Thursday, February 26, 2015

How the RoadAbode Crew learned to RV - Part Two

RoadAbode - How we Learned Part2
If you want to start at the beginning, of how we investigated and learned about the RVing Lifestyle, start at Part One first. We'll wait.....

OK, now that you know the ways we use to figure out and learn how to RV, lets continue with our current methods to understand and keep up with the latest happenings in RVing lifestyle and culture.

Blogs & Websites to read

From researching how to maintain RoadAbode to what destinations to put on our itinerary, there is not better source than surfing the web. The amount of information on various subjects, and niches is astounding. As we use to regularly read about George and Tioga, and occasionally checked in on Louise and Sean of the bus Odyssey (They now live on a boat)  over the last several years there are plenty of groups to learn from. Want to learn about converting a bus? Cold weather camping? Work camping? Boondocking off the grid? Living in an RV alone, as a couple or a whole family coming along? There are websites and blogs that cover each of those specific ways of life. What you read will depend on your specific likes and dislikes, and also the writer's individual styles that you enjoy. Below we share some favorite RV enthusiasts that write. They either write well, or are great resources of information. And sometimes - they are both!

Gone with the Wynns
Right now Jason and Nikki Wynn are the stars of the "Fulltime RVing Life Style" genre. They offer great information, with slick presentation and a fun, easygoing style that seems to come naturally. They offer concise and helpful travel tips through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube- but it it is all aggregated to their website. Their flair and style for telling a story while seemingly having fun doing so is really ahead of the curve.
The Snowmads
The Snowmads
The Snowmads are a young couple currently travelling in a Trek Class A motorhome. When we first started reading their blog, they were travelling in an Airstream trailer. They were not the typical Airstream aficionados where every other sentence dealt with why "Airstreams are better" Rather, they write about the journeys and adventures, the people and places - while they happen to live in an RV. Now that they are in a new motorhome, they are hinting at an Alaskan trip soon.
I'm looking forward to reading  the adventures, and even the challenges that the'll share. They are very approachable and responsive to questions and chats on the various social networks they are part of, so send them an encouraging note or if you have a question about fulltiming, as long as they are connected somehow, they'll probably answer back.

We've recently started reading about this couple's travels. A different style and perspective than the "young'uns" above, and we like it. It reminds us of the style of travel we would enjoy when we decide to go full-time or perhaps snow-bird.While the younger full-timers seem to have had just a little too much caffeine some days,  Maj and Sher are taking it easy, enjoying the moment, and sharing those times on their blog.

We enjoy reading how Cherie & Chris, two veteran full-time RV enthusiasts work and play while on the road. They really give in-depth information on how they connect to work remotely while boondocking or even driving down the highway. Their knowledge comes from real life use of equipment over time. Another area of expertise is off-grid power. The "Technomads" are definitely a good resource to keep on hand if you are thinking of doing yourself. Chris seems to write more of the technical side, while Cherie writes about the RV Lifestyle. They do cross over into one another's realms on occasion.

Honorable Mentions
Below are RVers just getting on the blogging scene, or we only only occasionally read.
Drive Dive Devour - a new-er blog well written with a unique perspective and shows promise. We were introduced to these travellers through posts by the Wynns.
RV Family Travel Atlas - Or RVFTA for short - cover information from the viewpoint of "weekend warriors" with little kids in tow. They aggregate most information onto their website, but the real gems seem to be in their podcast. I'm more of a reader than a listener, so I may not get as much from this young family as I should. They must be doing something right, because they are already on the RV show seminar circuit! They also announced their first RV Rally. The RoadAbode Crew may need to check that out!
Travels with Andy is great to read, lots of tips for living in a class C motorhome, but is not regularly updated. Andy Baird is semi-retired and living in his second Lazy Daze Class C. Read why we thing they are one of the best built RVs out there.

RVPark Reviews
This website has been refreshed recently with a new interface. As the name says, this website is great for checking out and reading RVers experiences with campgrounds and resorts. If a campground has overwhelming  good reports, or has a glaringly bad report, we try to read other reports by the same author, to make sure the "ballot box" is not being stuffed for a campground, or as a vendetta against one. Some complaints are downright ridiculous to read "The floor of the camper got wet because it rained all weekend" is not a campground's fault! Sign up and help your fellow RVers with truthful, concise reports on the campgrounds and resorts you've stayed.

Google Maps
The RoadAbode Crew uses Google Maps regularly. Whether just researching an area, or getting the lay of the land, Google Maps can let us know various routes, distances, and even what restaurants or attractions are close by. If you haven't used Google Maps in a while, give it a try again. Since I have my Google account synced with my phone, searches I have done on my laptop will show as places to check out on my Android Smartphone. You can save personal maps and send to others to let them know your itinerary, or to suggest attractions to visit. When visiting an area we are unfamiliar with, we can check where potential campsites are located in relation to possible itineraries.

