Beep, beep, beep…I hear it deep in the tendrils of my dream. The sound is pervasive and persistent in my world of sleep; it’s familiar and I am trying to find it. Suddenly, I am awake. It’s the smoke detector going off in my room.
Panic starts to rise in my body, and then adrenaline. I begin smelling the air. No smoke. Feeling the doors between my room and the hall bunk room. No heat. I open the door. Nothing. I move to the next door, between the bunk and living area, smelling and feeling. Again, nothing. I open the door to the living area and there is no fire. But the beeping continues. I am no stranger to an errant smoke alarm going off at the wee hours of the morning due to bad batteries or humidity, so I calm a bit.
I begin to examine the smoke alarm with the light from my cell phone. The panic and adrenaline surge again. Evacuate! It’s 2:30am and I have just discovered that the “smoke alarm” as told to me by the dealership, is actually a carbon monoxide detector.
The kids and the dogs are evacuated to the Jeep and I go back in to try to air out the RV but I am struggling to clear the alarm. I finally call 911 and the Columbus Fire Department shows up. They come in with their equipment and tell me the carbon monoxide is at 80ppm in my room. They help me clear the air and we are allowed back in an hour later.
We were dry camping at a private residence we found on Boondocker’s Welcome in the historic district of Columbus, GA. We had gone to bed with the generator on for comfort, a newbie mistake that could have been deadly. It was a valuable lesson learned and one that also cost me $160 and a 3-hour trip to Camping World to buy a Genturi. It could have cost me much, much more. We were 9 days in to our 1-year RV cross-country adventure. Little did I know at the time this would be just the beginning of learning on the fly.
I went into this new life thinking I was pretty well prepared, yet just about every week, I learn something new. Sometimes its pretty life changing or altering, and sometimes it scares the heck out of me because I realize we were lucky things didn’t go sideways. I thought that I went into this well-educated and discovered very quickly, it’s a huge learning curve and can be a lot to take on.
Definitely take the time to learn about your RV before getting on the road. Know what things are, especially the systems in place to alert you to danger.
My First Year RVing as a Single Parent
My family and I have been on the road full-time for one year; me, my two boys, and two dogs. We’ve stayed the night in 13 states at 39 locations, driven approximately 6,557 miles and spent at least $3,582 on gas. We even stayed overnight at our first Walmart.
Routines have been created, broken, forgotten, and recreated. We are still learning the ins and outs of full-time RV life. I can assure you, there is NEVER a dull moment. And when you think there is, don’t worry, something is brewing. But would I change it? Absolutely not. Except maybe have WAY, WAY more money to start out with. For others new to the road, here are a couple of things we’ve learned in this first year of travel.
The COVID-19 Impact
Understandably, the pandemic has slowed our travels quite a bit, as it has for many. Being full-time has presented several unique challenges. One of those things is backlash over moving, from both the local community and fellow RVers. This is a negative of not having a “sticks and bricks” to go back to. THIS is our home, all 40 feet of it.
We were in California when COVID-related restrictions took effect and we had to make a decision to move to a park that was able to accommodate us for the travel ban. This definitely threw a monkey wrench into things. Everything was getting cancelled; events, reservations, you name it. It made for some very stressful moments for me. I had to make a quick decision on where to move us, but it came at a financial cost.
My kids also missed their two-week spring visitation with their dad. I was looking forward to a few weeks of parental reprieve, but safety was paramount. So much for saving on the grocery bill!
When we were allowed to travel again, it was still stressful because I had to find places to stay. We could not stay at the park we were at. They were not willing to accommodate us any longer. Not because of anything we did. They could get more money for our space retail than what they were getting from us on our discount. So, we had to move.
Have a Backup Plan To Your Backup Plan's Backup Plan
Definitely be prepared for the possibility that you need to change your plans, sometimes quickly. There are many people that live the full-time life who do not plan more than a few days or weeks ahead. I don’t have that luxury, nor do I want it. Well, maybe if I didn’t still have a job. I have to plan. I like to plan. The pandemic taught me that I need to be a little more flexible with my planning. It has also taught me to have a back-up plans for my back-up plan. I had plans called California Plan A, B, C, D, E. In case you are wondering, I ended up on “Oh, Covid” on RV TripWizard.
The boys missed their summer visitation with their dad as well. We now plan to have them go visit for two months over the winter but it’s still uncertain. Just like this summer, I have at least three different trips saved on RV Trip Wizard for the Fall/Winter.
Right now, we are still moving but more slowly and staying places longer. I did make the decision to put us in an RV park near a family we met at Bash in January 2020. We have hung out while being “socially distant”. It’s not been easy. It was also a rather expensive park for us, but we needed to be near people we knew and could trust for a bit. Soon we will part ways, but it is really nice to have friends to be able to kick back and have a few drinks or do things with.
Having some type of trip planning software/app comes in handy. I really like RV Trip Wizard. I use it almost exclusively. It is fee based but, in my opinion, very much worth it. The ability to duplicate trips so I can just change a few stops, track miles, gas, expenses, and knowing what is along our trip, such as hazards, gas, places to see, RV friendly stores, etc., is worth the cost. I also like that the company has really good customer service and is very responsive to making changes based on the input from its customers.
I still work remotely but sometimes this makes things harder. Finding the balance of working, travel days and being able to go see all the amazing things to see can be challenging. The ability to be flexible and adapt when necessary is key here. Planning our trips and sightseeing is something that works best for us.
Understand Your Finances and Have a Contingency Plan
I thought I was being super smart when I started out by paying off my credit cards and having small savings. It was. It just wasn’t enough. My RV had some repairs that needed to be done and over time, I have discovered that things happen. Things break. I feel like they pick the worst moments to break but nonetheless, when they break, either you fix it, or you pay someone to fix it. Unless you don’t need to fix it, then carry on.
