Decisions, Decisions – Embracing the RV Lifestyle

by | Jan 20, 2021 | Blog

Fifty years of covering RVs for consumer and business publications made my wife, Lynne, and I quite envious. No doubt we were lucky enough to have spent countless hours testing RVs and working on technical projects—but the itch to get on the road became uncontrollable.
Making the decision to go full time was a fairly easy process. We were totally immersed in the RV lifestyle; after all, that’s what I did for a living my entire career. But hanging up my role as publisher of Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines was not the easy part; I loved my job. We discussed options for a long while and Lynne was growing weary of my inability to make a decision. One day, I had one foot out the door to spend time volunteering for the county when Lynne insisted, “OK, are we going full time or not?” My response was, “Just make the decision.” Ten minutes later, I got a call and learned that my wife had put the house on the market. See how easy that was?

Two months later, we were on the road.

Whether traveling in an RV full-time or on vacations, managing stuff is always an issue. As full-timers, getting rid of material things felt good. Sure, we managed to fill a commercial storage locker with important items like pictures and sentimental items, but for the most part, removing the last item from the house and locking the door was exhilarating. The challenge, of course, was loading the fifth wheel judiciously while leaving a little space for new items needed for the road. We learned from the masters, Bill and Jan Moeller (who are now in the great RV park in the sky), who wrote the book on how to full time successfully—without divorcing. Their secret: Something old has to leave to make room for something new.

I’ll always remember the Moellers’ advice, although Jan’s suggestion to tear off book covers to reduce weight was a little much. Actually, that’s not an issue today; we use a Kindle to store all of our books. Nevertheless, it plays right into the subject of weight distribution and overloading. I’ve been preaching the negative effects of overloading for decades, so there was no way I was going to breach that trust (I’m not a politician).

Overloading the tires and suspension can have severe consequences, so a public scale, like ones at truck stops, is your friend. We still have 1,100 pounds leeway before overloading our fifth wheel, and no, that’s not a pass to start buying things. Adding stuff is not part of the program for us. Hey, you’ll be amazed how much money you’ll save, unless, of course, you drink good wine. The bottom line: Resist new purchases, purge your RV of stuff not used during the year, and weigh the rig, loaded for a typical trip, annually. I do this every spring while getting ready for summer travels.

Moving into a 400-square-foot home required creative space utilization. During the past four years, we’ve made a number of modifications to reduce clutter and provide a comfortable inside living environment. It’s all part of the fun. In our case, we already had the fifth wheel, which was used for short jaunts while I was working full time. The decision was made to keep it for a while and see if it could meet our needs. We could use a few more feet, and adding a washer and dryer would be a desired improvement, but the fifth wheel actually works better than we expected. I guess the lessons learned from the Moellers paid off, as did picking a practical floor plan based on individual requirements/needs. On the storage front, using plastic containers to organize stuff inside the cabinets and exterior compartments makes a big difference. The Container Store is our favorite retailer specializing in organizational stuff. There are not that many of those stores around, so shopping online nets similar results. For us, it’s like a child’s field trip to a toy store.

Some people will tell you that RVs are not made for long-term living, and some manufacturers even state (in fine print) that the warranty will be voided if the RV is used as a full-time home. RVs are complex machines and are often subjected to harsh highways and constant use of the appliances and systems, so things will break. The key to mitigating failures is to adopt a focused maintenance program. Become obsessive in this area. I have the exterior professionally washed and waxed twice a year. The roof is inspected at that time, resealed as necessary and the membrane treated to a protectant; my favorite is 303 (available online and at most RV supply stores). Suspension components are checked for wear frequently and serviced annually, or sooner if we put on extra miles. Watching over appliances and accessories helps mitigate wear and tear, as well as failures, which tend to occur at inopportune times.

The key to mitigating failures is to adopt a focused maintenance program.
We’ve logged close to 50,000 miles on our fifth wheel and, of course, made many improvements before and after hitting the road full-time. We look at replacing worn-out components as an opportunity to make upgrades. For example, replacing the standard hot water tank with a Truma AquaGo instant hot water system makes clean-up and showering much more pleasant, especially if you have long hair and like extended shower time. As a gadget lover, our fifth wheel is loaded with electronic gizmos that enhance livability. An interior camera and temperature monitor allow us to keep tabs, via a smartphone, on our dog when we’re away from the fifth wheel. Alexa keeps us abreast of local weather and answers many of our questions, a cell-signal booster improves phone and data service, and we take advantage of remote controls and Bluetooth for many of our systems.

For me, the RV is more than just a place to live; it’s the foundation for a life-long hobby. I love to tinker and find pleasure in discovering solutions and fixing problems, which might seem strange to some people. Consider the need to make repairs as only a detour in your daily routine. Downtime can be frustrating, but knowing what needs to be done, or better yet, learning how to fix things yourself can make a big difference in the outcome of any trip.

After four years, Lynne and I are pretty much in synch with full-time living. We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary last August in a South Lake Tahoe, California, RV park. This milestone coincides with my entry into the RV lifestyle as a journalist, and we celebrated in the RV park with only a few family members and friends—in adherence to restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Prime rib and fine wine made the event memorable.

Originally, the celebration was going to be the kick-off point for a one-year RV adventure, crisscrossing North America and blogging our experiences, but the coronavirus put the brakes on that, too. Hopefully, a vaccine will put the pandemic in the past and we can head out on our epic RV journey. We’ve got April 1 marked on our calendar for a departure, and can’t wait to hit the highways.

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