ten years, and not a moment too soon. The lenses in his old ones had gotten so cloudy that he was having trouble seeing well enough to drive. We’ve both cleaned up our eating habits and are at good, healthy weights with no significant health issues that we know of. We plan to do our second garage sale in March, and I’m still in the process of scanning paper photos to my hard drive.

The nomad life is calling, and we’re getting ready to go!