One of the biggest benefits of settling down to a home is you get visits from family and friends. We just had two in the first week of June. The first was Bill’s second child and first daughter Suzanne who arrived from Denver with her daughter, Cassie on June 1. Suzanne’s birthday was on June 4 so we were even able to celebrate it at home, right before their flight back home that evening.
the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel
Cassie had enjoyed Yellowstone National Park so much as a summer volunteer so she has made it a life goal to visit as many national parks and monuments as she can. Bill gladly obliged and drove them to ten-day trips around the city, six of them down that alley. Right after picking them up from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport, Bill took them to the Desert Botanical Garden before going home to Vietnamese lettuce wraps I prepared for dinner. I didn’t go so I can’t write about it. But they were oohing and aahing about it.
The next day, Bill drove east towards Apache Junction on State Route 88. Not even thirty minutes from our home is the Superstition Mountain Museum, a 12-acre compound where many western movies were filmed, including those of Elvis. In fact, an Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel is onsite. The whole area is set against the beautiful Superstition Mountain. Just around the bend is the Goldfield Ghost Town, with authentic remnants of a mining town. There is a small train that goes around for tours. During winter when the snow birders are around, a gunfight is staged every hour in the afternoons. There is a Bordello, a chapel, a bakery, and even a Reptile Museum. We had lunch at the Saloon.
Tonto National Monument, Lower Cliff Dwelling
But we knew Cassie’s interest so we took her to the other side of the mountain, to the Tonto National Monument. The Salt River runs through this area as a precious year-round source of water. Well-preserved Lower and Upper Cliff Dwellings were occupied by the Salados who produced some of the best polychrome pottery and intricately woven textiles during the 13th to early 15th centuries. Their cliff dwellings now look out to the Roosevelt Dam recreational area.
Canyon Lake from the Dolly Steamboat
We got back to State Route 88 to continue on to Canyon Lake where the Dolly Steamboat is docked. We had reserved seats on the evening cruise with dinner. Two years ago, this was how we celebrated our eighth anniversary. Back then we saw a lot of desert wildlife but this time around, we only saw a blue heron. Still, we loved Canyon Lake with the magnificent rock formations surrounding it, its many coves, and the toys of the big boys speeding on the lake. Dinner consisted of tri-tip steak and grilled chicken breast with lots of salad, roasted veggies, pies for dessert, and wine and lemonade for the beverage.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
More national monuments beckoned to the south/southwest of Phoenix. The following day, we visited Casa Grande Ruins near Casa Grande City. It consists of Hohokam ruins surrounded by a compound wall built in the early 13th century. "Casa Grande" is Spanish for "big house," referring to the biggest structure, the remains of a four-story building. After being abandoned by 1450, it has managed to survive extreme weather conditions for about seven centuries. A modern roof protects it now.
Before she found out about the many national parks and monuments of Arizona, Cassie’s main interest was Biosphere 2, an American Earth system science research facility located in Oracle, Arizona, about an hour south of Casa Grande. The 3.14-acre complex was originally built to be an artificial, closed ecological system meant to prove the viability of such systems to support and maintain our lives in outer space. Today, it still is the largest closed system ever created.
Seven biomes were created: rainforest, ocean, mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland, fog desert, agricultural system, and human habitat. The two-year experiment involved eight humans called "biospherians". Below ground is an extensive technical infrastructure that supports Biosphere 2. During the middle of the second experiment, the managing company, Space Biosphere Ventures, was dissolved, and Columbia University assumed management of the facility from 1995 until 2003. The University of Arizona took over research in 2007 and full ownership in 2011.
saguaro in bloom
Just an hour from Biosphere 2 stands the Saguaro National Park. It consists of two separate areas—the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) about 10 miles (16 km) west of the city of Tucson and the Rincon Mountain District (RMD) about 10 miles (16 km) east of the city. Both preserve Sonoran Desert landscapes, fauna, and flora, including the giant saguaro and its unusual variant, the crested saguaro.
Tumacacori National Historical Park
We barely had time but Cassie wanted to go farther south, forty-five minutes from Tucson, to the Tumacácori National Historical Park. We arrived fifteen minutes before close time but it was all worth it. It became her favorite stop! There are three separate units in 360 acres. Established in 1691, Mission San Cayetano de Tumacácori and Mission Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi, are the oldest missions. In the 1750s, the Franciscan Mission San José de Tumacácori replaced the San Cayetano Mission and is the one open to the public. The third mission established in 1756, Mission San Cayetano de Calabazas, and the Guevavi Mission can only be visited on reserved tours by the Park staff.
On their last day, Bill drove for two hours north of Phoenix on Interstate 17 to the Montezuma Castle National Monument. The best-preserved dwellings were built and used by the Sinaguas, a pre-Columbian culture between 1100 and 1425 AD. The “Castle” has five stories and twenty rooms, built over three centuries, about 90 feet up a sheer limestone cliff, facing Beaver Creek. This ideal location inside a natural alcove also made it difficult for enemy tribes to penetrate their defenses. Almost 4,000 square feet of floor space are accessible most likely through portable ladders. At the next exit lies Montezuma Well, a natural limestone sinkhole also containing Sinagua dwellings perched on the walls. It is a mystery how so much water, 1.5 m gallons daily, can collect in the desert sinkhole.
As the last stop, Tuzigoot National Monument was a unique place. It preserves a 2- to 3-story pueblo ruin on the summit of a limestone and sandstone ridge. Situated near Clarkdale, Arizona, the ridge stands 120 feet above the Verde River Valley. The Tuzigoot Site is an elongated complex of 110 stone masonry rooms that were built along the spine of this outcrop. The central rooms stand higher than the others, maybe for public functions. The rooms incorporate few doors and use, instead, trapdoor type openings in the roofs with ladders for entry. Tuzigoot is the largest and best preserved of all the Sinagua ruins.
