2021: A Year in Review

The beginning of 2021 found us in Bozeman, Montana, dealing with the first real winter we’ve experienced since we moved from Wisconsin to Southern California in 2011. Thanks to Covid, we decided to spend the winter in our condo that we purchased in July of 2020, instead of heading to warmer climes. Bozeman is as equally as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer, but after almost six months of cold and snow, we were ready to adventure again.

Our very first night back in the Airstream for the year was May 15th. We spent two nights at a nearby campground to get the rig de-winterized and to make sure everything was still functional after its long winter sleep. Besides needing to replace the propane tank hoses, all systems were a go! It was during this first outing that we started a new tradition we refer to as #CampfireSweatshirtSeries. Here’s a sneak peak, but I’ll share more about that later:

Without further ado, our year in numbers:

 

States Visited: 5 | Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and California – We weren’t able to add any new states to our Airstream travel map this year, so our total sits at 20. (And that’s where it will stay, but more on that later.)

Montana | Glacier National Park
Wyoming | Grand Teton National Park
Idaho | Craters of the Moon National Monument
Oregon | Silver Falls State Park – Sublimity, OR
California | Sue-Meg State Park – Trinidad, CA

Miles Traveled: 3,410 | We opted to stay mostly close to home this year and it really made for an enjoyable spring, summer, and fall to not be putting too many miles on.

Gallatin Gateway, MT | May 23

Nights on the Road: 100 | I’m actually pretty happy with this number, seeing as we spent almost the entire first half of the year in our condo.

Anthony Chabot Regional Park – Castro Valley, CA | November 15

Different Overnight Locations: 24 | We had a good mix of site types this year, with a fifth of our nights being spent in national park campgrounds; a healthy blend of city, county, & regional parks; four state parks, all in Oregon; a sprinkle of casino, Harvest Host, & fairgrounds stays; two different KOAs; and the remaining nights being spent in private RV parks/campgrounds.

Millsite Park RV Park – Myrtle Creek, OR | November 5 – 6
Emigrant Springs State Park – Meacham, OR | September 30 – October 2
Azalea Glen RV Park – Trinidad, CA | November 11 – 13

Total Site Fees: $4017.79 | That number is a combination of nightly/weekly/monthly rates, tax, reservation fees, and electricity. It comes out to an average of $42.72/night, which is much higher than we like to spend. However, our not-too-ridiculously-priced place where we usually spend the winter in San Diego County was closed for maintenance and the also-not-too-spendy backup wasn’t available when we first arrived, so we had to settle for one of the holy-crap-this-is-stupid-money RV parks for the last month and a half of the year.

Cheapest Site – $0.00 | Harvest Hosts at Milano Family Winery in Hopland, CA — November 13
Most Expensive Site – $86.15 | West Glacier KOA — July 12 – 15

National Park Service Sites: 6 (Officially) | We revisited a few of our favorite national parks – Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier and Redwood. We also added a new one in Pinnacles. We visited Crater of the Moon National Monument as well, and minus Redwood, our 20 nights in national parks campgrounds were spread across those 5 parks. We also made it to see the Golden Gate Bridge, but didn’t officially cross the bay to Golden Gate National Recreation Area. And one of our favorite places to visit this year was the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which is actually managed by the U.S. Forest Service as opposed to the National Park Service.

Grand Teton National Park (Stayed at Colter Bay Campground) | May 24 – June 4
Yellowstone National Park (Stayed at Mammoth Campground) | June 29 – July 2
Glacier National Park (Stayed at Fish Creek Campground) | July 8 – 12
Redwood National and State Parks (Stayed at Azalea Glen RV Park) | November 11 – 13
Pinnacles National Park (Stayed at Pinnacles Campground) | November 18 – 19
Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve (Stayed at Lava Flow Campground) | October 27 – 28
Golden Gate Bridge (Stayed at Anthony Chabot Regional Park) | November 14 – 18
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (Stayed at Ainsworth State Park) | October 2 – 4

You can find information about all of the places we’ve stayed and traveled to in previous blog posts.

You can find wrap ups for previous years here: 2018, 2019, and 2020.

As I mentioned earlier, we started a new thing we refer to as the #CampfireSweatshirtSeries. For some reason, we decided to start taking campfire photos at every place we stayed (with a fire pit) while I sported a ‘Campfire Sweatshirt’. Are we weird? Yes. Do these pics bring me joy when I look back at them? Also yes. We have never shared these publicly before, so enjoy!

