It’s been two months and some number of days since we left our home in Raleigh and moved into the R-Pod 192 Travel Trailer. Going from our 1600 square feet four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathhouse to a 160 square feet camper with a cramped shower and a Murphy bed has had its challenges (some of which we anticipated and planned for, and some that surprised us).
But, I am so grateful for this experience. We’ve learned a lot during this time about RV living, our relationship, and needs vs. wants. I thought I’d share a few of the things that really stand out.
1. Even the best couples will fight when parking the RV
We were warned by friends, our dealer, fellow RV owners, YouTube videos, and even pillows. Chad and I are pretty good at dealing with conflict until it comes to back in the camper. The truth is — it’s stressful. When we have a pull-through, no big deal, but backing up is tough. You have to make sure you’re in the space, somewhat level, not hitting other cars. Then it’s inevitable that you’re blocking someone trying to drive by, and of course, every other camper is watching you. Thankfully, after 10 or so times backing in, we have a pretty decent system in place.
My number one piece of advice when backing up is just slow down. Take your time, if it takes three or four tries, so be it. If other people are waiting, let them wait. Also, a quick hint, when your partner says stop, they don’t mean inch back slowly or stop then go again… No. Your partner means STOP, as in you’re going to hit something or someone. It may have taken us three parking jobs to learn this lesson.
2. Always follow the checklist
We have a few checklists that we follow: trailer set up, trailer break down, and a nightly checklist when boondocking. It’s so important to follow these lists and in the proper order. Not choking wheels before unhooking the travel vehicle, for example, can be dangerous. Or leaving the exhaust fan cap open and driving off can leave you without a fan cap. We run through our lists twice and so far, so good.
3. Be flexible and everything is fixable
I cannot stress this one enough. This was a saying I’d repeat a lot when I worked in corporate events, and it fits with RV life, too. If the GPS says you’ll be there in two hours, it’s probably more like three. If you think a rest area stop will be ten minutes, you may open the trailer and see a mess and have to clean it up. Or you blow a tire and have to wait for help. Maybe you pull into a park and someone is in your spot, or the park has hookups on the wrong side, etc. The point is pretty much every trip, something you did not plan for is going to happen. If you’re flexible and realize that everything is fixable (pack duck tape!), then the stressful stuff becomes a tad bit easier.
4. You’ll organize, and organize again
When we first set up the camper, we had an idea of what we might use, and what should be accessible, and what should go where. Well, nine weeks later, I’ve rearranged things three or four times. Some were out of necessity (like when our pantry shelves caved in and we moved our food), but some were because we realize we don’t use certain items as much as we thought we would. And even writing this, I realize I should reorganize the cabinet above our dinette.
5. Everything has it’s place, and every place has a thing
Our R-Pod 192 has a surprising amount of storage (we even have some open space!). Everything we bring into our RV has a specific use and a specific place for storage. The best thing about having less stuff, and all of our belongings having a dedicated space — clean-up is a breeze. It’s also taught us that maybe we really don’t need that much stuff and we have everything we need.
6. The floor will never stay clean
I sweep, I vacuum, I mop… But going outside just tracks more inside (especially when you have a dog). My husband or I just sweep once or twice a day and vacuum a few times a week, and hope for the best. Also, a chenille rug (this is the one we have and the 15 x 23 is perfect for inside the door of our 192) at the door really helps trap the goodies from coming too far into the trailer.
7. Laundy is… relaxing?
I never thought I’d say I enjoy laundry, but there’s something relaxing about going to a laundromat (which often have free WiFi), hearing the whirring of the machines, and doing your loads all at once (one machine for clothing, one for towels, one for bedding). Sometimes we do it together so the folding goes faster, but I’m perfectly happy to do it on my own — and it gives us each some alone time. And, unlike at home where laundry feels constant, it feels free to dedicate just a few hours every 10 days or so to laundry.
8. Full hookups are a luxury
Many RV parks don’t have full hookups, or the full hookups are a lot more expensive. And of course, with boondocking, you have no hookups. Our R-Pod only has a 30-gallon black and 30-gallon grey tank — so, even on water/electric sites, we have to be careful with our water consumption. The good news — it’s great for the environment. The bad news — sometimes you have to choose between a shower and washing dishes.
Now, we have a few tricks to help with this. When on water/electric sites, we wash dishes at the outdoor shower (with biodegradable soap, of course). We take short showers and turn the shower off at the wand when soaping up. And we bought compostable sugar cane plates and cutlery so we don’t have to wash dishes as often.
9. Sometimes a hot shower fixes everything
Sometimes a long and hot shower is worth filling your grey tank and having to hook up the trailer for an extra trip to the dump station. Or maybe it’s worth a full hook up site.
Since we’re in the time of COVID, we’ve been avoiding public showers. However, we’re also very happy to accept the hospitality of our friends and family when rolling through their town and using their hot showers.
10. Alone time isn’t a want, it’s a need
When you’re sharing a tiny space with another person and your furry friend, sometimes it may feel like you are constantly on top of each other (or in the dog’s case, he’s constantly under our feet). My husband and I take turns walking our dog to give the other person some personal time in the camper. We also run errands separately. And sometimes it’s as simple as I’ll sit outside at the picnic table while he sits inside. We’re getting pretty good at reading each other, knowing when the other needs space — but it’s also important to communicate with your travel partner and let them know if you just need a bit of alone time. See number 11.
