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Thursday, November 27, 2014

RV gift shopping for the frugal -- and not so frugal

If you managed to escape the shopping crowds on "Black Friday" and are still puzzling over what to give your favorite RVer (or yourself), here are some suggestions to mull over. We've listed these gift ideas in price order, more or less, low to high.

Fancy (or simple) set of campfire sticks for roasting marshmallows or hot dogs. Starting around $5.00.

Flyshooter bug gun. Like that old adage among frogs: "Time's fun when you're havin' flies," you can make time fly while you zap flies with this great improvement over the old-time flyswatter. Attached retrieval cord means you don't even have to get out of your chair! Around $6.

Water thief. Not something you think much about until you get somewhere and find there aren't any threads on the water faucet, or the threads are "boogered" and you can't get your hose to thread on -- and you've got an empty tank.  Less than $10.

Dress up your awning at night with colorful awning lights. There's a wide range of these accessories, starting at a little over $10 to nearly $100.

12 volt blow dryer (hair, windows, doors when frozen shut). Look for reviews when shopping – not all of these are created equal. Around $20 to start.

"Campsite occupied" sign. Tired of sticking a lawn chair in your campsite when you pull the motorhome out for a quick trip, returning and find somebody stole your lawn chair? Now you can put out a $20 "campsite occupied" sign, drive away, and find on your return that somebody stole your $20 "campsite occupied" sign!

12 volt to USB charge outlet. With all the geegaws we have today that charge up on a USB port, having a couple of "12-volt outlet to USB" chargers is really getting essential. Our experience with electronic tablets tells us we want to buy the highest output available. This one has some of the highest output we've seen, comes with "smart technology" to keep it from overheating, and comes with a three-month warranty. Around $20

12-volt crock pot. Great deal after a long day on the road – a meal ready to eat. Just make sure you have power going to the batteries you're drawing from. If you're a "towable" owner, consider setting your crock pot in a box and plugging into the outlet when the engine's running. Motorhome owners won't have as much a worry about running the battery down. Starting in the $20 range.

Cash card for fuel. You pick your price.

Remote weather station: Start easy and cheap indoor and outdoor temperature, add humidity and barometric pressure. Go "whole hog" and add a wind and rain gauge. Low-end temperature-only systems start at a little over $10, and low-priced "whole hog" systems can be had for around $100. Add even more features, like "talk to my computer" systems rise as quickly as the temperature in Death Valley in July.

Quick levelers. With the innovative Camper Leveler you can level your RV or trailer on the FIRST try - every single time! No more guesswork! No more hassle! Simply drive up until you are level and then chock - it's that simple. The Andersen Camper Leveler provides 'dead-on' leveling at any increment from 1/2 inches to 4 inches - no other leveler is this precise - or this easy to use! About $45.00.

So many RVs are "up off the ground," meaning, to open the door, you need to climb up the steps, grab the door handle, then step back down as you swing the door open and yet not get clobbered. Stromberg-Carlson, who markets a nice line of assist bars for getting in and out of RVs now markets the "EZ Open Handle," an accessory that lets you open the RV door without having to step up to reach the factory door handle. Around $45.00

Got a real techy handyman? How about a non-contact infrared thermometer? Great for checking just how cold the air coming out of the a/c vent is. Or check how hot your tires or wheel bearings are. There are plenty on the  market for less than $20, but accuracy can be questionable. Here's one with relatively high ratings from users – and costs less than $50.00.

Camping club memberships. Get a discount on campground rates, some as much as half-off. Starting around $50.00

Binoculars. The art of RVing is enjoying the trip, right? How many times do you see things while heading down the road that are "just out of reach?" A set of binoculars can really make wildlife and landscapes come alive. You can pick up a set of binoculars for the grandkids to maul for a little over $10; an entry level pair of binoculars for yourself for around $25; and really blast the budget with super high-tech night vision binocs that can set you back up to and more than $10,000 a pair.

Save time, and Bengay – try an electric tongue jack for the travel trailer owner in your life. Our last rig came with the old "Armstrong" tongue jack, and one of the first upgrades we made was on an electric tongue jack. Mid $70's upwards to $300 range.

GPS system. We would really have been lost on our last trip without one. RVers will find the dedicated "RV friendly" GPS systems allow you to plug in height and weight, and have specific databases with helpful information. Don't be put off by the "around $300" price range – you may find the company will sell you a "refurbished unit" for way less than $100.

