Living on the road full-time, and traveling a lot, we get a wide variety of questions about our life on the road. There are no questions that are stupid questions. After all, we didn’t have any idea of how to do any of this when we started almost ten years ago. We often learned the hard way, so we hope our answers will save you some of our trauma. If you have any questions to add, please post them in our comment section below and we’ll do our best to answer them.
How do you wash dishes?
In a campground with water hookups, we wash dishes the same as everyone else, though we use less water than most households. Dry camping without water hookups means changing our system of washing dishes. Using water then becomes a problem of having enough and getting rid of it when we are done. A trailer and motor home have two systems to handle water. First there is the fresh water tank where water is stored before using. In our trailer, our fresh water tank is 40 gallons. The second system is made up of two parts and is the disposal water system or sewer. A grey water tank holds the waste water from the shower and kitchen sink. A black water tank holds the sewer from the toilet. In our case we have two grey tanks, a 20 gallon in the kitchen and 40 gallon for the bathroom. We also have a 40 gallon black water tank.
With these limits, handling water when it is a long way to go to refill your fresh water tank becomes really critical. We use a plastic tub in the sink to catch all the water we use during the day and to wash dishes in. When it is dirty we refill it with the rinse water and pour the dirty water down the shower or toilet into those two tanks as they don’t fill as fast as the kitchen tank does. We use DAWN (and FAIRY (UK and Europe)) dish soap, as it’s biodegradable, works well in cold water, and is recommended by Rubbermaid for getting grease off plastics. With adequate soap on the sponge or cleaning, we scrub through as many dishes and silverware as possible until the sink is full. Then we begin the rinse process, using water as hot as possible. We start with the glasses, which require more water to rinse than wash, and are the least dirty of the dishes. The water from rinsing the glasses helps us get started with water in the tub. We slowly progress to the dirtiest of dishes. When possible and working with a drainage rack, we do a final rinse of the dishes with boiling water to sterlize, capturing the run off in the tub to begin another round. It is a complex technique to get things clean using as little water as possible, but we now take it for granted and find ourselves doing it this way even when we don’t have to.
How do you eat?
Ah, food. One of our favorite subjects. Brent is an incredible cook, experimenting frequently. Recently, I thoroughly enjoyed homemade lasagna, homemade spaghetti sauce, sauteed shrimp on rice, baked pork chops with a three cheese crispy coating, and homemade chocolate chip, coconut cookies! I wear it well. In reality, it is cheaper to eat in the trailer than in restaurants and fast food stops. We eat out once in a while, especially since our best friend, Bruce Groninger, gave us a going away present of a ton of gift certificates for the Olive Garden (found all over the country) so we can take a break from Brent’s cooking once in a while.
We figured out the cost of eating in while on a camping trip through Canada a few years ago. All we had was a single burner Peak camp stove, two cooking pans, and ate restaurant quality food every day out of the back of our car. We figured fast food and restaurants, for the two of us, amounted to $28.00 a day at the cheapest. Compare that to our gourmet meals of pork chops covered with a white wine cream sauce on a bed of rice and steamed vegetables, or shrimp stir-fry, and steamed vegetables and fresh salad and fruitHow do you…anyway, eating “in” amounted to about $5.00 a day if we went for costly meats, and about $3.00 if we made use of chicken as our meat source. We eat better than in any restaurant, and no restaurant has the views and atmosphere we experience out the in the wilds: spectacular views of the Athabasca Glacier; dining in Jasper among snoozing elk herds; or munching turkey sandwiches with the silverback marmots high atop Manning Park in British Columbia, with hundreds of miles of view before us. Can’t put a price on that!
How do you stay in touch?
Staying in touch while on the road can be as challenging as you want it to be, or as easy. It helps to work with a professional mail forwarding service, or a very cooperative family. Our mail is forwarded to us from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Brent’s parents have taken on this task. When we plan to stop for more than 5 dyas, we let them know and the mail comes to us care of the campground. It is important to stop all junk mail and get off mailing lists for things of no interest to you as the cost of shipping the mail to you adds up quickly with magazines and junk mail. We discuss tips on doing this in our article Paper Trails in our Living Zone for life on the road.
