We were finally able to get our bathroom fan repaired. MaxxAir had sent us a computer board and a motor, as either one of those items could have broken. We were able to find a mobile RV Tech who came out and replaced the computer board for us. As we were talking, he recommended a RV shop that he thought we might like: Sands RV.
We stopped in a couple of days later. This store was really neat! It had a little bit of everything: curtains, furniture, toilets, fenders…
The store was owned by Bob, who also worked on the Ungers RVs. The picture below was 1968 and Bob is the one on the far right.
Click to enlarge
As we were leaving, they also gave us a flame color changing stick for the fire. The boys got a big kick out of it at our next camp fire. It did work really well and lasted a long time (much better than the packet we had bought at a campground store).
We had a great time exploring the store. Everyone was very friendly. If you are in the area, I would definitely check out this store. It was like a RV treasure chest with something for everyone! We did a quick video walk through of the store (link here).
On our move day to Vermont, it had been going pretty well. The sun was out, the kids were occupied, I had some music playing. I’ve made it a habit to check the truck and the RV TPMS sensors during our drives.
We were about two hours from our campground when I noticed the rear passenger tire was at a lower pressure than the others. It was in the shade, so at first I was hopeful it was just the sun making a difference (which it has before). I kept my eye on it and noticed it was slowly, but steadily losing pressure.
The shoulder of the highway was pretty narrow and we really didn’t want to pull off on the side of the road. We managed to find a nearby exit that had a Bass Pro with a larger parking lot. It even had a Walmart next door. Ben was amazing and was able to change the tire with the jack from the truck, our separate scissor jack, and our trusty Lynx orange leveling blocks*.
Once we were in Vermont, I brought the tire to a tire store to get checked out. We didn’t want to drive to our next campground without a spare tire. When I called the store, they had one matching tire in stock and would hold it for us. The boys and I headed over. Once we arrived at the store (Tire Warehouse), they checked the old tire first to see if it could be fixed. It turned out that the rim was the problem! You couldn’t see anything wrong looking at the tire/rim, but when a soapy solution was applied, you could see bubbles forming on the rim itself. They did not have the right sized rim in stock, but were able to get one for us. It was a white rim, but it was more important for us to have a spare than to have them match.
As it happened 1 day after our year anniversary of buying the RV (bought 6/4/20 and tire happened 6/5/21), the dealer said it was not covered under their warranty. I was told to contact Keystone and they told me to contact the tire company (Load Star) to see if it was covered under their warranty. I’m still in process of dealing with the tire company to figure this out.
We bought our TPMS sensors through TechoRV.com. I would really recommend having these sensors for your RV!
So, good news…we didn’t have any other leaks after tightening the toilet…at least for a while.
Bad news, now it will sometimes keep running and unlike some home toilets, there is no overflow system, so it just gets into the RV. Based on online searches and a call into the manufacturer, we think it is the water valve. There have been a few times lately where there was water at the base too, but it wasn’t from the kids.
Unfortunately, you have to take the whole toilet off to replace the water valve. Will was my assistant for this project. The tight bathroom space did not make it any easier. It seems like there a lot of YouTube videos that are on replacing/repairing the toilets, but it took a little while to find our toilet. We have a Thetford Magic Style II, which used the valve replacement part #42049. There is a serial number in your toilet and if you call the manufacturer they can tell you which part you need.
I finally found a video that was really helpful. The parts did come with written directions, but I found the diagrams less than helpful.
It took some doing, but we finally got it out back together. The test run didn’t have any leaking, so fingers crossed this solves the problem. We also managed to get the pin put back in the toilet seat lid, so that was fixed as well.
Below is a rough outline of the steps to replacing our water valve. Each toilet and set up are different, so please read your instructions. I really found the YouTube video helpful as well.
Turn off water and flush toilet to drain as much water as possible. Place rags around the water line for drips.
Disconnect water line. For our toilet, standing over it looking down, I had to turn the connector to the right to disconnect the water line from the toilet.
Remove bolt covers and bolts.
Remove toilet and set on a garbage bag.
Remove existing/old seal.
Clean toilet. (Yes, this is gross.)
