August 24, 2006

Using Google Earth to find us

I'm also experimenting with another possible feature of this blog. If you've heard of Google Earth but haven't tried it, get a copy soon. It's really spectacular. You will need broadband Internet and a recent-model computer to use it, however.

You can install Google Earth from this link. It's now available for PC and Macintosh. Here's Google's own description of it:

Google Earth streams the world over wired and wireless networks enabling users to virtually go anywhere on the planet and see places in photographic detail. This is not like any map you have ever seen. This is a 3D model of the real world, based on real satellite images combined with maps, guides to restaurants, hotels, entertainment, businesses and more. You can zoom from space to street level instantly and then pan or jump from place to place, city to city, even country to country.

I have used Google Earth to create a "placemark" for the location where we have parked the Airstream. The placemark comes in the form of a ".KMZ" file, which you can download:

Download our current parking location here!

If you have Google Earth, opening this file should allow you to instantly "fly" right to a view of our parking spot! Very geeky ... and fun!

Charlotte Google view.jpg

Now, keep in mind this is just an experiment. I won't be able to do this every day because I won't always have broadband Internet (Google Earth won't work without it). But, if you like it, I'll try to post some of our more interesting camping locations.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the satellite imagery you'll see on Google Earth is not real-time. So you won't see our Airstream. In fact, the image for today's parking spot appears to be at least 15-20 years old. The road has been paved since this image was taken. But, it's good enough for a general idea of the setting.

Try it out and let me know how it works, OK? Thanks!

Subscribe to the Tour of America

Good news! I finally hooked up some easy links on the website so you can subscribe to our weblog without having to remember to visit it every day.

Just hit this page and click one of the colorful little "chiclets" to the left, just below where it says "SUBSCRIBE". You can use Yahoo, AOL, Newsgator, Bloglines, or Inclue -- your choice.

If you have the Firefox browser, you can also click the little orange RSS symbol too, to subscribe using your browser instead of a third-party service. Click below, or click the identical orange symbol that appears in the address bar of your browser. Other browsers may support RSS as well.

August 07, 2006

Where to camp?

A blog reader who shall remain only partially anonymous (Brad A) wrote me today to ask:

Do you use the Passport America discount on your trip? I'm just starting to check it out for our route, and it looks like it'll pay for itself pretty quickly, like a the national parks pass. It's one of those things that seems like such a good deal, it must be a trap- maybe they coax you into a box, and you wake up drugged and are forced to sew Nikes somewhere in the Phillipines.

We just started using Passport America in northern California, when Rich C dragged us to a place in Klamath that offered the PA discount. We bought a PA membership on the spot and the first two days discount paid for about half the cost of the membership.

What we've found is that those places that offer PA tend to be the ones at the edge of town or in the less-desirable spots. That doesn't make them bad, but because of their locations we end up only using PA places once every few stops. I think at this point we have spent about 10 nights in PA camps and 7 or so of those were eligible for the discount rate. That easily paid for the membership, since most nights are discounted to about half the regular rate.

When we are looking for a place to stay, we go down this list:

1) National Parks
2) State Parks
3) Courtesy parking
4) Boondocking in remote area
5) County parks/ BLM camps/ Corp of Engr camps
6) Commercial campgrounds w/ PA discount or KOA discount
7) Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, Camping World, casinos, etc. (if staying only one night)
8) Gas stations, empty parking lots, etc.
9) Commercial campgrounds with no discount
10) Highway rest areas (extreme desperation)

Keep in mind that this list is oriented to our interest in natural areas, socializing, and cheap camping. We don't feel the needs for full hookups unless we are going to be staying for longer than four days. Other people feel differently, so you may not agree with the order we use. Still, with this policy we have managed to keep our campground expenses generally under $300 per month.

Of course, the order of the list can change if weather is extremely hot (A/C needed) or we need to be in cell phone or Internet range. That's why today we are at the KOA in Gunnison rather than at some very beautiful campsites a few miles west of town near the lake. Cell phones don't work over there, and I have work to do this week.

I think PA is a good deal if you camp a lot. Keep in mind that not every place offers the discount every day. Some are restricted to 2 nights, or weekdays only, etc. It works best if you have flexibility in where you want to stay.

