All articles written by: Carolyn Higgins

Carolyn’s RV Life- Where I’ve Been!

I’ve been busy traveling, working and making videos! In case you aren’t yet on YouTube be sure to check out the playlist bellow and watch my adventures from the beginning!

I have discovered an easier way to add videos to my blog, so I will try to start updating the blog more often with tip, travel fun, historical finds and of course my philosophies on life and society!

I hope you enjoy the videos and future blog posts.

Thank you very much for being here on my Full Time RVing Adventure and travels!

Goodbye to the Southwestern Desert, Hello Sedona, AZ!

As the spring heat closed in on the Arizona desert, it was time for me to move to higher elevations and cooler temperatures.  As I left Ehrenberg for the last time this season and headed north toward Sedona, I contemplated my route:  I could take the ‘easier’ Interstate route, or the windier, slower backroads.  Interstates bore me, so I decided the extra 26 minutes Google said it would take, would be well worth it. Plus, I’d get to explore real towns along the way, not overly engineered and architected Interstate truck stops and rest areas!

With a quick glance at the Google map, I noticed the yellow lines of highway 60 to Prescott and 89a from Prescott to Cottonwood were quite squiggly in the green areas marking National Forests. Oh well, I’ll have some mountains to climb! I’d spent my first several months as a full time RVer driving all over the Sierra Nevadas, I’d driven Hells Canyon in Eastern Oregon and many other mountain roads, those squiggly mountain passes looked unthreatening. How bad can they be? I’d heard from a friend that the length limit was 40 feet– I’m just 29 feet. Piece of cake!

“Piece of cake”, famous last words, right???

As my RV labored up the first pass, leaving the ninety-degree desert floor, germinal with the first delicate signs of super-bloom,  behind, I spotted the first real tree I’d seen in four months. I was so enraptured that I considered stopping to give it a giant bear hug.  I might have if it wasn’t in someone’s yard.  I thought twice and realized a tree-hugging Rver with a duct tape repair job and California plates may not fare well, trespassing in Arizona: I resisted my urge and moseyed on.

Driving out of Quartzsite, AZ toward Prescott, rte. 60

Matilda trudged up the windy mountain road through Prescott National Forest. 4000 feet. 5000 feet. 6000 feet. The Chaparral grew bushier and the Piñon Pines and Juniper taller. I was in the forest!!!  Ahh. Hello Forest, I’ve missed you!  I rolled down my window and inhaled the crisp winter air.  And as the musty aroma of conifers and damp forest permeated my senses I felt my face erupt in a spontaneous smile. I’m home!

As I ascended to 6000 feet, I felt a marked drop in temperature. It was at least 15 degrees cooler than the desert I’d left just an hour earlier.  I grew concerned that I’d jumped the gun on my “great desert escape’ as I eyed snow dusted peaks just above me. Maybe it is too early to go north. Maybe I’ll  get  stuck in a snow storm. Maybe I’ll freeze! The doubt only thickened as I passed dirty patches of snow stubbornly clinging to the sides of the road, desperately holding their place in the late winter landscape. Well, I’m not turning around to fry in the ninety+-degree heat in the desert. Forward…!
Eventually I reached the summit and slowly descended the narrow, curvy pass into Prescott. Yes, I’d driven on Sierra Nevada routes, but these were some narrow roads and deserved extra caution. Slooooow, I went…

I’d hoped to spend the night in Prescott, but it was Saturday and the historic city was busting at the seams with tourists.  In the outskirts of town, the Prescott National Forest was laden with California-like rules and regulations about where you can camp. Camping is only allowed in designated campgrounds; which were full.  One of the things I’ve learned in my first season as a snowbird is that winter in the south is treated like summer is, everywhere else. The summer months are too hot to leave the comfort of air conditioned homes, so people flock to enjoy the outdoors in the winter, when the temperatures are tolerable, making it impossible to avoid crowds at the popular tourist towns, hiking trails, parks and campgrounds during winter months.

Prescott, AZ served as the capital of the Arizona territory until 1867 and currently has a population just under 40,000. Its rich history (which includes a stay by Wyatt Earp’s older brother Virgil in 1879) and a quaint old-fashioned downtown, packed with touristy shops and cafes, attract visitors from all over the country.  If it wasn’t the height of tourist season and I wasn’t in a 29-foot RV, I might have gotten out and explored. Unfortunately, the narrow streets of old-west mountain towns are not conducive to driving- and especially parking –  giant RVs.

So, on l went; next stop Cottonwood! I’d heard of many fulltime RVers and VanDwellers going to Cottonwood. Surely there’s bound to be plenty of camping there!

