Insane Drivers & Road Trip Cost

I wish I could say Al and I knew exactly what we were doing when we decided to drive 1,900 miles (3,058km) in four days, but I’d be lying. That was clearly some insane amount of driving and we’ve already promised each other never to push like that again. There was, however, a method to our madness!

Even though those four days weren’t consecutive, they were still exhausting. At the end of day three, we arrived at a beautiful CORP of Engineers campground just north of Des Moines, Iowa, and ended up sitting for two days waiting out some very nasty weather. I still don’t know how we managed to get so lucky snagging such an amazing campsite without a reservation. All I can say is the travel Gods smiled upon us and this turned out to be the perfect place to rest and wait out the weather.

Prairie Flower Campground, Iowa

Our reasoning for the insane driving was the weather. Tropical Storm Cristobal was hitting the Gulf Coast and edges of the leading winds from that storm could be felt across the Midwest. We endured some challenging crosswinds while driving east through Kansas as the winds were blowing up from the south. Once we turned north in Kansas City, we enjoyed a nice tailwind and brief respite from the negative winds.

It’s very unsettling to see semi’s turned on their sides from high winds. During our trip, we saw two overturned semi’s and witnessed numerous others swaying from the wind gusts and trying to stay in their lanes. Fortunately, our RV handles rather well in the wind. However, with that said, we do our best not to test Mother Nature which is why we planned to wait out the worst of the storm at a campground in Iowa.

Our crazy schedule

We departed Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday, June 6th, and by 5:45 in the morning, we were rolling north on Interstate 17. It was already 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21c) and would rise to over 100 degrees F (37c) in just a few short hours. Considering we had some serious elevation to climb (5,000 feet within a two-hour drive), we wanted to make that climb during the coolest part of the day. Over the years, we’ve seen one too many RVs / trucks stuck on the side of the interstate due to overheating. Plus, we know never to run the A/C as we make that climb while pulling the RV. So hitting the road early in the day at this time of year was paramount.

Travel Day 1

Phoenix, Arizona to Tucumcari, New Mexico = 615 miles / 12 hour day
Lodging/camping = Elks Lodge $20 for electric hookup (Elks members only)

Travel Day 2

Tucumcari, New Mexico to Newton, Kansas = 491 miles / 10 hour day.
Lodging/camping = Harvey County East Park $20 for electric hookup.

Harvey County East Park, Newton, Kansas (just north of Wichita)

This was a great little find. It’s about 7 miles east of Interstate 135 and north of Wichita, Kansas. Harvey County East Park appears to be an extremely popular place on weekends with anglers and boaters. We arrived around 4:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday as campers were clearing out. Check out time was 3:00, but folks didn’t appear to be in any hurry to leave. We snagged a nice long site so we wouldn’t have to disconnect, but the majority of sites appeared to be geared toward smaller RVs.

Travel Day 3

Newton, Kansas to Saylorville Lake, Iowa located just north of Des Moines and west of Interstate 35 = 398 miles / 8 hour day. Lodging/camping = Prairie Flower Campground $22 a night – half off with the National Park Senior Pass. Thus, we paid $11 a night and stayed 3 nights for a total lodging cost of $33. Our site had electric hookup only and was plenty long for us to stay connected.

Saylorville Lake, Polk City, Iowa

Our two-day break here was planned due to impending weather. Al and I are originally from the Midwest and are all too familiar with the possibilities of tornados in this part of the country. Therefore, we kept a close eye on the weather radar via my phone app. Much to our surprise, it wasn’t tornado activity we had to worry about but rather a tropical storm. Yep, remnants of a tropical storm had made its way into America’s heartland. As Tropical Storm Cristobal made its way inland, it brought sustained winds of 20-35 miles per hour with gusts much higher along with heavy rain … conditions we certainly didn’t intend to drive through. Nope, we would wait it out and return to the road during fair weather once the storm passed.

We enjoyed traveling the 2 lane roads through the Midwest. Windshield shot.