11. Communication is key
Be it parking the camper, or deciding the next city — it’s important to be open and transparent when communicating with your travel partner(s). When you’re in a tight space, there’s no room to guess if the other person is upset, annoyed, hungry, tired, etc. It’s also a good idea to have specific key phrases and words when giving directions (like for us, a passenger left means the passenger side of the trailer needs to back to the left).
Also, in our case, my husband and I double-check each other when setting up and packing up. Before RV life, I would have found this annoying. But now, I’m grateful that we run through the checklist together (especially since I have an awful habit of remembering to put the grey water cap back on — and he often forgets we need to level side to side before chocking up).
12. Grocery shopping takes creativity and you always need more ice
In the R-Pod 192, we have the Dometic DM2672 fridge. The refrigerator is 4.6 cubic feet and the freezer is 1.7 cubic feet. While large for a 20 foot trailer, it did take some getting used to when planning grocery trips. This means we shop more often than we did at home, but it also means we’re better at planning specific meals. We also notice we rarely waste food because of our meal planning.
We also have an Igloo Max Cold 40 Quart Cooler and always need ice. It’s much less expensive at grocery stores than at the campsite or gas stations, so I try to remember to pick up a bag every grocery trip, because we can always use more ice.
13. Everything tastes better when cooked outside
Cooking in the RV took a little bit of time to master. We have two propane burners inside, two outside, a small propane grill — and, of course, fire pits. Propane needs to become more popular considering its non-toxic nature and its is comparatively less harmful to nature. Nonetheless, we also have a microwave/convection oven. The propane isn’t as sensitive as a gas stove at home, so you kind of have really low or really hot settings. At first, we were overcooking most of our food, but after a few weeks we figured out the nuances. And our favorite is foil packet in the fire meals!
13. Hot dogs are a staple meal
I’ve never eaten so many hot dogs in my life. It’s the perfect quick meal, and they are cheap. Hot dogs (and we prefer ours with mustard, onion, jalapeno) are great for driving days, too, when you don’t have a ton of time but you need a satisfying meal. And they are so versatile, as you can grill, boil, or microwave hot dogs. But the best way to cook a hot dog is on an open flame (we suggest this telescoping roasting stick).
And if you’re in a region where you can get Vollwerth’s Hot Dogs, I’d highly recommending picking up a few packs. We are obsessed with these dogs — and especially the dogs in the natural casing.
14. S’mores are not for us
It’s been nine weeks and we’ve yet to make one s’more. We keep saying we’ll buy the ingredients and finally make some, but it never happens. I guess we’re just not that into s’mores.
15. Flies (and other bugs) in the camper are inevitable
For the first few weeks of our trip, I hung fly tape, I chased flies with a swatter, I convinced Frankie Dog to try to eat them. It became a game to catch the flies, chase them out of the trailer, kill them, etc. But you know what, I realized the flies will always win. OK, maybe that’s dramatic, but I’ve learned to kind of deal with them, smack them when I can, or trust in the fly tape.
I will say, for mosquitos, our Thermocell has been a lifesaver. I’d highly recommend it.
16. RVers are nice and helpful people
There’s a camaraderie in the RV world (whether you’re full-time or a weekend warrior). We’re all sharing an experience and want to help one another. Too much traffic on the freeway? Count on a truck pulling a 5th wheel to slow down so you can merge. Need help backing into a tight spot? Your neighbor will come to guide you. Weird sound in your trailer? I guarantee three people have had the issue before and are all willing to help you diagnose it.
Being in our mid-30’s, we also tend to be on the younger side of RVers we meet, and more liberal politically than most people we meet. It’s been fun being able to share our views, hear other views, and learn from others’ life and RV experiences. It’s given me a greater understanding of why people think differently than me and I hope I’m helping others by sharing my experiences as well.
17. Good WiFi and cell service is sometimes limited
I often see posts about people wanting to disconnect and unplug while camping — and that is an awesome thing to do every now and then. But when you’re living and working in an RV, good WiFi or cell service is a must. Paying a few extra bucks for a campsite with WiFi can be worth it, so you don’t have to drive 20 miles into town for your next Zoom meeting. Also, free WiFi spots are often available in laundromats, grocery stores, and schools.
18. Most campgrounds don’t have online booking
Working in tech, I’m flabbergasted that many campgrounds do not even have websites, let alone online booking. One campground (on their FB page) wrote a paragraph about how online booking is not personal enough, so they prefer a phone. Usually, I’m planning our trips at 11 p.m. and it’s too late to call. Sometimes campgrounds have email but take days (or in one case at a U.P. campground — three weeks) to get back to you. Sometimes I break down and just book us at a KOA nearby, but often I find I cut and paste the same Facebook message asking about availability.
Also, many campgrounds only take cash or check — so be prepared for that, too.
20. We’re still beginners… and always learning
While we’re a bit more confident in our travels and dealing with our rig, we still have so much left to learn. Almost every day we learn something new about traveling, about RV life, about ourselves. At times we feel uncertain or scared, especially the further we get from home.
But it’s a good fear. The type of fear that pushes your limits and allows you to live and experience outside of your comfort zone. We’re growing as people, our marriage is getting stronger, and we’re having a hell of a lot of fun on this crazy adventure.
Are you a full-timer, or weekend warrior, and have a few things you’ve learned along the way? We’d love to hear about it. Leave us a comment below or on Twitter or Instagram.
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