YouTube Resources to watch

Now that we use a Chromcast on our television at home, it's easier than ever to watch YouTube Videos and learn about RVing. As we mentioned before, Jason and Nikki Wynn have a great YouTube Channel. Very professional, and as lots of information on various aspects of RV living. They also "video blog" extensively on sights and eateries of the places they visit.
RV veteran Mark Polk with his RVing Education 101 series has been dispensing RV maintenance and upgrade information for longer than I've been RVing. Mark's how to videos are easy to follow. On his website you can also purchase DVDs that detail more handy ways to take care of your RV.
 RVGeeks also have a great perspective for tips and tricks to help maintain your RV. Fulltimers for over a decade, their videos are helpful in general care of RVs, and the special care of Diesel motorhomes. A great plus is the narration is quite professional and to the point.
For all the latest travel tech, and how to utilize, click over to the Geeks on Tour. Chris and Jim teach technical seminars to Southern Snowbirds and RVers at campgrounds and RV shows.They instruct on how to use laptops, tablets, smartphones and the applications to use with them. They record live sessions on their YouTube Channel, and demonstrate how to use various programs. Sometimes you can learn by what does not work for them too!
A recent YouTubing fulltime RVer is Nomadic Fanatic. A more "low budget" take on RVing, Eric is a recent graduate of film school, currently traveling with his cat Jax. Eric's videos showcase some of his day to day activities, travel stops and occasionally his upgrade ideas and repairs. Though I don't agree with all of his LifeStyle suggestions, I have to respect him for living the way he wants, out traveling and enjoying the RVing life.

Forums to join

Though we still utilize and post on forums, as stated in part one of "How we learned" - the RVnet forum interface is lacking and has become clunky over the years. Readers cannot "favorite" or "upvote" those authors that post good information. Since the interface doe not thread sub-discussions in a topic, in long or popular topics it can be difficult to understand which statement a poster is responding to. Lastly, the interface does not format well on a smartphone screen. The pluses of this forum include how it is subdivided into sub-forums, the dedicated moderators that keep things on track in each sub-forum, and the vast archive of  information available. iRV2 forum has a similar thread system, but seems to have less posts.
RVillage Logo
A Forum for RVers, by RVers
We've recently started reading two other websites with RVing based forums. They look promising.  Is a social network specifically for RVers. The interface to comment has a Facebook feel, with the ability to like and reply to information others have posted. The forums, which are called Groups, of the "RVillagers" are quite diverse, and we are not yet sure whether this is good or bad. I'm still mostly in "lurking mode" on this website, meaning I'm checking things out, getting a feel for the quality of information, but not posting very much yet. Right now we find the assortment of Groups available overwhelming, and I'm trying to go through them to see which our particular RVLife fit into. RVillage does format nicely on a smartphone, and I'm hoping the information and posts will grow and be a cool resource and great way to connect with other RVers.
 GoRving Sub Category Reddit
Reddit GoRving is a sub grouping of the much larger community. The site as a whole is a collection of entries submitted by its registered users, essentially a bulletin board system. The name "Reddit" is a play-on-words with the phrase "read it". Where RVillage has the feel of a growing, helpful community, Reddit GoRVing is a gun slingin' old wild west town. Inhabited by mostly younger millennials they come here looking for information from one another and encouragement on RVing. Most are looking to live and travel as cheaply as possible.  There are also seem to be more "trolls" on the Reddit GoRving forum. These are people taking the conversations off topic, or purposely trying to get someone flustered about a post. It's helpful that you can "upvote" or "downvote" content as being useful, but sometimes the trolls take advantage of the system. Moderators help, but it still feels like the wild west some days.

Talk to other RVers

Whether at RV Shows, online, at a rally or around a campfire, hearing other's experiences, tips and tricks can help you have more fun in your RV. Just knowing that another "regular" guy or gal has or is working through the same issue as yourself can be a confidence booster. As you become more experienced, it's always a great feeling to be able to "pay it forward". We've helped others with anything from a roll of paper towels, to spare sewer parts. As a whole, the RV community is a pretty friendly and helpful bunch. Plus, most times you are catching each other at a really good time - out enjoying some R&R with family and friends.

By Doing

This is probably the big one. The scary one for some people. You just have to do it. Connect that hose, test that battery, check those tires. We have learned to replaced a step, installed an inverter and a new entertainment system. Replaced vent covers and troubleshot power to our refrigerator (Was a GFI in the bathroom). I've almost flooded RoadAbode's basement because I forgot to replace my winterizing plug. I've lost a few of Molly's tie ups because I left them and forgot to do a sweep of our campsite. Good or bad, I own and learn from my decisions.
Like anything else in life, you can read, watch and talk about something all you want, but until you experience it you will really never know how to do. The words "experience" and "expert" derive from the same root for a reason! Get out there, make good choices, own a few mistakes - and you'l find it's a life worth learning about. Enjoy!

So how have you learned about RVing? Can you recomend or use any important resources we've left out? A favorite YouTube Channel or Website? We'd love to learn more! Please comment and share below.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How the RoadAbode Crew learned to RV ~ Part One

RoadaBode - How we Learned to RV

We've been RVing as a family for over a decade now. Our girls have grown up looking forward and helping to plan our family RVing trips. In conversation, friends have asked "Why RVing, what made you start?" None of our close family  RVs. We didn't grow up RVing or have friends that RV. We did enjoy tent camping, but what started us on our journey to the RVing Lifestyle? Where did we learn how to do this "stuff" that you only do with RVs? And most importantly, where and how do we learn now? 
As said before, we've been RVing over ten years, but the journey to where we are now started a few years before then.  We were volunteers with our church's youth group and took them to a long weekend music festival in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania. Think "Christian Woodstock" and you have a pretty good idea. We had a great time the first two days - but then hard rain storms came - and didn't stop. No matter what we did - we were pretty cramped and moist in our tents. After our damp camping experience, we still tent camped together as a family, but I started yearning for a more enjoyable experience for our young girls. Part of that led me to researching RV trailers on line. Below are the top resources I used in the early 2000s - some which we still use today.