We keep the PA guidebook under the front seat with the atlas and the KOA book. I'm planning to add books on Corps of Engrs campgrounds and BLM campgrounds to the pile. Rich C swears by "Don Wright's Guide to Free Campgrounds" as well.

If anyone has a guidebook that they recommend, post a comment here and share it with everyone!

April 18, 2006

Welcome new readers!

Hey, I just noticed we were featured in the Full Time RV'er newsletter this month. About 100 new people have started reading the blog as a result, so I wanted to say "Welcome!" and give you some pointers to information in this blog that may be helpful to you.

First off, if you are searching for something specific, try the "Search" box in the left column. We've talked about a lot of topics related to full-timing over the past seven months, so you'll probably find the answers you want there. As of today, we have posted over 190 times.

Second, you should definitely read through all the Tips and Ideas entries.

Third, feel free to use the "Comments" link below every post to ask questions, or add your thoughts to anything we have said. Your comments are really helpful, not only to us, but to other readers of the blog. Let us know what you'd like us to talk about.

You might also want to browse the photo albums we've posted online. We have hundreds of photos for your enjoyment. They are organized by location, so if there's a particular place you are interested in (especially western parks), check the Pictures link.

Finally, if you'd like to meet up and talk in person, check our Schedule page for the details. We plan to cover the entire USA coast-to-coast at least two more times this year, so eventually we'll be somewhere near you!

March 01, 2006

Securing the Trailer

A reader of this blog writes:

"How do you protect your trailer from theft when you park it in places other than an RV park, i.e. Walmart, or a courtesy park? I often find myself wanting to unhitch our towing vehicle to drive around town, etc. I ordered a Guardian hitch lock, but still feel uncomfortable about leaving our 2005 28' International CCD behind."

That's a good question. We've been lucky enough that most of the time we have been able to park in safe places, but of course that may not always be the case.

When we are outside a state park or RV park, we generally don't unhitch. Definitely not at Wal-Mart -- it's considered bad etiquette since you are only supposed to stay one night, and certainly would be risky. You might also get a ticket that way. For overnight enroute stops we try to arrive around sunset and leave as early as possible.

Courtesy parking is usually safe, but again we don't usually unhitch when we are in a friend's driveway or on the street. If we need to unhitch, we look for a spot that is safe in the sense of having plenty of neighbors around, someone home to watch, or obstacles that would make it difficult to take the trailer. Blocking the trailer in with a car is enough to discourage thieves.

Here at NTAC, the entire complex is gated and the residents are very aware of who comes and goes. Everyone we have talked to has commented on how safe they feel here. So courtesy parking here is an example of one of the better security situations available.

Similarly, when we are in state or national parks, or attending rallies, we consider ourselves to be fairly secure. It's a "safety in numbers" situation.

All of the trailer thefts I hear of are from unattended storage lots. This suggests that best thing you can do to protect your Airstream is to use it a lot! If you must store it off-site between trips, I would definitely look for a gated lot with security and use a good hitch lock (not just a regular padlock that can be easily cut off).

In addition to a hitch lock, consider a set of Rotochoks. These can be padlocked for a bit of additional protection. The trailer won't move with these babies installed!

But having the whole trailer stolen is fairly rare. I think a more practical concern is the contents of your trailer. Most of us travel with a laptop computer or two, plus cameras and other items that would be attractive to a "smash & grab" type of thief.

I have seen many vintage trailers with obvious prybar marks on the door. It's fairly stupid to try to open a vintage Airstream door with a prybar when there are far easier ways of doing it (which I won't mention here), but then whoever said the average thief was smart? If you have a vintage trailer, get a deadbolt installed.

We take several precautions against break-ins. We have a deadbolt and we use it every time we leave the trailer. We also put desirable items in obscure places where they won't be easily found. (Good luck finding my laptop if you break in!) I keep backups of my critical data on a separate hard drive, and I mail home DVD backups periodically. We close the curtains when we are gone. And we often get to know the people around us, so they will notice if someone else comes to mess with our trailer while we are gone.

