Shore Power, Your Best Friend, or Craftiest Enemy?Published in Escapees Magazine, March/April, 2013
We live in a world of electric appliances and gadgets which are in almost constant use today. As a result our RVs all come with a power cord to supply 30A or even 50A to them at most stops. We seem to become more dependent upon electricity each year. We also seem to hear more and more stories of electrical power problems that do serious damage to those devices we seem to depend upon. The result of this has been the introduction of devices which are sold to us to protect our toys from this hidden demon. With so many devices available and at such a wide range of prices, how can we know what if any of these we should spend money on?
The very least that you should carry is a simple outlet checker that will verify that you have proper polarity, ground and neutral on all of your RV outlets. Some of these also have a button that will test a ground fault outlet if you wish. A good next step is to purchase a reasonably good volt/ohm meter and learn how to use it to verify that the outlet you are about to use is connected properly and has the right voltage. These meters can be purchased for $30 - $50 and are not difficult to learn to use. Most come with instructions in use. These tools will not protect your RV from power problems which take place after you connect, but at least you will know that the power is safe to connect at the time of arrival.
Something you should understand about the more expensive power devices is that the use of them is very much like wearing a seat belt. You really can’t say with certainty that the worst will happen if you don’t have one, but if it should, you will be protected. The various devices out there have a wide variety of protections and purposes. The most common term applied to these devices is “surge protector” but in reality some of them are much more than this. For this discussion, we will start with this most common term as it is also the least costly of the group of products.Surge protectors usually connect between the RV power cord and the power pedestal. They protect the RV equipment by opening if the power ever experiences a very rapid rise in voltage such as would happen if lightning were to strike the power lines. Most of them also have a ground fault built into them. They typically cost between $75 & $100 and while they do offer some protection, it is very limited and they do not prevent many of the more common problems.
The next line of defense comes from devices that are power line monitors, although they are frequently referred to as surge protectors. They actually do much more and afford a much greater level of protection. These devices monitor the power for a period of time before connecting the RV, insuring that the power pedestal is properly connected and does not have a missing neutral or ground, and that voltage is within the proper range, +/- 10%. Once the device connects the RV power it continues to monitor these issues and will remove power if the voltage should go beyond safe limits, or if some other problem occurs in the power supply. They do provide surge protection as well and if power is interrupted, they continue to monitor and will reapply power if the problem goes away.
Where these devices really shine is when power does what techs call sagging. This is the most common power problem encountered by most RVs. A typical example of this is on a hot afternoon when you arrive in the park early and upon checking the voltage at the pedestal you find it to be satisfactory and you connect the RV. As the afternoon progresses, more RV’s arrive, plug in and turn on the air conditioner. More & more RVs arrive, starting air conditioners and it causes the park’s electrical system to be overburdened and the voltage begins to sag.When it reaches a point that it is below 108V, the low voltage design limit, such devices will interrupt power.
This kind of damage is very difficult to access. It does not usually cause immediate failures but it does cause electric motors to overheat and begin to experience damage. In the service world the term used is bruising. The longer the voltage condition exists the more damage is done, but it is not measurable and usually takes multiple incidents before failure takes place. I liken this kind of damage to that of a person smoking heavily. One time rarely ever does serious harm but each time they smoke the life expectancy of the person is shortened. This is exactly what most under or over voltage does to electrical equipment. The more often you experience voltage issues and the greater the voltage variation, the more that life expectancy for your equipment is affected. These kinds of problems are very difficult to pin down, but my 32 years as a field service tech have demonstrated to me that this problem is very real.
There are several manufactures of these devices and the most common come from TRC, called the Surge Guard and from Progressive Industries and called the EMS. Both come in 30A and 50A versions and enjoy solid reputations. The cost for these devices is usually between $300 and $400. These devices offer as much protection from power problems as one can usually expect to ever need.
There is another device which can be purchased for use with an RV which adds yet another feature and which also increases the price as well. This device is voltage boosting and a voltage regulator, although they have several other names. These devices offer some of the protections of a line monitor in that they do provide surge protection but rather than interrupting power when it sags, they actually boost the voltage back up to safe use levels.Some of them do indicate a missing neutral or ground but they do not usually have the ability to interrupt power if that should happen. The device has a boost transformer inside that increases power if needed but does nothing when voltages are good. These devices are the highest in cost, ranging from $450 to near $700, depending upon features and 30 or 50A models.
There are three manufacturers of voltage boosters I am aware of, one from TRC, another from Hughes and a third one from Frank’s Electronics. They differ in price and in specifications so check all three before you choose one for your RV. They are especially popular with those who winter in Mexico where poor quality and under voltage power are very common problems. In newer RV parks the need for this type of device is less common.
All of these devices for power protection are available in both portable and hard wired versions. Some of them actually cost less when hard wired, but they all require both space and some degree of ventilation. The voltage regulators are the largest and produce the most heat so that should be considered when you research which choice best suits your needs. The portable models also have locking devices available that will improve security of their use. I have used one of the portable devices on our RV for years and have never had any problems with theft, but a little added security is never a bad thing. For the ultimate in protection you should probably series one of these between the line monitor and the power pedestal but that is expensive and rarely done because each provides a high degree of protection.
It is not possible for one to say if any of these devices will save you money or if you will experience major problems if you choose not to buy any of them. I have heard numerous stories of RVs experiencing major losses from surges and lightning strikes which cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Service engineers tell us that studies have shown that most appliances which fail in far less than a normal life expectancy have experienced the effect called bruising. It is highly probable that most RV appliances which fail in five or fewer years are the result of such exposure. Nobody can say with absolute accuracy whether or not you will experience power problems, so each one of us must choose the degree of risk that we are willing to accept. The purchase of them is like buying insurance.
The following article, authored by Kirk, has been published in the Jan./Feb., 2013 issue of Escapee's Magazine.
