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RV Life

15 Christmas Gift Ideas for RV Families

15 Christmas Gift Ideas for RVers

(Disclosure: We’ve made a few recommendations below which are available on Amazon or other camping programs. If you choose to make a purchase, we will receive an affiliate commission at no cost to you to help us continue to bring helpful content about being an RV family and our camping adventures!)

We are often asked what Christmas looks like for an RVing Family. One of the biggest questions is on the topic of ‘Christmas gift ideas’ – many RV owners live full-time in their rig, a tiny home on wheels.

Our first Christmas after moving into our travel trailer was tough because, while they wanted to give us gifts, our relatives didn’t want to gift us things that would just end up in storage, things for outdoor use that would take up too much space to travel with, or things that we wouldn’t get much use of while we live in our travel trailer.

Space is at a premium in a tiny home on wheels. Whether you’re buying for a family, a couple, or a single person who enjoys RV living, there are some gift ideas you can consider for your RVing friends, and items we’d recommend you stay away from.

One of the Christmas gift rules we have outlined for our family is that we don’t need gifts that simply take up space and don’t serve a purpose. We travel full-time, moving to new RV parks sometimes 2 or 3 times per week. Outdoor accessories have to be set up and put away far too frequently, and we need to store them when we aren’t using them in our limited storage space. Consider the RV owner on your gift list when you’re looking for that perfect something to make them happy – consider how their lifestyle is RVing and their limited space.

Bad Gifts for RVers

What kid doesn’t love to get a new stuffed animal? But puffy, bulky toys that take up space are not great gifts for RVers. The adult version of this bulky, oversized gift would be wall decor, picture frames, knife blocks, throw pillows and extra, unnecessary blankets, another set of measuring cups, delicate wine glasses, or a fancy dish set for 8 people.

Large items that can’t be folded for easy storage, like a movie poster, over-sized board game, or things that are heavy like a weight-lifting set or a treadmill are not great items to gift RVers for obvious reasons. Unless an RV owner specifically asks for one of these things, it’s best to go for a more practical item as a gift.

It might go without saying, but in an RV, space and weight are at a premium. Consider this before you buy the gift item: If you were receiving this gift, would you take it along with you on your next RVing trip or vacation?

For the most part, the quantity of things we have in our rig is comparable to what we would bring with us to a vacation cottage for a weekend or a week-long RV rental. All RV owners have things in their rig that they never use. It comes with the territory – it’s so easy to accumulate unnecessary stuff while RVing just as it is with living in a house. Clutter just accumulates faster in a tiny home on wheels. Here are some Christmas gift ideas that are sure to be perfect for your RVing friends and relatives.

Good Gifts for RVers

For the full-time traveling RVers on your Christmas list (families, couples, or single travelers), consider gifting them with experiences instead of things.

Here is a list of the best gift ‘experiences’ that you can give – they will create lasting memories for RVers:

National Park Pass for Canada or the USA

Joshua Tree National Park in California

National Parks are all over Canada and US, offering a wide variety of experiences for all ages – hiking in the mountains, walking on nature trails in forests, relaxing by a lake, kayaking, skiing, nature-watching, camping under the stars, and exploring a historic site. With a National Park Pass, the experiences an RVer will have are endless,

On long travel days, it’s not uncommon for our family to plan area to stop at so we can stretch our legs and make the day more exciting. We look for National Parks and Historic Sites along the way, not always with the intention to spend a night, but simply to explore and take a little break. These parks and historic sites are not an additional cost to us once we have the national pass.

Provincial / State Park Pass

If you are looking for that perfect gift for an RVer who does a lot of traveling within their state or province, but doesn’t live full-time in their RV, a state park or provincial park pass might be practical and offer more access to local places than a National Park Pass would.

Gift Cards (Cue the Eye Roll)

Gift cards are one of the best RV gift ideas, but they come with a stigma – “I didn’t know what to get you, so I got you this,” They are a thoughtful gift for RVers. If you’d rather not give a gift card to grocery stores, restaurants, or gas stations, consider giving gift certificates to experiences or local attractions.

gift card to a movie theatre chain or a Bass Pro Shop can be given with a hand-written note saying, “Go enjoy the sequel to your favorite movie next month”, or, “Buy that fishing rod you’ve always wanted for your next fishing trip.” A gift like this is not considered a ‘cop-out’ or uncreative gift – it’s an intentional, thoughtful gift for an RVer.

A gift card to a favorite restaurant chain or a local restaurant is a perfect gift. Again, adding a personal note with the gift card to say, “We know you love Olive Garden. Order your favorite pasta while spending a day on the road,” or “Enjoy your trip to Nashville, and go to dinner at the Rainforest Cafe!” adds a personal touch. **Bonus points: Choose Cracker Barrel gift cards, because they usually have oversized parking lots for Busses and RV owners, and allow overnight parking. Breakfast in their restaurants is perfect for RVers before they head back out on the road.**

Pay attention to where your traveling friends or family members are going next, and think about gifting them with gift cards that they can use while they enjoy their time away.

If you’re looking for a super-practical gift card with no strings attached, a gift card to a gas station is ideal, for obvious reasons. Grocery gift cards are a close second. We have used grocery gift cards for buying treats or to splurge on special food items – a dessert we don’t always buy, or that more expensive, specialty cheese we don’t normally put on our grocery list.

If you’re the type of person who wants to gift something that needs to be unwrapped (not just placed in an envelope with a card), then get create with the way you wrap the gift card – possibly in a shoebox, or gift bag, or tape it to a chocolate bar that’s gift-wrapped.

Season Pass to Theme Park Chain

For a stationary family, a theme park pass can be enjoyed all summer long. It’s such a fun place they can go to over and over again.

For a family on the road, it may not be best to gift a local theme park since the family can only use the pass in that one specific city. However, there are few theme park chains in Canada and the USA. Gifting a season’s pass to these theme parks make a perfect gift for RVers:

Six Flags ParksSeaworld / Busch Gardens, & Cedar Fair Parks

Depending on where your gift recipient will be traveling, and the types of attractions they enjoy, each of these parks has a variety of activities as well as multiple locations.

For bonus points, add on the Theme Park “Dining Deal”

We have purchased the Dinning Passes for our Six Flags season passes, which allow us to simply show up at the park without packed lunches or snacks, and we don’t have to dip into our retirement savings to get a plate of nachos and an ice cream to keep us going for the day. For our family of 5, (our boys are under 12 years old right now), we purchased only 2 dining passes. Each one includes lunch, dinner, and a snack every time we visit any of their parks along with unlimited soda. Since the portions are large, this is plenty of food to keep the 5 of us going for the day.

We had considered getting each of us a dining pass, but when we are hopping on and off rides all day, we don’t want to be stuffed full of food. We just need snack-sized portions throughout the day. We  We eat a big breakfast in the morning before we go to the park – 2 dining passes for us is perfect. And as our oldest son moves into his pre-teen years, we will add on another dining pass for him.

Honorable mention has to be Disney passes, but know that you’ll be paying a pretty penny for them, and their locations are localized to Florida and California.

Gym Club Membership

Depending on where your gift recipient will be traveling, and how often they want to visit a gym, a gym club membership might be a great gift. You may not have realized this, but RVers who camp mostly off-grid love having gym memberships.

While gym memberships make great gifts for those who enjoy working out, RVing families can use this type of membership to do activities geered to kids and families. Kids can hang out in classes or be taken care of while parents are working out, they can take showers, enjoy the pools, and relax in the saunas. Rather than paying a premium price for a full-hookup campsite with amenities, RVers will often find somewhere inexpensive, often without hookups, to park. They will make use of their gym membership to takes showers. The parking lots of gym clubs are often large enough for large Class A motorhomes or travel trailers to park in, which makes for a convenient stop between campsites.

Since certain chains of gym clubs are more prominent in specific regions throughout the country, know where your traveling friend is going so you can be sure to buy a membership that will work best for them.

If a gym membership isn’t a fit, consider places where kids can go to be active such as a trampoline park, or indoor gymnasium. Gift cards to access these places are so thoughtful – kids and parents love having them, especially for rainy days. Even a gift card for Chick-Fil-A can be a useful gift for RVing families with active kids – they likely visit these restaurants frequently because their kids enjoy the indoor playgrounds they offer.

Gifts to Keep Track of Travels

It’s amazing how many RVers intend to track their traveling, but don’t find the time or resources to.

Some RVers will pick up a bumper sticker, a state sticker, or a sticker from a national park along their travels and stick It on the outside of their RV. However, many of us don’t want to commit to having something permanently stuck to the outside of our travel trailer or motorhome. Here are some great alternatives to keep track of travels:

Map Gift Ideas for RV Travelers:

Journal Gift Ideas for RV Families:

RVers Camping Gifts

It may seem too obvious to get RVers camping gifts, but they really are useful. Whenever possible, purchase something that’s foldable, collapsible, but still durable (with good reviews) so it will last on the road.