Scherkenbach .jpg

See what Terry and Mike have done with their trailer? Those are custom vinyl letters, inexpensive and hard to remove. Similarly, our trailer is very distinguishable by its custom vinyl graphics. You might think about adding something to your trailer to make it easier to identify. Yes, such graphics can be removed with a hair dryer, a scraper, and about 30 minutes, but the mere fact of their existence might make a thief more likely to go elsewhere. I'm sure a thief wouldn't want to be towing a "hot" trailer across town with an obvious personalization on it.

January 18, 2006

How this blog reaches you (getting online)

Without a doubt the number one question I get from working people who want to travel by RV is, "How do you get online?"

The short answer is, "Any way I can." Since we travel a lot, we can't count on any one method of Internet access to work all the time. And since getting online is absolutely mandatory for me to do my job, we do what ever it takes to find the Internet, even if it means hitching up and moving onward. Sometimes that means a compromise between where we'd like to be and where we must be.

Normally, I use a cellular Internet system called "Internet in Motion" to get online. It's basically a little black box that runs off the 12v system in the Airstream. With it, I can get online anywhere there is a cellular signal. This service costs $60 per month for unlimited use. The really nice thing about this system is that it can be left on even when in motion, so the Internet is always available. Eleanor gets online from the passenger seat while I'm towing, to look up information (weather radar, campgrounds, parks, etc). The downside, of course, is that if there's no cellular signal, it can't work.

Satellite is an excellent option for people who like to really roam to out-of-the-way places. It has the advantage of working anywhere you can see the southern sky, after about five minutes for the dish to orient itself. The equipment is more expensive-- about $5000 installed. Monthly charges are about the same as cellular. The other thing to consider is that the satellite modems require AC power, which means you have to either be plugged in or have a big battery bank and inverter.

If we can't get online with our IIM system, we run down the list of alternatives:

1) Is it really important to get online during our stay, or can we just pack the laptops and catch up later?
2) Is there a cyber cafe or other wireless hotspot nearby?
3) Can we borrow an office nearby with an Ethernet (wired) connection? Or, can we disconnect someone's computer from their Internet connection for a few minutes?
4) Does our Verizon cell phone work? If so, we can connect a cable to it and get online that way.
5) Can we borrow a phone jack and dial in? (We rarely are reduced to this level, fortunately.)

The point is that it helps to have multiple ways to get online. There are no perfect, one-size-fits-all, guaranteed ways to get online. Sometimes you'll just get skunked, as has happened to us many times. It can be frustrating that the best places to be are often the ones with no cell phone or Internet services, but we regard that as a sign that we should take a day off and go hiking!

If this sort of thing interests you, you should check out the new Digital RV Forum. It's all about digital technology in RVs. The forum just launched on December 28 2005, and I'm one of the forum moderators. Post a question there if you have one!

January 17, 2006

Laundry Tips

Joe, a reader of this blog, wrote to us today, asking: "How do you handle laundry? That has to be a bit of a pain..."

It's not that bad. Every campground host knows where the local laundromat is. And when you're staying near larger cities like when we were in Santa Cruz, there's almost one every mile.

We pick a day to do errands. The first stop is the laundromat, where I take up three washing machines in a row (whites, lights, and darks). We head off to do a half-hour errand while the wash runs, come back, throw it in the dryer, run another errand, come back, fold and go! That way I don't spend the entire day in the laundromat and I can do two weeks worth of laundry including sheets and towels. (When we were at the beach, I did laundry once a week.) It's as simple as that.

January 16, 2006

Routine Maintenance

A reader of this weblog wrote in to say:

" I know your trip is about the experience, not technical issues, but it would be interesting to know routine maintenance needed for a new Airstream on a weekly and monthly basis and your checklist for setting up camp and leaving camp."

Good questions. Actually we have remarkably little routine maintenance on the Airstream. Mostly we try to clean it periodically, inside and out. As I wrote in a previous blog entry, cleaning outside is either a matter of visiting a truck wash or borrowing a friend's driveway. It seems to need cleaning monthly, and more often when we tow near the ocean or in cities. Inside, we use a little Dirt Devil handheld vacuum and a whisk broom, along with the sort of cleaning supplies you'd use in your house. The nice thing about a trailer is that it cleans up fast, so housework amounts to about 15 minutes.