Cheers to us! at Colter Bay Campground | Grand Teton NP – May 28
Taking in the sights at Mammoth Campground | Yellowstone NP – July 2 (It was too hot for an actual fire.)
Bucks game at Fish Creek Campground | Glacier NP – July 8 (It was still too hot for an actual fire.)
#instahusband at West Glacier KOA | Coram, MT – July 13
Scrabbling at Emigrant Springs State Park | Meacham, OR – September 30
Fireside tea time at Ainsworth State Park | Corbett, OR – October 3
High five for starting a fire in what is essentially a rain forest! at Silver Falls State Park | Sublimity, OR – November 3
“There’s no one else I’d want to live in a 200sqft aluminum can with” at Harris Beach State Park | Brookings, OR – November 7
Caution: Hot at Anthony Chabot Regional Park | Castro Valley, CA – November 15
Our 20th national park at Pinnacles Campground | Pinnacles NP – November 18

We also did a Phase 2 of modifications at Ultimate Airstreams. You can read all about that here, but here are a few pics of what we had done:

We replaced the rounded sink and cabinet with a straight cabinet with new square sink.
This gave us much more room, especially in the area between the sink and the desk.
This of course required a new countertop, so we chose Corian’s rice paper color.
We also replaced the old Atwood stove/oven with a the new Furrion model. We love its look AND functionality!

On the personal front, we got on a plane in July for the first time in a long time to fly to Wisconsin to visit and spend time with family. We explored a lot of things we never got around to while living there, such as:

Lambeau Field Tour and Packers Hall of Fame – Green Bay | We’ve been to plenty of games and we’re even Packers shareholders, but Travis hadn’t done the tour since he was a kid and I had never done it, and neither of us had ever been to the Hall of Fame.

Harley Davidson Museum – Milwaukee | The museum is pretty great and has an onsite restaurant.

Lakeshore State Park – Milwaukee | This is a smaller, urban state park, but is nice for a walk along Lake Michigan.

While in Milwaukee, we were also able to catch the traveling Beyond Van Gogh exhibit…

…and check out Fiserv Forum a few hours before the Bucks won the championship!

Summer in Wisconsin can be pretty great!

We also flew to San Diego in September for our friends’ wedding. This trip actually felt like the kind of vacation we would take pre-Airstream life…

Speaking of pre-Airstream life…

While we didn’t put on a lot of miles this year and most of the places we spent the bulk of our time we had been to before, we really enjoyed our travels this year. However, towards the end of the year we officially decided to do something that we’ve been discussing for a looooong time — we’re selling the Airstream. There are many reasons that go into this decision and I’ll share them at some point, but for now, you can find more information regarding our rig at the blog post here, the RV Trader link here, the Airstream Marketplace link here, or the Airstream Hunter link here. If you are interested, please reach out. If you know someone who may be interested, please pass along our info.

 

All About Harvest Hosts

As we continued to make our way south in California, we stopped at Harvest Hosts site Milano Family Winery in Hopland, California for the night.

If you are unfamiliar with Harvest Hosts, you can visit their website for more information here. That link will also give you 20% off the annual fee for the life of your membership. The gist is that for one low annual membership fee, you get access to over 2,500 locations throughout the country that allow you to spend the night in your RV on their property for free. These locations can include wineries, breweries, farms, museums, golf courses, etc. You are expected to purchase something from the host, whether it be a bottle of wine, cheese, wool socks, admission tickets to the museum, etc. As the Harvest Hosts network continues to expand each month, some hosts are starting to offer amenities not seen in the past, such as longer stays or options for partial or full hookups. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to assume that you need to be a fully self-contained vehicle that does not need access to water, electricity, or sewer, as well as that your stay will consist of just one night. It seems many hosts have signed onto the reservation system available through the Harvest Hosts app or website, but some still prefer to be contacted via phone or email to arrange your stay. It’s important to keep in mind that these hosts are business owners whose first responsibility is their business and customers. They are not campground or RV park managers and these are not campgrounds or RV parks. Make sure to thoroughly read the instructions and rules of each host both on the Harvest Hosts website/app and whatever information the host gives you directly.