For most Americans, there is never a question of residence or domicile because of the lifestyle they lead. If they move their homes they buy or rent a physical house and bring with them all of their daily activities. They shop in local stores, subscribe to the local newspaper, visit local doctors, keep their assets in local financial institutions, and become involved in local activities, leaving little doubt that they have only one physical home, residence, or domicile. It simply is never an issue. But for those who choose to become full-time RV’ers this can be less clear.
One of the advantages of the full-time lifestyle is our ability to choose any place to call home. Many full-timers choose a location more tax friendly than the place where they have lived for their working lives, while others may choose to keep the domicile which they have had for many years. Discussing the issue, we must first understand the difference between residency and domicile, as they are not synonyms.
Residency is actually as simple as the place where you live. Many people have more than one residence as they may spend time in several different locations in the course of a year. Each place that we stop for more than a few days is a residence. For a full-timer, there are usually many of these and they may be of very short duration. Care must be taken when staying for extended periods to avoid violation of local requirements related to establishment of domicile.
Domicile is an important legal term. Each person may have only one domicile at any time. “Legal residence" is often used in place of domicile. Domicile is the place where we pay taxes and conduct business. This is our true, fixed, and permanent abode and the place where, when absent from it, we intend to return. The establishment of a domicile requires meeting legal requirements of the new state and voiding of the domicile in the previous state. Within a single state the legalities of shifting locations are seldom a significant issue. There are a host of legal definitions for the term domicile, but in no case is there a law which clearly spells out exactly what constitutes domicile. It is the result of a combination of actions. It is nearly always the place where one is registered to vote, but that is only one factor. Some actions which may determine your domicile are registering motor vehicles, buying insurance of any type, maintaining a driving license, making financial transactions, service of legal documents, medical appointments, and maintaining an address.
While it is generally considered that vehicles should be registered in your place of domicile, that is not always true as the laws state that a vehicle should be registered and insured in the place where it is "garaged," or where kept when not actually in use on the roadways. That could be your physical home, but there may be those who own a vehicle at each of two different residences for use there, and which is left behind when residences change. In such case, the legal thing is to have each registered in the state where it remains. Vehicle insurance must be in the location where the vehicle is registered, for each vehicle owned. Boats have similar registration requirements.
Driving licenses are usually maintained in the state where one domiciles. You must meet the legal requirements of the state where you apply for a license and these are not always the same. For most people, driving licenses, vehicle registration and mail service are all in the same state because you need an address in order to receive renewals when due and to insure them. License and registration laws make no mention of domicile, but require a permanent address and can be a consideration determining it. Though no laws are violated in doing so, you may be questioned if license and registrations do not match addresses. While you are not required to receive mail at your domicile, it usually simplifies things if you do so.
Financial transactions are a consideration, but the law doesn’t state where they must be done. It is not uncommon for people to do business in more than one state and there is no legal issue in doing so, as long as you pay all taxes in the appropriate states. Direct deposits across state lines could create tax issues. If you hold paid positions while you travel, care must be taken to pay taxes to the proper state without creating a change of domicile. Good records are very important.
Most of us base the choice of domicile primarily upon things like state income taxes, registration fees and things which cost us money, but one should be very careful and make sure that other legal issues will not become a problem. A couple who choose to share RV travel, but are not married should understand common-law marriage. Also important are issues of common property or dower rights. Jury service should be considered, as should estate laws, medical directives, powers of attorney, living wills, revocable trusts, and any other legal issue that may apply to you. It is not possible to list every conceivable issue that should be considered but sound legal advice is important. Very seldom is there a legal challenge to the domicile chosen, but in the event there is, each and every transaction of business or legal activity could become evidence in a hearing. Generally, the more of your business which you transact in the location of the chosen domicile, the more secure yours will be. Typically, courts will rule that your domicile is inthe location where the most important or majority of business is transacted.The mobility which allows us this freedom to choose can invite a dispute.
The impact of domicile upon existing insurance policies should be examined. That is particularly true for health coverage or retiree benefits. In some cases state insurance pool availability could be important. Because each case is different you need to be very careful. Medicare is valid in all states but supplemental coverage and part D policies availability and cost vary by state. HMO policies may limit travel. Finding doctors and medical facilities that accept your insurance or which are “in network” should be considered.
The three most popular states for full-timers are Texas, Florida, and South Dakota. They share a lack of state income tax, no required period of presence in the state, relatively low cost to register and insure vehicles, and a willingness to accept mail service as your address. In addition, Texas is the home of Escapees and Florida is the home of the mail service from Good Sam. All three have a number of popular mail commercial services. No state is best or worst for everyone so choose carefully.
The actions of moving your vehicle & voter registrations, mail service and driving license are all relatively simple but the impact of domicile choice and its validity could be of critical importance.-
For most of us, there is never a question of residence or domicile because of the lifestyle that we lead. If we move our homes we then buy or rent a physical house and we bring with us all of our daily activities. We shop in local stores, subscribe to the local newspaper, visit local doctors, keep our assets in local banks, and we become involved in local activities, leaving little doubt that we have only one physical home, residence, or domicile. It simply is never an issue.
One of the advantages of the full-time lifestyle is our ability to choose the place to call home. Many full-timers choose a location more tax friendly than the place where they have lived for their working years, while some may choose to keep the domicile which they have had for many years. To discuss the issue, one must first understand the difference between residency and domicile, as they are not synonyms. Care must be taken when staying for extended periods to avoid violation of local requirements related to domicile.
Residency is actually as simple as the place where you live. Many people have more than one residence as they may spend time in several different locations in the course of a year. Each place that you stop for more than a few days is a residence. For a full-timer, there are usually many of these and they may be of very short duration.