Here are some gift ideas for RV owners that are perfectly suited to RV camping, cooking, and RV-living:

Bad RV Camping Gift Ideas

This seems to be the perfect spot for a reminder that gifts for RV owners should be practical, compact, and lightweight. An inflatable hot tub might get put into storage rather than get any outdoor use while your RVing friend stays at an RV park. Even if it is on the shelves of the “camping” section at your local retailer, or is recommended by someone who camps a few weekends every summer. It is not practical for RVers.

Road Trip Travel Games

Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift for a couple or a family, everyone loves activities for long road trips. And while all of our traveling styles are unique and some of our travel days are longer than others, we constantly look for fun activities to pass the time between outings at national parks, or while we are traveling from one campground to the next.

Amazon has plenty of travel game ideas for various ages. We recommend you purchase something that doesn’t require batteries. Sounds and lights from the backseat can be a distraction to the driver, especially when they are towing a large RV. Also, consider the fact that small pieces get lost easily and often make the game unplayable while in a vehicle, so look for an age-appropriate game that’s magnetic, or one without any small, moveable pieces.

Thousand Trails, Passport America, Harvest Hosts, and Boondockers Welcome RV Club Memberships

In one of our most popular blog posts, we covered 9 ways to save money on campgrounds, and some of those ideas can easily become the perfect gifts for the RV owner on your Christmas list.

Thousand Trails is a network of campgrounds owned by a single corporation, and their camping membership gives free access to any of their campgrounds for up to 14 nights at a time, or even more! The membership is broken into zones of traveling which can be added on individually for an additional, minimal cost. While memberships can vary in price, the base level Thousand Trails membership starts at $599/year and might be sufficient for many travelers, with others choosing to add on additional zones.

Another great $44 gift option is a Passport America membership. Each campground in the Passport America program is independently owned and operated with their own terms and conditions. They offer 50% off of their rates for select nights throughout the season, and some offer monthly discounts if you have the Passport America membership.

If the RV owner on your gift list is interested in off-grid camping, then a membership to Boondockers Welcome or Harvest Hosts will allow them to have some unique camping experiences as part of their membership. Each night you stay, you’ll pick up something at the hosts’ store or leave a gift for your host instead of paying for the campsite. Hookups vary from water and electric to none depending on the host.

Click below for more details:

Zoo, Aquariums, Science Centers & Museum Membership gifts for RVers

The AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) offer a reciprocal program, meaning that if you have a membership at your local Zoo, you may be able to get free or discounted access to other zoos throughout Canada and the USA. Check their reciprocal page to find out if your community’s zoo appears on the list.

ASTC (Association of Science & Technology Centers)

Your local zoo, museum, science center or aquarium will often have a discounted membership available through Groupon. Use Groupon to get a discount on a year’s membership, then enjoy reciprocal admission or discounts at other locations. If your local Groupon doesn’t have a discount, consider looking at the gift recipient’s travel destinations to see if there’s something nearby they can enjoy while they travel.

In our travels, we found a $35 Groupon for a one-year family membership to a small aquarium in California. It has paid off over and over since we’ve used the AZA reciprocal program to visit zoos in California, Calgary, Toronto, and Nashville, and many others. Next time we renew our membership, we’ll be checking Groupon again.

Just like national parks and theme parks, these reciprocal memberships provide a great option for RVers to help break up a long travel day with a fun outing, and help the RVing families stay on budget while taking day trips to zoos and aquariums for homeschooling outings.

Do you have something that was missed from this list? What’s the best Christmas gift you’ve received that’s fit perfectly into your RV lifestyle?

Leave a comment below so we can all learn together!

Categories
Parks

Exploring the Fraser Valley in British Columbia

Summer is a great time of year to explore British Columbia. We traveled with our trailer from Ontario all of the way out to British Columbia this summer. We decided that, since we have to spend the winter in Canada, the best province to RV in is British Columbia because of its mild winters. British Columbia is an RVers “playground’ – full of mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, and islands on the Pacific Ocean.

It’s been easy for us to find waterfalls and hiking trails that aren’t too difficult for our three boys while we stay the rest of the year in the Fraser Valley. One of them we have enjoyed a couple of times is Bridal Veil Falls. It is a very short 1/2 kilometer walk to the falls. The fun part is climbing up the falls. It’s quite steep, but we all managed to make it up to base of the waterfall. The water trickles down over the rocks to where the trail starts and the view of the falls is impressive from the trail, but climbing up to the base of it helps you realize how big the waterfall is.

And if you’re adventurous, you can step onto some rocks and have an icy cold shower in the falls! We chose not to do this, but were entertained by watching some adults who did. If you are ever in the Chilliwack area, make sure you visit this waterfall.

           

If you go south of Chilliwack to Cultus Lake, don’t miss Teapot Trail. It’s a 3.8 mile hike to a lookout area. The view isn’t necessarily spectacular, but what makes this hike unique are all of the teapots and teacups hidden by people along the path. There are over 100 placed along the path, in the woods, and even up in the trees!

The boys helped paint a white teapot that we picked up on clearance at Ikea, and we brought it with us on the hike. It was fun looking for the perfect spot to set ours. It was also motivation to get to the top of the trail because we told our boys we’d place it near the top. And that’s what we did! So, if you go on this hike, look near the top of the trail, in the trees, along the path, and let us know if you spot it!

 

      

North of Chilliwack close to where the Fraser River meets Harrison Lake are the towns of Aggasiz and Harrison Hot Springs. This area is peaceful, away from the busy cities, and surrounded by mountains. You’ll find that it’s a beautiful area to get out on the water.

Our new friends here let us try out their paddleboard. Our boys had never been out on one before, but know how to row, so it was fairly easy for them. Joel was the only one able to balance while standing on it. I think we just might need to buy our own! Being out on a lake in the mountains is so peaceful.

    

   

Check out Harrison Hot Springs, north of Chilliwack. The little shops and restaurants are great! You’ll also find a beautiful, sandy, beach next to Harrison Lake. There is also a small, shallow pond next to the lake that is warmer for swimming in, great for younger kids, and also is surrounded by sand.

We spent an afternoon soaking up the sun in both areas. I brought homemade sushi for lunch. Who brings sushi for a picnic?! We do! Our boys love it, and so do Adam and I. The shallow pond is a fun spot to hang out because there is a playground nearby as well.

Harrison Hot Springs also has a gorgeous resort where you can spend a night, relax in the spa, and swim in the natural hot springs pool. We hope to be back to enjoy this resort someday.

 

  

Vedder Mountain, beside Cultus Lake, is a great area for hiking, biking, and going out in an ATV. Vedder Mountain Ridge Trail is over 8 kilometers long! We decided not to do the entire hike but enjoyed the beautiful hike into the woods.

We spotted different kinds of mushrooms growing and saw moss and slugs. It was not a difficult hike and a great afternoon outing on a sunny day. Our boys love to explore everything on our hikes, especially our youngest, Ian. He will spot the tiniest mushrooms, pretty wildflowers, tiny bugs, and unique trees, stopping many times to take it all in. This slows us down a bit, but we love his and our other two boys’ interest in nature.

   

These are just some of the outdoor, family outings we have taken here in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia.

Categories
RV Life

What is Boondocking (or dry camping) and where is Boondocking Welcome?

You’ve probably heard of boondocking (or some reference to being down in the boondocks) and also dry camping, with some minor differences. Boondocking and dry camping are similar – You’re overnight parking, usually for free, with no hookups (water, electric, or sewer).

What is the difference between Dry Camping and Boondocking?

Dry camping is when there are no hookups, but you’re at a developed campground.

Boondocking is also with no hookups, but you’re staying the night outside of a developed campground. For example – Protection Mountain Campground in Banff National Park or the Overflow Campground in Jasper National Park – both established campgrounds with no hookups (this is dry camping). Pulling over to park somewhere other than a campground, like at a rest area on the highway, is Boondocking. (Pulling over in a Walmart parking lot is what we’ve nicknamed “Wally-Docking”).

For most conversations, there’s no need to distinguish the difference with an RVer. Boondocking or Dry Camping is virtually the same thing for most of us – you’re staying overnight somewhere with no hookups.

What is Moochdocking?

Moochdocking in a friend’s backyard

Moochdocking is another term you’re not going to find in the dictionary. This is simply mooching off a friend or family member to park your RV in their driveway and get a few nights of free camping.

