Our First “Snowbird” Adventure
Part 1 Being a Part Time RVer

As part time RVers, our adventures are more of an extended vacation than the serious full time RVer

Our First “Snowbird” Adventure Part 1 Being a Part-Time RVer

By Micheal Whelan

Much is written in the journals, blogs and on line magazines about the “Full Timer” and vacation RV user. This article is about those of us that are part timers. Our adventures are more of an extended vacation than the serious sell the house and all that doesn't fit in an RV and hit the road on a full time basis. While we may live in our RV for a month, three months or three quarters of a year we still have a brick and mortar house and all of our “stuff” to return home to.

As my wife and I were about to retire we had planned to travel. Not to Europe or the Far East but to travel, experience, live all that North America has to offer. The DW (dear wife) and I decided to travel by RV. This decision was not based as much on economics, though RV travel does have economic benefits, but the desire to visit the small towns, plains, forests and lakes across the nation.

We wanted to meet the real people of North America and experience their many cultures. As any good researcher would do we waded into the magazines, books, blogs and hundreds of websites to learn as much as we could about the RV life style and experience before we made the leap from “in the house to on the road. We found little information that targeted the part time RV’er. 

I will share some of what we have experienced. Our adventures we have had and mistakes we have made may help those who want to travel by RV on a part time basis. Having owned various types of RV’s over the years our experience steered us to the purchase of a used Class A Winnebago Adventurer. Our logic was simple. We did not want to purchase another “tow” vehicle but a smaller vehicle that could be towed. We wanted the self-contained travel convenience of the motorhome. We would purchase a coach that was in great condition for the right price that met our extended travel needs.

The decision of trailer, fiver (fifth wheel), Class C, B, A for us was easy as we had traveled in all and knew our “retirement” travel style was met by both the Fiver and the Class A. We decided on used as there are some real values available on gently used, low milage and well maintained coaches. The gas or diesel argument would be determined by what we found on the market. I like both. The diesel is better in the steep terrain but is more expensive to maintain. The gas power plant has lower normal maintenance costs but works harder in the mountains. As we are flat landers most of our travel would be in the hills and low mountains of the east. Trips involving mountains would simply need to have good route planning to minimize the long steep grades of the west. Either  power plant worked for us so the number of available used vehicles just increased.

The decision as to what you buy is personal and based on how you want to travel. There are many great articles out there on the subject so I will leave it at that. As for us, we ended up with a 35 foot gas powered eleven year old motorhome that had 21,000 miles. The use had been so low that some of the factory plastic was still on the carpet. The power plant and drive train were in top shape, tires and batteries were new. It was ready to travel.

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Our First “Snowbird” Adventure
Part 1 Being a Part Time RVerFrom Our Travels: Sunrise at Corps Campground

One of our goals with our coach was to “try” being a "snow bird". We did not know if we would like the life style. If it turned out we were only going to be “week enders” the investment was minimal. Our first year vision of snow birding was to take two or three months and head to a warm climate.

As a challenge on our first trip we couldn't leave before mid to the end of December. By that time northern Michigan should have it's fair share of cold, snow and ice. This weather challenge will cause some extra work (partial winterizing) providing the opportunity to prep the coach in the cold. There is the issue of driving a vehicle designed for fair weather on wind blown ice covered roads. We would need good timing or need to invest in different winter tread tires.

While the weather was still nice we cleaned the coach, replaced the weak fog lights with the Hi-Viz LED driving lights, completed some basic maintenance on the chassis and air purged the water lines. While we had the good weather I removed the old 26 inch RCA analog television and replaced it with a new 32 inch Samsung smart TV and a Sony Blue-ray playerr. I also added an Apple TV, an internal wireless system with network drive (Apple Air Port Extreme) and made space for a multi function printer/scanner/copier. We intend to use my Samsung Galaxy 5 cell phone on AT&T for a hotspot. For voice communications we have the cell phone and our AT&T wireless home phone system.

All appliances were serviced and are ready for the extended winters trip. I ordered a remote temperature monitoring station for keeping tract of the temperatures of the water and holding tank areas. I added a Garmin 760 RV GPS and a TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system). The towing system (Blue Ox hitch and Brake Buddy Stealth auxiliary brakes). We could now tow the Jeep. Our winter hotel on wheels was ready.

As we are part timing we had to consider our home in Michigan and the winter it would face on its own. Our plan has check list of the not so obvious.

1. Shutting down the house.

    a) service furnace to operate at minimum (45 degree) house temperature.

    b) remove all items from the garage that will freeze and turn off the heat in the garage.

    c) shut down the water and allow lines to drain

    d) shut off water heater

2. Forward Mail to family mail service

3. Verify home owners service will cover an empty house for the three or four months

4. Do all doctor and dentist appointments

5. Set up financial to provide access to cash and put all credit card payments on line and regular bills on auto pay

6. Notify neighbors and 911 E-dispatch (via the web portal) of our absence

7. Contact lawn service for early spring clean up and possible mowing

8. Load the coach with 3 days of food, water and supplies.

9. Pack clothes, tools, movies, computers, guns, fishing poles and a list of things I will forget but should have packed

10. Lock door, connect Jeep, put Winnie in gear and head South

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Our First “Snowbird” Adventure
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For safety we had to time the weather. Our motorhome while designed for cold weather camping rides on conventional highway tires. Slippery roads, cross winds and highway speeds are not a good combination for safe RV travel. Our plan was to leave the Monday after Christmas. Our winter had been light so it looked like cold temperatures and dry roads. The day before Christmas the weather forecast changed. We would be getting our first major snow on Sunday. Our Monday departure date just changed. Quickly we put our final load in the coach, ran the check list on our home and left Christmas morning. We were amazed how quiet the highways are on Christmas morning. We were on our way.

About The Author

Mike and Diane WhelanMike and Diane Whelan

Micheal “Mike” Whelan is a retired wild land firefighter. He and his wife Diane recently retired with one goal of traveling and learning the true history of North America. By the true history he means the culture, the people, who their people were and why they live where they do and how they live. Mike retired from the emergency services in 1995 first working as a consultant and in 2001 starting a software business. The first product was scheduled to be released on September 10. When the attack came on September 11th the old product was shelved and immediately scaled to service the new requirements of the emergency responders. The intended local business went national the following year.

Necessity caused extensive travel across the U.S. and parts of Canada, always working and never having time to visit and get to know the people. The business was sold in 2015. Mike and Diane decided to get their affairs in order and begin visiting all of the places as a tourist often times becoming emerged in the local culture. They are part timers of snow birders having no desire to sell everything and hit the road. Now retired and no longer “working” from their RV on the road their adventure is just beginning.

The travel adventure includes extended two or three month travels as well as short one or two week trips in their 2003 Winnebago Adventurer. On long trips the take their “toad” (a 2014 Jeep Wrangler). Mike and Diane are photographers and explorers. Much of Mikes photo time is nature photography, Diane captures people, the unusual, often seen but seldom observed. They live in Traverse City, Michigan (a tourist capital in its own right) and use their motor home to visit their children and grand child. Blog site is http://michealwhelan.wix.com/whelans-on-the-road

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