How we learned back then

  • Before even owning RoadAbode, one blogger that really got me personally interested in the RVing Lifestyle was George and Tioga. I think George's story is an inspiring one, full of triumph and struggle.George was a cancer survivor, and promised himself that if he beat his cancer, he would travel by RV. Thus began the Adventures of George and Ms. Tioga, his 29 foot Class C motorhome. George had a quirky third person way of writing sometimes, but he wrote every day. The good choices, and the bad. Joys and heartache. George chronicled the daily ins and outs of his nomadic life through the Western United States, and later almost exclusively in Mexico. George is now stationary in Mexico, and no longer lives in Ms. Tioga.
    George still occasionally writes. Read his blog (especially the years of archives) to discover the hows and whys of his past RVing lifestyle, and transition to living in Mexico. 
  • Another resource on the internet was forums. A forum is a place to ask questions, offer opinions or give assistance to others. I waited for almost a year before posting, just weekly reading the RVnet forums and soaking in the common issues that happen to RVers. The information was great for a total novice like myself. I had no family or friends to ask about how to do things, so the forum let me see some issues I possibly would be running into, what to watch out for when buying an RV and the ways to care and maintain an RV. The site is broken up into "sub-forums" for certain areas of interest. Class A, Class C, 5th Wheel, Trailers, RVing Lifestyle, Workcamping, Attractions Campgrounds and many more areas of interest are covered.
    I still read and answer questions on the RVnet forum, but feel there are problems with the site. The style has not updated with the times. It looks basically the same as over ten years ago. Sometimes, it is offline for "maintenance." The site is clunky on mobile devices. And some members seem not to get the idea that this forum is a place to gather and share information, for both novices and those that have experience. Recently I asked for information for things to do, and recommendations of places to eat in Delaware near the Rehoboth Beach  area. I posted in the correct sub-forum and tried to be as clear about what I was looking for. The first responder told me to "Google it!" This is not what the forum is for,.After, there were lots of people with helpful suggestions, but if I was a "newbie" this could be quite off putting. This is a place to offer assistance. I was looking for the opinions of those like myself, that were of an "RVing Lifesyle" mindset. This is the exchange. This is not a one-time thing, it happens frequently.
    Another bit of information about RVnet - if you see forums online from Trailer-life, Woodalls, Good Sam or Motorhome magazine, they are all front-end portals to the same database of information. seems to be the one that updates first and then pushes the information and syncs with the others.
  • Throughout our camping experience after the music festival, I would talk to Amy and our girls of the possibilities of having an RV. Whether a small trailer or motorhome to call our own. I was not sure, but I tried to instill in them that our camping trips could be fun and more comfortable. The first time I saw them realizing how an RV could make camping a different experience, and really excited was our first RV shoow. Back in the early 2000s the RV Show closest to us was based in the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg PA. We planned a road trip weekend and stayed at budget hotel outside town.
    What we thought we wanted back then - Trail Manor Foldable
    When we entered the RV Show we were overwhelmed by the variety and amount of RVs available. We were really interested in seeing a Trail Manor trailer. Our then current van could tow it (barely) and I liked the idea of a folding, hard-sided home on wheels. We were able to try the process of folding one out. I tried to think how would it be folding out in rain. I didn't like the idea as much as I did "on paper." Going to the RV Show helped to see lots of styles and quality of RVs uin one place.
    We looked at everything, from small trailers, pop-ups, and then Class C and A motorhomes. It was looking and sitting in motorhomes that excited us all the most. The girls imagined how they would sleep in the bunks, while Amy and I dreamed of the adventures we could do as a family. Being "self contained" really seemed to suit our desires. We just had to figure out how to afford one!
  • I started to research online RV dealers. Back then there were fewer choices in our area to check out on the internet as there are now. Between the pricing information at the RV Show we had attended, and the online RV dealers we started to get a sense of pricing. I also researched on Ebay, but only looked at closed or completed sales. This gave us more of an indicator what was a good value in the used market. It was one of those online dealers that we found about used rental motorhomes. It's how we found RoadAbode.
  • For campgrounds, besides looking at recommendations on RVnet, we also  found RV Park Reviews. A simple website, it's a good starting point to find some other RVers likes and dislikes about a park. Just like other review sites, there are some people that only post poor reviews, or seem to have a personal problem with a park. Some people seem extremely nit-picky. We try to read other reviews the person has written. Do they seem to have a vindictive way about them, or are other reviews of the same camp resort on par with their feelings? The way we research and ask questions, in the time we've been RVing, we've only had a few experiences where we felt a campground could have done better. And anyway, a bad day of camping still beats a good day at work!
  • We love to read in our family, and researching by books was still the way I gathered information. I still read books, but now they are electronically on my handheld device, rather than ink and paper. In our early years, I read not just RV Repair & Maintenance of the plumbing and electrical systems of an Recreational Vehicle, but also books about RV travel, like Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley" and Least-Heat Moon's "Blue Highways."  These are still favorite books today.
  • After purchasing RoadAbode, I subscribed to Motorhome Magazine. I was always excited to read the latest articles, or check out new features. Since we also have Good Sam Road Service we would get the Good Sam quarterly magazine as part of the service..They were fun magazines to read, but most information is available on line now.
  • We've only purchased one DVD to learn how to do things for our RV. That was on how to setup our Towbar to tow our Honda behind RoadAbode. Mark Polk of RV Education 101 has some great DVDs, and does plenty of how-to videos for RV companies and manufacturers. I now enjoy watching his YouTube Channel, and hopefully will be following his video tips on coating RoadAbode's roof in late spring.