Every time we dump the holding tanks we add a little enzyme chemical and water to the empty tank, to help keep them working properly. Sometimes we add a little Calgon water softener too, to help keep things from sticking to the insides of the tanks.

Every week I check the tire pressures, check the lug nuts for tightness, and look for damage under the trailer. I also need to start checking the battery fluid levels -- haven't done that yet.

About every two or three weeks I clean the pivot points in the Reese hitch and re-lubricate them. That takes about five minutes.

A basic tool kit in the rear compartment handles any minor repairs we need to do along the way. I carry a bag full of tools and supplies: screwdrivers, rivet gun, pliers, hitch grease, pressure gauge, various kinds of tape, glue, cordless drill & bits, and spare hardware (rivets, bulbs, screws, etc). Most of it hasn't been needed -- it's just left over from when we were touring in a vintage trailer.

Pre-departure checklist is another matter. There are many details to attend to, so we have made up a two-page list. It took a few weeks to fine-tune this list (getting everything in order and dividing the work between two people). It includes things like turning off electronics, folding up the step, checking the propane, securing personal items, and closing roof vents. We'll have an article on this subject in a future issue of Airstream Life magazine, with lots more detail.

Once you get the hang of your particular trailer or motorhome, and figure out where everything goes during travel, routine maintenance and packing are a breeze. It all becomes unchallenging, like refueling your car and refilling the wiper fluid. Overall, I think it's easier than a house.

January 14, 2006

Answers to your questions

Since we are in vacation mode through next Wednesday, I'll take this opportunity to answer a few reader questions that come up frequently:

Airstream warranty. A reader of this blog wrote in to ask about the warranty, in light of our faucet problem back in November. The warranty is two years, bumper to bumper. We’ve had a few things fixed on the trailer and Airstream has always served us with a smile.

Tow vehicle. In November, I got a call from a Nissan dealer in North Carolina who said our photo from Wheeler Peak (Great Basin National Park) sold his customer on a Nissan Armada for his Airstream. For us, the Armada has proved to be a very good match to the 30-footer, using a properly adjusted Reese Strait-Line hitch and Prodigy brake control.

The truck has been reliable, with 10,700 miles logged since new at this point. Since we are towing a lot, we change oil every 3,000 miles. Be sure to follow the break-in instructions for towing very carefully regardless of which vehicle you buy. With the Nissan Armada or Titan, you need to log 500 miles not towing, then 500 miles towing below 45 MPH, before you hit the highway.

Email list. Down on the left column you’ll see a link that says “Enter your email and we’ll notify you of upcoming events.” Really what happens if you enter your email is that once in a while I’ll send you a note when something special is happening in the blog. For example, I'll send you a short reminder when we get back on the road next week. It won’t add you to any spam lists.

Tell a friend! If you like this blog, the best thing you can do is tell a friend! We love sharing the experience with people and we’d love to help a few more people become travelers (or enjoy traveling more)!

December 24, 2005

Quick Answers and our Christmas Menu

It's Christmas Eve and the birds are singing in the trees outside our windows.

A few people have asked questions recently, and I wanted to share the answers with all of you:

Q: How was it driving the curvy roads of Route 1?

A: Not a problem at all. The Airstream handled beautifully. Just remember to slow down in the tight curves and obey the speed limit at all times. By the way, we use the Reese Strait-Line hitch with Dual Cam. I think it is a superb hitch and it has worked very well on this large heavy trailer as well as on our previous Argosy 24.

Q: Are we re-greasing our bikes after washing them?

A: So far we have not needed to, but I expect to do that soon.

Q: How is Emma doing?

A: Very well. She has been traveling by Airstream since she was three years old, and to her this is just a normal part of life. She meets kids and adults everywhere she goes and just a few minutes after meeting a new folks she is starting games with them. She talks to her grandmother and grandfather via phone every few days, too.

Q: Can you use Google Earth for the Tour map?

A: Well, we can't, for two reasons, but you might be able to. Google Earth requires both broadband Internet and a PC. We use Macs and we don't have anywhere near broadband capability. Frappr works best for us. But if you want to see where we are, you can get the zip code from our Frappr map or, and then use Google Earth to explore the area.