Follow directions on replacement kit. (Make sure to test foot pedal at the end before reinstalling toilet! My first attempt had the pedal falling off because it wasn’t clamped on all the way.)
Place on new seal.
Place toilet back on screws
Thread on bolts and tighten down. To help it seat, sit on the toilet. Check the bolts to see if it needs to be tightened again.
Reconnect water line. Leave rags in place around toilet.
As crazy as pulling into a campground can be, leaving can be just as bad depending on the campground layout.
Some campgrounds have a very specific exit path that is well marked, while others have it as a free for all. We like to walk the campground the night before we leave to scope out our path. If we are leaving later in the morning or early afternoon, we will walk it again in the morning. Campgrounds change frequently; you may have gotten some late arrival new neighbors, someone may have parked too close to the street, a toy hauler’s balcony may be overhanging into the street and you will not fit by them. (All of which have happened.)
I would recommend having an A and a B exit plan. Sometimes your first choice doesn’t work out. For example, at our last campground, we had the route planned the night before with us turning to the left at the end of our row to get out of the campground. However, our neighbor parked really close to the corner with their car and there was just no way I was going to make that turn unless they moved their car. It was early in the morning and I didn’t want to wake them, so we ended up going right. The boys ran ahead and checked the rows for me to make sure they were clear. There were a couple of spots where the trees made it a little snug, but we made it out safely.
Above is an example of our planned exit from the last campground. Plan A was the red line. The turns near the office could be tight, but there were empty sites we could cut through to make it an easier turn. Plan B was the yellow line, which would be great as long as there were not a lot of cars parked in the side lot by the office. However, the morning of, our neighbor in C1 parked really close to the road and we ended up taking the purple route, which wasn’t even in our original planned options.
When we first started this adventure, we didn’t plan our departure route, but now it has become part of our routine. I would not worry about planning it until the night before (and double check it in the morning), as you just never know who could have arrived (or left) really late and how it could affect your route.
We sent one of the kids out to empty the grey tank, as we routinely do. The other one* decided to close it (*nameless to protect the guilty). I’m not sure what happened exactly, but the handle cracked. It didn’t break off, so we duct taped it together.
Ben started the drive out to Camping World to see what was available for repairs. I was online searching for help thinking, “great, now I have to replace the valve section”. Our owner’s book didn’t really describe how to repair a broken handle. However, one of our neighbors saw me staring at our valves and asked what was wrong. He informed me that most of the time, you can just replace the handle! Yay! I called Camping World to make sure they had one in stock since Ben was already on the way. (Spoiler: They did.)
The valve handle does screw off; however, to remove the handle, you have to use pliers to hold the metal shaft in place, otherwise it will just spin. They also recommended using a thin cloth between the shaft and the pliers. Ben bought the metal replacement (similar to this one*), hoping that it will last longer. He also applied a little bit of Loctite to it (do NOT use this on plastic).
It didn’t take much time, other than driving to get the part, to get it replaced. I am so thankful that we didn’t have to replace the whole valve piece, just the handle, that I thought I would share our newfound knowledge in case anyone else has that problem.
There are a ton of campgrounds out there and it can be overwhelming trying to find the “best” one to call home! They range from independent places, chains (like KOA and Thousand Trails), city owned, state owned, and federally owned. Some only accept military/retired military, some only accept Class A’s, and some have age limits on the RVs or the people they let in. A lot of places also have dog restrictions based on breed.
We have a few things that we always look for in a campground: location to sightseeing, internet, full hook-ups, and a laundry room. Our biggest one is a good internet connection for school and work. There are a few different websites that I visit to check reviews: campgroundreviews.com, GoodSam, and Campendium are my first ones. After those, I will go to Yelp/Google Map reviews (make sure to type RV Campground or RV Resort, not just campground as you will get results that will not work with RVs or may not have hook-ups), and then to Facebook for the RV groups to see if anyone has stayed there before.
I always check multiple review sites, especially for internet issues, but sometimes you still don’t get it right. For example, the Garden of the Gods RV review stated that our 3 providers worked. However, when we checked in, there was a note with our paperwork saying AT&T did not work in the park. This wasn’t mentioned on the campground’s website at the time. (This is just one of the reasons why we have three internet providers!)