Travel Day 4

Saylorville Lake, Iowa to Al’s sister’s house located about 30 minutes outside of Hayward, Wisconsin = 390 miles / 8 hour day. We arrived in Hayward on Thursday, June 11th. Lodging/camping for the summer $0 in exchange for kitchen and bartender duty 🥧🍹 😎. Sounds like a fair trade to me especially since it’s lakefront property with a pontoon boat at our disposal 💃. We are happy campers, indeed!

How much did this road trip cost?

We drove 1,894 miles and consumed 214 gallons of diesel fuel at a total cost of $491. The most we paid for diesel was in Holbrook, AZ at $2.69 a gallon and the least was in Bethany, MO at $1.75 a gallon. Seriously, a $1.75 a gallon … how awesome was that! The average price was $2.29 a gallon.

Diesel fuel          $491
Campgrounds        73
Meals eaten out      0
Grand total         $564 for six days of travel and almost 1,900 miles

Total hours on the road = 38 hours which does include quick stops for gas. Only once did we sit at our RV dinette for lunch. The rest of the time, we ate while driving. So the breaks were short with our focus kept on outrunning the weather. In order for us to drive those long distances with an RV in tow and maintain our sanity was for Al and me to split the driving. Some days, Al drove more miles while other days I did more driving. It all depended on how rested we each felt. Safety always comes first!

Settling in!

We’ve been settled in at our summer location for a little over a week now, and are finally starting to feel recovered from the long drive. Al has been able to get in some fishing while I’ve been able to get in some photography. And although we intend to get in lots of playing this summer, there will also be a fair amount of work on the RV that we’ll need to tackle. Some projects will be a bit more serious than others. Ah, such is life!

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89 thoughts on “Insane Drivers & Road Trip Cost

  1. What an interesting play by play description of your trip. You kept if very economical, thou in truth, it’s never too inexpensive when you add up all the costs including the RV. We bought into a time share a few years ago. Travel is cheap, but the buy in and dues weren’t. However, it is a lot of fun. My husband didn’t like towing our trailer. We lost our transmission on our way back from Oregon to CA as we went through the mountains. We had an accidental vacation, which was fabulous. https://tchistorygal.net/2013/09/17/the-accidental-vacation/ So problems can become opportunities. 🙂

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    1. RV travel can be very stressful especially when a break down is involved. So I totally get your husband not enjoying the towing. Sounds like that was an interesting ‘vacation’. We’ve learned from experience how to keep our travel expenses in check.

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      1. The RV parks back there look amazing, too. Our parks are usually scenic but not always easy places to park. We just listed our house, and are planning a move to AZ. While we wait for a new home, we have toyed with the idea of getting a class C and going around the country. Kind of a weird time to do that, though with CVD, Thanks for the fun comment back. Hope you have a great week, Ingrid. 🙂

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        1. A Class C is the perfect size to explore in. We’ve talked about downsizing to a Class C but would want a regular house first. Where in AZ are you moving to?

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    1. I guess that kind of weather hitting this far inland is a rather rare happening. Fortunately, the worst of the storm stayed to the east of us. And now we’re settled into our location for the summer!

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  2. Ingrid, The Iowa campground is spectacular. Yes, the travel Gods smiled upon you. I cannot imagine semi’s turned on their sides. Scary! You have learned a great deal on your travels over the years and obviously how important the weather forecast is. You make me think, Ingrid, how sometimes it is also all about the destination. Especially when you arrive in beautiful areas and you are able to relax. Great photos!

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    1. Thank you Erica. Considering Al and I met (40 years ago) working in the airline industry, paying attention to the weather comes naturally to us. You learn early on to pay attention and be flexible … safety first. We love discovering new places that are beautiful and we sure scored during this trip.

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  3. Sometimes it’s all about the destination. Great inexpensive campsites, so glad you scored such a great site at Lake Saylorville, I hoped it would still be available when you got there. Since we’ll be here a few years we’re keeping an eye out for an older pontoon boat. Enjoy your time in WI, it sounds like a fair barter you’ve got going on there.

