Full-Time RVer Stories

Our Path Is Written In Sand Not Stone: Jeff And Candace Smith

Our decision to go full timing was the culmination of several events in our life. Our kids graduated high school and left home, and shortly thereafter we moved to Austin, Texas for employment. As part of the move, we sold our house in Florida and rented a home in Austin. Not long after our move, the employment situation changed, and Jeff ended up with a job that involves working from home. At this point, I (Candace), was already working part-time online and part-time in person. With both of us being mobile, we started to extend our trips a little bit longer. When we went to visit family, our trips went from a week or two to a month or so. We also regularly spent three to four weeks in Florida for part-time contract employment.

We finally decided that the house wasn’t right for us and that we would extend our lease….but in many of the discussions, we had talked about how we hated paying rent for a house that we were away from for 3-4 months the previous year. It was at that point that we had an epiphany – we had always discussed traveling the country at some point, why not now? Why not while we were younger and able to enjoy all the active things you can do all over the country? We have a huge country that most people never enjoy, and we love traveling and hiking. The idea took hold, and we were off!

New RV New Adventures

Once we agreed that this was what we wanted to do we went out and bought a 2013 Cedar Creek 36CKTS Custom Fifth Wheel, and a 2017 Ford F350 DRW. Why did we choose these? The short answer is for the room available in the fifth wheel, floorplan, and the towing capacity and reliability of the truck. We bought the fifth wheel used, with many upgrades, and got a huge discount compared to buying new.

The Transition To Working Mobile

Before traveling full time, Jeff worked for a tech company in network security, and he still does that Monday – Friday. I (Candace) am the owner of Beauty of Strength and have transited my health and wellness business into a fully online business. One of the steps that we took while planning out the move to full timing was to experiment with LTE modems and ensure that they provided the needed bandwidth to work online. As long as we have an LTE signal, we can work from the truck, trailer, or under the awning, enjoying the beautiful views that our travels have afforded. Most days, we spend our workday inside at the workstations that we have set up in the RV – complete with multiple monitors, sit to stand desks, and office chairs!

Our Many Amazing Experiences RVing

There have been so many great experiences on the road. In the last year, we’ve boondocked all over Canada and Alaska, camped in the Redwoods, spent a crazy weekend on Pismo Beach in California, spent Christmas in the Grand Canyon, and New Year’s Eve back in Austin, Texas, where we had snow and ice for New Years!

The Start Of An Amazing Journey

We’ve had a few crazy moments – I’ll share two because they show some of the extremes you experience – the good and the bad.

When we started our journey, we hadn’t found an RV to purchase yet, so we rented a friends  RV,  a 44-foot Cyclone Toyhauler. Before this, we hadn’t so much as towed a travel trailer. We managed to get it to Austin without any issues, and got moved into it. Downsizing and moving into an RV is a huge job! Not only is it overwhelming at times, but it was work…lots of work. You don’t realize how much “stuff” you have until you’re moving into an RV!

We got it done, cleaned the rental house, and we were all set to hit the road. The morning of our official start to full timing, we headed to the house to check out….and I locked our truck keys in the truck! Yep, it had keyless entry, nope, we didn’t know the code. So, we spent three extra hours there waiting for roadside assistance. We finally got on the road, far later than planned. We were headed to Florida and had to stop in Houston to finalize the purchase of our own fifth wheel. As with most things, that took longer than expected, and we finally left Houston in the late evening.

Our second experience is also from when we first started RVing, we had plans to stop at an RV park a couple hours down the road, and finally pulled in around midnight – tired, stressed, and worst of all – in the dark! The place wasn’t well lit, and we were pretty new to all of this. That newness led to a number of mistakes – we didn’t check out the route to the site, and didn’t use a spotter on the way. We found out the hard way that the place used big concrete poles at the corners to keep the RV’s on the road….set just far enough off the road to be out of the light….and the hard way involved hitting not one, but two of the posts – one for each side of the fifth wheel! Yep, that’s how we started our full-time journey!

The crazy thing is – we met helpful people every place we had trouble – people that dropped what they were doing and gave a hand, without hesitation. That was the start of a great weekend – everyone was friendly, everyone was having a good time, and once we settled in, we had a blast. I got some great pictures, we hung out with a seal on the beach, rented a dune buggy and rode the dunes – it was a blast! Check out our YouTube channel where we share more of our adventures like this.

What We Have Learned About Internet On The Road

We both rely on internet for work, so we have spent a bit of time, and way too much money, ensuring we have a connection. We started out with an ATT unlimited hotspot, which they don’t offer anymore, and that did pretty well for a while. We also added a Verizon Jetpack to our phone plan, and that was….well, it was a headache. The small print of the Verizon unlimited plan limited tethered data to 15 GB a month, so it didn’t cut it. After many fun conversations with their customer support, we ended up paying for a set amount of data per month – way expensive! We wanted two providers because different areas of the country offer different levels of cell service on every provider. After we were on the road for a while, we discovered grandfathered Verizon Unlimited Data plans….you know, unlimited data plans before they had small print. They are still out there, and at the time, there was a process to buy and transfer them from people that no longer have a need for them. So, we invested in that and dumped the set data limits we were overpaying for.

We also like to get away from RV parks, and the cell signal gets a little sketchy at times. In order to deal with that, we ensured that our jetpacks have external antenna ports, and we use window mount NetGear MIMO antennas quite often. That usually makes a big difference in the signal quality. When that doesn’t cut it, we’ve invested in the Weboost Drive 4G OTR cell booster, and we’re set up to use it int the truck and in the RV. This thing has been a life saver, especially in Canada, Alaska, and the national parks out west.