I have certainly learned my fair share of plumbing. A broken water pump in December that flooded my lower storage compartments, a burst pex-pipe in March that flooded part of my kitchen and a lower storage compartment, a broken washing machine that required a new washer and re-plumbing the laundry cabinet, a defective dishwasher that would not drain so it was leaking and we found mold, a leaking fridge that needed its drain line cleaned and drain pan reseated, and a toilet that quit holding water because it needed it’s gasket lubed.
With the exception of the burst pex-pipe and water pump, we handled the repairs ourselves. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart but the University of YouTube is very helpful. I also recommend going to small town hardware store for better service, if you can. The big box stores just are not able to provide the personalized service you get from the smaller stores.
I didn’t have the tools at the time to do the water pump and pex-pipe repairs, so I paid a person in the park to do the repairs or to help me. I did end up buying more tools so that I was prepared in the future and we have already benefitted from that purchase.
This is also where having emergency money and planning your finances comes into play. I try to keep around $200 in emergency cash on me or in a secret spot in the RV at all times. I also have a couple of credit cards that have larger balances available just in case they’re needed.
When you live in your RV full-time and you move it frequently, you are bound to have more repairs. You also have routine maintenance. I actually keep a checklist of what needs to be done monthly, quarterly, semi-annually and annually. I have a Class A motorhome, so I have two engines and a generator to upkeep. You need to plan for normal expenses of maintenance like oil changes, tires, fluids, etc. I have incorporated all these things into my budget planning and to save money, my kids and I do every repair/maintenance job we can.
I will say attempting to do AC maintenance in 100° in Utah is not a good idea and that maybe I should have done it when we were in temperatures that barely went above 70° in Klamath. Again, a learning experience. So, while you’re planning your budget and your travels, make sure you review your maintenance plan, too!
Navigating Single Life As An RVer
I’ve remained single since we hit the road full-time. I tried online dating again. I will say that while many people seem to respect the life, and think I was rather “bad ass” for being a nomad, no one made a real effort to connect or try to meet up. There are quite a few that apparently didn’t read my profile, which explains my life, so when we were conversing, they didn’t see how this could work. Having once been a military spouse, I know how to make it work. It just has to be the right person and both people have to think it’s worth it to make it happen. Effort and communication are key.
Maybe someday I’ll meet someone that has a similar lifestyle, or maybe not. I had hoped to meet more “dating potentials” on the road but this life does add an element of uncertainty and for some people, that is a deal breaker.
I am still disappointed that Xscapers Bash in January cancelled the dating game and replaced it with couples, but I’ll eventually get over it. It’s only been 7 months.
Routines Can Be Really Good
So what has changed? Well, we have quite the routine on travel days. It has made doing things much quicker. Everyone knows their job or what they should be doing, even the dogs. My stress level on these days is MUCH, MUCH lower. My younger son has gotten better at helping. I still give everyone a list. I highly recommend having break down lists. It definitely helps when you are trying to leave on time.
We can connect and disconnect the Jeep in around 2 minutes and we now have a routine that includes double checking to see if I left the emergency brake on, again. My 16-year-old learned to drive in a quick 2-minute lesson after we got stuck on a dirt road to nowhere. We had to disconnect the Jeep and do a 30-point turn to get out.
We can navigate almost any gas station beautifully. We are a gasser and are towing so we cannot back up. We usually virtually “walk” the gas station on Google Maps to see the layout and entry points. This usually works out but a few times, it has not. I recommend having a secondary gas station planned as back up in case you cannot navigate into the first one. I prefer to go to gas stations where I have a clear line of sight to so I can abort if necessary. This last trip I could not see it and we had to stop. We got stuck getting out of the gas station and blocked the road for a few minutes while disconnecting the Jeep so we could back up. Stressful but we handled it really well. And my 16-year-old got to drive the Jeep again.
We know exactly how many boards or leveling stacks we need under the wheels based on where the bubble is on the level. We have discovered that putting at least 4” of boards under the leveling jacks makes the RV move a lot less when the 11-year-old is pacing or the washer is spinning.
Solar Power Increases Your Camping Options and Lowers Your Camping Budget
We also had solar installed! This is a game changer for so many reasons. Although I had hoped to use this more by now, we will definitely be trying to “pay back” the investment over the next year by boondocking more. As a single mom, this does make me more nervous to be away from people, but we are trying to connect up with some families for peace of mind. As we stay more places, I will get more comfortable with it. I know we can make it about 10 days right now without dumping tanks. Solar makes it so we don’t have to use the generator as much, which also saves us money. If you are wanting to save money on parks and have an extra element of versatility in where you stay, definitely look into getting solar.
Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy
Miss Frizzle said it best and we live by her words. Although we maybe do a little too much of “make mistakes” but I am a firm believer that mistakes help you learn. The last year has been a rollercoaster for sure but there have only been a couple of times where I wanted to quit. It usually passes quickly. We have stayed in some pretty amazing places and seen some incredible sights. When things get tough, I think about all that we have done and will do. We will continue to live this life until we get tired of it or I run out of money. Hopefully we get tired of it before I run out of money.
Holly Blake is a single mom who travels full-time through the US with her two youngest sons and two labradors while homeschooling and working as a Transaction Coordinator for a Real Estate agent.
As a former military child and military spouse, being a nomad is deeply engrained in her. She and her children set out in September of 2019 from Jacksonville, Florida. She chronicles their adventures on their Facebook page, There and Back Again with the Blake Clan.