Tuzigoot National Monument
Cassie was so happy. Her US Passport Book collected six stamps during this trip. She also collected tokens from each one. She will surely come back to finish the rest sometime in the future. That will be the other ten-day trip she will not regret going to!
In the past nine weeks, I have published eight posts on RVing. Each was culled from our eight years of roaming around North America in an RV. The epic journey gave us lots of lessons learned. Here are the 10 Commandments of RVing, updated from the original 10 I first wrote about (go to this post). The list summarizes our experience so whenever I can, I linked to a specific post discussing the guideline in greater detail.
1. Follow the sun; maximize the fun.
Because you can move, you don’t need to shiver in the cold nor blister in the sun. Commandment One is the most important. It is the main benefit of RVing! Spend summers in the North and winters, go South!
2. Plan and document your trips well.
Enjoying the places and activities is only one-third of the fun. Another third is planning and visualizing the fun. The last third is reliving the fun. Thus, plan and document well. Utilizing technology is a must. For more, please see this.
3. Don’t move from one area to another before you really get to know an area. Explore it well before moving on. You wouldn’t want your fuel expenses will increase unnecessarily.
4. Stay healthy; build healthcare needs into your plan.
This commandment was not part of the original 10. It was a big lesson we learned. If we were given the chance to do it all again, we would make sure we had some months a year with a regular family doctor. For the details, please go here.
5. Choose an RV (and dinghy) that meets basic needs, not wants.
The RV must meet basic needs but because fuel is expensive, it also must be as small as possible. MPG rules. We did not opt for a fifth wheel because they are towed by a pick-up truck, meaning low MPG. You may click this for more details.
6. Always travel light.
Travel light was also our motto when we had to take business trips. In RVing, this is the golden rule. Remember that you are always moving your home or hotel room, so live with the barest minimum. Click this for the secret to traveling light.
7. Become a member of a network.
You can reduce camping expenses. If you camp a lot in a year, be a member of a network of campgrounds and enjoy highly discounted rates. The task of looking for campgrounds is also eliminated. This idea is included in this discussion.
8. Look for work or payback opportunities that blend with the lifestyle.
Many of those we met on the road work with seasonal job opportunities in different parts of the country. Amazon’s fulfillment centers and others listed in workamping.com offer such opportunities. For payback work, Habitat for Humanity enjoins RVers in Care-a-Vanners by providing the campsite.
9. Use nationwide services but also buy locally.
When you have something to fix in your RV or dinghy, it is best to use nationwide chains that honor the quality of their service or product anywhere. Doing this is not contradictory to buying locally. For higher-value products and services, it is best to go with nationwide chains, but for simpler jobs and lower-value goods, it is an excellent practice to contribute to the local economy. Besides, flea and farmers’ markets sell the season’s best produce and the community’s best crafts at the lowest prices.
10. Stay connected to friends and family.
Don’t be afraid; use technology! The hardest part of the RVing life is being far from your loved ones. Technology helps to bridge the gap. And camping in their driveways is a neat thing to do!
If and when you choose to RV full-time, there are two additional tips:
* Don’t trade your home for a vehicle. What if something happens and you have to go back to staying put? Choose an RV that you can pay for in cash, so you don’t have to sell a home or incur new debt. If you can, rent out your home(s) to finance your RVing.
b. *You may want to take advantage of lower tax rates and use mail forwarding services in states such as South and North Dakota or Montana, etc. We used a family member’s home address because we were told mailed-in voting is limited to those with actual home addresses.
That’s it. In one post, I have spilled all my RVing guts. If you are really serious about cruising in an RV, you may want to put these 10 guidelines to heart. Ask me questions in the Comments Section below. You may also want to read my book: Carolina: Cruising to an American Dream, a travel book of our years of RVing. Not only will it give you a feel for this other way of cruising but also entertain you with the ups and downs of my immigrating and Bill’s and my love Opus.
I wrote about this subject at the end of 2012. Since then, new technologies have arrived, for example, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of People (IoP). Technology is defined as the sum total of state-of-the-art means to solve practical problems. My previous article focused on RVing but, since we have sold our RV in March of 2017 and settled in a home at the Viewpoint Golf Resort, I shift here to technology applications in general travel.
Wikipedia defines the Internet of Things (IoT) as the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, etc. which enable them to connect and exchange data with other objects within the Internet. Now at 9 billion, experts estimate that there will be about 30 billion objects by 2020. Whoa! But why is this no surprise really? IoT is exploding because it enables many useful things: smart people, smart grids, virtual power plants, smart homes, intelligent transportation and even smart cities.
the pacemaker fitted into Bill's upper left chest area
Last Year, Bill collapsed in New Zealand (see this). Upon his return to Phoenix, his cardiologist placed an online heart monitor, an IoT object, on him before we went on our road trip to Pittsburg, Kansas. Because of the monitor, he was able to see how Bill's heart was behaving as we made our way to his 55th HS Reunion. He immediately ordered him to stay put in Pittsburg until a pacemaker could be fitted at a hospital there (click here). Another good example was the gadget installed in our new car by our insurance provider. For three months, the driving monitor documented monitored how Bill drove. Because they discovered he has good driving habits, his premium was reduced!
