Delayed With Trailer Brake Issue

Well, I can’t think of a better place to extend our stay other than along Lake Michigan at Traverse City because of a trailer brake issue. Especially as we have dear friends we met in Florida who live here and our campground could care less how many times we extend our stay as they have plenty of parking. More on that in the next post. Ray and Charlotte – you guys are the best. Had we lived near each other back in Missouri, we would have been friends for life. That may be the case now…. Can’t wait to see you again in Florida!

Anyone planning to travel fulltime in an RV needs to know this. You will met the most fantastic people. Folks you never would have had a chance of getting to know without being on this journey. I have told others about all the friends we have met – you know who you are and we are thinking about you. Those friends are planted all over the United States. When we have a chance to text, call or meet up that unfortunately has to be good enough, for now, even if we want to live next to you forever.

The following photo might not make sense unless you happen to own an RV with electric brakes and can climb under it to see what I’m writing about. I’ll post the photo as a introduction regarding our trailer brake issue.

This is a set of brake wires that come out of the underbelly near the wheels/axles. These wires feed the power and ground wire leading to both axles and all four wheel brakes. They move up and down with the suspension system as you move down the road. Those two wires are connected to the main trailer brake wires that run from the front of the camper to the back. No worries, I’ll explain further in this article. In our case, the butt connectors used at the factory were adequate, but not installed correctly. Some asshole on the assembly line decided his/her/they wiring was adequate. They caused much delay, expense and worry because the extra 10 minutes to do the job correctly was not on their mind. This is not an over-reaction. Trailer brake failure on all four wheels could kill you and those around you. I also know for sure the Tiffin family, who build our fifth wheel, would not be proud of this. “Built for fulltime travel” is a slogan used by some manufacturers. To me this now means simple things like expert brake wiring needs to be included with the package.

If I had to summarize this in two sentences I would write: If you have intermittent brakes then go to the underside of the trailer at the axles and check the connections up inside the trailer underbelly to see if any of the wires are broken or not connected. I believe the brakes were shorting out as the positive electrical wire, with exposed wire, was rubbing against the nearby metal frame of the trailer.

For this lifestyle, you better have average skills for mechanical work. If you don’t have the skill, moving around the country fulltime in an RV might not be the best place to be. Because, as was the case for us, it might be a holiday in a smaller town when you break down with limited services. You may be stuck with a major issue and no one to repair it for weeks – other than doing it yourself. I suspect, however, many of us are used to figuring it out.

Following is the background on this issue: We ordered our 320GK Vanleigh (Tiffin) Vilano in 2019. Picked it up at the dealership a week after it arrived from the factory. About a year later we were in a campground and our then 2018 Ram truck brake controller gave a warning across the dash that our brakes were disconnected. Karen checked online and advised shut the truck off and restart. That worked and we were on our merry way.

About a year later, to now, we were traveling down the highway in the rain. Truck said (across the dash) “check brake wire” “brakes disconnected”. This was an intermittent problem and we limped into the campground for DAYS of future investigation into the matter. I would never tow a 16,000 pound trailer with no trailer brakes…. That’s not safe for my family nor anyone moving around me. This is serous folks. Its not like a slide being stuck out on the day you plan to move from a campground or an awning that will not retract all the way. Thankfully we have a dually diesel truck with plenty of stopping power, rated for a much heavy trailer. Tow with a barely capable truck and you might be facing a danger you never suspected. Not to get off track, but this example supports what I learned earlier in terms of selecting a truck. Get one with plenty or towing capacity.

So we arrived to Traverse City Michigan, with big plans to travel the northern parts of Michigan’s upper peninsula. The trailer brake issue now became the priority. Called around and no RV dealership could see us for weeks. Thinking outside the box, I called trailer repair companies. After all, this might be an RV but it’s on a trailer. Received recommendations to various mobile techs from the trailer repair facilities but not the RV dealerships. Had a tech that could make it out a week later, despite being backed up 50 service calls as the northern portions of Michigan are backed with vacationers. He knew we were stranded and God Bless felt for us. He found what I believed to be an unrelated issue which was a single brake magnet not connecting very well with the brake drum. The mobile tech believed his fix had a 50/50 chance of being the issue and knew electrical problems are hard to track down.

I was not going to move this heavy trailer without a surety we had found the problem. That lead to hours of searching online, finding bits and pieces of advise. I called a 30 year trailer guy back in Texas, called the factory service center and got a couple technicians on the phone from dealerships. This revealed there could be several issues associated with the error code my truck’s built-in trailer brake controller was telling me on the dash.

Logical thinking was going to be required in order to troubleshot the problem, starting with the most likely issue. And I was intent on avoiding a situation where a RAM truck dealership would say the problem was the trailer or an RV dealership saying it was the truck. That’s no help… I can say we did find a dealership here in Traverse City who cared even though we they had not bought the trailer from them. They wanted to help but just could not guarantee a fix anytime soon. They could “look at it” on July 5th after the holiday but part shipments and labor shortages could delay the fix.

Getting ahead of myself I’ll add although there were numerous places to shop for wires, connectors and more, many of the shops I visited did not have recommendations where to find what part I might need. No idea if this was because of inexperienced employees or not. For example, I need 18 gauge wires that were shielded. Trailer supply company had none. Found the best wire at a marine supply store after my friend Bill in Florida said marine wire is the best and found a supplier in Traverse City.

So now I’m armed with a big bag of various wires and connectors. As well as advise from at least five people as to what they would check first. My friend from Traverse City (Ray) is better to have around than me because his attitude is to fix things better than new. I also wanted to fix the problem on a permanent bases but knew there might have to be a temporary fix for now. Such as if you can’t find double strand 14 gauge wire readily available. Think outside the box. Electrical extension cords are found in 14 gauge and will work even if you only need to use two of the three wires. Okay – best stop here and explain what I learned about electric trailer brake wiring. I’m committed to explaining this further as others will be reading this article after I posted the issue on our brands Facebook page.

I’ve got no fancy diagrams to post for those that learn visually. You will have to read closely at my attempt to explain electric trailer brakes on a two axle trailer. Inside your tow vehicle is a brake controller. This sends power to the trailer brakes based on how hard you press on the brake pedal. In our case, the truck also sends a signal every four seconds down the wires to make sure there is no trailer brake problems. In our case it found both a wire problem and warned the brakes had disconnected. At highway speeds, when the trailer was bouncing over pumps the most, we had a trailer brake disconnect warning. At low speeds there was no problem although I still left plenty of room between us and the next vehicle.

There is a plug that connects the tow vehicle to the trailer. No shit you say… Some are seven pin connectors like ours where the bottom two pins are for trailer brakes and a ground wire. That plug runs to the hitch area where one ground wire (usually white in color) and a blue wire providing the electricity for the brakes and run back to the axle area. It is possible to have trailer lights but not brakes as each of the seven pins control different areas.

The wiring system is not sensitive to polarity where it finally connects to electro magnets inside each brake drum that cause the brakes to work. You can hook up the power wire and ground wire in any order and still have “continuity” meaning there is a closed circuit. Okay, that’s a technical as this gets so don’t worry. I’m an idiot about electrical stuff and my friend Ray was not, so I felt comfortable. I also spent a lot of time finally learning how to use a multimeter to test wires for continuity and more. Get one now for future use. The mobile tech that came out to look at our brakes never got a meter out which was a warning sign he hoped to just find a problem somewhere and say it was good to go. In our case, a brake magnet that did not have a good connection.

So the wires that go from the front of the trailer to the back obviously should be connected somewhere. The white wire is a ground and we found it connected to a place on the king pin and inside the front basement on a metal grounding bar. Then the ground runs to the axles along with the positive blue wire that provides three amps of power for each of the four brakes. In our case, Tiffin runs both those critical wires in a plastic conduit all the way back to the axles. Great feature to avoid damage. They do this on all their wires running throughout the trailer. Sign of a rig built for fulltime travel!

We have two axles and four wheels. Each wheel has an electric brake. Inside the brake drum is a magnet that causes the brakes to work when power is sent from the truck. In our case, there is a setting in the truck we can dial up or down to send more or less power depending on how much braking we want which is dependent on road conditions and trailer weight. Remember, we had intermittent brakes warnings from the truck and to check the wiring.

At the back of the trailer at the axles is where the two brake wires end up leading all the way from the truck connection. Our ground wires a the front of the trailer were perfect. As was the power wire which was blue.