Once we had RoadAbode

We purchased RoadAbode in November 2004, at the end of camping season. Once we had her in storage, we could do reading and really explore how we were going to use her. That's when I started this blog - here's the first post! Our first real camping trip was to Spring Gulch in Lancaster PA April of 2005. It was now time to start learning by doing!
Learning by doing will be a process for any RVer. No matter how much you have read, or people explain how things work, you will find certain ways you will tweak procedures to fit your own style of RVing. For us, figuring out the right order of setup, who gets what job when first pulling into a campsite is part of the fun.

That's how we learned early on to start RVing. But plenty has changed. Coming in Part Two, we'll explain how the RoadAbode Crew is still learning to RV, and how our perspective of the RV LifeStyle is changing over the years, and what we are looking to in the future.
So how did you learn to RV? Did you have a mentor? What got you into RVing, and what keeps you in the RVing Life? We'd love to hear about, and learn from your experiences! Please comment below!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

RoadAbode Eats ~ Our Favorite Seven Food Staples to have while RVing

Seven Food Staples for Your RV

When travelling in RoadAbode, we enjoy trying the local cuisine. In Maine, it's popovers at Jordan's Pond. In  Connecticut, it's a lobster roll at Costello's. In Maryland, fishing and enjoying crabbing with friends. And in Pennsylvania, there are too many treats to mention here. We do tend to try local eateries when travelling. It's part of the experience for our family. To keep our costs in line, we do make and eat many of our meals in RoadAbode. Since we are mostly "weekenders," we'll bring along some breakfast foods, pickup fresh produce at farmers markets, and shop at the local grocery store. When we go to Lancaster PA, part of our fun is to go into the massive Shade Maple supermarket to gather fresh ingredients for lunch or dinner.
However, we try to be smart and always have certain items on hand in RoadAbode's pantry. These are items that are shelf stable, don't need refrigeration, easy to create a meal with and can be added to some fresh ingredients. Sometimes in a pinch they can make a meal or snack on their own. Talking with the rest of the RoadAbode Crew, we discussed the most essential items we like to keep in RoadAbode. We came up with about 15 things,  Since cabinet space is a premium, I wanted to pare the list down to just seven items that we could all agree were the most important. Below are the items we leave in RoadAbode or replenish to have on hand throughout our RVing season.

1- Eggs

Eggy in a basket
Eggy in a Basket
Though we don't leave them in RoadAbode trip to trip, eggs are inexpensive, easy to get and can be stored without refrigeration. I've read tips that you can store eggs for weeks if treated properly and stored in a cool, dry place. We usually will have a dozen on hand for a weekend, and most convenience stores have them if we are venturing out. Even well stocked camp stores will have eggs, and they are still pretty inexpensive.
There are even powdered eggs if we did want to keep them in RoadAbode throughout the season. Eggs make our essentials list because we love them for breakfast, are great as a lunch sandwich, or are needed as an ingredient for a quick cake. Egg Salad, egg drop soup, or if we have bread too - French toast or "Eggy in a Basket" make for a good base for any meal.

2 - Peanut butter

Peanut butter is one of the foods I was raised on as a kid. Nothing beats a classic PB&J with milk.
Or for a simple snack try taking slice of apple and dipping it with some peanut butter. In a pinch - licked right off a tablespoon, peanut butter is a favorite! Just be mindful if camping with friends, If they have an allergy to the stuff.
Here are some other ways to use and enjoy this essential for your RV cupboard:

  • Mix peanut butter with honey and spread on a cinnamon and raisin bagel makes a simply yummy breakfast treat 
  • Add peanut butter to a soft taco and roll up with your favorite sliced fruit (we like strawberries and ripe bananas) for a wrap it, pack it and go lunch ready for the trail.
  • Blend Greek yogurt, peanut butter, honey and banana - pour the mixture into a plastic cup. Freeze, top with melted chocolate and enjoy this spectacular dessert.
  • Run out of butter? Use peanut butter as a substitute. It adds a great nutty flavor.
  • Try pasta with a Thai influenced peanut butter sauce instead of  traditional tomato sauce. You only need five ingredients-  5 tablespoons peanut butter, 3 tablespoons warm water 2 1/2 tablespoons  vinegar 2 packets of soy sauce. 3 packets of sugar (you save packets of stuff you don't use, right?) Mix together and chill for two hours. Cook your pasta, drain, and put this mix over it.Add your favorite hot sauce to taste.
And - really easy peanut butter cookies!

