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Traveling with no regret

Must Have Pieces of Equipment to Safely Operate Your RV — November 4, 2020

Must Have Pieces of Equipment to Safely Operate Your RV

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” –Benjamin Franklin

Recently, we’ve had friends and family who have purchased their own RV and they have had lots of questions about what tools we use for various tasks.  We understand.  We had those questions too!  So, I write this blog for anyone just getting started or thinking about making the leap into the RV life! 

As we prepared to buy our RV, we immersed ourselves in reading RV related materials and watched our favorite YouTube RV families for advice.  So, by the time we bought our RV, we had purchased a lot of the vital tools we felt were needed to go camping the day we picked up our RV.  Yes, you might think all you need are some chairs, firewood, S’mores supplies, and hiking boots but you will find that the suggestions in this blog are for the fundamental operation and safety of your new RV.

Making ourselves at home and welcoming you to follow our adventures!

Buying an RV is an exciting and sometimes intimidating experience.  The best part is that you will have a piece of equipment that you can take nearly anywhere while having all the comforts of home you might want.  However, most RVs will not come with some of the equipment essential to it’s safe operation. 

To get you safely started with your camping experience, these are 4 areas of your RV where we feel you will need the right equipment to enjoy your camping experience. 


Water is an important feature of nearly any RV and dealing with the water that goes into your rig is important.  To deal with water safely, we suggest a water pressure regulator, water filter, and two water hoses.

As you go from campground to campground, you will find that the water pressure can differ. Any sudden, strong water pressure can cause damage to your RV’s water system and a regulator is a great tool to have to protect you from possible costly repairs.

We also choose to use a water filter.  Water quality in campgrounds can be unknown so it’s better to be safe than sorry for both your water system and for you and your family if you choose to drink the water. A simple filter will be a tool you rarely think about but it can prevent contaminates from entering your water system and possibly making you sick.

Using a water filter to protect us and our rig

Finally, for most RV’s, it’s a good idea to have two water hoses, one for your potable water and the other for rinsing your black tank. 

When we are camping in a campground, the hose for our potable water will be hooked up to the campground’s water supply through our water pressure regulator & filter. This is the water we use to shower and wash dishes.

The hose for rinsing your black tank should be for that use purpose only.  All supplies for the black tank maintenance should be kept apart and separate to prevent cross contamination and we suggest caution on this point.  Not only are our hoses separate, but they also differ in color so there is no error in which hose is being used.

Black tank supplies

Speaking of the black tank! Dealing with this part of your RV can be a messy job and it is vital to do everything you can to keep your tank as clean as possible and to prevent cross contamination when emptying your tank. 

We found it odd that our RV did not come with a sewer hose but it was just as well.  We opted to purchase the best hose we could get to ensure that we had the absolute right tool for this particularly important function!  We also opted for a clear elbow that goes into the sewer point.  As gross as it sounds, you want to know when the liquids are running clear so you know that your tank is clean. 

We also carry gloves, anti-bacterial wipes, and paper towels, all kept separately in a large zipped plastic bag and solely dedicated to the black tank operation.  We make the task a two person job.  While my husband is the “surgeon,” dealing with the surgical operation of actually hooking everything up and dumping the tanks, I follow along as the “Surgical Assistant,” passing tools and staying as uncontaminated as possible with the goal of keeping the procedure as clean and tidy as I can.  When the process is finished, I pass him anti-bacterial wipes and a paper towel if needed.  I have a trash bag at the ready for his gloves and the used anti-bacterial supplies, all of which I dispose of.  We work in concert to ensure that our supplies are not cross contaminating and we stay healthy.  I’m sure that anyone watching thinks we are germaphobes, and we are!  

Leveling Equipment & Chocks

No matter whether you like to boondock or camp in a Resort campground, getting your RV level might not seem like an important task.  However, being level is important for your comfort as well as the proper operation of some of your RV’s equipment, most notably, some RV refrigerators.  So, what do you do to get level?

Some lucky RV owners have equipment that is already part of their rig that automatically levels, making this task fairly simple.  Having a trailer, we started with an actual level but later purchased a Level Mate Pro Leveling System.  This turned out to be the best purchase for our RV ever!  Part of the system is installed in your RV and hooked to a smart phone through blue tooth technology.  It makes getting level a breeze from left to right and front to back.

We also have blocks that my Dad made us that have been a vital tool in helping us be solidly in place in even the most unlevel site we experienced.  We also use an Anderson Leveler/Chock kit and a Trailer Tongue Jack stand (all of these tools can be found on Amazon).

Finally, a sturdy set of wheel chocks are a must to keep your RV from moving as you camp.

Surge Protector and Dog Bone power adapter

Protecting the electrical system in your RV is something to consider.  Just as water pressure can be vary from campground to campground, electrical services can be equally unpredictable.  No matter where you enjoy camping, if you plug into any electrical service, if you don’t have a surge protector, your RV could experience a damaging power surge.  

We also have a Dog Bone power adapter.  Most campgrounds offer 30 and 50 amp hookups but on occasion, you could find instances when a campground does not offer the amp level you need and this handy tool will help to convert power.

With these basic supplies, you can get out there and safely enjoy your new equipment and the great places you can go with it! 

Remember, safety first.  Know your rig and it’s limits.   Our advice when setting up and breaking down camp is to follow a checklist, check behind yourself repeatedly, and never be in a hurry (even when it’s raining cats & dogs)!

Let us know if there are any other vital pieces of equipment that you use that make your camping life a breeze. 

Safe Travels!

Virginia State Parks Campground Series, Part II: Belle Isle, Pocahontas, and Powhatan State Parks — August 17, 2020

Virginia State Parks Campground Series, Part II: Belle Isle, Pocahontas, and Powhatan State Parks

“Let’s go camping and not come back for a while.”  –Unknown

When I was growing up, my parents took my brother and me to several Virginia State Parks that left us with memories of horseback riding, butter churning, summer days swimming in a pool, and fishing at the edge of dams and beautiful lakes.  Little did I know then, that as an adult, my Husband and I would look to the beautiful State Parks of Virginia for our camping adventures. 

