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Monday, April 12, 2021

10 Items You Should Have On Your RV Camping List



We have basically been working with the same camping list ever since our first camping trip, over 30 years ago.  And because we have our list, we have never forgotten to pack our camp chairs which we definitely need because we know we will want something comfortable to sit in while we enjoy our evening campfire.  We also haven't forgotten the matches or lighter we would need to get the fire started.  

In those days we were a family of five and camped in a tent,  Today we are a retired couple camping in an RV.  We still need most of the things on our original camping list but since we got our trailer and have started camping more than we ever did, we have found things that make outdoor life more convenient,comfortable and safer and have added them to our list.  We can't imagine not having them with us when we are camping and can't believe how we never missed them in the past.

This is our list of items we think you, also, should have with you on your next camping trip.

1.  Outdoor Cooking Station - Instead of putting our stove on the end of the picnic table, we now have a table that makes cooking so much easier.  The station is higher than a picnic table and there are side tables on either end of the section we put the stove on that we can use to put our cooking utensils, food and more on.  I love the holder on the end of one of the side tables that keeps our paper towels within reach and also keeps them from rolling off the picnic table where we used to keep them.  There's also a spot we use to put the tub we use for dirty dishes and room for everything else we want to keep handy for cooking and eating.  The station folds up to a slim 5 inches which makes it very portable and easy to store in our shed when we are not camping.

2.  Solar Walkway Lights - When we camped years ago, we made sure to bring a string of lights to hang outside of our tent so that we could see it, and the zippered door to get into it, when it got dark out.  We also made sure the kids all had their own flashlights and we had our flashlights and a lantern.  Camping with our trailer makes what we need for lighting a little different.  We no longer need the string of lights as we have lighting that runs across the top of one side of trailer.  We don't normally use our lantern because we spend the evenings inside the trailer but we do still need our flashlights for bathroom and shower trips after dark.  As we get older we are finding that it is getting harder for us to see in the dark so we have added solar walkway lights to our camping list.  They work great to show us exactly where our site is when we are walking back from the bathroom and we use them to light up bumps and ditches around the site that are hard to see in the dark.  We have two lights and that is working for us right now but will add more if we seem to need them.

3.  Portable Space Heater - We thought that if we camped in southern part of the US in the month of February we wouldn't have to worry about it being too cold especially in the trailer.  Well, we found out that it can get very cold in the middle of winter in some of the southern states.  There were days when it was so cold both day and night that we didn't give our little heater a break.  Thank goodness for the portable heater.  If we would have had to use our trailer heater I don't know how much propane we would have gone through.  P.S.  I love the safety feature that turns the heater off if it is accidentally knocked over.


4.  Charcoal Chimney Starter - Neither me or Soko knew anything about this handy item until we went camping recently with friends who had one.  If you, like us, have never seen one of these, the way they work is, you put paper, which you will light a match to, in the bottom section of the cylinder and put charcoals in the top section.  In about 10 minutes you have coals ready to go.  What we really love about the charcoal starter is that we have essentially replaced lighter fluid with paper.  Besides for saving on the cost of lighter fluid, it relieves the stress I have with carting lighter fluid around.  My son gave us some of his newspaper to use as a fire starter.  A friend suggested using the paper in our paper shredder which sounds like a great idea.  We'll try it next time.


5.  Trash Bag Holder - One of the happiest moments of our camping trips for me is when I see that our campsite has a lantern holder.  It lets me know that I have a place to hang our garbage and I don't have to search for a tree branch or take the time to try to figure out how fasten it to the end of the picnic table or somewhere else where it might stay until we are ready to throw it into the garbage bin.  How did I never know there was this amazing garbage holder!  It is a perfect holder for any size garbage bag and we like it for the small plastic grocery bags we like to use to hold our garbage.  It not only gives you a place to hang your garbage bag, it also holds the bag open which makes it very easy to dispose of your garbage. 


6. Yeti Rambler Mug - This was a gift from son Mike and DIL Chrissy.  We didn't know how much we needed this mug until we got it, but I guess the kids knew.  Not only does it hold a perfect amount of coffee, if you use the top it comes with like I do, Soko doesn't, it keeps the coffee hot until the last drop.  Another reason I love this mug is that we also use it to have a cold drink in and we use it to eat anything we would use a bowl for like soup, stew, chili, etc.  Because this one mug is so versatile we don't have to bring extra bowls and cups and can fill our small cabinets with other things we need.