Most of the time, they’ll run you an extension cord, or let you hook up your hose for fresh water so you’re not actually boondocking.

Why would you want to Boondock in your RV?

Many RVers are perfectly happy to stay in a full-hookup campground or RV Park. There are often amenities, reliable power, water connections to fill your fresh water tank, wifi, a pool, or a laundry room. That being said, in many campgrounds you trade off the convenience of the amenities for being surrounded by people you don’t know (or sometimes worse, people you DO know).

Sometimes those other campers are loud at night or leave all of their outside lights on when you’re wanting to stargaze, or simply their site is so close, when you open your blinds you look into your neighbors RV – not necessarily causing a problem for you, but also not providing much privacy.

Campground owners have an incentive to give you a small site and pack in as many sites as possible. More campsites = more paying campers.

Reason 1 to Boondock: Privacy and Solitude

Boondocking in Georgia

I like to have my own space. Celine likes to be around people. We choose a combination of boondocking and spending time in a campground. Our new solar setup allows us to stay off-grid for many days at a time, limited mostly to the capacity of our water tank.

I don’t mind the hustle and bustle of a city, but when I’m sitting around the fire at night, or laying in the hammock looking at the stars, I don’t want neighbors walking past, or hear them playing KumByYa for the 39th time on their out-of-tune guitar around their fire.

There are plenty of places to boondock for free. In the US, there is public land (or BLM: Bureau of Land Management) places where you can park in a National Forest or out in the desert. In Canada, there is Crown Land where you can park in the mountains or by a lake, or sometimes both.

Note: The majority of BLM in the states is on the west half of the country (west of the Rockies mostly), while Crown Land is pretty evenly spread throughout each province in Canada.

Reason 2: Cost Savings

The second reason could be less of a motivator, and more like the icing on the cake. While campgrounds or RV parks can average $30-$50/night, an established campground, Harvest Hosts, or Boondockers Welcome with no hookups is much less – often working out to only a few dollars per night – and many spots are simply free camping.

If you make boondocking all about saving money, then it becomes like a necessity to keep your costs low, rather than an opportunity to enjoy nature. When we want to keep costs low while we’re traveling for a couple of days and we need a quick stop overnight, we will look for a Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome property to stay at. Instead of pulling into a campground and having the hassle of hooking up just to leave the next morning, we’ll stop in a Walmart parking lot, visitors center, truck stops, or a rest area on the way.

Where is Boondocking Welcome?

Many people like the thought of boondocking and taking some time off-grid, but when you’re not an RVer and you think of free overnight parking, you might think purely truck stops, or Walmarts, or in a friend’s driveway. Finding out that there are dry camping or boondocking options almost anywhere is a whole new way of thinking, but you can’t simply pull over and park the night anywhere your rig will fit.

Many streets have overnight parking restrictions, often parking lots are private property, and many city parks with large parking lots close at dusk, subject to the trespassing violations.

Just because your RV will fit somewhere that looks vacant overnight doesn’t mean you’re welcome to boondock there.

Where to Boondock on Private Property: Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome

Our son learning to milk a goat at a Harvest Host in Florida

Harvest Hosts are often at farms, vineyards, and orchards. But there are also places to stay at museums, golf courses, and unique locations where you can boondock a night or two. You pay a yearly membership which gives you access to their database of host locations, and while there is no cost to stay the night, as a courtesy, plan to spend about $20/adult in their restaurant, market, gift shop, or on a tour. In a pinch, some hosts offer water and electric connections. Learn more here.

Boondockers Welcome is different from harvest hosts because you’ll be parking on residential or private property – pulling into someone’s driveway, yard, or field. Locations are free (sometimes a few dollars extra if you’d like water or electricity) and a great way to meet friends as your hosts will come out and welcome you to their space and give you some ideas about what to do in the area. Learn more here.

Public Lands: BLM and Crown Land

BLM in United States is public land, owned by the government, so while it may, at first glance, seem that you can go do whatever you’d like wherever you’d like, there are restrictions to where and how long you can camp on BLM land. Here’s the BLM site for full details.

Crown Land is the Canadian equivalent of BLM, but details and maps are specific to each province. For instance, in British Columbia, they have a site called SitesAndTrailsBC.ca (heads up that many are down dirt forest service roads). In Ontario, the site and restrictions are here. Look for the government website for crown land for whichever province you’re going to be visiting for full details.

Can you boondock at Walmart? (aka WallyDocking)

Not bad for a Walmart Sunset

Walmart, Cracker Barrel, Cabela’s, and Bass Pro Shops are some popular overnight stays for RVers, but each store is unique in its restrictions, either by the store manager’s preference or the local ordinances which restrict overnight parking in their city.

While it’s a safe bet to aim for one of these locations for a quick overnight stop, ALWAYS call the manager and ask if overnight parking is allowed at their specific location.

As a general rule, these are not developed campgrounds, and this is not a campsite. Don’t get out your lawn chairs, start a fire, put out the slides or awning, or plan to unhitch and stay for a few days. Make sure that you leave the area where you park as clean as when you arrived the night before. Don’t dump your tanks or leaving garbage.

Don’t think of these as free camping. Think of boondocking at Walmart (or other places) like an overnight stop on your way to or from your destination.

Will I have any power in my RV while Boondocking?

Most RVs have an onboard battery which will allow you to run your 12V systems – Refrigerator running off of propane (Still requiring 12V for the circuitry), lights, and built-in vent fans.

To run your outlets for plugging in a laptop, or cell phone, or TV, you’ll need an inverter (which inverts 12V DV to 120V AC).

As an alternative, many people will run a generator, buy additional batteries to add to their RV, or simply go with 12V only, cook on the fire or with propane, and enjoy the wilderness, and conserve as much power as possible.

(I wrote an article about figuring out how much solar power you need on your RV to boondock. Read more here).

What are the ways I can use less power and save energy when I’m boondocking in my RV?

Besides your normal usage, finding ways to use less power will increase the amount of time your battery power will support you off-grid and give your solar panels the best chance to replenish as much power as possible.

Here are a few ways to be more efficient when you’re boondocking:

  • Replace your RV lightbulbs with LED bulbs. Every bit of power savings helps, plus LEDs will reduce heat when you’re not running your Air Conditioning while boondocking. Even with LEDs, spend as much time as you can outside and use your lights as little as possible.
  • Charge your devices when needed. Rather than keeping your laptop or phone plugged in all the time, charge them when they need to be charged, and then unplug them once you’re done using them.
  • Use your high-energy items when you have full sun. If your panels are getting full sun, and your batteries have hit full, the energy that your panels are creating is going nowhere, so now is the time to turn on that instant pot, fire up the second fridge (like our bar fridge in our outdoor kitchen), watch a movie, or recharge everything.
  • Boil water on the stove to make coffee or soup instead of using an electric coffee pot or the microwave.
  • Stay out late and enjoy the fire. Don’t watch TV, drain your phone battery playing games, or use indoor lights when you could be sitting out after dark around a campfire. If the smell of campfire smoke isn’t for you, take along a propane fire to serve the same purpose.
  • Cook outside on the fire or grill to keep the heat down in your RV. If it’s getting cool and you want to warm up your RV, it’s a great evening to cook inside. Don’t ever use your stove only for the purpose of heating your trailer. If you’re cooking a meal, make the most of the heat you’re creating with your oven – you can leave the oven door open after you’re done with it and have turned it off to let the heat warm your trailer.
Categories
RV Life

Solar Panels for RVs – A Novice’s Guide on Where To Start

This article contains affiliate links. If you choose to click and make a purchase, we may make a commission at no cost to you.

Let me start by saying that I’m no expert in Solar Panels and electrical systems, and for some people reading, that will be enough to click away, but for others, that’s just what you need.

Some people are just like me – with very little knowledge about how solar panels connect to you RV or camper’s batteries and electrical system – but since we (actually, friends of ours) just finished installing solar panels, batteries, and an inverter/charger in our travel trailer, here are some things I learned.

NOTE: I would recommend working with a professional before purchasing any solar panels for RV application. Again, I’m no expert, and your install will be unique to your needs and your RV’s electrical needs. I have worked with Xantrex before, so we chose their equipment for our installation.

Do I need Solar Panels if I’m plugged in at a campground or RV Park?

Nope. Your power comes from shore power. Solar panels provide virtually no benefit to you if your 30amp or 50amp system is plugged into its proper shore power connection.

Some RVers think solar power is an important component to have backup power in case the power at the park goes out. While in our experience, this is rare, it is still possible.