Domicile is an important term to understand and each person may have only one at any time. It is the place where we pay our taxes and conduct business. “Legal residence" is often used in place of “domicile. This is your true, fixed, and permanent abode and the place where, when you are absent from it, you intend to return. The establishment of a domicile requires both meeting legal requirements of the new state and also voiding of the domicile in the previous state. Within a single state the legalities of shifting locations are seldom a major issue. There are a host of legal definitions for the term domicile, but in no case is there a law which clearly spells out exactly what constitutes domicile but it is rather the result of a series of actions. It is nearly always the only place where one can legally register to vote, but that is only part of it. Some actions which may determine your domicile are registering motor vehicles, buying insurance of any type, maintaining a driving license, making financial transactions, service of legal documents, medical appointments, and maintaining an address.
While it is generally considered that vehicles are to be registered in your place of domicile, that is not always true as the laws state that a vehicle should be registered and insured in the place where it is "garaged," or where kept when not actually in use on the roadways. That could be your physical home, but there may be those who own a vehicle at each of two different residences for use there, and which is left behind when residences change. In such case, the legal thing is to have each registered in the state where it remains. Vehicle insurance must be in the location where the vehicle is registered, for each vehicle owned. Boats have similar registration requirements.
Driving licenses are usually maintained in the state where one domiciles. As long as you meet the legal requirements of the state where you apply for a license, you can use it. For most people, driving licenses and registration are maintained in the same state where their mail service is because you need an address in order to receive the renewals when due and to buy insurance on your vehicles. License and registrations laws make no mention of the issue of domicile, but do require a permanent address and can be a part of determining it. While you are not required to receive mail at your domicile, it simplifies things if you do. Though no laws are violated in doing so, you may be questioned if license and registrations do not match addresses.
Your financial business is a consideration, but no law states where it must be done. It is not uncommon for people to do business in more than one state and there is no legal issue in doing so, as long as you pay all taxes in the appropriate state. Direct deposits across state lines can create tax issues. This becomes important if the domicile that you claim as your own should be challenged in a court. The court looks at the total of all business and legal actions that you perform and from that rules on where your domicile is. Typically, courts will rule that your domicile is in the location where the most important or majority of business is transacted.
Most of us base choice of domicile primarily upon things like state income taxes, registration fees and things which cost us money, but one should be very careful to be sure that other legal issues will not become a problem. A couple who choose to share an RV but are not married may want to use care about common law marriage. Other things which could become important are issues of common property or dower rights. Jury service should be considered, as should estate laws, medical directives, powers of attorney, living wills, revocable trusts, and any other legal issue that may apply to you. It is not possible to list every conceivable issue that should be considered but sound legal advice is important. It is very seldom that there is a legal challenge to the domicile chosen by one of us, but in the event that it is, each and every transaction of business or legal activity could become evidence in a hearing. Generally, the more of your business which you actually perform in the location of your chosen domicile, the more secure it will be. The mobility which allows us this freedom to choose can invite such disputes.
Another issue to be considered is the impact of domicile choice upon your existing insurance policies. That is particularly true for health coverage or retiree benefits and in some cases a state insurance pool could be a factor. Because each case is different you need to be very careful. For those on Medicare, it is valid in all states but the supplemental coverage’s and part D policies availability vary by state. Insurance costs very greatly among locations.
The three most popular states for full-timers are Texas, Florida, and South Dakota. They share the lack of state income tax, no required period of presence in the state, and relatively low costs to register and insure vehicles, and willingness to accept a mail service as your legal address for these and related purposes. In addition, Texas is the home of Escapees and Florida is the home of the mail service from Good Sam and other mail services. South Dakota has a number of popular mail services. No state is best or worst for everyone so choose well.
The actions of moving your vehicle and voter registrations, mail service and driving license are all relatively simple but the impact of domicile choice can be of critical importance.
One of the questions that seems to come up over and over on the various RV forums and in campfire discussions is the question of how many hours of work are fair in return for an RV site. In my opinion, this is a two sided issue. The answer to this question depends upon many things but it is also very different for paid employee or barter positions as compared to those considered to be volunteer.
If you are working for a commercial venture that is making a profit, the approach should be the same whether working for an RV park or some other type of business. Simply divide the number of hours required by the cost for a similar RV site in that particular area. If you are to stay at the position for an entire season, the rate used to value the RV site should be the monthly rate charged to paying customers. In other words, if your RV site is valued at $400/month, there are 4 1/3 weeks per month and if you work 20 hours a week for the site, then you are receiving the equivalent of $4.65/hour worked. Of course, if you receive additional benefits such as discounts and other services, to be fair you should add the value to you of them into this mix. But do not add in for amenities that paying guests receive for the monthly rate. Of course, if you receive utilities in addition, that too should be considered.
There is no way that anyone can say exactly what another person should be willing to do in return for the RV site. Things like location and the popularity of the area or RV park must play into this mix. Determine just what you consider to be the value of your time as compared to what you receive in return. In very popular areas you will have to work more than would be expected in a location where employees are difficult to find. And you also need to consider just how badly you wish to go to the area or park involved. It seems currently to be pretty typical for those who are working for site only to be asked for 20 to 25 hours of work. Paid employees seem to give anywhere from 15 to 25 hours and some parks pay for all hours and consider the RV site to be a benefit. Since we do not accept the typical paid position, I do not have strong feelings on this, but I would need to be pretty well paid to clean public toilets and showers for my site.
When it comes to volunteer positions, the question of a proper number of work hours in return for the RV site becomes much more complicated. In my opinion, if you feel that you must have fair compensation for your work in the value of the site and amenities that you receive, you probably should not consider any volunteer position for an RV site. There are very few such positions that ask for as few as 20 to 25 hours of work in return for an RV site. The vast majority of positions ask that many hours from each person, and many ask for five to ten more hours from a single than what they ask from each of a couple. There are many reasons for this, but quite simply, the definition of a volunteer is one who works without compensation.
