in Doing more, Family Time, Her Name Is Lola, Mods & Upgrades, Something's Always Broken, Work Camping

3 years in: RV there yet?

No!

Today marks the start of our 4th year of living full time in The Toad, and I’ll celebrate the occasion by updating last year’s post, which included answers to the 12 Questions We Hear All The Time. Bonus: I’ve added a 13th question to make it a baker’s dozen.

Many answers are still the same; updates are written in this nice shade of purple, and I’ve replaced most of the photos too.

1. Sounds like a lot of things go wrong with the RV. Don’t you miss living in a house?

Yes they do, and no we don’t. Things go wrong in everyone’s RV, from the newest to the oldest, from the high-end to the low — just like in a house. They never happen at a good time, they’re expensive to fix, and although Tim can handle most repairs on his own, sometimes we have to pay someone else to do it — just like in a house.

2. You don’t miss anything about having a house? Really?

Fine. We miss having a bathtub. And I’m not crazy about living without my photo albums and other prior-to-digitization mementos, all of which are in our storage unit in San Antonio. I feel like a big chunk of my history is missing.

3. How many states have you visited in the RV, I mean like, for more than just a rest stop?

By my count, 25: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Virginia, West Virginia, Utah, Wyoming, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Washington, and Oregon, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota. Without really even trying, we’re more than halfway through the Lower 48!

My criteria for counting a state as visited are a bit fluid, which I know will drive some people a little nuts. Did we stay overnight? Long enough to do the weekly laundry? Go on a hike or visit a national park? All of those are valid to me. Just driving through on the way to elsewhere, with a potty break at a gas station? Not so much. 

This map represents our travels from March through June of 2018. It’s not exact, but it’ll do.
I deliberately left out one-nighters, and some of our stops in WA lack labels because I had to zoom out so far to show our path from end to end.
(source: maps.google.com)

4. Have you found a place in any of those that feels like home? That’s what you set out to do, right? Find home?

Yeah… about that. No. We are no closer to finding home than we were when we started this crazy adventure, and that is because we’ve spent most of our time going from one “Hey, come join us for this” occurrence to another, and occasionally finding spots to explore and play between those events. But we’ve spent time with more friends and family in these last three years than we had in the prior 20, so we have no regrets!

Flagstaff, AZ, was a contender for a while, because we liked the size, the landscape, the people, and the vibe, but when a friend posted a few months later that it was 28 degrees on the morning of Memorial Day? Gone. Dead to us. Off the list. No.

And now, Coeur d’Alene, ID, is a contender. Tim spent his high school years there, and still feels a connection to the place. I like it too, and we’d have a built-in network of friends. The city itself is way too crowded for us, but 10-15 acres several miles outside the city limits sounds appealing. And yes, we’d keep an RV so that we could easily winter elsewhere. I don’t see us pulling the trigger on a land purchase any time soon, but the bug is buzzing about our brains.

5. You sold two houses in 2016, so are you just rolling in dough? Must be nice to be so rich that life is a permanent vacation.

Come closer.

I want you to hear me say this: We lost money on both houses.

I won’t tell you how much, because there is not a big enough margarita on the planet to make me feel better about it, but for a total of 13 months between 2015 and 2016? We were paying the mortgage on a house we weren’t living in, waiting for it to sell.

It hurt, I don’t recommend it, and we should probably not be allowed to buy property ever again because we are terrible at market timing. We are relieved to have the homeownership burden lifted, and we are now rebuilding our savings, thankyouverymuch.

House 1, in San Antonio TX, sold in March of 2016.

House 2, in Norfolk VA, sold in November of 2016

6. So… are you poor? Is that why you’re living in an RV?

No. We’re not poor. We are living on Tim’s military retirement pension, and had in fact been doing so for two years before we downsized to the RV, so we already knew that if we maximized use of his retirement benefits while simultaneously reducing expenses, we could make it work. The RV is simply the means by which we are Owning Less to Do More. It could just as easily have been a tiny home or a boat or a yurt.

We’ve also done a little work camping since last year: the stint in Texas paid us in free rent, and our gig with Amazon Camperforce in Tennessee paid us in both free rent and an hourly wage. With those savings/earnings, we were able to pay off the loan for the new BFT, and we are now living debt free!

7. Are you thinking about getting a new RV still?

No. We’ve decided to keep upgrading and modifying this one until… well, until we feel like we’re done. We’ve painted, replaced some furniture and fixtures, upgraded the power system, added disc brakes and a bit of insulation, and I forgot what the hell all else, but we talked a lot about it in this video by Heartland RVs. We’d still like to add solar power, and get an exterior paint job.

In 2018, the biggest upgrade that I wrote about was our flooring replacement. The biggest modification that I didn’t write about was having our undercarriage stuff upgraded to 8,000-pound axles and H-rated tires by our friends at Performance Trailer Braking (and the fact that I used the term “undercarriage stuff” should explain why I didn’t write about it). 