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) takes pride in managing 38 State Parks with an obvious focus on land conservation and access to all Virginians and others visiting our State, boasting a State Park within one hour of every Virginian.  Within the parks, there are more than 500 miles of trails, thousands of campsites, cabins, and recreational spaces and facilities for biking, boating, fishing, picnicking, swimming, and equestrian space. 

For today’s blog, I am highlighting 3 of the Virginia State Parks in which we have camped so far this summer; Belle Isle, Pocahontas, and Powhatan State Parks. 

Belle Isle State Park: Address: 1632 Belle Isle Road, Lancaster, VA.; Opens March 1 and closes the 1st Monday of December; Rates: $35 per night, $245 per week (*rates vary per website); Acreage: 733

Website: www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/belle-isle

Sunset at Belle Isle State Park

The location of a Virginia plantation in the 19th century, Belle Isle still partially functions as farm land.  It is the first State Park to be purchased by the State of Virginia under the 1992 Parks & Recreational Facilities Bond Referendum and boasts 7 miles of shoreline on the Northern Neck of the Rappahannock River that provides a diverse habitat for birds and wildlife. 

For visitors, the park offers picnic shelters, hiking, biking, bridle trails, motor boat and car top launches, bicycle and canoe rentals, playgrounds, boardwalk and fishing pier, and overnight lodging. 

The campground hosts 34 sites, 1 bunkhouse, 1 cabin, and 1 lodge.  Amenities include a full service bathhouse, dump station, water and electric hookups, fire rings, and picnic tables.  The park also offers a hike-in or boat-in primitive campground. 

Our huge site at Belle Isle State Park

Our Review: We found the park to be very spacious, clean, and well maintained, with heavily wooded campsites, plenty of wildlife for a Disney Princess, and beautiful sunsets that can be viewed in wide open spaces over the nearby river.  The park was one of the most remote of this group and making sure we had the supplies we needed was important.  The nearest spot to grab supplies was 30-45 minutes away in each direction. 

Pocahontas State Park; Address: 10301 State Park Road, Chesterfield, VA.; Open year round for camping; Rates: $35 per night, $245 per week (*rates vary per website); Acreage: 7,950.

Website: www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/pocahontas#cabins_camping

Named after Chief Powhatan’s famous daughter, Pocahontas, and 20 miles from Richmond, Virginia’s State Capital, Pocahontas State Park is the largest and oldest State Park in Virginia, established in 1946. 

Pocahontas State Park has three lakes and hosts a large aquatic center, boat rentals, banquet halls, cabins, picnicking facilities, 2,000 seat amphitheater, 90+ miles of hiking trails, bridal trails, and is the site of the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum that is dedicated to depression era workers responsible for developing what would become Pocahontas State Park and the National Park Service’s Prince William Forest Park. 

The campground has 130 sites, 4 Yurts, and 6 cabins.   Amenities include full service bathhouses, dump station, water and electric hookups, fire rings, and picnic tables.   

Our first site at Pocahontas State Park

Our Review: This is a very big park with something for everyone.  It’s services are busy with day use visitors and despite the large campground, it is well maintained and quiet.   Our first site was across from the children’s playground and a wide open space for games.  Our second site was heavily wooded and private.  So close to Richmond, the park itself  feels like a wooded oasis in the middle of suburbia. 

Powhatan State Park; Address: 4616 Powhatan State Park Road, Powhatan, VA; Open from the 1st Friday in March to the 1st Monday in December; Rates: $35 per night, $245 per week (*rates vary per website); Acreage: 1565

Website: www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/powhatan#cabins_camping

The beautiful wide open spaces of Powhatan State Park

On the James River and 45 minutes from Richmond, Powhatan is the newest State Park in Virginia, founded in 2013.  It sits remotely positioned in the northwest corner of Powhatan County among wide open farm land.  The park offers a playground, boat launch, bridal trails, 12 miles of trails, and fishing.

The campground has 3 yurts and 29 campsites with some pull through sites that can accommodate up to RVs up to 60 feet.   Amenities include a full service bathhouse, dump station, water and electric hookups, fire rings, and picnic tables.  The park also hosts a canoe-in or hike-in campground accessible by the James River.  There are 9 primitive sites that are open year round.  These sites have a composting toilet but do not have water or electricity. 

We could not see another camper from our site in Powhatan State Park

Our Review: The smallest of the parks we’ve visited so far, it is one of our favorites.  It is quiet and well maintained.  The sites are well positioned and spaced out.  This is however, the first Virginia State Park that warned us to be Bear aware, warning campers how to secure their equipment and food stores from area bears.  While we did not encounter bears on our first trip, we did see deer that come to the road and trails. The rangers were friendly and informative and there were regular patrols through the campground. 

We love our State Parks.  Of those we have visited so far, many of the sites are “site specific,” or by reservation, but there are also sites that are first come, first served.  Check in is 4pm and check out is 1pm.  Each park is very distinct in it’s landscape but the campgrounds are maintained in a consistent manner.  Some sites are gravel while other are black top and we’ve been happy to have been in at least two sites that have been level! 

We have enjoyed a summer in the Virginia State Parks and plan to explore as many of the other parks as we can while continuing to go back to our favorites as well.  We look forward to fall camping and enjoying a warm fire and the fall colors.  We recommend the Virginia State Parks, not only for camping, but for anyone that enjoys outdoor activities.  If going for the day, be aware that there is a $5 parking fee in all of the parks. 

Our State’s moto is, “Virginia is for Lovers” and that is true.  If you love lakes, beaches, mountains, hills, wide open spaces, and walking in the woods, Virginia has a State Park that you will enjoy.  Come visit us!

3 Styles of Camping: What Style Do You Prefer? — August 10, 2020

3 Styles of Camping: What Style Do You Prefer?

“Making memories one campsite at a time.  –Unknown

As we prepared to buy our RV, we dreamed of all the fantastic places we would go with our new equipment in search of adventure, rest, and space.    As we have started to plan, make reservations, and started exploring, we have discovered the importance of understanding what style of camping we prefer. So, what style of camping do you prefer?

When you started thinking about buying your RV, I bet you thought to yourself, “This is a cheap way for us to vacation as a family.”  We thought that too and it can be true and false! For today’s blog, I’m not addressing the cost of the actual RV and what seems like the endless gear that you will need (or want) to camp safely and comfortably.  Instead, we’re talking about where you’re going  when you pack up, hook up, and head out.  What type of camping are you comfortable with and how much are you willing to pay?   