Most of the value received by volunteers comes from the personal satisfaction that we take from the work that we do, and from the knowledge that we are performing a service which would not be done if there were no volunteers to do it. In addition, most of us look for positions that are with organizations that we believe in and for whom we would happily work without the advantage of the RV site, if circumstances allowed. The supplied RV site and amenities very often are what enables people to volunteer, when we might need to work for pay in order to maintain our lifestyles if we had to pay rent at some RV park.
Another factor that should be considered in choosing a volunteer location which is much different from paid positions is the type of work that we are asked to do. We have had many experiences while volunteering that included unique experiences which most people never have the opportunity to have, as a part of the work that we did. Banding of birds is often part of the experience when volunteering for our national wildlife refuges. Some of the jobs that we do are great fun and tremendous learning experiences. When your work if really fun, value can be as great to the worker as it is to the agency that you work for. One of my hobbies is doing wood work and I have frequently done wood projects that I thoroughly enjoy while recording time worked for which I received a campsite, utilities and often other things as well. The best part of this type of work is the fact that I don't even have to buy the materials for my hobby and when I finish, someone truly appreciates the results of my efforts.
There is no doubt that some locations do ask for an excessive number of hours worked in return for the site that is supplied. But the number of hours it is worth is totally in the eyes of the beholder. Some positions that ask too much for some volunteers are highly sought by others. Each person must make that choice for each position that they consider. We generally do not accept any position that is asking any more than 24 hours per week from each or us, or a total of 48. Yet we have on two occasions made an exception to that practice. One of those was due to the manner that hours are recorded. Very often, there is not strict documentation of actual hours but one is considered to have put in 8 hours minimum if you work any part of a day in some of the places that ask for a high number. One reason for this is that volunteer coordinators know that when they require only a few hours they will get applications from people who wish to do only the very least effort possible, and they really don't want that. True volunteers usually will work more than the minimum hours required, when that number is low. We nearly always work at least 40 hours total between the two of us as an average over the term of a position. In general, one who comes to a place requiring only 20 to 25 hours per week for a site and who does no more than that, will usually not be invited to return. They know that many of us prefer the short minimum because it leaves the remainder of the week for us to use as we wish and if not busy we will be out there helping.
The other case where we have accepted very long hours was when we got to have an experience that we could not have in any other place. We worked 32 hours each, every week for one of the poorer host sites we have stayed in at Everglades NP because the experience was one that we wanted badly. While we will not consider a return to that park, we do not regret having done what we needed in order to have the experience of working as interpretive park rangers in the Everglades.
There is one final major difference for us when it comes to the amount of time and effort that we gladly give in return for an RV site and sometimes little more. That is the size and quality of the RV site where we live. As much as we love our life in an RV, we tire very quickly of living in the packed in RV parks that most commercial parks are. Few could afford to stay at any commercial venture that spaced their RV sites in the way that all volunteer locations do. Frequently we are alone in a vast area and never have we been in a volunteer village of more than nine RV sites and the spacing between sites is always generous. The vast majority of volunteer positions supply a great RV site with extras like laundry equipment for our use and often admission to other attractions in the area. It is quite common for uniforms to be supplied and often things like work gloves and any needed safety equipment. I even have a pair of steel toe hiking boots that were purchased for me by one of our volunteer positions and my own hard-hat from yet another. It is also quite common for staff to take volunteers to dinner or to have an awards dinner before we leave and parting gifts to remember the location by are not unusual. Pam & I have quite a collection of tee shirts and various other items that carry the logo of places that we have volunteered. In short, we volunteer because there is nothing that we can think of which would supply such great places to live and the unique experiences that we have had. There was never a job that came even close to what we do.
To put it simply, the number of hours is never too great if you find yourself dreading the time to leave and travel on to your next destination.
The following was written for us by a citizen of Australia who is presently spending extended visits in the USA, travelling in his RV which they purchased here and have registered in Texas. He was kind enough to write this in an effort to assist anyone who may be considering making such a trip. The advice is from one who has done all of the things that he suggests.
We’re Bruce and Pam, our home is in Australia. We started our travels in June 1996 and are still enjoying the RV life-style. We return home often and our rig is stored in Texas when not touring the USA. We also have a motorhome in Australia which gives us a good basis on which to compare the two countries.
We currently own a 40ft Country Coach Intrigue DP and tow a Chevy HHR. (Our first motorhome was a 35ft Holiday Rambler gas/petrol motorhome. We towed a Pontiac Grand Am).
There are many issues you need to consider before beginning your adventure in the USA. The following is a summary of some of the issues we faced and maybe be of benefit to those who wish to follow. Although we are Aussies, many aspects will be similar for other non-US travellers. They are listed in no particular order of importance. Please remember that circumstances and events may change some of the following procedures and as a result they must be used as a guide only. It worked for us but we may have been lucky or unlucky at the time. Depending on the outcome.
VISAs. For a visit to the USA of more than 3 months, a B1 / B2 business/visitor visa is necessary. The American Embassy in your home country issues these. A charge is made for the issue of the Visa. A VISA DOES NOT GIVE PERMISSION TO ENTER OR STAY IN THE USA. (A Visa may be issued for ten (10) years but this doesn’t mean you can stay for ten (10) years). Allow plenty of time for the Visa to be issued. On entering the US an I-94 card (application to enter the USA) has to be completed. (This will be handed to you on the plane to be filled out by you and any other family members). At the border/Airport an immigration official will decide whether you may enter the country. If permission is granted, the I-94 card will be stamped with the date of expiry and the bottom part stapled in your passport. Usually the maximum time of six months is granted. We have been able to stay longer than six months by presenting ourselves to an Immigration Office and giving evidence of our current status. It is our understanding that Immigrations main concern is your work status. We have presented evidence that we had sufficient funds to continue our travels. We also presented evidence of our past funds withdrawals to support our lifestyle. It is always up to the good will of the Immigrations Officer as to whether they grant an extension. Don’t try to quote the law to them or make any demands. It is our experience that being polite is critical to your results. (Immigration Offices can be very busy places. Make an appointment and be prepared for a long wait). We have also crossed into both Mexico and Canada and started another ‘visa period’. This is not always successful so be wary of relying on this tactic. It would be an offence to stay beyond the expiry date of the I-94 without permission.