Q: Will we make a book out of this trip?

A: You never know. I'd want to re-write a lot of it if I were to publish in book form. The original plan was to come out of this trip with a book on full-timing as a family. We might still do that.

Q: Where's my free CD??

A: Would you believe it got lost in the Christmas rush? No? OK, the truth is that I haven't mailed them yet. But I will get on that this week, I promise!

By the way, we have set up RSS syndication on this blog, which is a really cool feature. I've only tested it on the Firefox browser, but it may also work on Internet Explorer. On Firefox, you look for a little symbol in the bottom right corner of your browser window that looks like orange radio waves. Click this symbol and select "RSS 2.0". This will put a bookmark on your browser.

I recommend you put the bookmark on your bookmarks toolbar so you can easily click on it. When you click on the bookmark, you'll see a drop-down list of our latest blog entries. It will automatically update itself so you can see at a glance if we've posted anything new.

If anyone is running Netscape or IE on a Windows PC and figures out how it works on those platforms, let me know and I'll post the instructions here. If you haven't tried Firefox, I strongly recommend it. It disables pop-ups, is highly resistant to viruses, is fast, has many useful features, and it is free. It works on Mac and Windows.

Today we will probably head into town for a museum or something. Tomorrow, being Christmas, everything will be closed and so my plan is to go cycling on the many dirt trails around this park.

Last night we braved the crowds and did a little shopping, mostly for groceries. The result will be two days of fine dining courtesy of Eleanor's culinary skills. We've added a few items to the menu to reflect that we are only 10 miles from Mexico now.

Today's menu: Grilled steak with mushrooms and onions; salad of mixed baby greens with ginger dressing; corn and fried plantains; sugar cookies made by Emma, and Mexican hot chocolate.

Christmas menu: Roast pork with roasted potatoes, carrots, and pearl onions; haricot verts (French green beans) with onions and almonds; grapefruit and avocado salad with honey-lime dressing; hot apple turnovers. Who says Airstreamers never use their kitchens? ;-)

We hope you are enjoying the weekend also. Happy holidays!

December 20, 2005

Budgeting Update

I just tallied up some of our expenses for the trip. Our total campground expense to date has been $848.50, which includes all of our overnight stays from October 1 through December 20.

That's remarkably low, because we have taken every opportunity to boondock and courtesy park. For example, our 13 days at Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora CO cost us $318.00 ($20 per day plus a park pass). But 14 days of courtesy parking in California and Oregon (Nov 5-18) cost us nothing. The savings of courtesy parking are huge, and we appreciate it when people offer us a space. Plus, it's more fun!

Our camping expenses have risen lately. California state parks are generally more expensive and we've had fewer courtesy parking opportunities in the crowded areas along the coast. Paradoxically, the closer we are to cities, the fewer people can offer us a space. Neighborhood covenants, zoning restrictions, and limited parking space are the culprits.

Fuel has been another story. Since we spent most of October and early November logging about 6,000 miles, we purchased about $1,200 worth of gasoline. The way to reduce this cost is to drive less, but in our case we needed to get west before the cold weather set in, and so we had a large upfront expense to get out here. Now that we are here, we are spending much less on gas.

We also bought several 30# tanks of propane due to the cold nights in Denver and other high altitude areas, totalling about $150. Our usage is going down now, as we get into warmer evenings in southern California.

Although everyone focuses on the cost of campsites, the real expense turns out to be meals out and splurges. We can easily spend more on eating out in one day than we can on the campground, and a set of tickets for the family to go to an attraction (Monterey Bay Aquarium, Hearst Castle, etc) typically runs $30-50. We keep that under control by aiming for free natural attractions, like hiking, cycling, visiting friends, and beachcombing. Our ASTC Travel Passport is a big help. It gets us into science and discovery museums all over the country for free. Our National Parks pass is also great.

No matter which way we look at it, it is cheaper to travel in our Airstream than live at home. Of course, if we still had a house back in Vermont it would be a different story -- a life on the road would be an added expense. I recognize that is the reality for most people, but hopefully our experience gives you an idea of ways you can keep the expenses down and have fun while doing it.