Three ingredient peanut butter cookies
Mix together: one cup of smooth peanut butter, one cup of sugar, one egg.
Cook them at 350° for 10-12 minutes, and they’re done! Don't have sugar? Try some honey, maple syrup or applesauce.

3 - Canned Soup

Campbell's Soup Company has been around since the late 1800s. A local company and Philadelphia favorite, Campbell's currently produces over a dozen different lines of soup around the world, As a kid in the '70s, we had soup with our evening meal almost every night. My mother made plenty of soups from scratch, but since she worked part time, this meant some were canned soups.
For RoadAbode, our old stand by is Campbell Soup, but we also use other types as well..Canned soup makes our essentials list because when we are RVing in cold months, a hot cup of soup with a sandwich is a perfect way to help warm us up. What's great about Campbell condensed soups is their ability to be used as a sauce or flavoring to add to your meal. Here's a meal we really enjoy. In the morning, setup your slow cooker with chicken and sliced vegetables. Pour in a can of Campbell's Golden Mushroom Soup, add a half can of water and enjoy your day out. Six or so hours later you have a great meal to come home to!

4 - Pasta and Rice

The world over these two are essential foods. With a long shelf life and with plenty of options to use pasta and rice would make anyone's list. As a quick side to your entree, nothing is simpler and easier than pasta or rice. From macaroni, ziti, and angel hair to other types of pasta, they are tasty, filling and complement many other foods. Pasta is a great complement not only for tomato sauce, but to add interest to salads, and be included into casseroles or baked dishes.
Similarly, rice can enhance a salad or be used as a mail dish, but you can also make rice into a dessert.
How about rice pudding?
Combine 2 cups cooked white rice. 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan  and put on stove at medium heat. Stir occasionally and bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until thick and creamy, 5 to 7 minutes. Don't have cinnamon? Try using nutmeg, allspice or a topping of honey or maple syrup in a pinch.

5 - Spam and/or Salmon

Bumblebee Pink Salmon Pouch
Packed Salmon (Amazon)
Spam Variety (Amazon)
SPAM is one of the staples that my parents use to keep in our home. Accompanying eggs for breakfast, in a sandwich for lunch or in a casserole for dinner, SPAM is just about a comfort food for the RoadAbode Crew.
One of my favorite memories was hiking with my father. I was about seven or eight, and was getting hungry. My father sat us on a stump near a stream, took a crumpled brown bag from his knapsack, and produced a can of spam and a hunk of rye bread. Using his pocket knife - the one he used for everything from cutting bait to whittling - he cut a few slices of bread and spam and made us each a sandwich. The salty meat and dough yet crisp-crust bread felt like the best meal I ever had. Maybe it was the surrounding and the company, but I like to enjoy a SPAM and rye sandwich now and again, part flavorful meal, part great memory.
Salmon Quesadillas from Taste of Home
We've recently started to re-discover packaged salmon. It feels a bit "richer" than tuna, and from what I understand, is a more sustainable fish because of the way it is caught and processed. It's great addition to make an elegant salad, transform mac-n-cheese, or try making salmon quesadillas. Salmon is tasty and a great source of protein. Perfect for our essentials list.

6 - Shelf stable, Evaporated or Condensed Milk

The primary reason this is an essential for the RoadAbode Crew? I like milk with my coffee. Sometimes we either forget to bring with us, or the girls go through our fresh milk more quickly than expected. By keeping a few of the "single serving shelf stable" boxes (look like kids juice boxes) in our pantry, I can still enjoy my morning coffee. Evaporated or condensed milk work too, just remember that condensed milk is going to have a sweeter taste. Not just for my coffee, it works over cereal, and to add to sauces, oatmeal, or to replace regular cream or milk in other recipes.

7 - Instant Oatmeal

Oatmeal on Amazon
Those instant oatmeal packs are more versatile than you think. You can even make your own packets. what makes them "instant is processing half the amount through a blender, and adding your Maple sugar (or favorite flavoring) beforehand.
Not just a great breakfast or an in-between snack after an active day, oatmeal instant single serving packs can be used as a thickener for sauces or smoothies, or how about a "Mug Muffin?

Microwave Mug Muffin
1/4 cup quick oats
1 egg
1/8 – 1/4 cup of blueberries, cherries or banana
2 packets of sugar
2 Tablespoons milk

Throw everything into a coffee mug and mix it well. Put it in the microwave for 1 minute (you may want to put a plate under it in case it overflows). Cook in extra 30 second to 1 minute increments until it firms up to your liking.

blueberries right at our site at Promiseland State Park
The girls found blueberries right at our site at Promiseland State Park

These are our seven must-have staples - what are yours?
There are plenty of other things we keep in RoadAbode. Shelf stable "Velveeta" style cheese, sugar, ketchup, drink mixes and a variety of spices to name a few. We figure if we keep the seven above items in RoadAbode when we are out - we won't go hungry or feel like we are just "making do" for a meal. What's best is when we can augment our food store and pick wild blueberries, harvest apples somewhere or find a great local produce stand or farmers market when we are out on an adventure.
What do you think we missed? What are your staples that you must have when you go RVing? Let us know in the comments below. Happy RVing!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

