De-regulated toilet paper

We had the first visitors to stay in the Airstream in its new role as occasional guest house. A family of five came down from Vermont on a bargain airfare and four of them inhabited the Airstream for a long weekend.  Being in the Airstream as it sits in the dark carport is not nearly as interesting as camping somewhere scenic, but it does have certain advantages for both hosts and guests.

I know this because the visit was successful despite four small children.  I generally am leery of situations where the children are equal or greater in number than the adults (you never know when they might band together and take over), but these were good kids.  Giving them their own space in the Airstream was instrumental to my perception, I’m sure, since they were out of sight and mind late at night and early in the morning.  Regardless, a good time was had.  In gratitude, they left Emma with the traditional Vermonter’s present: a cold.

So Emma is sniffling and honking all over the house now.  I’m trying to avoid that cold because I have to fly next week to the major RV industry trade show in Louisville KY.  If I get a cold, I can’t fly. In this case, I am somewhat split on the prospect.  If I get the cold, I miss an important opportunity to sell advertising and meet our current clients.  On the other hand, if I get the cold, I don’t have to go to Louisville in December.  (“Second Prize: A Trip To Louisville in December!  First Prize: You Get to Stay Home!”)

I don’t have anything against Louisville per se, but I do hate flying this time of year.  Flights tend to be crowded, winter storms are always a threat, and if I don’t get a cold from some visiting Vermont child I can be virtually guaranteed of getting one from a sneezing Rhinovirus Ronald on the airplane.

Plus there’s that oh-so-fun airline service.  Susan and Adam flew home for the holidays yesterday, and their report from that experience reminded me of the travails of traveling by air these days.  I’ll let Susan’s email speak for itself:

Our tickets to Portland, Maine, via Charlotte, North Carolina, cost $300 apiece.  Leaving Tucson, we asked to check bags to Charlotte where we planned to spend a few days, then go on to Newark.  “Can do,” says [name withheld], and it will cost another $500 apiece to do so.  Despite Charlotte’s closer proximity to Tucson, it costs more to get there.  Or costs more to get our one bag there because we could just get off the plane…

Okay, so Portland it is and that costs us another $15 to check the bag.  For passengers traveling with large overstuffed roller bags and bulging knapsacks and who carry all this stuff on board, luggage is free!

On board there are no services and nothing is free.  No free coke, tea.  Water costs $2.  Flight attendants are now in retail, hawking drinks and snacks at price points ranging from $1 to $7.  Do they get bonused on sales?  Other than than, they don’t seem to have any duties connected with making us feel comfortable and loved.

Oh there is one other duty to perform.  In the last 20 minutes of the flight, we’re subject to a commercial announcement, offering us a great deal on the US Air credit card with Bank of America that earns us great freebies on this self-service airline.  Who says that credit is tightening?  I’m able to obtain it as I’m sitting on a jetliner on its final approach to Charlotte.

I long ago gave up expecting anything but basic transportation from the airlines, but things have sunk below even my low expectations.  I’m usually content when they just leave me alone, but that is too much to ask on many airlines that insist on bombarding me with loud audio-visual messages hawking their junk.  Ever notice how the intrusive announcements always start right when you are drifting off to sleep after takeoff?

But what should I expect?  Today’s domestic air carriers are what you get when government agencies (TSA, FAA, NTSB) intersect with accountants.  Those are the people who really run things now.  The pilots and flight attendants are (excuse the pun) just along for the ride.  I think a few airlines could do better hiring psychologists and Disney “imagineers” to redesign their procedures and policies.  Then they might realize that blaring obnoxious messages above my head, on speakers than cannot be silenced, is what really forms my opinion of the experience of flying their jets.

I don’t care if they serve blue chips or pretzels, Coke or Pepsi.  I just want to get there with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of relaxation.  Leave me alone to read my book.  Tell me how to buckle my seatbelt if you really must, but otherwise please sit down.  They won’t do that, so I bring an arsenal of counter-annoyance equipment:  ear plugs, eye shades, snacks of my own, a distracting book, bottled water.  (An airline that offers complete sedation during the flight, like dentists, might be popular someday.)  For this trip, maybe I’ll add a surgical mask to the kit in case they seat me next to Ronald.

The airline business is just one of many things I don’t understand. Here’s an example of something that should be dead simple, but isn’t: Toilet paper doesn’t come in a standard roll size.