Uplash/Airstream Inc.

Whether you are a full timer or a weekender, if you are on a budget, and let’s be honest, a lot of us are, you should know that the cost of camping can vary wildly and some factors, like the time of the year, location, or the type of camping you prefer can mean a campsite can be pretty pricey or maybe event free! Some of your considerations should be: how big is your rig?  Do you need water, electricity, sewer, and other amenities?  Where are you going and what do you want to do when you get there?  Do you like all the creature comforts of home or are you a minimalist seeking wide open spaces and a more basic, budget friendly (free) camping experience? And of course, for those of us who boarder posh and minimal, there are option for us as well.    

Types of camping

Boondocking/Dry Camping/Dispersed Camping:  The early settlers of the United States could be considered boondockers-in the extreme! They pulled over and camped where ever they could. Today, the boondocking style of camping means that you are going off grid and camping for free. Also known as dry camping or dispersed camping, boondocking means that you are self contained and not connected to resources like water, electricity, or sewer.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows campers to camp for free.  In most of these areas, you can stay for up to two weeks at a time.   The upside is that BLM land is in some of the most beautiful parts of the United States so you could end up camping in a campsite like no other and you could possibly be out there all by yourself or with a very few like minded folks that you can see across the landscape!  BLM land is also “off road” so there will not be paved roads and campsites.  This can sometimes mean muddy or rough terrain.  For this option, you have to consider if you can get in and out of an off road situation safely and you have to carry in all supplies that you will need such as water, gasoline for your generator or an enhanced battery or solar option for power, if preferred, and all other necessary survival supplies.  A grocery store or gas station is definitely not around the corner from these spots and it is also likely that you will have poor to no cell service and thus no internet service. 

Uplash/Rob Hayman

State Parks, National Parks & Harvest Host: State and National Parks are great options in which to camp.  For the State Parks we’ve visited, most sites are large and we often have a nice space between us and our fellow campers.  Virginia State Parks offer water and electricity with an off site dump station and very clean, well maintained bath houses.  State Parks and National Parks also offer great trail systems and are often part of an outdoor recreational system around bodies of water, mountains, natural sights of all types, or even beaches so the “entertainment” factor is typically about where you are rather than a resort feel.  For this option however, if you have a big rig, be aware that some of the older State and National Parks may not have sites large enough to accommodate you.  At 26 feet, we are not big but we have already found some State Parks that we won’t fit in!  Also, depending on which park you are interested in, the more popular ones fill quickly.  Some take reservations while other are first come, first served.  Some National Park Campgrounds offer water, electric, and sewer, while others do not.  Be sure to do your research so you are prepared. 

Harvest Hosts: If you like the idea of Boondocking but there is no BLM land near you, as is our case, Harvest Hosts is a membership that gives you access to a network of 1000 wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms, museums, and other unique locations including golf courses that host RV’s on their properties.  This option gives you an overnight camping spot in a non-traditional setting for free with the expectation that you will support the business on the property.  Who doesn’t like a good wine tasting, scooping up some fresh produce, milk, eggs, or meat for dinner, or playing a round of golf?  The Hosts do not typically provide services that you would find at a campground so this is a boondocking option but a small number of Hosts do offer electricity or water.  This could be found on the Host’s information page which you would have access to with your membership.  You can use a generator but it is recommended to check with your Host first out of courtesy to them and any other HH members who may also be at the location. Find Harvest Hosts at http://www.harvesthosts.com.

Uplash/Andrew Hunt

RV resorts, Private Campgrounds, Thousand Trails: You can choose to stay in a private RV Resort if you prefer to have more of the creature comforts.  Just know going in, you’re likely to pay a pretty penny for all the extras that are often offered such as elaborate pool facilities, shuttles to nearby attractions, equipment rentals, game rooms, events and entertainment, cable TV, and laundry facilities, to name a few.  Private resorts can and do set their own rates that often vary by season and/or location and those rates can sometimes be eyebrow raising for us. In our experience, some private campgrounds mean tight quarters with your neighbors.  This is usually not an option we enjoy but it is a great option for fun family activities that are scheduled on the hour and a way to entertain your kids.  

Thousand TrailsThousand Trails is a membership campground company operating private trailer parks and RV resorts.  The membership is a one time fee with annual dues that give you access to network parks and resorts within your chosen plan.  Again, do your research. When considering a Thousand Trails membership, consider where you want to go, the locations you would have access to, and how much you will use your membership. You can find them at http://www.thousandtrails.com.   

So, what style of camping do we prefer?  We like to get away from the everyday and we learned quickly, as weekenders, that we like to get into the woods and we prefer our space.  We have stayed in a campground in which we had neighbors within steps which we did not enjoy. We have quickly fallen in love with Virginia’s State Parks, finding them well maintained and in great locations.  We will be squeezing in with the crowds once in a while, knowing that this may be required to get where we want to go. We also have a Harvest Host membership that we plan to use for the first time very soon.  I’m sure that I’ll share that adventure with you too! 

Do you have a style of camping that you prefer?  I’d love to hear what style of camping you enjoy and why.  Regardless of the option you prefer, the important thing is that you choose what you’re comfortable with and that you have fun!

8 Tips For Buying Your Dream RV — July 20, 2020

8 Tips For Buying Your Dream RV

“Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures.” –Lewis Carroll

I had the TV on the other day, just for noise. I wasn’t really watching but a commercial caught my attention when I heard the voice over announce that “2020 is The Year of the RV vacation.”  For us, that has been very true and we have plans to take our new RV out through October.  My guess is that we are not alone and we know that a lot of you are out there shopping!  Good for you! 

As we reflect on our purchase, we want to share some advice that I hope you find helpful as you look for your new home on wheels. 

  1. Do Your Research

When shopping for an RV, the options can seem endless and I can’t recommend enough that you research, research, research!  We shopped RV shows, watched YouTube videos on the models we were interested in (EVERYTHING is on YouTube), and read reviews & blogs on RV manufacturers and their products.  We are pretty certain that by the time we made our purchase, we likely knew as much or possibly more about the RV we bought than the salesman who sold it to us and by the time we were actually standing in our RV with that salesman, we had no questions whatsoever.

