By Request: The Decisions We Made

Friend, and blog post reader, Shari, requested a post on whether the decisions we made going into this lifestyle were the right ones for us, or would we do some things differently. So, this is for Shari – and hopefully it will be interesting to the rest of you too.

Those of you who know Randy may remember that for the last five years of his working life, he could think (and talk) of little else than retiring. So this lifestyle choice, which went from a possibility, to probability, to certainty, was thought out and discussed for years during car trips and over dinner.

Some decisions were huge – when to retire, to sell the house or keep it, what type of RV to have and where to have our legal domicile.

Some decisions were small – how were we going to make ice, will we get a washer dryer combo and how was I going to travel with my jewelry.

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In the midst of it all, one decision was totally non-negotiable – traveling with a pet. Elko is part of our family and we never considered leaving him behind. He is with us for his duration – period.

Pets, especially our mellow old guy, are great conversation starters with people in campgrounds and we often remember people by their pet more than their names. Elko gets us outdoors when we might not want to go and brings a contentment to our lives that only pet lovers understand.

However, on the sad, sad day that we lose our sweet boy, we will make a different choice – for a time. Pets can limit where you can go, what you can do and how long you can be gone. National parks are notoriously “paw un-friendly” so our visits there are less than we’d like them to be. When the weather is warm and we leave for a time, we worry about the power going out in the park, or the air conditioner failing and Elko being too warm in this fiberglass box of a home. Randy had to figure out a warning method involving an extra cell phone and a temperature monitoring alert system (contact him for details.)

So, back to the big decisions….

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We feel very blessed to have been able to retire at 55 (Randy on his 55th birthday and me 5 days after mine). Randy was unhappy in his job and, even though I was still a mostly happy teacher, we haven’t missed working at all. He had prepared the financial part of it and the Affordable Care Act made the last obstacle doable. (Yes, some of us like Obamacare!) Randy likes to say he can recommend retirement!

With advice from our realtor, we bought two rental properties and paid them off when we sold our house. We get rental income from the houses and also have options if we need or want to get off the road. We sold, or gave away, everything in our home except a few totes of sentimental items, stored at our daughter’s house.  We do not have a storage unit.

Where to domicile is an important legal decision. This involves where you vote, where you license your vehicles, where you obtain insurance and where you pay your taxes. Three states cater to full time RVers like us: South Dakota, Texas and Florida – all with reduced taxes, licensing, official mail forwarding systems etc. Randy figured out how we could get our mail and still stay residents of Idaho.  We just kept it simple because, in all probability, we’ll end up back there someday.  Most businesses and agencies will allow our mail forwarding address but, for those that won’t, we use our daughter’s address in Boise.

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We bought our 2012 Montana Fifth Wheel (and truck) before we retired. That allowed us to pay for them while we were still making money and also to be sure we had any potential bugs worked out. We had owned a weekender fifth wheel previously and knew what we wanted in a live-in version. For several years we had seen the Montana 3400RL model at the Boise RV show and had decided it was the best for us. Randy found  this link a couple years ago (when he was still doing the blog) to a video about our trailer model.

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We like this model because the living space is very generous – more than any motorhome we’ve seen. We went from a large house to a large fifth wheel but do not feel cramped unless it is rainy and cold and we can’t get outside for several days. Two things that were huge for me were a separate desk and a front closet. Those of you who know me well know that I don’t do clutter so I need a place for everything and everything in its place!

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It seems that slightly more full timers own motor homes than trailers of any type. I think traveling from place to place, and setting up and taking down may be easier in a motor home but at this age and physical ability – we don’t have any issues with our set up. Randy generally does the outside work and I generally do the inside things and we double check each other. It is working.

The only downside to our situation is that our drive around vehicle is a big truck. Randy usually drives when we are together (a pattern established 35+ years ago) but when I have to park this big truck in a crowded parking lot, I grumble…. If we had a motorhome, we could have a little run-about car but towing a car involves a whole other set of issues that we don’t have to worry about. There is no perfect answer and we’ve met people with fifth-wheels that have gone to motorhomes and people with motorhomes that have gone to fifth wheels. Each have advantages and disadvantages. We are also seeing more and more toy hauler type fifth wheels – allowing people to bring motorcycles or ATVs or other toys – but the living space is less.