I’m serious.  On our big trip to IKEA last month, Eleanor bought a pair of SAGAN toilet paper roll holders.  Then she discovered that the Scott’s Single-Ply paper we used successfully for three years in our Airstream (because it dissolves nicely in the black tank, don’t ask how we know) doesn’t fit on the roller.  It’s just a tiny bit too wide.

But another version of toilet paper fits just fine.  This was a clear indication that we needed to Google “toilet paper roll size” and find out the story.  Turns out there’s no such thing as a standard toilet paper roll width. It commonly runs from 3.9 inches to 4.5 inches.  Buyer beware.

This is probably because we’re not as big on standards and regulations in the US as they are in other parts of the world.  I’d bet the European Union has very specific guidelines for toilet paper rolls, but here in the US we like to let the free market decide. That’s why wireless LAN technology languished for a decade before manufacturers finally agreed to let their equipment interoperate with other brands.  That’s why Europe had, for many years, a far superior cellular phone system (despite the fact that cell phones were invented here).  That’s why Alan Greenspan had to eat crow in October.  And that’s why we are paying $15 for checked bags and $2 for water after we pay for airline tickets.

I like free markets too, but it sure would be nice if my toilet paper fit and my retirement fund was still intact.  A few boundaries and guidelines are not necessarily a bad thing.  Maybe we could work up one that prohibits hawking credit cards above 10,000 feet, too.

Looking for diamonds

Yesterday I was having lunch at Zivaz (my new favorite Mexican restaurant in Tucson) with Adam and Susan.   They’re back from Los Angeles with their Airstream, and eager to talk about all things new and interesting, which is part of why   the lunch went on for nearly three hours.

Sometime after the plates were cleared, our conversation turned to the incredible array of Internet-based communications technologies that people have adopted lately.   We were specifically fascinated by the options for self-promotion: blogs, forums, Facebook, MySpace, etc.   I was interested in how those technologies might merge with other Internet communications like Skype, instant messaging, video conferencing, and with communities like online forums, Yahoo Groups, Gather, and LinkedIn.   It feels like an important evolution is in the wind.

It feels this way partly because there are so many overlapping offerings, and partly because the speed of self-promotion has accelerated.   Blogs allow you to post your thoughts every day or even every hour if you care to.   With micro-blog sites like Twitter, you can now keep the world abreast of your activities on a minute-by-minute basis.   “I’m having lunch with friends at Zivaz,” my Twitter post might say, and later, “I’m shopping for hiking boots on the east side.”   People can subscribe to your Twitter stream and keep up with your updates via mobile phone, if they want.

Amazingly, people do. To   me, posting every turn on the road and every snack you eat on the Internet seems narcissistic, and this is coming from a guy who posted his daily activities on a blog for three years.   But people do it, and on that basis alone I have to study the phenomenon to understand why they do it.   The trivialities of another person’s life can be very relevant if that’s someone you care about.   There is value to almost any information, for someone, even if it doesn’t work for me.   (I imagine myself trying to keep up with my hourly activities and it feels like something you can only maintain with extreme diligence or an abundance of ego.)

The other reason I am watching new communications and networking technologies is because they are surprisingly relevant to publishing a magazine.   Being a publisher means you need to take an interest in all things, and being a print publisher means you are selling horses in a Model T world, so you’d better be looking carefully at The Next Big Thing.   I don’t want to end up like the guy who sold typewriters, telegraphs, or film cameras.

zoltar-speaks.jpgBack in a former career I was charged with sitting around my office and thinking about things like this.   It was a great job, because I got to dig into technology and sociology subjects that I found interesting, and then do a ZOLTAR act, presenting my best guess as to what the future held.   People paid well for this, because I was part of a tight little team that usually got it right.   (A few of my minor blatherings live on in the Internet as archived columns and press releases.   The things that survive that period are not necessarily representative of my best work, but the Internet answers to no one.)

Now in the publishing business, I find myself spending a lot of time doing the same work.   I’m not in the paper business, I’m in the information business, and so there will inevitably come a time when I need to disseminate my information in a different way.   The only questions are:   when, and how?

Everyone loves a crystal ball, even if it’s not always 100% spot on, because any hint of what’s coming helps ease our collective anxiety. It’s useful to me to build forecasts of the future so I can plan ahead, since Airstream Life is a quarterly with very long lead times.   The changes I want to make next summer and fall have to be planned today.

