Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. -- Carl Sandburg
There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

September 6, 2011

49 days on the road. Lessons Learned

This post is a recap of what worked well and what didn't work on my nearly 2 month trip in the van.    I put key words in bold to make it easier to find a topic in this rather long post.

I really like the dry toilet method of dealing with human waste. It makes the dump of gray water much easier as there is no black water to make it dirty. I needed to dump it every day when using it regularly because the toilet is rather shallow. A deeper bowl would be better but I'm working with what I've got.

I got some biogel to try but I don't think it works nearly as well as the pine litter. It is poor at odor control whereas the litter is very good at it. I started using it in conjunction with the litter mostly to use it up.

My gray water is amazingly clean with only a little suds in it. I take care not to put any food stuff into the drains and no hair either using drain covers. I use mesh inserts to keep that stuff out of the drains. I dump the dishwater outside whenever it is ok to do that.

I like to travel with full fresh water tanks as much as possible. I never know when I will next find good water to refill the tanks and I like to boondock a lot. Having a full tank means it is always ready.

I needed a bit of a bath mat to soak up water spills and have something clean to put my wet feet on after a shower. Turns out I already had the perfect thing - a thick microfiber towel from the Target auto department (2'x1.5'). It is just big enuf and hangs on the line in the shower when not in use. Too bad I didn't think of it until the last night.

The many hooks I put in have been great. It is easy now to hang my watch at night, hang towels to dry, hang leashes, treat bag, keys, shirts, pants at night so they are ready if I need to put them on, dishcloth, cleaning cloth, laundry bag, etc.

I ended up putting my laundry bag on an over the door hook on the hinge side of the bath door over the toilet. Since I'm in the van alone, having the door open when I use the toilet is no issue so it swings out of the way when I open the door. I put the bag on the driver's seat when taking a shower.

Using the color block sheets was great.  They really do work to keep colors from dying the whites in a mixed load.  When using a laundromat, I could use a bigger washer and put everything in one load, thus saving money.  I stored the box in the bottom of the laundry bag.

There is a clothesline in the shower that works well to hang my wet washcloth to dry and put the towel-mat on after a shower. I hung my towel to dry on it at first but liked hanging it on an over the door hook on the other side that was better. Another hook facing the outside of the door holds my towel for easy access after the shower.

I make an effort to recycle as much waste as I can even while traveling. I used separate plastic bags to put plastic bags in, metal cans, and plastic containers; and put them on the floor of the cupboard next tot eh sink.. I put paper into the passenger side door cubby. Fortunately, several states have recycle containers for some things. The bags can go into most big store's receptacles. Aluminum cans are the easiest to find receptacles.. The paper was the hardest to find. I only found one place next to the Marquette, MI food coop to take the paper.

Having my bed elevated worked really well.  It created a lot of additional storage space and made for more organization.  It also was more comfortable in bed because it was easier to reach the under-cabinet light switch.  The chair side cushion shifted because I forgot to put a keeper block on it.  The 3' center support board was better if I shifted it about 4" forward as there is no weight right next to the back doors, but when driving, it tended to shift back.

The cats also like it higher, but then cats always like high places.  This time, the cat litter box under the bed worked very well as there was sufficient height for them to do their business.

The kennel pails worked really well in the corner of the step well secured by a bungee.  So well, that I could have the water pail full while driving.  Using two of them proved to make it easier to pull out the water pail when needed and not have to re-do the bungees.  I ended up getting another steel food bowl for the dog instead of undoing the pail set up to feed her.

My computer and desk/table set up also worked really well.  Most of the time, I set my computer on the folded table which was sufficient for just using it.  When I needed some desk space, I folded out the leaves on the table and got a nice work surface.  Sitting in the chair with the wedge pillow was comfortable and the edge of the elevated bed made a comfortable armrest.  The only thing that was not perfect with it was the lagun pedestal failed to hold the table level and tilted.  I'm not sure how to fix it or if I'm doing something wrong.  Otherwise it was really nice to have the pedestal out of the way and not in the middle of the aisle and to be able to push the table out of the way or pull it close.  I internet search revealed that what I bought is a lagun style table mount and not the real thing.  Perhaps that is the source of the poorer grip and thus the tilt.

The drawer I made for the printer proved to be very helpful as well.  It worked great to have a printer on board and it gave me a good place to stow the laptops when traveling.  The half inch plywood proved to be plenty strong.  I found it better to use a surge protector power strip plugged into either the inverter powered outlet or the AC outlet for the electronics.

The straps I installed in the upper cabinets helped a lot in keeping things from falling out of the cabinets. I think using small bungees might be easier than the velcro straps I made.  Having the rings mounted in the front and half way back in the cabinet wall was helpful as things got used up.

Using many plastic storage boxes to contain things made it a lot easier to find and get things when I needed them.  I'm keeping things I need in my house in the same boxes because they worked so well and then they are a grab and go item for my next trip.

The shoe pocket thing I mounted on the closet door made accessing the numerous little things much easier.  However, it might have contributed to the failure of the door latch.

The LED lights were a great benefit. They barely use the battery power and work beautifully. Whenever boondocking, I used only the LED lights to conserve the battery and there was plenty of light. I need to replace the bath light with LEDs as I needed it when taking showers after dark. I used a little LED lantern instead. I think replacing the center florescent ceiling light with LED would be good.