Understand that our purchase was not a sudden one.  In fact, we researched and shopped for two years.  That might seem extreme but we felt that this was a major purchase of a piece of equipment we wanted to be sure we understood how to operate safely.  We also wanted to be sure our new RV would be well made and had all the features we were looking for.  Having camped as kids, we remember the fun and adventure of it all  but as kids, we didn’t understand all the ins and outs of owning and maintaining an RV and there is a lot to learn!

2. Rent an RV before you buy

We rented an RV early in our marriage and went from Miami to Key West and had a great time!  In the fall of 2019, as we were working on our decision to buy our own RV, we rented again in the Amish Country of Pennsylvania to make sure we still enjoyed RVing.    

Renting gets you into an RV at a reasonable price without making a commitment you might find out is not a good one for you or your family.  Renting helps to get a feel of the space and a chance to try out basic equipment.  It’s a great litmus test before jumping into a major purchase. 

We enjoyed our two rentals with Cruise America, www.cruiseamerica.com.

Trying out a rental in Pennsylvania

3. Know your budget

How much do you want to spend?  When you start looking, it’s easy to fall in love with the RV you don’t want to afford!

4. What kind of camping do you want to do?

As you consider what kind of RV you want, the right choice means considering your needs and abilities and knowing your boundaries. 

Are you a weekend warrior or full timer?  Will you camp in a RV park with full hookups or will you consider boondocking?  How many do you need to sleep?  Do you have “toys” you want to haul?  Are you an empty nesters and want to be nimble and small or big and luxurious?  WHERE will you camp and can those places accommodate the size of your rig?

Consider the size of your rig.  Along with how many your RV needs to sleep, how large are the holding tanks? If you want to go to the National Parks, could you fit your 40+ foot Toy Hauler in a campsite?  We asked ourselves, how small where we willing to go?  There was an answer!  One of the biggest issues for us was bed position.  We didn’t want to have to crawl over each other to get in or out of the bed.  We are tall so a corner bed felt coffin-like and was a firm no!

We are all different in our opinions of how we enjoy the camping experience and no one way is right or wrong.  However, considering what type of camping you are open to is a good place to start.

5. Know your resources

Do you have RV dealers in your area that are reputable and have good reviews?  Do they sell the type of rig you’re interested in?  For us, we are not fans of what we refer to as a “slick salesman.”  We prefer someone that is informative, helpful, knows the product, and is not going to give an intense sales push.  We will run from a dealership or a salesman that seems desperate to have us sign on the dotted line.  We also recommend that you consider the level of customer service your dealer will offer.  Are they open to helping you with questions?  When you reach out to them, do they respond quickly?  If you aren’t comfortable with how you’re treated, find someone else!  If you have family or friends that bought an RV, ask them where they made their purchase and if they were happy with the experience.

6. Go to an RV show

I lost count of how many shows we went to!  However, I can identify the biggest ones: the Hershey RV Show in Hershey, Pennsylvania in 2017 and the Florida RV Supershow in Tampa, Florida in 2020.  We also hit every local and regional show we could in between. 

Looking over the ocean of new RVs at the 2017 Hershey RV show. Ready to shop!

RV shows are a great place to see a wide variety of RVs with very little sales pressure while still giving you the opportunity to kick the tires, sit in the space, and take a look up close.  Keep an open mind.  This was great advice we got in Tampa. Believe it or not, while we had an idea of what we wanted, we had still not made a decision when we arrived in Tampa. 

Look at everything!  Can you see yourself in the space?  Check out the storage spaces, bathroom, and the bed.  Do you think you can handle the size of the RV you’re considering?  Will you pull and if so, do you have a vehicle that can tow the weight of your dream RV?  Every tow vehicle is rated differently so do your research.  Check the owners manual for your specific vehicle (most can be found on line).  Don’t take any salesman at his word when he tells you, “Sure!  Your truck can pull this!”

BA & Blanche make a great pair!

7. Consider all the options and narrow down your choice

By the time we went to Tampa for the RV Supershow, we were getting close to a decision.  On the first day at the show, our focus was on trailers and Class Cs.  We had been going back and forth with the pros and cons of both options for months and hoped that a big RV show might help us decide. When we stopped for lunch, I felt it was time to check our progress so I asked my husband, “Trailer or Class C?”  Our responses were trailer for me and Class C for him.  After all the research and shopping we had been doing since 2017, I must admit that I was a little frustrated that we were still undecided, believing that this was the show where we could make our decision at last.  We were struggling.  So after we finished lunch, we kept going.  By the end of the day, we had found what we thought was the perfect fit for us and we decided to sleep on it and come back the next day to talk with the representatives of the RV again and possibly make a deposit.  The next day, we decided to take one last look at Grand Designs before making a final decision.  I had fallen in love with Grand Designs at our first ever RV show in 2017, we examined them again at the 2017 Hershey show, and their RVs got my vote from the very beginning.  My Husband liked them too and going back that last time, helped us to make a decision.    We did not buy at the show but we left feeling that it was time well spent because we finally knew what we wanted, without a doubt. 

We bought a 2020 Grand Design Imagine XLS, 22RBE.  While we eventually came back to nearly the first RV we ever considered (and fell in love with, by the way), we made sure to consider all the options and we are confident knowing that we chose the right rig for us, for now…  We named her Blanche.  We paired her with our RAM 1500 Bighorn! We call her Bad Ass, or BA for short. 

Our new Grand Design Imagine XLS 22RBE

8. YouTube & Thinking Outside the Box

If you aren’t wild about buying a new RV, consider the other alternatives, which can be just as diverse as buying new.   As part of our RV purchase, we have watched hours and hours of RV YouTubers, listening to their advice and enjoying where they take us on their travel.   

There are YouTubers out there that live in vans, buses, and used RVs of every shape and model.  These are people that are handy and creative and see potential in building out their tiny homes on wheels to fit what they want their adventures to be.  We’ve watched in awe as they’ve taken an empty van or dilapidated RV that no one would give the time of day and turn them into the coziest homesteads on wheels.  This is always an option for the brave, creative souls that want to live simply.  

