After a year of RVing, what we learned

I have been blog-silent since my last post on November 12, 2016, as we settle into our winter “home” at Desert Trails RV Park in the southwest corner of Tucson, AZ.  This is our second winter of snowbird-RVing in Tucson, and are very happy to be back. We retired in November of 2015.  Last year,  we were like “deer in the headlights”, giving over our home to our daughter and her family, packing up our RV, ridding ourselves (and them) of most of our material possessions, and learning to live on the road.  It was a year of discovery, making new friends, and visiting lots of wonderful places in the west.

In this past year we have learned a lot about the RV lifestyle.  some tricks (hacks) that make life and travel planning easier, and have taken up new hobbies and interests.  Leaving the hectic life we had been living, feeling like we always needed to be checking things off our to-do list, was a huge adjustment (at least for me), but not an unpleasant one.  Its just different.

I am a goal-oriented person, so, when I retired I just traded work-related goals (which mostly benefit others) to me-(and Cooper)related goals at a much slower pace.  I now view deadlines as “suggestions”.  Since they are mostly self-imposed, I can change them whenever I want.  Blog-writing has become one of these “when it moves me” deadlines. If I feel like writing something, I will.  I’m sure that’s not a recommended way for search-engine-optimization, but it works for me.  I’m retired.

What we have learned from our first year on the road…

There is no urgency to do everything right now.

Last year, when we got to Desert Trails, we purchased an attractions coupon book, which was a way to learn about many of the wonderful things to do in the Tucson area.  The coupons were mostly for 2-for-1 admissions, a great incentive for those of us on a limited income. We worked our way through about half of the book and experienced some really interesting places we probably would not have discovered without the book and the discount.  BUT, we were always on the go.  It took us the whole winter to realize that we don’t have to do everything in the book in one year.  At first we were disappointed that we didn’t get through the entire coupon book in one year. (Again, that goal-orientation thing.)  Knowing we were going to be in Tucson again, we vowed to do the rest of the things in the coupon book the coming winter.  A whole summer of slowing down and adjusting to a much slower pace has made that goal optional.  We have been here for about six weeks and haven’t done a single thing in the book. (We have done a few things, but not from the book.) Instead of rushing out to tick off another attraction, we are spending more time around the RV park, chatting with friends, taking time to actually read books for hours if we want to, and work at crafts to our hearts’ content.  Eventually, we will get restless to do something beyond our daily “usuals” and will haul out the coupon book for inspiration.  But, for now, we are really liking hanging out at “home”.

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Cover of the attraction passport coupon book. We found it to be a great incentive to get out and learn more about the amazing places and learning opportunities there are in the Tucson area.

Many of the great things to do are free and aren’t in the attraction book.

In our hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, there are lots of things to do that don’t require paying admission.  It’s the same here in Tucson.  The longer we are here, the more we realize how Tucson-ans live day to day.  There is an extensive trail system here for hiking and biking.  There are lots of special events going on all the time.  There is a myriad of ways to volunteer your time to help others.  The library system is wonderful.  Tucson has been named a UNESCO world heritage foods destination. The longer we are here, the less we need to coupon book to be able to find things to do.

We have found, by talking to people who actually live in the places we visit, that every location has unusual and fascinating things to do that may not be mentioned in travel guides or publications given out at the Chambers of Commerce.  Usually the sites in those publications have to pay to be included.  What we tend to love are those “off the beaten path” places that only locals know about.  Don’t get us wrong.  We also love to see what each community promotes, but we when it feels like we have “discovered” a treasure that not everyone knows about, it creates a special memory.

Summer travel can be a challenge.

Gone are the days when you could leave home with your RV and randomly stop at a campground and find a spot.  At least this is true in and around many national parks or those desirable locations that others want to visit.  We still like to take our chances, but have started making reservations a couple of days in advance to be sure we can find a spot to stay for a few days.  Many of the most desirable spots allow you to make reservations up to a year in advance.  We traveled this past summer in Northern California and the southern half of Oregon, along the coast.  We wanted to travel the whole Oregon coast but had to turn east about half way up because we couldn’t get reservations anywhere.

Take note: the second weekend of August is the last real travel weekend for kids/families before school starts in most of the country.  If you plan to take the family camping that week/weekend, you might want to make your reservations a year in advance.

As it turned out, when we turned east, we were able to behold Crater Lake, the most incredibly blue lake I have ever experienced.  The point here is, be flexible.  Wonderful things can happen when there is a change of plans.

This is the most incredibly blue lake I have ever seen. It is said that, back when people were having actual film developed, the processor apologized for the unrealistic color. Nope. It REALLY IS that color.

Smartphone apps and an old-fashioned atlas are necessary travel planning tools

There are so many travel tools available for planning what to see, where to stay and how to get there.  We use them all the time, both in advance of travel and while on the road.

Often we get suggestions of places to go by talking to other RVers.  I keep a list of these places in an app called Wunderlist.  This free app allows you to keep different lists of things you want to remember.  If I think of a gift I want to get a family member, I will add it to the list I have going for them.  I also have lists for books I want to read, movies I want to see, and things I want to look for in thrift stores.  My “places to see” list has the name of towns I may not have heard of but have been recommended by others.