RV LifeStyle: Mastering the Sewer Snake - Not Fearing your RV's Waste Tanks

© Sony Pictures Digital Productions Inc. All rights reserved
Dump station scene from the movie "RV" Sony Pictures Digital Productions Inc. All rights reserved
The RoadAbode Crew love learning about the RVing Lifestyle. For over ten years we've spent plenty of time reading books and researching online about how various people utilize their RVs. However, some of the most fun we've had, has been chatting with other RVers. Whether at an RV show, campground, or rest stop, it's great to swap stories of how we started RVing, places we've been, or tips while using our RVs. When we chat with new RVers or the "RV curious" we try to explain why we love the RVing lifesyle so much and some of the unique challenges of owning a recreation vehicle. Of all the topics discussed when talking with possible or wanna-be RVers, the conversation eventually turns to RoadAbode's "waste management". "Is it messy?" "How often do you have to do it?" How's the toilet work? I have to admit, even when I was researching about and first learning how to do these things with RoadAbode, I was a little nervous. Now that we have been RVing over ten years, it's just a part of the adventure ofowning a motorhome.
So you've seen the rain of poo on Robin Williams in the movie RV. You've heard terms like black tank, grey tank, and gate valve. You've maybe read about the various ways people clean their RV tanks. Sound scary? Sound like lots of work?
It's not. Let's take a look at the parts to the system, how the RoadAbode Crew deals with waste management, some tips to remember, and how others have tried to tackle using the "stinky slinky" sewer hose.

Typical RV System

In the typical RV plumbing system, three tanks can come into play. Fresh tank, holds the fresh (also called "potable") water that you travel with when not hooked up to "city water" at a campsite. Grey and black tanks hold used and waste water in an RV. For simplification  of this post, we will focus on the Black and Grey tanks.
Grey Tank - typically store water from the sinks and the shower of your RV. Though this water is not thought of as "messy", grey tanks can still hold and carry fat solids and small scraps that may go down the drain from the kitchen sink.
Black Tanks - Typically hold what is flushed down your toilet. Some RV manufacturers will also plumb the bathroom sink to the black tank, to add more water to help with breaking down it's contents.
Amazon Valterra Sewer Hose
Valterra Sewer Hose
Thankfully, my first dumping experience was not like something out of the movie RV .I had read enough online and in a few books that I had a pretty good handle on how to do it. That first time had some trepidation behind it. RoadAbode IS a previous rental, so what was possibly coming out of our black tank the first time dumping was not of our own making .  We were given a First RV Welcome Kit when we competed the purchase of RoadAbode. It consisted of a sewer hose, a rubber "donut", a white water hose, and a pack of "RV" toilet paper. I don't know what happened to that brown sewer hose, but we never used it. It was just an expandable, thin walled, accordion-like brown tube. With no ends.

What We First Bought

RoadAbode's Flush King
Our well used Flush King
Since we first bought RoadAbode in late fall over ten years ago, I had time over the winter to make some purchases and do reading so that I felt more comfortable with the business end(s) of our sewer hose. We bought a ValterraEZ Coupler 10' Drain Hose Kit and a second section of matching red 10' Extension Hose. This gave us twenty feet of sewer hose when connected together to reach either our on-site sewer connector, or when at a dump station. Ten feet is usually enough, but in the past ten years there have been quite a few occasions where we needed a longer hose because our connections were further forward or backward of RoadAbode on our campsite. We also purchased and regularly use a Flush King. The Flush King is a clear elbow joint sewer connector with an extra gate valve on it and a water hose connection. The Flush King connects between RoadAbode's sewer outlet and the sewer hose. This allows us to back-flush either black or grey tanks, and also rinse out real well the sewer hose without having to disconnect.. The last part of our sewer kit to dump is a grey water hose to back-flush the tank. It connects from the campground water connection to the Flush King. Since the Flush King is clear, it allows us to see if the the water is running clear, meaning the tank is empty of most solids.
Our "Sewer Kit"

What We Have Now

I guess our process and the equipment we use pretty much works. Sewer kit wise, I've only replaced two items. One - the rubber "doughnut" gasket that I lost one weekend. It's job is to seals odors when the Sewer connector is not a perfect fit to the Sewer intake pipe at a campground. I left it somewhere in Lancaster PA I think. The second item replaced was our main Valterra sewer hose, which was developing a few pin holes after several years of use. I replaced it with a newer heavy duty RhinoFLEX sewer hose. The RhinoFLEX is made of thicker material, and has a swivel end that's easier to connect. If I had not found the newer RhinoFLEX, I would have gone back to another Valterra "red" hose. I still have the Extension Valterra hose for when I need a longer length. It connects just fine to the RhinoFLEX
RhinoFLEX Hose connected to sewer at a campsite

How we "hookup" for a Weekend

My twenty-something daughter pointed out that "hookup" means a totally different thing to the "young'uns" which I am not getting into here.... for us old RVers it only means connecting to your utilities when pulling into a campsite.
Like many RVers, when we get to a campground, we have a a regular routine we follow. Depending on what hookups we have (and the weather) I usually will connect in this order after leveling RoadAbode:
  • Turn on propane
  • Get out from basement storage our Surge Guard, and plug into the power pedestal
  • Fish out our power plug from it's built in container  and connect to the Surge Guard
  • Make sure the breaker is on on the power pedestal
  • If we have a water connection, I first connect our pressure regulator and secondary faucet connector and hose to RoadAbode's water intake. 
  • If we have cable for TV I also connect that as well since I'm on the "utility side"
  • I DON'T connect the sewer hose. 
But isn't this blog post about sewer connections and waste tanks? Yes, but we'll look at why we don't keep the sewer hose connected while at our site.

