Limited Options in Bozeman, Montana

There’s just something about Bozeman, Montana that has drawn us back for the third year in a row. That something is definitely not an array of options for RVers, however. There are three RV parks/campgrounds within the city, and none of them are anything to write home about. We stayed at Bozeman Hot Springs Campground and RV Park the last two years, and you can read about those visits here and here. The other two options are Bozeman Trail Campground (formerly Sunrise Campground, which is how it’s still listed on Campendium) and Bear Canyon Campground. Another option is the Gallatin County Fairgrounds as well as a handful of national forest campgrounds.

When we were in Bozeman last year, we drove through Bozeman Trail Campground and Bear Canyon Campground to see what the other options offered. At the time, they both seemed average-ish, with smaller sites that were close together. Even though it’s pricy and some of the sites are not nearly as nice as others, in our opinion, the hot springs campground is the nicest place to stay in Bozeman.

Bozeman Trail Campground

31842 Frontage Road, Bozeman, MT 59715

www.bozemantrailcampground.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Playground
  • Dog Run
  • Propane Fill
  • Wifi

Bozeman Trail is the closest to what the city has to offer, being literally a 1-minute drive from Bozeman’s historic downtown. Bozeman Trail was also the only place open for us to stay when we made our way to Bozeman this year. We arrived May 2nd, and the hot springs didn’t open until May 15th and Bear Canyon didn’t open until June 1st. I don’t know if those are the opening dates every year or if they delayed opening due to COVID-19. Speaking of which, the fairgrounds and area national forest campgrounds were all closed due to COVID when we arrived. So, Bozeman Trail was literally our only option.

I had tried to glean from a number of reviews as well as Google Map satellite images what the best sites were — and I think we actually did end up with the best site. We made our reservation online, I selected site 37, and a message popped up stating that they can’t guarantee the specific site I chose unless I pay a $25 site lock fee. Seriously? Even though I definitely wanted site 37, as it was a pull-through at the end of a row, I did not pay the fee and hoped for the best. The day before we arrived, I called Bozeman Trail to request a non-contact check in and get our site number. We had done this at the last three places we stayed — actually, the last three places we stayed had contacted us. When I hadn’t heard from Bozeman Trail, I called to get our site number and they said they wouldn’t definitively know our site until the next day when we arrived. I then asked if I was able to call as we were pulling in to find out our site number so that we could have a non-contact check in and she said no, she needed me to come in to sign something. Again, seriously? During this pandemic, we kept our traveling to a minimum and our contact with others to none except for grocery stores, and that’s all we were trying to do here. But we weren’t allowed to and it pissed me off.

The next day, we arrived, I went in the office and found that zero precautions were being taken to protect staff or guests. I was wearing a mask, but the employee was not. There was no partition in place. She stood behind a podium and expected me to stand a foot away from her while signing a paper that didn’t need to be signed and writing down our license plate numbers that could have been collected during the reservation process. I grabbed the paper, walked over to a table, and signed it with my own pen. I returned to the truck and we followed a guy in a golf cart to our site. Between the site lock fee and the lack of COVID-19 precautions, we already didn’t feel great about this place.

Site 37 is on the end of a row of pull-thru sites that face every other way so that you share a front yard with your neighbor. However, seeing as 37 is on the end, we did not share a front yard, but had a decent sized grassy area. The parking pad was gravel, narrow, and a bit unlevel. It seemed as though they had just put in a new sewer hookup, because the area around the hookups was dirt, though this time of year it’s actually mud. The hookups were pretty spread out, but we didn’t have an issue hooking the electric up at the back of the site and hooking the water up towards the front of the site. Our site was large enough to park the truck, but I’m not sure that would be possible in all sites.

The campground itself is decent. The layout of some sites is a little wonky, and at first glance, it seems really run down, but that’s only because there were a number of rigs that looked as though they could never hit the road again. There are a number of RVers that get frustrated with places that have an age limit on RVs, but this campground is an example of why some places choose to have an age limit. Could it use some sprucing up? Yes; however, if you can look past some of the dilapidated vehicles, this place is okay. Ish.

