Friday, March 25, 2011

Grocery Shopping Tips

Dear Joe and Vicki: What can we do to reduce food costs on the road? My husband and I plan to spend several months traveling in our motorhome. We're always looking for ways to save money. At home I know where the less expensive grocery stores are located and I can control the amount of money I spend on food. Any tips would be appreciated.

Joe: When it comes to food shopping, my job is to push the shopping cart and carry in the groceries.

Vicki: Not only do we try to keep our food costs down, we are also aware of the differences in the foods that are available in various parts of the country. There are grocery items available at our home in Southern California that we know we won't be able to find in other places. We stock up on those items to take with us.

We always start out with several cans of Yuban coffee, for example. It's not available in every part of the country. And, because we especially like Mexican food, we always begin with our freezer full of our favorite chorizo. Enough to last throughout the trip.

As we travel, we try to make the most of the foods native to each section of the country. They usually cost less than in other areas. We look forward to the pork in Arkansas, citrus fruits in Florida, seafood along the coastal areas, peaches and pecans in Georgia and South Carolina. We love the roadside stands that sell fresh corn, tomatoes and other vegetables. Many work on the honor system, with just a sign telling the price of each item and a coffee can for purchasers to drop money into.

As you travel, you will also become familiar with the different chain supermarkets in the various parts of the country. I look for Shaw's in New England, Wegman's in the northeast, Kroger's in the mid-atlantic, Harris Teeter in the south, Publix in Florida, Meijer in the mid-west, Safeway in the west, Vons in Southern California, Fred Meyers in the northwest and, of course, Wal-Mart Supercenters all over the country.

We also have an assortment of supermarket-chain discount cards that provide additional savings. You name a supermarket with a discount card and I'll bet their card is in our RV.

I'm also a coupon clipper, whether at home or on the road. If I spot a store that doubles the value of coupons, I check it out. Every Sunday we buy a local newspaper. The grocery coupons more than pay for the newspaper. In addition, by glancing at the grocery ads for each store, we can get a feel for their prices. As a bonus, the newspaper provides us with a TV listing for the week. Not bad for the price of a Sunday newspaper!

Plan on spending more time grocery shopping on the road than you do at home. Brand names vary from one part of the country to another. It may take a while to figure out which to buy. Also, there doesn't seem to be a really consistent floor plan for supermarkets. We usually have to go up and down every single aisle to find what we’re looking for.

Joe: And, once in a while, when Vicki isn't looking, I toss a bag of cookies into the grocery cart.

Joe and Vicki are the authors of a number of books and e-books about RVs, RVers and RVing.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Full-timing strategies

Joe: Lately, we have been hearing from a lot of folks who are talking about selling their homes, storing their most precious possessions and getting rid of everything else. Why? Because they are going to become full-time RVers. They want to visit old friends, explore new places and spend their winters where the snow doesn't fall.

In most cases, we applaud those folks for taking action to make their dreams come true. Unfortunately, a number of these dreamers have no RVing experience. They have not spent so much as one night in an RV. Or, their only RVing experience has been weekends at the lake and an occasional one or two week vacation.

Too many of these folks have made their decision based upon an article they have read, a website they have viewed or a conversation with someone they met. They have not had the experience of living in a confined area with the same person day after day. They don't know if they will be comfortable driving a large motor vehicle along a busy highway (and they are all busy).

They are making the decision to completely change their lifestyle based upon what they think full-time RVing is all about rather than what they actually know about it. There seems to be this notion that once the "Sold" sign appears in their front yard their life is going to be carefree and without problems or responsibilities.

They think that becoming a full-time RVer is the same as going on an extended vacation.

Now, don't misunderstand. A lot of folks with no RVing experience have retired or quit their jobs and successfully joined the ranks of those who live and travel full time in their RVs. Some have even written entertaining and educational books based upon their experiences.

We have not seen many books, however, by those whose dreams were shattered because they bought the wrong RV. Nor have we seen any books by the folks who sold their house, furniture and possessions only to discover they were not cut out to be RVers.

Vicki: First, understand that when you become a full-time RVer, you are not going on vacation. You are changing your lifestyle. You are not just dipping your toe in to test the water. You are immersing yourself. You want to do some serious thinking. We would like to suggest that you develop three full-timing strategies; an entry strategy, a lifestyle strategy, and an exit strategy.