We have an answering machine installed on a separate line at their home in Tulsa, and the phone service is set up as a “limited access” service costing less than $15 a month compared to $30 for a regular full service phone. There is no phone attached, so it doesn’t ring when we call in for messages.
How do you find grocery stores?
Honestly, this is a very good question. Brent cooks with mostly fresh meats and vegetables, so we have to stock up frequently. We are very reliant upon Costco and Sam’s Club for their great prices. Wal-Mart Superstores are also great places for travelers to shop, especially those with RVs, as the parking lot is large enough to accommodate the vehicle.
We enjoy visiting smaller markets when we can, but the cost of the produce can be really high. Along the Alaska Highway, some stores wanted something like $6.00 for a gallon of milk. Often vegetables and fruits are old and just not very good. When we can, we stick to national chains like Albertsons and Safeway. When you are in an area for a while, you learn quickly which are the best stores.
Finding grocery stores and other shops can be really fun. Mostly we rely upon directions from someone in the campground. Maps don’t give you directions to grocery stores as much as they give you directions in general. As we drive into a campground the first time, we scan the area and watch out for stores and shops. When all else fails, we hit the phone book.
How do you get email?
While living in the USA, we used Compuserve as our online service and loved it. Half the time we find information we needed under the auspices of Compuserve and rarely went out on the Internet. We used an off-line reader to pick up our mail and access the forums there. This software allowed us to get email and forum mail and then hang up and read and respond without connecting. When we are ready to get online again, the program goes through the whole process all over again, allowing us to get on and off borrowed telephones as fast as possible. We talk about connecting to the Internet in our article The Reality of the Internet. Unfortunately, after AOL bought Compuserve, access changed on the international level and we tried for over a year to connect to a stable Compuserve account in Israel. The numbers kept changing and the speeds were exceptionally slow. As we stayed long enough, we cancelled that account and signed up with a local provider. We will have an article soon that discusses how to stay in touch internationally via email.
How do you meet people?
We meet people everywhere we go, in campgrounds, national parks, wildlife refuges, and even at different conferences and meetings we go to. We often have friends catch up with us on the road, which we dearly love. We love sharing our adventures with others. While the trailer is small, we can easily accommodate another couple for the night.
We get a lot of requests to visit people when we come to their town. While we do our very best to make time to do so, and enjoy it thoroughly, there are just times when that doesn’t work. Both times we were recently in Denver we didn’t connect with people we wanted to see. We had planned to catch up with more friends on our way south to Florida this winter, but snow and harsh weather cut our time really short so we had to race cross-country to arrive in time for a conference. We are only human, you know, and we do the best we can. But it breaks our hearts when we can’t stop and visit everyone that we want to.
How do you protect yourself from theft?
The first rule in protecting yourself from theft and break-ins is to not be a target. We travel all over the place, staying in campgrounds that some would consider shady, and others we considered very ritzy. We’ve never felt “unsafe” anywhere, but part of that is attitude. The point for us is our “targetability”. We discuss this more thoroughly in our article on Personal Safety Plans for Outdoor Photographers and in our discussion about the ideal photography vehicle.
How do you wash clothes?
Coin-operated laundries mats are everywhere. Most campgrounds have them, too. The trick to doing your laundry quickly is to show up when the place is empty. Mornings are usually the busiest, with evenings being next. So we like to head over right after noon, when everyone is at lunch. This way we can spread our wash over several machines. Dryers are the most painful part of the process. Each one works differently; some are faster, some slower, and some just look like they are working. We keep a close watch on our clothing as some commercial dryers run so hot they will literally cook your clothing.
A couple of tips: We buy the laundry soap by bulk in large plastic buckets at Costco or Sam’s Club as it saves money. It travels water-tight in the back of the truck. We scoop what we need into a zip lock bag and carry that into the laundry. We save up quarters and keep them in one place ready to use, or make sure we buy a roll of quarters before hauling the laundry over. We found a great laundry “basket” duffel bag from Camping World made of a stiff mesh material. While we try to do laundry on a regular basis, we usually keep enough clothings with us for about two weeks of wear, as we spend a lot of time between civilization and laundries.