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One decision we made, related to the fifth-wheel, was to buy a seven year extended warranty. The jury is still out on whether that was a good decision. Because it is SO much trouble to use the warranty when you live in your RV – it took 3 months to get our broken steps fixed – Handy Randy just fixes things on his own.

Most recently he fixed a hydraulic leak effecting our slides and leveling system.  Granted, most people probably can’t do that – but he can.    So we will ignore the extended warranty unless a major appliance or system goes down which can cost several thousand dollars each to replace. If nothing happens, we will have spent $2000+ to replace broken stairs.

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Another big decision was how to stay connected in a way that is secure, robust and stable. Randy has an unlimited data plan on his android phone and we stream off his phone when we want to watch movies, sporting events etc. and project them onto our TV. We have a Verizon jet-pack that I connect onto with my iPhone, Mac, iPad etc. It is interesting that in different locales different combinations of thing work better or worse,  even though they are all Verizon.  Of course, these only work if we are in an area that has cell coverage.

As for the smaller decisions…..

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We had new window shades installed throughout, and maybe this shouldn’t be in the small decision category because they cost $3000+, but we would do it again. They include a day shade which reduces the sun, while still being able to see out, and a night shade that is totally blackout. The greater benefit is that the trailer doesn’t get as hot or as cold using these shades.  These are our very favorite upgrade.

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Randy changed hitch systems sometime along this journey to lighten our load and reduce strain on his back in the event the hitch had to be removed. Another benefit of this Anderson hitch is a much smoother ride!

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Our TV service is through DISH satellite. It works very well and we have no issues except we are in the dark ages with our DVR. We can only watch or record ONE show at any given time because of the type of mobile satellite system we are allowed to have.

Absolutely yes to the washer-dryer combo – now that we have a quality one that is vented to the outside, rather than a ventless model. We would buy another unit tomorrow if this one died.

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Portable ice maker is sitting on the washer-dryer combo. Both are in the important front closet.

We bought a portable ice maker which we pull out every few days to make ice and store in ziplock bags. We don’t have to take up limited space in the freezer with a built in ice maker, or mess with ice cube trays.

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My jewelry boxes were not coming with us so I found this two sided hang up version and it works just fine.

The decision we’ve failed at twice is what BBQ grill to own and cart around. We started out with a full standing camp stove with all kinds of heavy attachments that we already owned. We donated that to a YMCA group next to us less than a month out. Then we bought a Coleman Road Trip system which basically did all the same things but was smaller and lighter. After a year or so we set it, and all the attachments, by a dumpster and “donated” it to someone in the park who picked it up. It still worked fine, but was a pain to keep clean. Now we are on to the Weber Q – it doesn’t do anything but grill but so far so good.

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I could go on and on with a dozen more decisions we had to make to do this but enough is enough! One size definitely does not fit all with any of these questions and answers, but we are happy with our decisions. Things may change down the road with age and time, but for now all is well.

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About Serene

We live full time in our fifth wheel and travel and volunteer. We remember everyday how blessed we are to have the opportunity to live this season of our lives in this way. Our black lab, Elko, keeps us company along the way.
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10 Responses to By Request: The Decisions We Made

  1. Shari says:

    Thanks, Serene! That was just what I was looking for. We are toying with the idea of a 5th wheel toy hauler so we can take the Harley cruiser with us. But Chip is still working so not sure if we will wait or do it sooner.

    Happy trails! Shari

    • Serene says:

      Glad to do it Shari. We’ve had a good time remembering all the things we had to decide and feel good that mostly we are happy with the decisions we made. It was a fun blog to write. We’d love to hear your RV plans over dinner when we are back in April.

  2. Great letter! Oh to be young again. Carry on and come see us in Ashland. Guerin

  3. Kim says:

    Thank you for sharing Serene. I really enjoyed it.

  4. Beverly Olson says:

    Great summary. Thank you. Mom & Dad

  5. Beth says:

    Great blog, Serene. You covered the basics nicely. Good job!

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