Driving into Jerome, AZ

Up another narrow, squiggly pass and back down again. My new front brakes were emitting burned brake smell and smoke billowed out of the nose of Matilda. “That’s normal. Flash told me that would happen,” I told myself.  Down and down and down I went in my 12,000 pound steel box on wheels. My brake pedal  got spongier every time I pressed the brake. More smoke and more rank odor of burning break pad filled my cab.  I started to get nervous. Will my giant, heavy, barreling-downhill-RV stop when I need her to? I slid my new, still-to-be-tested-in-rough—conditions, transmission into low gear. Ok, that’s better, at least I feel like I have more control.

Just as the majestic red rock of Sedona came into view, thousands of feet below, the white smoke became even thicker. I was too nervous to go on. I pulled over, inspected underneath, and confirming that it was my brakes causing the smoke and not something else,  I thought it best to sit and let them cool off before proceeding down the second half of the 6000 foot mountain.  I pumped the brakes and noticed the sponginess was dissipating. “That’s a good sign”, I thought.

Driving through Jerome, AZ

Ok, this isn’t too bad. I was armed with the confidence that my whole brake system had just been inspected, my front brakes, rotors and calipers were brand new and my rear brakes were in good shape.  And, I was still able to slow down, it just took more pressure on the brake pedal to do so. I had no cell signal, so I couldn’t call someone for help or advice. I didn’t have much choice…

After sitting for about thirty minutes, I decided to press on. I slowly exited the turnout, and in low gear,  proceeded down the pass at 20-30 mph.  Being in low gear slowed me enough to not make the descent treacherous, but my heart pounded as my now-white-knuckled hands clutched the steering wheel.  One of the thoughts I had, as I glanced at Capone laying innocently in the passenger seat, is that I need doggy car seat so I can strap him in while we drive.  The thought of anything happening to my clueless copilot was too much..

As I spilled closer to Sedona, I drove through the tiny mountain micro-town of Jerome. If I wasn’t so stressed I might have actually enjoyed the historic town, etched into the side of the mountain. It reminded me of some of the hilltop towns I drove through on my trip to Greece a couple of years ago; tiny narrow streets carved into rock, framed by houses and tiny shops.  In Greece, I was in a small compact car, not a 29’ RV, which admittedly, made it more enjoyable!  I’m really thinking I need to downsize!

First views of Sedona on rte 89a from Prescott

As I gingerly maneuvered through the crowds of  tourists licking waffle cones and converging outside of historic taverns and eateries with names like the Haunted Hamburger, Mile High Grill and Asylum Restaurant,  I kept testing my brakes to be sure they weren’t giving out. They were spongy again, but were definitely slowing me down.

I finally made it through the crowds in Jerome and began my final descent into Cottonwood. A slow and tedious eight miles at 30mph with no turnouts to let the growing line of cars behind me pass. As I neared the edge of Cottonwood, one angry follower in a giant Ford pickup truck crossed the double yellow line to pass me, waving the middle finger salute as he passed. Excuse me for inconveniencing you in my pursuit to stay alive!

His action made me ponder my own impatience: I used to be that person! Always in a hurry, always cussing the slow people in front of me, “how dare you not consider ME! How dare you hold ME up!” Driving an RV has taught me, not only how to slow down and enjoy the journey, but in that moment, when that man aggressively raced  past, flipping me the bird, I realized it also showed me how easily we get  caught up in our own wants and needs and don’t stop to   consider what someone else may be going through. When I tailed an RV on a windy mountain road, I never considered their safety and comfort; all I cared about was getting to my destination five minutes sooner!

I’ve contemplated this before; in our fast, anonymous world, we encounter more strangers than at any time in history. Nameless bodies, we pass on the crowded streets, blurred drivers whizzing past us on the Freeway, or faceless people we flip off and fly by on a windy road without a thought to the person behind the wheel and what may be going on with them. My Bird Flipper hadn’t even considered that I was frightened for my safety, my dog’s safety and the safety of everyone else on the road. If he’d known that, would he have been more patient? Kinder? Waving, instead of gesturing profanity at me? I wonder.  (I realized, I probably should have turned on my hazard lights… lol).

By the time, I entered Cottonwood and the endless annoying traffic circles, the brake pedal sunk all the way to the floor and I was barely able to stop. After sliding into at least one circle a little too close to a passing car, I exited, pumped my brakes a few times and voila, they were back; firm, and strong. I pulled over anyway to let them cool off a bit.  They’d stopped smoking but the noxious fumes were still strong enough to give me a headache!

While I sat there waiting for my brakes to cool, I checked freecampsites.net for a place to camp. I wasn’t exactly feeling confident in my brakes so was looking for something easy and close by. (When I was back to the safety of flat ground I did some research on how to drive a Class A or Class C on mountain roads. Read what I learned here.)

Back on the road, with a firm brake pedal once again, I drove north on 89a exploring a couple of forest roads along the way for a campsite, to no avail.  I wasn’t in the desert with sprawling, flat, BLM land anymore! The off-road sites big enough for Class C RVs were few – and occupied.  So, I’d bumble back onto another rutted/wash-boarded dirt road, keeping my eye out for the next one, as the sun slid toward the western horizon. Now I was racing against the clock.