A simpler solution to combat unforeseen power outages at your RV park is to have a backup generator or a battery bank that can run your RV’s essentials until the power is restored. While your RV probably has a battery currently, you can upgrade that battery to a higher capacity (called higher amp-hours – the number of hours your battery can power one amp) or switch to lithium-ion batteries which are more efficient for both charging and power output. (Lithium Ion can safely be discharged to 0%, while other battery types may be damaged by being drained lower than about 50%).

So the benefit of Solar Panels for your RV is to replenish power when you’re unplugged (also called Dry Camping, or Boondocking). You can easily go dry camping on just batteries without needing solar for a few days (depending on your battery capacity), so keep in mind that having solar panels on your RV is less about powering the RV – that’s the battery’s job – and more about replenishing power as you go.

How Much Solar Power Do I Need for me RV?

This has to be your starting question. How you answer this will determine how you design the components of your system, and how flexible your options will be.

For us, our power needs were determined by many factors, but one factor is our freshwater tank capacity. We have a 43-gallon freshwater tank, which should last us about 4-5 days (if we’re really intentional about our usage). With that in mind, this means that the most we could spend off-grid without replenishing water is 4-5 days.

We will find a sani-station to dump and refill without plugging into power, so maybe we’re off-grid for 9-10 days with a water refill part way, but we had no need to install a system that would last us a month or two without plugging into electricity. About 9-10 days for us is perfect.

Another consideration is the weight added to our trailer. While technology is getting lighter, it’s still important to recognize that adding RV solar panels, batteries, charge controllers, and all of the wiring, breakers, solar panel kits and connections you’ll need will add a considerable amount of weight to our travel trailer.

If your trailer, or motorhome, or tow vehicle requires you to be conscious about your weight, then this can help determine where your solar system may reach its limits. In this case, a portable solar panel kit may be the best solution, rather than mounting panels.

Here’s the process we used to determine how much power we wanted to store (with our lithium batteries) and generate (with our solar panels) needed:

Step 1: Figure out how much power your RV uses in an average day

To do this, we used a Xantrex Linkpro which allowed us to track our power usage with the battery that came with the trailer. The Linkpro will show you the percentage of your battery that you have left in a percentage (not like the built-in battery monitor that often shows 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100%).

Unplug your RV from the pedestal, then spend the day the way you normally would.

The Linkpro was able to tell us that we were using about 40% of our previous battery in a day. We took our battery amp-hours and figured out how many amp-hours was equivalent to 40% to figure out an average day’s usage.

One thing this didn’t account for is that we didn’t have an inverter on our rig from the factory, so we couldn’t use power outlets – we couldn’t run the instant pot, or charge a laptop or phone, or other electronics that need to be plugged in like a TV, but we could still use the lights, vent fans, propane fridge, etc.

We knew that our power usage was going to be a bit more than that 40% because we would also be plugging in our laptops or phones, so we factored in another 10%, assuming that we’ll be much more power-conscious than average when we’re boondocking.

You’ll need a kilowatt meter (or something similar) to see how much draw certain appliances need. For us, we have an outdoor kitchen that has a small bar fridge. Using a meter, we discovered that it draws a fair amount of power, so we’ll probably keep it turned off while we’re off-grid, and basically use it like a cooler, storing things that won’t spoil – soda, condiments, etc.

Step 2: How long do you want to depend on your RV Solar Panels and be unplugged from electricity?

Are you wanting to stop overnight at a Boondockers Welcome site between campgrounds? Would you like to take a weekend away? Does a month in the desert sound like paradise to you? Are you hoping to stay off-grid for most of the year?

Amp-hours per day from your kilowatt meter lets you know how much power you’re depleting in a day. Now determine how much you want to try and put back into the system.

If you are using 50amp hours and you want to stay off-grid for 2 days at a time, then you need a 100ah usage – either a 100ah lithium battery or a 200ah battery of AGM or lead-acid. You won’t need any solar to replenish, because you’ll always be in a position to refill once you get down to 50%.

If you’re using 50amp hours (ah) a day, and you want to boondock for a week, then you’ll need 350ah at your disposal. You could do this by purchasing batteries that will sustain you for more than 350ah, or you could get smaller capacity batteries and add on solar panels to replenish you when the sun is out.

You’ll also want to know if you want your solar panels to slow down (sometimes called stepping down) how fast you drain your batteries, or if you want your panels to completely replenish your batteries.

Boondocking in Northern Ontario, Canada

Stepping down is when you use more power than you replenish. For example, if you use 40% and replenish 20% each day, meaning your net drain is 20% per day. On day one, you net do to 80%, day 2 net down to 60%, day 3, net down to 40%, etc. With a step-down strategy, your batteries will eventually get down to 0%, but the energy from your solar panels will slow that drain – in this case, you’ll stay off-grid longer than if you simply drained 40% without and gain from your solar.

Completely replenishing your batteries means that on a sunny day, you’ll need to put back in as much energy as you used – this takes much more energy from your solar panels, but your power can last indefinitely.

Remember to give yourself some margin, as with everything related to life on the road. The sun won’t always be out, sometimes you’ll use a little more than usual, and other times, you might be parked underneath a beautiful tree – beautiful to the eyes, but not beautiful to your RV solar panel.

With this information, this is where a professional comes in to do some calculations with you about your energy usage, recommendations for battery capacity, and the number and wattage of the panels you’ll need. Here’s an online calculator to get you started.

 

What other components do I need to install solar panels on my RV?

Before we got started, I was under the (mistaken) impression that we simply connect solar panels to the battery – maybe we needed an adapter – and then the battery would take in the energy that it needs from the sun and send it out to the RV. Not quite.

I’m assuming you’re not as uninformed as I was, and you’ll need to be aware that there’s more to your RV solar system than just buying panels.

Here are the components we needed in our RV solar power system:

Xantrex Solar Panels – this one is obvious. These are the panels that absorb solar energy and turn it into electricity.

Xantrex Solar Charge Controller – this piece is the middle man between the panels and the batteries.

It stops allowing the flow of electricity once the batteries are full and allows the flow again once the batteries need recharging.

There are two types of solar charge controllers: MPPT & PWM. Without getting into the differences – because I’m no scientist – the MPPT version is more expensive but more efficient in collecting power.

Xantrex Inverter/Charger Freedom XC 2000 – The inverter charge has 2 functions (as the name suggests). It inverts DC power into AC power, so we can charge a laptop in an outlet from the 12V battery, run the instant pot, or charge our phones. It charges the batteries if they are depleted when we plug into shore power so we’re ready to go back out again after a top-up. NOTE: Not all chargers will work with lithium batteries, so check ahead. This one does.

Lithium Batteries – We decided that for us, we needed 2 x 200ah Lithium-Ion Batteries.

Xantrex Freedom Control Panel – This panel monitors our inverter charger, lets us know if it’s charging or our power is running off the batteries, and allows us a way inside our RV to reset it if we overload the circuit (similar to popping a breaker in a sticks-and-bricks home).

Xantrex Linkpro – This monitors our battery usage and shows some helpful stats like the exact percentage left in our battery – as I’m writing this, I can see that I have 97.8% battery power left, and as the sun is setting, I’m netting -3amps to charge my laptop and have a few lights on. This may be a small component of a solar system battery system, but not having to make a manual check on battery status enhances our quality of life off-grid.

We also know that on average overnight, we’ll use about 25% of our battery power, so as long as we have more than 25% when we go to sleep, we don’t have to worry about waking up without power.

Aside from this equipment, keep in mind that you’ll need some breakers, cabling, wire, fuses, screws, and plenty of dicor RV sealant. These bits and pieces add up, and for us, they worked out to about 20% of our solar system.

How do I install Solar Panels on an RV or Camper?

This is a good question, and honestly, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without help from our friends who installed and expanded a solar panel system on their rig and asked another friend who is an electrical engineer to look over their diagram.

Each piece seemed relatively straight forward, but engineering the whole system with proper fuses for positive lines, calculating wire diameter to be sure we used 2/0 cable where needed and 10 gauge cable in other places, where to drill holes in the roof and reseal them so they don’t leak. Listen, I can throw sugar into a mixer, but I can’t make a pie.

While each piece of a solar system seems to be logical and rather straight forward, putting the whole thing together is something I that I would recommend leaving to a professional installer. I can’t imagine something going wrong and not having power, or worse yet, ruining the entire electrical system in our RV because I wanted to do it myself.

If you’re set on doing it yourself, YouTube can be a great resource:

Your RV Solar Panel System will be customized to you

Buying a solar panel kit may seem tempting – the thought of a solar kit sounds like you simply setup whatever comes in the box and then you have power – but your individual needs from battery capacity to solar wattage to weight to how you’ll use your system will determine the right product for each piece of your installation and the right solar panel for an RV that fits a lifestyle like yours.

