Our Year in an RV - What We Spent & How We Did It
BAMF the RV Moterhome

So how do committed boat people end up in an RV? Easy. On a spur of the moment whim.

When we headed off into GypsyNester territory, we kissed our friends good-bye -- telling them we were on our way to sail the seven seas.

So what happened?

After nearly a decade of living on a tiny rock in the Caribbean we had been fairly isolated from folks up in the mainland. We hadn‘t seen our stateside friends and family in ages. We figured we should catch up with everybody before we unfurled our sails. But how?

Yosemite National Park Planes, trains and automobiles, not to mention hotels, motels and restaurants would bankrupt us before we managed to see half of our neglected kinfolk. They are literally scattered from sea to shining sea.

Had a blast at Mt. Rushmore One day David blurted out, “What about an RV? We could take our time, hit the hotspots in between visits and we'd have our bed with us everyday.”

Our GypsyNesting pact was that we wouldn‘t tie ourselves up with plans. We wanted spontaneous adventure. This seemed pretty damn spontaneous, so Veronica enthusiastically said YEAH!

A bit of research was needed since we knew less than squat about the RV lifestyle. We made a list of things essential:

- David has to be able to stand up in it. It's not like he had to ward off offers from the NBA -- but everyone deserves a couple yards of vertical space.

-- It has to have one of those over-the-cab sleeping quarters thingys so we wouldn't have to make up and tear down the bed everyday -- because we both knew that we wouldn't.

-- It can’t be so long that we can’t get into cities or park in regular parking lots.

-- It has to be old enough that David could tweak the engine. No on-board computers or fuel injectors for David.

-- It can’t have any weird smells. Smells mean damp -- and damp is not your friend in a motorhome.

David took our list and did what we always do -- he Googled (though we wouldn’t suggest Googling “weird smells” -- not pretty). After a few days of studying up, David had a pretty good bead on the situation. Veronica, for her part, ooohed and awwwed over his finds.

There are amazing amounts of RV buying resources on the web, but sometimes the best deals are on eBay. Again, when

you have no plans you end up doing things unexpected -- really, what sort of idiot buys an RV on eBay?

A seller in Chicago had a listing that fit the bill perfectly. We emailed Chicago Dude and set up a test drive for a couple of hours before the auction closed.

It was love at first sight -- twenty three feet of rolling luxury. It was an oldie but a goodie -- an ‘83 model Tioga on a Chevy chassis with a good old 350 V-8. Funky, ugly neutral “earthy tones” with wheat stalks on the “wall paper.” But he was well laid out, everything worked and the weird smell issue was nonexistent.

We figure we stole it for $3,200 -- Chicago Dude cut us a great deal during the test drive, “I like you two, you remind me of old hippies -- you should have this motor home,” he said. Uh. Okay. Thanks.

We spent about a thousand dollars more on prettying up the interior and a once over for safety’s sake. A little grease and a brake job and we were on our way.

We didn’t delude ourselves, we knew were engaging in a race against time. We fully expected to be stranded on the roadside at some point -- but figured we could see a bunch of loved ones

before the little guy bellied up.

The stranding never happened. Thirty thousand miles later, our funky home on wheels is still running like a scalded dog.

A few months into our new venture, we rounded up our offspring, The Piglet, and Decibel and The Boy, for a jaunt up to Montreal. Decibel instantly fell in love with our “good old coach” (a description his “once over” mechanic had used). She dubbed him BAMF. Please keep in mind that Decibel hails from NYC before Googling "BAMF." The name stuck.

Flash forward a year. BAMF has taken us to thirty-four states, three Canadian provinces, fourteen National Parks and a beautiful seaside town in Mexico. It's been an amazing journey.

We had no idea what we were doing, but we sure learned a lot, so we'd like to share some of what we discovered along the way.

Having invested less than five grand in BAMFy, we were inspired to do the whole year on the cheap. We procured a Good Sam membership card and a National Parks annual pass and blindly hit the road.

Let’s start with what we spent:

Gas $7,413.97
Campgrounds $4,317.39
Vehicle Maintenance $2,483.23
Interior and systems $867.43
Oil Changes $436.45
Propane $352.55
Tolls $40.50

For a grand total of $15,911.52. That comes to just $1325.96 a month. Considering we had no mortgage, no utility bills, no cable, no yard -- it was one heck of a deal.

Now the nitty-gritty:
BAMF is old. He doesn’t have all the pretty bells and whistles found on those newfangled behemoths. He averages about 8 miles to the gallon -- not exactly aerodynamic. But he does have a stove, a refrigerator, a sofa, a dining table and even a bathtub. And we learned to adapt.

