Tips for Travel Trailer Newbies

Kenn and I purchased our first travel trailer in 2014. We’ve learned a lot over the ensuing years – usually the hard way. The purpose of this post is to share what we’ve learned so you don’t make the same mistakes we did. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of other mistakes you can make, LOL.)

  • First and foremost, you need to make sure the vehicle you plan to use to tow your travel trailer is up to the job. Don’t just focus on the dry weight of your camper; you’ll need to take into consideration the weight of the items (food, clothes, etc.) that you will be carrying. If you plan on dry camping, you’ll need to take into consideration the added weight of water in your fresh water tank. (Note: Water is heavy, y’all.)
  • If your travel trailer’s power cord doesn’t have a built in surge suppressor, buy a stand alone! We learned this lesson the hard way with our first travel trailer. We got hit with a power surge on our first trip which meant our trailer spent the next several weeks at the local dealer for repairs. This was followed by several more weeks at the shop when it turned out the initial repairs were incomplete.
  • Make sure you have a jack that is rated for the weight of your travel trailer. We had no need for a jack until we had a blowout on our second travel trailer. This is when we learned that our new trailer didn’t have a jack. Rest assured, once we got back home and recuperated, Kenn made a trip to Harbor Freight and corrected this oversight.
  • Roadside assistance is a great idea. Both of the travel trailers we’ve purchased new have come with a year of roadside service. Unfortunately, it had expired by the time our blowout occurred. If roadside assistance hadn’t also been available as a part of our insurance I’m not sure what we would have done. (Even with the roadside assistance, sitting by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in the Georgia heat for four hours was no fun. I was pretty close to heat exhaustion by the time the tire was replaced and we were back on the road.)
  • Make sure the hitch is latched. This seems obvious, but we bounced our travel trailer off the hitch three times before we got into the habit of quadruple-checking. We were fortunate that none of the instances occurred on busy roads but it was still stressful. Now we both check multiple times before we pull out.
  • In addition to checking the hitch (again), make sure all of the storage hatches are closed and locked, the stairs are up, and the door(s) are closed and locked with the safety bar in place. Even though we call ourselves doing all of these things, there have been two or three times we’ve had a good Samaritan call our attention to a problem while we’ve been driving down the road. (Thank you good Samaritans!)
  • Invest in a box of disposable gloves. Emptying the gray and black water tanks is never going to be a fun process but at least gloves make it a little more sanitary.
  • Make a checklist. Since we had a tendency to forget the same things over and over, Kenn made a checklist for us. Not only does it include items for the travel trailer such as the things I’ve listed here, it includes common food items such as olive oil, salt, and pepper, and clothing items such as jackets and hiking boots with plenty of blanks for us to add items specific to each trip.
  • Cut yourself – and any traveling companions – some slack. No matter how much you plan and double-check, there’s always something that can happen. When it does, you’ll get through it. It might not be fun, and it might not be easy, but it will be okay. (I’m still working on this one. When I get stressed, I get snippy/snarky so this is totally a “do as I say, not as I do” moment, LOL.)
  • Most importantly, have fun. After all, isn’t that the whole reason behind having a travel trailer?

Do you have a travel trailer? What tips would you add to this list?

Review: Tallulah Gorge State Park

Tallulah Gorge State Park is located in Rabun County in extreme northeast Georgia. Tallulah Gorge is one of the parks that we have made many day trips to through the years but September 2020 was our first time camping there. We stayed in Site 36 which I dubbed “the worst site in the park.” This site itself was fine; it was a corner site with access from two directions. So, what made it so bad? The tiny clump of trees at the corner which meant that no matter which direction you chose, the travel trailer would have to be at a ninety degree angle to the tow vehicle in order to back into the site. We’ve had a travel trailer for several years now but backing into a site can still be a test of the strength of our marriage; this one stressed both of us. However, in spite of our stress levels – and the guy who decided he had to drive through our site while we were backing in (seriously, dude?) – the process went easier than we expected. The campground host came over after we got set up and told us that we had done a good job; I really appreciated that.

There are lots of things to do at Tallulah Gorge and they all involve hiking/walking. There is a suspension bridge, a rim trail with several scenic overlooks and the gorge floor. Gorge floor hikes require a free permit that must be picked up from the interpretive center on the day of your hike; permits are limited to 100 per day. Also, those planning to hike the gorge must wear proper footwear, meaning no Crocs or flip flops. I highly recommend the gorge hike if you get the opportunity.

We did the gorge hike with our boys when they were young. Close to the end of the hike we had to work our way across the river so we could climb out the other side. Our oldest son still insists that we almost let him “wash out to sea”. He was actually safely tucked away in a small pool. It was his younger brother who was headed over a small falls. We snagged him before he went over but life was exciting for a few minutes, LOL. Ah, memories! On another note, I wouldn’t trade being a “boy mom” for anything.