Once in the USA you can apply for an extension of your stay. Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Non-immigrant Status is available online or by post from US Citizenship and Immigration Services www.uscis.gov. A fee is applicable. A detailed submission must be made explaining the circumstances for requesting an extension.
BANKING. Australian issued credit/debit cards work fine in the US. Credit Card companies may make additional charges for foreign transactions. We've used National Bank Master Card credit cards and have found the service reliable. Remember banks may/will make a percentage charge on all transactions and the prevailing exchange rate will apply. (If you use an Australian issued card be sure it is Cirrus or Plus compatible. This is a worldwide standard/system that most banks recognise and will allow you to access your money back in Australia via an ATM).
A US checking account can be valuable when buying goods or services online because a US billing address is usually required. We use Bank of America as they have branches all over the country and will issue you a Debit card for use in theirs and most ATM’s. Unlike Australia with it large nationwide banks the USA has many small local banks. Try to avoid these and look for a bank which has branches all over the country. Remember that without a SSN, (Social Security Number), you will not be able to earn interest on your bank funds. (It is possible but more trouble than it’s worth and may/will affect your tax situation back in Australia). To open an account all you need is ID and a valid US address.
PHONES. Mobile phones, (Cell phones), are just as popular in the US as they are in Australia. Prepay phones can be bought cheaply and easily from retail outlets. Unlike in Australia, ‘air-time’ is charged both for incoming and outgoing calls. To keep the service active, and credit rolled-over month to month, regular payments have to be made (typically every 1, 2 or 3 months). Contract phones may be harder to come by without a SSN. The lack of a SSN (and US credit rating) prevented us entering a contract with Verizon for example. A 'call-card' may be economical for ringing home. We use campground Wifi internet and Skype to talk to our family back home at a much cheaper rate. (Free). Like the banking system there are few national phone providers. Phone use is not ‘seamless’ as it is in Australia. As a result a ‘roaming fee’ is required between the many other phone companies. These ‘other’ companies will charge you for using their service. So be careful of ‘roaming’ charges on your account. These can quickly add up as ‘roaming’ charges can be more expensive than the phone call itself.
Be wary of any Australian company that tells you your phone will work in the USA. It may in some places and it may not. Some US phone companies will think they have hit pay dirt if you ‘roam’ to Australia! Leave your Aussie phone at home and pickup a prepaid phone in the USA.
US ADDRESS. A legal address is required for registering, titling and insuring a vehicle. Certain states recognize PMBs (Private Mail Boxes) as legal addresses. Texas, South Dakota and Florida may be good choices for foreigners. We chose Texas, using the Mail Service address of the Escapees RV Club in Livingston. This mail service provides addresses for many RVers.
MAIL. As indicated above, Escapees RV Club has a receipt and forwarding service. Other mail handling and forwarding services are available.
DRIVING LICENCE. Australian driving licences are accepted. We have never been asked to show an International Driving Permit (this is NOT a driving license) but it may be useful in some States and maybe asked for by your insurance company. An Australian licence may attract loading of insurance premiums.
For extended stays it is worth considering taking a US driving test. The driving test in Texas is far easier than an Australia driving test. A 'Driver Handbook' may be obtained from libraries or DMVs. The theory test has multiple choice questions, computer-based. Driving test centres can be very busy.
BUYING AN RV. Just as in Australia, or anywhere else for that matter, caveat emptor . Research, research, research…visit lots of dealers…try to avoid getting stuck with a sales person too soon. This can be hard but despite their reputation sales people are almost human – you CAN get a lot of help from a good one! Some dealers have overseas customers and are familiar with the various requirements for foreigners. We would suggest using one of these dealers. Using a good dealer may cost a bit more but it will save you valuable time and frustration. We had good experiences with a Texas dealer who was familiar with our requirements.
Your money will go a lot further in the USA than in Australia when buying an RV. Take your time. There are literally thousands of them to choose from. Decide what sort of camping/touring you wish to do before looking at RV’s. It is far too easy to fall in love with a glamorous RV that won’t suit your travel plans. (A 40ft motorhome is not going to fit into most National Park campgrounds. So if your preference is for National Parks look at smaller units). I would even suggest deciding on the ‘type’ of rig you want before leaving home. Then stick to your plans. It can get confusing and a good sales man will/may convince you that the one he just happens to have on special is the one for you!
Be wary of ‘cheap’ rigs. The RV industry, like most industries, has a huge range of varying quality products. Remember the old saying, “something good for nothing is usually something good for nothing”. More dollars spent on a quality RV will add quality time to your touring.
DOCUMENTATION. Buying, registering, titling and insurance should be straightforward provided you have a legally recognized address. Titling and Registering in Texas (Polk County) is straightforward. The folks in Polk County handle many many RV’s and are familiar with most requirements. They often process RV’s for foreigners and can help with most requirements.
The cost of registration and titling varies from State to State. Online renewal is easy, even from Australia.
INSURANCE. Unlike Australia, registration does not include compulsory third party insurance. You will need insurance BEFORE you register a vehicle. Insurance will include the legally required components for the state you are registering in. Insurance ‘terminology’ is different. Familiarise yourself with it. Insurance varies considerably from State to State and may be more expensive if using an Australian licence. Holding a US licence could make a big difference. Texas can be an expensive state for insurance. Some insurers do not write policies for Texas. We chose Progressive Insurance as they were happy to accept our foreign driving licenses and insured us in Texas. All arrangements were made by telephone, Internet and Fax. Be aware that you may not have any coverage when you leave your unit to return home - check policy conditions. As with ALL insurance policies, read the fine print. Due to Visa requirements and limits on your length of stay be wary of buying Full Timers coverage.