The trick is simply to listen critically, a skill not taught in most schools.   I trust my analytic skills but I’m not so vain as to think I know it all, so I listen.   I also don’t trust any single media outlet to be unbiased and accurate, so I criticize.   The media like to base their views on “consensus” of analysts, but having been in that industry I can tell you that the entire analytical field can be dead wrong and often is.   Just because a lot of people in the industry think (or want to believe) something is going to happen, doesn’t have anything to do with whether it does.   If you projected the accuracy rate of most analysts as a percentage, you’d find that weathermen do a lot better.

I’ll teach you how to be an analyst.   It’s like making jewelry.   You don’t start with a design in mind.   You start by digging through millions of tons of muck (perspectives of other people) trying to find a few diamonds in the rough (good ideas).   Then you clean up each diamond, check it for flaws (fact-checking), and if it meets your standard, you trim it up into something better.

Each diamond directs you to the ultimate jewelry that it should be.   Once you’ve got enough diamonds, you’ll see the finished pattern, and you can assemble your piece into a beautiful theory.   As long as you don’t force the process, it almost always works.

The failing of this process is when the underlying assumptions of the entire world are wrong.   You’d be amazed at how often that happens.   When the underlying assumptions are wrong, everyone’s theories are wrong by default.   For example, imagine all the weathermen predicting tomorrow’s high temperature.   If the sun goes nova, they’re all going to be wrong, aren’t they?

Analysts and academics excuse their errors in this regard by blaming “disruptive technology,” “quantum leaps,”   “hidden factors,” and a whole host of other terms.   What they mean is, “We didn’t see that coming.”   Technology people love this, because it always sounds good for them to call their latest invention “disruptive” or “game-changing” even if it isn’t.   It helps with raising money.   But a good analyst should never fall in love with their theories to the point that they forget to consider that all the underlying assumptions are dead wrong.

This explains why I like looking at our self-absorbed, noisy, and wildly diverse opinions. Sure, we may be becoming a nation of narcissists who post rants and idiotic opinions in public forums, but we are also a nation of people with ideas. Those ideas are going to form the basis of our future.   I want to know what those ideas are.

This is also why I am a rabid First Amendment supporter.   Some ideas are bad ideas, but quashing ideas is never good.  Once in a while I get a letter from someone “disappointed and disgusted” in the magazine for something I allowed to reach print.  Once it was a cartoon that was perceived as sexist, another time it was a photo considered racist.  Once I said something about a campground in a blog and a couple of people told me I shouldn’t criticize.  All of these people ran to what I call “the free market defense,” threatening to cancel their subscriptions.

I encourage that.   My opinion is that someone who thinks only their ideas and perspectives should be allowed in print, doesn’t deserve the benefits of a free press.   Those who are so inured to conflicting opinions or standards that they must refuse to accept a harmless travel magazine should probably stay home with the shades drawn.   So my approach is to politely share my view on the offending item, and then invite them to cancel if they can’t see their way to continuing to support the magazine.   I have never caved in to pressure of this type and I never will.

I think the magazine’s readers are generally tolerant people.   In four years of publishing I’ve gotten four or five hate letters.   Mostly the letters seem to come from unhappy people who feel victimized about all sorts of things. The rest of the bunch put up with whatever I produce.   I’m curious, however, to see if I get any reaction to the photo on page 44 of the new Winter 2008 issue (in the mail now).

We live in communities of people bound together by ideas and commonalities.   The magazine represents the centerpiece of American freedom and a centuries-old publishing tradition that helps hold communities together.   Somewhere down the road — soon, I hope — we will expand the role of the magazine to encompass the fascinating Internet technologies that are developing and integrating right now.   If we do it right, we’ll grow stronger (both as a business and as a community), and have more fun. I’m looking forward to that.

It’s the end of the mall as we know it

The economy is collapsing and it’s partially my fault.

You see, for the past three years I wrote about how happy we were in the Airstream, traveling full-time and living cheap. We didn’t buy much, we didn’t throw much away, and we were happy with less stuff in our lives.   We were free of the trap of consumerism, having less and enjoying life more.   And this was bad.

Bad because apparently, other people listened.   They listened to me, and to Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, and the people who advocate “Buy nothing day” the day after Thanksgiving.   They listened to newspapers and TV stations too, who told them that we were all going to consumer hell this year, and consequently people slowed down their shopping and now we’re all in economic quicksand.

