Lesson 3: Doggie parents should probably babysit the generator
While many RVs carry their own electrical system, a generator, there are safety concerns you should know about so you can make the best decision for you and those traveling with you.
Our third lesson also concerned our generator, but not the noise it made. It had to do with our pet. Even if you don’t have a pet, you should read this post because it will teach you about one of the greatest dangers RVers face.
Supervising the generator
A generator is a machine running on gasoline. Like most machines, it can burn up. It can also, as I’d mentioned earlier, put off carbon monoxide, especially if it malfunctions.
While in probability, it won’t catch fire or put off too much carbon monoxide, doggie parents should consider that It Could.
Here we were, in the middle of Paradise—the East Glacier area is one of our favorite U.S. locations—and we couldn’t leave our motorhome with the generator running because it wasn’t safe for our dog.
I guess some people might to do this, but gee whiz, if that generator catches fire and burns up Fido, that isn’t one to get over in a lifetime, so living for no regrets here, we did what we had to do.
We babysat the damn generator.
Well, come on, it’s no fun! Six hours a day, we had to be in the RV, not exploring Paradise. Utter bummer.
The six hours a day were from 8 a.m.-10 a.m., 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
If you’re an avid traveler/adventurer, then you know this is the epic ugh.
Notice there are two hours between 10 a.m. and noon to travel.
Then, you have three hours between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to escape.
Since the drive to where we wanted to hang out in the mountains was an hour-and-a-half away, that meant going nowhere from 8:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., taking a brief excursion between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and then finally escaping with limited travel benefits after 7:00 p.m., right?
Umm, no. Remember my previous entry. We had to go somewhere else to continue to run our generator before bed, so we traveled from 7:00 p.m. to 9 or 10:00 p.m., then had to return, move the motorhome, and continue to babysit the generator.
So…this is why it was impossible not to curse.
Can generators be dangerous for people? Yes. Many RVers don’t go to sleep with their generators running, because if it puts off carbon monoxide, you can’t smell it.
Do you know what boondocking is? Did you realize you can camp without being connected to electricity? This way of camping could save you money. Learn from my lessons so you get more enjoyment out of boondocking than I did.
While you may be an experienced RVer, boondocking throws us all for a loop now and then, so I hope every RVer can get something out of this.
Lesson 1. Not being allowed to use your generator as long as you need sucks
Limited Generator Use
When you aren’t connected to electricity, your RV uses a combination of its batteries and your generator.
We also have some solar power that trickle charges our batteries with the sun. At first my husband thought the trickle charge solar was crap. Since then, he’s changed his mind. It keeps the coach batteries from draining out completely.
I want to use newbie-friendly language, so the vehicle part of the RV is called the chassis (pronounced chass ee) and uses one battery, like a car.
The back part of our motorhome, called the coach, has two more of these 12-volt batteries that help run some systems. (When you’re looking into buying an RV, having more than one of these batteries in an out-of-the-way space for it would be a good thing. Ours are under our indoor steps, out of the way.)
Your 12-volt batteries power the light systems among other things and have to be recharged by the generator running and maybe a little bit by a solar charger, if you have one (worth having).
12-volt batteries are charged best by electricity. Since we’re talking about boondocking, that means no electricity, and using the generator, 12-volt batteries, and maybe solar.
One campground we were at limited generator use to a few hours, three times a day. This is the height of suckiness.
A generator takes hours, sometimes a whole day to fully charge your batteries, something that was never going to happen at the campground we were at with limited hours.
During the limited hours we could run our generator, we ran it.
Almost every night, at exactly 7:00 p.m., a ranger would knock loudly on our door and tell us generator use time was over. Maybe we were close to their office, but it was irritating.
Having been RVing full-time around the country for around 8 months, we’d had almost no one knock on our door—at least with bad news—so it was something new and yucky.
We ran the generator to the minute because it charged our batteries, which enabled us to have lights at night and watch some TV before bed.
Every morning, because of the various things that draw from the 12-volt batteries, their charge was gone.
My husband adds that since we used the generator to run the air conditioning because even in Montana during the day it was in the 80’s, that took away from the generator’s ability to charge our 12-volt batteries.
We didn’t get to run the generator long enough to give them juice. We knew this in our motorhome because we have a panel that lets us know how charged our batteries are.
The generator powers much more than our batteries, so we ran our air conditioning during the 6 hours a day we were permitted to use it.
In Montana, July days approached 80+ degrees, and sometimes the RV would get as hot or hotter inside than outside. It retained heat well after the evening cooled.
Finding a good RV campground involves quite a few factors. RVers post reviews of campgrounds online and when you locate one, there are some places that have that special touch. This involves asking about having a good site and doing it early!
We’re in Florida right now and some campgrounds here are reserved a year in advance, particularly in the Florida Keys (they aren’t cheap, either). RV campground reviews generally give you a heads up about discounts, WiFi problems, if they accept dogs or what sizes of dog, type of neighbors you’ll have, etc.