The two RV spots at Milano were located right off the highway in a gravel parking lot. There was plenty of room to maneuver, but they were a bit unlevel and had consistent road noise. We knew what to expect, though, as I had read a number of reviews in the Harvest Hosts app. After getting parked, we went in and did a wine tasting and purchased two bottles of wine. We sat at a picnic table while sipping our wine and enjoyed the menagerie of animals that call the winery home.

Back at the Airstream, we chatted with our neighbors for a while, who were also Airstreamers, albeit an Interstate van as opposed to a trailer.

Some of our favorite stays have been at Harvest Hosts, which are such a great option when you just a need a place to park for a night as you travel one place to the next:

Sanders Family Winery – Pahrump, NV – January 2019

Our very first Harvest Hosts stay was on January 1, 2019 at a beautiful and quiet winery located in Pahrump, NV. It was FREEZING, but our gracious hosts let us run our generator as the temp dipped down to 22 degrees that night. It may have been cold, but the views were beautiful!

Emerson Vineyards – Monmouth, OR – October 2019

According to the reviews, this is a popular stop that features live entertainment on Friday nights, though we were the sole RV on the Monday night that we stayed. We didn’t do any wine tasting, but did purchase a bottle of their award-winning Brother Red. Minus the sporadic distant gunshots, this was a peaceful, private stay where we were able to test our newly installed solar and lithium batteries.

Sentinel Ranch Alpacas – Belgrade, MT – August 2020

The alpaca ranch is located just outside Bozeman, Montana and is a very popular Harvest Hosts location. They graciously allowed us to film part of our House Hunters episode there that highlighted our transition from full-time Airstream living to part-time condo living. You can also visit the ranch sans RV, as they have a nice little gift shop and an area to pet and feed the alpacas.

Garvin Heights Vineyard – Winona, MN – September 2020

This was a lovely little winery that set us up in their parking lot. The weather was absolutely perfect, allowing us to leave our windows open all night to listen to the summery midwest sounds and get one of the best nights of sleep both Travis and I had had in a very long time.

Big Snow Resort – Wakefield, MI – September 2020

This was one of our favorite Harvest Hosts stays. The Sky Bar and Grille atop Big Snow’s Indianhead Mountain is open for most of the year, offering food and drink to be enjoyed on their expansive outdoor deck. Once we parked, we grabbed some drinks and a basket of fries and took in the view. We also enjoyed walking up and down the ski runs, enjoying the beautiful fall colors that started to settle in.

4e Winery – Mapleton, ND – September 2020

Another lovely winery setting with the nicest people! This Harvest Hosts is a particularly popular one, and we were thankful they had room for us. Even though the winery was closed on the day of our stay, Lisa allowed us, along with three other RVs, to stay and opened the tasting room for us. We made sure to thank her for her hospitality by purchasing a bottle of wine. They have a large, level open field for RVs to park in, and besides the hundreds (thousands?) of crickets jumping around, it was a very peaceful evening.

That’s a wrap on some of the great places we’ve stayed through Harvest Hosts! It’s a great program that we love to utilize whenever we can.

A Long Haul Across North Dakota, with a Harvest Hosts Stay and Some Roadside Attractions

We woke up on the morning of September 24th at Woodenfrog Campground near Voyageurs National Park in Northern Minnesota and made the 5-hour drive to our stop for that night — 4e Winery, a Harvest Host in eastern North Dakota. If you’re unfamiliar with Harvest Hosts, check out their website here, and if you’re interested in signing up, use this link to receive 20% off your membership before 12/31/20, or 15% thereafter. Harvest Hosts are a great way to save some money as you travel!

This Harvest Hosts is a particularly popular one, and we were thankful they had room for us. Even though the winery was closed on the day of our stay, Lisa allowed us, along with three other RVs, to stay and opened the tasting room for us. We made sure to thank her for her hospitality by purchasing a bottle of wine. They have a large, level open field for RVs to park in, and besides the hundreds (thousands?) of crickets jumping around, it was a very peaceful evening.

When we woke up the next morning, we had no idea that we had just spent our last night on the road for the year. We still had almost 750 miles to go until we got back to Bozeman. However, the weather the next few days wasn’t looking promising for safe driving due to forecasted high winds, so we decided to start early and keep on driving as far as we felt like we could.

