Hitting the Road & Wishing We Had a Toad

Getting out and exploring the country is our goal in this unique lifestyle we have chosen.  Over the past two months since we officially hit the road we have seen and experienced some wonderful things, but also have felt limited from doing more.   We have visited family, explored abandoned homesteads, discovered delicious bakeries and restaurants as well as enjoyed family time.  There have been other things we wanted to do, but either the timing didn’t work out or we felt like our truck would not fit the location very well.  Hence the title for this blog post.  A 40’ long fifth wheel trailer and a quad cab, long box, dually truck is very comfortable for traveling, but also limiting.

We suspected going into this adventure, that having a 40’ long trailer may make it a challenge to find places to stay. Our mentality was that this is our home and we want as much interior living space as possible while trying to stay as small as possible. It is a big mental shift to go from a house to a compact space filled with only the essentials. Overall, we have been able to find nice campsites that can accommodate our rig. The options are limited though and that proves to be a challenge since we are short term planners.

Sometimes traveling between locations takes longer than one day.  Multi-day travel requires us to park somewhere overnight while enroute. One option is to find a RV park and set up for the night. Passport America is a great app to find one or two nights at a discounted rate of 50%.  Setting up camp can also be a big time killer when we are focused on getting to the next place.  Finding a suitable park along our travel route can prove a challenge.  The extra time to drive off our route to the park, along with our frugality, often leads us to boondock (be without water or electrical hookups) on travel days.  Some options such as Cracker Barrel, Cabela’s and Walmart allow you to spend the night for free in their parking lot. Helpful apps we use for this are Boondocking and ParkAdvisor.  In the beginning, we assumed it would be easy to be able to pull in and sleep for the night at one of these locations. Spending the night in these places has it challenges.  On our first big push south from Wisconsin to Ohio we figured we would drive until we were tired and then find a Walmart for the night.  We spent the last two hours of our drive trying to focus in on a suitable location to sleep.  We finally settled on a Walmart and pulled in to rest for the night.   Protocol for spending the night is to contact the store to ask for permission to squat for the night.  Upon contacting the management this night, they said it would be fine to spend the night, but we were not allowed to extend our slides.   We have now found it common that stores are fine with us parking there, but they do not want any slides out.  We are unable to use our rig for sleeping/eating without putting our slides out.  With the slides in we are only able to access the master bedroom and bathroom.  We were tired and hungry after traveling beyond our intended stopping point and this was not well received by the younger members of the crew.  We ended up moving another 20 minutes down the road to a truck stop parking lot.  A call to this location in advance helped us to be confident we would be able to stay.  Since hitting the southern half of the United States, Cracker Barrel restaurants are as common as Starbucks and typically close to highways.  These restaurants have long parking spots for buses that they allow RV’s to park in overnight.  Initially we thought this would be a good option, but with our truck hooked up to our trailer, we are over 60’ long and do not fit in these spots.  We did find a few lots that we were able to fit across empty normal parking spots.  This is a gamble as it may look good on google maps, but all it takes is one car to block our only parking option.  Beggars cannot be choosers.  We could book campsites for the night so we know for sure we have a spot to park, but we hesitate because on travel days we don’t necessarily know how far we will get.  Parking in the dark is tricky, and also, it seems silly to pay $30-40 a night just to park for a few hours.

Parked across open spots in a Cracker Barrel parking lot

Having a big truck to pull our fifth wheel is a necessity.  It is possible to use a single rear wheel truck, but we decided to err on the side of caution going with the dual rear wheel.  The stability and extra rubber on the road in the event of a tire failure outweighed our desire to remain skinny.  We are lucky to have a truck that comfortably fits all four of us and the dog.  Sitting in the truck for several hours on a travel day is not an issue.  Having the big dually truck and using it for everyday use or exploring a new city or attraction is another story.  A truck this size does not fit in a normal size parking spot.  This requires parking in the back of the lot, which we don’t mind because it’s not a big deal to walk a little farther.  The problem comes in when you go to a store or location that doesn’t have large parking lots.  Finding a place to park has become a process that requires some forethought and planning.  Finding myself in tight parking lots and on narrow roads has become a bit of a nightmare for me.