Whatever option you choose, I would always recommend doing so with research and consideration, knowing that, it’s okay if it ends up not being perfect.  We learned so much through our process and now that we own an RV, the learning is still happening!  I think even the most seasoned full timer would agree that every day brings something new to learn.  The RV community has great advice in on line groups as well. Just check Facebook and Instagram to start following a group or an individual that inspires you or you feel a kindred spirit with. Please feel free to reach out if you would like some suggestions.  

Best wishes to you as you look for your home on wheels and safe travels!

A Weekend Getaway in the Blue Ridge Mountains — June 30, 2020

A Weekend Getaway in the Blue Ridge Mountains

“Let’s find some beautiful places and get lost together.”  –Unknown

We own an RV that we use to escape on weekends and so far, it’s been great fun.  While our long term goal is to RV for longer periods to some bucket list places, currently, we are weekend warriors exploring our home state of Virginia.  Recently, we ran away to the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Living along the East Coast of Virginia, we are lucky to have the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains not too far away.  The mountains are beautiful in every season and regardless of the time of year, a cool mountain breeze and an epic overlook always puts life into perspective.  

If you are passing through Central Virginia or are in need of a weekend adventure, here are some top ideas for you if you have a few days in the Blue Ridge.

Visit Monticello: Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, Monticello is the home of Thomas Jefferson our Nation’s third President, Founding Father, principle author of the Declaration of Independence, diplomat, and architect.  Monticello is still, to this day, a reflection of Mr. Jefferson’s love of architecture and gardening.  Perched on a mountain above Charlottesville, there are sweeping views in every direction, lovely gardens to stroll through, and friendly docents and Jeffersonian experts always ready to teach you the history of the place and answer your questions when you visit.  Before you visit, check the website at www.monticello.org for ticketing and helpful hints for your visit.  If you’re a history buff, love architecture or gardening, Monticello is a great way to spend several hours.

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Pick your own fruit:  There is nothing better than picking your own fruit right from the tree.  If you are looking to pick your own or grab a taste to grab and go, visit the farms below.  Be sure to check out their websites for the crops in season and the wonderful goodies you can enjoy like apple cider and apple cider donuts!

Find them at www.chilesfamilyorchards.com

Carter Mountain Orchard, 1435 Carters Mountain Trail, Charlottesville, Virginia (apples).

Chiles Peach Orchard, 1351 Greenwood Drive, Crozet, Virginia (peaches).

Spring Valley Orchard, 3256 Spring Valley Road, Afton, Virginia (cherries).

Tom Swinnen/Uplash

Skyline Drive: Skyline Drive is a 105-mile road that runs the length of the National Park Service’s Shenandoah National Park.  It runs between Front Royal, Virginia and Charlottesville.  Skyline Drive is known for it’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, waterfalls, and epic views.  For details about the Drive and where to stop or stay, be sure to visit their website at www.visitskylinedrive.org.  

A mountain view

Wine, Beer & Spirits: If you like wine and beer tastings, the Blue Ridge of Virginia is the place for you!   I wouldn’t begin to make recommendations here since for medical reasons, I drink very little.  However, know that there is an abundance of wineries, distilleries, & breweries throughout the area.  Do your research and always ask a local for a recommendation–or try them all!  

Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis/Uplash

A visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains always makes me a believer of our State’s motto, “Virginia is for Lovers.”  Whether you’re looking for adventure or a rest, I hope your next trip to Virginia is just what you need.

Enjoy your adventure!

Sweethaven Lavender Farm, Williamsburg, Virginia; Where the Earth laughs in flowers — June 19, 2020

Sweethaven Lavender Farm, Williamsburg, Virginia; Where the Earth laughs in flowers

“The Earth laughs in flowers.”  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tucked deeply in Williamsburg, Virginia’s farm land lies a place where the Earth is laughing; Sweethaven Lavender Farm. 

Amid Virginia’s phased re-opening from the 2020 Pandemic, my Husband and I ventured to Williamsburg during a camping trip for supplies, lunch, and to enjoy all things colonial that Williamsburg has to offer–even if it was within social distancing terms.  From friends, I knew that Sweethaven was in Williamsburg so on this day, we set the GPS to work and followed it into the country to see if we could get a glimpse.   I was delighted by the farm’s charm, the scent of the lavender wafting through the humid June breeze, and the delightful sounds of the industrious Bumble bees as they went about their work. 

The centerpiece of Sweethaven Lavender Farm

The prominent public building on the property is the Mercantile, a white barnlike structure that conjures visions of an Amish barn.  Inside, are lavender products of every sort and experts to answer questions.  Outside though, as is the case with nearly every farm, is where the magic was happening.

Just outside the Mercantile there is a gated garden with flower boxes filled to bursting with flower lover delights.  Two of my favorite flowers giggled there, tickled by the passing breeze!  A rainbow of button Zinnia where just starting to burst open, tempting Bumble Bees with their showy colors followed close behind by my zoom lens.  Swaying in the breeze at the far end of the garden were several beds of sunflowers with their bright faces searching for the sun, ready for their closeups.

“The hum of bees is the voice of the garden” –Elizabeth Lawrence

As we stepped out of the gated garden area and into the fields of lavender there was a faint fog of deep purple at knee level stretching along the ground in neat rows.   The luxurious purple lavender was in full bloom all around us.  Other visitors to the farm were bent in half angling for an up close sniff, snapping photos, and collecting bouquets of lavender to take home.  Children giggled in the distance, playing together while the grown ups enjoyed a picnic lunch.  And, the resident bumble bees were busiest here, totally ignorant of our intruding cameras.  They were focused on their task for the day, leaping from one bloom to another, humming and buzzing to each other as they worked.  At one point, I put my camera into the fray and captured their song, delighted that they nearly mistook me as a flower as they bustled by.

The lovely purple rows of lavender

Enjoy all that the farm has to offer

Only 130 acres and opened to the public in June 2019, Sweethaven is a beautiful, amethyst gem tucked deeply into the emerald Williamsburg farmland.  It is a treat for the senses.  The farm offers all things lavender including a chance to pick your own bouquet as the lavender blooms in May and June, their own line of organic skincare, and culinary products including pre-made picnic lunches by reservation. 