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    1. I love the idea of an older pontoon boat. You’ll enjoy it! They’re great for fishing, relaxing, and boat rides. I’m not complaining about the bartering. This is the perfect place for us to get some RV maintenance done and social distance from the rest of the world.

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    1. Even with comfy seats, those days were definitely long. Faced with the same circumstances, we’d probably do it again, but our goal isn’t to do a repeat. In retrospect, we should’ve taken the longer northern route and avoided the big storm. Ah, 20/20 hindsight! We were in such a hurry to get out of the 110 degree temps that I don’t think we cared what direction we went.

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  4. I’m glad you made it to Wisconsin safe and sound. What a haul!! Beautiful campgrounds and affordable as well! Your weather in Iowa doesn’t look too crappy based on the photo! 🙂 Smart to take a little break and avoid the heavy winds.

    We’ve learned from experience to turn the AC of the van off when climbing hills. Mark watches that “overheating” gauge closely these days, as we’ve had to deal with 90-degree weather for a week during our most recent “tour” in New England. Crazy!

    And how nice that diesel has been cheap. We’ve been paying $1.99 a gallon the last few times. Enjoy the summer!!

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    1. We did snag some nice campsites. The weather in Iowa was much milder than we anticipated. Although we did have the one day with sustained winds 30 mph+ with heavy rain, but the worst of the storm stayed to the east of us. We were wise to stay put for the two days.

      We’re loving the lower fuel prices. We might as well enjoy these prices while they last. Hope you guys have a great summer!

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  5. You guys certainly had some great campsites! Beautiful sunset photo as well. I’m looking forward to vicariously exploring Wisconsin for the next couple months!

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  6. Ingrid, it sounds like you’re (finally) in place for a sweet summer. As kids we visited my grandparents in Wisconsin for the summer, and it just doesn’t get any better. And the work arrangement you made is perfect. Enjoy your summer. 🙂 ~Terri

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    1. Agree, this is definitely a sweet spot to spend the summer and our ‘workamping’ duties are perfect 🤣 I grew up in northern IL and our family summer vacations were always spent in northern WI. It’s rather fun returning to my roots.

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  7. Hi Ingrid,
    We’ve been pleased with COE campsites…they are well maintained and always accompanied with pretty views out over a body of water.
    That’s a lot of driving in 4 days, but smart of you to take a break in the middle for the weather to improve.
    And now you can settle in and enjoy your (free!) summer spot!

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    1. Yes, COE campsites are some of the best and usually our first choice if available. We’re settling in to lake life and hope to crank out some RV projects in between the fun.

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  8. Those long days are killers. Unfortunately the weather in that area of the country often causes less than optimal driving conditions. We usually drive across the country twice a year and we’ve tried it slowly, visiting places along the way – and quickly, avoiding tornadoes and floods. Exhausting either way. We’re thinking seriously of stopping that nonsense altogether. Glad to hear that you’re at your nice lakeside retreat for the summer. Enjoy

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    1. I can relate … whether crossing the plains slow or fast, the weather is always an issue. Hmm, could you possibly give up the lake house? I already told Al, it’ll just be a matter of time before we won’t want to do this drive and we’ll be looking for something near Flag or Show Low for the summer. Hope your lower level finishing is going well. We have a summer filled with RV projects planned scheduled around lake fun. Hope we get it all done before the cold weather pushes us south.

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  9. Glad you made it safely and had some nice campsites. I could not make a drive like that but if I could, it would take me at least a week to recover. Hopefully it will be much cooler in WI than in AZ.

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    1. Agree … and it did take us a week to recover. I think we were so focused on outrunning the weather that we didn’t realize how exhausted the drive would make us. Oh well, it’s behind us now!

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    1. We’ve had a couple of nasty storms roll through here in our WI summer home base and were glad we weren’t out driving. Guess weather is all part of the adventure. Enjoy your summer!

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  10. Glad you made it safe and sound. We also hate pushing it! But sometimes it has to be done… just like you said.
    Enjoy the Summer Fun!

