Life on Wheels is a series
of classes held in one location over several days to help people
learn about living and traveling in recreational vehicles. This
program is offered in several locations around the US at various
times of the year.
We attended our first Life
on Wheels at Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ, in March of 2008.
There were ten class periods spread over three days with ten classes
offered during each period. We had to choose carefully which classes
we would attend. Because this is a new lifestyle for us, I decided
to focus on learning as much as I could about fulltiming and
boondocking. Because we want to use
primarily solar energy in our RV, Dave focused on taking as many
classes as possible relating to that topic.
Thus Linda attended the following classes:
- RVing Basics by oRV Hazelton
- Boondocking by Greg Holder
- Fulltiming Overview by Gaylord Maxwell
- Extended and Fulltime Travels by Bob Marx
- Considerations in Choosing a Homebase for Fulltimers by Nick Russell
- Snowbird Roosts by Gaylord Maxwell
- Gizmos and Gadgets by Bob Marx
- Camping and Boondocking on Public Lands by Bob Diffley
- Boondocking Tips and Tricks - Living Well off the Grid by Nick Russell
- Saving Space and Weight in Your RV by Adrienne Kristine.
And Dave attended these classes:
- All About Batteries by Greg Holder
- Fire Safety by Mac McCoy
- Fulltiming Overview by Gaylord Maxwell
- RV Discounts & Membership Organizations by Adrienne Kristine
- Inverters and Chargers by Greg Holder
- Is Solar Power Right for You? By Greg Holder
- Solar Savvy: A Technical Overview of Solar Power Systems by Greg Holder
- Generators by Al Cohoe
- Solar Power Forum by Greg Holder
- How to Inspect an RV - A Pre-Delivery Inspection by Al Cohoe.
What we learned, or at least learned to think about:
- Every RVer needs a pre-trip checklist; it keeps you from overlooking something important.
- Buy new tires at least every seven years whether or not you have put a lot of mileage on them.
- Boondocking is camping with no hook-ups whether done in a wilderness area or at Wal-Mart.
- Free sites are not free - you paid for the gas to get to the wilderness area or the goodies you bought at Wal-Mart or the bar tab
when camped at an Elk's club.
- Benchmark Series maps show you what types of land are where.
- Your fresh water supply will be your limiting factor when boondocking.
- You will be happiest fulltiming if you are dissatisfied with your previous life and are adventurous, daring, curious, tolerant, and practical. If planning to do this with another person you must LIKE that person.
- The cost of fulltiming is whatever money you have. You are likely to not make major changes in your lifestyle except for the fact that the scenery through your window changes.
- Pack what you will use, not what you think you might use sometime.
- Figure out how you will handle communications, finances, and health care before you start.
- Figure out your favorite activities and how they will fit into a mobile lifestyle.
- Get rid of as much stuff as you can then get rid of more until everything fits into your RV.
- Weigh your RV yearly; otherwise you will accumulate stuff without noticing.
- Get emergency road service; this is your house we are talking about.
- Get fulltimers RV insurance, this is your house we are talking about.
- The race is over; slow down and enjoy the trip.
- Camping discount programs are good IF you will use them.
- Membership campground systems are good IF you will use them. Don't pay retail.
- Pick a home base because of your needs not someone else's.
- The first year visit ALL the popular snowbird areas and spend a week or so in each area. Otherwise, you may return to an OK one when you could have had a great one.
- The longer you stay in one place, the cheaper the rate for that place.
- There are lots of places to boondock on public lands including national forests, state forests, bureau of land management lands,
core of engineer lands, national wildlife refuges, state wildlife refuges, national recreation areas, fish & game lands, and public utility lands.
- For national forest areas go to headquarters, which may be in a town 20 miles from the forest, and get a map of the forest.
- A lot of national parks are surrounded by national forests - you can boondock free in the forests then drive into the parks to see the sights.
- Use your battery monitor the same way you use your gas gauge; when your batteries are low, figure out how you'll fill up.
- Take Navy showers and use waterless hand soap to conserve water.
- Use paper plates if trash disposal is less of a problem that fresh water refilling.
- Catch water wherever you can and use it to flush the toilet.
