with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

How Technology is Helping RVers

I thought I would keep a list of the ways that technology is helping RVers and people living and traveling on the road compared to even five years ago. As we clean out and repack our trailer, I’m beginning to appreciate the benefits of technology more and more.

The biggest change has been in weight reduction. Weight in a trailer is critical as it stresses the trailer out, but also puts a lot of pressure on the truck to haul that weight behind it up and down the road. We tell everyone that our truck is so great, it can do 60 mph to 15 mph in 10 seconds – going up hill. Downhill, we take our foot off the gas and the weight behind us barrels us down the hill. Gas savings, in a way. Hey, at 4-6 miles per gallon, we take every cent of savings we can.

Here are a few of the things we’ve found:

  • Information and Research: The technological benefits of the Internet for RVers and travelers in general is invaluable. But for the “full-timer” on the road, it is a double edged sword. First, I can find anything I need to know about a place, maps, weather, access, shops, movies, theatre, whatever, all via the Internet. I can get information on how to get there, what to see and do, and specific information on what is a must do and see and what should be avoided. The problem is that the Internet is still not available full-time for the full-timer. Wireless through WIFI is a booming business, but it costs a lot of money for the traveler to pay $8 an hour when the actual cost to set up a wireless router for 50 computer users is super cheap. The range is still limited by feet instead of miles, though this is changing. So having access to the Internet saves on the weight of books and research materials, but only for those who have access. Access is still the key. The campground we are heading to in Alabama has modem hookups. The idea of going from high speed broadband cable Internet back to 56K 8K if you were really lucky) doesn’t fill me with glee. Web pages are too graphics heavy nowadays, and too few are meeting web standards for accessibility, so a typical page today takes three to ten times longer to load than the pages of five years ago when we were extremely lucky to get more than 24K baud rates. Living a “non-dedicated Internet” lifestyle again is going to be tough. But when we do have it, steam will be coming off the computer to get everything we can before we sign off.
  • Music: Since the purchase of the Creative Labs Zen MP3 player, which Brent bought customized at 60 gigabytes, we have burned all of our CDs to the computer and transferred them (with backups on a hard drive) to the player. We have hundreds and hundreds of our CDs (okay, a few borrowed from friends and family) sitting on something the size of two decks of playing cards and weighing about the same. Instead of 40 -60 pounds of CDs with their plastic cases and book inserts taking up weight and space, we have the equivalent of 8 CDs in weight packed full of our entire music collection. It will connect directly to our stereo in the trailer, through cassette or FM wireless to the radio in the trailer or the truck, to the computer, or just to the ear phones. We don’t have to dig through boxes or books of CDs to find the one we want. We just search through the computer program on the MP3 player using KEYWORDS or titles. Awesome.
  • Paperwork and Scanning and OCR: By scanning a lot of our essential but non-essential (originals) paperwork, we are saving a ton of weight. We burn these onto CDs or DVDs for storage and we can print them out as we need them, which is not very often. In the three years since I started this in Israel in preparation for war (Bush’s war on Iraq), I’ve only had about four times I needed to print something out, so this is a serious time and weight saver.
  • Books: While Brent is still reading bound books, I’ve switched almost totally to reading books on my handheld computer. There are thousands of books to be found online for free, and thousands more to be found for a small fee online. I’ll put a list of resource here later. Books are the biggest weight problem we’ve had to deal with. A lot of people play the game of one book in, one out, but we kept growing and growing in our book collection. Having them available in digital form, for at least the ones without pictures, is wonderful. We’ve saved probably 100 to 300 pounds in books with this technology. Oh, book publishers, don’t worry. We are still buying books. Gorgeous, serious books. We love books in paper. Our book buying habits changing, representing the serious minority of people living on the road, won’t dent your income. Please don’t turn into another recording industry fiasco and start penalizing readers like they do music listeners.
  • Clothing Weight: We’ve also saved a lot of weight getting rid of a lot of excess fabric in our lives. Not only have I lost a whole person in weight, though Brent’s starting to put on a few pounds, Brent is doing his best to help us lose more fabric weight. Instead of wearing those horrible child-like fruit of the looms heavy cotton briefs, I got him to switch to little bikinis while living in Israel. That alone is saving us about 20 pounds in underwear fabric weight. It’s the little things that add up! It has spiced up our love life, too!!
  • Clothing: Clothing technology has also changed, for real. Thinner and lighter weight fabrics are warm and weather-resisitant, replacing big bulky coats and sweaters. I invested in silk long johns for us and they are not only extremely lightweight, they dry very quickly when hand washed. Clothing is also more versatile with long pants which “unzip” into shorts, and clothing that hand washes and dries even in damp conditions very quickly. These changes make for fewer clothes and lighter weights.
  • Entertainment: Not only can you carry your entire music library in a small container, DVDs and flat screen televisions are also shrinking entertainment technology. No longer do you have to suffer the huge televisions with the deep tubes taking up a whole corner, balanced on a shelf and strapped to the wall. A flat screen TV can be bolted to the wall and take up only a few inches depth. DVD players are replacing video and they are thin and streamlined, hardly much thicker than the media they use. All are made of light weight plastics and computerized components, further lightening the load.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

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