Finally, I pulled into Dear Pass Trailhead, one of the campsites.net recommendations. It was packed!  I followed the dirt road (Angel Valley Rd), deeper into the red-tinted mountains to see if I could find something away from the crowd. The rutted narrow dirt road coerced me further and further with the promise of open space in which I’d find a spot big enough for Matilda. There were a few campsites, but they were all full to the brim with trailers, vans and tents. Darn! 

Sedona View from the camp I ended up in

Angel Valley Road was harrowing, to put it mildly, and as I propelled down yet another steep and narrow road, I had to ask myself how I kept ending up in those situations; do I have a secret death wish? I just had brake issues and there I was on another steep downhill slope. I had to wonder…   But in all fairness, how could I have known? And it’s not like I can just turn all 29 feet of Matilda around anywhere. I was committed, so down I went.

I ended up at the entrance of what looked like a private community or commune of some sort. (I now know, it was Angel Valley Sedona, “a sacred retreat community for healing, transformation and empowerment.” If I’d know that at the time, I might have stopped. Looking at their website, it may have been the serenity and peace I needed at that moment! Check them out here). Some say there are no mistakes, maybe the universe sent me there for a reason!).  It was a dead end- but at least a place to turn around! So, back up the bumpy steep road (in low gear) and back to route 89a, I went.  Cottonwood was a bust. I guess I’m going to Sedona!

As I drove into Sedona, Mother Nature’s grand architecture rose from the earth before my awestruck eyes. Wow! Just wow! The sun had barely set and the full moon hovered over the rust-imbued landscape giving it an other-worldly glow.

Night was settling in quickly and the last thing I wanted to do was search the treacherous, narrow roads in the dark.  After exploring a couple of forest roads and nearly getting wedged into a narrow place, I finally settled on a large flat-ish spot on a forest road about 5 miles out of Sedona,  just off the busy 89a.  It was 7:30 pm. My 3 ½ hour drive had turned into 8 ½ hours. I was DONE.

I settled in, getting my rig as level as I could, leashed up Capone and went for a much-needed moonlit walk to exercise out some of the day’s stress.  It felt good to be back in the forest, among the trees and the brush. There’s so much life! The bats bobbed above as they dined on insects, the birds chirped and sang their last tunes of the day before settling into their safe nests for the night and critters scurried in the brush at my feet.  The moon cast enough light to see the ground without a flashlight; and I kept my eye out for rattlesnakes.

Back home in my RV, I made a quick salad of romaine lettuce, kale, tomatoes, red beans and vinegar and oil dressing, fed Capone and called it a night. Settling into my warm and comfy bed, it didn’t take long for sleep to win over the noise of the nearby highway…

As I drifted off a feeling of peace and gratitude warmed me;  it was a good day. I was content in knowing that every day I’m not rotting away in an apartment, passing the time on junk-tv and dreaming of freedom, is a good day! I felt happy to be alive – really alive!

How to Drive an RV on Mountain Roads Without Killing Your Brakes!

I recently drove my 29’ Class C RV over two mountain passes in one day. I climbed from sea level to over 7000 feet,  back down to about 4000 feet, back up to 7000, and finally down to 4000’ again. This is a lot of work for a six-and-a-half-ton RV built on a van chassis.  And as my brakes smoked and spewed the toxic odor of burning brake pads, I realized I had a lot to learn about driving a big Class C Motor Home on mountain roads. The more I drove, the softer my brake pedal became; I had to push it almost all the way to the floor to slow down.  I eventually pulled over to let the brakes cool and that helped, but it didn’t take long for the pedal to get spongy again and by the time I reached the bottom of the grade I was barely stopping at all.  (You can read the whole harrowing story here). I was able to get to the bottom safely by pulling over to let my brakes cool and using low gear, but it was nerve-wracking, to say the least!

Driving RV Mountain Roads

Once I was on flat land again I did research to learn what I’d done wrong to make my RV brakes overheat and fade on the mountain passes. Here is what I learned.

Know Your Route and Prepare Ahead of Time!

I’d driven my Class C RV on plenty of mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada’s, so when I glanced at the Google map and saw the squiggly lines of switch-backed mountain roads, I thought “piece of cake”. What I learned that day is that not all mountain passes are alike. Everything from the length of the grade, steepness of the grade, road conditions and weather can impact travel on mountain roads.

The Lesson: Plan your route ahead. Ask others or do research on the route before you go. My mistake was doing both passes in one day. The grades on both were very steep and very long, causing me to use my brakes a lot! I should have done one pass and rested my brakes at least a couple of hours before tackling the next one.