Once you discover what you’ll need, there may be solar kits that fit those needs, but start with your needs, not one of the off-the-shelf solar kits.

Consider Alternative To Installing Solar Panels on your RV:

Portable Solar USB Charger: Along with the 12V system running in your RV off of your battery, you may want something simple to charge your phone while you’re off-grid for the lowest possible price. Without any installation, you can use a portable solar charger to keep your phone charged in case of emergency, or wanting to relax with a round of candy crush.

Moveable / Foldable Solar Panels: These 120-watt panels probably won’t replenish your battery usage, but they will be able to slow the drain on your batteries to allow you to stay off-grid longer. These solutions allow you to put the panels on the ground outside and keep them in sunlight as the sun moves to produce as much power as possible. They are easily stored since they fold.

Portable Battery Bank: If you need additional power, or 120V power if you don’t have an inverter, then a portable battery bank with built-in outlets to charge multiple devices, run a fan or CPAP is a great option. This specific one will charge while you drive so you can make multiple stops and recharge this device over multiple nights.

Generator: While generators can be loud and disturb your time away boondocking, they also are a reliable way to charge or run your RV’s electrical system. Some have 30amp connections right on the unit, and you can simply plugin as if you were at a pedestal. While there is the ongoing expense of fuel, you may find that a battery and generator are best suited for your short times off-grid, and flexibility to have full power, even if the sun isn’t out.

Where are you in the process of equipping your RV to boondock? Leave a comment below!

Categories
Cities RV Life

9 Fun Things To Do As A Family in Kelowna, BC

(Note: some of the affiliate links in this article will pay us a commission at no cost to you if you choose to make a purchase.)

We recently RV’d as a family for a few nights in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. We spent some of the time in West Kelowna (on the west side of the Okanagan lake) and the rest in Kelowna (on the east side).

Where is Kelowna?

Kelowna is part of the Okanagan Valley, a mountainous area surrounding Okanagan Lake in south-central British Columbia. The ground is so fertile. Snow melts off of the mountains watering the area. Many of the fruit and vegetable crops grown in the province of BC come from this area – grown in the foothills around the mountains.

We were concerned about making the trip in our RV to the Okanagan Valley, known as the wine region, and wondered if there would be anything for our kids to do, but we were pleasantly surprised with what we discovered. We began our trip towing our travel trailer just outside of Vancouver (Kelowna is about a 4-hour drive east of Vancouver). We took the Coquihalla Highway (British Columbia 5) through Merrit to Kelowna and decided to take Hwy 3 through EC Manning Provincial Park on our way back west. Neither was a simple drive while towing our 30 ft travel trailer, and our evidence is entirely anecdotal, but it seemed like driving west on Hwy 3 was less of a challenge than driving east on Hwy 5. It could merely be that driving any direction west out of the Cascade Mountains is more manageable than going east into them.

When you’re planning your trip to the Okanagan, keep in mind that at the north end of Okanagan Lake is Vernon, and to the south end of the lake, you’ll reach Penticton, with Kelowna on the east side (halfway down the lake) and West Kelowna on the westside, along with Peachland and Summerland.

While this is all considered the Okanagan Region, around the lake, it’s about a 2-hour drive (depending on traffic) to get from Vernon on the north shore to Penticton on the south shore, so give yourself some time between planned activities, or plan your schedule based on region. If you want to be in the midst of all the action and aren’t visiting the area with an RV, choose a hotel near City Park in Kelowna!

Experience the Okanagan for Family Vacation

We don’t typically rush to do mini-golf, or visit nearby batting cages or laser tag (although many of these activities are available in Kelowna). For family fun, we mostly choose adventure experiences that are specific to the area (with the necessary stop at an ice cream shop, of course). While there are plenty of winery and cidery tours, we were looking for family-friendly experiences that would leave us with happy memories with our kids, and Kelowna did not disappoint.We only had a few days for our trip, at the end of August, so here’s what we enjoyed doing in Kelowna, as well as a few things on our ‘to-do’ list for the next time we visit the Okanagan Valley.

Fun Things for Kids in Kelowna near the end of Summer (August) / Beginning of Fall (September)

Kelowna Wibit on Okanagan Lake

The Wibit water park on the Okanagan Lake in City Park Kelowna was probably the highlight of the trip for our three boys (ages 6, 8, & 11). Not only is it a family-friendly water park with inflatable slides, trampolines, climbing ropes, and obstacles, but it’s floating right on the lake, so we could enjoy our time on the beach, and wade in the ankle-deep clear water that outlines City Park (right in downtown Kelowna) as our boys played – not to mention enjoy the stunning views of the mountains across the lake.

Our boys enjoyed climbing around the water park, for about 90 minutes, then our younger two had their fill. They played on the beach and in the water while our oldest burned off more energy on the floating obstacle course. Our youngest thought the lake was similar to a wave pool since the wake made by passing boaters would wash up onto the shore.

We opted to buy tickets later in the afternoon from 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm, which was a discounted rate (you can get an ‘all-you-can-play’ pass for the day if you’d prefer). The discounted pass was perfect for us, and since it was August, it wasn’t too cool in the evening, and it was unlikely that our kids would have spent more time than the 3 hours we had with our pass. The water temperature in Okanagan Lake is cool in late August, but, of course, once you get in, you get used to it.

West Kelowna Skate Park

Skate parks are a bit of a new thing for our boys who have recently looked for ways to enjoy their rollerblades or scooters while we’re on the road since not every campground is paved. This is a free outing we enjoy taking and an easy way for us to burn off some energy. (Side note: we wrote a post about 9 free things to do on the road with kids. Skateparks is there!)

While it’s not something that our entire family participates in, our kids love it, so we’re happy to take them every now and then to skate parks. West Kelowna Skate park, tucked behind the Johnson Bentley Memorial Aquatic Center, is one of the most spacious skate parks we’ve found.

Many skate parks are tucked into a corner somewhere with very little parking nearby, but this skate park has a large parking lot behind the aquatic center. There is a large flat paved area where our younger kids could enjoy rollerskating on. There is a second area connected by a few ramps with pits to skate down into that our oldest son loved. We went back to this skate park a few times during our 2-night stay, and there were usually young teens and families using the park; they were always very friendly and respectfully enjoyed the space along with us.

City Park, Kelowna

Located in downtown Kelowna, City Park is nestled between main-street shops, restaurants, and Okanagan Lake. While we were visiting Kelowna, this was our favorite, kid-friendly park. It has so much to offer – a splash pad, playground, skate park, beach, marina, the Wibit water park, food trucks, and steps away from the shops downtown. Not only does City Park have plenty of developed amenities, but it also has a large amount of green space to enjoy a family picnic, throw a frisbee, or find your own family fun.

From what we’ve seen of pictures online, City Park is well-maintained year-round to allow for winter walks on the paved sidewalks and bike paths. We know that our kids will definitely be asking to visit City Park the next time we’re in the area. If we were not RVers, and were wanting to visit Kelowna, we would specifically recommend choosing a hotel near City Park, near the shops and numerous restaurants, with a view of the mountains and Lake Okanagan,

Farmers Markets & Pick Your Own Fresh Fruit in Kelowna

While we missed the local cherry season that the Okanagan is famous for (it usually runs until the end of July), we were able to find ‘you pick’ orchards with a variety of fruit ready to pick. We found quite a few around Kelowna so it was easy to choose a couple of them that were close to where we were staying, We visited two orchards/farms and found peaches, apples, plums, and nectarines ready to pick. There’s nothing like picking fruit and eating it immediately!  It’s so fresh and so delicious! Available at both locations we visited were fresh produce stands where we bought a (pretty sure the world’s largest) zucchini, bell peppers, fresh mint, and watermelon.

Besides picking fruit, we also visited Kelowna’s Farmer’s & Crafter’s Market on a Wednesday morning. There was LIVE music, food trucks,and lots of local vendors with fresh produce and homemade goods. We purchased some handmade perogies to cook at home.

We also stopped at Paynter’s Fruit Market in West Kelowna  to purchase some fresh vegetables. Getting the experience of picking fresh fruit was really why we wanted to visit the Okanagan Valley, so we made a full day of visiting orchards and markets. The fresh produce is amazing here!

Stay at a Harvest Hosts Location

If you’re going to be RVing in the Okanagan, and you’re not yet a Harvest Hosts member, now is the time.

Harvest Hosts allow you to stay on their property – often a farm, vineyard, or orchard – and in exchange, you’ll spend about $20/adult at their location – whether purchasing a gift from their store, buying dinner at their on-site restaurant, or taking their facility tour. Instead of paying for a night at a campground, we were able to stay at the bottom for a beautiful apple orchard for free. Most host locations are dry camping (no water or electric) but some include these hookups for a small fee.