I will admit that I was happy during our three years of minimalist living.   Heck, it took that long just to get rid of the surplus stuff we’d acquired during a dozen years of homeownership.   (We’re still using up the last of the hotel soap collection.) In those three years we had less each year than the year before, and we liked it.   Life was simpler, we didn’t have to worry about money nearly as much, and we didn’t waste energy coveting or caring for expensive things.

But now my frugal message has come back to haunt me.   Earlier this year people started to think twice before buying big-ticket items, and the toys went first.   That meant RV sales slowed down.   Manufacturers of RVs started dying (Nu-Wa, National RV, Western RV, Alfa Leisure, Weekend Warrior, Pilgrim International, Travel Supreme, Ameri-Camp).   All the rest have cut back production and laid off staff.

Then the OEMs who supply parts to the RV industry slowed down — things like vent fans and hitches.   And so all the OEMs called me up and said, “Sorry, but things are slow, so we’re canceling our advertising program.”

Ouch. We just lost another one this morning.   It’s very frustrating when you lose customers, even more so when they are long-term customers who love your product but are just hitting hard times.   It’s downright scary when you realize that if too many more of them bail out, you will be next.

So I take it back.   I didn’t mean it.   Buying stuff is really fun, it’s educational, it will make you sexier and improve your skin quality.   Especially if you buy things for your RV.   You need stuff.   Stuff makes the world go round.

Perhaps it’s not all my fault, however.  It’s very popular to blame “the housing market,” as if the houses themselves were somehow at fault.   Apparently those houses were building themselves into a frenzy, and they told people to buy them for ridiculous prices on speculation, and encouraged people to take out huge loans against theoretical value.   Then those darned houses decided not to perform anymore and tipped over the world economy.

At least, that’s what the Administration is claiming.   The banks, the mortgage companies, the developers, the speculators, and all the regulators from the local to federal levels were just victims of this terrible, house-instigated tragedy.  As were those of us who took out huge HELOCs to buy even bigger flat-screen TVs.   At least, that’s the theory.

I have a little trouble buying that, because in many ways the decline of consumerism has been forecastable for a while. “Is the mall dead?” asks Newsweek, citing the fact that 2007 was the first time in 50 years that a new indoor mall didn’t open somewhere in the country.   It’s one of many signs that our society has peaked in its interest in buying stuff.

The idea that we could just endlessly increase our consumption to drive the economy was fun for a while, but in the end it is just another Ponzi scheme doomed to collapse eventually.   In addition to selling stuff, you’ve got to build value, not just keep landfills busy.   Besides, economics aren’t just numbers, they are the result of human behavior, and in this case we have a huge wave of people called Baby Boomers who are changing the entire world with their economic clout.   Right now they are retiring, which means they don’t buy big houses as much.

But they are interested in RVs, thankfully, and Boomers drove an enormous wave of RV industry growth from 2001 through 2007.   In total self-interest, I hope that they will resume their profligate RV-buying ways very soon.   We don’t have to worry about RV speculation becoming a plague on the economy later.   Everyone who buys an RV accepts up-front that it will depreciate like a car, and they don’t harbor hopes of selling it at a killer profit next year or taking out a second loan on it to buy a house.   It actually makes a weird kind of sense for Boomers to crack that piggy bank 401-K and go shopping for the travel trailer of their dreams.

Incidentally, I suggest an Airstream. Not only are dealers hungry to sell, but each new Airstream comes with a free one-year subscription to Airstream Life magazine.   See, you’ve already saved $16.   Everyone knows that in America it’s not how much you spent, it’s how much you saved.   So go out there and do me a favor: save me.

Even though you’ll be buying something, in the end your Airstream will return more on your investment than any other thing I can imagine.   You’ll find quality of life that is independent of how much stuff you have.   You’ll discover the joy of simplicity and less obligations.   Like us, you’ll find that once you’re out there on the road, less is more.

But this time, let’s just keep that a secret.

Happy little bacteria

When we lived in Vermont we had a black compost bin behind the house.   Into it we tossed nearly all the food waste (everything but meat, bones, and fish) from our kitchen, as well as regular supplements of grass trimmings, leaves, and sticks.   For six years we put stuff in that bin, and yet it never filled.   The stuff just broke down naturally and decreased in volume as it did.