REGISTRATION. Registration and Insurance go hand in hand in the USA. Again using a dealer will make this much easier. Keep in mind, that for US citizens, there can be many advantages registering and buying in a particular state that do not apply to foreigners. (Income Tax can be both a Federal and State issue in some states. Sales Tax may be non existing in some states, for state residents, and quite expensive in other states. Voting and residency laws also complicate the issue for US citizens plus other considerations). Be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to save money and as a result making your adventure more difficult than it should be. In many cases what you can save in one area you may lose in another area. You may buy in one state at a lower Sales Tax rate only to be asked for the difference when registering your RV in another state. We find that Texas offers by far the best compromise between costs, ease and convenience for foreigners.
CLUBS. The Escapees RV Club recommended and almost a must. The club also has a number of good campgrounds. Good Sam is useful for members 10% discount on daily rate at many parks and its additional-cost RV breakdown service. FMCA may be of interest for those with motorhomes.
INFORMATION. Trailer Life (trailers) or FMCA (motorhomes - both subscription) magazines. Escapees magazine can be useful. Big Rig Guide (purchase online and in some campgrounds) recommended if you have a large rig. Mountain Directory (buy online or at Camping World, east and west separately) is very helpful – there are a lot of big hills in the US! We use a Wal-Mart Rand MacNally Atlas - not brilliant but cheap and as good as the rest. Get State tourism maps from Information Centres or AAA. SatNav / GPS systems seem to have become almost the norm – not vital but probably very helpful and easy. We don't have one - yet!!
PARK PASSES. Interagency Pass (National Parks Pass) is good value. The initial cost is quickly covered after a few visits. The annual pass can be purchased at information centres or at park entry booths on the first visit. Gives entry to all US National Parks and Monuments. States parks may not accept the National Pass.
TAXES. Sales Tax is between 5 and 10 percent. Some States may have lower rates and Oregon, for example, has no sales tax BUT check whether you’d be able to register and title a vehicle. Oregon allows only genuine residents to buy and register there. Buying in one State and then registering in another may attract additional tax.
INTERNET. We use places like libraries, restaurants, book stores and campground Wi-Fi to access the Internet for email etc Satellite broadband can be good but is VERY expensive. Wireless Internet is gradually becoming more widely available but campgrounds are still not well served (August 2008). Where it is available, daily rates range from free to $10. Often there is no additional charge but we've found that reception at campgrounds can be patchy, with variable signal strength and flaky systems.
If you take a laptop with you make sure that it is capable of picking up the correct signals in the USA. For instance we have found that a laptop configured for wireless Big Pond would not work in the USA. Like everything else in the USA new laptops are cheap. I would recommend purchasing a new one in the USA and leave it stored with your RV. It will be all setup for the USA systems. Email your files home or burn CD’s.
CAMPGROUNDS. Unlike Australia, where most of the campgrounds are commercial ventures, the campgrounds in the USA are a mix of both commercial/private and governments owned facilities. Commercial/private campgrounds range from five star luxury establishments, with all the amenities, to sad dirty campgrounds that offer little more than refuge to the unemployed and poor. The public campground range from nothing more than a cleared piece of land in the wilderness to beautiful, full facility, parks. Almost all parks will offer the basics of water and dump points for black and grey water. Most will have some electricity. Unlike Australia the majority of parks cater for large rigs. Most parks, apart from some government run National and State parks, can accommodate 40 foot rigs.
We thoroughly recommend purchasing one of the comprehensive Campground books. (The size of a city phone book).These large books list the vast majority of the parks and give good descriptions of the parks facilities including driving directions to the park. Trailer Life and Woodalls are two of the most popular editions.
There are many place such as truck stops, rest areas and shopping outlets that will let you stay overnight.
WHY THE USA? We have been asked this many times. There is no single answer that we can give to satisfy all those who asked us. A mix of extreme capitalism and wilderness. Crowded cities and vast forest areas. Harsh deserts and snowy mountains. Lakes and rivers that can be found even in the driest of deserts. The USA is certainly value for money. The cost of RVing in the USA is far cheaper than it is in Europe for instance. The people you meet along the way are friendly and helpful. Food is plentiful and cheap. And above all the RV gives you the ability to travel at your own pace with the knowledge that your bed, bathroom and refrigerator are just a few short steps away. There is far more to the USA than that which is portrayed by Hollywood.
Be warned. The USA has so much to offer that only the foolish would expect to see it all in a single life time.
I first subscribed to this magazine more than a year before we left the house to begin our adventure. I did so in order to gain some feeling of how difficult or how easy it might be to find locations for volunteer positions, as well as a means of learning about the paid positions available also, just in case we should need to increase our income. It proved to have been very helpful and we continue to be subscribers to this day.
The magazine is published on each odd month of the year and is mostly filled with advertising by organizations that wish to attract RVers to fill positions. The majority of such positions are paid, seasonal employment but there are many agencies and charitable organizations who also use this service. While there are internet sites for many of those who seek volunteers, many of the most unique such positions are with organizations who have no other way for potential volunteers to find them. Most issues also have some adds for positions of longer periods with some permanent, long term. The advertisements which are placed in the magazine are listed by state to aid in locating a position in the area of interest. In addition, subscribers may also advertise for positions and singles can also place an ad for someone to share RV expenses. They also have a place for subscribers to post a resume which many employers look through when seeking to fill positions. This feature is used mostly by employers with paid positions.
Each issue of the magazine also has stories about featured job positions or types of position and articles to help new work-campers in finding a good position, writing resumes, and related subjects. They also hold annual contests for employer and workamper of the year.
The magazine has both a paper version which is mailed to each subscriber and also an electronic version which the subscriber can either read on-line or down-load to his computer in .pdf format and then read at your leisure. A major advantage to the electronic subscription is the fact that those subscribers also receive postings of new positions on an electronic "hot line," nearly every day. These "hot line" ads are sent out each work day of the year, except in the case when there are no newly posted positions. The hotline positions are ones that are looking to fill the positions very quickly and are usually immediate.