Our Harvest Host location was the Scenic Road Cidery, just outside of Kelowna. It was a perfect ‘home base’ for us since it is close to everything, including City Park and grocery stores. Check out Harvest Host locations in Kelowna, and the rest of the Okanagan! Plan ahead for best availability.

Things our Family would do next time we visit the Okanagan in BC

While we enjoyed our trip, we didn’t have time to do all of the things on our list, like make a trip to at least one more ice cream shop. Here are some things to consider for your next trip to Kelowna, and activities that are available around the Okanagan (and let us know what you enjoyed doing most!)

Myra Canyon Trestles

A little bit out of the way, the Myra Canyon Trestles are about 40 minutes east of Kelowna. This highly-rated trail for hiking or biking takes you through 2 tunnels and 18 trestle bridges. This would be a beautiful outing when the Myra Canyons are full of plants budding in the spring, and a picture-perfect postcard adventure of colours in the fall.

Myra Canyon Adventure Park

Most reviews we’ve read indicate that the trestles are about a half-day experience, so while you’re out visiting Myra Canyon, fill the other half of your day with an outdoor adventure at the Myra Canyon Adventure Park. With zip lines, ropes courses, and team-building activities, it will be easy to fill the rest of the day swinging through the trees with breathtaking scenery. A little closer than the trestles, Maya Canyon Adventure Park is about 22 minutes from downtown Kelowna, BC.

Kettle Valley Railway

Take a 90-minute ride on a restored 1912 steam engine locomotive for 10 miles through the stunning views of British Columbia, leaving from Summerland. The Kettle Valley Railway can provide a year-round experience, from Christmas light trains, or Mothers Day Rides, to a summer BBQ and mock train robbery (with live bandits on horseback) and musical entertainment. This kid-friendly train experience has a limited schedule, so make it one of the first items you book into your Okanagan itinerary. Since it leaves from Summerland (on the southwest side of Okanagan Lake), build this experience into your schedule while staying at nearby West Kelowna, or south in Penticton.

Kangaroo Creek Farm

Sadly, we missed the Kangaroo Creek Farm when we were searching for things to do in Kelowna. We found out about the farm when we told someone that we had just visited Okanagan, and they asked if we went to the Kangaroo farm petting zoo. Take an afternoon of hands-on interaction with kangaroos, wallabies, and sugar gliders, and get eye level with parrots and peacocks. If we had to choose one thing we shouldn’t have missed in Kelowna, it’s the Kangaroo Creek Farm.

How Do You Decide What to Do in Kelowna with your Family?

It seems like no matter how long you spend time in this part of BC, you’ll find that there are so many fun things to do. The tricky part will be deciding what you’ll do while you are there, and what you’ll save doing for your next trip. You will consider what adventure you could fit into your schedule if you only had one more day.

Families who take a trip out to the Okanagan can easily spend time enjoying at a wave pool, go bowling, do water activities on Okanagan Lake, experience laser tag or paintball for the first time, or play a family-friendly round of mini-golf.

When we are heading to a place we’ve never been, we often start by telling our kids about the available activities there and ask each of our 3 boys to pick one that they would really like to experience. It’s not an exact science, since sometimes we’ll have 2 boys pick the same activity, or one of our kids can’t decide what they want to do. This method also depends on how long we’re staying, and it’s also fun to throw in a surprise here and there for our kids. We often get answers all over the map since they are all different ages and each one has their own idea about what makes a great vacation.

Understand the geography of the Okanagan Vally in BC before planning your vacation schedule, and figure out the distance between the activities that you choose. Above all, be sure that you make every part of the trip a fun adventure for your whole family. Explore what Canada has to offer you! Free cancellations on most hotels when you book now and stay later.

Categories
RV Life Save Money RVing

9 Free Things To Do: For Kids Who Travel In An RV full time

As a full-time RVing family, we often meet people on our travels who are a bit shocked, slightly envious, or even perplexed at how we travel as a family full-time and share 270 sq feet in our travel trailer between 5 of us. (I remember one woman listening to our story at a restaurant, and then replying “Wow. May the force be with you.”)

Two of the most frequent questions we get when someone finds out we RV full-time as a family:

  • How do you not drive each other crazy living together in such a small space and RVing with kids?
  • How much does traveling in an RV full-time cost compared to living in a house?

While these two questions seem unrelated, they have a pretty close connection, not just for our family, but for how other full-time RV families handle family time on the road and keep their kids busy and learning.

The first answer is that we don’t spend our life in 270 sq feet. Most days, we treat our travel trailer like you might treat the hotel room on vacation. Our goal isn’t to travel somewhere, and then spend all of our time in the trailer. We’re out exploring the place where we’re visiting, and that includes finding things for our kids to do.

Often one of us will take the kids out for the day, or the evening, while the other stays home to work. It’s also common that one of us is dropped off at a coffee shop to work while the other takes the kids to explore.

The answer to the second question is that we keep our costs relatively low. (Here’s an article we wrote about 9 ways we save money on campgrounds). One of the keys to keeping our costs low (and not driving each other crazy in a small space) is that we find ways to entertain our kids for free.

None of the 9 ideas below are probably groundbreaking ideas for you, and they’re not specific to being a full-time RV family, but they are things we make part of our routine and spend time together as a family without breaking the bank. While most of these may be happening out of habit for you, once you get on the road as a full-time RV family, you’ll want to make these a regular part of your routine.

The best part about using this same list over and over is that as you travel, the “new playground” will seem like a brand new idea for your kids. We know it’s a repeat of visiting a “new playground” in the last city, but we won’t tell your kids.

 

1. Playground or Skatepark Near You

A simple google search will pull up plenty of nearby areas to go to a playground or skatepark (and often both in the same area).

It’s amazing to me how excited our kids get about a new slide. “Daddy, this slide is blue!” To me, most playgrounds look pretty similar: a slide, monkey bars, and a rock-climbing wall or ladder to get up, but to my kids, they are happy to explore new territory.

Skateparks have become the recent rage for our boys. They’ll put on rollerblades or ride their scooter around for hours in just about any skatepark. It’s great that we’re not telling them to go out but watch for cars. It’s simply a place intended for them to skate around and enjoy.

Skate parks and playgrounds are also great stops in the middle of travel days. We search ahead of time, find a location, and then check the satellite view to see how easy it will be to pull our trailer in or out of the area. Often these parks have a large parking lot, are located next to a road with plenty of parking, or in a schoolyard where there is unused bus parking on the weekends or in the evenings.

It’s great to pull our travel trailer into a large parking lot, let the kids out to grab their scooters and helmets, take a break for a snack, and then continue our car ride to the next campground.

 

2. Enjoy a Local Library

I can’t promise that your kids will love your proposal to ‘hang out at a library’, but besides books (which our oldest can’t get enough of) our kids have found games on computers, comic books to read, magazines to check out, and frankly, sometimes just decent wifi for the iPad and a quiet place to unwind for a rainy afternoon (while I get some work done, or at least a few emails answered).

In our traveling as a family, we’ve found libraries that have evening storytime, afternoon concerts or sing-alongs, movie nights on the lawn, and costume parties at different times throughout the year. It’s not something we plan our schedule around, but it is a great way to get out with a purpose if we happen to be in the area when there is an event going on.

Most of the time, we aren’t able to take books or movies away from the library since we aren’t locals, but if you ask any of the librarians, “What things are there to do for kids near here?” they usually have at least 2 or 3 ideas of things you can do as a family in the nearby area.

 

3. Free Zoos, Museums & Factory Tours

This free activity for families comes as a surprise to many people, but there are quite a few large and reputable zoos, museums, and factory tours in major cities that are completely free.

Most traveling families recognize that in Washington, DC, many museums and art galleries are free to access, but we’ve found many small, local-run museums that are free to access (or by donation, which can fit any budget).

A quick google search about “Museums for kids or families near me” can lead you to plenty of museum options, and it takes a little digging to find free ones that may interest you.

Sure, museums, but zoos? Sure! The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and the St. Louis Zoo are two of the most awarded zoos in North America, and both are free admission. Don’t let the free ticket set a low expectation. They have lions, tigers, and bears – oh my – they are worth the trip.

Check ahead of time, since there is often a cost for parking, or you may save a few dollars by parking out of town and taking public transit.

Free Factory tours have become one of our favorite things to do as a family as we travel. Our kids are fascinated by the machines, watching the workers, the packaging, and seeing the process of how things are made.

Sometimes we plan for these tours, like The Kazoo Factory tour in Beaufort, South Carolina, and other times, we just happen to see a sign and drop-in, like the Jelly Belly Factory Tour in Fairfield, California.