At the axle inside the underbelly of the trailer is a splice in both the ground wire and power wire. Because we have two axles they have to feed the opposite side of the trailer with brake wire. In or case, this required the factory place two wires inside a butt connector which is normally used for just one wire. This is common. This connection is the one shown in the photo above. Here is the photo again for reference.

You can see the underbelly of the trailer in the photo. The holes surrounding the two wires I have been mentioning had foam insulation around them. Remove the insulation and pull down on the wires so you can see if the two wires are connected. Ours were not. Those two yellow connectors are called butt connectors. One is for the ground wire (white in color) and the power wire (blue/white). These connectors are intended to be used based on wire size. Because we have two axles they must place an extra wire on each side of each connector to feed the brakes on the opposite side of the trailer. So they put two wires on one side of the connector which is usually used for just one wire. There is a professional way to do that which was part of my fix.

When I pulled down on wire from the underbelly I found the ground wire just dropped out of the butt connector. That ground wire had not been pinched inside the connector and was held in place with black electrical tape. The person that installed this wire knew the connection was poor and decided to tape the ground wire inside the connector. The power wire was located alongside the trailers metal frame and I believe bare wire was contacted the metal, causing a possible short. The power wire only had half the wire strands inside the connector and over time, with the trailer suspension moving up and down over bumps, the remaining wire inside the connector were in poor condition. I’m thinking this is why we had brakes sometimes and sometimes not. A poor connection.

With two axles you will have two sets of wires dropping down from the underbelly. One is for each side of the trailer. They feed the wires from the brakes on the opposite side through small holes in the axles. Some others have had those wires frayed when rubbing inside the axle, especially where they exit out the hole of the axle. Ours were fine but I replaced them with better wire. The originals were 18 gauge and not shielded by an outer layer of wire insulation.

I post this because I want to pass along there will be times in this journey when stuff happens that cause much stress and delay. Our future in an RV will be laced with problems. But this is a way of life and not a vacation. Slow down, stay longer and work it out.

I’ll be testing the brakes individually and not while towing. Raise each side of the trailer, have the wife press down on the trucks brake pedal. Spin each tire separately to make sure each has brakes.

So now you know one of several reasons you may loose brakes…. Still want to haul this thing around the country daily?

Equipping an RV – 50/50 Decisions

We have lived in our current RV for about a year, having bought it several months prior to moving in fulltime. This should be a good time to provide feedback about several hard decisions we had to make while equipping our new home. For more detailed explanations please click on Our Choices Page (a must read) where you will find links to prior blog posts and more.

Karen and I will be leaving our current location north of Kansas City on 7/26/20. As usual we have booked our camping areas for destination spots. We will also book our first stop on the route and leave times between the first and final stops open for flexibility. We will be at Fort Robinson State Park in western Nebraska on 8/16. We scheduled a month long stop at Broken Arrow Horse and RV Camp near Custer SD beginning 8/23. It’s so nice to be able to “live” in the Black Hills for a month.

At the end of this blog post I’ve included photos of our new Cocker Spaniel puppy Wyatt who is doing great. We are having a wonderful time training him to be an RV dog.  Slowing down travel because of the virus thing has presented an opportunity to spend time getting Wyatt used to his surroundings and allowing us to equip the RV with puppy stuff.

There were dozens of tough decision we made while equipping and purchasing our RV. I cut the list down to 10 for this blog post.  Hope it helps those making the same decisions. Of course our style of RV life may very from yours.

Refrigerator: Might as well start off with a topic I’m still not completely decided about. We went with a double door RV gas/electric. You will have to do your own research for this decision. So far a residential fridge would have worked for us. Our underlying idea when making all decisions was not to limit where we stay any more than necessary. Hence the 35′ trailer, small generator, very capable tow vehicle, RV gas/electric fridge and more.  We have lost power at four campgrounds which only required we run the generator to charge the batteries on one occasion. We have not camped without an electrical connection but plan to as yet another way of experiencing the journey. We turn off our propane when we travel which shuts down the fridge. I’ve left it running when traveling as well. The initial cool down of the fridge takes some time but is not an issue when it’s off a few hours. Personally, I would not own a residential fridge without four batteries, a generator or capable solar system. I’ve never had a residential fridge in an RV. Experience with a residential fridge in an RV might influence my feedback. I have several friends with one. We paid hundreds $$ for the RV gas/electric as an option when installed in the camper. Residential fridges are less expensive and require less framing and venting to place them in a camper. If RV gas/electric are not installed correctly to include framing the box around it for air flow then there will be problems. Ours is located in a hydraulic slide and there is no issue with the weight. We have an ice maker which I’d never want to do without. We had to disconnect the water line under the slide one time when in below freezing temperatures as a safety measure. The water line is braided metal and probably could have handled even lower temperatures. Others have figured out how to add a valve to drain the line which I might later do myself. We have replaced one plastic door handle as you have to learn how to open RV fridge gas/electric doors. The light fixture is out and a plastic hinge where the doors come together could use replacing. I’m convinced RV gas/electric fridges are harder to repair. I’m satisfied with our decision at this point but still wonder about the long-term as our type of travel evolves. It’s nice to click the fridge over to gas when we only have 30 amp electric service. Camping without electric service is not a concern.

Washer/Dryer: Would probably be a good idea to have Karen type this one out. I’ll do my best and change whatever she might not agree with after she reads the post. We decided not to have one installed but are glad to have the option with water and electric hook-ups in the closet. Also glad that if we ever installed a unit the door would face forward and not require we fish around in the master bedroom closet to gain access.  We figured out sources for $40 a month in quarters as we use campground facilities and sometimes travel to small town laundries (that don’t have security bars around the windows.) Like others said would happen, it seems Karen often does multiple loads at a time when a lot of machines are available, thereby knocking out the laundry once ever couple weeks. Sometimes she does smaller loads prior to taking off to the wilderness on a trip. We have lots of extra towels, perhaps clothing and bedding which I feel we would still have even if we could do laundry in the fifth wheel. Glad we don’t have the added weight of the unit. If I ever had a unit in the trailer then separate washer/dryer would be nice but at the least a combo unit would be vented to the outside for sure. Glad we don’t have to worry about having a sewer and water connection to do laundry. Glad we don’t have to listen to a tiny combo unit running and shaking. Glad we have two bars in the bathroom to hang clothes we don’t put in dryers anyway. As a side point, Karen still irons using an apartment sized board or at times, during longer campground stays, she uses ironing boards commonly left in the laundry room (Update – Karen wants a full size ironing board that will store behind our theater seating. Small things make this lifestyle more enjoyable) .  Personally, I wear shorts and shirts that don’t require ironing. We both still want our clothes to look clean and ironed just like we still live in a sticks and bricks house. This is our lifestyle and not a vacation. We want to feel “normal”. Karen dresses up more than I do and still likes to wear her shinny jewelry. I appreciate that!

Generator: Went with a 3500 watt gas portable inverter (quiet) unit that rides in the bed of the truck. Someday I’ll post how I finally figured out how to secure it in the truck where it does not move and exhaust out the back of the truck. Propane generators eat propane quickly and filling a gas can is way easier than hunting down propane. By the way, I use our extra 30 pounds propane tank that came with the trailer for our gas grill. Our 3500 watt unit provides a full 30 amps of power. If we had two of the smaller and lighter units then we could do the same. Ours weighs 75 pounds because I left off the option of remote starting or even push button starting which requires a battery that has to be maintained. We used the generator a lot when our trailer was in storage to power the RV and top off the batteries when needed. I even left off the generator prep option when we ordered our fifth wheel which freed up space in the storage area which we need as our 35′ trailer does not have the same basement space as a 40′ trailer. 100% satisfied with this decision even if so far we don’t use the generator much. The portability is nice as we can power stuff when away from home. Even used it to vacuum the truck once.

Batteries: All decisions regarding electric were made keeping in mind to start with the bare minimum and add on later once we figure out what we actually need. Decided to just have the dealership add a second 12 volt battery. The 50/50 decision was if to ditch the initial 12 volt battery and go with two or four 6 volt batteries. Wish we had the type of batteries that don’t require checking the water level. Glad we don’t have the space of four more batteries taken up. Maybe our next electric decision will be to purchase a folding portable solar panel which I’ve talked to others about. Again, we started small and will build upon our electrical needs as necessary. I also know if we change out a battery or both that it’s not good to mix older batteries with newer batteries. For our current style of travel two batteries has worked perfect.