Driving up to toward Winnemucca, N

Safety First – Know the Condition of your RV

The one thing I had going for me that day is that I’d recently replaced my front brake pads, calipers and rotors. My rear brakes had been inspected and the drums replaced. I knew my brakes were in good shape. So, as I was mentally trouble-shooting what was causing my brakes to slide and smoke, I could deduce they were overheating. However, “to safely control a vehicle, every braking mechanism must do its share of the work. Brakes with excessively worn pads or rotors will not provide the same degree of braking power. If you are not sure about the condition of your braking system, have it inspected by qualified service center.” (Source: FMCA, “Mountain Driving: Let Your Engine Do the Work”)
The Lesson: Keep your vehicle maintenance up to avoid dangerous or even deadly RV brake or engine malfunctions on dangerous roads. If my brakes had been old and worn out, a caliper had gotten stuck or I had a brake fluid leak my situation could have had a very different ending.

 Use Your Motor Home  Engine to Slow You Down!

You should also “shift into low gear before starting the downgrade”,  advises the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA). FMCA also states, “with motorhomes, a rule for choosing gears has been to use the same gear going down a hill that you would to climb the hill. However, new motorhomes have low-friction parts and streamlined shapes for fuel economy. They may also have more powerful engines. This means they can go up hills in higher gears and have less friction and air drag to hold them back going down hills. For this reason, drivers of newer motorhomes may have to use lower gears going down a hill than would be required to go up the hill.

Usually you want the lowest gear that will keep the motorhome at or near the speed you want in negotiating the downhill. For example, if you’re going down a six-percent grade and wanted to go 35 mph, you would start downshifting and using the brakes to get to an engine rpm that will enable you to maintain a speed at or near 35 mph.”

The Lesson: I drove a stick shift for years and if my RV was a manual shift, downshifting would have been a no-brainer. But with an automatic transmission, I’m always unsure when I should shift into low gear.  A rule of thumb, according to RVers Online who attended an RV Driving School is that if your “RV accelerates more than 5mph going downhill then you need to shift to a lower gear”. How helpful! I will be remembering that!!

On the edge of the Anza Borrego Badlands

Proper RV Braking on Steep Downgrades

RV and Motorhome brakes overheat from excessive use – or “riding”.  Riding your bakes on long steep downgrades will cause your brakes to fade- or with consistent use, to stop working completely.

The Lesson: The goal for safe RV and Motor Home driving on mountain roads is to keep the brakes cool enough to keep working. You can do this by letting up on them for 3 seconds for every 1 second of application. (Source RVersOnline.org)

What to Do if Your Brakes Overheat

If you’re driving your RV or Motor Home down a hill and notice smoking, burning brake odor and/or brake fade, pull over as soon as you are able to do so safely and let the brakes cool. Turn off the engine and test the brake pedal if, after sitting a while, the sponginess disappears and the brake pedal becomes firm again, most likely your issue is brake overheating. It’s best to let your brakes cool completely before getting back on the road; that could take an hour or more depending on weather conditions.

Overheating your RV brakes can cause permanent damage to your pads, rotors and calipers. If you do overheat them, it’s best to get them checked out by a brake service center as soon as possible.

Do you have any RV driving safety tips you’d like to share? Or how about a scary story to share? Leave your comments below!

I’m a Full-time RV Snowbird in Arizona and Nevada!

It’s almost February and I’ve been on the road for ten months.  When I try to create a timeline of the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen over the last ten months, it’s but a blur. It’s true, the older I get, the faster time seems to go by.

I fondly remember the slow, lazy days of summer, exploring southern and eastern Oregon. Wintertime living in an RV is different; the days are short, the nights cold and I am spending much less time outdoors. Sure, some of that is because I’ve been consumed with work, but also, there are just fewer hours of daylight to take advantage of!

Since spending Thanksgiving in Medford with my good friend Bob and his family, I’ve frolicked in snowfall, high in the Nevada desert (and shot a video about it that went viral!),  woke up to a twenty-five degree rig in the outskirts of Carson City (where it was about 15 degrees outside),  survived RV-rocking 45 mile per hour wind gusts near a ghost town in Goffs, CA (video), explored Joshua Tree National Park (video) where I gazed  wondrously at the mysterious twisty-trees  and ambled through the rocky desert of southern Arizona (video).

My trek from Oregon to Arizona was adventure-filled, that’s for sure! I was excited to spend the winter in the desert- my first season as a genuine Snowbird!

A couple of years ago, on my way back from a backpacking trip in Capital Reef National Park in Utah, I stopped for the night in Mojave National Preserve. I was tired from my long drive and pulled off on Zzyzx road (yes, that’s a real road) into the desert to sleep in my car. I awoke to a mauve-tinted sandy landscape alive with sun-glow creosote and crisp, layered hills of the high-desert mountains in the distance. I pulled my backpacking stove out of my pack, boiled hot water and made my morning coffee. I sipped it’s smooth, robust warmth into me as I leisurely drifted over the barren land.  As the coffee pushed away the morning fog, my soul became electrified with adventure and freedom.  As I devoured the serenity of my surroundings, I made a promise I would go back and backpack it someday.