Your entry strategy is essentially preparation for making the transition from your present lifestyle to a full-time RVing lifestyle. This is where you find answers to the question “How will we fulltime?” A home address will have to be identified. Financial plans formulated. Details worked out about banking, bill paying and mail forwarding. Decisions will have to be made about what stuff to get rid of and what to do with the things you keep. It will take time to research the questions. It will take time to implement the answers. And, most importantly, it will take time to test them.

Joe: Your entry strategy should include spending as much time as possible in your RV before making the move to full-timing. Longer trips will help you evaluate your present RV’s suitability for full-timing. Is it small and agile enough to take you where you want to go? Is it big enough to carry all your worldly possessions and to provide the creature comforts you require? Is it durable enough to handle the wear and tear of full-time living and long-distance travel? You might discover that your present RV, while it may be great for weekends and vacations, is not going to satisfy your full-timing needs.

Longer trips can be used to research and test your arrangements for banking, bill paying, internet service, cell phone service, obtaining medical care, getting prescriptions refilled, and receiving mail.

Trips of longer duration will also help determine if you and your spouse are ready for the togetherness of the full-time lifestyle.

Vicki: Your lifestyle strategy should identify what you will do as a full-time RVer. Where will you go? What will you do? We have observed that most full-time RVers begin as serious travelers. The first couple of years they move quickly from place to place, never staying in one location for any length of time. Their mindset is still like vacationers. Destination, mileage and time oriented rather than simply enjoying the journey. Once they have criss-crossed the country a couple of times, however, they begin to slow down and spend more time in the places that appeal to them. This is usually the time when they re-evaluate their lifestyle. Some will continue to travel, although at a more leisurely pace. Many will look for a home base, perhaps a campground, where they can settle in for two or three months at a time between journeys. A few will find a comfortable RV park and take up permanent residence. And others will return to a more conventional dwelling. Your lifestyle strategy should be flexible. Recognize and allow for the fact that your interests and circumstances can, and probably will, change as you go down the road.

Joe: Your lifestyle strategy can be anything you want. That’s one of the joys of full-timing. As Vicki mentioned, most new full-timers take advantage of their open-ended calendar by traveling. They go to all the places their previous time-constrained lives prevented them from visiting. Some travel with a purpose. They have places to go, things to do, and people to see. Others travel aimlessly, just to sightsee. A number of full-time RVers use their travels to locate the perfect retirement community. Many full-timers, after a couple of carefree years, return to the work world. Some start on-the-road businesses. Others find temporary or part time jobs. A good number become volunteers. Whatever they do, they seem to choose an activity that satisfies their need to be useful or productive, yet allows them to remain in their RV. Be careful here. You may end up back where you started.

A lifestyle strategy should be flexible. It is just a starting point. Your lifestyle will change as you observe and experience what the open road has to offer. You will evolve as you go down the road.

Vicki: Your exit strategy is simply a plan or arrangement that permits you to make the change from full-time RVing to a more conventional lifestyle.

We are acquainted with a number of full-timers who have come in off the road. Some became full-timers with the intention of returning to a more conventional lifestyle when they reached a certain point in life. Most of these folks developed both their entry and exit strategies knowing that, at some time, they would leave the full-time lifestyle.

Other full-timers, over the course of a number of years, have slowly evolved from leisurely travelers, to occasional travelers, to living year-round in an RV park, to moving into a conventional dwelling. And there were others who suddenly found themselves in a position where their personal circumstances forced them to leave the full-time lifestyle altogether. Obviously, the transition was a lot smoother for those who were psychologically and financially prepared for the move.

Your exit strategy simply takes into consideration that you might not spend the rest of your life living in an RV. Our observation is that those who are the most content are the ones who had some kind of exit strategy. Your exit strategy doesn’t have to be rigid. But it should provide you with options.

Vicki: All of our full-timing friends love their lifestyle. They love the sense of self-reliance, the people they meet, and their sense of freedom. You can join them. Do your homework, research, talk to other full-timers. Develop your entry, lifestyle and exit strategies. And take time to enjoy the journey!


Joe and Vicki Kieva are the authors of a number of books and e-books about RVs, RVers and RVing.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rally Camping

Dear Joe and Vicki: We are thinking about signing up for what will be our first rally. What can we expect in the way of camping facilities?