7. Packing Cubes - We don't have any closets or drawers for our clothes in our small trailer so we have experimented with different ways of traveling with our clothes.  We started out by bringing our suitcases and leaving them in the car but the suitcases took up too much room and made it hard to get to anything else we needed to leave in the car.  On our next road trip, we put them in hamper bags in the car which took up less space and worked a little better but really wanted a way to have our clothes in the RV with us.  The only space we really have for them in the trailer is on the one long and one short shelf.  But our clothes had to be more secure than just piled up on these shelves as we found out after one quick turn and one bump in the road.  So we tried the packing cubes.  We got a set of four each which makes it easy to sort and find the apparel we are looking for and our bags are different colors from each other which helps too.  We think have finally solved our clothing dilemma.


8. Insulated Lunch Bag - We plan a lot of activities into our road trip itinerary.  Making lunch in the morning and bringing it out with us saves us the time and trouble of finding a place to eat not to mention the time it takes to be seated and served.  Of course, eating the local cuisine is sometimes one of the activities of the day, then that is a different story.  But most days are filled with places to see or trails to hike.  In that case, having a prepared lunch is ideal for us.  We are either eating it in the car as we travel from one sight to the next or enjoying our picnic lunch outdoors before a hike.  We found out, however, that sometimes plans change and we end up eating lunch very late or not at all so we would be drinking warm soda or throwing food away.  Now that we have our insulated lunch bag with us on our trips, the wasted food and warm drinks are a thing of the past.



9.  Yeti Cooler (cat not included) - Yes.  We have always brought a cooler on camping trips so this is not a totally new item.  What is new about this cooler is that it saves us time and money on getting and buying ice.  The Yeti cooler is really expensive, though, and we would not have it had it not been gifted to us by our kids.  But we may have looked into buying a comparative cooler, without the high-priced name, for the convenience it gives us of less trips to the ice machine.

                 

10. Portable Radio - Actually, this radio is not new at all.  It is really, really old.  It has been packed in with our camping supplies since our early camping days.  We didn't bring it on our first trip with our RV because the trailer was equipped with a radio.  Well we found out quickly that the radio in the trailer didn't work at most of the campgrounds we stayed in.  Luckily we didn't toss this little radio out and we packed it on our next road trip.  It picked up stations when our trailer radio couldn't.  It also makes sense to bring a portable radio when you are camping on a site that doesn't have electricity.  Why waste the propane needed to supply electricity for your trailer radio when you don't have to.

I am sure most of you reading this, especially if you go camping in an RV, have some of these items already.  And you probably have some that we don't have yet.  Please leave your camping must-have in a comment below.  We would love to know more about what you have on your camping lists!

Monday, March 22, 2021

What We Learned On Our First RV Road Trip



We've just completed our first road trip in our RV.  Before this road trip we took two practice runs (read about it here) to campgrounds close to our house.  We were very glad that we did because we learned how to set up our camper and got a feel for driving it.  We knew that our trip up the East Coast would be a little more challenging but the practice trips definitely made us feel more comfortable, confident and ready to do a longer trip.  Did we learn everything we needed to know on the shorter trips?  We found out the answer was "No".  We learned a lot more on this trip and one thing we learned, we learned the hard way!

The first thing we did on this road trip that we didn't have to do on our two shorter trips was pull up to a gas pump with the trailer behind the car.

Pilot is our go to gas station for the coffee perks, gas discount and now we are enjoying their new app (read about it here).  Now, that we have the trailer, we have another reason to love Pilot.


Pilot gas stations cater to truckers so there is usually more room to maneuver a truck or trailer up to a gas pump and many of them have a separate RV area that is very easy to pull in and out of.  When pulled into the first Pilot we came to there were two gas pumps that were designated for RV pull thru.  We didn't use them because there was a end pump that looked very easy to pull next to.  We were both very happy that Soko did a great job pulling the car up to the pump without bumping the car or the trailer into anything.  He did ask me to check, as we were pulling away, to see if the camper was going to hit the gas pump.  We were a good 3' away but it was impossible for Soko to see.
Lesson #1 - When possible, go to the gas station the truckers go to for ease of pulling up to a gas pump.


We were filled up with gas and it was time to get on a major road, I4, the always busy interstate that brings you to your favorite Florida theme parks.  Our plan was to stay in the right lane so that Soko wouldn't have to quickly change lanes to get off an exit. 

You can see some of the traffic with the side mirrors but it doesn't give you as big a picture of what is going on behind you as you can get when you are able to use the rear view mirror.  That might be the hardest part of towing the trailer is the fact that the only thing you can see behind you when you look out the rear view mirror is what you are towing.



What we learned almost as soon as we got on the road was that we were going to have to change lanes.  Mostly to get around very slow vehicles.  Soko felt pretty comfortable using only the side mirrors for making sure no one was around him when he was ready to change lanes.  He just had to remember to wait until there was enough room for both the car and trailer to move over.
Lesson #2 - Changing lanes is not as difficult as we thought it might be and the most comfortable lane to be in, when on a 3 lane highway, is the middle lane.