Camping Winnemuccca in the snow
Boondocking near Winnemucca in the snow

Last year, determined to keep my promise to myself, I drove the eight hours to Mojave Preserve for a three-day backpacking trip. It turns out ninety-degrees in the desert is far different from ninety degrees in the mountains. By 11 am, after hiking five miles, carrying 16lbs of water (a 3-day supply, or so I thought) plus 15lbs of gear, I had to stop, set up my tent for shade and lie as still as possible. I think I nearly got heatstroke!  I literally could not move a muscle until the sun went down.

The next morning, I was up and packed before sunrise, hell-bent on getting back to the safety of my car before it got too hot.  I hiked five miles in less than two hours and was back in my car luxuriating in my powerful AC by 8 am. I had gone through all two gallons of water in 24 hours!

Despite my less-than-fun backpacking experience, I couldn’t wait to get back to the desert- this time with plenty of water and my home behind me. So, I in my new RV life, as a winter snow bird, I headed south, in early December.

My first stop in the “real” desert (low and warm!) was on some BLM Land (Bureau of Land Management) in Pahrump, Nevada. I found an idyllic spot, high upon a mountain, amid creosote, Cholla and Joshua trees overlooking the city. I had almost complete solitude the four or five days I was there, save for a few dune-buggiers (yes, I believe I just made up a word).  My camp wasn’t far from the edge of a wide and deep wash that lent for gorgeous walks each day (video). The weather was mild, with days in the sixties and nights in the forties. I enjoyed my stay there immensely, but it was time to move on. I had plans to meet a group of fellow nomads in Arizona, for Christmas and a few places to see along the way.

From Pahrump I went into Las Vegas to do some banking and stock up at Whole Foods. I found a wonderful dry lakebed just south of Vegas to boondock for a couple of nights before heading to my next destination: Joshua Tree.

Boondocking in Pahrump,Nevada

In 1996, my BFF and I took a 10,000-mile road trip zig-zagging our way from Berkeley to New York and back. We were young, adventurous –  and poor.  I’d been working my way through college as a waitress at Goat Hill Pizza in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, where Kristi and I met.  One night at our favorite dive bar, after downing a few shots of tequila to wash away the crazy-busy night of serving pizza to Potrero Hill hipsters, we hatched a plan to drive cross country together once I graduated from Berkeley in May.  For months, we stashed tip money into a locked piggy bank to save for our grand adventure.  My little 1981 bright yellow Toyota Corolla was reliable, so all we needed was gas money, food and a tent.

Nine months later, we were in Joshua Tree National Park; the first stop of our cross-country adventure!  I’d never been to the desert and I was struck with awe; the smooth reddish rocks, the weird deformed-looking cactus-trees and the quiet serenity of the lumpy landscape.  It left a lasting impression on me. For decades, I dreamed of going back.

Ehrenberg, AZ

Twenty years later, a week before Christmas, Matilda carried Capone and me back into the park that held such fond memories. It was cloudy, gloomy and crowded.  Nothing like the barren and secluded place, I remembered. Nevertheless, it was perfect! I drove the windy roads in renewed awe at what our planet offers a hungry adventurer. I wanted to park my RV, grab my backpack and immerse myself in its beauty. But Capone isn’t allowed on trails in National Parks, so I had to be content driving through, stopping at crowded scenic points and making short jaunts into the scenes before me.

After carefully exploring and maneuvering Matilda through a couple of cramped and narrow campgrounds and finding nothing suitable for giant Matilda, I pulled into Belle Campground around 4pm and got the last site;  which  happened to be just big enough to squeeze into.

The next day, tired of the crowds and the rules and restrictions of a National Park, I exited on the long and desolate Pinto Basin Road toward Cottonwood.  I wasn’t exactly sure where I was heading, but thought I’d explore some BLM dispersed camping near the south entrance to the park. Just as I passed the Cottonwood entry sign, I spotted a sandy road that led to the West, speckled with Fifth Wheels, Motorhomes and Vans: boondockers galore! Yay! Home! I pulled in, found a level spot within eyesight of four RVs and called it a day. I could see and hear Interstate 10 from my site, but it wasn’t too bad. I ended up staying a few nights.

BLM Camping near Parker, AZ

Next, I drove due east to Ehrenberg, AZ, where I met up with my friend Bob and fellow full time RVers and VanDwellers for Christmas. The camp off the East Frontage Road in Ehrenberg was a disappointment:  rocky and barren, with obvious signs of heavy use and not much greenery – just overall bland. I stayed for Christmas (video), enjoying community and a low-key Christmas day potluck and then moved to the Colorado River for a few days.