We also replaced our manual awning with an automatic one, helped my brother’s family with some post- Hurricane Harvey work at his house, and went from not-exactly-legal to clearly-and-absolutely legal with our Texas driver’s licenses. I behaved abominably over it. Here’s why.

Practice makes perfect, and I had to practice a lot to pass the driving test required for our license upgrades.
I crushed a few safety cones.
Sorry, safety cones.

8. How about a new dog?

No. We miss Lola, but this just isn’t the right time for us to add four paws to the mix. Besides, we really don’t look good on paper (no yard, no fence, no vet, no permanent address), so I’m not sure a shelter would deem us a proper adoptive family anyway. Now if a dog finds us? All bets might be off.

– Lola –
Oil on canvas by Tim’s sister, Whitney

9. About that “no permanent address” thing. How do you get mail? Or vote? Or go to the doctor?

OK, we do have a permanent address; we just don’t live in the UPS Store where it’s located. We’d already been renting a mailbox in San Antonio for a while before we started traveling, so we just kept it. It’s the address we use for our driver’s licenses, voter’s registrations, vehicle registrations, banking, etc. Every 2-3 weeks, we call them to have our accumulated mail forwarded to wherever we are.

Our medical “home” is also San Antonio, and we return every 6 months for my cancer follow-ups, and anything else that needs attention. While traveling, we are able to make use of military treatment facilities and VA hospitals, thanks to Tim’s 25 years of Navy service.

10. Do you like the new truck?

Yes! Wow, do we love the new BFT (2017 Dodge RAM 3500 dually). We actually rather liked the old BFT too (2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 dually), and would have kept it until death did us part, but… oh wait. It did die. We just chose not to live with it after the major organ transplant.

But anyway, the advances in comfort, maneuverability, and electronic features between those model years are noticeable even to me, and I don’t really pay much attention to that kind of thing. (“Does it start when I turn the key? Yes? Good. That’s all I need.”)

2017 RAM 3500 Laramie Crew Cab 4X4 8′ Box
6.7-Liter I6 Cummins® Turbo Diesel Engine
AISIN 6-Speed Automatic Transmission
Dual Rear Wheels / 17-Inch x 6-Inch Wheels
Black interior
True Blue Pearl exterior

11. How long ya gonna keep doing this?

We have no exit strategy. When we started, we thought it would take a year or two to get all our exploring done and find The Place, but now we’ve decided to play this hand for as long as we can comfortably hold the cards.

Tim is 52, I’m 49, we’re frequently the youngsters of the RV park, and I’m OK with that. If you’ve read our “How we met” story, and are now trying to do the math, let me help you out. Yes, we were young. We married at 26 and 23, had our sons right quick, and that is how we ended up with an empty nest by the ages of 49 and 46.

The way I like to characterize it is that we are living our twenties now. I even got up to a little mischief during a recent stay in an age-restricted RV park.

12. What’s next?

We’ve traveled from Idaho back to Washington for the month of August. We want to do some hiking in the Cascades and/or Olympics, and we want to see our older son and his girlfriend again before we head back to Texas for our autumn round of family visits and medical appointments. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go!

After the first week of October, both the calendar and the roads are wide open.

Oh, the places we’ve seen…
… and the places we’ve yet to go!

13. Do you make money from this blog?

Nope. The only payment we receive is your attention, and so far that’s enough for us.

We have not monetized our blog or any of our social media accounts by accepting advertising, by promoting products for manufacturers, or by using affiliate links. If we mention a product (or restaurant, campground, RV park, etc.) that we really liked (or didn’t like), we do so without the owner’s prior knowledge and without compensation.

We have lots of RV blogging friends who make use of some or all of those income streams, and we encourage you to support them. It helps fund their travels, or at the very least, the expense of purchasing and maintaining their web site. We’ve not felt the need to take this step, but we’re not ruling it out as an option should we begin attracting a (much, much) wider audience.

Oh, and on a related topic, we do not have a YouTube channel. Appearing in and editing video is absolutely unappealing to us, so you’ll just have to put up with our “old-fashioned” ways.

So that’s it for the end of Year 3! If there’s a topic I didn’t cover, you are welcome to ask your question in the comments section below, but keep it clean. My parents read this.


Other updates: We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.

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  1. We just love the rich/poor questions! You just can’t win. You’re either trailer trash or must be a trust fund baby. We, too, are looking for “the place”, but we’re only a year and a half in. We have heard good things about Spokane and headed that way in August to “see about it”. Love the blog and reading about your travels.

    • We spent some time in Spokane in July. It is an old city, with a combination of both lovely and not-so-lovely elements (vagrants, crime) —no different than many other cities of its size. We preferred its “next door neighbor,” Coeur d’Alene. The entire area surrounding the two cities is beautiful!

  2. Thanks for the updates. We, too, are on the road without a plan and field “those” questions very often! Although not as young as you (62), we are frequently amazed at the FullTimers we meet in their 80’s! Love your blog, keep up the good work!

    • Thank you, Susan! I just took a look at your blog too. Our Lola’s last “boyfriend” was the corgi who lived two houses up the hill from us in San Antonio. He made her a better dog. Ha!