Monday, January 28, 2019

Peace, love and family in Northern California

We handed over the trailer and Loretta to the shop to get the body work done and settled in for the long wait. Lance's Mom was kind enough to let us beach ourselves with her in Napa, and the two cats and the dog enjoyed being house-dwellers again, taking advantage of her good nature by asking her to open/close the door all day long. She'll need a new hobby now that we've moved along. And probably new floors because they are wearing pathways in and out.

Mandarins from the Loomis, CA area - the best in the nation
Lance went to check on Loretta and the trailer and got a "we really don't want to do this" price for the trailer repairs - more than the trailer is worth so Lance found a trailer specialist and moved it down the street to a different shop.

We have a long project list but couldn't get much done with stuff being sprawled everywhere - the trailer in one shop, the bus in another with the tools, the trailer contents in Mom's garage in Napa, the boats stored in Mom & Dad's backyard in Lincoln... so we focused instead on being present where we are: visiting friends and family and enjoying Northern California. Dad's finally retiring and so there was an epic party to pull together. And lots of good food and laughter. Win/win.

Gifts representing Dad's long and successful truck-driving career:
a 53' freight trailer, a set of triples, and a double tanker.
The award is for a million incident-free miles,
a truly impressive accomplishment.

In less time than we expected we got Loretta back from Dr. George's RV Repair. They did an amazing job matching the paint and the fiberglass repair is flawless. All in all, impressive work. When Lance went to check on the trailer however, the shop was disturbingly empty and he had a weird moment where he wondered if it was gone for good along with the technicians, they are now almost two weeks late handing it back to us and not returning his calls. Time will tell. Good thing we emptied the contents out before handing it over to the repairmen first but I don't want to start my sticker collection back from zero. Well, on second thought I suppose that wouldn't be the worst thing...

Ladder #3 and the newly refinished bumper, on a peaceful Napa morning
We expanded our Thousand Trails membership to add the California/Arizona zone (another $50/yr) and checked Loretta in to a quiet little park outside of Lincoln, CA. This part of the Sacramento Valley is within a stone's throw of the Sierra Nevada foothills, not far from Sutter's Fort where the gold rush kicked off; it's a very rich agricultural area too; the park is surrounded by walnut trees, almonds, and some sort of wet grasses that are too short and green for us to identify yet. There's a little pond with assorted fish stocked by the park and lonely dirt and grass roads where Chloe can run free. And the birds... oh the birds... they are everywhere. Many folks in the park wander around with binoculars, and I find myself mesmerized by the large flocks that undulate together over the wet fields while hunting just before sundown.

We've dubbed him "sweater cat" and we serenade him
with his own song to go along with Chloe's barking
The neighbor has a pair of cats that patrol the park wearing red sweaters. It makes me giggle every time I see one of them, if they were children they'd definitely be receiving all the bullys' attention. Chloe, apparently is a bully at heart because she comes un-freakin'-glued every time she sees one of them. Funny at midday; less funny at 6am.

Since the boats, paddles and fishing poles are scattered across the state there isn't much for us to do out here at the Thousand Trails in Lake Minden except enjoy the silence, so we are gleefully soaking it all in. Last night we sat with cocktails and watched the sun set, a nearly everyday occurrence in our RV life but a daily habit that quietly slipped by the wayside when we were hotel- and house-guests. Soon enough our trailer will be back (or we'll get a different one if it has truly disappeared), then we can wrap up the projects, pull our stuff back together and make our plan of attack for the Spring and Summer. For now a little downtime is just what the doctor ordered.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Cost of RV Living

We often get asked what it costs to RV full-time. Now that a complete calendar year has gone by in our life as full-timers, I have gathered some real numbers.

As our regular readers know, our rig is a 34' 1996 Tiffin Allegro Bus and it hauls a trailer with motorcycles and we take turns driving a separate chase car. We became full-timers in July 2017. I am a professional bookkeeper by trade and these figures reflect our real figures for the year of 2018.

RV Parking/Resort Fees: just under $1000/mo
Important to note: this includes an annual prepaid camping contract at Thousand Trails parks which we purchased in July 2018; we broke even on the purchase price within the first month of purchase. We will continue to reap the rewards of free (well prepaid anyway) camping through July 2019.