The river was low and down the bank from camp I had a sandy beach all to myself.  My camp was framed by desert trees and brush, which shield me from the other boondockers along the river road; back to peace and solitude!

For the past month, I’ve been exploring Arizona, with a quick trip into Los Algodones  Mexico for migraine medication (video). I’ve spent time in Yuma (where I experienced more RV trouble, videos here), Kofa Wildlife Refuge, Parker and Quartzsite where I attended the CheapRVLiving.com Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) and met so many wonderful people (video of our meet and greet).

I have plans to explore southern Arizona and California over the next month or so, before it’ll be time to head north or to higher ground when the temperatures get to hot here.

I will have lots of fun and adventure to share and will do my best to keep blogging about it.

How Full-Time RVers and VanDwellers Get an Address and Mail

When you live full time in your RV, Van or Camper and travel all over the country, ‘normal’ life things like having a state to call home, a real address, and a place to receive mail and packages are left behind.

I get asked a lot how I handle these challenges, so in this blog I will cover how full time RVers and VanDwellers deal with residency and receiving mail and packages.

Note: I am not an expert on the federal or state laws pertaining to residency and docile. I am sharing MY experience and that of other full time RVers I’ve met.  This blog serves as a guide to get you started, I urge you to do the research and learn the specific requirements of the state you choose to declare as your domicile state.

Residency for Full Time RVers and VanDwellers

Now that you’re a nomad, you can declare a new state as your home state. Many full time RVers and VanDwellers choose a state with no income tax to save some money at tax time.

Joshua Tree National Park, December 2016
Joshua Tree National Park, December 2016

There are seven states that currently don’t have an income tax: AlaskaFloridaNevadaSouth DakotaTexas, Washington and Wyoming.  Residents of New Hampshire and Tennessee are also exempt from normal income tax, but they do pay tax on dividends and income from investments.

Tax savings may be one motivation for choosing a home-state, but there are other considerations.

What Does Residency Mean to a Full Time RVer?

Once you claim a new state of residency you will want a driver’s license or ID card from that state (this makes it official).

Residency requirements for obtaining a driver’s license vary by state; some are very lax, like Nevada, which just requires you to pay a month’s fee at an RV park and show a receipt. While Texas requires two forms of proof of residency such as: rental or mortgage documents, utility bill, automobile registration, etc.  Check the requirements for each state you are considering to learn what you will need to provide to prove residency.

Many full time RVers and VanDwellers choose South Dakota (check out this great guide by Interstellar Orchard) or Nevada for their loose residency requirements.

austin-leaving-medford

Other Ways to Deal with Residency

If you don’t wish to change your domicile state, you can rent a PO Box or get an actual street address through a mail forwarding service like UPS Stores. I have a mail box with the UPS store in my home base town of California. It’s an actual street address; I used it to register to vote and register my vehicles. You could also use a friend or family member’s address.

Receiving Mail and Packages

Choosing to use a friend or family’s address as your domicile address could be convenient for you, but that would put the responsibility of forwarding mail on friends and loved ones. This is something to consider when selecting a solution to your full-time RV life.

I chose the UPS store for my address. As mentioned above, this gives me an actual street address (not a PO Box) and they accept mail and packages.  A PO box will not accept UPS shipments.

Mail Forwarding Services

pahrump-josh-treesThere are mail forwarding services in popular full time RVer domicile states like Nevada and South Dakota that help you get your residency. I have not experienced them myself, but have heard great things about their services. Google “Mail Forwarding Nevada” for example to find services to help you.

I am using a UPS store and have been very happy with their service. I call them, they check my mail for me, tell me what’s there and then will mail it to me for about $5. I explain below how I receive my forwarded mail on the road, below.

They will also accept UPS shipments and forward those to me as well (of course, I try to avoid that, because I’m paying shipping twice). ‘

Getting Mail & Packages While on the Road

When I’m traveling, I have my mail sent to the post office in the nearest city or town I’m visiting. Most US post offices accept what is called “General Delivery” mail. That means anyone can have their mail sent to just about any post office c/o GENERAL DELIVERY and they will hold it for pick up.  You then go to that post office, show ID and retrieve your mail. Yep, it’s that easy!

I use this service a lot and have never had a problem.

Beware: not every post office accepts General Delivery mail. CALL THE POST OFFICE AHEAD OF TIME, to verify they will accept it. I recommend also calling to verify their address, what you see online isn’t always accurate.

Packages are different, Post offices will not receive UPS or FedEx packages.   When I shop online, I   plan, to know where to have the order shipped.  You can have your packages shipped to most UPS stores or other mail/copy/package stores.  Call ahead to ask if they will accept packages on your behalf. There is usually a fee (about $5 per box).

You can Google “UPS Store” or “Mail Services” in the city you’ll be close to and ask if they accept packages.  Also, verify the address and any special addressing instructions before placing your order.