Soko only wanted a stretch of 5 -5 1/2 hours, at the most, between campgrounds.  So that's how we selected the campgrounds that we did and we also wanted them close to I95, the interstate we would be on for the majority of the trip.  We know that when we GPS our ride from our Florida home to our NC home it tells us that it will take us 9 1/2 hours.  Our record time is 10 hours but we stop a lot so the trip for us is more like 10 1/2 hours, so an extra hour.  Knowing we would have to take it slower with the trailer and make more gas stops, we were curious to know what the difference in actual travel time would be compared to the ETA of the GPS.
Lesson #3 - A 5 hour trip when we are pulling our trailer really means a 6 1/2  hour trip, without traffic.



We were very happy that we got to our first stop, Fort McAllister Historic State Park in Richmond Hill, Georgia, safe and sound.  

It was on our way to our second stop, in North Carolina, that we had our eggstraordinary disaster!



Lesson #4 - Always make sure to listen for the extra click of the fridge door handle, telling us the door is locked, before we hit the road!

Medoc Mountain State Park in Hollister, NC, was our second stop, and where we knew we would not have a water hook up to the camper.  We were prepared to learn how to use the trailer's water holding tank.

Lesson #5 - The water tank takes longer to fill than we thought and is full when the water starts to overflow out of the trailer or I noticed the second time we filled up, that the sound of the water going into the trailer changed right before it started leaking out.  I will be listening harder next time and try to stop filling before the leak out.

(I have to admit that we are not completely positive that we have the water tank figured out yet.  On our way back to Florida we noticed we had water leakage.  Not sure if it was us or the trailer.  We will get it checked out in September.  This might turn out to be another blog post on it's own, but hoping it won't be!)

We were successful at filling the water tank but when we tried to turn the water on in the trailer it didn't come out of the faucets.  Soko finally found the switch that says water pump right on it.  We now know how to check the level of water in the black and grey water tanks because it is right on the same panel as the switch that we never paid any attention to!  We had no clue, during our practice runs, of how much water was in the tanks and were nervous about overflowing them.
Lesson #6 - It's probably a good idea to consult the trailer's owner manual when we know we will be using a feature of the trailer that we haven't used before.




We had a choice of a three trails near our campground in Medoc Mountain and decided on the shortest trail because it was late afternoon by the time we got to NC.  We were treated to the beautiful sight of this gorgeous stream at the end of the Stream Trail and were so glad we chose this hike.

Our third stop, Susquehanna River State Park in MD, was where we discovered we lost a piece of our trailer.  Luckily, it could have been worse and we could have lost the plate that the trailer balances on but somehow it stayed on without the bolt that holds it.  We went and found this piece at Home Depot.



Lesson #7 - We will keep a few extra bolts in the camper at all times, and other parts that we discover we might need extra of.


The campsite at Susquehanna State Park was our favorite.  We always expect a grill, fire pit and picnic bench but when there's also somewhere to hang our garbage bags and a place to put our propane stove, well, it doesn't get better than that (when you're camping anyway!)

We took a 7 mile round trip hike, along the Susquehanna River, to see the bald eagles we heard would be at the Conowingo Dam.  There were lots of photographers lined up on the walkway with their cameras with 3' lenses waiting to get a shot of an eagle.  I was there with my phone.  My best shot is on the left.  I'm saying this is an eagle but it could have been a vulture.  We saw a lot more of them than eagles.  On our hike back to the campground, a woman approached us and gave us the photo on the right that her photographer husband took.  I have to admit he got a much better shot than I did!!


After 2 nights at Susquehanna River State Park, we took off for our destination, Strawberry Park in Preston, CT.  We have been here many times and planned this trip with Joe and Nicole so that we could enjoy our grandson's first camping trip with him.  On our way to CT, we thought about taking an alternate route to get there from MD but couldn't find the information we needed to see if we could safely, or legally, take the roads that we wanted to.
Lesson #8 - Research routes along the way of each road trip before getting into the car.


Joe, Nicole and Shea arrived on Thursday.  We showed Shea around our trailer, he showed us the cabin he was staying in for the weekend and then we went to find the campground playground.

On Friday, we went to nearby Mystic Aquarium in the morning before our first fellow campers, Janet and Chris arrived.  We showed up for Bingo at the outdoor rec room but no one else did so it was canceled.  We played Yahtzee instead!

Joe and Nicole invited friends and family to spend the day with us on Saturday.  We voted for our favorite car at the Strawberry Park Annual Car Show and we were entertained by a very good band.   We had a delicious BBQ and enjoyed great company.