The factories love to have you come through for free, because you’re almost certainly going to promote your visit on social media, and probably pick something up in the store on your way out.

For many factories, offering free tours for individuals or families is a promotional opportunity.

 

4. Local Live Music in your City

Finding live music could be as casual as buskers to listen to in Quebec City, or New Orleans, or it could be a summer festival with music in the park or a local festival. You might hear about a local school performing a Christmas concert, or someone playing at the amphitheater at a park nearby.

Something about hearing live music is exciting, and it doesn’t have to be a genre you already love – just being around people enjoying the music with you is enough to create a great experience.

RV living is about new experiences, not things. In our first month living in an RV, we sat and listened to buskers play in Quebec City. In our second month on the road, we were invited by other full-time RVers to a ceilidh (basically a fiddle dance in a barn in Eastern Canada), and shortly after that, we listened to a Beatles tribute band in Nashville at a library and danced to a DJ in Orlando in an outdoor mall.

My kids were surprised to learn that I didn’t like any of the music that the DJ was playing, but enjoyed spending time together as a family. Life on the road with kids is about appreciation, not preferences.

 

5. Browse Farmers Markets

Our youngest has a fascination with seeds, gardening, fruits, and vegetables.

Full-time RV living doesn’t allow us to have a garden, but free farm tours when we’re staying at a Harvest Host or Boondockers Welcome site are a perfect fit for his 6-year-old interests.

While we’re not staying on-site at a farm, we like to find local markets to wander through – often not buying anything, or choosing to spend some of our grocery budget which we would have spent anyway.

We talk about the produce that grows locally in each area, check out new fruit or vegetables we’ve never seen before (did you know purple cauliflower is a real thing?)

Often markets have local crafters, samples that our children love to taste, and simply broadens our horizons in a different way than a family trip to a national park, for instance.

 

6. Visit Historical Sites and take a family photo

Historical sites not only give something to add to a “to-do” list but also offer an educational opportunity for our kids (and let’s face it, we usually learn something too as parents). While we’re full-time RVing, we homeschool, so visiting ‘whatever is near us’ gives us a way to talk about topics that may not have come up naturally during lessons.

A statue or monument gives us insight into a local historical figure, and often ties into another site we visited a few days ago, or a site we’ll visit a few days from now. A historical plaque will let us know why a city was established where it is, or what the purpose of its location originally was.

Since we travel full time, we have a map that we use to show our kids where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re heading to next. Often, the history of an area plays into their clarity about how certain regions are connected.

 

7. Have Your Kids Plan and Prepare a Family Picnic

Picnics are not just about eating at a park. An entire process can be built around preparing for a family picnic. You may imagine that when we live in an RV full-time that picnic is an exciting daily occurrence since we often have a picnic table at our campsite, but this often just becomes part of the routine of traveling full-time; eating at the picnic table outside our RV.

Planning a picnic includes deciding what to eat, making a grocery list, shopping for the groceries together as a family, preparing and packing your lunch, then the enjoyment of unpacking it at a park, or near a lake, or in the middle of a hike to sit together and enjoy a meal as a family in a newly-explored place.

You are going to eat anyway, so this is an opportunity for your kids to do some planning and see the whole process of how to make a well-rounded meal.

 

8. Walking, Hiking, and Biking

Whether you’ve parked your RV near a National Park, State Park, Provincial Park, Municipal Park, or none of the above, traveling as a family almost always puts you in or near somewhere that you can go for a hike.

You don’t always have to imagine a hike as tromping through a forest. Maybe for your family, a hike is wandering downtown in a city you’ve never explored before, or biking through a park and stopping for ice cream, or wandering around your campground and counting flags or taking pictures near flowers.

We usually go for a hike once a week – sometimes more – and the longer we travel full-time, the more frequently we seem to decide to get out and go for a hike.

While a google search can help you find hiking trails in the area, we’ve talked with other families about RVing with kids, and many of them also say that the best way to get a recommendation for a hiking trail to do with kids is to ask a local. Stop by the campground office and ask for an opinion on a great hike to do as a family, or while you’re in a toy store, or ask the librarian.

Most people whose profession includes working with kids will know exactly what there is to do in the area in a way that a google review may not help with.

 

9. Community Events & Festivals

Many community organizations have free events for kids, from Hallowe’en events to summer programs, to plays in the park, to endless possibilities.

We love going out to do an event, and not just be passive observers. While festivals often have a concert or presentation aspect, we also love to see vendors, exhibits, and craft tables while we’re there.

Search for a community event calendar in the area where you’re staying on Google, or check Facebook for “Events Near Me” to find out what’s coming up in your area while you’re traveling.

We’ve even changed our travel plans to be in a specific area at a specific time for an event we found out about. Usually, it’s because we were already in the area and decided to stay an extra day, or found out about an upcoming event in the next area where we’d be staying and decided to travel a day early.

A few times, we’ve pulled an all-nighter road trip to get somewhere for a specific event that we just found out about, and that freedom is one of the joys of the fulltime RV lifestyle.

 

Full-time RV living is about staying flexible and gathering memories and experiences, not things. As an RV family, we’re always focusing on what we can do to make those memories, without breaking the bank.

While we’re traveling, we do have times when we choose to treat ourselves and spend a portion of our budget on a unique experience, but it’s possible to both travel full-time and be aware of your budget and stay within it.

Categories
RV Life Save Money RVing

9 Easy Ways to Save Money on Campgrounds

With 3 boys running around, hiking, biking, and expending energy, we’ve got to balance our budget between how much we spend at campgrounds, “invest” in groceries, and keep our boys busy with things to do since we are full-time RVers.

Campgrounds can cost a hang of a lot of money. We’ve found some (and stayed in some) that are $80-$100/night – actually, we paid $20/night for 12 nights in the Florida Keys at a campground that usually costs $119/night… more about that later.

While Celine and I would probably sit around a campground, visit a beach, or go for a hike more often than not, our boys want to keep doing things, so one way that we can reduce our expenses is watching our campground costs. Keeping these costs low allows us to pay that extra bit for activities to entertain our kids, splurge on treats like going out for ice cream, or buy some camping gear when we see a new gadget.

After being on the road for exactly 2 years this month, we’ve found some great ways to save money on camping, and we should specify that when we say “camping” we’re talking about our 30-foot travel trailer – it’s not exactly roughing it or what you might think of as a typical “camping trip” but it is our full-time home on wheels.

In our first 6 months on the road (August 2018 – December 2018), we paid $2851 to campgrounds. For all 12 months of 2019, we paid $2801. Based on what we know about saving money on campgrounds, our expenses are about half of what they were.

There are a few tips that, when used together, can help you save money on your camping trips or your full-time RV life. Obviously, if you’re full-time RVers like we are, then you’ll have more opportunities to save money regularly than if you’re camping on weekends, but nevertheless, here are our best tips:

Stay longer in one place to save on camping costs:

Typically, we move often – like every 3 or 4 days. This is because when we first got on the road, we thought it would only be for a year, so we had a lot to see in a short amount of time. In light of that, we kept moving.

To put it in perspective, in the first 3 months, we had gone within Canada: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, back through New Brunswick, south through New England, visited Washington, drove to Atlanta for a conference, visited friends in Alabama, west to Mississippi, north through Tenessee and then went to the east coast on South Carolina. It’s exhausting just writing that list, but again, we thought we had a year.

Campgrounds will often offer a discounted rate for a week, and a further discount for a month. For example, if you go camping for a night, the rate could be $40. if you stay for the week, then they charge $210 (or $30/night) and if you stay for the month, then they might charge $600 (or $20/night).

It depends on your goals, but if your goal is to save money or reduce costs, then slow down and make plans for longer stays. This also will reduce the fuel costs of towing a trailer (since you won’t be towing as often) or your fuel costs of driving your motorhome if you’re driving around a passenger vehicle more during your longer stays.

Now that we know this, do we plan longer camping trips? Not really. We like to keep moving and out boys are in that rhythm.

Learn to Back in your Trailer or Motorhome:

Pull-through sites, while much easier to get in and out of, typically cost more per night. Sometimes that’s only $5/night, but it really only benefits you on the night you actually drive-in.

If you are camping for 5 nights, the only time you benefitted from the pull-through site was the day you pulled in, so you’re paying an extra $25 to benefit you for one day.

Sometimes there isn’t an option – sometimes the back-in sites only accommodate a smaller rig, or they don’t have proper hookups that you need, so the pull-through is the only option, but generally speaking, learning to back in can save you some money on almost every stop.

Save money by choosing a campsite without full hookups:

Are you only staying a few nights at the RV Park? The difference between Electric and Water and Full-hookup is simply the sewer connection. If the campground has a dump station, and if you’ll be in and out quicker than your tanks will fill up, a great way you can save a few bucks is by not choosing a sewer site, and stopping at the dump station (or sani-station) on you way out.

