After a summer filled with exploring new places, we’ve returned to a familiar location for a few weeks to visit with family, plan the next leg of our ongoing journey, and reflect on our first six months with the RV. We’re both still novice RVers, but we’ve learned a bit during our summer travels that might be interesting to share with anyone following along, or anyone considering the RV lifestyle. Let’s jump right in!
- The RV is both our home and vehicle
This is obvious for many reasons, so let’s discuss this first. We have a Class C RV (a Coachmen Freelander 21RS), which combines a light truck or van chassis with a living area mounted on the frame. Unlike a fifth wheel or travel trailer, we don’t tow our RV behind a separate truck or SUV. We’ve also decided not to tow a secondary vehicle behind our RV as we travel, opting instead for bicycles as our alternate means of transportation. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, we don’t treat the RV like a commuter vehicle – we move from one location to another and leave it parked for the duration of our stay, exploring the area on foot or bike instead. This of course limits our range because neither of us are (currently) hard-core road cyclists. We broke our rule of leaving the RV parked one time this summer to take a day trip to Watkins Glen and Taughannock Falls in New York, but that’s not a practice we wish to repeat. Not only is it incredibly inefficient from a fuel and time standpoint, it also goes against our rule of “if it’s too far to bike, then we just can’t go” while we’re traveling. That being said, I’m glad we saw both of those attractions in New York – but in the future we’ll strive to plan better.
Another commonsense issue with a motorhome is that you’re maintaining both a vehicle and a home at the same time. We’ve been fortunate so far that the only real vehicle maintenance issue we’ve experienced was a nail in a tire – easily fixed after finding a truck tire repair shop. In addition to regular vehicle maintenance, anyone who’s owned an RV also knows you’re constantly fixing, maintaining, or upgrading the living area as well. From replacing sub-par drawer latches, to tightening the hydraulic arm on the entry door, and adding organizational items that you never thought you’d need, there’s always something to do – just like in a traditional home. And when you decide it’s time to wash your car, not only are you washing the vehicle but you’re also washing the entire outside of your home – including the roof. Again, these issues are pretty obvious but it’s worth reinforcing the notion that buying a motorhome does not mean you’re leaving behind the world of home maintenance.
- Length of stay matters
When we first embarked on our summer journey after concluding our visits with family and friends, we planned week-long overnight stays at our first few stops. As we progressed in our travels, the nights spent at each location shrank to four. In some cases, a week was too long at one stop, while at other locations four nights were too few. I’m not sure if we have a solution to this tiny problem yet, but it’s something we’re going to work on as we plan our route south for the winter. I think it’s a combination of what the particular area offers for activities (hiking, biking, swimming, wineries, breweries, etc.) and how anxious I am to reach our next destination. We’ve also considered volunteering as camp hosts or other “workamping” options which generally require a stay of at least one month, so that’s another time period we’ve yet to experience in the RV at a location other than a family home.
- Visit an area for a reason
We had two guidelines in mind when planning our summer route – 1) Visit the Finger Lakes and 2) Explore Vermont. The plan for getting to and from just fell into place as we booked sites at various parks and researched Harvest Host options along the way. While we explored many new places and saw big portions of New York and Vermont, we also missed out on many other sights. Which is OK – we know we won’t be able to (nor do we want to) see every single interesting landmark or visit every unique natural area as we continue to travel. However, when planning our future route we will be more mindful to choose areas with something we genuinely want to visit or experience. This summer we ended up at a few parks simply because they were on the way to Vermont or through upstate New York. While we were glad to visit these places, we occasionally wished we had chosen locations closer to more sights or towns or trails – again, not really a problem because we are able to change our backyard frequently. This ties in with the length of stay issue – certain areas are more suited to longer overnight stays based on what activities, sights, or volunteer opportunities might be available, and we plan to pay more attention to this in the future.
- Solar panels need full sun
This is probably obvious to many readers, or anyone that has experience with solar power, but we definitely learned this lesson during an extended stay under a thick canopy of trees in a non-electric campsite. Our daily electricity demands aren’t very high in general – we don’t have a microwave or television in the RV and we really only “need” to charge our phones – so we can get by for two or three days without charging our small battery bank. We don’t shun electricity – when we’re plugged in, we gladly use our electric kettle to heat water, the induction burner to cook, and our various devices like laptops or tablets. But when we’re running on battery power, we’re more careful of our electricity usage and tend to be conservative.
So when the batteries dip below 75% and the tree cover doesn’t let enough sunlight through to fully utilize the solar panels, then it’s (unfortunately) time to fire up the generator. We prefer to be considerate campground neighbors, and running a noisy generator for hours on end certainly doesn’t please anyone around you. We’ve been parked beside a small handful of fume-spewing, sputtering, droning generators to realize this to be true from experience. So when we needed to absolutely run our generator, we just happened to be parked in a camping loop with very few inhabitants at the time. This won’t always be the case, I’m sure, but when choosing sites in the future we will be more mindful of the tree cover when we don’t have access to shore power at an electric site. Monitoring our electricity usage also presents an opportunity to learn more about amp-hours, parasitic draw, and types of batteries, which can be applied to way more than just RVs in the future.
- Not all state parks are created equal
Our summer travel focused almost exclusively on overnight stays at state parks. We did use our Harvest Host membership quite a bit, especially in the Finger Lakes, but for consecutive overnight stops we chose state parks. Not only are the parks in Pennsylvania different from the parks in Vermont (as we expected), the quality of parks in the same state can also vary. Anyone who’s visited a Pennsylvania state park already knows that alcohol is prohibited, which is a restriction not shared at the parks in New York and Vermont. In most cases the amenities are clearly listed on the park websites, so it just takes a little bit of effort to be prepared in advance of what to expect when arriving at a park.
The biggest differences we noticed so far were between the parks in New York. Green Lakes was by far the cleanest, most modern park (as far as camping sites and bathroom facilities are concerned), with Buck Pond being more rustic – neither of which was better than the other, Buck Pond was more of a quiet mountain retreat, while Green Lakes felt more like a showcase tourist park. But the differences between the two parks in the same state were readily apparent. We’ll continue to visit state parks in our journey, they’ve been fantastic stops so far – we might just become a bit more selective in the future when we have multiple options available.
So there you have it – our list of lessons learned during our first summer on the road. We’ve enjoyed our journey thus far and are looking forward to heading south later this year, and eventually west next year as we continue to explore. My apologies to anyone looking forward to an update with lots of photos – we might have more to share in a couple of weeks when we’re back on the road. As we cover familiar territory over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to enjoy our time spent with family and friends and look forward to new adventures down the road.