- Keep cool at night by opening only bedroom windows and running the roof vent fan.
- Your cupboards are rectangular; if your storage containers are, too, you can store more stuff.
- Canned goods are heavy; buy boxed or bagged food when possible.
- Soft sided containers can be squished to fit.
- Repackage; this includes taking the toilet paper rolls out of the package and stuffing them between things to pad and fill spaces.
- Buy fewer products; vinegar can clean a lot of things as well as be used for cooking.
- Don't bring more dishes than you can seat people at your table.
- How many tools and clothes do you really need? Really? If you can't weed them out yourself, let her sort his tools and him sort her clothes. Hah! You can do better can't you?
- Quake Secure putty will anchor nearly anything.
- When buying gadgets, buy the ones relating to health and safety first. Save the toys until you are sure you have room for them. (I don't know anyone who follows this rule.)
- Use some sort of power tester on the campground power pole before you hook up to it.
- Use a pressure regulator on the campground faucet to keep from splitting your hose and plumbing.
- Use a water filter to keep gunk out of your pump.
- Test tire pressure every time you change camps.
- RV refrigerators don't circulate air well. Buy a frig fan and change it's batteries once a month.
- Have a current BC fire extinguisher. You don't want to clean up after discharging an A one.
- 12 volt DC power needs to be respected as much as 120 volt AC is; it can do a lot of damage.
- Having a fuse close to your batteries is better than having your RV on fire.
- Engine batteries and house batteries are different types because they are used differently.
- Get AGM batteries for house batteries in spite of their higher cost.
- Get a three stage charger: bulk, finishing, and float. (Not the technical terms.)
- Having a temperature compensation system when charging batteries is a good thing.
- An inverter with a charging circuit is superior to having a separate 1 or 2 stage converter.
- A pure sine wave inverter is probably worth the cost because you know everything will work.
- Inverters run most efficiently at 90% usage. Size your inverter so it does that under conditions like running the microwave, water heater, or toaster oven. Use pocket inverters when you need lesser amounts for running things like computers.
- Like other appliances, you can turn off your inverter when you are not using it.
- RV roofs are seldom flat; why would you install solar panels with flat mounts?
- Use UV resistant cables on the roof when installing solar panels to keep them from getting sunburned.
- A combiner box for solar panel wiring will decrease voltage drop while reducing the number of wires that need to pierce the roof.
- Most solar power failures are cause by faulty wiring.
- Voltage and amperage of solar panels determine the speed of recharging the batteries.
- Fuses and circuit breakers need to be DC rated if you want them to work with a DC system.
- On metal roofs you can tape the solar panel mounts to the roof if you use 3M VHB tape.
- Generators require regular maintenance with the first service at about 25 hours of use.
- Funroads.com is a website for service parts, tips, etc. Keep on hand filters, etc., in
case a service facility does not have the ones you need.
- At least once a month exercise your generator at 75% of load to keep its muscles strong.
- Generators get less efficient at high altitudes just like our bodies do.
- Different fuels for generators have different advantages; pick according to your own setup.
- When taking possession of your RV, look at and test everything: structure,
chassis, propane system, electrical system, appliance systems, generator, hydraulic systems, slides, and auxiliary systems. If you
don't know how to do this, bring someone who does. After all, this is your house we are talking about.
In addition to all the things we learned in classes, we also got to meet a lot of people:
- ones we chat with on a computer discussion forum
- ones whose blogs we read
- ones who've published books we've read
- members of the Escapees class of '08
- and others who are just great people.
Plus, we got to go inside people's rigs at an RV open house to see what neat adaptations they've made.
And we got to shop. The
first night there was a free dinner at Beaudry RV where we could
wander through rigs for sale to our heart's content. That was
followed by dessert at Camping World and we all know what RVers do
there. Plus, the convention site included a bookstore specializing
in camping books and clothing. We had a $50 credit to spend in the
bookstore. We used part of it to buy a couple of Nick Russell's
books so we wouldn't mind so much having to miss some of his classes.
He's a funny guy so I would have been content to take all classes
from him if that wouldn't have made me feel guilty about not learning
all the other things I needed to learn.
All in all, it was a great time and we are looking forward to going to our second Life on Wheels.