But, the noise. Oh my goodness, the noise! The noise is unlike anything else we have ever experienced. The campground is nestled between a frontage road that has an active train track running parallel and I-90. This is the absolute loudest place we have ever stayed. We are not normally disturbed by highway noise or a distant train, but here, the noise was endless. And even with the door and windows closed, we could still hear the traffic. The train ran a number of times through the night, whistle and all. Some reviews for Bozeman Trail say the noise isn’t that bad, so I don’t know if it was the location of our site, or we have overly sensitive hearing, or those reviewers have diminished hearing, but it was bad. The noise is our main complaint and the reason we hope we’d never have to stay here again.

We didn’t use any of the amenities, so I can’t comment on those. They claim to have a playground, but it consists of one swing and one of those little boxy, plastic Little Tykes-type play sets. There are plenty of places to dispose of trash throughout and as I said earlier, the location can’t be beat for visiting downtown Bozeman.

Site 37 fit our 27′ Airstream and tuck without issue. When most other sites had picnic tables, we had that weird permanently-in-the-ground table.
Our front door faced the gravel campground road, but it wasn’t bothersome.

 

 

 

A Week at Zion River Resort in Virgin, UT

Zion River Resort is a beautiful little RV resort located less than 20 minutes from Zion National Park’s south entrance. The grounds are well kept and welcoming. Amenities abound, but because our stay was during the coronavirus pandemic, we didn’t take advantage of any of them. The office, gift shop, and what seems to be a pretty extensive convenience store, were all closed to guests. We received a pre-arrival check-in email the day before arrival that let us know what our site number was with a map attached. It also stated that staff was able to deliver ice, firewood, and grocery items to our site and they would charge the credit card on file. As we pulled in, guests vacated the site across from us, and a staff member showed up immediately to wipe down the picnic table and electric and water hookups. They took every precaution they could to keep staff and guests safe, and were flexible with us when we called on two different occasions to adjust our arrival and departure dates.

Zion River Resort

551 E State Route 9, Virgin, UT 84779

www.zionriverresort.com

  • Full Hookup Sites
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cabins
  • Private Restrooms with Shower
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Pit
  • Take-Out Grill with Sandwiches, Salads, and Soups
  • Convenience Store
  • Gift Shop
  • Pool
  • Laundry
  • Playground
  • Dog Park
  • Propane
  • Social Hall with Events, TV, and Board Games
  • Shuttle to Zion National Park
Site 72 is a Back-In, Full-Hookup Site

The bulk of Zion National Park was closed before our arrival in Virgin, including shuttle service, visitor centers, restrooms, campgrounds, stores, Zion Lodge, and many trails, including the ever popular Angel’s Landing. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, usually only accessible by shuttle, was open to vehicles. We took a drive through the park on a Wednesday evening and were happy to see that there were few cars parked throughout the canyon. Two days later, the day we checked out of Zion River Resort, Zion National Park was closed completely to all visitors.

While we didn’t get to do any hiking in the park during this visit, we did a great hike in the area that had some pretty epic views of the park. Eagles Crag is a 7-mile out and back rated as hard on AllTrails, but is closer to moderate. The trail is a combination of loose rock and sand with some elevation gain. There were only four other parties on the trail, so it was easy to practice physical distancing. Dogs are allowed, but there are A LOT of prickly little cactus along the way, so I wouldn’t recommend it. There’s a small parking lot and pit toilet at the trailhead, which is an adventure to get to in itself — I would say a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle is a necessity.

Parts of the road were this muddy and rutted, which is why a high-clearance, 4×4 vehicle is a good idea.
Even the parking area has a nice view!
The trail is well marked and easy to follow.
Beautiful views throughout the hike!
This overlook is about 2.5 miles into the hike, so you don’t need to do the entire hike in order to get the best views.

I wish I had more to report from our stay at Zion River Resort, but due to the coronavirus, we really didn’t do much — we were just happy to have a safe place to stay for a week!