Click here to watch the YouTube Video. 

 

What I See (in my New RV Life)

It was a cool autumn evening. The sun was lazily ambling down the western sky and the smell of wood-fires and home-cooking infused the air with familiarity and reflection.  On my evening walk, I passed two children playing in a huge natural yard. I noticed how different it was from the perfectly manicured, postage-stamp size yards, I’m used to seeing and how surprised I was to see the kids out in plain sight.  In the San Francisco suburbs, children don’t just play out in the open like that.

I marveled at their carefree innocence from the other side of the street.  They laughed and played and hung on a good natured and patient Golden Retriever. Not a care in the world; they didn’t even notice me.  I felt like I’d been transported back to simpler times.

hydrant-in-joseph

I’d parked my RV at the little league fields, a few blocks away, earlier in the day and spent the afternoon working and writing and enjoying peace and solitude. I was amazed that not a single kid came to the field to play nor nearby residents to walk their dogs. And I realized, it’s because here, in tiny-town USA (Enterprise, Oregon) everyone has a yard. Their little league field is for actual Little League, not a community yard where people who live in giant houses with tiny yards and neighbors within arms’ reach must drive to get some exercise and fresh air.

Spending the day in the tiny northern Oregon town took me back to my own Upstate New York roots – the ones I fled when I moved to San Francisco at twenty-one, and never looked back.  Roots that I’ve spent my whole adult life running away from and denying. In my race to run from my past, I ran from myself. I ran from my predisposition toward a simpler way of life: where the streets aren’t always paved and the clerks in the grocery store know their customers by name.

As I hobbled over the cracked and crooked sidewalks, through old neighborhoods with normal-sized single-story houses (not super-sized McMansions), and inhaled the crisp home-town air, I realized how much living in a metropolitan area for nearly three decades had changed me. I’d forgotten how the rest of the country lives; how pure and simple life can be.

Joseph Oregon WELKomes hunters and tourists alike!

I was surprised at how comfortable it felt. Like I’d walked into a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special and a world where kids are innocent and free and old-fashioned kindness and community rules the day. I wanted to wrap the town around me like grandma’s handmade quilt and fall asleep in its warmth.

As the afternoon turned to night, I meandered through the tiny town wanting to see and experience it all.  I saw, through the lighted windows of cozy homes, quaint shops and tiny wooden churches with stained glass windows, what had been missing in my city life. Family. Community. Simplicity.

It dawned on me that my big city experiences and values had isolated me from the reality of what most Americans experience daily. I pondered the contentious election, and for the first time, I understood. I understood the fear. I understood the challenges that small-town America faces and how they feel like their way of life is on the verge of falling off the cliff.  I understood how they view a sensationalized version of the events in our country – and the world – through their TV screens and it terrifies them.  I understood how their serene and quiet lives seem threatened.   And like the crackle of a fresh log put on a dying fire, my brain awakened to a new concept of reality. And a new awareness of how relative “reality” can be.

Richland Oregon, Source: Wikipedia
Richland Oregon, Source: Wikipedia

What a gift I was given that day. My new life as a full time RVer put me in a place I’d never have experienced in my old life.  My new, slower, RV Life allowed me to get out from behind the windshield and immerse myself into new places  – and not just fly past at 70 miles per hour. A new town isn’t just another double almond-milk cappuccino served up by the local Starbucks barista at an anonymous interstate town, but a real, live breathing place with history and community.

I spent three days in and around Enterprise, Oregon.  I talked to chatty coffee drinkers in cafes, friendly grocery store clerks and helpful mechanics.  I got to meet real people, with real wants, needs and concerns. Real people, with families, friends and happy Golden Retrievers. Not nameless, faceless political ideologues or Facebook trolls. But real people.

What a wonderful life I have:  one that allowed me to step away  from my version of reality. Life on the  road allows me to forge my own path and a new reality. My RV Life opened my eyes – and my heart –  to a community, which, on the surface seemed so different from my old Bay Area community, but at the core, was very much the same.

Thank you, Enterprise, Oregon, for letting me temporarily live in your town and experience your reality.

8 Signs You’re Destined to be a Full Time RVer or VanDweller

Full time RVers and VanDwellers are as diverse as any individuals you’d find in a traditional community.  Some love to live in RV parks or explore National Parks. Some prefer to stealth camp in urban areas. And others,  like me, are boondockers who crave the peace and solitude that only the most remote National Forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands can give us. Some of us are retired, some, digital nomads. Some have families. Some have none. We come from all walks of life, socioeconomic statuses, races, religions and genders, but we all have one thing in common: the need for freedom and adventure.