I also try to read about the general campground conditions (sites, roads, etc.). If a lot of reviews with bigger RVs say that sites or internal roads were tight or not well maintained, I will pass on that campground. We’ve even double checked the reviews on the way to a campground and changed our plans last minute based on the current conditions. Conditions of campgrounds can change frequently. For example, when we booked one Texas site, it had decent reviews. On the drive there, we were reading the reviews from the last week and it was filled with reports of sewage problems throughout the campground (eww!), so we frantically searched and found a new campground to stay in. The most recent one was a change due to a review saying the T-Mobile signals were weak. T-Mobile is where most of our working internet comes through. We have some hotspot data through our cell phones, but the T-Mobile hotspot is the workhorse.
Campground amenities can also be a big indicator for the nicety of a park, although not always. There doesn’t seem to be a regulation on who can call themselves a RV Resort vs a campground, so reading reviews are important! We had one Thousand Trails claim to be a resort and they only had a laundry room and a walking trail. Nothing else was available or was broken and the sites and roads needed some upkeep. On the other hand, we had a Thousand Trails in Orlando that lived up to the resort title with many amenities and things to do.
An on-site laundry is also a requirement for us, as we do not have a washer/dryer on our travel trailer.
We have learned to always check (recent) reviews across the different review sites. It can be worth spending the extra money to get a nicer campground, especially for longer stays.
Nope, these weren’t bodily problems, but the bathroom decided to kick up a little fuss this past week.
First a quick rundown on RV toilets. Turns out most RV toilets are gravity flushed: there is a foot pedal to open the slide, which when pressed will open the slide and a small amount of water is released to help gravity do its thing and slide everything down the pipe to the black tank. (Hence why we have a water jug in the bathroom. Sometimes with a lot of paper, you need to add more water to encourage things along. It also helps with the black tank not getting clogged with poop pyramids and it helps things dissolve well in the holding tank.)
RV Gravity Fed Toilet
It started with the toilet overflowing. A small amount of paper had not gone down all the way and kept the slide from closing all the way, so the water kept continuously running. However, that same toilet paper also kept the water from draining and it overflowed onto the floor and spread to bathroom wall, the hallway, and then our room. Luckily, it was just water and had only made it a couple of inches into our room and we were able to clean everything up.
Several days later, we noticed water around the base of the toilet. It hadn’t overflowed, the boys hadn’t missed as it was just water. It didn’t look like it was leaking from the water connection points, but it could very slightly be wiggled. From what I read, it turns out that there is a gasket holding the toilet to the floor. It is mostly pressure fitted, so we took the screw covers off and tightened it down. No more wiggling! I’m hoping this solves the problem, since I really don’t want to have to replace a toilet. NOTE: Ours used a 1/2″ nut.
Then, as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed the shower floor was wet. No one had been in the shower since the morning, so it should have been dry. There was a small drip in the bottom left corner near the handles. Great. We did some research and took the handles plate off. We had to be pretty careful, since it is directly connected to the water supply pipes (which did not look like they had a good access panel to get to). Our shower is pretty small to start with, so it was a bit of a challenge to get to anything. I was able to reach in and tighten the hot water connection. I then had to remove and replace all the caulk and add the screws back in.
We get a lot of questions when we talk to people, so we thought we would address some of them! If you have any questions, please feel free to email them to us (email@example.com) and you might just get your answer!
I picked laundry as our first topic, as it happens weekly and is something everyone has to deal with. I will say that one of the things I miss the most is having my own washer and dryer. Some of the Class A’s and 5th Wheels have a washer/dryer combo installed. Our travel trailer did not come with the built in hook-ups for a washer/dryer unit and we didn’t think we had the room to store a portable washing machine*.
WHERE: When I book a campground, I do look to see if they have a laundry room listed. I also check to make sure it is open. Due to COVID, we have come across a campground or two that have closed their laundry facilities; however, almost all of the campgrounds we have stayed at have been open. Most of the campgrounds have had laundry rooms, although we have gone to a couple of laundromats as well. You never really know what you are going to get with campground laundry rooms. We’ve had some with really old machines that were a little rusty and broken (that’s when we go to the laundromat). We’ve also stayed at places that have had really nice high-end machines. Most of the places have taken quarters (which was fun during a national coin shortage), although some have only accepted credit cards or tried to push an app on your phone.