For a time we still used our GPS because it had a wider screen than phones despite the fact that I had the Google Pixel XL. But new cars now have the hugest of screens to which you can cast your phone GPS app. The phone, good apps, and Internet on the Go guide us wherever we are so they have become indispensable. They tell us where we can find the food we crave for at the moment, the cheapest gas, or the off-the-beaten-path attraction, our correspondent bank’s nearest ATM, or even where the nearest law enforcement station is (although I hope we don’t have to need this). Internet on the go is so important. However, the technology that makes it work anywhere around the world is still quite expensive, I think. Skyroam charges $9 per day or $99 per month) It's a good thing offline maps have become available and are, in fact, very useful.
my Sony a6000 mirrorless camera
I loved my Nikon DSLR. Photos I took with it won many awards. But it is so bulky I have always asked Bill to carry it for me. So guess what he did? For my 2017 birthday, he gifted me with the Sony A6000 Mirrorless Camera, the newest thing in photography. It is the size of a point and shoot but has the power of a DSLR! Editing photos is a hugely rewarding task so the proliferation of post-processing software has helped me a lot. But now, with the ease of taking photos, it is the storage problem that has become center stage. Google Photos helps me organize and keep all my phone photos in the cloud for free and Facebook’s Moments gives me cloud back-up for all my camera photos in addition to external hard drives.
Finally, the Internet of People (IoP) follows the IoT explosion. When things get smarter, humans and things will cooperate in new ways. Features of apps we currently use already enable us to communicate faster and better all at the same time even with the family in different parts of the globe. We no longer easily share just pictures but videos as well. Social media allows us to act singly or in groups, in whatever format we prefer, and to however large a circle we may want to reach. It is projected that messaging apps will render emails useless; some universities don’t give out any more new emails. Blockchains have enabled many things, including a Bitcoin economy. Who knows what else is coming for human transactions?
After almost ten years on the road, we have many devices we no longer can do without while traveling. The laptop I use is more powerful than any I have used and yet is the lightest and smallest. Bill and I are not early adopters but we certainly utilize technology as much as possible. In this lifestyle, technology has become our slave. But, actually, my slave is Bill because oftentimes, I do not know how to operate many of those gadgets...in the beginning!
These are the words I found in dictionary.com that define FUN: what makes you smile/laugh/feel happy; not necessarily free-spirited or structured, ordinary or out-of-the-ordinary, just lighthearted or deeply intense, simply the first time and pioneering or repetitive and memorable, or alone or with someone. This string of contrasting words led me to create a spreadsheet to remind me of ways to have fun whenever and wherever I am. This would be useful so I don’t do the same things again and again and later find I've been forgetting others.
There are two columns: Alone or With Someone. There are four categories on horizontal rows, each one with contrasting perspectives, each one with a different color of text: 1) free-spirited or structured, 2) ordinary or unordinary, 3) light-hearted or deeply intense, and 4) first-time or repetitive. The only criterion I had for filling up each cell is FULL ENJOYMENT, not wealth production, not knowledge generation, nor reputation building.
MY SPREADSHEET FOR FUN
Alone With Someone
1. Free-spirited Writing a blog post Tubing, canoeing or kayaking
Taking photos Hiking a little-known trail
Structured Attending a local talk Playing cards, local games, etc.
Hearing a good homily Local dancing
2. Ordinary Planning/cooking meals Local dining, Having cocktails
Reading a book Dogs & s’mores around a campfire
Working out at the gym Watching a movie
Unordinary Planning trips/parties Going to a local theater
Finding a bargain Visiting a museum
3. Light-hearted Riding a carousel Having a picnic
Learning to Cook a Local Dish Karaoke/jam session
Deeply Intense Playing video games Managing a complex project
Sketching/painting Dining potluck style
4. First-time Flying a kite Posing at the Arctic Circle
Riding a bike Riding a motorcycle or helicopter
Repetitive Looking for yellow things Visiting family and friends
Processing Photos Calling family and friends
MY RESOURCES FOR FUN
riding the Cadillac at the Ranch
You may say that the list is the same whether you are on the go or not. There is a big difference, though. You can definitely work on this list a lot faster while on the go because you are already in places that have the resources and facilities and the people around are most probably like-minded. The following paragraphs list three not so obvious resources that may be available wherever you go. They do not include sights and landmarks nor the amenities around your lodging of choice. In RVing, we wrote about the resources around campgrounds here.
Anywhere you are, you'll find public institutions like libraries that are full of DVDs, CDs, books, and magazines to use. Visitor Centers are sources of info and discount coupons, great for outlying areas. Good substitutes for activities are community centers or senior centers (once we admit it)! Colleges and universities are also great resources. At Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, for example, we discovered the Bing Crosby House that stored much of the singer's memorabilia. Churches, from the small Quonset huts in remote areas to the massive cathedrals in large cities, have functions other than Sunday services. An added benefit is that you will probably get more taste of the local culture in these places.
And, of course, countless commercial establishments fight for our dollars but let me cite those that are not so obvious ones. My favorite is to treasure hunt at thrift and antique stores, especially those that are found near affluent communities. Farmers’ Markets also give us valuable produce like big, juicy watermelons for just $1. We love to window-shop at sprawling malls that become great treadmill substitutes. Wide open drive-in theatres let you do your thing in the privacy of your car. When you run out of time to cook a meal, go into a Costco for some needed staples and have a round of the free food samples for lunch!
flash mob dance in old Vegas
But the resource you can always count on is your family or friends. Bill went back to his hometown in Pittsburg, Kansas where we found the best spot to camp in the whole wide world. Jack Dock, the husband of Rosemary (Bill’s sister), cleared out space on his driveway and extended an electrical outlet for us from his garage. In short, we were close neighbors for almost a month, reliving childhood times, sight-seeing together to nearby towns, alternating cooking meals, and playing lots of games.
So what more can I ask for? There should absolutely be no more time for boredom. The axiom ‘More for Less’ which I lived by in the corporate world, also applies in the cruising lifestyle. You don’t have to spend tons to enjoy any place. That makes Cheapskate Carol a happy girl and when I am happy, so is Bill. What are your definitions of and resources for fun?