The winery is located in Mapleton, North Dakota, which is barely over the eastern border of the state from Minnesota. Our route would take us entirely along I-94 until it met up with I-90 in Billings, Montana. Anyone who has driven in this area knows that driving across North Dakota from one end to the other is not the most exciting — sorry, North Dakota. However, there are some nice/quirky places to stop along the way. I don’t know if North Dakota is trying to compensate for something, but this route is home to three ‘World’s Largest’ statues: Dakota Thunder, the World’s Largest Buffalo in Jamestown, ND; Sandy, the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane in Steele, ND; and Salem Sue, the World’s Largest Holstein Cow in New Salem, ND. (DO NOT attempt to tow a trailer up to see Salem Sue.) We made sure to also incorporate getting gas, eating, stretching our legs, and ‘freshening up’ during these stops.

 

When you continue west along I-94, almost to the western border of North Dakota, you’ll eventually come to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, which is a national park visitor center and rest area all in one. From here, you get panoramic views of the Park’s badlands and have access to hiking trails. Of course, there are also restrooms, picnic shelters, and vending machines, as well as visitor center things like park info, exhibits, and a gift shop/bookstore. It’s a great place to stop for a bit, even if you don’t have time to go into the park and explore (which we were able to do last year).

Once we crossed the border into Montana, we decided we could make it the rest of the way to Bozeman and kept on trucking. Seeing as we had been without hookups the previous two nights, we stopped at Cabela’s in Billings to dump our tanks, which took way too long because someone parked too close to the dump station. From there, it should’ve taken us a little more than two hours to get home, but thanks to wind, rain, darkness and traversing Bozeman Pass in the wind, rain, and darkness, it took almost three.

We finally pulled into our parking lot at about 9:15pm (more than 14 hours after leaving Mapleton), spent 30-40 minutes unloading the important stuff, grabbed some food, showered, and went to bed. It was a very, very long day that we never want to experience again, but at least we now know that we can make a lot of ground if needed.

A Harvest Hosts Stay at a UP Ski Resort

After we left Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we drove west along the Upper Peninsula towards our next stop at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Northern Wisconsin. We spent one night at a Harvest Hosts at Big Snow Resorts’s Indianhead Mountain in Wakefield, MI. This seems to be a pretty popular stop for people, as three other RVs also spent the night. We parked at the edge of their large parking lot and our particular spot was pretty unlevel, but we were able to make it work. The SkyBar was open for food and drinks, so we stopped in to get some beverages and a basket of fries. We enjoyed the views from their large outdoor deck, which overlooked the chairlifts and the changing leaves. We walked the property for a bit, going down and then up the ski runs, to get a bit of post-drive, post-beer, post-fries exercise. Big Snow was another peaceful, enjoyable Harvest Hosts stay. If you’d like more info about Harvest Hosts or would like 15% off a one-year membership, follow this link to their website.

Of note, Wakefield is one of four counties in Michigan that is in the central timezone, while the rest of Michigan is in the eastern timezone. We didn’t realize this and it confused us for a bit.

Another Harvest Hosts Win at Garvin Heights Vineyard

After our fourth day of driving, we spent the night at Garvin Heights Vineyard, a Harvest Hosts location. If you are unfamiliar with Harvest Hosts, you can visit their website here. The gist is that for one low annual membership fee, you get access to over 1,250 locations throughout the country that allow you to spend the night in your RV on their property for free. These locations can include wineries, breweries, farms, museums, etc. You are expected to purchase something from the host, and at this particular stay, we bought a bottle of wine and pack of cheese curds. If you use this link, you’ll receive 15% off.

Garvin Heights is a small property, and the parking provided to us was in their (also small) parking lot. Thankfully when we arrived, there were not a lot of cars parked in the lot and we were able to back in to our designated spot without issue. The winery is only open a handful of hours each day from Thursday to Sunday (we stayed on a Sunday), but received quite a few visitors while we were there. As we are still being diligent about our social distancing, we opted out of doing any wine tasting, and instead just picked a bottle of their Great River Rouge for purchase. The winery closed at 5pm, and from that point on, it was a VERY quiet evening. We had hoped to utilize more Harvest Hosts for the previous few nights, but Sunday was the first day it wasn’t crazy hot and the evening into overnight temps were comfortable. We spent the night with the windows open to thoroughly enjoy the crisp air and all of the chirping and buzzing of the various insects and creatures that make this area home. It was one of the best nights of sleep either of us had experienced in a long time!