Tire Monitoring: At this point in the learning curve I’ll have to agree most tire blowouts are caused by improper tire inflation which is another topic. Because it makes pulling the trailer less stressful I added tire monitoring. Our unit has an easy to read color display and monitors tire inflation and tire heat. Fun to watch the numbers change on warmer days or when I might purposely run the tires five pounds lighter in air. So far I trust the unit to check the tire pressure before I decide to get out the compressor. I check my tires before every move. And while I’m down there inspecting tires, I check the suspension before we leave and at every stop. Glad our tailor tires came with metal valve stems. I still think the nitrogen filed tires might be  B.S as I still have to add and lower air at times. I’m helping you big time by saying get a unit to start off with rather than taking a long time to decide which unit.  Does add yet another thing to the dashboard to be looked around. I take mine off the dash for longer stays but the portability is nice during move day when I can turn the unit on in the trailer to precheck the tires.

Electrical/Surge Protection: Took me months to decided on which unit. As fulltimers there will be more chances for electrical issues at a campground power pole compared to if we only used the trailer a few times a year. Because we use it all the time I decided to spend money on the best unit which is any that monitor low and high voltage. Especially on days when everyone is running their AC units. So we don’t leave the monitoring unit at a campground our rule is it goes in the box in trailer storage as soon as we disconnect. We don’t place it anywhere but in the box! I decided to purchase a 15′ cable to lock the unit to the trailer which adds yet another step for move day. At least all our locks are keyed alike or have a user set combination. I decided to get the optional wireless display that I placed in a cabinet inside the trailer. It’s handy to check when the power goes out and has a side benefit of displaying our power consumption which is informative. I was fine with delaying the decision until we figured it out. Months ago a nearby camper ended his trip when his wiring inside the camper was fried. I’m not sure if surge protection would have saved him or not as the surge was due to a lightening strike at a tree five feet from his class C camper.

Window Shades and Dual Pane or Not: Glad we have daytime shades in additional to the night shades. Makes a huge difference in hot weather. Provides added privacy when we want at least a little light coming through the windows. But dual window shades adds yet one more thing to adjust or fix.

Dual pane windows also make a difference and are worth the cost and weight to us. Last winter there was no frost on our windows inside the trailer. I think they make a difference in blocking some outside noise. The factory said most RV’s they built in our price point did not have them installed as an option which I was surprised by. We have plenty of cargo capacity for the added weight. Maybe other than cost/weight the biggest concern is if the rubber seal breaks between the panes then the windows will haze and need to be replaced or repaired.  Tiffin (Vanleigh brand) owns the windows company so I’m hoping if we have issues it’s a easier fix. Again, as we live fulltime in the trailer I felt comfortable with the decision to get dual pane. I’d not have them for a vacation unit or worry if resale would be better or not. Many of the would-be fulltime trailers we walked through at RV shows did not have dual pane windows which I’m thinking is the dealers attempt to keep the price down as many people do not consider the decision. It’s not the end of the world to skip dual pane windows. I’ve had both.

By the way, if you can get a second outside awning as an option then get one or have it installed later. Shading the entire side of a camper makes a massive difference in cooling inside during direct sunlight. Some trailers have very long single awnings that might be braced in the center when closed so they don’t bend the roller. We can also walk around 75% of our fifth wheel trailer in the rain and not get wet. Under the awnings, under the front overhang and under the bedroom slide with access to all the outside storage doors.  We prepare for storms by moving stuff under the fifth wheel overhang. If we are awake and at home where we can monitor the wind, it sure is nice to leave both awnings out to keep stuff dry.

Water Filtration: Still deciding on yet one more aspect or addition. So far we are fine with an external filter at the campground water connection. We also have a built-in single filter inside the trailer. Thinking about adding a filter for drinking water under the kitchen sink. Personally, so far I don’t see a need for a water softener or elaborate double filter outside but I’ve researched them.

Air Conditioners: Glad we have two 15,000 BTU units. In high humidity and heat they make a difference. I’d consider a third unit in a 40′ trailer. Some brands equip the front bedroom area with a 13,500 BTU unit. Our living room unit has a heat pump which we use down to 40′ degrees. We sometimes use the living room unit to cool the bedroom as our tailor AC system is ducted throughout the trailer (central air so to speak). That way it’s even quieter in the bedroom. We always use the front bedroom unit to help the rear living room unit, even partially closing the vents in the bedroom during hot days which forces more air into the living room. For full time living I don’t see how folks stay cool in lets say a 30 trailer with one AC.  The guy parked next to us says the single AC cannot keep up on hot days by noon.  Glad our trailer is 35′ with less space to heat and cool using the exact same furnace and ACs installed in a 40 and above trailer. On hot days with high humidity you should run the AC on high fan settings to avoid freezing up the unit with ice. If it does freeze up then turn off the cool setting and run the high fan which will thaw it quickly.  I had been using the auto fan setting until our rear unit iced up which you will know has happened because the air flow is dramatically reduced and there might not be any condensation dripping from the roof.

Storage Unit: Throwing this in among the topic because from the storage unit we move equipment stuff in and out of the trailer when we are near family back in Missouri. I view storage unit expenses just like insurance expenses. We have a 5×10 climate controlled storage unit and glad we made that decision. If for some reason we did not like full time RV travel the first year or so then we still have important stuff we did not dispose of in storage. I could have also seen us getting a larger storage unit with agreement we would downsize in a year or so. Our 5×10 is not full. We must have done some good planning as we are taking less than a small box back to storage and only retrieved a few items. Glad I can pick up my bike when in town and leave it behind or not. Glad we still had some dog stuff in storage for Wyatt.

Thanks for the toys Aunt Lisa. Wyatt loves his stuff.

The trip home from the breeder. Wyatt raised a hell of a fuss when he wanted to stop the truck for a pee break. Good sign? Or will route planning take on a new meaning?

Everything is new. Mom explains stuff to Wyatt. I laughed when he experienced rain the first time. He figures it out and is somewhat headstrong, wanting to do things his own way.

Thank you Aunt Mary for the puppy equipment. Wyatt figured out how to roll the portable play pen around so now we are using a wire fencing. He sleeps through the night in the pet carrier.

Wyatt does this all the time beginning at 9 weeks old. He tries to climb in the truck. Frankly, anywhere Karen might be heading or sitting he will do what it takes to get near her.

The puppy color matches our furniture 🙂

Wyatt is so smart and fearless!  Started using a leash the second day he came home. Loves to ride in the truck where thankfully he is also content to sleep for a couple hours at a time. Having pets on the road is a big decision. Getting a puppy is a way big decision. We will talk about it later. Thankfully he sleeps through the night in his kennel. The first two nights at home with Wyatt were sleepless nights.

Here are a couple videos if you enjoy them. I don’t bother with editing video so sorry they are less than professional.

 

 

 

 

Setting Up Domicile In Texas and Our Internet Solution

This post is a summary of the remaining steps Karen and I took to establish our domicile here in Texas along with a few non-domicile related tasks. There is an abundance of information on the web regarding specific steps in setting up a legal domicile and links are provided below for some of the information I used. Hope you find this blog post to be informative beyond what you might find elsewhere.

Livingston Map

Our new home is in Livingston Texas

Here are sources of domicile information for Texas and other states:

  • There are detailed lists on setting up domicile. A must read is at this link.
  • If you want an abbreviated list of setting up domicile here in Texas go to this link.
  • If you are interested in Texas, Florida or South Dakota as a legal domicile here is a link to start your research through the Escapees Club.
  • If you are domiciling in Texas, as well as many other states, and the combined gross weight of your rig exceeds 26,000 pounds, then you must have a special license. Here is a link to a long forum thread with the details. Here is a list of what each state requires.

Beyond the usual considerations for selecting a domicile, we decided on Texas which is close to our family in Missouri, lots to see in Texas and a place we could call home on a permanent basis. Eventually I’ll complete a blog post regarding the diversity of travel in Texas. We have been in the state now for about six weeks and I’m impressed. You can go from pine forests to open plains, ocean front, desert and mountains – all in one state. There were compelling reasons for us to consider setting up in other states such as the process in South Dakota may have been easier and for now Florida has a health plan with nationwide coverage that is not short-term coverage.

If you are not planning to live in an RV this information may not be important. But if you are interested in the process then stick around. Domicile means setting up a legal address to which you intend to live and have substantial connection with. Had we planned to just give this lifestyle a try or set a shorter goal such as RVing for a year or maybe two, I’d certainly not suggest someone go to the point we have which was selling everything and breaking legal ties to our home state.