Get used to doing this anyway. Even if you’re willing to pay the premium, some RV Parks simply don’t have sewer connections, so everyone learns to use the dump station.

Camp a little further out of town:

View in Dallas Texas

RV Parks with easy access to big cities are often more expensive because of the convenience. It’s great to be able to ride your bike as a family across that bridge and be downtown, or convenient to be a 1-block walk to the subway, but when it comes to your camping budget, going a little bit further can save that money for other things.

If you’re going to be camping near a city you want to visit, plan multiple activities on a single day when you go into the city, then take a day to sit and enjoy the campground rather than going into the city every day. You may not realize that when camping in the city, you often can’t have fires within city limits, so in addition to being more expnsive, city camping can put a damper on your experience.

We’ve seen campground prices go down by half in as little as a 15-minute drive further out of the city. It’s a small tip that may take a few more minutes of driving but can save you money in the long run.

Consider a Thousand Trails Membership:

Initially, we didn’t buy a Thousand Trails membership for 2 reasons:

1) We were traveling in Eastern Canada where there are no Thousand Trails parks.

2) We didn’t know how much we were going to be spending on campgrounds.

Thousand trails membership can seem expensive, but we chose their base-level membership with their encore resorts upgrade, and it worked out to about the same costs as we’d been paying for 1 month worth of camping at private campgrounds.

Our initial base package is $599/year, + $199/year for their encore resorts – this was when we were averaging about $800/month at campgrounds. We were on our way to Florida where almost all of the Thousand Trails parks are Encore resorts, so the add on made sense for us, and we found that it was helpful for the rest of our travels as well.

When you pay the membership fee, most campgrounds are free to stay up to 14 days. They have 80 RV Parks in the US, and 1 in British Columbia, in Western Canada, just north of the Washington State border. A few premium sites, like in the Florida Keys, cost $20 (this is how we stayed at a great resort in the Fiesta Key Encore Resort that retails at $119/night for only $20/night.)

In the first year of our Thousand Trails membership, we stayed for free 80 nights, bringing out per-night costs down to $10/night while we were in their parks (and, we paid the $20/night for an additional 20 nights through the year).

Wait, Adam. If you have access to free campgrounds with Thousand Trails, why only stay 80 nights in your first year?

With the base membership, there are some limitations (which of course, you can pay to upgrade). For instance, our membership only allows us to book 60 nights out, whereas other tiers will allow you to book much further out, so sometimes (but rarely) availability was an issue.

If you stay more than 4 nights in a campground, you have to stay out of the Thousand Trails system for a week. (but we went 3 nights back-to-back all the way up the West coast and camped for free for a month from San Diego to Washington State – again, this is perfect for our pace).

Because of this, we discovered another way to save money between camping at Thousand Trails.

Thousand Trails offers regular discounts and promotions. Click here to see their latest offer.

Make sure to buy a Passport America Membership:

I know these are supposed to be tips or suggestions, but you’ll thank me later. Passport America is a network of private campgrounds (unlike Thousand Trails) which gives you 50% off per night with your Passport America membership.

Since these campgrounds are privately owned, each one gets to set their own rules – some are not valid on weekends, or not valid on holidays, or only valid for 3 nights maximum, while others have a 3-night minimum.

While there are no park-to-park standards about the discount, the one common factor is that it’s 50% off. Between our stops at Thousand trails, because we’re staying out of their system, or we’re in an area that doesn’t have a Thousand Trails park – like most of Canada, Passport America, at $50/year will pay for itself in 2 or 3 nights.

Passport America isn’t always a surefire because of the individual park details, it is a great way to make sure your camping trip stays within budget.

Our favorite Passport America find was in Mobile, Alabama at Chicksabogue Park where the $19/night camping fee is 50% off with Passport America with very few restrictions, so we stayed for $9.50/night for full hookup.

Sign up for Passport America here.

Save money by staying overnight at Walmart, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, or Cracker Barrel or truck stops.

Not bad for a free stop in a Walmart Parking Lot

This shows up further down the list because of 2 reasons:

1) It’s not really camping. Stopping at these locations are for the purpose of having a safe, well-lit place to pull over and sleep for the night.

2) You usually end up spending more than a campground!

Yeah, so the $5 breakfast at Cracker Barrel, with the upgraded hashbrown casserole to add bacon, plus a drink for 5 people ends up costing us more than a campground, but it does mean that instead of paying a spot to park, we got breakfast.

If you just need to run in for a minute to check out the camping gear while you’re parked there, you’re probably coming out with $50 worth of important gadgets you may never get to use.

Keep in mind that while these are great options if you’re on an overnight trip (ie. deciding to spend 12 hours driving from Boston to Atlanta over 2 days to be at a conference) there are no hookups, so you’ll want to figure out if your RV battery/ propane can sustain your fridge and groceries for an overnight stop without being hooked up, and limit the amount of time you try this.

While you’ll be saving money, it might not be worth having to endure the heat in July with no A/C or fan, or losing the food in your fridge because it spoiled as you were saving money 5 nights in a row.

Rest Area with a picnic table for an overnight stop in Northern Ontario

This is great for an overnight stop now and then – we stay overnight at a Walmart once or twice a month, and usually a rest stop or truck stop once or twice – but consider the other costs, and avoid putting out your awning, setting up the grill, putting down stabilizers, etc. Our general rule of thumb is to stay less than 12 hours.

Before staying in any ‘public’ parking lot, be sure to check with the store manager and find out if there are any local ordinances not allowing it. I wouldn’t imagine it’s much fun to be woken up in the middle of the night and told to start driving and find another spot to sleep.

Get a camping membership where you can stay for free at some cool locations (usually with no hookups aka Boondocking)

Harvest Host Goat Farm in Central Florida

Again, like Walmart for instance, plan this one wisely because the romanticism of a free night in an orchard without power needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Memberships like Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome allow you to stay at some really cool free locations like wineries, golf courses, hobby farms or museums, (usually with no hookups, but sometimes available for a fee) usually for just one night, but in some cases a few nights.

In return, spend approximately what you would spend for a campground at their store, taking a tour, or buying a ticket to their location.

Instead of paying for a campground, you’ll get an experience or something to take with you for your overnight fee – a block of cheese, a hand-made craft, or pictures and a fun memory all beat paying for a campsite.

Check out Harvest Hosts Here.

Check out Boondockers Welcome Here.

Free Camping on BLM Land (in the US) or Crown Land (in Canada)

Prefer isolation and seclusion and being out in nature? BLM Land (Bureau of Land Management) in the US and Crown Land in Canada offer some amazing options for camping off-grid.

Up until now, we’ve used these options for between sites – if we’re traveling from one place to another and need a stopover – since they’re much more enjoyable for us than a Walmart parking lot. If you have solar panels or a sufficient bank of batteries, then you can spend weeks or months camping in some of these locations for free.

We’re currently working on installing a system of solar panels and batteries. While this requires a substantial investment upfront, it will allow us the freedom to be off-grid for many days at a time giving us not only financial savings from campgrounds but also the quality of life that we’d like while we’re off the grid exploring and camping in the wilderness.

Here’s our personal list of camping memberships we’ve used to cut our accommodation expenses in half:

-Adam

 

Categories
Cities Historical Sites National Parks

Things to do in Savannah with Kids (hint: Visit The Wilkes House and Fort Pulaski)

We spent the day in Savannah, Georgia, and as a recommendation from friends, we went to the Wilkes House (Family-style meal, only open for lunch from 11-2) and Fort Pulaski which saw its only battle in the civil war.

Our boys are 6, 8, and 10 years old and enjoyed the whole day!

 

Categories
Cities Historical Sites Parks

Things to do with kids on Jekyll and St. Simons Island! (From a Full-time RV Family)

On the east coast of Georgia, on the Atlantic Coast, is a popular area for tourists: Jekyll Island and St Simons Island. While there are lots of things to see and do, sorting out what can be done with kids, or as a family is another challenge.

Here are some family activities that our boys (6, 8 & 10) enjoyed while we were visiting!

 

Categories
Cities Historical Sites

Washington, DC

Traveling the USA has helped us learn and appreciate the history of this amazing country so much more. We love how patriotic most Americans are. We enjoy learning more about the significant events in history that made this nation so great. And walking with our boys through the streets of historic places has been an incredible experience as we teach them.

In Canada, we’ve been able to do the same, and will continue to teach them about our great nation as well. There are so many more places we look forward to visiting. The next few months are going to be quite different as we wait things out. Stay healthy & safe everyone!