The joy of a travel trailer

Travel trailer being towedJoy is always a relative term so what we are talking about here is my personal experience.  My wife and I have been looking at various RVs for years and finally took the plunge.  All kidding aside it has really been a good experience so far.  I am by far not an expert and we have yet to take a big trip but so far so good.

Why a travel trailer?

If you start reviewing the various RV sites and forums online you’ll see all kinds of advice on RVs.  An RV can mean anything from a tent camper to a million-dollar touring bus and everything in between.  Even among the category of travel trailers there is a great variety, from pop ups and teardrops that be towed by a Prius to giant mansions on wheels requiring a locomotive to tow.

For us a travel trailer made sense because we have a place to keep it for use in the summer months.  It costs much less than powered RVs, and even though we bought a pickup to tow it, that could be replaced when the truck got old without throwing out the trailer.  (And a pickup is so useful!)

Do you need a new vehicle?

Of course, the answer is “it depends.”  We looked at some of the teardrop trailers that can be towed behind anything, but decided a full size made more sense for us.  Even though we ended up buying a pickup that purchase will have all the advantages of owning a truck.  You do have to watch your weight ratings.  We almost took the plunge on a really big and heavy trailer but backed out when we figured out we would need a really big truck that probably got about 9 mpg.

About maintenance and costs

I did quite a bit of research on the Web regarding maintenance costs before making a purchase.  One thing I quickly learned is that things do go wrong.  Most travel trailers are built for occasional use and as a result the construction and components are sometimes less than ideal.

The first maintenance cost is where you keep the trailer.  Unless you are lucky enough to have enough space at your home to keep it you will need to rent a space.  This is especially true for northern climates where the trailer needs to be winterized during the colder months.  Inside storage is quite expensive.  Outside is less.  We were fortunate enough to have a piece of ground to keep the trailer and I dealt with winterization myself, a reasonable process if you do your research.

The Achilles heal of RVs is the roof, and they need to be resealed annually to minimize the chance of expensive leaks.  This winter I tried putting a big tarp over the roof to protect it from the ice and snow in Pennsylvania.  We’ll see how that works.

And other things do go wrong.  We had a water pump go bad after about a year, and others report things like refrigerators, water heaters and air conditioners giving occasional problems.  An extended warranty can help with these, just review carefully what the warranty covers.

Future plans

We haven’t taken any long trips with our trailer yet.  However we have thoroughly enjoyed having our little home away from home sitting on a beautiful piece of eastern Pennsylvania.  I’ll have to do an update after some trips…

How to keep a journal

Writing in a journalI am terrible at keeping a journal

Writing this article is good for me.  I’ve tried to keep a journal.  I have fancy notebooks.  I’ve downloaded software.  I have started with the best intentions, but always eventually give up.

Something always seems to get in the way.  If I try to write in the morning something will come up that appears urgent and off I go and the journal never gets updated.  At night I’m too exhausted to write, or at least I think I am.

And I feel even more guilty after reading some stories on the web.  I read that members of the Lewis and Clark expedition were prolific journal writers.  They returned with over a million words of notes and observations.  They accomplished this with incredible hardships and often while fearing for their lives.  So, what is my excuse?

You need a plan

The key to keeping a journal might be having a plan that is so compelling you can’t start or finish your day without writing in your journal.  It needs to be a part of your daily life.

Here’s one plan.  Most of us at least make a list of things we need to do.  So maybe if you are trying to write your journal in the morning you start with a “What I need to do” section in your journal.

Then you add a “What I accomplished today (or yesterday)” section to be completed.  Then that might lead to a “What I’m thinking about” section, or a “How I feel” section.  Maybe a “What good things happened” or a “What bad things happened.”

The idea is to build up a set of standard topics that you care about and help you plan and think about during the day.  Pretty soon the journal becomes kind of indispensable and you feel something is missing any day you don’t complete your journal.

Paper or Digital

People seem to be undecided on this, and there are advantages to both.  We all do so much on our computers that digital seems to be the way to go and your writing can be password protected to keep it private.

Paper journals have that “feeling” that you have accomplished something and it is special because it was written with your real hand.  It probably feels good to fill up a paper journal and start a new one.

So, I guess it all comes down to personal preference and the action of keeping a journal is more important that the method.

Famous Journal keepers

A quick Google search reveals many famous journal keepers.  Below are just 10 I picked out:

Anne Frank

Ronald Reagan

Charles Darwin

Thomas Edison

Marie Curie

Mark Twain

George S Patton

George Lucas

Thomas Jefferson

Benjamin Franklin

How to Start – Just Start

So how do you start keeping a journal?  Just start now.  Grab a notebook (you may even have a “special” notebook laying around from the last time you tried to start.  Or open a document on your computer and start writing.  Just name the document something you will remember and put it in a place you will remember, you can always organize things later.

Maybe use some of the ideas mentioned above or come up with your own plan. Keep it simple and let your journal evolve.

But just start…

10 Ideas for map lovers

Street mapI’ll admit it. I love old maps. When I was a kid I studied road maps on family trips. (I’ll show my age when I say that back then road maps were free at gas stations!) I still love maps. I much prefer reviewing a road atlas rather than relying on the GPS, although a GPS is a great assistant.

So how can you feed your map addiction?

Below are some ideas to get you started:

Collect old maps

Collecting old maps is popular but they can be expensive. An alternative might be collecting reprints or scanning your own from books and magazines.

Paper a room with maps

I’ve often considered collecting all the old maps from my National Geographic magazines and papering a room with them. Haven’t done it yet, but someday! If you are clever you might come up with a way to hang up lots of maps and change them occasionally without destroying your walls.

Find cool destinations within 50 miles

Make this your challenge. Find cool places on a map not more than 50 miles from home that you never heard of. Maybe somewhere historical or a weird place name. Maybe a geological feature that you never knew existed. How about an unknown little museum or roadside attraction?

Plan a road trip

Why not plan a real road trip? Make it a minimum of three days and the max is limited only by your schedule and budget. Early in our marriage my wife and I started taking road trips and we never really stopped. We didn’t have a lot of money so we mostly car camped staying at national parks and forests. These trips remain some of our most cherished memories.

Take a road trip using maps and no interstates

If making good time isn’t the priority try a trip without using any interstates or turnpikes. This gives a completely different perspective. Check out the book “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon for inspiration. I loved it!

Draw your own map of anywhere

Kids love doing this and there is no reason you can’t do it too. Do you have a local area or maybe a state park nearby? Try making a map outlining special places or features that aren’t shown on other maps. Maybe highlight nice views or rock formations for example.

Collect globes

Globes are cool, and I’ve always wanted a really big one. But there are lots of others that don’t cost a mint and would make a cool collection.

Mark everywhere you have visited on a map

This works for any map, from a world map to a country map, to more local. Maybe mount the map on cork and use pins to mark where you have been. Or maybe use little flags with the date of your visit.

Mark everywhere you want to visit on a map

This is like the above except it becomes a “bucket list” of places you would like to visit. Don’t worry about the practicality of getting to the places, just mark them. This has the effect of making you start to think about the possibilities.

Pick a spot randomly on a map and Google or visit

You could do this using the dart board method where you just randomly pick a spot and see what looks interesting around it. Google the area to learn about it. You might even start planning a road trip based on what you find!

So how do you indulge in your map habit?