HOW MUCH: The costing of the washers and dryers have varied, sometimes significantly. It may seem like $0.50 isn’t a lot, but we normally have 2-3 loads a week and that difference really adds up. The cheapest we have had were $1.25/load for washers and $1/load for dryers and the most expensive were $3.25/load washers and $2.50/load dryers. I would say it averages around $2 per load. I’ve learned to always keep my quarters with me because you never know when the dryer won’t actually dry the clothes, or the laundry pod will not dissolve, or the washer will kick the pod onto the door frame and the detergent pod won’t actually go through the wash with the clothes and get the laundry clean. TIP: I would buy your roll of quarters when you are able to, whether it is at a bank or the campground. Some of the campgrounds do not have change machine or will not sell quarters.
LIQUID DETERGENT VS PODS: At home we always used the liquid detergent. However, with a tiny space and a weight limit, I switched to the pods for a while. For the most part they worked great. When we moved down South, the pods started not dissolving all the way during the wash cycle. I thought it was the campground, but it happened at 3 different ones. Maybe we got a bad batch of pods? We switched over to the liquid again when we found a smaller bottle. We were tired of finding pieces of laundry pods stuck on our clothes. There are also laundry sheets* that some people rave about, but they are pretty expensive (per load of laundry vs other detergent) so I haven’t tried them yet.
So far, we have spent about $300 in laundry (on average $10/week), not including detergent or dryer sheets. We were very lucky that we had a washing machine that we could use for free in Florida for several weeks!
When we first started out, backing up was my biggest fear. I really was looking forward to finding all the pull-through spots that we could find. However, that’s not how life works.
I love pull-through spots since they are so much easier to maneuver. However, not every campground offers pull-throughs or they could all be booked and only the back-ins are left. We had never owned a RV, a trailer, or even anything that had to be towed before. I had certainly never had to back up a large truck and a 37′ travel trailer. It is a scary position to be in, knowing that if you mess up too badly you can damage your property, as well as someone else’s; especially when you have already sold your sticks-and-bricks (home) and this RV is now your moving home for a year.
We had watched so many videos before embarking on this adventure. In my head, I knew you had to turn the wheel the opposite of what you would expect when backing up a trailer. However, in the moment, that advice just added to my stress and confusion. It’s very different watching a video and then trying to do it in real life. My mother-in-law found a video and sent us a link. It was made with a piece of paper and a Lego truck and trailer. Honestly, I don’t know that I would have clicked on the video if I was scrolling through YouTube. It ended up being the best video for me! This YouTuber said something that helps me every time I have to back up. Starting with the wheels in the straight position, “Turn the bottom of the steering wheel towards the direction you want the trailer to go”. It is something I can see, something tangible I can focus on, and that made a huge difference. If you are just starting out and want advice on how to back into a site, please check out his video. He has some other useful tips on getting into a site.
I know of several people who bought RV’s for the first time this year. It can be daunting. We have had neighbors stare at us when trying to pull into/back into a site. At the worst, they’ve said that looked hard and that we needed a beer now that it was done. At best, some of them will try to help you. Don’t let it discourage you; everyone was a newbie once. If you can find a large empty parking lot to practice in, that can help. Find the one thing that will stick in your brain that will help you. I stressed out and struggled every time we had to back up, but it does get easier and the “Turn the bottom of the steering wheel towards the direction you want the trailer to go” method really helped me.
Also, don’t let back-in sites discourage you from a campground! Some of our favorite campgrounds have been back-in sites.
We have been pretty lucky on this trip; someone must be watching out for us. Although we had planned the route to stay out of severe weather, Mother Nature sometimes likes to throw a curve ball.