Having the battery monitor was great. I could tell how many amps everything was using. Sometimes, it looked like the fans were using a lot of amps while other times, it used few amps. Makes me wonder about the health of the fans. I'm intrigued by Technomadia's lithium batteries for more power in a smaller space and less weight.

Having the DC electric stay cool was great too. The trickle charger for the engine battery is working great. When not driving the van, but plugged in, it keeps the engine battery topped off.

The roof fan top screen I made kept the bug carnage in the fan down as hoped. The lower fan screen got rather dirty several times but cleaned off easily.

The wi-fi antenna I got worked pretty well to pick up free wi-fi signals inside the van so I could park outside a place and use it.

The not so good:
I really need a good refrigerator, preferably with a good freezer. The ice chest is a pain and very limited. I stopped feeding the dog raw because of it. I could only keep foods a few days.

Carpet in the van is stupid. The floor gets very dirty quickly and carpet is impossible to clean. The vinyl is easy to sweep with a whisk broom.  It is amazing how quickly dirt and fur collects on the floor so easy to sweep out is important.  I'm considering cork as a replacement a la the Vantramps solution.

I find it easier to shower with the bath doors open. It would be nice if there was some way of getting the shower curtain to be a bit in the aisle and still shed the water into the bath.

My van sliding door handle broke so I can't open it from the inside.

The latch on the closet door broke so I had to bungee it to close it.

I would really like to have the shades block out the light. I never use the day shades as the dark tint of the windows keeps people from seeing inside during the day. The night shades let too much light out at night and don't darken the van at all during the day.

I need to put ”Great Foam” in as many holes in the van body as I can find. The dirt road excursions let in a lot of dust.

The doors on my van for the lower cabinets are too short to make it easy to access things in there.  Something to keep in mind if I re-do the benches.

I would love to find a way to get the bottom of the steering wheel a couple inches closer.  I have to reach a little uncomfortably to hold the steering wheel and it is fatiguing when driving a long ways.  So far, I've had no success in finding a workable solution.

My cell phone slowly died during the trip and the Sprint network was non-existent in WY and SD leaving me with no email and no data coverage. I could have made phone calls on it using another network roaming but data roaming is very limited on my plan. I made a few trips into a town just so I could get a little wi-fi to get my email and let my relatives know I was still alive and well. I looked into getting a paygo cell on Verizon as an alternate but the prices are terrible. We American's are really getting ripped off with poor coverage and very high prices compared to the rest of the world's cell coverage.

If I were full-timing and didn't have this high maintenance house to get back to, I would have taken a little more time to do my internet activities. As it is, I felt I needed to get back home and deal with my house. The house is no longer a haven, it has become an anchor around my neck.

I can't recommend the Woodall's guide I bought.  Some of the best places I found cheaper or free are not listed at all.  I did not find a single reasonable campground in it the whole trip.  It seems to be tailored to those who do not mind paying a whole lot of money and who don't mind being sandwiched like sardines in lots.  That isn't me.  If I had had good internet connection, it would have worked better to search for campgrounds on it.  As it was, looking at the end of the day and using my Garmin worked out OK most of the time.  However, some of the Garmin listed campgrounds did not exist where Garmin said they were.  

Because of the Internet issues I had, it would have been better if I had printed out the Walmart lists and some other camping access information I found on the internet.


  1. I'm not sure what your set-up is in the shower - would it work to have one of those outward-bowing shower rods that stick out when you're showering, then flip inside after? Sorta like this.

    Recycling is still really hard for me. Not the practice, but the logistics of storing stuff in-between finding places for it. For example, where we've been staying (Lake City, FL) has NO general recycling that I've been able to find. Sure, they'll take my cast iron tub or my 60-gallon water heater to turn a quick buck, but not my plastic bottles, etc. My fear is that I'll collect basement bays full of it, then be forced by sheer volume to throw out 2400 beer cans one by one in the WalMart parking lot.

    We use car windshield screens under our shades to keep out heat, but I wonder if they would be useful for keeping inside light in and outside light out.

    This was a useful and good list - thanks for making it. I'll skip Woodall's.


  2. My shower is essentially a big cupboard. There's a top lip for the doors and a track on the ceiling for the curtain to pull around so the folding shower extension rod won't really work in it. I've thought about just using some binder clips on the curtain, attaching strings and fastening it so the curtain bows out some. OF course, the curtain needs to be long enuf to still sit inside the shower base.

    Recycling doesn't work if you are in one place and there's no place to take it to. Moving around meant I could wait to find a place that would take it. Boo to FL. I have little space for storing the stuff so I needed to find dump spots within a couple of days. You guys ever going to hit the road?

  3. Just read your entire blog and really enjoyed it. You are a lot more savy than I ever will be when it comes to maintaining an RV. Maybe that will change as things begin to age on the coach and need attention.

    I've only camped short distances from my home but am planning a month long trip through south east Texas in November and a trip to D.C. in March of next year. Really excited about that.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences.

  4. Thanks, but my savvy started out as knowing nothing not all that long ago. The Internet is full of really great info from truly savvy people and I have learned tons in the year I've owned my van. You can learn too. Never let not knowing now stop you from having the confidence that you can learn.

  5. Yes, BOO to Florida. At least, BOO to Lake City. Of all the places in Florida I've seen, Lake City has the least to recommend it. Too big to be quiet, too provincial to be exciting, too small to be metropolitan, too commercial to be charming.

    We will be hitting the road, but probably not this month.


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