Bill, 74, and I, 69, have been feeling out of shape, both literally and figuratively. Keeping fit, which includes the matters of exercise, food intake, and healthcare, has become problematic. Cardiovascular issues plague Bill. Mine are nagging gastro-intestinal and other-stress-related problems. They started when we were full-time RVing and didn’t pay enough attention. Mesmerized by America’s beauty, we were always eager to see THE sights, always on the go. I am glad we have slowed down a bit.
Back in Seattle before our cruising days, we went to Bally’s and LA Fitness (a chain that bought it) three times a week. When we went on our 5-year cross-continent runs in an RV, however, the fitness facilities in campgrounds were not consistent. We thought hiking would be our main exercise regimen. Many times though, hordes of mosquitoes feasted on us! At other times, it was either too cold or too hot. And, even if sight-seeing meant walking a lot, it didn’t resemble exercise. It was more leisurely strolling.
We thought there must be a way of keeping fit through exercise while we were on the go. I dreaded the thought that we were be slipping quietly into the sedentary habits of “sexygenarians.” But I rationalized that we had just not yet formed good exercise habits because we were still in transition. In time, we learned that we just had to resolve to do at least two of the following or suffer the consequences:
1. Find the time to play a sport for at least an hour three times a week (table tennis, billiards, mini-golf, badminton, golf, tennis, or pickleball) or dance.
2. If there’s a gym, exercise for at least an hour, three times a week. If there is none, you can exercise in your own home.
3. Walk for an hour before nightfall at least three times a week, if you haven’t walked enough during the day.
Healthy Food Intake
When we were doing a lot of driving in the RV/car, we would cut up a lot of veggies and fruits and have nuts available for snacking on, with lots of water to wash them down. When we settled at campgrounds longer, nesting in a bigger RV, we began to cook more meals which even became worse in Viewpoint. While on trips, loving local cuisine led to hearty eating. We needed the resolve for this eating regimen:
1. Eat one big meal a day, preferably lunch, and two other small ones or just two regular meals, late breakfast and early dinner.
2. Graze throughout the day with light morning, afternoon snacks, and evening snacks, but only with fruit slices and nuts.
3. Eat out infrequently, preferably only during an occasion or celebration, and compensate with smaller meals the rest of the day when we do.
In addition, we have adopted two novel ways of skipping a meal twice a week. One is by going to a movie and sticking to one large popcorn bag which we share for lunch. Also, Costco’s food trial bytes become another lunch when we shop for supplies. These two have become part of our diet program.
After our RVing phase, we also now stick to staying in our timeshare units because they always have kitchens, enabling us to have fun at local groceries, buying lots of goodies we don’t find in stores back home, and cooking exciting local fare. Beginning January 2019, however, we converted twelve of our sixteen weeks’ timeshare (the ones for El Cid Vacation Club in Mexico) to be all-inclusive. We will need to up our resolve. But please excuse us; we absolutely need a little pampering at this age.
Preventive Health Care
The main drawback of the full-time RVing lifestyle was the lack of regular preventive health care. Settling in Phoenix was the smartest decision we ever made. There is excellent geriatric care with the high population of snowbirds. Phoenix is the fifth-ranked overall in general healthcare in the US. We found an excellent family doctor who keeps track of regular screens and refers us to the best of specialists. Diagnosed with two conditions (hypothyroidism and high blood pressure), I was brought back to normal with half the smallest dosages of the required meds. Meanwhile, Bill has been fitted with a pacemaker.
So Viewpoint, you are the perfect base for our travels and we are here to stay. With regular exercise, healthy food intake, and preventive health care, we look forward to more years of traveling, past 70.
By definition, you cannot travel light in an RV! How can you travel light when you are, in fact, taking your whole home or hotel room with you? But I would like to tackle this subject because I think it will lead us to the one real secret to traveling light. Our RV was about 350 square feet of living space. We tried not to add much to its 20,000-pound weight. Living in our moving home for eight years taught us how to keep our every day needs to the barest minimum because fuel is expensive!
Background When I came to America, I had completely downsized to just two suitcases and a Balikbayan (returning resident) Box. Initially, I lived in a room at my daughter Trisha’s home in Seattle. Soon I was teaching at three institutions of higher learning and I bought my own condo. I continued my minimalist lifestyle which I had actually followed in Manila. At about the same time, Bill’s second marriage ended and he also had downsized to a single’s condo about twenty miles from me.
When we got married, Bill moved into my condo. Soon after, he sold his business and we both retired. We sold most of our stuff on Craigslist and three-yard sales and then packed all that we needed in our 24-ft. Class C motorhome. We left some boxes in two storage locations: Trisha’s garage and the storage unit of the condo we shared. When we bought our 37.5 Class A motorhome and the Thousand Trails membership, we transferred all that we owned to the big rig and gave away small items to our children! That brought us down to the bare necessities of living in an RV.
Clothes can be a creeping culprit. Bill always said ‘I’ve got too many shirts’ every time I saw one hanging on a rack that looked like it would be great for him. When I found out that tight pressure and extreme temperature, whether hot or cold, caused a flare-up of hives, I changed my dress size to Large! I donated to Goodwill most of my stuff before I could buy any new ones. Recently, I have changed back to Medium and Goodwill got lots of clothes again.
Paper can also add a lot of pounds. So, as much as possible, we gave up physical books and magazines and limited ourselves to e-books and e-zines on Kindle instead. Most of our files were converted to electronic format. We kept only those original documents that need to be presented like passports, birth and marriage certificates, divorce/annulment papers, etc. Our health records were all already electronically held in e-patient systems. Even my recipes were kept on two electronic folders. And photos were scanned.