White-knuckling it on a back road trying to get around traffic in Knoxville, TN

Throughout our first summer we parked our fifth wheel trailer in the same location and it was a perfect tiny home for us.  We also had a second smaller vehicle that we used the majority of the time.  We sold the second smaller car before we hit the road.  After just a few weeks of travel, we both independently felt we needed to change our setup.  Neither of us were willing to be the first speak up and admit we may have made a mistake by going with a truck and trailer.  We sold our house and hit the road to explore and adventure.  We were discovering that our current setup, especially the truck, was hindering our ability and desire to get out and explore.  It was during an excursion on a narrow mountain road, when we almost simultaneously declared to each other that life would be much better with a toad. This is the term used for a vehicle that is towed behind a motorhome.  Not long after that moment we decided to make a switch.  If we were going to be able to enjoy this adventure to the fullest, we felt we needed to be more mobile.  The first step was a new home.  We were in South Carolina at this time and didn’t really have a next destination in mind.  After doing a little research, we found that Florida had a lot of options for RV stores.  Also, the eastern half of the United States was predicted to experience an unseasonably cold few weeks. We decided to head south to an abundance of sun and RV’s.  After looking at all the different options online we decided on the must haves for our new vehicle.  We needed a bunk bed, a drop-down loft bed over the driving area and a diesel engine.  These three things seem simple enough, but really narrowed down our options.  Thankfully, we were able to find one that suited our needs and price point, only two hours away from our campground in Tampa.

Our new home, a 2016 Fleetwood Excursion 35E

When we moved from our house into our fifth wheel, I spent several days putting items in and finding the right spot.  This move was so different.  We had a week between when we purchased the new rig and actually moving in.  I spent that week going through everything we currently had with us.  I took two truck loads to Goodwill.  It’s amazing how much stuff we still had with that we didn’t need.  Also, some of the shelves we had with for storage would not fit in the new motorhome.  The actual move day was crazy.  We spent the morning getting a tour of our new motorhome.  Then we sat in the parking lot of the dealership for a few hours while they fixed a few things they were supposed to have done prior to pick up.  Once that was all done, it was 3 o’clock and we finally were able to start moving.  I stayed in the new motorhome and tried to kind of put things away and the rest of the family moved everything over.  It was three hours and fifteen minutes of chaotic moving and stuffing.  It was also our eighth move together and by far the fastest!  It dark when we were finally finished, and we were exhausted mentally more than physically.  There was no way we were sleeping in our disaster of a rig.  We had planned ahead and booked a hotel room for the night.  As a bonus to the day, we made it to the hotel 5 minutes before the managers special and open bar closed. We enjoyed a refreshing beverage and some chicken tenders and tried to wrap out heads around what we just did.

Moving Day!

After getting the motorhome squared away, step two was trading in the big ‘ol truck for a smaller vehicle.  My husband did lots of research on what vehicles were the best to tow.  A very handy website, http://www.motorhome.com/download-dinghy-guides/ produces annual publications with vehicles for each year that are able to be flat towed. A flat towed vehicle has all four wheels on the ground.  We decided that a Jeep was the best option for us.  It tows easily and is cool looking too.  Florida has a ridiculous amount of Jeeps for sale.  We had many options to choose from.  Our desire was to find something that we could ride around comfortably in but also wouldn’t be afraid to take down a rough road and beat it up a little.  We found the perfect Jeep for us and are excited to be roaming once again very soon.  Now we just need to rig it up for flat towing.

Our new smaller adventure vehicle

We did not think we would be doing anything like this, especially so soon into our adventure.  After only a few days in our new motorhome, we are so thankful we did.  Surprisingly, the layout is quite homey, and we are all enjoying the new space.   Our thought was we could keep on traveling with the truck and trailer and make do, or we could make the switch, and move on.  It was like ripping off a band-aid.  We both felt it needed to be done and it was the right path for our family, it was just going to hurt to do it.  Moving from our home to the fifth-wheel was a challenge, and this was no different.  We adapted to the change and it became normal for us at that time.  Moving into the motor home feels the same way.  The living space has been reduced once again, but it is quickly becoming normal.  Our travel options have expanded, and we are excited to see how far we can go!