Once a year I’d open up a little hatch near the bottom of the bin and pull out half a dozen shovels full of rich brown compost.   I’d toss it on the garden in the spring, and as a result we never needed fertilizer.   Between composting and recycling, we also hardly had trash to throw out.   It was a great system.

We became big advocates of composting. I even had a little book that I’d share with people who asked about it.   But you don’t need a book to start composting.   All you have to do is buy or make a bin, and start tossing the biodegradable stuff in it.   You can get fancy and think about layering the materials or worrying about nitrogen levels, or adding moisture, but I never really put any effort into it and still everything broke down just like Mother Nature intended.

While traveling in the Airstream, composting became an impossibility.   You need a certain “critical mass” to get the bacterial process going, and a little jar in the trailer wasn’t going to cut it.   Being compost loonies, we actually looked forward to the day when we’d once again get a pile started in our backyard.

Last weekend Eleanor bought a bin locally from Tucson Organic Gardeners.   They usually cost about $80 but if you hunt around you can often find discount deals through the local municipality or a gardening club.   We paid $40 for ours because it was essentially a recycled plastic trash can, turned upside down and drilled full of holes.   (The Tucson Organic Gardeners call it a “zero carbon footprint” compost bin.)

Installation is easy.   Just plunk it down on earth (not pavement) somewhere convenient, at least ten feet from the house.   Scrape up the soil a bit.   Kick-start it with something yummy.

I’ve started ours with a mixture of Halloween pumpkins and palm fronds.   The fronds provide the “brown” (dry carbon-rich stuff) and the pumpkins provide the “green” (damp nitrogen-rich stuff).    Keep the mix to about 50-50 and your pile should be self-sufficient once it gets big enough.   Being in Arid-zona I might have to add a little moisture to our composter once in a while, but other than that the process is the same.   The bin and the bacteria do all the work. The bin keeps the pile moist while letting in a little oxygen, and the happy little bacteria get busy eating up everything.   As they say, “Compost Happens.”

teva-hangar.jpgWell, most of the time.   Eleanor showed me a clothes hanger that came with a Teva product.   The hanger advertised itself as being “BIODEGRADABLE   polylactide polymer,” and a “compostable corn-based plastic hanger.”   Well, doesn’t that feel nice and green?   Too bad it’s just window dressing.   The hanger won’t go into our heap, because in fact it won’t biodegrade under the conditions found in typical backyard compost. It needs extraordinarily high temperatures, found only in a handful of commercial composting operations nationwide.   So it will end up in the same place as a petroleum-based plastic hanger — the landfill.   There’s a lot of stuff out there pretending to be “green.”

Emma says that composting means “there’s fewer trash heaps in the world.”   (She already gets it, even before we have the homeschooling lessons on bacterial decay.)   But besides doing a small thing to help make our ecology more sustainable, there’s a reward at the end: soft, sweet-smelling brown soil that will go into next year’s garden and help grow tomatoes and herbs for Eleanor’s kitchen.

Eleanor collects her food scraps in a plastic tub under the kitchen sink.   Every 2-3 days, we walk out to the composter and toss ’em in.   This works very well for us, but people sometimes tell me that they don’t want to do this because they are concerned about attracting insects or creating odors in the kitchen.   We’ve never had such problems, probably because we keep the tub sealed, and because we are religious about dumping it regularly.   It’s easier than emptying the trash can.

Since we stopped living in the Airstream, our impact on the earth has gone up.   We use more water, generate more trash, buy more things, and use more electricity. It’s a difficult-to-avoid consequence of being in a house.   Diverting our food scraps, leaves, clippings, and even dryer lint to a closed cycle that turns eventually into more food, is not only a way to compensate for our increased impact, but kind of fun.   It’s not often that we find something that is free, rewarding, green, results in a valuable product (fertilizer), and provides a home science lesson all at once. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.

Top 12 mistakes of full-timers

In the past year, I’ve been getting a lot of requests from people for information about the full-time lifestyle.  Most of our lessons are covered in the Tour of America blog archives, but since not everyone wants to read through all 800+ blog entries, I’m going to summarize “The Top Twelve Mistakes Made By Full-Timers” here.   Hopefully this list will help a few prospective travelers to start off on the right foot.  In no particular order, here they are:

1.  Driving too much.  Everyone starts out with a bang — rushing away from home base to get to the first great destination.  Over the first few months, new full-timers seem to cover thousands of miles per month, and then gradually they calm down and begin to stop at all the great little things that they’ve been passing by.  That’s when they get into the rhythm of full-timing, and inevitably start to enjoy their travels more.