How Living in an Airstream Prepared Us for a Pandemic

Things people sheltering in place due to COVID-19 might be saying:

  • I’m on day three of not washing my hair.
  • I don’t know the last time I wore pants that don’t have an elastic waistband.
  • I’m proud of myself – I brushed my teeth before noon today.
  • My neighbor has seen me wearing the same thing ??? days in a row.
  • Feeling fancy – I shaved today.
  • Bra? Who wears a bra?
  • When’s the last time we talked to someone face-to-face that doesn’t live under this roof?
  • Did I shower today?
  • What day is it?

Just add, ‘I’m about four months past due for my biannual haircut’ and this is what full-time RVers are saying on the daily. Welcome to our world!

It’s been interesting watching friends and family, and society in general, adapt to life during COVID-19. About a week after stay-at-home orders were issued, we started seeing social media posts from friends and family that made us chuckle. People were already “losing their minds” after being home with their loved ones for seven days. Seven. Days. In 1800sqft homes. With a yard. And a finished basement. And multiple bathrooms with doors that actually give them privacy. And a full-size kitchen refrigerator and a garage refrigerator and a basement refrigerator. And a washer and dryer.  With grocery delivery available. And numerous nearby eating establishments offering takeout and delivery service.

We chuckled.

Here’s the thing: We are on day 820 of living in ~200sqft. Short of a combined handful of weeks of business trips, we have spent 24 hours a day together, every day, during those 820 days. When we say we live, work, and travel full time in an Airstream, what we are really saying is we are ALWAYS TOGETHER. This togetherness has REALLY prepared us for all of the sheltering in place, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders on the planet. Here’s what else has:

  • Isolation – While we aren’t usually in complete isolation from other humans, we ARE usually in complete isolation from other humans we know and love. We’ve had friends and family visit us sporadically since we’ve been on the road, but for the most part, it’s just the two of us.
  • Working from Home – This is a super new concept to a lot of people, but Travis has been doing it since 2011 and Missy has been doing it since 2009. Owning a business that allows us to work from home is actually the main reason we were able to become full-time RVers. However, we do understand that working for ourselves as opposed to working for an employer is a completely different ball game from what most people are experiencing now.
  • Stocking Up – Sometimes we’re going to be traveling through areas devoid of a real grocery store or a Walmart, so we have to stock up on items we’ll need in the upcoming weeks and months, including frozen foods, dry goods, hand soap, dish soap, shower soap, mouthwash, paper towels, paper plates, and yes, the ever-so-popular toilet paper, disinfectant spray/wipes, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizer. RV-safe toilet paper can be hard to come by on the road, so when we find it, we stock up. Disinfectant spray/wipes are used to clean areas commonly touched by others, such as in RV park laundry rooms, laundromats, and the water, electric, and sewer hookups at sites. Disposable gloves are used when dealing with the sewer hose (and now gas pumps). Hand sanitizer is used after doing all the things at the laundromat, hookups, sewer hose, gas pumps, etc.
  • Eating at Home – We eat at home a lot. Much more than we would like. While we often find ourselves in beautiful locales, we don’t often find a lot of amazing food options. But when we do, we fully take advantage of them. Right now, though, we’re able to pack enough food into our limited cabinet space and 7 cubic foot fridge and freezer to last about three weeks. And we’re eating all three meals a day at home, seven days a week, without the benefit of having a dishwasher. I would give multiple rolls of toilet paper for a California burrito or an açaí bowl right now.
  • Working Out – Pre-road life, we were gym people. While we’ve been able to join gyms for short periods of times or get multiday free trials, depending on having a gym just isn’t feasible. We travel with Bowflex SelectTech Adjustable Dumbbells and the BodyBoss 2.0 Portable Gym. These two things have the weight training aspect of working out covered. Travis runs and we both hike in order to get a good cardio workout in. Hikes have become more difficult with all of the park and trail closures, but there are still quite a bit available to us in our current location. The constant wind and cold temps are not helping our activity level, though!
  • Entertainment – Movie theatres, sporting events, concerts, or drinks out with friends aren’t usually available to us, so we aren’t missing them like many probably are right now. To entertain ourselves, we do the things that many people are finding themselves turning to now: Binge TV shows, read, do puzzles, play video games, do crossword puzzles, play board games, have campfires, go for walks — and most importantly, FaceTiming or Zooming with friends and fam. (And sometimes we even clean and organize.)