We realized we only had a few short days, after our camping vacation with our family and friends in CT, to get back to Florida, park our trailer, clean and secure our Florida home, then return to NC in time to make our doctor's appointments.  So the same trip that we made to get to CT that took us 5 days on the way up, we would have to do in 3, meaning we only had time to stay overnight at each campground.  There is more work involved, for sure, with setting up a trailer to spend the night in versus rolling our suitcases into a hotel room.  I have to say that we were a bit tired when we got back but it wasn't as bad as we thought it might be.
Lesson #9 - Make sure we are giving ourselves plenty of time to complete a round trip vacation so that we don't have too many back to back one nighters.

We had a great time and learned a lot at the same time.  We feel like we now know everything we need to know about using our trailer and we can't wait for the next road trip!

We would love to hear from you if you have any suggestions, helpful hints or if you just want to share any of your road trip stories!!

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Monday, January 11, 2021

Bunratty Castle & Folk Park - County Clare, Ireland



It was our last day in Ireland.  The first thing we had to do was to end our vacation the way we started it with breakfast at Gus O'Connors Pub.  We had wanted to have breakfast here again ever since the first time we ate here but never made it.  This morning was our last chance and we got here which actually surprised us a little bit.

While my sister, Sandie, and her husband, JT, loved the black and white pudding, a type of sausage and staple of an Irish breakfast, I was not a big fan and tried their vegetarian fry this time.


After our delicious breakfast, it was time to head to the castle.  We left our excursion to the Bunratty Castle & Folk Park for the last day of our trip.  We didn't think we would be up to traveling the hours we traveled on our other road trips around Ireland all week.  A short one hour ride to the castle sounded like the perfect plan for Day 7.


The building we had to walk through to get to the castle was the gift shop.  It was one of the best shops we had been in the whole trip.  There was something for everyone here.  I came out with a bag full of the nicest gifts for myself, including a charm for my Pandora bracelet and this adorable hat and soccer ball for our grandson.


We saw the castle to our left when we came out of the gift shop and headed there first.


The Bunratty Castle is the most complete and authentic castle in Ireland.  It was built in 1425 and restored in 1954.  The furnishings, tapestries and art date back to the 15th and 16th century.


We climbed the steep staircases to explore the three floors of the castle.

The Great Room - the banquet hall

Earl's Kitchen - the large turtle shells were used as dishes and covers.

The Main Guard - the main living room of the common soldiers


We took some pictures out on the rooftop of one of the castle's four towers.


After carefully descending the winding staircases, we exited the castle and wound up in the Folk Park, a living reconstruction of the homes and environment of Ireland over a century ago.  


We followed the path and walked through the park enjoying the many buildings both inside and out.

The School House 


The Loop Head House was the home of a fishing-farming family.



Ardcroney Church, built in 1838, was moved stone by stone from County Tipperary and unveiled at the Folk Park in 1998.




There were a few farmhouses around the park.  This one would have been the home of a farmer from the rich lands in Limerick and Tipperary.

Golden Vale Farmhouse

Inside this farmhouse, we met the Bean an Ti. (Woman of the House.)  She chatted with her guests and answered any questions they had.


The Folk Park included The Village Street where we found a collection of shops and buildings typical of 19th century urban Ireland.



After having a great time and spending hours at the castle and park, it was time to get back to the cottage to get ready to have our last dinner in Ireland.  We were going to O'Connor's Pub, our favorite pub in all of Ireland.  We were hoping their dinner was as good as their breakfast and it was!

We all really enjoyed our side of pureed carrots and parsnips.  After asking the waitress about it, I tried my hand at making it when we got back home.  It actually came out really good!  (You can find my recipe here.)


The guys drank as much Guinness as they could on our last night!


One of the top things on our To Do In Ireland list was to make it to an Irish pub session.  Finally, on our very last night, we would have that experience.  It would have been so disappointing if we didn't.  

We saw that the pub was getting very crowded, with people showing up to enjoy the music, as we ate dinner but luckily we were able to find a spot where we could sit and get a good view of the band.


The music was lively and fun but the highlight of the night, for me, was when the young daughter of one of the musicians jammed with the band.  I was really in awe of her unbelievable skills on the banjo.  I imagined she must have been playing the banjo since toddlerhood! 


Unfortunately, we had to leave the pub before the band was done.  We had to get up early to catch our flight back to the U.S.  On our way to the airport the next morning we stopped for gas and ran into the station's store to grab some snacks.  And guess who was in that store?  The little banjo playing girl, along with her mom and siblings!  After I confirmed with her that she was the talented girl from the night before, I was very happy to be able to compliment her on performance.  I also had to ask her how long had she been playing the banjo and her answer was one year!! 

We made so many amazing memories during our vacation in Ireland and talk about returning one day.  I crossed Ireland off our bucket list but after our unforgettable trip, it is back on! 

Erin Go Bragh!    

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