Food areas can be the heaviest facilities. So we limited our silver and dinnerware to a service for four and no more. When we had more guests (the RV seats 10 inside plus unlimited outside!) we used plastic ware. Wine glasses came in glass-like plastic. Saucepans were.just in 3 sizes small: medium, and large; frying pans just 2, small and medium. But we did have a slow cooker and a microwaveable rice cooker, small ones. Bill made do with a French Press since a coffee machine would have had such a large footprint on our tiny counter. The small pantry also carried only the bare necessities. And the refrigerator held only a week’s worth of food. The microwave and convection oven were both in one switchable unit. Mugs tended to collect, however, and my spices drawer was always too full!
However, I was not as good with our burden from the bathroom. My cabinet had grown to several years’ supply of soap, shampoo, conditioner, etc. I really had to stop collecting those things from motels, hotels, and condotels we stayed in. But now I have put those into good use: as part of a ziplock bag where I have added a small toothbrush, a small toothpaste, a pack of crackers, a can of Vienna sausages, and a small tissue packet which we distribute to the homeless. Bill kept his toiletries to the minimum. Linens and towels were good for only four people: Bill and I and two guests!
Now for the rest of thestuff. On storage bins under the RV, we kept a small portable fire pit (for sitting out even on cold nights), a small barbeque grill, an outdoor table and four chairs, 2 suitcases and 2 carry-alls for trips elsewhere, Bill’s fishing gear, and a ladder. Inside the RV, we carried a DVD player, a small microchip-based Ziller karaoke system, 32-inch and 15-inch TVs, a satellite dish, iPod player, a laptop, and a Tablet. We also had a small space heater, a small electric fan, and a small vacuum cleaner. Our bed was Queen size and we also had a small washer/dryer combo!
We learned so well that we only needed 1,200 sq. ft. for a home to settle in after our RVing days were over. As a matter of fact, our cabinets and storage spaces are not even full yet, two years after! The lessons have trickled into traveling light. Now, we pack only one carry-on for a trip of several days, a carry-on each for a week or two, and a checked-in bag and two carry-ons for three weeks or more. So what is the one real secret to traveling light? It is this: living light. If you only need the barest of minimums for everyday living, you probably will also travel light!
Las Vegas is one unique destination. Glamor, glitter, and gambling are magnets for travelers. What's more, airfare to the city is usually low, lodging is inexpensive (especially on weekdays), and the food is awesome. No wonder it was voted the gathering place for my reunions in 2018. I have had three in a row since January 2018. After all three, we will go back again even if Bill again has to drive that 5-hour stretch through US 93 that connects Phoenix to Vegas. Having done so six times in four months, he can already do it sleeping. I have realized how Vegas will make you go back every single time.
Eating Our Hearts Out
The first was requested by my daughter Claudine who turned forty last February 7. She found great deals for the weekend of January 26-29 and convinced us to join her in a landmark celebration. Her family (husband Arnold, children Enzo, Kai, and Jax) and my eldest Trisha and her family (husband Deejay, children Krishna, Yeye, and Kenji), and Bill and I all congregated in adjoining rooms of Circus! Circus! My youngest, April and her family live in Melbourne and could not join us.
It turned out to be a weekend of gastronomic delights. The clear highlight of our stay was the Buffet of all Buffets for $60 pp. This entitles one to as many buffets as you want from Caesar’s Palace, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Paris, Planet Hollywood, and Rio within a 24-hour period. We started with the Le Village Buffet in Paris for our Saturday lunch, then for dinner we upgraded to the best Vegas buffet, the Bacchanal Buffet in Caesar’s Palace with an additional $35 pp, and then finished off with the Sunday brunch at Harrah’s Flavors, the Buffet.
With Vegas nights always ending in the wee hours of the morning, we just couldn’t squeeze in a breakfast buffet! Regular prices for each of the three buffets we took are $25, $60, and $25 for a total of $110. We still saved $15 pp. It would’ve been $40 savings had we been up in time for Sunday breakfast. We did not regret the decision to do this food indulgence but our tummies surely did! The Flavors Buffet was okay, Le Village was good, but Bacchanal was great. If you are going to choose just one, let it be Bacchanal, the #1 buffet in Vegas! It includes things like bone marrow, lechon (roast suckling pig), all kinds of seafood, steak, and lamb, and different styles of salads and desserts, etc.
at the Bacchanal Buffet
Reminiscing our Hearts Out
The International School of Manila (High School) 50th Reunion had been in the making for a year. We all got our acts together and met on March 15-19 at The Orleans Hotel and Casino. The first two days were the mini-gathering among a group of friends who sang together in high school. They called themselves the MJs (Marie, Miel, Mimi, Jo, Joy, Jean, and Judy). We couldn’t find Marie and Miel could not make it. Even if I was not part of the original group, I joined as a legitimate M-Me!
On the last three days, Alice, Florence, Stephanie, Hank, Ernie, Lynn, and Elmer joined us. We had a Senior Lounge where many pictures of fifty years ago were pasted onto the walls. It became our gathering place for the weekend. We had a welcome dinner and farewell cocktails at F&B outlets in our hotel but the main event was a celebration of all those who had passed on and a grand Filipino dinner bought from one of our fave Filipino food hang-outs in Manila, Goldilocks!