Rear view camera. Not just for motorhomes, a wireless rear view camera can really help when backing into a tight spot. If you're purchasing for a travel trailer, make sure you account for the distance between the driver's seat and the rear of the trailer, and know there are "obstructions" in the way. Our first wireless system that works in conjunction with our GPS unit wouldn't work at the back of the trailer – a distance just too far. Prices start in the $50 range and can shoot up to $1,000 for fancy ones with multiple cameras.

One of the nicest gifts we ever received came to us nearly 20 years ago. We're still using it – right now, as a matter of fact. What is it? A big wool blanket! Keeping us warm and cozy, and keeping LP fuel costs down, it also gives us warm thoughts about the couple who gave it to us. Starting at about $35 to more than $100.

Tired of dragging around your rig's 50-amp cord? A powered cord reel may be just the ticket to reeling that heavy cord back into your rig. For a bit over $100 you can hand-crank your cord back in; or go BIG and for less than $500 have an electric motor reel it back for you.

Chassis storage system. What's a matter – got too much stuff and no basement storage? Now with these clever add-on units, you too, can have basement storage. Starting at about $250.

Tire pressure monitoring system. Yes, these can be a little on the spendy side, but if you save yourself a blown tire and associated "collateral damage," it'll probably more than pay for the system. A four-tire monitoring system can be had for about $150, and expect to pay more for more tires covered.

Feeling really flush? How about a new flooring upgrade? Chuck out that old "shows-every-speck-of-dirt" carpet with some easy-to-care-for laminate flooring. You may be able to do the install yourself. Prices are all over the map – but your best bet is to buy your laminate from a 'big box' store like Lowe's or Home Depot. Starting at around $1.00 a square foot.

Electric inverter generator: Quiet, lightweight, useful. Honda comes with rave reviews, but we opted for a lesser-priced Yamaha. Enough kick to fire our roof air conditioner, small enough to stash away securely under our pickup canopy. Starting around $1,000 for the better ones.

A winter vacation. Some place warm and sunny. Priceless.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Finding your stuff in the RV

"The bigger the RV – the greater the loss."

Before you behemoth Class A folks get out your shootin' irons, hang on and let the explanations begin. The bigger the RV, the more "stuff" we can load up, and the greater the chance of losing the stuff, somewhere in the rig. So the question is this: How do you keep track of your stuff?

We've heard the high tech, the low tech, and the laughably sublime. We'll share them.

Find it – high-tech style: Drag out your laptop and your choice of software programs. For those of us who are into words, a word processor is probably enough. If you're a big time fan of spreadsheets or database programs, you know where to go.

Now, number your outside storage compartments in some sort of logical fashion. Take inventory of all the stuff you have squirreled away in those compartments. You can add numbers or identifications for inside closets, drawers, and cabinets.

Add the "stuff" to the list, identifying the specific storage location. If the list is really lengthy, you can use the "search" function to narrow down the item you're looking for. For example, "brush," could cover a lot of ground, but it'll get you there. How about, "brush, gas grill," or "brush, awning cleaning," or "brush, refrigerator flue," or even, "brush, hair" for those of us who still have a need for such a thing.

Find it – low-tech style: Take out your pencil and paper. Draw a map of your RV and add pointer lines. In small, tiny, hard-to-read-without-magnifier writing, write whatever it is that you have in each compartment, closet, drawer, or cabinet. May require a few pieces of paper, depending on how big the rig, and how much stuff you have.

Now the real problem: Put your list away in a place where you won't (repeat, won't) forget where the list is. Sooner or later you'll have two or more copies of the list, for all the times that you lost it, and later found it again.

Find it – likes alike style: One RVer says he doesn't worry about computers or lists. He puts his stuff away like this: "Tools, in the tool bay. Cleaning supplies, in the wet bay. Other stuff bays."

Then there are the folks who take the industry slogan, "Life's an adventure, go RVing!" far too much to heart. " I do not organize and do not make a list. I like the hunt. And of course, when I cannot find it, I buy another. That is why I own at least two of everything. And buying another means I then find the first that I could not find before. By the way, has anyone seen my Craftsman 3/8th drive socket wrench?"