For us, we hope to make it on the road at least six years and hence it was worth it to move to a new domicile. This six-year goal is not arbitrary nor based upon an abundance of personal experience. It came after much discussion between the two of us and frankly largely to steps I took to meet with and communicate with many successful fulltime RVers. There is a substantial number of RVers who make it five or more years on the road.

So, in a format that allows me to cough up the information best, here are some details which are close to the order of  completion. Feel free to skip to categories that interest you. I’m putting all this out there in case it helps:

Healthcare and establishing doctor relationships:

This is perhaps the number one decision when making the move to this fulltime RV lifestyle. There is plenty on the internet about it already. Wheeling-it blog is a good source for information. They moved to Europe to RV but last years info is still good from what I can tell.

You may be in a different situation than us. Karen is eledgable for Medicare in nine months and neither of us have any concerning pre-conditions. After I left my job in October there were several selections for healthcare. It was overwhelming until Karen suggested I was considering too many possible solutions and to just hurry up and go with the one that appeared to make the most sense for now. I was hung-up on the national coverage and being out of network decision. Every year these plans are subject to change. I’ve seen folks change domicile a second time, chasing better healthcare plans. I tried to use Kyle for advise at rvinsurance.com for healthcare where his website provides a lot of useful information. I’m thinking they have a set of products that make sense for them to sell and spending hours on the phone with folks trying to make a healthcare decision is way more than should be expected. Good place to start research for sure.

We could take the expensive option of Cobra benefits, get short-term insurance, go with the Affordable Care Act (known as the marketplace), take a hospitalization/injury plan only or go with ministerial alliance programs. During our first month on the road we decided to enroll in a TeleMed service for $20 a month. This service allows us to talk to a doctor online 24 hours a day and seems like a good solution for minor healthcare items. We both have had colds and we used the service once so far. Eventhough our new doctors were 10 miles down the road at the time we used the online service. For now, we are keeping the service although I’m still doing the math to see if it makes sense to cancel TeleMed and use a similar service provided as part of our new healthcare plan which is through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. In our case Blue Cross offers the service but there are deductibles and from what I can tell as long as you don’t have to call a doctor more than two times a year the Blue Cross plan offer is a decent deal compared to the $20 a month we are currently paying for the separate plan.

We decided to enroll in the Affordable Care Act (known as the “marketplace”). We know our budget for insurance and medical care. We have a fund setup in a health savings account (HSA). I maxed-out the annual fund contribution limit this past year, even putting more into it after I left the job. If you are 55 or older you can add an extra pre-tax $1,000 to a health savings account which is usable if you select a high-deductible healthcare plan. We have a monthly budget for healthcare and I’m planning to move whatever we don’t spend into the HSA account. Even if you become Medicare eledgable or later do not select a high deductible plan, you can still use the funds from your HSA but will not be able to contribute pre-tax income to the HSA account.

I found it easier to purchase our plan through the government web site at Healthcare.gov rather than Health Sherpa or any one of several other services that offer assistance. At our estimated income level, taken from our annual budget, we qualified for subsidies. There were 14 plans available in our zip code. We have always appreciated the service level with Blue Cross Blue Shield, so we selected a plan with them. All along in the process we received reminders from the Healthcare.gov website which walks you through a series of steps in selecting a plan. The annual deadline to select a plan is normally December 15. Because we moved or left a job our deadline would have been later.

There is more I could write about this decision to include reasons we did not go with other options. Let me know in the comments section if you have questions so other readers can learn from you.

There is plenty of information on this decision on the internet some of which is more complete than others but none of which I found to 100% cover all the details. For example, I had no idea when you estimate your income for the year, which sets the federal healthcare subsidy amount, you can go back during the year and report income changes. If your income changes, then the subsidy could change, even resulting in an income tax refund if your subsidy ends up being more based on a lower income. Or you could get stung with a tax bill if you underestimate your income. No worries just go back and report income changes during the year through the website.

I’ll add a note that years ago I was against the Affordable Care Act and I still have minor issues with it as well as in general the concept of high-deductible plans. I’d prefer not to get into the politics of it.  I’ll simply say there should be a way for people to afford healthcare and I would prefer that be through a reduction in the actual costs of the service rather than through government subsidies. You have to start somewhere.

Karen and I found a list of doctors in the area which are advertised through the local Escapees Club. There is also a Care Center here in the Texas Escapees Club RV Park for those who are sick or can no longer travel but want to stay in the RV lifestyle. I could have asked the Care Center employees for doctor recommendations but instead we handled our own research.

I’ll add that if you have a serious pre-existing condition a primary care doctor may not accept you as a new patient! This is something important that I learned by watching others go through this process. I don’t mean to alarm anyone, and I can see the doctor’s point of view. The nurse explained it to me in a more delicate way I presumed. She says the doctor wants to make sure he is the right fit for me and if not might want to refer me on to someone else who is more familiar with handling a pre-existing medical condition. The pessimistic side of me wonders if it’s more about liability and surge in prescription drug addiction. The point to get out of this is you may have to see more than one doctor to get the right fit so plan on it.

Don’t think you can just quickly drive to a domicile state and leave with everything done the next day. My doctor (Perez in Livingston) wanted to setup an appointment before he decided to take me as a new patient. I like that about him. My first appointment was free, and the next visit was setup 10 days later after the holidays. My doctor wants blood work to check on me even though I had an extensive physical before I retired. By luck on my part, this doctor knows about fulltime RVing and was acquainted with the founders of the Escapees Club back in the 1970s. Karen found a doctor who asked that she schedule lab work as well.

I’m in nearly new condition other than as expected my cholesterol levels are high. I’m working on that through diet which according to the doctor may result have marginal success. He wants to see me in two months. As we will be traveling I may check into getting the lab work done and sending it to him? I noticed even Walmart will check your cholesterol levels.

Getting a plan that provides healthcare benefits anywhere in the nation is preferred to expensive out of network costs. Many go to Florida for the current plans. I also considered the short-term healthcare rules where those plans are nationwide but they don’t cover pre-existing conditions and the ones quoted to me were higher in price. Here in Texas, and other states, laws have changed. “Short-term” coverage can be extended for longer periods. Post in the comments section so others can read the information if you have specific questions.

Establishing a budget for medical care will help you decide which approach to take. And then do some research before taking off on the road to see what that money will buy.

Truck and trailer insurance:

I’ve used an insurance broker in the past but decided to do it on my own this time. I checked with USAA, Progressive and Geico. I had planned to do some serious shopping around. But I found Geico to be well within our budget and liked working with them. They know RVing and are easy to do business with. So, I stopped and ordered our insurance, receiving the proof of insurance certificate an hour later. Our coverage for the trailer is better than we had. We saved about $250 a year even with the conversion of our trailer insurance to fulltime living. You must disclose you live in the trailer. Our policy includes roadside assistance, $10,000 for contents. And up to $3,000 for temporary living expense in the event we can’t use the trailer such as after a crash. It includes full replacement cost of the trailer at a dollar amount we agreed to.

I printed a copy of our prior policy coverage to use as a quick reference hoping to make sure the new companies quoted comparable coverages. Each state has minimum coverage requirements. As I’ve always done I took a $500 deductible. The 2018 Ram dually Laramie came in at $584 for six months and our 2019 Vanleigh Vilano came in at $480 for six months. I probably should have asked for a one-year deal just to prevent price increases, but time will tell. Total comes to $177 a month. I paid the entire six months in advance to cut down on the hassle in paying monthly bills.

By the way, we did not take out separate insurance for our storage unit. I’ll except the risk which is made less in my opinion as the storage unit is located inside for climate control with good gate and door security. Our unit happens to share a wall with the storage facility office area. There is not much of financial value in the storage unit.

Roadside assistance:

This was an easy one but took some thought. There are things in this lifestyle you put off when you are first getting on the road. Just because there is not necessarily time to do it all at once. Like buying a tire monitoring system or worrying about roadside assistance. Those things happen over time. We have roadside assistance through Vanleigh RV for a year as the trailer is new. Dodge has roadside assistance on our 2018 truck. And our new insurer, Geico has service at a cheap price. I wondered why then some buy a separate roadside assistance policy through someone like Good Sam’s or whomever? I’m guessing, and asked others, that all those various service plans make use of basically the same system for service, which is when you break down, they contact the same people for help that all the competitors use. For us it made since to just use the service provided as part of our truck and trailer insurance. I wrote the roadside service phone numbers down and keep them handy in the truck.