December 19, 2005

Our Travel Map

In response to your requests, I have created a map which shows all the places we've stopped so far on our Tour. You can see it by clicking the link below.

I used a new service called "Frappr" to make it. You might note that Frappr allows you to add yourself to the map. But please don't do that in this case, otherwise it will be hard to tell which of the pinpoints are Tour stops and which are blog readers like yourself.

Each "pin" on the map is a place we've spent at least one night. I'll keep updating this map as we travel.

Click here to see where we've been!

December 18, 2005


I'm glad we did take a night at a downtown hotel in San Francisco, but I doubt we'll do it too much on this trip. The rate looked OK when we booked it: $109 per night. By comparison, the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero down the street was $265. So I thought, "Hey, that's a good deal for downtown!"

But let's see how that added up:

base rate $109.00
parking $36.0 (yikes!)
tax on parking $5.04 (they tax parking here?)
tax on hotel $15.26
TOTAL $165.30

Plus the optional extras, which I avoided:

-- T-Mobile Hotspot Internet access for one day $9.99 (I picked up a signal from the Holiday Inn across the street, which gives guests free access for a day)
-- Calistoga spring water in room $4.50 (Eleanor, put down that bottle!)
-- And heaven help you if you make a long-distance call on the room phone.

At that rate, our 9 weeks of travel so far (not counting our week in Vermont) would have cost $10,413.90. Even at the national average or $85 per night, it would have been $5,355. We haven't spent anywhere near that on lodging, with the Airstream, even counting the gas to haul it around.

People ask us about budgeting, but nobody wants to come right out and ask us what this trip is costing. To tell the truth, I don't really know yet. I haven't tallied it up, but I do know that it is less than it cost us to stay home. Our increased expenses (campsites, extra fuel, cell phones, etc) are more than compensated by the decreased expenses (no mortgage, real estate taxes, winter heating bill, utilities, ec). But we'll have to watch it on the hotel splurges, that's for certain!

November 29, 2005

Photo FAQs

Today we spent the day over in Sunnyvale (Silicon Valley) running errands and visiting our old friends in the area. Haven't seen Alex & Nadine in about six years, and their son is now a boy of nine! He and Emma had a raucous good time laying waste to their house, while the adults caught up.

But it wasn't a highly "bloggable" day so I thought I'd take the opportunity to answer the most common questions I've been getting lately about photos:

Q: What cameras do you use?

A: We shoot with two cameras, a Nikon D70 (digital SLR, 6 megapixels), and a Kodak DC3400 (digicam, 2.1 megapixels). The Nikon does all the heavy lifting, and the Kodak is primarily Emma’s camera, but Eleanor borrows the Kodak for family photos. I also prefer the Kodak for bad environmental conditions, like blowing sand and salt on the beach.

Q: Do you do any post-processing?

A: No. I don’t have any post-processing software, and if I did, I wouldn’t have time to use it. I barely have time to shoot, sort, and post them on the Internet as it is.

Q: Do you shoot at higher resolution than you post on the web? I’d like to use one of your photos as my desktop, or print it.

A: The Nikon photos are shot at 3000x2000 pixels. I upload them to the Flickr Photo Album at 800x600 because otherwise it would take too long. But once in a while I post a picture at full resolution so you can have it for your computer desktop, or make a nice print. When I do, I’ll put the tag “desktop” in the Photo Album description on Flickr, so you can find it.

Q: How do I see a higher resolution image than I see on the blog?

A: Everything is stored in the Photo Album. Click on the “Photo Album” link, or visit . Once you are there, click on any picture for a larger version. For most, you can click again on a link to the lower right corner of the page which says, “See different sizes.” This will give you some options.

Q: Can I use your photo for (fill in the blank)?

A: All my photos are licensed under a Creative Commons "Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License." This means you can feel free to download the photos and use them for non-commercial purposes, with credit to Airstream Life magazine. For commercial use, contact me.

Q: How do you get such great photos?

A: (1) Shoot a lot. (2) Know the camera. (3) Travel to beautiful places (4) Delete most of what you shoot. ;-)