Veronica dubbed the toilet and mirror bathroom combo her “vanity." Everything had to be stowed each morning to avoid deadly projectiles when rounding corners or applying brakes. We learned how to heat things up without a microwave. We made coffee on the stove. And we arose each morning to a new scene out BAMFy's windows. It was heaven.
Campgrounds were an every-other-day luxury. The off-days were spent at free sites known in RV lingo as boondocking or dry camping. Wal-Mart parking lots, casinos, government lands and, in a rare pinch, truck stops were utilized. As with so many aspects of living on the road, the Internet was incredibly helpful in finding these locations. There are several websites dedicated to listing these places.

For days spent boondocking we carried two battery packs and an inverter. This gave us enough electricity -- combined with our laptop batteries -- to write, catch up on correspondence, plan routes and watch movies. Frozen water jugs were placed in the fridge to keep food fresh. On campground days we charged our battery packs and froze our jugs.

“ARE YOU FREAKING NUTS?!” Veronica exclaimed the first time David suggested staying at a Wal-Mart. Apparently ole Sam Walton was a big time camping nut and many, but not all, stores allow overnight stays. Sites on the Internet list the stores that accommodate overnight stays -- but their accuracy is less than stellar. We learned to make alternate plans -- just in case.

It’s very rare to be alone in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Usually there are quite a few fellow blacktop bivouackers. One particular SuperCenter in Bozeman, Montana was a veritable RV rodeo. Because of its proximity to Yellowstone, we met people from all over the world at the Bozeman Wal-Mart -- our favorite was a German couple in a VW bus with a two-year-old son. Their goal was "drive" around the world in their little pop-top hippie wagon -- they were headed for Washington State and then all the way down the coast to the tip of South America. There they would catch a boat to New Zealand. Somehow, we didn’t feel so crazy anymore.

Campgrounds vary wildly in size, price and amenities. Basic hook-ups... water, electricity, sewer service and, increasingly, wireless Internet are standard. Like real estate, prices are based on location, location - and location. A parking spot packed in inches from your neighbor might run fifty bucks if it's near a popular tourist
attraction. Beautiful wide open spaces can be as little as ten or fifteen dollars out in the sticks.

Camp Among the Redwoods Sometimes we paid strictly for the view. State Parks in California, with no hookups at all, run thirty-five dollars a night, but were worth every penny to sleep in the shade of the redwoods or wake up gazing out over the Pacific Ocean.

The best campground on the continent! Our choice for the bargain of the continent has to be the RV park in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. Everything we could ask for -- Internet, full hookups and a site on prime beachfront property for twenty bucks a night. We also had the exotic pleasure of fresh shrimp delivered right to BAMF's door.

KOAs are usually very nice. They have all the stuff vagabonds need like Internet, laundry and a little store that sells everything you need to make s'mores -- but they cost a bit more than your Mom 'n Pop campsites. We joined their “club” for the discounts and the convenience of a great online reservation system. On the KOA website, we could prepay, gather info on each campground and best of all, not have to worry about getting there before they closed for the night. They can be a bit TOO “family friendly” for us old heathens. The mayhem of hay rides, dance parties and crazy youngsters aboard bikes is not really where we’re at these days. BUT -- if we ever have grandkids, we’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Internet Access:
Many campgrounds offer free or very cheap wireless service. Generally these were the ones we sought out. When boondocking or on the road we surfed a lot on our iPhone and made good use of our laptop connect wireless card. The card plugs into a USB port and connects through a cell phone signal. It works amazingly well on 3G, so-so on Edge and not at all in the boonies.

We spent scads of hours in coffeehouses and libraries to utilize their wifi services. These are great places to meet people and feel the pulse of the towns we visited.

Phone service:
Since we have an iPhone with AT&T this is all we can speak about.

The pros:
Internet right in the palm of our hands for Googling on the go.

GPS! Never getting lost -- okay, getting lost less often. Don't know how we ever got along before GPS.

There's an ap for that! Cheap gas, restaurants, coffeehouses with free wifi, Wal-Marts, campgrounds, sewer dump stations, movies and just about anything else under the sun.

The cons:
Huge areas without service when off the beaten path, especially out west and the upper midwest. Outside of the cities there's no rhyme nor reason to the coverage. We had five bars and 3G service on a little boat in the middle of the Atchafalaya Swamp yet no service at all blocks away from a major university. Go figure. We learned to adapt.

The Internet makes taking off in a BAMF so much easier than a few years ago. All of our bills are paid online, most automatically, so mail is much less of an issue. We have a post office box where The Boy is going to college. He picks up our mail once a week and throws 90% of it straight in the trash. We had him forward the very few important things to us when we were with family, otherwise he just hung on to it until we saw him next.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Did we miss something? Please feel free to ask us questions or make suggestions by leaving a comment!

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