Tip: Slow down!  Stay longer, talk more, meet more people, explore the small stuff — and save money by traveling less and getting weekly rates at campgrounds.  Set a limit, like no more than 100 or 150 miles on driving days, and no more than two or three travel days each week.

2.  Keeping too much in storage.  This is a classic.  Ask any full-timer who has been traveling for more than a year, and you’ll get a story about how much stuff they left behind in storage, and how much they’ve come to regret it. Storage is expensive, but worse than that is the shock you’ll get when you come back and find all the stuff you paid to store that you didn’t even remember owning (or no longer want!)

Tip: If you plan to be out for more than a year, be aggressive about getting rid of the marginal items.  Sure, it’s still useful, but will you be happy to pay $10 to store a $5 item for a year?  Better to get rid of it and buy another one when you get back. Try your local Freecycle (on Yahoo! Groups) to get rid of low-value but useful items.

3.  Trying to keep a rigid schedule, OR not allowing enough time to explore.  Isn’t the point of full-timing that you can explore without a schedule?  Yet I have met many newbie full-timers who are rushing to keep up with their schedule, just like they did when they had jobs or kids in school.  When you hit a good spot you’ll nearly always find you want to stay longer than you thought, so if you must make plans, leave yourself lots of time and plenty of options.

Tip: Don’t make reservations unless absolutely necessary.  Remember, you’re a full-timer — you can wait until a space opens up. The exceptions are airline tickets (where prices go up if you wait), and really popular things that must be reserved months in advance.

4.  Being afraid to camp without hookups.  You can only see the country if you’re willing to get off the beaten path once in a while. Boondocking terrifies some people, but it’s actually fun, easy, and economical.  It’s in those rustic national park, state park, Bureau of Land Management, National Forest, and Corps of Engineers campgrounds that you’ll find some of the most memorable outdoor experiences in the USA.

Tip: Get to know the capacities of your holding tanks, and how long they will last.  This takes practice.  The best way to learn to boondock is to just do it.

5. Not carrying water.  This one amazes me.  People will advise you to carry less water in order to improve your fuel economy.  It’s a myth, at least for our rig.  If you are not climbing a mountain, 200 lbs of water (25 gallons) isn’t going to impact your fuel economy much.  With travel trailers and motorhomes on relatively flat land, aerodynamics play a larger role than weight. (But see Tip #7 before you decide.)

Not having water means you must go where the water hookups are, and you can’t stop spontaneously at a delightful spot along the way.  It also means that if you have a problem and can’t reach your intended destination, you’re out of luck for showers, cooking, and toilet.  Yet I constantly hear from other travelers that they recommend leaving the water tank empty and filling up only when they arrive.  That’s like leaving your gas tank on 1/4 all the time and hoping there’s a gas station every 50 miles.

Tip:  If you’re concerned about weight, just carry 10-15 gallons.  That’s enough to get you through a night with careful conservation.

6. Using the wrong mail forwarding service.  When we were looking for a new mail forwarding service, people advised us to “just use any UPS Store.”  Bad idea.  What if that little shop in the strip mall closes?  It just happened to a friend and fellow full-timer a few months ago, and he had a heck of a time moving everything to another address.

I recommend looking for an established mail forwarding specialist that has a succession plan in place in case the owners retire or the business has to move.  Also, look for a service that will give you excellent personal attention via phone and email.  It can work to have a friend or relative forward your mail, but ask yourself if that person will keep doing it reliably and regularly for a year or more.

Tip:  We use and recommend St. Brendan’s Isle.  Others use Escapees mail forwarding.  There are a lot of other services that specialize in RV’ers, too.  Do a Google search to find them.  USPS “change of address notifications”  are not a good choice — temporary mail forwarding is unreliable and lasts only for six months.  The USPS Premium mail forward service is better but too expensive.

Try to reduce the volume of mail you receive by using e-billing (see Tip #11), asking to be removed from mailing lists, and closing unnecessary accounts.  Ideally you should just get a few pieces of mail each week, so you can spend most of your time enjoying the travel experience.