So, as you can see, social distancing and its side effects are nothing new to us. For the most part, our daily lives haven’t been impacted too greatly. We’ve had to readjust travel routes and cancel some reservations, both willingly and unwillingly, but we’re doing what we need to do in order to keep ourselves and those around us safe. When you live in an RV, you automatically live a simpler life. At a time like this, we’re very grateful for this lifestyle, as we seem to be experiencing less disappointment and monotony than others.

We know that this time has been difficult for many people in many ways, and this post is in no way meant do discredit the feelings people are feeling or the difficulties people are experiencing. We miss our families too. We worry about the effect all of the closures will have on the people we love and the communities we love. We’ve cycled through fear, anger, disbelief, annoyance, disappointment, and many, many other emotions. We do not take the seriousness of our country’s current situation lightly. But we do believe that it’s okay – needed, even – to smile and laugh and make lighthearted jokes and get through these weird times with a bit of humor.

Social Distancing at Sand Hollow State Park

We arrived at Sand Hollow State Park in Hurricane, Utah on March 16, 2020 and spent 12 days there. Sand Hollow was never on our itinerary, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we altered our route from two state parks in Nevada so that we could stay somewhere familiar and with full hookups (so we didn’t need to use the public showers). We spent two weeks at Sand Hollow during almost exactly the same time last year. You can read about that stay along with our review here.

Due to last minute reservations and extending our stay to longer than we had originally planned, we stayed in three different sites during our stay. All of the sites are full hookups, and many of them are pull-thrus, though the back-in sites are large and easy to maneuver into. The campground is comprised of one-way roads, so the pull-thrus on the right side of the road have the hookups on the roadside of the trailer, with your door opening to your ‘front yard’. The pull-thrus on the left side of the road have the hookups on the front yard side of the trailer, with your door opening to the road. Those sites aren’t ideal, and two of our sites, 32 and 19, had that layout, though site 19 was still decent due to its size.

Our ‘front yard’ in Site 31
View of Site 31 from the road
A sunset from Site 19
The view from our door at Site 19 – as you can see, our door opened to the road at this site.

Even during a pandemic, the day-use area of the park was pretty busy on the weekend. There’s a reservoir where people fish and sand dunes where people ride OHVs. Also, the campground was full on the weekend, but fairly quiet during the week. Because we weren’t a fan of how many people were around on the weekend, we didn’t extend our stay to the 14-day limit allowed; instead checking out on a Friday to move to a nearby RV park. This ended up working out well for us, as the governor of Utah finally issued a ‘stay home, stay safe’ order for the state on the Friday evening that we left, which included all state parks being open only to residents of the county they are located in. So, it’s possible we may have gotten kicked out.

It’s easy to see why this place is so popular!
Beautiful views throughout the campground!

We did our part to social distance during our stay. We walked a lot, taking in the beautiful views, and saying a polite hello as we passed others that were out getting fresh air. We worked out a bit with the equipment that we carry with us, and Travis also ran. We skipped hitting the laundromat in town and instead washed some laundry in the kitchen sink and hung it to dry from the awning.

Never thought we’d have to do this, but here we are.

The nights at Sand Hollow SP are very quiet and very dark, lending to a perfect atmosphere for stargazing and sitting by the fire. Firewood can be purchased at the entry kiosk. There’s a Maverick gas station and Walmart close by for necessities.

Establishing Domicile in South Dakota

When you don’t have a permanent physical home address, you can establish residency (your domicile) in any state. Some states are better than others for this purpose. The three most popular states for full-time travelers to establish residency are South Dakota, Texas, and Florida. These states don’t have a state income tax and they are also pretty lenient as to what is required to establish residency. We chose to make South Dakota our domicile for a couple of reasons:

  1. As we own a consulting business that we will continue to operate while traveling, South Dakota not having a corporate income tax was a big draw.
  2. Once residency is established, you only have to spend one night in South Dakota every five years. This requirement aligns with the go-with-the-flow nomadic lifestyle of full-time travelers.
  3. There are no vehicle inspections in South Dakota. Some states require vehicles and/or travel trailers to be inspected once a year. This requirement may interfere with the go-with-the-flow nomadic lifestyle of full-time travelers.
  4. We are originally from Wisconsin, where the majority of our family still lives, and plan to visit there regularly. South Dakota’s proximity to Wisconsin will make it easy for us to make our required residency visit.