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  11. Just today we drove 375 miles in one day and that was a record for us. We’re trying to make time and take advantage of the flat states in the middle of the country, but even so, after several days of 200+ mile treks, we are TIRED. I’m not saying you two are nuts, but that’s totally what i’m saying.

    Glad you got there safely. Get some rest.

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    1. Yeah, that kind of driving in an RV was totally nuts, and we ain’t as young as we used to be which made it that much more tiring. Between weather and an RV maintenance issue, we felt we didn’t have much choice. That and Covid really messed with our original schedule of taking 2 weeks to get here as opposed to 4 days 🙄 Looking forward to hearing how the summer unfolds for you guys. I tried making reservations at a couple of different RV Parks for little getaways this summer, but they were already all booked or not open. Crazy and challenging times to be a full-time RVer!

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  12. Glad to read you’re safely there, Ingrid! Ahhhh…..the lake. You will enjoy your summer there I know. I thought about you both with driving through the remnants of the tropical storm, wondered how you made out, where you had to stop, if you did. Thanks for sharing your miles/hours. We’ve figured ourselves out that we average 50 miles/hour during a full day with our stops for toilet and food. Nice to see we’re ‘average’! 🙂

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    1. We never drive more than 65mph on the interstate. On this particular journey, we drove 2 lane roads half the time which took us through small towns where the speed limit drops to 35mph. Overall, we enjoyed the drive but next time we’ll definitely stretch it out. Fortunately, we were west of the worst of the tropical storm and just felt the outer edges, but we were smart planning that two-day stop.

      I’ve already seen a pair of mating GBH’s and an eagle fly by the house a couple of times. No photos of them yet, just the ducks and the geese.🦅🦆🦋

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  13. Oh wow…what a grueling trip! And to see semis overturned along the way is truly scary. So glad you guys made it safely and are now in a beautiful place to enjoy the summer. Relax and enjoy along with the projects you have scheduled! I’ll be living vicariously through you since we gave up our Wisconsin/Michigan trip this summer.

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    1. It’s no wonder with everything that has happened in your life over the past 12+ months that your summer sojourn has been put on hold. Perhaps next year! I’m not even sure we will leave private property this summer due to RV issues and the inability to get reservations at a couple of preferred locations. 2020 needs a restart! The challenges seem to keep rolling in from all directions 😥

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    1. We did score some really nice campsites and were thrilled with the diesel prices along the way. Loving lake life as I’m sure you are as well. I look forward to hearing how the next 12 months will unfold for you guys. Did you give up the site in Yuma or hanging on to it for 2021?

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  14. You made it, Ingrid (and Al)! What a trip! You really did make good time, as it seems just last week you headed out. Smart to consider the weather and plow on through. We love those tailwinds when we get them and have sadly seen our share of downed semis on our trips north. Our trailer is happily camped at our delta campground all summer and takes good care of us while there each weekend! It’s next trip will be north to Spokane in mid-September to wait for us. I envy your cheap gas prices. We spent that much $$ just driving in California and more during our last road trip to Phoenix and Las Vegas. Enjoy the cool weather and your pics are stunning!

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    1. I’m sure your TT is happy to be parked back at the Delta (as are you and Hans). We are definitely enjoying some cooler weather. What a contrast between Phoenix and Hayward. We’ve actually had to put the furnace on a couple of times to take the chill out of the air. 62 is a little too cold for my reptile blood 😆

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  15. It must feel so wonderful to have that long drive behind you! Now you can just settle in & enjoy the summer. Hope it brings you time to refresh & relax & enjoy💕

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    1. It feels great not having to drive for a while. We’re already getting in plenty of chilling and relaxing. Life at the lake is good. Now if only we didn’t have some RV repairs to tackle 😏

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  16. Good report, glad to see you are settled in. Checked the weather today in Mesa Arizona where we have friends who are working this summer there – 104 degrees… No thanks…

    Good pointers on mountain driving. Someday Karen and I are going to cross over the continental divide for the first time. Not sure yet which route is the best other than I-70 looks like the taller part?