Order and setup internet connection:

I know this topic is not domicile related but it’s something we finally took the time to setup. When you get right down to it, we all want a fast and dependable internet connection like we used to have in our sticks and bricks house. The quickest solution for internet service on the road in my opinion is a Verizon hotspot from your phone or a jet pack. We have had excellent connection though AT&T. My part-time office job provides phone and limited data service through T-Mobile which is not good for this lifestyle. Arguably the best advise can be found at rvmobileinternet.com although I found our solution elsewhere.

I wrote years ago that I’d not make this decision until we hit the road as technology changes. I purchased a Togo Roadlink which is built by Winegard. The devise was $340 and a full year of unlimited data though only AT&T is $360. This Togo device is designed to permanently install on the top of the RV. It contains antenna for both cellular and for times when the campsite has WIFI, an antenna to connect. It requires only a 12-volt connection. I set it up temporarily, directly to our RV battery. The Togo works even when stored in our front basement. I’ll have the Vanleigh Service Center install it on the roof although I could do it myself. The Togo weighs three pounds and you can only use AT&T for the mobile service. Winegard builds another nearly similar model that can use any cell carrier’s data plan. Another difference in the Togo compared to other Winegard products is the GPS capability of the Togo. They say they are adding more features, but one is the ability to track where your RV is located. I bought the unit mostly because of the unlimited data plan for $30 a month on a decent network. I’ll add it does pickup campground Wifi better than just our phones and Roku streaming stick. I like not having to enter a password at every campsite more than once as the Togo is similar to a router in those cases.  Karen can also hook into the Togo cellular signal from inside the truck when we are moving. Another feature I like is connection to the Togo from the computer or phone is so quick it is ready to go as soon as the computer boots up.

Another feature I like about the Togo is the phone app where you can switch from cellular data to campground WIFI reception. After you change the connection all your devices that were hooked up remain hooked up, seamlessly.

Space X and Amazon are launching rockets with satellites capable of internet service. I’ll bet that will mix things up someday. I recently read that even Apple has set a goal to provide service between their phones within five years that is not dependent on any cell carriers.

Truck and trailer inspection:

In Texas the truck and trailer are to be inspected each year. If you are out of the state you can renew your tags without the inspection but once you return to the state you have to be inspected. I got a couple inspection location off the internet and from other RVer. I drove to the inspection station without the trailer to make sure I could get the RV in and out easily.

We had the trailer weighed which is not part of the licensing process, and then took the truck and trailer in for an inspection. I used Soda Auto at 6709 East 190 Highway (936-563-4234). Again, I got lucky and Soda Auto was very familiar with us Escapees. I’m finding that to be the case all around town. The office at Escapees stays current on good inspection stations so check there first.  By the way, Karen and I are really liking Livingston. And this is not an advertisement for joining Escapees.

I had the truck and trailer weighed and inspected on the same day as we had to move the trailer from our current spot and then back again. I had considered having the inspection done upon first arriving in Livingston then taking it to the RV park. But – and this is a good thing – I’m learning to slow down. Sometimes it’s okay just to do one thing a day and call it good. I’ve learned not to set myself up for frustration by over-committing my time.

In Texas both of us had to go to the license center to get tags. Our Missouri title was registered to me, TOD Karen. They don’t use TOD (time of death) in Texas registrations so they treated this as both of us owning the truck and trailer, therefore Karen had to sign the forms and bring her driver’s license photo with her. There were three forms to fill out which I got ahead of time at the license center. I took a photo of the weight sticker on the side of the trailer to prove weight. Don’t forget to bring proof of sales tax paid from whatever state you originally paid taxes in. I was surprised Texas did not require VIN verifications which is when law enforcement looks at the VIN and completes a form to make sure it’s not a stolen vehicle when transferring the title. Later, you can use your vehicle registration papers to help prove residency when you obtain a driver’s license.

Using our mail service:

I must throw this topic in because it’s an important part. Even if I’ve written about it in the past. I’m 100% impressed with the mail forwarding service with Escapees. Livingston is their main location and I could see the top of the building from our RV spot. I see two or three semi-trucks come here every day with mail. We can walk up to the window and get our mail and we have had mail forwarded through the Escapees service to camping spots in two other states. If you go with Escapees service in South Dakota or Florida, your mail will go to the Livingston Texas location first and then be sent on to wherever you are. This is such a large operation that they have their own zip code (77399) and a formal agreement with the US Post Office.

Changing our address with banks and insurance companies was a hard part of the process and the zip code and address format, which include a box #, worked well. Our address is 152 Rainbow Drive #5220, Livingston Texas 77399-1052. I put that out there not to get mail from you but to demonstrate how it looks like any other apartment number when the address is just a box in a building. I researched other mail services as well and they work but were not the best fit for us. Escapees started the service in 1985 which is housed in a 10,000 square foot building with about 40 fulltime employees. Here is a link to how RVer’s get their mail. My advise is to select a mail forwarding service that has an address within the state you want to domicile.

Sometime ago, I noticed a mail forwarding service in South Dakota shut down. Bet it sucked to have to do all the address changes again, “moving” to a new domicile address which might not have been in-network for healthcare.

If you are planning for your future in an RV one thing you can do now is start cutting everything over to online banking and billing.  Make a list of all your accounts to work from. I should have setup our new mailing address two months before we moved out of our house in Missouri but things got in the way.  That would have saved setting up a temporary post office box then changing that address to Texas. You may also recall from a prior post that as soon as you change your address the Post Office will send notification out which will alarm your insurance companies who want to know why you moved.  We told them we were snow birding in Texas and wanted to get our mail there. A couple months later we got new insurance. If took about three months before I felt comfortable everyone had our new address and I would not miss any important mail if that be through forwarded mail or emails.

Okay by this point in the process we had been parked in Livingston for a week. Taking it easy in the warm winter weather and knowing we were there over the holidays and moving 10 miles down the road to a state park later. And knowing we have a time window created by scheduled appointments with our new doctors anyway. Next comes:

Truck and trailer tags:

Here in Livingston this is handled by the county tax office located at 416 N Washington (also known as Business 59). I looked up the list of proper forms to take but decided to just go in one day and ask for them. Parked behind the building and went in the back door. There was no line and the lady at the counter highlighted what blanks to fill out on the form for our trailer and truck registrations to include title transfers from Missouri to Texas. Make sure you have lean waivers if you paid-off a loan on either vehicle and the finance company is still on the old title. We received our new Texas titles in the mail within two weeks.

I had Geico Insurance fax our coverage limits to the office at their request. Just the proof of insurance card was not enough. They need to see the actual limits of the coverage which Texas called the “declaration page.” Amazing service from Geico when I called. I was still on the phone talking about the trailer portion of our insurance as the truck portion started appearing on the county fax machine.

Karen grabbed the forms for voter registration while in the office. Or you can just check a box for voter registration when you later go in for a driver’s license.

This was the first-time meeting anyone from local government. They did not mind joking with me at the counter and talking about places to eat in town. We really do want to be a part of this community. After the short visit we walked on the square downtown for lunch. A local sat down to eat at the next table. Turned out he was born in Livingston 60 years ago and really knew the local history. He called Karen mam and me sir. I was raised the same way and a long-long time ago I had neighbors from Dallas Texas who used to tell me that was the proper way to address an adult. The habit stuck.

Cost us a little over $500 to register the truck and trailer. I expected that as some are first time Texan fees and title work. I asked the clerk if the fees included property tax and she looked at me as if confused. I asked about next year when I renew our tags if I needed to pay property tax first. She says no. Texas has no property tax on vehicles if it’s not leased or used for income. However, I’ve read if you buy a residence those taxes are high. I still can’t get over not paying taxes at the grocery store for most basic food needs. I’m really starting to think Missouri and our home county/city were a tax rip-off. Anyway, no worries paying the fees as we are saving in the ballpark of $2,700 annually as there is no state income tax. Grocery store taxes in Texas are cheap for unprepared food items.

According to a CPA at this article link, Texas ranked 46th in tax burden overall in 2016. I’ve not researched the numbers for accuracy in this article for the most part.