Make sure whatever service you choose will forward your periodicals (magazines) — we get a lot of complaints from subscribers who paid for the cheapest service they could get and found out later that their magazines were getting tossed.  Ask if they will deliver urgent mail by FedEx if needed (at your expense).  Also, make sure you get a physical address, not a PO Box, or you may have trouble with banks and drivers licenses later.

7. Traveling overweight.  I don’t mean you, I mean your RV!  Hardly anyone ever weighs their rig, and yet everyone should.  Overweight travel means tire problems, premature brake wear, handling problems, hitching problems, and DANGER!  Don’t do it.

Tip:  Drop in on a CAT Scale (located at truck stops all over the country) and get weighed!  It costs just $8.  If your rig is approaching or over the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating on the serial number plate, start culling out the heavy stuff.  Traveling overweight is asking for trouble, and it’s the most easily prevented cause of accidents.

8. Deferring maintenance.  Oh yeah, we all do it.  But still, for a full-timer or long-distance traveler, it’s crazy.  You’re putting extra miles and wear on every system, and that means you need to think about maintenance as a preventative step, not as a response only when something breaks.

Tip:  Start at the bottom and work up. Think about brakes, tires, wheel bearings, axles, shocks, and hitch parts.  Then look at other things that can kill you, and the systems that control them.  Check for propane leaks, faulty appliances, batteries in smoke and CO detectors, date on the fire extinguisher, signals, tight bolts, lubricated parts, etc.

Everything in your rig came with an Owners Manual.  Pull ’em all out and look for the parts that say “DANGER” or “CAUTION,” then act accordingly.  Then maintain the heck out of everything you own at least annually.  If you don’t want to do it or don’t know how, find a really good service center and plan on spending 4-5 days there every year.

9. Not understanding the rig.  If you go out on the road assured by the dealer that “you’re all set,” you’re going to have a nasty surprise someday.  A hitch part might break, a tire will go flat, an appliance will stop working, etc., and if you don’t really understand the systems, you’ll be at the mercy of whoever you meet who claims to.  AAA membership is not a substitute for having a spare and knowing how to use it.

Tip: (Shameless self-promotion here)  Get a copy of The Newbies Guide to Airstreaming.  For about $10, it’s the quickest, most reliable way to get up to speed quickly.  You can also get it from   Or, you can spend six months reading contradictory and often uninformed opinions on Internet forums.

In general, try to learn how to change a tire, jump a flat battery, grease the hitch, find and replace the fuses (all of them including truck and trailer), lubricate the locks, check the tires, test for gas leaks, winterize, and logically troubleshoot other problems.  As Robert Heinlein said, “specialization is for insects.”

10.  Choosing the wrong state of residence.  Some states have lower income taxes than others, some have punitive residency requirements, some are very expensive for vehicle registrations, and a few have perks (like discounted state resident rates for theme parks).  Think three times before you choose a state of residence.  It’s easiest if it matches your mailing address, but that’s not always necessary.

Tip:  Look at the cost of vehicle registrations, income taxes, health insurance rates, vehicle insurance rates, and residency requirements.  Once you’ve got a state picked out, move all your accounts to your mailing address, and get a passport too.

11. Not using online banking.   A lot of people just love paper statements, but you’ll find that if you don’t use e-billing to get your bills, you’ll often get hit with late charges on your credit cards and other bills.  That adds up fast, and can affect your credit rating.  These days banks are narrowing the gap between when they send your bill and when it must be paid.

Tip: Get every credit card, utility, bank, and other recurring relationship to send you an e-bill, or get rid of that vendor Have all your small recurring bills (cell phone, etc) billed automatically to your credit or debit card, to reduce the number of bills you get. Save copies of the e-bills on your computer as PDFs so you can refer to them if you need to.  Use online banking to simplify your bill paying. It’s generally free and easy to use.

12. Relying too heavily on the GPS.  GPS is a great tool and we love it, but it is no substitute for a good map, or common sense.  The GPS database won’t tell you about all the things you’d like to see, either.  But it will send you down a one-lane (or non-existent) back road to save 10 feet on the route.

Tip:  Use the GPS as just one of several tools.  Keep and use a good road atlas.  Research things to do on the Internet and through local brochures before you plan your route.  When traveling in the west always have a supply of drinking water in the truck, and be sure to ask locally for information before going on any dirt road.  When approaching state or national parks, always follow the official brown signs rather than the shortcut your GPS is advising.