In Colorado, we had a crazy rain/hail storm, but we didn’t have any damage. There was some flash flooding on the streets, and I was very glad we were in a truck that sat higher up. We also had haze from the wildfires. It caused my asthma to flare up, but we were pretty far away from it. As we drove to Utah, we saw the smoke in the distance, with Highway warning signs of fires in the area, and we saw the burned hillsides along the road. It is amazing that just two months after we were in Estes and Rocky Mountain National Park, it was on fire.
In Utah, we had a night of very strong winds and had to look up how to prepare the RV for wind storms: fill the fresh water tank for weight, bring in your slides. It was a very noisy night and the campground was absolutely covered in leaves the next day. It looked like a blanket of green snow.
Before we even left Ohio, we had to reroute our original route because the Yosemite area had wildfires. We had some smoke haze while in San Diego, California for a few days as well.
Most of the western part of our trip was under a fire ban. Some places allowed a propane fire, while others did not.
In a house, you don’t think too much about the pipes when it gets close to freezing. You make sure your garden hose is disconnected and if it is a crazy cold night, maybe you let your faucets drip. It can get a little dicey in an RV. We had heard stories of pipes freezing and breaking, even with a slow drip of water. The water connections are above ground, which can cause them to freeze faster. The hoses are generally on the ground as well, which can make them freeze. We had been really hoping to avoid freezing weather, but weather is unpredictable and we had a couple of “rare” nights where it got to 32℉ or below. We wrapped the water hose in a foam pipe insulation or sometimes just unhooked it for the night. We didn’t want to buy the heated water hoses, as they are quite expensive and we were hoping to not have too many freezing nights. Most of the time, we could just use the electric fireplace for heat on for cooler nights, but freezing nights we ran the propane furnace. It kept us warm, as well as kept the tanks and pipes from freezing (our RV underbelly is enclosed and is warmed by the hot air ducts). I always left the bathroom fan cracked open for fresh air and ventilation when we used the propane furnace. Our RV carries two 20-gallon tanks and we carry an extra as well. I try to use the electric fireplace as much as possible, since we also use propane for the oven/stove and water heater. We have run into propane shortages around the country on our travels, including Texas where we had been a month and half before the winter storm hit the state.
All of this was doable with a little planning. Until, we made it to South Carolina/Georgia where we recently had the scariest weather we have run into so far. Tornadoes. Growing up in Ohio, tornado sirens are something every kid is familiar with. We have drills in school, everyone knows to go to the basement or an interior room, and to do it quickly if the siren is going off. While scrolling through Facebook, someone posted about a tornado watch for parts of Georgia and South Carolina for the next day. This had not popped up on my weather apps, not even on my paid alert. I downloaded a few more free, but highly recommended apps, and sure enough we were smack dab in the alert zone. Normally, we would say move if bad weather was coming as we see that as a benefit to having a house on wheels. However, the alert went from Florida up to part of Virginia, and was coming from the West. There was no good direction to go.
I had gotten too complacent and had not asked the campground about emergency weather shelter. When I called the office, the campground didn’t even know a storm was coming. The office told me that they would not go into their buildings for a tornado because they were old and she didn’t know how safe they were. What!? Twenty minutes later, they were going around to the RV’s telling people a storm was expected tomorrow afternoon/night. We decided to pack up our papers, electronics, and things we couldn’t replace, and to stay in a hotel for the night. We choose a historic building in Savannah to stay in. (Thank you COVID stimulus money.) Using the logic that a building that was 100 years old has managed the test of time. We filled the fresh water and grey tanks, closed the slides, turned off the propane/water/electric, and taped a note in each room that we were at a hotel and left our contact numbers. We left a little after lunch to make sure we could get the truck parked in a garage and be in the hotel by the time the storm hit.
The sirens did go off while we were at the hotel and we stayed in the bathroom for 45 minutes. Luckily our bathroom was as big as the living room in the RV. The tornado ended up being just some rain and thunder, both at the campground and the hotel, for which I am very grateful.
We got very lucky. It’s something we don’t think about most of the time, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure you have a good weather app or radio, and to ask your campground about a weather shelter.
Our weather apps currently consist of: Storm Shield (paid), Red Cross Emergency, Red Cross Tornado, NOAA Weather (the free version, it’s ok,), and Code Red (I find this one to have the most glitches and doesn’t seem to work 99% of the time).