And that was the distinctive feature of this reunion...a trip down memory lane. It wasn't just about friendships but also of Filipino food! The MJs looked for Max’s, Jollibee, ChowKing and Red Ribbon, all standard fast food places in Manila. So we had a fill of all the comfort food we had been missing. In fact, we all took home lots of goodies like ensaymada, sans rival, and empanadas. I suppose this happens not just to Filipinos. Vegas features all kinds of ethnic cuisines.
the Class of 67, ISM
Gambling Our Hearts Out
Four friends (and their spouses) from I/ACT, the Institute of Advanced Computer Technology in Manila, decided to just hang out together in Vegas from April 21-23. Precy, whom I had not seen for thirty+ years has retired in the Sin City with husband Pat. Fides, who still works for Microsoft, and husband Benjie flew in from Seattle. Loy, who still works for an IT consulting company in Chicago, flew into Phoenix and drove with Bill and me to Vegas. I/ACT no longer exists but we always feel the urge to see each other again, whether in the Philippines or in the US. It was just that type of company where people become friends for life.
One of the things we did after the office hours was to play Chinese mahjong. In fact, Precy and I did so from Friday after office all the way to Sunday afternoon, non-stop at a friend’s home, just alternating taking naps and eating food. So we played mahjong on the first night, right after we all arrived and after dinner, until the wee hours of the morning, at Precy’s Paris suite. I lost heavily ($2.50), Fides lost some ($.60), Loy was the big winner ($2.50) and Precy won some ($.60).
The following night, after a Japanese buffet lunch, walking the strip, and having cocktails at Planet Hollywood’s Diamond Lounge (Precy is a member), we tried the Fremont Street Experience with its computer-controlled roof spanning three blocks. Then we went back to The Strip, contributed $20 each, focused on one slot machine in Paris and alternated pressing the Play button. It was a major team effort, including in prayers. Although we lost all our money, the innovative way to gamble gave us a thrilling hour of anticipation, screams, and despair. In the wee hours of the morning, we consoled ourselves by feasting on Giordano pizza at the suite, courtesy of Loy. Then we triumphantly climbed into the High Roller at the Linq. Yes, we feel we deserved the name. We gambled our hearts out!
riding the High Roller
As I said Vegas became our venue for eating, reminiscing, and gambling our hearts out. My three reunions combined gave us a taste of the consummate Vegas experience. Unfortunately, I added two pounds to my weight which will take me a couple of months to shed. That is unless another reunion of some kind is scheduled again in the Gathering Place for all Reasons and for all Seasons! And I wouldn't mind going back at all. Vegas has enough to make you go back every single time.
In my previous post, I talked about the three kinds of RV cruising one might choose as part of his lifestyle. The common feedback I got was “We want to RV but it’s too expensive.” I wrote a piece about the subject of The Economics of the RV Cruising Lifestyle in 2011 but it was mainly to justify our upgrade to a Class A from our Class C. Fortunately, it also compared full-time RV cruising to living in a home base and using a car for road trips. Here’s my update on the topic to see if, in hindsight, we still arrive at the same conclusion-that RVing full-time is cheaper!
It was shocking to see that our fuel expenses were so high when we galloped around the country every three or four days using our Class C motorhome. Clearly, we had to stay at a campground longer, like two or three weeks at a time. This is logical because we were covering a lot more miles in shorter periods of time. Besides, driving around an area using the smaller RV costs a lot. This eased a little when we got the scooter but I found it a very inconvenient way to go for longer trips. I was surprised to find out that a bigger RV, with an even lower mpg, plus a car for driving around, was a cheaper way of full-time RVing. And I was ecstatic about the bonanza of a 350-sq.ft. living space! Obviously, keeping a home base and using a car for road trips is the cheapest option, however.
Vehicle Ownership and Maintenance
Unlike houses, RVs do not appreciate in value. They are homes on wheels that are regularly subjected to the rigors of the road. Like cars, their values take a deep dive in the first year or two. Buying a brand-new RV, therefore, does not make sense. Bill thought it would be smarter to let other people take that hit. We bought a 10-year old Newmar Mountain Aire, one of the better quality brands. Besides, owning an RV at late in life also made perfect sense because investing in properties was, and still is, no longer high on our agenda.
All in all, our monthly cost of ownership (depreciation + maintenance) for a used home on wheels was around $500 per month, computing the life of our motorhome to be ten years. Not bad for a space of about 350 square feet, translating to less than $1.50 per month per square feet, just slightly above the cost of rented living space in Kent, Washington, from where we came, at the time. However, the condos that we own and are rented out will be there even after we pass on while the rig will most probably last only as long as we live or even shorter (we actually sold it after 8 years).
When we started RVing, we joined groups that gave 50 percent off for camping fees, which ranged anywhere from $10 a night for parks to $70 for resorts. Camping this way, we averaged $450 a month. When we committed more to the fulltime RV cruising lifestyle and bought the Class A, we also bought a Thousand Trails membership. This allowed us to use their network of campgrounds around the US. The membership resulted in camping expenses of a little over $6 a day or $200 per month over the more than four years we used it. It was a smart move. We saved on campground fees.
Furthermore, included in the membership were power, water, and sewer. Sometimes even cable and wifi were included. Thus, the major expense for utilities turned out to be just for mobile phones. You may also need to maintain lawns when you own homes, stuff nonexistent with RVs. Plus association dues can be as high as $350 a month for homes. These are all included in campground fees.
Taxes and Insurance
An RV is a second home, or if you are full-timing, it is the primary home. Sales/excise tax on the purchase of the RV and interest on future payments are just like those on a traditional home or second home. However, since an RV is not real property, property tax is nil. Insurance on the trailer/fifth wheel is lower than on home insurance; but, since a motorhome is a motorized vehicle, insurance expense is higher and may equal that of a home.
Recreation and Entertainment
Entertainment and recreational expenses are not huge while RV cruising because cruising takes you to new places and new things to do all the time. Thus, this type of expenses while living in a home would be a lot more. There would be more out-of-town trips which would mean fuel costs for the car (or even airfare), lodging costs, and other charges associated with the place.