Sweethaven Lavender Festival Days

The Festival Days are how I first learned about Sweethaven initially, seeing ads and knowing several friends that visited the event.  The event includes live music, food, local artisans, and the opportunity to learn about the farm and it’s lavender. The event grows from year to year so be sure to watch their website, www.sweethavenlavender.com, for dates, tickets, and other details on their event for 2021.    

Ready for their closeup!

How to find and visit Sweethaven

I can’t wait for our next visit to the farm!  If you’d like to see more, be sure to visit Sweethaven’s website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. If you are in Williamsburg in your travels, Sweethaven is certainly a great place to visit that is outside of the big tourist sites of Colonial Williamsburg and truly a unique experience.  

Find them at: Sweethaven Lavender Farm, 2301 Jolly Pond Road, Williamsburg, Virginia 23188; www.sweethavenlavender.com

We would love to have you visit Virginia and I know you won’t want to miss a visit to Sweethaven! (I can’t help but call is Sweet-Heaven)


Virginia State Parks Campground Series: Chippokes Plantation State Park — June 13, 2020

Virginia State Parks Campground Series: Chippokes Plantation State Park

“I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” –George Washington

As a native Virginian and in my humble opinion, Virginia has great State Parks which highlight all of the features that make Virginia a great place to live, work, and play.  Virginia has so much to offer.  At sea level, we have long stretches of open beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and along the Chesapeake Bay.  A few hours away, we have the Blue Ridge Mountains that offer epic views, apples, hiking, mountain climbing, and ample opportunities for checking out local wineries and breweries of all sizes.   

As one of the original 13 Colonies, our state is full of history.  From Jamestown and the first settlements, Yorktown and the end of the Revolutionary War, to Colonial Williamsburg and all of it’s charms.  Our history even extends to the names of our towns that stem from the history brought to the United States from England such as Portsmouth, Suffolk, Isle of Wight, and Norfolk, to name a few. 

With our new RV up and running, we have taken it out twice and have fallen in love anew with our State’s parks.  Our intention is to explore as many of them in our RV as possible.   I hope to bring you along and share our adventures in the parks we visit.   

Chippokes Plantation State Park

Just under an hour from home, Chippokes Plantation State Park is one of the closest parks and best known to us of all the parks.  When we bought our RV in March, we took it straight to Chippokes for our very first camping trip and despite the Pandemic interrupting our fun, we have restarted our camping adventures at Chippokes again this month.  With Chippokes being so close to home, it has been a great spot for us to test our camping ability in our new equipment before venturing too far.  My husband has called these our “Shake down” trips.  

What is now Chippokes Plantation State Park was founded in 1619 by Captain William Powell, Lieutenant Governor of Jamestown, who lived in Jamestown settlement for 10 years.  The property changed hands many times and was willed to the State of Virginia upon the death of it’s last owners in 1967. 

The Colonial touches of Chippokes Plantation State Park

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Chippokes is noted for it’s continued agricultural production.  In fact, it is one of the oldest continuously farmed properties in the Nation and is home to Chippokes Plantation Farm and Forestry Museum.

Oceans of corn growing in the warm June sunshine take up much of the acreage of the park and continue to speak to the land’s purpose at it’s founding

Situated on the tidal creeks and the banks of the historic James River, Chippokes Plantation State Park has a lot to offer Virginians and our guests from out of state. 

Located in Surry, Virginia, and at currently 1,403 acres, the Park offers camping, cabin rentals, a swimming pool, a visitor’s center, trails, a beach, gardens, and a museum.  Also offered are costumed interpretations, guided hikes, workshops and ranger-led tours of the historic Jones-Stewart Mansion.   An active community park, there are annual festivals, canoe tours, hiking trails, fishing programs, and equestrian facilities.

Beautiful June Magnolias at Chippokes

The Park is easily reached from the Historic Triangle by the Jamestown-Scotland ferry or the James River Bridge.  We like it because of it’s close proximity to the Williamsburg area and the abundance of activities in that area. 

If you plan to visit the park for the day only, you should be aware that there is a parking fee charged year round at all Virginia State Parks and self-pay parking information is available at the contact stations. 

The Campground

The Chippokes Plantation State Park campground offers two rings of sites.  S1 through S18 have blacktop pads, offering water and electric.  These are “site specific” sites and require a reservation.  Sites S19, S21, S23, S25, and S27 are also site specific but do not have blacktop pads.  All other sites are first come, first served, and can be very uneven.  The park also offers three yurts by reservation. 

Comfortable for a week of camping at Chippokes Plantation State Park

The park is quiet, clean, well maintained, and a friendly Camp host has checked on us as we have checked in each time.  Park representatives are available and make regular rounds.  While we don’t need to use the bath house, we did check them and they are clean and well maintained.  Laundry facilities are also available. 

Be sure to check the website at www.chippokes@dcr.virginia.gov for additional information regarding fishing, swimming, fires, drone use, camping or cabin reservations, and a list of festivals and events in the park. 

You can also visit the Virginia State Park’s website at www.virginiastateparks.gov

Local nearby attractions linked by the Colonial Parkway and the Colonial National Historic Park

From Chippokes, a short Ferry ride drops you just short of the Historic Jamestown. 

Boarding the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry

The Colonial National Historic Park encompasses the  Jamestown Festival Park and the Yorktown Battlefield, two of the points of the Historic Triangle in our area and connected by the Colonial Parkway.   

Jamestown is the first permanent English settlement in North America, founded in May 1607.  

Yorktown is most famous as the site of the surrender of British General Charles Cornwallis to General George Washington and the French fleet that ended the American Revolutionary War in October 1781. 

Read more about the Colonial National Historic Park at www.nps.gov/colo/index.htm and the Colonial Parkway at www.nps.gov/colo/parkway.htm.

The third point of the Historic Triangle, and also along the Colonial Parkway is Colonial Williamsburg.  Williamsburg was the Capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780 when it was moved to Richmond.  This is where General George Washington assembled the Continental Army in 1781 for the siege of Yorktown.  It is also home to the College of William and Mary.  The Colonial area and it’s buildings are worth at least a day’s visit with costumed interpretations of life during the time of George Washington.  Read more about Colonial Williamsburg at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org

Other attractions of note

Busch Gardens, Williamsburg

Water Country USA, Williamsburg

Sweethaven Lavender Farm, Williamsburg (plan your visit for the lavender bloom in May and June)

Great Wolf Lodge, Williamsburg

Yorktown Battlefield, Yorktown

Yorktown Victory Center, Yorktown

Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que, Williamsburg

And don’t forget to try local breweries and wineries in the area.  