Some Things to Remember

Most important thing to put in your RV waste tanks - is water. An RV Sewer system tanks are "holding tanks", they are not a septic system. They are designed to hold the waste until you get to a place you can dump them into a proper septic system, or city treatment system. In our camping season, we always keep a few gallons of water in our tanks. This prevents any effluent from hardening and possibly becoming a blockage in our system.  Septic Systems rely on microbial activity to breakdown waste. If your RV is sitting with lots in the tanks for days in the heat, then maybe you'll need to add something to help with the odor, but use one of the organic based products available.
Why we don't leave the sewer hose connected
The reason we don't keep our sewer hose connected while at our site is twofold. One, it reduces the wear on the hose from sitting out in the sun. UV rays from sunlight will start to make the plastic the hose is made of brittle. Two, we keep the gate vales closed on our sewer connections to let liquids collect. The more "stuff" you dump all at once, the cleaner your tank will be from the suction force of effluent leaving the tank. We only connect the sewer hose when we are ready to dump our waste tanks. We don't usually dump tanks until we are ready to leave our site. In ten years doing week long and weekends in RoadAbode, I've only had to dump the grey tank earlier once.
What we DON'T put in
Don't throw things in the toilet. It's not hard to train your family that the only things that go into the toilet are "what you doo", and toilet paper. And when you do flush, do so with a full toilet bowl of water.
Some campers we talk to seem to put various additives or deodorants in their tanks to keep down smells. Some of these products include formaldehyde or other chemicals that can harm the natural organic processes in the systems they eventually dump into.
What we DO put in
We use two products to combat the smell issues. We do have a 360 Siphon RV Black Tank Vent Cap on our roof that helps keep odor out rather than in while driving down the road and using the toilet.The concept has to do with air pressure equalization between the inside of the tank and outside.  Our black vent cap is the older, 360 "bullet" type and has been on RoadAbode for probably 9 years. What we have on RoadAbode looks like the Camco Cyclone vent.  We do add Happy Campers RV Holding Tank Treatment to our black and grey tanks. The treatment is organic and helps breakdown solids, toilet paper, and kitchen grease. We use Happy Camper so solids won't stick to the tank walls as readily. Using these two products, the RoadAbode Crew has not had an issue with our sewer lines or system smells.
We've also read of families and RV travelers that do not flush their toilet paper, but put in a a bag they keep next to the toilet. That's not for us. Though we do try to use toilet paper conservatively, it's going down the toilet. There is no reason it should not in our opinion.
Freshwater and Waste-water don't mix
I was re-reading and thought that this needed to be addressed. We never allow hoses or tools that we use for Waste water to cross contaminate with our fresh water hoses. The only thing that possibly is used by both is our secondary water faucet that we connect to our water pressure regulator. The faucet we will clean with bleach or sanitizer along with fresh water. I've witnessed a guy take his fresh water hose, disconnect it from his RV, then shove it down inside his sewer hose to rinse it out! Then all his hoses for fresh water and sewer were chucked into the bed of his pickup truck. No way, not doing that. We seperate our fresh water gear and our sewer gear into their own, marked containers. And at least once or more a season we wash out both boxes and clean with bleach and water.
Wear Gloves
Some people don't wear gloves, others do. We always wear gloves when emptying the holding tanks. First, use hand sanitizer, then put on disposable vinyl (I don't like rubber) gloves. Then when everything is done, I dispose of the gloves, use hand sanatizer, and wash my hands. For some that may be overkill. But for me, I know I always nick, scuff up, or somehow slice my hands. So somewhere I always have an opening for an infection to take hold. Don't know what is growing on the hose. I'd rather try to perform my "do diligence".
Sewer and grey water hose ready to empty tanks!
Cleaning Level Indicators
One thing that never seems to work well are the level indicators on the waste tanks. For the RoadAbode Crew, Grey works relatively well, while black will read empty when done dumping, but by the time I hope back inside, the indicator may read a third full. This seems to be a universal problem. The reason is sludge buildup on the sides of the tank that allow the probes in the tank to "complete" a circuit. A way to combat this is simple. Before you leave for your destination, put a cup of dishwasher detergent down the sink or toilet, along with lots of warm water. When you get to your campsite, flush the tank. Fill the tank and flush again. Your indicators should work better. It may take a few times if you have not done before.