Register to vote:

We picked up a voters registration card at the same place we registered the truck and trailer which is the county tax office located at 416 N Washington, Livingston. Filled it out and mailed it back with the included postage paid card. Did not have to have a Texas driver’s license and signed we were residence. We received our cards a week later. We could have also just checked a box on a form when we went to get our driver’s license which is the easy way to do it.

Change our wills and file Intent to Domicile form:

So far, we have not finished this. The lawyers say complete the Intent to Domicile form and file it with the county court. But then again, the lawyers are selling something. I’m leaning towards an online service for our uncomplicated will? I’ll probably never get around to filing out an Intent to Domicile form. All our financial accounts are in both our names and a third person is listed in case we die.

Driver’s Licenses:

Licensing here is handled by the Department of Public Safety located at 1737 N Washington in Livingston. I first read up on the requirements for new residents to make sure we have the propery identifications.

Because our fifth wheel/truck combination exceeds 26,000 in combined gross weight, I’ll have to get a Class A license. Motorhomes that exceed this weight get a Class B.  The regular Texas license in a Class C which Karen got with a simple eye test.

When we arrived in Texas, I downloaded the commercial vehicle license manual to study chapter 14 and 6 which is what I understand a special license will require testing on. Thanks to blog reader Jerry Jones of Keep up with the Joneses who was a little ahead in the process I also discovered to make sure to look at the state’s internet page for the CDL driver test locations. Make sure you schedule the driving portion well in advance because sometimes there is a waiting list. I’ll have to take a test with the rig and as Karen does not pull the trailer she does not. You have 30 days to get your vehicle tags once becoming a resident. You have 90 days to get a driver’s license.

The process went well for the most part. Nothing I read explained that you first file for your Class C (regular license) then get back in line and file for a modification to a Class A or B. After passing the written exam I was able to go online and schedule the driving portion at any center around the state. Fortunately, there was a testing facility in Livingston Texas, where I’d gotten to generally know the roads.

For proof of citizenship and residence we provided our social security cards, birth certificate, truck/trailer registration and insurance documents which have our Texas address printed on them. Had we not had our vehicle registration and insurance documents we could have used two bank documents or bills (any but cell phone bills) which have our Texas address printed on them.

I took the Class A written test in 10 minutes and missed one question when you can miss six out of 20 and still pass. I studied way too much…. I read the two chapters in the book twice, to include the day before the test. I took the online practice tests until I was able to score 100%. Karen so far has not applied for the Class A license although the lady at the counter suggested she at least take the written test and for the first 90 days she can pull the trailer without the license. She decided against that.

I kept my motorcycle qualification. I also checked a box to have it listed on the driver’s license being a veteran. I had to show them a copy of my DD 214.  I plan to use the ID for discounts such as at Lowe’s for 10% off.

I had the driving portion scheduled but had a delay, so I’ll get that done soon. I’ve read online to get a general idea of what others went through during the road test. All report it was easier than they thought and took 20 to 30 minutes. Here in Livingston when you take the driving portion I was told to park on the shoulder of the road out front where there is a fire hydrant. The license center employee pointed to a second hydrant nearby, saying it’s okay as the hydrant we would be parked at was a distance off the road and the second hydrant can be used.  Karen can’t be with me during the drive and as our fifth wheel will be with me we have to come up with a plan in case it’s raining during the test. She will have the dog and the license center can only have 10 people waiting inside.  And the outside waiting area does not have an awning. Maybe she will stay back at the RV park with new friends or I’ll just keep the dog in the truck during the test while she waits outside the building. (Update – I took the driving portion. The examiner said this was going to be way easier than I thought it would be. She directed me through easy driving areas with easy turns.  Had to back up straight for about 25 feet.  You can have a total deduction of 30 points and pass. I lost three points total. Two for not keeping both hands on the wheel and one for backing as I moved slightly away from the curb.  Glad I took the test in Livingston where I had gotten to know the roads. Folks – get your Class A if you require one. It really is no big deal.)

Other Tasks Completed or Considered:

I cancelled all the state income tax withholding for my retirement accounts and part-time office job as Texas has no income tax. Although I moved some of that savings by having extra taken out for Federal taxes for now.

While stopped in one place for so long I caught up on some annual rig maintenance and things I had put off. I also scheduled our appointment at the Vanleigh factory service center which requires three months’ notice. For months now I’ve been building a list for maintenance items and after I use it for awhile I’ll share it in a post. It took a while to get through the owner’s manuals, manufacturer’s websites and reading what others are doing for maintenance.

I ordered replacement bank checks with our new address.

We have not moved our 10×5 storage unit from Missouri to Texas. I’m thinking in terms of what personal property we still own, the 10×5 unit is a minor amount. 99% of the value of our personal property is here in Texas with us. I would think the 10×5 storage unit in Missouri is no different than leaving property in your parent’s basement and for now may just be a temporary thing. I’m confident our travel history and domicile efforts will show Missouri is no longer our home state. Some suggest moving storage to your domicile state to further prove you live there. One fear might be the state you left coming after income tax or there being a dispute in the event of a civil court action such as estate planning or divorce.

We are beginning to consider ways we can become part of the Texas community, especially here in Livingston/Polk County. You could spend months making all the camping stops here in Texas. Southern Texas winters, even just north of Houston, are not bad and tend to run at least 20 degrees warmer than what we had in Kansas City. Several times this “winter” we had to run the air conditioner to remove the humidity even in mid-seventies temperatures.

2020 is the year for the US census. I put it on my calendar to follow up to make sure we are counted as living in Texas. I’m already reading up on the process and how it went down in 2010. The census begins on April 1 and at the time we don’t plan to be parked in Texas. From what I’ve read if you travel like us you will be counted in the census in whatever place you happened to be parked at the time. There was a sign posted at the RV park where becoming a census worker pays $20 an hour!

Final Thoughts

I try not to put out any bad information and I am starting to recognize that just because some other person did something as a fulltime Rver does not necessarily mean they were the expert either.

Personally, I’m not a rules breaker and finding a way around the system is not something I’m comfortable with. Having a domicile address in a state I never intend to visit again is not something I’m willing to do. And it would not be fair to others should one of us die and there be an issue in probate court.

I hope you will agree, as well as the legal system, that the above represents a considerable effort to become Texans.

Equipping Mobile Office

I’ll be taking a part-time job along with us on the road. About 10 hours a week, sometimes more and sometimes less, I spend working as an office manager for a small construction contracting company I once owned. Sold it to the superintendent in 2010 but kept the job in the office since then. The job includes mostly QuickBooks accounting software for typical business needs such as taxes, account payable/receivable and payroll. With the addition of I usually bid all the work from construction drawings, typically received online in files. I’ll split the 23″ screen in half at times with QuickBooks on one side and a spreadsheet on the other.

The boss wants me to have the best setup possible for the road to make it as easy on me as possible. -Thank you Jeff!  I’m still thrifty and believe there are still things better done without extra expensive equipment. I also believe when you do buy electronics, then get something you can keep for years rather than trading it out more frequently. I also tend to take advantage of a slightly older technology when the prices are favorable. I know that once we are on the road there might be a need for additions such as internet connectivity or cellular signal improvement. I’ll save that topic for later.

I want to be able to work from the dinette table, living room sofa, picnic table, truck or down the road somewhere I can get a connection to the internet the couple of times each week it’s necessary.

I’ve used a 23″ all-in-one computer for many years, along with a larger multifunction laser printer and a larger printer for 11″ x 19″ printing. I’ve done a lot of thinking about my work processes and have come to the conclusion that a laptop with smaller laser printer, and possibly smaller external monitor will do the job. I’m also keeping the small  Epson Workforce DS560 sheet feed scanner. There are lower cost versions of the scanner which, by the way, has been wonderful for quickly scanning all our photos and documents. Although I may keep the scanner in storage and use a phone application or small handheld scanning wand when on the road.  

So here is my selection for a laptop, having looked at Dell and HP. As well as what I’m considering for a laser printer and maybe a mobile second monitor.

Dell Inspiron 15 – i5570 15.6″ screen

This computer comes with a DVD/CD player with 12 GB of RAM, the 8th generation Intel i5 processor (model 8250U), a 256 gig SSD drive and an additional installed 1 terabit hard drive. I’ve owned Dell computers in the past and know they offer excellent customer service and a good value for the dollar. If you are interested in discussing the details just post a comment to get the conversation started. I could have gotten by with 8 gigs of RAM and no DVD/CD player as I have a small portable unit. I found the best pricing on Ebay and found a deal on this one with better specs then what I was looking for within my self-imposed budget of $600.