One thing to remember when visiting Tallulah Gorge or any outdoor location in Georgia is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Our visit was in September which is when the brutal temperatures of August are behind us and things begin to cool off. However, “cool” is a relative term. Temps in the 80s (Fahrenheit) with a humidity level of 60-80% is brutal for those of us who live here much less those who aren’t used to such high humidity.

Note: For some reason, WordPress decided not to let me caption my photos. (insert eye roll here) The first photo is, obviously, Tallulah Falls. The second one is from underneath the suspension bridge. Why? Just because I like geometry of the supports.

Until next time, happy trails!

A Change in Plan(ner)s

I didn’t get to travel much when I was young so Kenn and I wanted to make sure our boys had a chance to see a little more of the world. We couldn’t afford to take them on cruises or jet off to international locations but we could at least get them out of the house and introduce them to the sort of places that we love. (They would probably say we took them hiking far too many times, LOL.)

Time and money management were always important on our trips so I planned everything down to the nth degree. I researched the locations we were planning to visit, booked the hotel rooms/cabins, and planned out our activities for each day. Looking back, I may have occasionally over-planned, but it was a labor of love.

Keeping up with details, planning, and organizing are just a part of me and have served me well both at home and at work. However, I think the last four years of my day job sort of burned me out. I enjoyed what I did but it required an extreme amount of organization; my days were ruled by a schedule that was usually booked at least a week in advance. Now that I’m retired, I’m enjoying having flexible days without having to account for every minute of my time.

Somehow, without our even discussing it, Kenn came to my rescue because he is now the one doing most of the planning for our trips. We decide together where we are planning to go and when and he handles making the reservations. I’m still the money manager but I’m happy not having to deal with all of the details.

We cancelled our road trip plans last year due to the pandemic but this year we are fully vaccinated and ready to hit the road. We’ll be taking a trip up the east coast this fall. This will be our first time traveling long distances with our travel trailer so I’m sure we’ll be learning many lessons along the way which, of course, I’ll share here. 🙂 As proof of his new role as Chief Trip Organizer, we already have reservations at a campground in Maine. Go, Kenn!

Until next time, happy trails!

Review: Fort Clinch State Park

Fort Clinch State Park is located at Fernandina Beach, Florida. (Fernandina Beach is located on Amelia Island, a barrier island off the eastern coast of Florida.) Fernandina Beach is a special place to Kenn; he and his family spent a week there every summer when he was growing up. I learned to love it as well when we took our sons a few times over the years. (Well, as much as I love any beach.) When we visited with our boys in tow we stayed in a hotel or rented a house. Once we became empty nesters and bought a travel trailer, we decided to visit Fort Clinch State Park; it became an instant favorite.

Fort Clinch has two campgrounds: riverside and beach-side. We prefer the riverside. The riverside sites are well shaded by old growth trees dripping with Spanish moss. While there are a few palm trees scattered around the beach-side sites, none of them are actually shaded. The bath houses at both campgrounds are clean and well-maintained and there are washers and dryers available for use.

Sunset at the riverside campground

Fort Clinch is perfect for both nature and history lovers. Nature is everywhere and the beach is an easy walk from the campground as is Fort Clinch, which dates back to the Civil War. If you are a fossil-hunter like me, the beaches around Fort Clinch are great for hunting shark’s teeth – especially if you happen to be there just after the channel has been dredged. (All of the teeth, etc. pictured in my recent post about fossiling were found at Fernandina Beach.)

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when planning a stay at Fort Clinch State Park. The first is that it is hard to get reservations at this park. Reservations open up eleven months in advance and are gone almost immediately. Our last trip to Fort Clinch took place in April 2021. It took Kenn a couple of weeks of stalking the reservation site in May 2020 to get our reservations. Second is that you need to be prepared to take your time when entering (and exiting) the park while towing. The entrance road is covered by a beautiful canopy of old growth live oaks; the bigger your rig, the more “exciting” your drive may be. However, if you take your time (and occasionally drive in the middle of the road) you’ll be fine.

Sign at the entrance to the park

We’ve talked about making a trip to Fort Clinch every year but the verdict is still out. We love the park but there are just so many places to see!

Until next time, happy trails!

Review: Moccasin Creek State Park

This is the first of the reviews I will post regarding the various campgrounds/parks we visit. I’m not going be rewarding a star rating or anything like that. I’m just going to post my thoughts on the park, pros/cons, etc.