For Branson, Missouri, reviews didn’t offer much help. I wanted my first long-term site to be beautiful. I wanted to have a gorgeous view when I looked out the window, because I work from the RV. Pictures helped me narrow down the campground, and then I had to call ahead.
I started planning a few weeks before and though I didn’t have a date because we were selling our house, I sent an email, asked about monthly rates–most campgrounds offer better prices for week-long or monthly stays versus nightly ones–and informed them of my intention to visit.
Then I told them I loved the view their campground offered and was there anyway I could get a good view?
I think we had the best view there!
While I worked, I looked down the mountain at Branson. I watched November’s yellow and orange leaves fall.
Park environment was another thing and something I’m still learning. But wow, that view!
Want a great spot?
Call as soon as you know you’d like to go. Tell them why you like their campground. Wish you the best luck!
Let me answer some questions you might have about my RV journey, which is currently a two-year adventure across America. I know you probably want to do the same or are doing so. Either way, knowing my story helps you find yours.
How can you take off and RV that long?
First, I changed my mindset–and a lot of RV books begin with that. Thinking small, like the Tiny movie showed us on Netflix (this movie started a tiny house movement!).
Our house wasn’t tiny. It had a 1,463 square foot Ranch home that was built in 1983. It had a five-car driveway and garage, 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. One bedroom was for guests, the other was an office.
The front and backyards had .26 acres that I’d landscaped and gardened extensively. Though I adore gardening, I battled city traffic during the last of the sunlight each day.
We had a hot tub that we never had time to use, and a gorgeous palm tree I had planted as a baby that we hardly ever saw.
Though our house looked lovely by the time we sold it, we hadn’t made it that way until we were ready to sell, like many people. We were so tired from work that home updates were difficult to make.
I hired people to help me clean the house. A heavy workload as a conference planner left me tired and uninspired at home.
Finally, I made a big decision–to move on from my big conference planning job and regroup to find peace again.
Life isn’t about things–it’s about people and places.
I wasn’t sure how to do this, but I had some pension from teaching (I had to retire early from teaching due to hearing loss) and a great employer who allows me to work remotely and is supportive.
We also decided that since our house wasn’t where we wanted to live forever and we had no idea where that was, we could sell the house and find the place we want to live indefinitely.
Selling the house and buying a used RV, while saving money for a future down payment on a home in Anywhere, USA, provided the cash.
We set some money aside from the house sale (which sold for more than we bought it for) for my husband to adjust to RV living and maintenance.
Since I’m still working, I’ll learn RV systems more slowly because I don’t have the same amount of time. And, sigh, I’m not a techie.
Do you have to quit your job to RV? Maybe. More people are discovering remote work and you could perhaps do as I will do, and camp in your work’s home base town every few months.
There is also the option of work camping, which is working part-time at campgrounds to pay for your camp site, electricity, water, and sewer.
Living in an RV isn’t as expensive as a home, but has different costs that I’ll be covering in future posts.
Chances are, with planning, you can find a way to either live the RV life or purchase an RV for your vacations. One thing I have learned is how to make money on selling a house and save money on purchasing an RV, and I’ll share those tips with you in the future.
I had planned to retire and travel the country and stay everywhere I wanted without a deadline. I’m just not waiting to do that anymore. I’m doing it now.
No more getting teary-eyed when leaving Glacier National Park or Alaska. Now we can stay there until we get our fill.
Now you’re asking a tougher question! We initially wanted to stay in Montana first, but we couldn’t sell the house in time, so the cold season had set in and serious snow. Then we thought perhaps Maine, but when I shared that with more experienced RVers and did more research, I learned that there are special considerations for RVs for cold weather. I’d rather arrive their in warmer weather and leave after the first snow.
We like mountains and water and sold our house in November, so I checked out Branson. It had family activities and we wanted family to come visit–my son and mother, alternately.
Our next stop will be Florida to spend Christmas season with my son. I lived in Florida for nine years, so I miss it sometimes, and I have some favorite places. I don’t want to live there forever, either, because I had to throw my coat away after I moved to Miami because I never used it. Going to a warm South Beach for Christmas can be depressing if you live there and it’s not your vacation. No fall, no winter, just spring and summer.
We aren’t quite certain the itinerary to Florida yet (update: it ended up being Pensacola Beach, Melbourne, and Destin, Florida), but will plan it out around 200 or so miles daily, camping en route, until we reach Orlando, spend some time there and then move on to a campsite for a few weeks or a month.
The nomadic life has its appeal, though it’s not a big drain on gas as everyone seems to think. If you drive somewhere and leave the RV parked at camp, and tow a regular vehicle behind, then you don’t have to pay that much for gas because you’re not driving the RV that often, just the car.
Having spontaneity back in our days is a welcome change for us both. There are problems and issues to be addressed too, but we’re happy doing what we’re doing and are finding it better than we imagined.
Well, are you tired of the way you’ve been living your life? Do you want more freedom? More time? More nature? If you’re thinking of an RV lifestyle, whether full or part-time, I can share our experiences so that you enjoy more, fret less.