Joe: Depending upon their location, rallies can offer a variety of utility hookup connections. Some will offer full hookups with electric, water and sewer. Most, however, will provide only partial hookups; meaning an electrical and possibly a water hookup. And others will only provide dry camping. It is a good idea to read the rally literature carefully so you know exactly what to expect. No matter what you sign up for or what you expect, however, it is a good idea to show up at a rally prepared for dry camping.

Dry, or self-contained, camping means living in your RV without the benefit of being connected to a campground’s electric, water and sewer facilities. Here are a few tips to make dry-camping at rallies a little easier.

If you have a generator. Ask to be parked in a generator area. You may be given your choice of camping in an area that permits unlimited (24 hour) generator usage or one with limited generator usage (7:00 AM to 10:00 PM for example). Be prepared for the noise and exhaust fumes of your neighbors’ generators.

Operate your generator only when you actually need to. Most of your electrical needs can be supplied by your battery(s) and they should automatically recharge while the generator is running.

Schedule your generator operating time to cover the usage of your high-amperage appliances. Running your generator from 7:00 am to 10:00 am for example might cover operation of the furnace, microwave oven, electric coffee pot, toaster, hair dryer and the water pump for showers. Your batteries will also be recharging during this time.

Check and service your generator before leaving home. You want your generator to be in good operating condition.

If you do not have a generator (or you choose to camp in a non-generator area). You will be relying upon your coach battery(s). Obviously, two coach batteries will last longer than one.

Conserve battery power by limiting your electrical usage. A single 12-volt ceiling light bulb draws about 1.5 amps per hour; a color TV (and inverter) about 12 amps; the furnace fan and the water pump 7.5 amps each while operating. Obviously, the less amp-hours you consume, the longer your battery will last. So turn off unnecessary lights and keep 12-volt appliance operation to a minimum.

Check and service your battery(s) before leaving home.

Vicki: Arrive with your water tank full! Dry campng means you will not have a water hookup so you will have to rely on the capacity of your RV’s fresh-water tank. Depending upon the duration of the rally and the capacity of your water tank you might even consider arriving with a few containers full of drinking water. The two-gallon containers of drinking water you buy at the supermarket work well here.

Conserve water by using the campground’s restroom and showers.

Wash dishes only once a day. Instead of pre-rinsing, use paper towels to wipe leftover food from the dishes. Use paper plates to reduce the number of dishes that have to be washed.

Do not let the water run while showering. At the shower head, turn on the water to get wet, turn off the water while you soap, turn on the water to rinse off. Don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth or while washing.

Use a pan or kettle to capture the water you run while waiting for warm water to arrive at the faucet. The captured water can be used for other washing purposes.

Shave with a battery operated razor.

Eat out more often. Remember to use the restaurant’s restroom before leaving.

Large rallies might have “water wagons” circulating through the campgrounds. They will fill your water tank or container for a fee.

Arrive with your holding tanks empty! You will not have a sewer hookup so you will have to rely upon the capacity of your RV’s holding tanks.

Conserving water will automatically conserve holding-tank space. One method of conserving space in the gray-water tank is to wash dishes in plastic dishpans and then dump the dirty dishwater into the black-water holding tank by pouring it into the toilet.

Large rallies might have “honeywagons” circulating through the campgrounds. They will empty your holding tank(s) for a fee. Most rally locations will have a dump station. Ask for its location.

Take a practice dry-camping trip. You will be pleasantly surprised at how easy it can be.

Remember, arrive with your propane and water tanks full and your holding tanks empty!

Note: Occasionally a rally will only have 15 or 20-amp electrical hookups. You will need a 15-amp male to 30-amp female adapter in order to connect your 30-amp power cord to the 15-amp outlet. Keep in mind that you will have to keep your RV’s total amperage draw to 15 amps or less. It is a good idea to switch both your refrigerator and water heater to propane operation before connecting your rig to a 15-amp outlet. An RV’s absorption refrigerator can draw in the neighborhood of 5 amps of power and the water heater 12 or more amps while operating on a 120-volt electrical connection..


Joe and Vicki Kieva are the authors of a number of how-to books and e-books about RVs, RVers and RVing.

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