Chippokes Plantation State Park is a great home base for campers who would like to be near the Colonial attractions without staying in the hustle and bustle of town and for a much more reasonable cost. 

We love the area and plan to be back again and again.

We hope to see you there or in one of the other Virginia State Parks soon!

Travel Addicts in Training; Practicing to be Perfect in our RV — May 18, 2020

Travel Addicts in Training; Practicing to be Perfect in our RV

We are finally preparing to head out in our RV at last!  Our State parks are about to open for camping and they have started taking reservations again so we snapped up some spots for June and July.   

In anticipation, we decided to go ahead and hook up and head out this weekend!  Where to?  Promise you won’t laugh!?  We took our new RV out to do some practice driving.  There.  It’s out there!  Commence the giggling!

While we are admitted Travel Addicts, we are also RV Newbies and with this new moniker comes some anxiety.  Our  trepidation is primarily around the chore of backing up our rig.  Having camped as kids we aren’t total newbies to the actual camping and as part of our pre-purchase research, we rented an RV to make sure that this was something we wanted to do. However, as kids, we didn’t drive the RV and our rentals were Class C’s which is a very different driving experience. 

Trying to back up in a straight line

We bought our new Grand Design Imagine XLS in March, just prior to being quarantined, so we only had time to squeeze in our first ever camping adventure before travel was put on pause across our State and Nationwide.  Right away, we discovered that backing into our driveway was going to be our biggest challenge.  Our driveway is a dog leg shape and not ideal for Newbies trying to back in our 26 feet plus the truck (we are not huge and happy about that).  When we brought our RV home for the first time to load up, we managed to get it backed in on the first try despite the awkward bend in the driveway and a few obstacles to be mindful of.  We know now, that this was just Newbie luck for sure.  Semi-confident in our new abilities, when we came home, we thought it wouldn’t be a problem.  This time, we got it in on what had to have been the 50th try!  This left us frustrated and with our newfound confidence totally diminished.  Not to mention, we found ourselves trying to figure out how to manage our future camping trips by NOT bringing our rig home from storage at all!

Since we didn’t feel assured in our skills as a team to back up, we went back to our favorite source of anything we want to know, YouTube. After watching “Keep Your Daydream‘s” episode on Sunday, May 10, we thought it was a great idea to take advantage of a bright, sunny day to find a large, unoccupied, unobstructed space in which to practice.  Appropriately, we used a high school parking lot in which to learn.  While our YouTube pros make it look relatively simple, we know that isn’t our reality behind the wheel right now.  So, armed with advice from the more experienced, off we went.

Now for those of you who might be RV veterans, I know you’re probably having a bit of a chuckle and thinking to yourself, “These two!”  However, I’m betting that in some point in your RV career, you might’ve scraped tree branches or come within inches of running over your spotter when going backwards.  Right?  I’m hoping those are the least of your mishaps! As newbies, we are very aware that even in our cars, going backwards is the most dangerous time and with an extra 26 feet to maneuver, we are taking some sage advice and making time to learn how our RV responds when we make the slightest of adjustments at the wheel.  Safety first.  And, with both of us having been musicians early in our lives, we know that “Practice makes perfect!” 

When we were done with our practice session, my Husband asked, “What did we learn?”  I suspect that he might’ve asked because he knows that our hijinks are fair game for my blogs these days but it was also a good question and a time for us to review together what we had learned.   So, what lessons DID we learn?

Getting it between the lines

Backing up is hard.  Even away from our awkward driveway, what would seem to be an elementary task of keeping the truck and trailer in a simple straight line takes practice.  While we really prefer pull through campsites, that is not always going to be an option.  Not to mention, backing into our driveway or our storage space is a necessity.  Going backwards is probably our hardest challenge and we know it will take patience and practice.

The steering wheel.  When backing up, it’s best to hold the 6 o’clock station of your steering wheel to turn.  If you want the back end of your RV to go left, point the 6 o’clock position to the driver’s side.  To go right,  point the 6 o’clock position to the passenger side.  I bet it sounds easy and pretty basic. I thought so too but it takes some practice to train your brain to remember this simple maneuver. 

Go slow and make small adjustments.  This is our new mantra.  First, this is not a race.  While we might hold up traffic and annoy our fellow campers, and for this we are eternally apologetic, there is no time limit in getting backed in.  Taking our time will prevent mistakes or an accident.  Small adjustments are key.  Whirling the steering wheel too far in one direction or another totally changes the trajectory of the back end of our trailer.  So, small adjustments are the way to go.

Perspective, team work, and trust.  This was our biggest lesson of the day.  First, I actually drove the truck with the RV in tow for the first time.  Honestly, it’s not as hard as I was anticipating.  Although, I am trying to remind myself that my first attempt to drive was in the empty parking lot of our local high school with no traffic.  In real life, I drive a zippy high performance machine and I have never pulled anything so my goal was to get a feel of the extra weight behind us and to understand where my new back end was and where I needed it to be.  Our truck may be a high performance machine in her own right but she is not zippy with that RV attached and rightly so! My lead foot will need to take a break!  While my plan is to let my husband do most of the driving, in my mind, it’s always a good idea for me to know how to manage our rig by myself in the unlikely event that I have to.  We also plan for me to be the backup driver when he needs a break so, at the minimum, I need to be comfortable in pointing the rig straight and keeping it all safely between the lines.   

As part of the whole lesson, I also practiced backing up.  THIS was where we both started to learn.  With my husband out of the truck and acting as my spotter for his first time, we learned how to speak the language of “backing up the RV.”  We learned that what the driver can see and what the spotter can see are two very different perspectives and for us, that included different focuses.  The driver and spotter need to be able to clearly communicate when in reverse and apparently, I was not giving the best of direction.  I was focused on where the trailer was and where it needed to be while Roger was focused on the truck.  We agreed that this approach would not work. 