The cost of this service is very reasonable, but I suggest that you check for yourself, as the price does change at times. In the nearly fifteen years that I have been a subscriber, the price has only risen from $25/year to a current cost of $33/year for the basic magazine, with the Plus edition that includes the hotline now at $48/year. The plus edition was not available when I first joined.
Info about WorkamperThe best way to really understand what the magazine really is and how the hotline works is to see one issue of each. You can open this Preview issue of Workamper News magazine provided by permission from Workamper News, Inc.” and see exactly what you receive each month. For an example of what you receive in a "hotline" by email from the plus subscriptions, check out this sample. If you have any questions at all about the subscription or the services which Workamper News has provided to us in the past, feel free to contact by by email.
While I strongly endorse and recommend this publication,it is only fair to let you know that I do receive a referral fee for anyone who subscribes with a paid subscription.
The subject of ways to locate a place to spend time as a volunteer, while receiving an RV site with utilities as well as perhaps other amenities is one that comes up very frequently. At first, I thought that I should try to make this listing random, but then I realized that it probably is not possible so rather than that, I will list the places that I suggest in the order which we have found our preference to be. I will start with those which we have actually used, then list a few that we have heard good reports about. Each section of this article will contain a link which will take you to the website for the subject organization. In addition, feel free to contact me for more information about any of the locations or sources that I write about.
Workamper News magazine
There is a great source for leads to find volunteer locations which not only will sometimes lead you to one of the agencies listed, but that will often lead to positions that you would never find any other way and that is the magazine Workapmer News. It was this magazine that lead me to find places like the airfield, tree farm or county parks. There are many other unique opportunities published in the magazine, as well as many pages of paid positions. I have a page with more details and a free issue.
National Wildlife Refuges
Our favorite agency is the US Fish & Wildlife Service, managers of our national wildlife system. The national wildlife refuges are not a group of individual refuges, but a system of refuges who's primary focus is on migratory birds. The majority of them also provide habitat for may other animals and some have a specific animal as the main objective, but because birds are the only wildlife form which still migrate over long distances in the USA, they are also the most dependent upon a system of refuges. There are more than 550 refuges and presently more than 300 of them have places for RV volunteers, with at least one location in each state, most with several. Volunteering for this agency can mean working with the public totally, or not at all, just depending upon what refuge you choose and what you wish to do. They are a very dedicated group who place a very high value on the service of their volunteers. The required minimum number of hours for a site varies from as little as 24 hours total, to as much as 32 hours each, with 24 hours each person seeming to be the most common. I know of no refuge location where the volunteer serves as a campground host, as few refuges have campgrounds. While these locations usually request more hours than do campground host positions, when you are off duty, you are never bothered by a visitor or the staff. Host positions tend to be on call to the visitors any time they are at the RV. While visiting the USFWS, do not overlook the national fish hatcheries. because most of them also have spots for volunteers.
National Parks and Monuments
The National Park Service has been expanding their use of volunteers since the recent budget stress. For we who volunteer this has been a very good thing. There are very few campground host positions left in our parks and monuments, but there are a few. While we have not yet done a great deal of volunteering for the Park Service, we have had a very good experience with those we have been to. At Joshua Tree, we were primarily campground hosts, but we did have other duties. While at SA Missions, we were doing most of the same duties as the interpretive park rangers did, rotating positions in the same schedule as a ranger, but with fewer hours. We have also visited with volunteers at several other parks and in most cases, the volunteer is in that type of position and is treated as an equal. In several national parks where there are no campgrounds, volunteers are provided an RV site in a local commercial RV park. Some of the more popular national parks can be difficult to get a position in, but check with them just the same.
Texas State Parks
Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept. is one of the premier state agencies to volunteer with. Nearly all Texas parks and historic sites have at least one RV site and many have several. Texas parks use volunteers for campground hosts, tour guides, maintenance and just about anything that may need to be done. The only job that I know of which I have not heard of a volunteer having been asked to do is cleaning. With more than 120 state parks and historic sites, there should easily be a spot that you will enjoy.
Oregon State Parks
Oregon Parks & Recreation Dept. must be the very best organized state agency when it comes to use of volunteers.They depend more upon volunteers than any other state that I am aware of and they treat the volunteers as though they depend on you. We have only volunteered once in an Oregon park, but we know many others who have done so and all have had good experiences. Oregon even publishes an electronic catalog of volunteer positions.
US Army Corps of Engineers Parks
The USACEis charged with managing our nation's waterways and flood control lake system. On most of the lakes and some other water features they operate and maintain parks and campgrounds for public use. We have had two experiences with this agency and both have been very good. Realize that the Corps also uses paid gate attendants who bid for the positions, but that is an entirely separate program from the volunteer program and one which we yave very little knowledge of.The Corps is fairly new to volunteer use in most areas but they are rapidly expanding their programs and adding many more in the future. Some of these positions are campground host jobs, but many are maintenance and office assistance. There are even a few positions which the volunteers lead tours of hydroelectric projects or museums.
Idaho Parks & Recreation
Idaho does not have a large number of parks, but what they have do use resident volunteers and Idaho is one of the states that also provide volunteers with an annual pass to all of their parks in return for one month of service, and they also will provide two nights of free camping in route to and from your work site. It is a beautiful state with a park staff that treats their volunteers very well.
Arizona State Parks
We have only done one stay with the Arizona State Parks but we did visit several others and they seem to have a pretty well managed volunteer program. I would suggest that if you wish to winter in Arizona parks, apply early because many of their parks can be difficult to get a position in due to popularity.