After getting settled in at the winery, we drove around Winona a little bit. We found our way to Garvin Heights City Park, which offers fantastic views of the city, Mississippi River and Buffalo, Wisconsin. The city is super cute and in any other time (sans pandemic, that is), we would have done a little more exploring. Instead, we headed back to the Airstream to enjoy some wine and play Scrabble.

All About Them Apps

These days, it feels like life revolves around our phones. I would love to say that living a nomadic lifestyle allows us to be more disconnected than the average person, and in some ways it does; however, in certain ways we’re more dependent on technology than we’ve ever been. As people (and a dog) who live, travel, and work full time in an Airstream, there are a number of iPhone apps that we utilize regularly in order to make our lives easier and safer.

Navigation

To start, we need to know where we’re going. We are very basic when it comes to navigational tools and most of the time depend solely on Google Maps. In more than 15,000 miles, Google Maps has done us wrong only once. It directed us down an 8-mile washboard gravel road with nowhere to turn around as we made our way to a one-night stop in Cranbrook, British Columbia. (There was a sign posted at the campground regarding this issue, so it seems it’s a common occurrence.) When we’ll be entering an area with little to no cell signal, we’ll often use the GPS in our truck in conjunction with Google Maps, just in case. Now that I think about it, it might be time to invest in a dependable paper road atlas as a fallback!

 

Weather

It’s incredibly important to keep an eye on the weather both while towing and while parked. Knowing whether rain, snow, freezing temps, or high temps are in the forecast helps us to be prepared. Do we need to get more propane to run the furnace? Do we need to start our drive a day early or delay it a day due to probable thunderstorms? Do we need to put the awnings in because it’s going to rain? These are all things we look at on a regular basis to keep us, our dog, and our Airstream safe.

 

The WindAlert app is very beneficial on days we plan on towing. It can get downright dangerous when you’re pulling a trailer down a highway and there are gusts of 50mph or more. This app allows us to look at what the projected hourly sustained wind speed and wind gusts will be, which helps us determine if we need to hit the road earlier or later than planned or if we need to pull off for a bit and wait out the wind.

 

Places to Stay

Campendium is our go-to resource for finding campgrounds and RV parks, along with reviews. Besides reviews, the amenities (no/partial/full hookups, showers, laundry, etc.) offered at each location are listed, as well as cell signal. In addition to searching for campgrounds and RV parks, you can also look for public land, free camping, overnight parking, and dump stations. This app/website is free to use and because it is essential to our travels, we make sure to financially support it when they have their annual fundraiser.

 

Another place we check when looking for places to stay is good old dependable Google. Sometimes we find RV parks or campgrounds on Google that we don’t find when using any of our other resources, so we check it when we aren’t finding a lot of options for a particular location. The reviews on Google are typically different than you’ll find on the other RVer preferred apps and websites; probably because long-term or full-time travelers are looking for a different experience than the occasional weekenders who seem to do most of the reviewing on Google.

 

The Recreation.gov app and website help us find places to stay on federal lands at more than 3,500 facilities across the country. There are over 100,000 reservable sites throughout our national parks and national forests, and Recreation.gov is where we go to not only make reservations, but to also get information about each location including maps and amenities. Most recently, limited permit lotteries have been incorporated into the app. The app also conveniently stores all of your reservations in one place for easy access.

 

Harvest Hosts is a membership program that offers unique overnight (dry camping) experiences at 2000+ wineries, breweries, farms, museums, golf courses, and other attractions. You can stay at an unlimited number of host locations throughout the year. We utilize this program most when we have multiple drive days in a row and just need a place to park for a night. The two main rules are to call 24 hours in advance to let them know you’re coming and to patronize the establishment in some way, like buying a bottle of wine.

UPDATE 4/20/21: Some Harvest Hosts have started to utilize a reservation feature in the app/website. This means that finding a place to stay for a night isn’t as easy to do on the fly as it once was. Apparently some hosts requested this feature as they don’t have to field phone calls from RVers nonstop. And the reservation feature suits the needs of the RVers that like to plan ahead better. We haven’t stayed at a Harvest Host since this has become an option, so I’m not sure how it’s impacted the overall experience.

 

Staying at a KOA is not for everybody, but we’ve had more positive experiences than negative, and they really seem to be everywhere. For example, if you want to stay near Devils Tower for a night or two and need hookups, the KOA is your only option. Also, KOA has a rewards program that is quite beneficial if you stay at a couple each year, which we usually do. We also like that KOAs have cabins, which two of our friends took advantage of this past summer when they joined us at the West Glacier KOA near Glacier National Park.