Fuel for the RV: $255/mo
Fuel for the Subaru chase car: $180/mo
Our diesel pusher always gets around 10mpg, regardless of whether it's pulling the trailer or not, city streets or freeway, hills or plains, rain or shine. When it's parked at camp we hop in the Subaru for most of our exploring and photography errands.

Maintenance for the RV: Annual Grand Total of $10,500
Very Important to Note: $4000 of this was for an engine exhaust manifold replacement (part value was only $350, the rest was labor and assorted related parts), the unexpected kicker was another $4000 to repair subsequent damages to the engine caused BY the repair shop when they went in to remove/replace the engine exhaust manifold. So if we exclude the $8000 for the whole Rocky Mountains Cummins Albuquerque fiasco, the figure is closer to $210/month of normal maintenance, which is consistent with our figures for the first half year as full-timers Jul-Dec 2017. Realistically though, our rig is older, and so maybe this $10.5k/yr figure reflects our upcoming reality too, time will tell. In any case it's still thousands less per year than we spent maintaining our house.

Dues/Subscriptions: $57/month
You name it, we are members of it: CoachNet, AAA, KOA, GoodSam, Elks, Escapees, Harvest Hosts, Rever, FMCA, Cummins Club, Costco, the list goes on and on. As each comes up for renewal this year we'll be considering its value to us carefully before committing to another year. So far we know for sure we will absolutely renew Elks and Harvest Hosts because we use these all the time, and CoachNet because although we have only used their services once they were so impressive we became lifelong fans.

Propane: less than $20/month
We didn't do as much boondocking as we'd expected in 2018, this figure will probably go up in 2019 in direct correlation to RV park costs going down.

Internet/phone: $264/month
Yes it is a ridiculous amount of money, but a constant internet connection is mandatory to keep my business running smoothly and we have found wifi at parks to be unreliable. Lance has a Verizon phone and the bus has a Verizon Jetpack which are both unlimited but get throttled. I have an AT&T phone with tethering capability, which is not throttled but running over the allowance means additional $ so we keep a very close eye on the usage, and the bus has a Calyx Institute puck which is truly unlimited and lightning fast when we can get a Sprint signal (mostly guaranteed if in a sizable town, unlikely to get any signal at all in the countryside). We have found that we can almost always get a Verizon signal of some sort but the throttling makes us crazy, so although it is the most reliable provider it's also the plan that causes the most bouts of spontaneous cursing in our otherwise peaceful home. We are definitely looking to make a change here to bring down costs while still maintaining constant connectivity at a workable speed.

Other travel/entertainment expenses: $466/month
This includes hotel stays while the RV was in the shop here and there, a total of four flights throughout the year, planned meals out and entrance fees to events, museums, etc.

Television: $0/month
Totally don't miss it. Not even a little bit. If we want to watch a football game we check ourselves in to an Elks Lodge or a sports bar.

In looking at the coming year, we will likely be making some changes to our traveling style. Like most full-timers we covered a lot of ground in our first year, and while I don't regret any of it we already plan to slow our roll quite a bit in the coming year. This will help in two ways: we will save on RV park fees because monthly rates tend to be cheaper and we'll spend less on fuel with less running amuck.

The bottom line is this: whatever your style of living before becoming a full-timer, it isn't likely to change if YOU don't change. If you are the type who enjoys hiking or paddling in your kayak and pack yourself a lunch, that is likely to stay the same - entertainment dollars spent=near zero. If you enjoy buying new things to fill your closet or are constantly upgrading your home, those habits are likely to remain the same, albeit on a smaller scale. If you enjoy top-notch dining experiences and high-end hotels there are RV resorts that will cater you, too. If you prefer to eschew all of this and live alone on the open range far from human interaction there's a beautiful life for you out here, too. Your monthly budget will follow along accordingly.

We find that we are a little bit of all the above. In fact one of my favorite parts of being a full-timer is that we can change our lifestyle as we feel like it. And take our own bed with us.

****EDITED 1/10/19 to include spreadsheet