Other things to consider when choosing a domicile are vehicle registration rates, sales tax rates, health insurance rates, and vehicle insurance rates. As we are coming from San Diego, EVERY aspect of transitioning to South Dakota is more affordable for us – yay for us!

How To Establish Domicile

 Set Up an Address

The first step in setting up a domicile is to establish a PMB (private mailbox) with a mail forwarding service. You will use this address as your legal address for everything – registering vehicles, drivers license, banking, tax returns, voting, etc. We chose Americas Mailbox in Box Elder, SD, just outside of Rapid City. This is a legal residential address, not a PO Box. In addition to receiving your mail, they help with registering vehicles, getting registered to vote, and getting you in touch with contacts regarding vehicle insurance, health insurance, accountants, and attorneys.

It was very easy to get our mailbox set up. We sent in the required information from their application checklist, which is found on their website, and our mailbox was set up literally the day they received our information.

When they receive mail for us, they will scan the exterior of each piece and upload it to their website. We will determine what mail can be tossed and what should be sent to us. They will then send us our mail when we request it.

Register Vehicles

Americas Mailbox also has a vehicle checklist with the information needed to register your vehicles. I emailed the information to them, they emailed me back with the registration cost, and I sent them a money order along with original copy of the title and a notarized power of attorney giving them the power to register our vehicles on our behalf. The license plates and registration were sent to our mailbox at Americas Mailbox, which we picked up on our recent trip to Rapid City. You DO NOT need to have a South Dakota driver’s license in order to register your vehicles.

Obtain Driver’s License

This, of course, needs to be done in person. Show up at a Driver Exam Station with the following items:**

  • Current Driver’s License
  • Proof of Social Security Number (only if current license does not have a gold star in upper right corner) such as social security card, W-2, 1099, or pay stub.
  • Passport or other proof of lawful status in the U.S.
  • Hotel/Campground Receipt (dated within the last year) – We stayed at the onsite hotel at Americas Mailbox and they gave us a receipt that had both of our full names on it for this purpose.
  • PMB Receipt – Americas Mailbox gave us the exact printout we needed.
  • Marriage Certificate (only if name has changed at some point in your life)
  • DD-214 (only if you want ‘Veteran’ to be printed on your license)

Once at the exam station (where an exam is not required if you have a current, valid license), you fill out an application. You then step up to the counter, hand over your documents, sign a Residency Affidavit stating you intend to return to South Dakota after being absent, perform a quick eye test, get your picture taken, sign the electronic pad, and then you’re handed your new driver’s license. Southern Californians are used to blocking an entire day for the DMV, so the fact that this only took about 20 minutes was amazing – we didn’t even need an appointment!

**Verify needed documents at the SD Department of Public Safety here or by calling (605) 773-6883. Make sure to tell them you have a PMB address.

Vehicle Insurance

Get quotes from numerous insurance companies and make sure they know you’re going to be a full-time traveler.

Health Insurance

Honestly, this is on the to-do list. Travis is a veteran, so he has insurance through the VA. As we are self-employed, we pay for my health insurance out of pocket. Americas Mailbox gave us a couple of contacts for agents in South Dakota. I’ve also done some research on my own and have one company in mind that seems like it would be a good fit. And the third avenue I’ll explore is the RVer Insurance Exchange website, which has been suggested on other full timer’s blogs.

Move Our Business

Our business is currently registered in California, but our attorney is in the process of getting it registered in South Dakota. Once that is done, the business will be ‘closed’ in California. While you can most likely take care of this on your own, we have peace of mind knowing that everything is being done properly and legally.