When I was behind the wheel, he could see what I had been seeing and why I gave the directions that I did.  He now also understood how the truck needs to be maneuvered to get the trailer to be where we want it to be.  Now, as husband and wife, we also started to understand that there have got to be spouses or travel buddies out there who have had a few shouting matches over this particular part of their RV experience.  While we did not have said shouting match, we can totally see how that could happen.  The key for us was not to get frustrated with each other, listen, and talk to each other.  This meant learning to speak trailer.  A new language for us, for sure!  Now that both of us understand how to communicate left and right to each other, we have probably, saved our marriage and will likely enjoy our camping adventures for years to come!  Saying, “go left” or “go right,” for us, is no longer providing accurate direction.  Instead, we use, “driver’s side,” or “passenger side.”

After learning this, when we were done for the day, I was able to almost expertly get our rig backed into it’s storage space with the superb direction of my spotter. This last and final lesson of the day left us feeling like our time of practice was time well spent.  I know to trust Roger’s direction and carefully listening, along with going slow and making small adjustments got the job done. 

I can’t believe that I did it! (With my expert spotter)

“G.O.A.L.” and the multiple point turn.  From our YouTube friends we learned “G.O.A.L.; Get Out And Look.”  When we get to a campground this will be our go to maneuver before we ever put the rig in reverse and anytime we feel we need to assess the situation during the positioning process.  This practice starts as soon as you get to your campsite.  Every campsite is different so it’s wise advice for the driver and the spotter to get out and look together at the layout of the site before pulling in.  The purpose here is to scope out the campsite so you know where the hook ups are, where you might want to have your RV positioned to accommodate slides or for the optimal enjoyment, and to be on the lookout for obstacles like tree branches, picnic tables, or uneven ground.  G.O.A.L is also a highly recommended pause at any point in the back up process if the driver needs a first hand look at where he/she might be.  I think Roger would agree that he understands the premise even better after getting out of the truck while I drove.    

The first try might not be perfect.  I mentioned before that as the spotter, I was focused on the rear end of the trailer in hopes of getting it to where “X marks the spot.”  However, Roger needs the truck to be straight and lined up with the trailer to easily unhitch.  To achieve this, we learned that backing up our RV will not be perfect on the first try.  In fact, this means that pulling forward and backing up several times will eventually get us where we want to be, along with the small adjustments noted above.  We had to make peace with this new understanding.  Our favorite YouTubers even mentioned this in their recommendations as well so we feel like we came to understand that lesson clearly during out training session. 

We think we learn something new every time we hook up.   We try to move slowly, methodically, and check behind each other so we are sure that we don’t forget any piece of hooking up before moving our rig.  We are confident that we will get better with more practice.  Practice does indeed make perfect. 

We are counting down the days to be on the road again!  We wish you safety and pleasant travels.

**Note: For those of you who are avid fans of all things RV, these are some of our favorite families on YouTube that we follow and watch religiously.  We look to them for tips, tricks, ideas for places to add to the bucket list, and the reality of RV’ing: Keep Your Daydream, Less Junk More Journey, Finding Our Someday, Eat See RV, Embracing Detours, The Chick’s Life, Traveling Robert, and RV Lifestyle with Mike and Jenn.  There are a lot of others as well so check out YouTube for some great resources. 

We bought an RV! — April 9, 2020

We bought an RV!

“Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.” -Winston Churchill

“BA” and “Blanche” together at last!

Do you have a something in life that you keep going back to over and over until you decide to take action?  Maybe you are thinking about something now?  Is it a dream vacation, starting a family, buying a house, moving to another state, getting a new job, a pool in the back yard, or maybe a fixer upper cottage on the beach or lake?  We all have something, no matter what it is, right?

We have had lots of dreams that we’ve worked to make reality and we are truly blessed! Our most recent dream? Buying an RV.  

After two years of shopping, researching, dreaming, planning, and watching our favorite You Tube RV families, we finally purchased our Grand Design RV at the beginning of March.

Blanche in her first campsite at Chippokes Plantation State Park

After two years of in depth study, we found what we wanted.  We knew where to get it, how much it would be, what we needed to get started, the whole thing.   We had even driven out to the dealership and lurked around when they were closed.  AND, to be sure we were going to like it, we rented an RV last fall and took a long weekend to make sure that we would like the camping thing. (We aren’t really new to the idea. We both camped with our families as kids so don’t worry about us too much!) You’d think we would’ve been ready, right?  HA!

When we finally made an appointment to talk to a salesman, before we left the house, the conversation was; “We’re not buying anything today.”  We agreed. 

I know what you’re thinking but bear with me!  Of course, when we got there, we had no questions.  We had seen our exact RV at the 2020 Florida RV Supershow in Tampa just a month before.  We knew everything there was to know.  We had no questions.  So, what was left?  That’s right.  I already spoiled the surprise in the title!  We bought an RV!

Okay.  Now.  Our someday finally came and three weeks after kicking things off, we picked up our new hobby and headed off on our first camping weekend.  It was scary, fun, terrifying, and we had a ball!  We are going to love it!  Wouldn’t you agree that some of the best things in life scare you death?

BA’s first pull. She finally knows her purpose!

Then a Pandemic outbreak brought the world to a screeching halt.  With our beloved Virginia State Parks closed, we have had two planned trips for April and May canceled.  So, back to dreaming we go!  It’s hard to make plans but we persevere.  At least this time, we are hopeful that we don’t have to wait another two years!  That is our short term.      

For us, the long term plan is getting out there to see the U.S. in our RV.  We have a bucket list of spots we want to go and now we have the gear that can get us up close and personal if we plan it right.   

Our thinking in all of this is that we want to be sure that we don’t wait for some day, until we have the money, or worse, until we retire and have the time.  The fact of life is, we are not guaranteed tomorrow.  We work hard, we save our money, we plan a trip and we go!  We go when and where we can.  We are blessed, that is for sure!  And while retirement might be the optimal time to travel, and we plan to keep going if we can, that season of our life is still a long way off! In the meantime, we will go when it’s safe to do so. #stayhome

So, for those that think we’ve lost our minds, I say, what is your dream and what are you doing about it?  Make sure you aren’t dreaming your life away.