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    1. It was 110 the day before we left Phoenix and way too hot for tin can living. And now I’m cold in northern WI 😆 My reptile blood requires a sweatshirt for anything below 75 degrees. I haven’t worn shorts in a week.

      When it comes time to cross the Continental Divide, feel free to email me. First, I would highly recommend getting a copy of the https://www.mountaindirectory.com/ Second, traveling east to west through Colorado will be the most challenging state. Interstates 40 or 10 are no big deal. You won’t even notice that you’ve crossed the divide other than noting the sign telling you. What little I can recall about I-90 isn’t too bad either, but I-70 has two serious climbs at Loveland Pass and Vail Pass … although the views are beautiful. I-70 is a major trucker’s route so it shouldn’t be any issue other than the questionable comfort level of a flatlander 😀 If in CO, we prefer crossing the divide via Hwy 50, but then again, we lived in CO over 20 years and our flatlander upbringing was eventually in the past.

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  17. Ingrid,

    Thanks for sharing the journey with us. Thanks also for the advice concerning hot weather travel while going up in elevation with AC running. I honestly had never considered that. We’ve made it to Casper, WY and it’s cool but WINDY. No awnings for sure. Crowds at Mt. Rushmore and Badlands very low with no tour busses or international travelers…kinda nice. Hope you get to visit the Apostle Islands. Your camera will love it! Joe

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    1. We had the most enjoyable boat ride around the Apostle Islands last year, so much so, that I think we’ll pass on the boat ride this year, but we will definitely visit Bayfield and may take the ferry over to Madeline Island depending on the weather.

      Definitely turn that A/C off when pulling those grades. AND never leave an RV awning left out overnight or when not at your campsite. Winds in the west can come up out of nowhere and ripe an awning off in short order. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen folks from east of the Miss River get their awnings destroyed. I’ve been known to politely recommend/inform only to be ignored and later be entertained by their awning wrestle.🤣 This ain’t my first rodeo!

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    1. I can’t wait to start the reno but first, we have a couple of serious maintenance issues to tackle … not fun. The redecorating will be fun. I’ve been dying to do this. However, due to the time constraints necessary for the repairs, I’ll need to tackle the remodel in stages. Thus, the painting of the cabinets will need to be postponed 😥 We’re at the perfect place to tackle a total remodel, but may not have the time. So gotta pick priorities! Right now, the RV is covered in floor and wall samples 😆 and I’m close to a final decision.

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  18. Dear Ingrid and Al

    Lewis and I will be driving the RV from Charleston to San Francisco this week in order to attend a wedding. Your advice is well taken as the journey might be better than the destination.

    Happy Motoring!

    Nancy

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    1. Safe travels to you two! I’m sure it’ll be fun to be back out on the road. Hopefully, you or Lewis will share your journey via Facebook. 😊

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  19. Welcome back to Wisconsin !! Hope you brought your deep woods OFF. Will eventually come to visit. I do have Charm’s number and directions. Back to enjoying Fish Fry Friday and Prime Rib Saturdays.

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  20. I do not envy you that drive! 400 miles in a day is a long one for me! But your spot in Iowa looks lovely. We love COE parks. Have a great summer in Hayward. I grew up spending time at extended family’s cabins near Lampson and Danbury, tiny burgs west of Hayward. Good memories.

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    1. I grew up camping near Hayward during summer vacations which makes it so much fun for me to return to the area. Next time you guys head out this way, keep Saylorville Lake in mind … specifically the Prairie Flower CP. We loved it. Al graduated from Iowa State and had no clue about the lake. After a little research, he realized it was under construction and not completed until after he graduated which is why he didn’t know about it. It sure was the perfect place to take a break after some grueling travel days.

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      1. Thanks for the tip. We stayed at Anita Lake SP west of Des Moines last Aug. Very lovely also. Iowa is very pretty. We have driven through many many times with a hotel stay near Des Moines. With the rv we actually stopped to enjoy the peace and quiet! Enjoy the Northwoods! And Happy Anniversary.