Other Ideas

Plenty of people have come up with ideas to "beat" RV sewer issues. Some are great ideas, some are questionable, and some you just have to scratch your head over. Here are some of the interesting and odd ideas in RV sewer use and maintenance:

Ice Cube Method
The Ice Cube Method is the idea that if you want to clean the inside of your black tank, empty in a few bags of ice cubes and drive around. The sloshing action of the ice cubes against the inside of the tanks will scour it clean, and help break up lingering solids. This YouTube Video by The Fit RV pretty much dispels the rumor. As the ice melts, it becomes slippery and diminishes the expected scouring action.

Geo Method
The Geo method found at this link and on many RVing forums is not a bad idea. I just think it's overkill. Perhaps if the RoadAbode Crew boondocked more often and could not flush our black tank with lots of water, the Geo Method of using water softener and bleach would be worth the expense and effort to the RoadAbode Crew. But one of the principles of using the Geo method is to flush full tanks - with lots of water. Having sparkling black tank insides just is not that important to us perhaps.
Sprayer Nozzle method

Inside the Tank Sprayer Method
Tank sprayers have been around for years, and if RoadAbode had come with them installed we would probable use this method to flush our tanks rather than our Flush King. This method of cleansing holding tanks is well grounded in industry for anything from 55 gallon drums to milk trucks. A nozzle with sprayer heads is installed in the side of the holding tank, sometimes more than one nozzle head per tank. The pressure of the water coming into the nozzle head causes it to rotate, rinsing the inside of the tank in the process. Various nozzle manufacturers use different spray patterns, but rely on the same basic idea. This system is great if already installed, but I would not be comfortable climbing under RoadAbode, cutting into my black tank, making sure everything seals watertight, and is connected correctly. For our use, the Flush King works great.

Macerator System
In our previous home, we had a macerator pump installed for our basement toilet. The principle idea works like this; the macerator "purees" what you flush, then pumps it up to the sewer soil pipe to go out of the house. The same applies for RV macerators. From my reading, this also come in handy for people that want to dump at home but don't have a convenient soil pipe opening or septic tank opening to connect their sewer hose to.  The macerator, since it liquefies everything, does not need a big sewer hose. it can pump the effluent through a regular garden hose. Again, for the RoadAbode Crew this seems like a lot of work Also, how do you keep the garden hose from flopping out of the toilet?

Composting Toilet
One of our favorite RV Lifestyle bloggers, The Wynns, swear by their composting toilet. It works great for their boondocking travels across the US. I've done the reading and the principle is sound. No black tank to dump, just a poo and peat-moss pail and the separate urine container. The composted material can go in a regular compost pile, or dumpster. The urine needs to be disposed of in a conventional toilet. I'm a gardener, and really, I do like peatmoss. I could see myself using a composting toilet and feeling good that I was being environmentally sound and conservationally minded. Only problem - it's been a hard sell to the ladies of the RoadAbode Crew. If you want to learn more about a composting toilet - Here's what the Wynns have to say

RV Toilet Paper
We've read plenty on the use of "special" RV toilet paper. Other than shrinking what currently is in your wallet we see no use for RV toilet paper. The RoadAbode Crew usually uses whatever single ply paper is on sale. We prefer single ply because it breaks down quicker in water. We've experienced no issues with our black tank or dumping using regular toilet paper in the past ten years.

Pump Out Service
Offered at some campgrounds and special venues like NASCAR or music festivals, Pump out service lets someone else take care of your emptying your holding tanks. Also called a "Honey Wagon" the pump out truck can come while you are away, hook up to your sewer connection, and will pump out your waste. The cost varies on the location or vendor servicing. Sometimes it can be included in the price of your site. The RoadAbode Crew has not used the service yet, and don't see a problem with it. However, I think I'd want to be there when the job is being done so as not to have any issues. Don't want to come back to a broken sewer pipe. I don't knowIi that happens, but not sure how rough someone else would be on RoadAbode's connections compared to myself.

Latest Innovations
A new idea from Lippert Components is called the Waste Master. The system features a cam lock which replaces the traditional bayonet fittings. Industrial grade cam locks have been used in the liquid transportation industry to transfer things like fuel, so the hose simply pushes in and locks down. According to Lippert the Waste Master system doesn't require twisting, which eventually weakens other hoses systems. Lippert features a adapter that connects a cam connector to the old bayonet connector and stays on your RV Sewer Connector
Lippert Components Waste  Master System
 Traditional septic hoses trap debris between the crevices of the hose, the Waste Master hose is smoother, limiting the ability to trap debris. The 5-foot uncompressed UV-protected hose folds out to 20 feet,  The nozzle features a built in  handle for easy grip, and a clear viewing port to make sure that the tank has been emptied.  Besides the handle, the nozzle features a shutoff valve, 90-degree discharge port, and donut that securely fits into most sewage outlets.
The cam lock sounds interesting. I'd like to see one in action. To learn more about this new system from Lippert Components, check their information here

You Can Do This!
There's no reason to fear the Stinky Slinky - The Sewer Snake - RVing Waste Wiggly Worm -  or whatever your kids call your sewer hose. With some planning and following some simple rules, you'll be worrying more about when s'mores time is then about emptying your holding tanks.
Have a tip, or a different way to take care of your holding tanks? Have a question or think we could explain something better? Let us know in the comment area below! Happy RVing!

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