Bureau of Land Managenent
Another federal agency that has volunteer positions is the Bureau of Land Management. We have met a number of satisfied volunteers and have seen several locations that use volunteers. They could be worth consideration. Many federal agencies also use the common site of VOL.GOV to post their openings. If you have no particular agency in mind, this can be a very good resource. We do not generally use it because we have been on the road long enough now that we usually have a particular location in mind and for that reason we prefer to contact the volunteercoordinator at the location we seek, directly. For that purpose, it is usually more effective to go through the agency's one site, directly.
In addition, nearly all state parks use volunteers in some capacity.If you have a state in mind, but you do not know what they have to offer, just type the name of the state into Google or your favorite search engine, followed by the words "state parks" and you can easily find a link to the parks desired. Also, a pretty fair number of state game & fish departments also use volunteers at game refuges and fish hatcheries.Another place for members of Good Sam is through the program which they operate to match members with campground host positions. They only help with host positions so are pretty limited in assistance. While I have signed up with their program several times, I have never found a location through them. I no longer bother to be a part of that program.
This is a fairly common question to be discussed on the various RV forums. Unfortunately, most times when it comes up it soon gets very heated since there are many different reasons for owning guns and very strong feelings about each. Some of the reasons for wanting to carry a gun are for sporting purposes, for personal safety and for heirloom value. If you are a fulltimer and have no other home it is often a problem to find a place to safely keep firearms that may have sentimental or antique value, as well as the fact that most guns of any quality have become quite expensive. So if you own a gun, there is a good chance that you will want to keep it in your RV, at least on some occasions.
The reason a person carries a gun plays a major part in where they will probably wish to store them. The carriage of long guns when they are not loaded, and kept in a locked case is usually not a legal problem. If they are then locked in a compartment, not accessible from the passenger area of the vehicle when traveling, there are only a few states and cities where they would violate any local laws. But there are places such as Washington DC that there is no legal way to pass through with a firearm. Guns kept for personal protection would usually be kept in an easily accessible location, at least for occupants when stopped for the night. An empty gun that is locked away and far from it's ammunition is not of much help for security. The better the access to your gun, the more likely that you will be violating local laws.
If you happen to be a person who does not own, or desire to own a gun, the issue is very simple. Don't start. There is no easy answer to this for people who wish to keep a gun. The best way for gun owners to deal with legal issues is to first be well informed about the laws in the areas you plan to visit, or pass through. The best book that I have found, by far is "Traveler's Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States." It was written by J. Scott Kappas, an attorney from Kentucky who is both a practicing attorney and the owner of a gun store. It can be easily found on the internet. If you are considering this choice, the book is very inexpensive and easy to understand. Good choices start with understanding what is at risk.
My personal opinion is that for anyone who is not already experienced with firearms, this is a very foolish action. Guns require constant practice to be helpful in an emergency, particularly if you choose to buy a hand gun. It is also important to remember that the value of a gun for safety only comes when the owner is willing to kill someone with it. It is very risky to show a weapon if you are not willing to use it, and if you plan to use it, you should plan to kill someone. The idea of just winging the offender is one from movies and is totally impractical in an emergency. Those who have experience with weapons, such as retired police officers and similar professionals are qualified for this. Many others who have extensive experience could use a gun safely and gain security from it, but to buy your first gun just to carry for protection in your RV is not a wise idea, in my view.
If you feel the need to own a gun for safety reasons, the very best choice of weapon is a shotgun. There are several reasons. A shotgun requires very little practice to remain proficient with at close range, which self protection will be. Shotgun pellets will not pass through a neighboring RV and harm an occupant, while large bore handgun bullets would. There is nothing more threatening to an intruder than the business end of a shotgun. The noise that it makes, should you fire it will frighten most people into making a very hasty retreat. After many years of experience with guns, I believe that a small, 410 or 20 ga. shotgun, loaded with #4 or larger buckshot is the most effective weapon in the hands of most people. As with any gun you need to practice frequently.
Give this question serious thought well before the time should arise and choose carefully. In more than thirty years of RV travels, I remember only two times that I ever felt any need of a gun for security. Looking back, the wise choice then would have been to have left the area, but I was much younger and more inclined to stand my ground. In neither case did anything happen, so the history would be the same even if I had not been armed, which I usually was back when we lived in Wyoming. I believe the best course of action today is to make your own choice, based upon your experience, and after learning about the legal issues that could arise in the event that you choose to travel with a gun. Once you make that choice, do whatever your choice is, quietly. There is no reason for anyone to know if you keep a weapon or not. You are least likely to have a problem in traveling with a gun, if no one outside knows that you have it. And should you come into contact with law enforcement authorities, decline if the officer should request to search your RV. In most cases there will be no negative effect from such a denial. Use good judgment about where you will keep a gun, to prevent any child or inexperienced adult from harm.And understand exactly what it's use means and what you will do with it, before the day comes to make that choice.
The best way to be secure in your RV, with or without a weapon is in your choice of where to stay. If you spend nights in parking lots as you travel, always pick those which are well lighted and where there are other travelers around. Consider the look and feel of the community and don't stay in a bad part of town. If something should make you uncomfortable, pack up and leave. Better to move on needlessly than to have a sleepless night, fearing trouble. Even if I happen to have a gun in my RV, I would never spend a night in a location where I thought there was significant chance that I would ever have to use it. In more than nine years of RV life there has not been one occasion when I would have even thought about a need for a gun. Even when in remote areas, it would be very unusual to need a gun, even for a wild animal.
Another thing to keep in mind about carrying of guns is that Mexico forbids the crossing of their borders with any form of firearm or ammunition, of any kind. They are very hard on those who they catch violating their laws on weapons. For Canada, no pistols of any kind are permitted and for long guns you need to get permits for them before you go. I suggest that you contact Canadian customs well before you plan to travel there and make sure that you know the current regulations on this issue. It seems to us that Canadians believe that nearly all Americans carry a gun so searches of RVs is quite common.
We do just as I advise. Since I do own guns and always have, I read abut the laws and keep a current copy of the suggested book. As to what I carry with me at any given time, only Pam & I know for sure.