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!
The other day, I was on the computer and dropped my hand down alongside the wall and felt–water.
Water and RVs don’t mix. Most of the materials in RVs are susceptible to water rot. RVs aren’t made of brick and stone, so they need to be sealed and those seals need to be maintained to make sure water isn’t entering where it shouldn’t.
Problem was, we were in Branson during a rain spell. So, was it a leak, or condensation?
I’d noticed condensation on the front windows.
And I’d read that condensation shouldn’t be happening, but hadn’t pursued it. So, here it was and I didn’t know.
I ran my fingers around other windows and seams and discovered moisture at the bottom of the windows. Oh no, eventually that would become more moisture. After all, it wasn’t going anywhere.
After more research, I got a reminder. I should have vented the bathroom when taking those hot showers and vented the kitchen when cooking. Now, that moisture was inside the RV. People also put off moisture in their breath, and we had three breathing people and a breathing dog at the time, so yeah, moisture.
What is venting? Maybe you don’t have an RV yet or don’t know.
Many RVs have fans in the ceiling. The fans are often small and some vent two directions-work as a fan or to pull out air. Our RV, a 2004 Itasca Sunrise 30W, is 30 feet and some inches long, has three vents, one in the living room/kitchen, one in the bathroom, and one in the bedroom. (Yes, it’s not a long motorhome–floor design makes a difference, as I’ll explain in a future post.)
The fan in the bathroom just draws air out, while the ones in the other parts of our home can pull or push air. We made some adaptations right upon purchase of the RV and we’ll cover that later.
When water is produced, venting should happen. So, when I take a shower, I should vent the bathroom. When I do, no condensation forms on the mirrors, so that’s a plus. You can see yourself after showering.
Cooking produces vapor, and also fumes from propane. I should use both the vent in the ceiling and the fan over the stove to pull that juicy cooking air and some toxins as well, away from the rest of the good air.
Things like temperatures outside and inside affect things, as well as pulling the curtains across the front of the RV. When I pull the curtains across those big glass windows, condensation forms. It looks like the water on the mirror after a shower.
When you’re panicking and thinking your RV will melt–which it won’t–but this is our first motorhome and our new baby, it’s not a great time to shop for something to help.
I’d read about dehumidifiers before, in fact, I have nontoxic, bamboo desiccant bags around the RV to prevent this problem. However, they didn’t do the job.
I conducted reverse research. I went to Lowe’s and Home Depot, then researched whatever was on the shelves. Lousy way to do it, but it works too. After trial and error, we located one in the price range other RVers seemed to be recommending, which was around $170.
We purchased a 30-pint GE ADEL30LR Humidifier. The 30-pint pulls that much moisture out of the air in 24 hours. Way!
I’m going to give girl-friendly answers now and then. Not that girls can’t understand, but we’d rather have fun. Men and women can learn from my experiences, and most men will find themselves trying to explain these things one day to their wife, mother, daughter, etc., and less technical explanations make life easier.
Girl-friendly explanation of what a dehumidifier does: freezes the air going through it, then melts it. To do that, it has coils. That’s as far as I care to understand.
Things to consider about dehumidifiers when buying one:
Size of the room/RV
Price might dictate the size you can afford, and if that’s the case, buy the best you can afford.
As far as the size you need, RV forums are vital for understanding what other RVers use and what works with certain types of RV. For our use, it seemed a 30-pint was large enough to work for the entire motorhome. Plus, we had a neighbor who used a smaller one for her trailer and it was still damp, so I didn’t want to waste time with a smaller dehumidifier when I saw moisture on all the windows.
The final factor, proper care of the dehumidifier is my research secret. After reading user reviews, I learned that dehumidifiers can [insert expletive, your choice] your RV up!
When used improperly, they can flood the surrounding area. Take care to follow directions, empty them when needed, and consider what adaptations you make.
For the GE unit we have, I learned that when people didn’t change the water reservoir, duh, they had flooding. Seems as if users might be plugging the dehumidifier in, walking away, and coming back 24 hours later. You’re going to do this with a unit that is filling up with water until it’s emptied?
Now, why isn’t that wise? How do you know how much water it will pull if you haven’t observed? We waited for an hour, tested it. Waited four hours, saw how much it had. We turned it off during our sleep, because we didn’t know how much water it would pull in 8 or 9 hours.
Now, we turn it on until our windows are clear and it can some days pull around 20 pints of water in eight hours or so.
Another problem with our unit is that it’s possible to rig it up with a hose to drain in your sink. I don’t think this would appeal to many women in the first place, because we use sinks to cook and clean. From a practical standpoint, I don’t trust a hose not to slip, and that leads to the flooding problem.
If you’re storing your RV, however, some people are using the hose method because they aren’t there to empty it. This would require you to research a lot to avoid flooding your RV while you aren’t there to save it.
Gerald and I agreed that we want the water in the reservoir and will treat the dehumidifier with cautious respect. Better safe than . . . you know the rest!
How much humidity is good?
Girl-friendly answer: Keep using it until the water leaves the windows and they are clear.
I’m sure some of you want to know the numbers. From what I gathered from forums, RVers were saying between 40-60 percent humidity. After all is said and done, each RV will respond differently.
Though I can tell you about my process for locating information in RV forums later, here is one: iRV2. They have groups of RVers who discuss issues related to RVing, and sometimes, about your specific unit. Another is the Open Roads Forum.
If the GE dehumidifier gives me any problems, I’ll update you here, and if you know of any tips I need, be sure to share!
Update: We used it whenever we had condensation during the winter of 2015-16 and have rarely used it during the summer. We are still careful with our dehumidifier, and only run it when we will be awake or near it so the water reservoir doesn’t overflow. No problems with operation or anything.
During the summer of 2016, the dehumidifier offered another benefit. If we noticed our A/C wasn’t working well, we turned on the dehumidifier and the A/C seemed to work better after that–every time!
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.