Laser Printer

I cannot tolerate inkjet printers where the ink dries up faster than you can use it or the slow printing speeds.  Although if I had to have color, I’d consider the inkjet. A must have is wireless connectivity and I’d prefer having an option to hardwire the printer to the computer via a USB cable as well. I need to run stock bank checks through it and envelopes at times. So far the two smallest laser printers under consideration are the HP LaserJet Pro M15w Wireless Laser Printer and Samsung Xpress M2024W Wireless Monochrome Laser or something similar. Note, HP bought out the Samsung printer business in November of 2017 which are still sold under the Samsung name. (Update 6/3/19 I went with the HP)
HP Printer
Samsung laser

These printers have a small footprint at about 13.6″w x 7.5″d x 6.3″h with an initial cost of under $100.  I’ve always kept an extra toner cartridge around for the current larger laser printer and never once had it go bad before I could use it.

Mobile Monitor

I’m still undecided on adding a second monitor for the laptop. Given the way I use the current single 23″ screen, I like to split views and run more than one application at a time which is mostly the accounting software in one view and a spreadsheet on the other. At under $150 there are several options available. I’ve done some reading and understand with a Windows based machine the laptop screen and mobile monitor do not have to have the same resolution. I’m also looking at power consumption as these monitors get their power and data via a single USB hooked to the laptop rather than a separate plug. Although just having four hours or more battery life is all I’m interested in.

The two I’m considering so far are something like the ASUS MB168B 15.6″ WXGA 1366×768 USB Portable Monitor or AOC e1659Fwu 15.6-Inch Ultra Slim 1366×768 There are slightly more expensive models with full HD resolution but I’m not sure the higher resolution is necessary given the small screen size. (Update 6/3/19 I went with the ASUS 1366×768 resolution. The built in stand works perfect).

Karen and I are taking a longer trip to Michigan in a month or so and I’d like to get the mobile office in place by then.  I should add for now we have Verizon and AT&T hotspots on our phones for internet. Selling off the office furniture in my home and current equipment might very well cover the cost for the mobile office!

Preparing for Mobile Office Work

Mobile, by definition, means the ability to move or be moved freely or easily. These are my long-term goals as I prepare to move a part time job from my home to our future in an RV.

Back in December of 2016 I posted an update on our financial planning. That month I’d brought up the idea a current employer wanted me to keep a part time office job.  Doing so would prevent having to draw from retirement funds while on the road. What a great opportunity and a good business deal that was good for both of us.  It did not take long for me to accept the offer. Since then I’ve become more confident keeping the job will work out. Especially after meeting others who are already working an office job from their RV and contacting others online regarding connectivity such as phone service. I really appreciate those of you who spent time answering emails or responding to comments on the topic. Thank you!

In January of 2014 I sold a small construction contracting business which employed five people. I sold it to the then superintendent who kept me on as it’s office manager. In short, the job requires about 10 hours of my time each week. I work from my home on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and again on Saturday mornings. The hours are flexible, but I always try and make myself available on the phone on those days for consistency.  Folks know they can get in touch with me during those days.

For the past several months I’ve kept a notebook at my desk and wrote down by category each major task I typically accomplish on the days I work. Usual office stuff such as payroll, customer invoicing, monthly/quarterly tax preparation and such.  Maybe not so typical is bidding floor plans from prints.  I came up with 20 titles for tasks I perform in my job where I needed to figure out how to get them done on the road.  Always keeping in mind, the greater goal is to make the move in a way which will cause the least inconvenience to my boss, customers, vendors and employees. I suppose success will be that few people will even know I’m sitting in sunny locations hundreds of miles away from them.

I’ve got the list sitting next to me as I write this. There are a few areas that have been more challenging to figure out and I would appreciate any advice you have to offer.

  • Mail service when a business is involved: Karen and I will establish a mail service in whatever state we decide to domicile within for personal use.  I’ve read everything I could find regarding how the Escapees RV Club mail service works for example. They are a little vague about business mail but state they provide the service. I’ll most likely end up calling each service for an explanation as to how they handle business mail. I’ve starting moving everything possible over to online service to avoid mail but there simply will be a need to receive some mail and for sure scanning services where they open the mail and scan it when requested.
  • Computer hardware for tiny homes: I’ve already decided a laptop and external monitor will be the way to go. When I’m out of range for WIFI or cellular service I’ll have the ability to drive down the road to connect. But what about printing?  Again, I’m doing what I can to go paperless. I mostly receive floor plans, maybe three to four a month, via PDF files. I may try and find a software to use in taking measurements but generally must print them off on an 11×17 printer.  Maybe half a dozen times a year, it’s better to have them printed in larger format by a service provider such as Office Depot. The boss says this one is easy. Tell the customer to send prints in a format I can use, or they will not get the best quotation (price estimate) possible. For lack of better ideas, I’m thinking to just go with the smallest laser printer possible and keep the 11×17 printer in a box for those times I need it.
  • Changing the business office address: Correspondences come to my home address now. The business address will change to the boss’s office once we leave in an RV. There will be times he has to forward items on to me. And there will be times I mail items to him to sign and expect him to forward it on in the mail, such as quarterly taxes. I’m thinking about training him on using a phone application to take photos to send to me and maybe getting with his wife, whom I’ve worked with in the past, regarding items he needs to sign and mail.

I’m hacking away at the list of converting the home office to a mobile office. It will help that we are planning to purchase the RV well in advance of going full time. That will give it a chance to test everything out from a local RV park or wherever. If anyone wants to have a longer discussion on the topic, just post in the comments section. I’d love to talk about it.  Here are a few more areas on my list to improve for a mobile office:

  • Signing up for mobile tax payments and filing forms. (In progress)
  • Customer invoicing. (Some already prefer emails)
  • Cutting down on business “junk mail”. (Faxing a form letter to take me off their list)
  • Cutting down on need to print stuff.
  • Working with accountant to submit end of year documents for taxes. (Will use their file server)
  • Researching affordable internet and cell service. And signal boosting.
  • A work area in the trailer.
  • Having all or most all vendors submit bills electronically.
  • Finish scanning old documents.

I suppose my office space can be the dining room table or sitting on the floor in the living room. But I’d rather figure something out that can be setup and torn down easily when not in use. Karen came up with a few interesting photos of mobile offices and I’ve been keeping a list of ideas I’ve heard about.

 

new flash  Vanleigh RV is introducing a new fifth wheel targeting the fulltime RVer. It’s called the Beacon. Click here for a brief video. I hope they do a better job with cargo capacity than the Vilano model has. I think they will because of 8,000-pound axles.

new flash Quick list comparing the 2016 Keystone Montana vs Grand Design Solitude differences per Camping World. I saw a similar list at the local 2017 RV show. This will give you an idea of what to look for that might not be easy to see.

Mail Service On the Road

mail-box  A while back a reader asked what we are planning to use for mail service. Surf through several blogs written by other full timers and the options quickly become apparent. Karen and I are saving this decision for the year we take off, along with selecting domicile and healthcare options. Part of the beauty of having taken five years to plan is the ability to make small changes now that will help with the eventual transition. For example, going paperless and establishing online delivery and payment of bills.

Residential Mail

Pending the most current information relative to income taxes, healthcare and auto insurance, licensing and more, we are most likely to consider Texas or Florida as our new home state.  Tentatively, we plan to make use of a domicile service that provides a physical address, mail forwarding and assistance with the process of changing our home state of residency. For example, Texas is interesting. The Escapees RV Club out of Polk County Texas offers all the services we might need. Texas is relatively close to our family and we like the idea of being centrally located in the United States. There are other factors to consider such as Texas requires a special driver’s license for a rig the size we would have and once you return to the state you might have to have your vehicle inspected. While currently Florida might offer the best healthcare insurance plan for our needs as I’ll not be on Medicare. Otherwise we might consider another top three places to domicile which others agree is South Dakota.

Some additional thoughts about mail service include how you have it delivered when you’re on the road. For Amazon and other box deliveries I read how others just wait until they are parked for a given length of time and have the package delivered directly to the RV park. Their mail forwarding service has options depending on your needs. For example, they offer scanning so you can view online and select what mail you want delivered. You can have the service send boxes of mail to any local post office as general delivery. Then simply swing by and pick it up.

Before we go full time, and as part of going paperless, we have been opting out of having items such as magazines and catalogs delivered to the house. I’ve also researched a few websites that claim they help take us off the “junk” mail lists.  I’m thinking by the time we hit the road, delivery of residential mail from the mail forwarding service will be minimal.