Food and Household Supplies
Food and household supplies can be considered the same for all the columns. Although, of course, food may be more for living in a home base because you may tend to eat out more often. In an RV, you actually feel like you are eating out all the time because grilling outdoors is so much fun and picture windows create a great ambiance. Household supplies may be less in an RV if it is compared to a larger footprint for a home base.
Although costs can be considered the same for health maintenance, it is definitely better, however, if you are at home, and more preventive in nature. You tend to postpone visits to doctors, dentists, or ophthalmologists when you travel so costs may be higher when serious health issues arise. This is the main reason we shifted to snow birding first, then getting back to a home base.
If cost were not an option, the best is to have a home base and escape withan RV. But, for most people, the cost is a major consideration. If you do not gallop around the country every three or four days, use a second-hand RV, and join a network of campgrounds, then full-time RV cruising is cheaper than living in a home and using a car for road trips. We have arrived at the same conclusion. We carved out several years from our life to cruising fulltime in an RV. We ended up having a home (the RV), financing our adventure with the rental of our condos, and getting to discover all of North America as a bonus.
Excerpts from Appendices 4 and 6 of Carolina: Cruising to an American Dream
Glamping, a recent trend coined from the phrase glamorous camping, technically refers to luxury cabins and tents. I like to think that it all started with camping in an RV, something we did for eight years of our lives, in different campgrounds all over America. Doing so exposed us to different cities and towns around the country. And it allowed us to meet many “neighbors” along the way. As a late-age immigrant, I am proud to have completed a fun discovery of America. I hope everyone who seeks citizenship can do so before becoming one.
camping in Joshua Tree National Park
In hindsight, we found four different kinds of campgrounds. They can best be illustrated with a grid having an x and y-axes. If we assign Location as the y-axis and Amenities/Activities as the x-axis, then four quadrants are created. As you go higher on the y-axis, you go from urban to rural; as you move from left to right on the x-axis, you go from one with absolutely no amenities or activities to one with a ton of them. I call those with many amenities and activities, "resorts," and the ones with little or none, "parks." Then I use the term "nature" to differentiate the rural campgrounds from those that are nearer urban centers for which, in turn, I use the term "city."
We stumbled into the Nature RV Resort in Lenoir, North Carolina when we looked for a spot from which we could explore the Blue Ridge Parkway. We loved going home to the Green Mountain RV Resort. Our site had a sizable deck, looking out to a fresh spring. Bill loved the large trees, went hiking in the many trails and dreamed of fishing and boating in the lake. We frequented a clubhouse with billiard tables, ping pong tables, and other games. Bill started his golf career with the nine-hole golf course in the resort. But the tennis and volleyball courts were left untouched. As for me, I learned the East Coast Swing from a family that was vacationing for a weekend at a Saturday dance!
camping in Orlando Thousand Trails
What immediately comes to mind as a City RV Resort is the Thousand Trails-Orlando in Florida. It’s just six miles from Disney World and within walking distance of strip malls and big grocery and other chains. My entire family staged a reunion there that Christmas. We loved going to the large clubhouse which was full of game kiosks, billiard tables, ping pong tables, a large TV, a gift shop, and even a diner. We began lots of things there: our religious observance of fitness center visitations, lazy afternoon lounging in the hot tubs and pools and energetic dancing to live bands with neighbors during the Friday night dances. Tennis courts, horseshoe pits, volleyball courts, and a mini-golf course remained unvisited though, as well as the craft and hobby clubs. I will never forget this Resort. It is where Bill suffered a heart attack the day we arrived. But it is also where we met Dan and Beverly who helped me through that episode. Another person I met was Roberta, a struggling writer. who published her book the year before I published mine.
The City RV Park is used primarily to be near family or friends whom we would like to visit or as a base from which to explore a famous large city. I remember how we religiously went out every day to take the train and subway link to Boston. We did not meet a lot of people because everybody was busy, like us, visiting the sights in this city that is synonymous with the start of the American Revolution. It became part of my inner journey to becoming an American, where I started to hum the Star-Spangled Banner all day, to Bill's delight.
camping at Kirk Creek Campground in Big Sur
Last but not least, the Nature RV Park is probably what you need when you want to get away from it all. State and national parks, as well as parts of our national forests, Corps of Engineers’ land preserves, beach enclaves, etc., are of this type. Some national parks, such as the Joshua Tree National Park, qualify; bigger national parks with plenty of facilities, such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, are more like Nature RV Resorts.The best one that comes to mind is the Kirk Creek Campground along Big Sur, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It has a trail that led down to the largest sand beach in the area. It has no water hook-ups, so when young campers ran out, Bill graciously donated some of our supply. I spent many a night by a warm crackling fire under a soft moonlight chatting with an author, eager to learn about his roller-coaster ride to getting published.
But we also realized that there are available resources for fun other than what the campground offers. We have been amazed at all the possible things you can do, at what living in America offers. My post on Maximizing RVing Resources, Part 2 details things from: public centers like libraries, Visitor, Community, and Senior Centers (if you can already admit that you are a senior!); colleges and universities that make the campus a public center for enlightened living; commercial establishments that compete for our dollars; local governments/non-government associations that sponsor a variety of events; and churches that go beyond religious services. Treasures are also available in all the state and national parks that preserve America’s beauty for everyone to enjoy.
inside the RV when camped
There is a range of things to see and activities to do in and around where you park your RV. You will enjoy whole new notions of fun and meet people who can teach you simple joys or take you to life-changing directions. Camping around the country gave me the confidence not only to receive my naturalization papers but also, more importantly, to become a true American. Now I can say that those eight years were well spent. I came to know and appreciate all of America, the Beautiful.