Boondocking in Pahrump,Nevada
Boondocking in Pahrump,Nevada

There are so many in our society who dream of living the RV or Vandwelling life. But may not be sure t’s right for you.  I want to help you decide, so I came up with a list of 8 signs based on my experience – and others I’ve met – that you might be ready to be a fulltime RVer or VanDweller:

  1. You love road trips. If you’ve taken at least few road trips (or have always dreamed of it) and the thought of hopping in the car, hitting the open road and seeing where it takes you gets your adrenaline pumping and your daydreams buzzing, then full time RVing or Vandwelling could be the life for you!
  2. You fantasize about being free. My whole life, I just wanted to be free (watch the YouTube Video here for my story). I didn’t know what that meant really, or even what it looked like. I just knew that my life, chasing the American Dream, working for a few weeks of ‘freedom” each year, with a promise of emancipation when I retired,  didn’t feel much like freedom. Does that sound familiar? Do you robotically go to work every day, pay your bills, run your errands, go to your parties and submit to a life you thought you were supposed to want, all the while dreaming of something else? If so, you’re one of us!

    Desert Sunrise out my RV Window
    Desert Sunrise out my RV Window
  3. You crave adventure! Life feels monotonous. Blasé.  You love to explore, see new things, go to new places and experience different cultures/communities.  And your life feels more and more like a jail; keeping you from living the life you crave.
  4. Your life feels phony. For many of us, we had a nagging feeling most of our adult lives that something wasn’t quite right. We did everything we were told: got the degree, the career, the house, the spouse and the children.  And when that didn’t fulfill us, we bought the timeshare,  the boat and /or the RV. Day after day we’d stare at our freedom parked in the backyard, with longing,  as it sat, lonely and unused 49 weeks a year.  Deep inside, we felt like our whole life was a sham And then we’d feel guilty or ‘weird’ for craving freedom and independence.   If this resonates,  you’re one of us!
  5. You realize you have too much stuff. One day you wake up, look around your house or apartment and realize it’s full of stuff you rarely use and don’t need. You realize you’re paying rent or mortgage to house your possessions and if it weren’t for all that stuff you could be lighter and more free to travel, explore and live!

    RV Dog Nevada Desert
    Capone in the desert in Nevada
  6. You decide to be more minimalist. Once you realize you have a bunch of junk you don’t need, you decide to stop buying. For me, two years before I made the leap to full-time RV Living, I made a conscious decision to stop buying anything I didn’t need; no new lamps, vases or pictures. No new shoes, dresses jewelry, or handbags. I decided I had enough stuff and it was time to simplify my life. That was the beginning of a mind-shift toward tiny living.
  7. You cruise Craigslist for RVs or Vans. Yeah. You’re ready… If you’re daydreaming at work and the next thing you know you’re browsing craigslist ‘just to get an idea’ of cost. You’re practically there!
  8. You spend your free time watching YouTube Videos or reading blogs of full-time RVers and Vandwellers. If you’re practically obsessed with escaping the rat race and following your dreams and  you find yourself excited and inspired by others who are doing it. You’re ready!

Of course, being mentally ready, doesn’t mean you can sell everything tomorrow, buy an RV or van and hit the road next week. It takes planning. But if you can relate to most things in the list above, you may want to make an appointment with your realtor and start finding ways to become a digital nomad!

For those who are full-timers, what was the one sure sign you knew this was the life for you?

desert sunset joshua tree nevada sunset

Black Friday Hell: Take Me Back to Nature

The longer I live on the road, the more awake and aware I seem to become. Cities are like sensory overload tunnels bombarding me with noise; cars, leaf blowers, buses, sirens, music piped into everywhere.

Homes are like virtual reality hell chambers; loud TV bombarding me with a false realty and selling us everything under the sun to make empty baseless lives feel worthwhile.

It’s Black Friday. I sit back quietly and observe. People buzz about like robots stuck in ‘must buy’ mode.

It’s not that they need anything: they have shelter, heat and plenty to eat.  But the ads and corporate America tell them they must not be content until they have MORE. BIGGER.  BETTER.  So, they obediently get in line, forgoing family, friends, relaxation and heaven forbid – a moment of gratitude for what they have – to stand in the cold, in long lines to get their fix of MORE. BIGGER. BETTER.

Take me back to the woods.

sunset nevada desert joshua trees
Sunset in the Desert with Joshua Trees

Take me back to quiet. Solitude. Peace.

Take me back to where things make sense.  Where all that bombards me are the forces of nature; wind, cold, the cry of an eagle as she soars through the sky, majestic views and sunsets so beautiful and peaceful that tears well in my hungry eyes.

Our world is empty; void. We don’t even see how far we’ve fallen and how far we’ve detached from ourselves. Numb with boredom and discontent, the only real emotions we can muster are rage, anger, hate and jealousy.  Hate thy neighbor.

Hate thyself.

It seems that the further we get from Nature the further we get from ourselves.  I feel trapped. I  need to go.

Take me back to Nature...

Check out the video this journal entry inspired: “Society Kills the BoonDocker’s Spirit”.