Business Mail

One concern for me will be getting business related mail required should I keep a part-time office job. I might use an online fax service for incoming documents. Scanning whatever I need to fax and sending it through email or the online fax service. Not a big deal because I don’t get much now in the way of faxes. Email is replacing faxes. We currently use a Magic Jack phone number for our fax line. This can be taken anywhere as long as there is internet service. Magic Jack is an easy way to have a home or business phone without cellular or landline service. I’ve had one for years and it extends phone service to several wireless phones around the house.

There are options for receiving bills online but in our business, this is relatively rare. This may be one area the mail forwarding service will have to scan and send documents. I’m still working through the business mail parts. A few months before we take off, should I keep the office job, I’ll test a new system to make sure it is working. Our accountant already makes use of file servers to send and receive accounting documents. Fortunately, our accountant has more customers out of state than in state so they have it worked out. They will be a valuable resource.

Our current business mail goes mostly to the office address with some going to the owner of the business. We will most likely have to change the business address, which is a big task, to the owner’s address. He is good about taking a picture of what he gets and sending it to me. Cam Scanner is a good phone application for this. A most important item of mail (checks) already go to him.

Many of our business practices have already been streamlined such as how employees submit their time worked via email, voicemail or texting. Everyone is required to have direct deposit and that system has been working well for several years.  I may write a separate post about business mail later. One thing for sure if I do keep the part-time office job I want communicating with me to be as painless as possible for those I work with. We are in the construction contracting business so are accustomed to not having co-workers sitting right next to us.

Until then and as always, when I receive a piece of mail from the post office I ask “how can I do this paperless?”

 

new flash  News Flash: Missouri State Parks reach historic 20 million annual visitors.

RV Construction Methods – Solar

Over a year ago I had decided to delay most research and selection of various electronic components we would like to install in our future RV. This is because technology changes all the time and what will be available in 2019 is no doubt very different than what’s out there today.  However, alternative energy tech is just to interesting not to follow the trends. Here is a link to where I’ve been keeping notes about solar for those interested.

I’m of the opinion if we could fast forward to the future we would see hydrogen as a preferred alternative energy.

I’ve reached a decision how we will approach adding solar to our rig.  In short, I’ll use the phased approach to solar. Meaning, I’ll start out with very little to nothing while monitoring our typical electrical needs applicable to whatever level of boondocking (camping off grid) we do. Whatever equipment we do have I’ll want to be expandable without having to throw out most of the old stuff.

Portable Solar For Battery Charging

Portable Solar For Battery Charging

After touring various trailers advertised as “solar ready” I find myself only wanting to start out with at least two batteries in a compartment capable of holding additional batteries. The trailers that have a quick connection for portable solar panels directly linked to the battery area are interesting.

We have already decided upon a gas/electric refrigerator so we should be able to get by with a couple batteries to start off. After renting an RV last summer we found it nice to fire up the air conditioner and use the microwave at rest areas for short stops. So some type of generator is in our future as well.  We don’t want to limit where we camp in our RV but also don’t want to spend a lot on technology we don’t frequently use. Our planned style of travel includes spending extended stays in RV parks while workcamping or volunteering.

Financial Software for Check Registers

(Update: I discovered my bank and credit card accounts have alerts I could select to notify me by email of expenditures and other information. Click Here for how I’m handling this.)

I’m down to the last page of my checkbook register. Went by the bank for a new register. The clerk at the drive-through window said they had just run out of registers so I’d have to come back for one later.  Perhaps it’s time for me to move from a paper register to something done with software or a mobile application.

I’ve not completely moved to paperless banking such as receiving statements online.  I do however pay bills online but still receive those bills in the mail. I may never make use of automatic bill payments because it’s so easy to pay them online and I don’t want to give anyone, especially someone collecting a bill, access to my bank account. I’m planning to move as close to paperless during the year prior to our departure. That way I’ll be using the most current technology.

My first stop when looking for financial software to replace my paper check register was Quicken. My part-time job is office work for a company I once owned. I’ve been using QuickBooks for years and really trust Intuit who are the makers of both Quicken and QuickBooks along with some well known personal tax software. I had also decided to not spend much on the software. I’d rather save the money for retirement!  Quicken has products between basic bank registers with budgeting all the way up to allowing information downloads from accounts. These information downloads can include data such as 401k and other portfolios. The most advanced version, called Premier, is linked to Morningstar which I’ve used to evaluate mutual funds. Quicken Premier downloads your portfolio information and has a few tools which, using Morningstar data, helps with decisions such as balancing a portfolio.  Pricing for the basic versions, which includes budgeting, to the more advanced are around $30 to $70. Some reviews of the current Quicken versions are not that good. The 2016 versions are expected to be out next month.

I next looked into online or mobile applications. One of the top applications appears to be Mint. I was excited to see Mint.com is an Intuit company.  I also liked the way they handle data security which is another consideration one has to make. I’m comfortable with online banking and Mint appears to have the same security features.  Check out the website for more information such as receiving account alerts.  And there is a free version!

I’m passing on the advanced options for Quicken but am still considering their Started Addition.  For now I’ll let my finance guy worry about balancing the portfolio. Our investments are presently targeted at long term growth. I’ve learned from experience tracking portfolio balances on a daily basis can lead to problems or worries. I’ve not started a Mint.com account as of yet.

One last note I should add. My current bank (Bank of America) has online reconciliation of the account so I really don’t need that in an application or software.  I also signed up for USAA but do not use their banking services. I’m hoping one of these banks will be usable once we go fulltime in an RV.

What are you using for personal finance software?

Photo Management

I was wondering what everyone else is using for photo management?

I downloaded Picasa but found the program more complex than what was required for my needs. For now, I’m using the following process:

  1. Download groups of photos into folders by topic. This avoids having to rename each photo. For example, a folder named 2105 Watkins Mill State Park MO contains photos of our visit to the park.
  2. Delete any photos we don’t plan to keep.
  3. Use Microsoft Photo Gallery to crop or resize the photos to reduce the file size. Although others have suggested saving the photos in the original size for the best quality. Fotor is a free application Karen and I sometimes use for individual photo editing. What I like about Photo Gallery is the ability to edit groups of photos at the same time. I crop photos one at a time and then resize the group to 2048 pixels which I’ve read is an excellent size for 8×10 photos.
  4. Backup the files to cloud storage or an SD card to later transfer to a high quality disc.

If I’m going to use a group of photos for a blog post the originals are copied to a separate folder. That way photos can be deleted and resized without touching the originals. I could use some advise regarding photos and blogs. For now, I’ll be using a maximum size of 640 pixels for blog post.

Japanese Dwarf Lilac Bush

Japanese Dwarf Lilac Bush

This is a photo from yesterday. Our favorite bush is in full bloom. I read in a blog where it was recommended not to expect someone to click on a photo to enlarge it. This photo was taken with a Lumia smartphone and sent to my email account.  Then cropped and reduced in size.

Spreadsheet Update – Places We Want to Visit

(Here is a link to the May 2016 update on this topic)

I’ve done some serious updates to our spreadsheet of places we want to visit.  Thought I’d post a screen shot and ask for any recommendations you might have for other changes. I had thought about posting this updated spreadsheet at a later date.  However, I’m looking for feedback as to what I might change to avoid having to make huge revisions months from now.

Spreadsheet 1

In the first version of the spreadsheet I was using separate sheets (pages) for each state. But that made it more difficult to add locations and to sort the data.  Here is a run down of what I’m placing in each column:

  • Zip Code: Thinking this is a great way to sort the data when needed.
  • Date:  When I added the location to the spreadsheet.
  • State: Used for sorting purposes.
  • City: More of the locations are found by Google Maps if I include the state and city.
  • Place: Description of the place we want to visit with a hyperlink.
  • Type: You can see I’m using some basic lettering to categorize the locations.
  • Rank: A scale where 1 is a must visit and 3 is a maybe.
  • Links: For additional hyperlinks to information on the web.
  • Where Heard About: Links to places such as blog posts from others who visited.
  • Notes: General information.

Google Maps Speadsheet

I’m trying to learn how to use Google Maps where I’ve been able to import the data. Figure the map might be a good way to see which direction we might want to travel based on the locations we want to visit.

I’m sure we will most likely just end up roaming around. It’s been fun adding and dreaming about locations.