Excerpted from Chapter 1, Appendix 1, and Appendix 2 of Carolina: Cruising to an American Dream
Sometimes we cruise along with just a general direction, waiting to be surprised by what new things-- sights, foliage, wildlife, for example--that we may encounter down the road. After driving for a couple of hours, we may shift to cruise-control to relax our tired muscles on the freeways of America. Other times, we will deliberately slow down because the scenery unfolding is just so spectacular.
Now imagine doing all of this cruising, not just in a car, but in an RV! And imagine it being a lifestyle, even if it is not full-time as I wrote about in this previous post. Cruising in an RV has become very popular. Consider how the RV industry has grown. Today there are more than nine million RV owners (more than thirty million users if we include renters), more than 12,000 RV-related businesses, and more than 16,000 public and private campgrounds in America.
Definition of Cruising
escaping to the beach
Dictionary.com defines cruise as 1) to travel about without a particular purpose or destination; 2) to drive at a constant speed that permits maximum operating efficiency for sustained travel; or 3) to travel at a moderately fast, easily controllable speed. Before I go any further, let me state that I have eliminated 4) to travel about slowly, looking for customers or for something demanding attention, i.e. taxi drivers, policemen, and prostitutes!” To the first three definitions, I add my own take: aimless (no big aims), effortless (no big efforts), timeless (no big limits on time), deeply personal and enjoyable drive through life, usually with a loved one(s).
I like to compare and contrast this cruising lifestyle with the driven one because, for years, I had to endure the latter, bringing up my children as a single parent in the corporate jungles of Metro Manila. Bill was driven in America, too, though not as a single parent. His children were already on their own when his wife passed on due to cancer. While the driven lifestyle is usually characterized by big goals (building a home, bringing up kids, getting an MBA), cruising is marked by little ones (baking a pie, spotting a deer, gazing at a sunset). While the driven lifestyle needs lots of energy to sustain, cruising works at whatever energy level one may have. The driven lifestyle means deadlines but cruisers often say: ‘When I woke up this morning, I had nothing to do; when I went to bed, I was only half done.’
Kinds of RVs
Let me first give a description of RVs.There are two general classifications: motorized and non-motorized. The motorized version is a vehicle that includes a housing area as well as the engine to run it. The second is a housing unit that is towed by a motor vehicle powerful enough to do that.
There are four kinds of motorized RVs according to size. The smallest are camper vans, very popular in Europe where the roads are pretty narrow. Class B and Class C motorhomes can go up to thirty feet in length and are complete with kitchen, dinette, and bathroom. The distinctive feature of Class Cs is a sleeping area on top of the driver’s compartment, while Class Bs has the sleeping area at the back. Class As is upwards of thirty feet in length with as many as four slide-outs that make the living areas so much bigger when parked. They can tow a dinghy, a dolly for cars, or even a big toy hauler.
There are two kinds of non-motorized RVs: travel trailers or fifth-wheels. Travel trailers are tagalongs of various sizes, from the lighter pop-ups to teardrop campers, to the bigger Airstreams, and even larger ones. Fifth wheels, on the other hand, are those tagalongs with large noses that engage to the load bed of powerful pick-up trucks. These are usually as big as Class As, and like the larger travel trailers, often have slide-outs can also be used to expand living areas.
Types of RV Cruising
The various kinds of RVs give enthusiasts the appropriate one for the type of RV cruising they choose. In hindsight, there seem to be three types. The first is called escaping when you still want a home and just need to pause to be recharged. You may be a student, an employee, an executive, a business owner, or a housewife with a nagging urge to escape from everyday life. You want the benefits of cruising without suffering the disadvantages of being away from a home base. So you escape with your RV on a weekend or a longer vacation. Smaller, motorized RVs are perfect for this. Bill and I did not go through this type because we were already on the road to retirement when we met. But now that we have settled into a home base in Viewpoint, we may buy a campervan for the hot summer months.
We jumped straight into the second type, the fulltime RV cruising lifestyle. We finally had the time to attend to our bucket list that had grown long because we could not escape often enough in our past driven lifestyles. Given the number of years we had left on this planet, we focused on an intensive exploration of America. In the beginning, we stayed for just three or four days and used a 24-ft. Class C Telstar and a Vino scooter, a pair we fondly called Star and Vino. When we decided to stay longer in the areas we visited, two to three weeks at a time, we upgraded to a Class A with a slide-out and bought a little Saturn for a tow vehicle. We finally had a 350-sq.ft. living space and began to receive guests from family and friends. We did this for five years, stopping only after we had almost finished visiting all of North America. Motorized RVs are perfect for this RV cruising lifestyle.
snowbirding in Viewpoint, Arizona
The third type is snow-birding. We follow the sun to be warmer, much like birds do when it gets too cold where they stay. During the winter months, we migrate to someplace in the warmer south;.during warmer months, we return to our primary homes. Droves of Americans who live in the northern states, along with many Canadians, drive to Arizona, Texas, Southern California, or Florida for three to six months a year to do this. After a search of the best campground/resorts in all the candidate states, we chose Viewpoint in Mesa, Arizona because it was the biggest and offered many amenities and activities. We did this for three years, using our RV as a home base during winter and exploring the other continents during the other months. Large, non-motorized RVs are ideal for this stage.
Whether you are in a camper van just escaping or in the larger motorhomes fulltime RVing, or in a fifth wheel snowbirding in the south, RV cruising is a lifestyle that can catch anyone's fancy. I have met people who continue their RV cruising well until their 80s; or, like us, moved from one stage to another over eight years and stopped. It was "one hell of a ride," one which we will never regret we took. We were pleasantly surprised by all that we saw and experienced. And now in our 70s, we have gracefully slowed down to a life of cruising saying "We've been there; done that!"
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