Everyone’s needs are different and very individualized, so do some research and testing. One thing I will say – campgrounds wifi is usually not going to cut it for more people. It’s slow, congested, and usually has really poor signal strength. If you need internet, even if it’s just for streaming Netflix, it’s best to take it with you. Most full-timers carry their own and rarely use the provided wifi. We tend to run between 100-200 GB of data per month, and while downloading and surfing are usually no problem, we do find ourselves struggling with upload bandwidth for video.

If you’re brand new to all of this mobile data, there’s a great blog ran by TechnomAdia, that has more information than you’ll ever need. Unfortunately, most of the content is in a pay portal, but if you need an internet setup, it’s well worth it. Google Technomedia or RV Mobile Internet and you’ll be set.

Choosing Our Locations

When it comes to campsites, we are very much “fly by the seat of our pants” travelers. Most of the time we’re traveling, we don’t make a set schedule unless it’s a planned stop at a popular destination. We usually plan our stops out the day before, or the day of, or when we get tired of driving. If there’s a military base close by, that’s our first choice, as we are retired military and most bases have campgrounds. The military campgrounds are our first choice because they are affordable, there’s always a base gym close by, there’s a commissary, and they’re secure.

When there isn’t a base close by, we do try to boondock as much as possible, especially out west where there is so much public land. Quite frankly, we don’t like doing the RV park thing, and most of them are either way too crowded, or they are expensive – when you’re paying $70-$100 a night for a nice place to stay…..do the math, a month gets really expensive.

How do we find a campsite? Well, there are many ways. The good old Google is a pretty good start, but that’s all it is – a start. Unfortunately, there is no single resource out there to help you out. You can start with the Allstays app, which is a great resource for campgrounds, dump stations, and all RV services. There’s another app called UC Military CG that we use for military campgrounds. For overnight stops, we use a combination of Allstays, the Pilot (truck stop) app, and a Rest Areas app. For boondocking, you can use the website Campendium, or the End of Day site that’s related to Escapees. Feeling overwhelmed yet? I know we were when we started.

So, while there are a plethora of options for finding campsites, when we’re headed to an unfamiliar area, we usually start with Google and a really active RV forum on Facebook called IRV2. It’s probably the most active RV related forum we’ve come across, and the members have an enormous amount of collective knowledge. Usually, those two are a great start to the research, and will really do in most cases.

If you’re interested in some “off the beaten path” type of experiences, I’d recommend joining Harvest Hosts, which will put you in touch with Wineries, Farms, Ranches and other places that will allow you to stay on their land. Thru that club, we have been able to stay at some spectacular locations, and the stays are free….well, they are till you start sampling the goods offered where you are at, which leads to buying, which leads to a great experience for both you and the host.
We also joined Escapees, which gave us access to the Days End directory, and a member-curated list of boondocking and inexpensive campsites. We found some great places to stay in Canada while we were traveling thru, and it has an extensive list of unusual campsites.

The RV Community Is Very Handy

If you’re not handy, find a mobile repair service with good reviews. Remember the forum I mentioned above IRV2 – head there, or to your favorite forum and ask for recommendations. The community is very helpful, and nearly always comes thru.

As far as renovations go – go for it, it’s your house! Don’t be afraid to make changes. There are plenty of Facebook groups related to RV interior renovations, – join one! Also, check out Pinterest and Instagram. Good resourced, full of ideas. For a starting point, check out the Facebook group “Rv Interior Ideas”.

One word of advice – pay attention to the weight of anything you’re adding to your RV – it’s really easy to pack on the pounds!

Our Adventures In The Coming Year

We started our full-time adventure with the idea of doing a couple years, seeing the country, and settling back down somewhere. We’ve been at it for a year and a half now, and have come to realize a couple things:
– Traveling in an RV takes time. Our first year, we put on over 30k miles – way too many to truly enjoy the trip! I do not recommend it.
– We like the lifestyle!
– We don’t like living in one place!

Really – what other lifestyle allows you to live in Alaska, Seattle, San Diego, and Florida, all in the same year? Not only that but take a vacation down the Oregon Coast, camp on Pismo Beach, hike Joshua Tree, Zion, Coyote Buttes, and spend Christmas in the Grand Canyon? Live on the beach in Florida, the hills of Tennessee, and Lake Michigan? We’ll probably keep at it for at least five more years, and we may never go back to “normal” life!

Unfortunately, we’ve been stationary for a little while and will be for the rest of the year. Jeff had to have some knee surgery and is recovering from that, so we’re sitting at the beach in Pensacola, Florida. I say, unfortunately, but it could be far worse. After the new year, around February, we plan on heading to Miami and Key West. Then we have a couple family engagements to head to in Ohio and Michigan, then we’ll head out west. We plan on staying west of the Rockies most of the year and hitting as many of the national parks as possible. Along the way, we’ll take a side trip to Hawaii, spend some time skiing and hiking, and in 2020, we’ll probably head back to Alaska. That’s the rough plan, but…..well, it’s written in sand, not stone, subject to frequent change, which is why we love the lifestyle!

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3 comments

  1. Awesome… and appreciate the shout-out in the article as a resource for mobile internet info.

    BTW, it’s in there as ‘TechnomEdia’ – we’re actually TechnomAdia.com.

    And the Mobile Internet Resource Center can be found at http://www.rvmobileinternet.com. For working on the road, we have a specific tips article at http://www.rvmobileinternet.com/work

    1. Wonderful Info BTW. Thanks for creating your blogs for us RVers! Just updated it on our blog post! 🙂

  2. The RV Facebook groups have been a big help for us too. Everyone is so friendly as well. New ideas are always on the forums for us to check out.

    It’s great you guys shared so much information. The knowledge you have learned over time is so valuable to share with others! Thank you.

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