Moccasin Creek State Park is located in the mountains of Rabun county in north Georgia. The park is bordered on three sides by Hwy 197 and on the fourth by Lake Burton. First impressions are important and, when we entered the park, my first thought was “Wow. This place is small. I don’t like it.” The website lists the size of the park as 32 acres; I’m not sure what is included in that acreage but the actual area for campsites is nowhere near that large. Even so, the park features 53 campsites.

Small “falls” on the stream in the park

One of the most important things to me when camping is the layout of the campsites. Are they shaded? (Shade is an important consideration here in the South – especially in the summer.) Are they on top of each other or is there a little space in between sites? Our campsite was on the outer loop for which I was thankful. I don’t like feeling crowded, especially when camping. If we had been in the inner section, I would have probably been ready to leave the next day. Being on the outer loop meant that our campsite backed up to the road but that wasn’t a problem; Hwy 197 is a two lane “country” road and is hardly a beehive of activity.

In spite of my initial dislike of the park, it grew on me a little over our visit. Moccasin Creek is a really pretty park. A small stream flows down one side of the park and there are swings and benches scattered around where you can sit and commune with nature. Normally, it would have been possible to rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard; however, this is 2020 and rentals were not available due to COVID restrictions. Fortunately, no special equipment is needed to view Hemlock Falls and it’s an easy hike from the park.

Hemlock Falls

If you get twitchy without easy access to cell service at all times, brace yourselves. Verizon is our service provider and our signal strength was virtually non-existent at the park. However, there are a few towns within easy driving distance where signal strength is better.

Overall, while pretty enough, Moccasin Creek is not a park we plan to revisit.

Have you been to Moccasin Creek? If so, what did you think?

The Evolution of a Couple’s Camper – Part 2

In my last post I introduced you to Hope, an RPOD 177 and our first travel trailer. As we were in the thick of elder care, our ability to travel was limited but we did make trips as our schedule allowed – mostly to state parks within a 3-4 hour drive from home. We were complete newbies but with each trip we became a little more comfortable with the process of towing, setting up, etc. Backing the camper? Not so much. Backing a travel trailer into a camp site is a test for even the strongest of marriages. (I’m only sort of joking.)

We knew going in that Hope would not be our “forever” camper. We knew that as we age and get to travel more and for longer periods of time that we would want to upgrade to something a little larger. So, we used our time with Hope to determine what changes/improvements we would like to have on our next travel trailer.

First on the list was more storage. It’s a given that storage in a small travel trailer is going to be at a premium. But, all travel trailers are not created equal. It’s worth taking the time to check out models made by different manufacturers before making your final selection. Hope had a full pass-through on the exterior for storage of chocks, chairs, etc. but interior storage was pretty much non-existent. Trips more than 2-3 days in length required a lot of creativity and more than a little frustration for the storage of food and clothing.

Second was a dry bath. The wet bath on a 177 is tiny and there is a pretty healthy step up/down to get in and out. My husband was already starting to have problems with his knees so we knew there was a good chance that that step was going to cause problems over time. Yes, most campgrounds have bath houses but if you are boondocking where there are no facilities (or if the campground facilities are just nasty) a decent bath is nice to have.

In late 2016 my husband said that he thought we should check out the RPOD 180 – it was slightly larger and had a dry bath. So, we made the trek to one of our local dealers to do a walk-through and it was basically love at first sight. The 180 was a couple of feet longer than our 177 and had more storage for both food and clothes. It also had a three piece dry bath (vanity/sink, toilet, and an actual shower). So, we put the 180 on our wish list. Several months later when the price dropped prior to the release of the 2018 models we took the plunge. My only regret is that we decided to trade-in our 177 instead of selling it outright. Yes, the trade-in was a lot less hassle but we would have gotten much more for it had we sold it. Ah, hindsight!

Meet our RPOD 180, eventually named Gypsy. (It was a lot harder to name this one.)

RPOD 2017 floor plan image from RVUSA.com via Google

In addition to the increased storage and dry bath, there were a few other improvements as well. The interior colors of our 180 were much lighter than those on our 177. Entering the 177 was like entering a cave. The walls, floors, and upholstery were all varying shades of brown. Even with all of the blinds open and lights on it was just dark. Gypsy also had awning as opposed to the “rdome” that came with Hope. A lot of Podders love the rdome because it adds a screened-in room to the exterior of the pod. However, the set-up/tear-down process is not for the faint of heart. The push-button awning is more our style. I was also excited about the blue exterior on Gypsy. (The older models were green, which is my least favorite color.)

The 180 was a couple of feet longer than our 177 and weighed about 400 pounds more which meant we could no longer tow with our Toyota Highlander. Fortunately, my husband had replaced his clunker truck with a 2006 Toyota Tacoma which had more than enough power to tow the 180.

Of course, our adventures don’t end there. Stay tuned for Part 3!