When researching a place to go, we will also research “things to do” in Trip Advisor.  I will type “things to do in Bandera (or wherever)” in a Google search bar and Trip Advisor will provide a list of options. Sometimes there are 5 things, sometimes 20, but there is almost always something that sounds good.  You can read reviews by other people to see if there are additional things to know or be aware of.  Sometimes you will decide to avoid a particular attraction or restaurant if the reviews are generally not so good.

Just like there are reviews for attractions, there is also an app that rates RV parks.  Friends alerted us to this app and we use it all the time.  RV Park Reviews has saved us from picking what could have been a really bad experience, but it also gave us the opportunity to review a park that had gotten some less than stellar reviews.  We stayed there anyway, because there were very few choices available.  As it turns out, the park had been sold and the new owner had made many upgrades, which afforded us a really terrific experience.  We gave it a good review and explained about the ownership change.

Google Maps is probably our most valuable app.  While it is great for helping us get around Tucson (and any town we are in), it is invaluable for planning our trips.  Not only can we find the best route to drive to our next location, we can also discover the mileage between two places, and locate laundromats, grocery stores and gas stations closest to us (or not) without actually knowing the name we want to search for. We use this app several times every day.  I just looked up how far it is to Mt. Lemmon from where we are located in Tucson.  We can see it right out our windows.  Glad I checked.  It is one hour and 49 minutes to get there.  Yikes!  That trip will take more planning than just hopping in the car for an afternoon ride.

Google Maps didn’t suggest this route back to Colorado, but with it named the Loneliest Highway in America, we just had to do it. They weren’t kidding.  It’s US Hwy 50, by the way.  I call this picture “The Long Road Home”.

And, finally, an old-fashioned paper Atlas is invaluable.  You can get a big picture of where things are and what’s around them.  As great as the apps are on phones, having a good old paper map is much easier to read.  We also mark up our Atlas, using a highlighter to mark the routes we have taken, circling places of interest for the future, and writing the dates we visited a place on the map.

I guess this information about planning tools could have been a blog post all by itself.  I might have to do that.

“Write it down” has become my motto

I often say “my hard drive (brain) is full and it takes longer to access information”.  I also need to “delete files” to make more room for new information coming in.  Although I have never been very good at remembering names, now I am worse.  I also find, with Cooper doing all the driving, I don’t know how to get anywhere on my own.  I pay much more attention to where we are if I do the driving.  I have notebooks for things I want to remember EVERYWHERE.  There is one in the car, several in the RV and the Wunderlist app mentioned before.  I can’t remember the name of the yarn shop I want to go to, or the name of the restaurant with really great Chinese food.  Now I write everything down.  Usually, if I can SEE THE WORDS, my chance of remembering is much better than if I just hear it. I am keeping lists of the people we meet here in the RV park.  When I meet someone new, I repeat it over and over until I can get home and write it down.  Once I write it down, I’ve got it (or can find it when I need it).

Try new things

Before I retired, I was sure that I would have to keep working at something, even part-time,  to feel fulfilled.  I even signed on to be a contractor for the State of Colorado, consulting with Main Street programs on programs or projects where they needed some expertise. Once I quit working I had hours and hours of time to fill, and waited for a contracting contract to come through. At first I couldn’t think of a single thing to do.  That was OK, because what I really needed was to do nothing, to decompress.  I needed to release the life I had before and create a new one.  Yes, we had travel ahead of us.  There was the planning on where to go, what to do, and who to see to take up some of that time.  But, beyond that, there were so many choices of things that I had been wanting to do, I didn’t know where to start.

I started by reading books.  Lots of books.  When we got to the RV park for the winter, I did everything the park had to offer, keeping busy.  We played bocci ball and bingo.  I joined the bookclub and one of the writing groups.  Then I went to my first-ever yoga class.  I loved it (and still do).  I started walking/hiking out in the desert behind the park, something I had mostly avoided despite all of the wilderness and opportunities surrounding Steamboat. It took too much time.) I tried painting, but it wasn’t really for me.  A friend showed me how to make pine needle baskets (something I never would have had time for in the past), and I became addicted.  I tried decorating gourds, a big deal here in the park.  Not my thing either, but I could put pine needles around the top of a gourd bowl.  Now I am taking a hand-build clay class to be able to make centers for my pine needle baskets.  By trying new things, I have found something I really love to do.  I may tire of making baskets in the future, but, for now, I’m good.

I don’t know how I ever had time to work. People have said I would feel like that once I actually retired.  I didn’t believe them.  I even told the State of Colorado to take me off the contractor list after completing one project. I realized that there is life beyond work.

I don’t know when I will write again, but when something moves me, I will.  I am writing to remind myself of my thoughts, things we have done on this RV adventure, and whatever else crosses my mind.  It is for me, but I like sharing it with my friends and family.  I especially like if I get some responses to something I have written.  Feel free to send any comments to  If you have any suggestions for places we should visit, let me know.