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  21. Hello Ingrid,
    I’m glad to read that you’ve arrived safe and sound at your final destination! And thanks for your interesting and – for me – highly enlightening – article about RV-ing. It’s especially enlightening for me as – you know – Mary and I are thinking of renting an RV this year. It was just yesterday, that I did a lot of “driving over the map with my fingers”, as we say in Germany. I mapped out a RV-trip to the Southwest and back, and it’s just there that your experiences come in handy, especially as I don’t know what average speed I can calculate with. Usually, with our Escape, I reckon 60 miles per hour average on Interstates. That includes times for potty and gas breaks. We normally don’t go above 70 mph, even if we could. On smaller highways I calculate 50 miles per hour average. Well, for an RV I’d calculate a little less but very like not too much. Well, there’s a lot of time still, as we’re only planning – if we decide at all to go on a trip – for September/October.
    For your stay up there in Wisconsin, I wish you all the best.
    Enjoy your stay, good luck with the needed repairs, and – most of all – stay healthy,
    Pit

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    1. Yes, traveling via an RV is definitely a little slower going than in just a regular vehicle, but it is great having your home with you at all times. Whenever you do decide to rent that RV, feel free to reach out for any suggestions. Be sure and check out my “RV resource” page for the tools we use to help us in this lifestyle.

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      1. Thanks again, Ingrid, for offering your help: I appreciate that very much. And I’ll certainly holler if I need (more) help. Just now I’m wondering/thinking about “mobility”: on the one hand travelling in an RV would make us somewhat more independent, but on the other hand, since we’d have the RV only, and no other means of transport, I don’t really know how this would work out when we’re at an RV park and still wanted to do some sightseeing. We’ll see.

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        1. Thank is the biggest dilemma when renting an RV – not having that second vehicle to explore. Best of luck deciding what’s the best way to travel.

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            1. That happens all the time, no different than a hotel room. Once you’ve paid for the site, you can come and go. A private RV park is a lot easier in these situations. It can be a little tricky at the ‘first come, first serve’ kind of campground where folks don’t always look at the paid tag on the pedestal showing occupancy and think a vacant site is available. In these circumstances, folks will sometimes leave their outdoor chairs on the site or use an orange cone indicating the site is unavailable.

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  22. You two are certifiable, but sometimes outrunning the weather is a necessary evil. We had 60 mph winds here, lost a big tree limb and some of my clematis ended up on the ground. It was one full day and night of raining sideways..not a good travel day. We sat through hurricane winds in our camper once at Ajo, AZ one January..It blew our neighbor’s travel trailer off the jacks, and another neighbor lost his camper door. We had a day and a night of sustained 80mph winds in the Hiker, didn’t sleep a wink, and were just waiting for out big rear window to blow out..which it didn’t, Thank God. Enjoy Hayward. My grandparents had a cabin in Northwoods Beach subdivision back in the 50’s on Grindstone Lake…Love it up there!!

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    1. We felt that outer edge of that storm that brought down your tree limb. Fortunately, we were enough west that we avoided the worst of it. We’re so glad we took that break when we did. Not only for the physical rest but the avoidance of that storm. Those winds get very scary while living in an RV and I know all too well about those sleepness nights wondering … !

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  23. marathon drives. BLAH! We did them whenever we had to leave Canada after winter set in and we had to get far south before we could use the water n our RV again. NOT fun. We loved our chances to stay at Army Cops of Engineer campsites. BTW there is an really nice one not far from Joplin in Kansas at “Big Hill” (nearest town Cherryvale) that has full hook ups for $10/night and open year round. We stopped there almost every year coming and going when we were going south.

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    1. Sounds like you certainly understand the need for the crazy long days of driving. Weather avoidance is definitely a factor. Thanks for sharing the park near Joplin. I will keep that one in mind. Hopefully, we won’t have any serious weather to deal with when we head back to AZ. Unless we’re outrunning snow 🙄

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    1. Long haul indeed. So glad that drive is behind us and we can look forward to the return trip in the fall 😏(not). I assure you, it’ll be at a much slower pace!

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