 

Passport America is another membership program and we find it can be real hit and miss. We went all year this year without staying at a place that offers PA discounts until late October, when we then stayed at three places in a row. Properties that participate in the program offer 50% off, with certain restrictions (of course) which can include such things as two nights discount max or discounts on weeknights only. However, when it works out, it can really work out! We ended up saving about $300 in a 2.5-week span, so the $44 annual fee was definitely worth it.

 

The Dyrt and Allstays are similar to Campendium. I personally find the Campendium app to be easier to use, but some people prefer one of these two as their primary site locator — it all comes down to personal taste. With that being said, The Dyrt only has site listings available within the United States. Also, I’ve found sites on Campendium that aren’t listed on The Dyrt. However, when a I find a site on Campendium without reviews, I’ll check both The Dyrt and Allstays to see if it’s been reviewed there.

 

In the Airstream

The VictronConnect app is what we use to monitor our battery levels and the amount of power our solar panels are generating. It’s a good idea to check in with your batteries from time to time to make sure they are staying charged properly, but the app is most useful when we don’t have an electric hookup and need to monitor our power usage. The app is a tool to teach us how to use the furnace, water heater, TVs, etc. in such a manner to live within our energy means. To find out more about our solar panel and lithium battery setup, check out this post.

 

The Mopeka TankCheck app allows us to monitor the amount of propane that is in each of our two 30lb propane tanks. A standard Mopeka sensor is attached to the bottom of each of the propane tanks. Using the app, we can see how much propane is left in each tank, as well as the battery level and signal strength of each sensor. An LED display does come with the standard Mopeka sensors, but using the app gives us a much more accurate reading of how much propane is left in each tank.

 

We use a Blink Home Monitor camera to keep an eye on Max when we are out of the Airstream. The app and camera give us peace of mind when away from home as we’re able to look at Max, hear what’s going on in the Airstream, and make sure the temperature is comfortable. The accompanying app is pretty customizable, allowing us to choose if we want alerts sent to our phones with certain levels of movement. It also alerts us when the temperature inside the Airstream has gone outside of the range that we’ve predetermined.

 

We installed a Ring doorbell on the Airstream more so for security than to have a functioning doorbell, because really, you don’t need a doorbell on an Airstream. As the doorbell has a wide-angle camera that records whenever it senses motion, it’s one additional layer of security that gives us peace of mind when we’re away from the Airstream. As with the Blink app, the Ring app is customizable to have alerts sent to your phone when various activities take place.

 

 

Mail

As residents of South Dakota who use Americas Mailbox as our mail forwarding service, the iRVMail app might be a bit specific. I’m sure other mail forwarding services use this app, but I couldn’t tell you which ones. Anyways, this app allows us to see what mail has arrived at our mailbox in Box Elder, South Dakota. Each piece of mail is scanned, assigned a reference number, and uploaded. To read more about how we receive mail on the road, visit this post.

 

The Arrive app is perfect for anyone that receives a lot of packages in the mail. Instead of having to go to each carrier’s website to track where your package is, this app keeps all of the tracking info on one screen. Regardless of carrier, enter the tracking number for your package and the app will track your package’s journey with a live map. Give each package a name (e.g. Sewer Hose) to make things easier and set up notifications to let you know the status of the package.

UPDATE 4/20/21: This app has been rebranded under a new name called Shop. Not only does in track packages, a number of online retailers utilize it to provide a quicker checkout. And most recently, you’re able to connect your Amazon account to track anything you’ve ordered easily alongside any other packages you may have coming.

 

Hiking/Destinations

The AllTrails app helps you discover the best hiking, running, and biking trails around the world. It uses your location to provide a list of trails in the area, including such information as length and elevation change. A map of the trail, directions to the trail, photos, descriptions, and current weather are also some of the features. Available filters include dog friendly, wheelchair friendly, level of difficulty, and attractions along the trail including waterfalls and hot springs. We use this app whenever we’re in a new place where we want to get outside and explore nature.

 

I admit that we don’t use this app nearly as much as we should. The REI Co-op National Parks Guide app has all the info you could need about any national park in one place: Visitor center hours, hiking trails, family friendly activities, camping & lodging info, shuttle & tour info, restaurants, maps — you name it! Sometimes stopping into a visitor center as soon as you enter a park isn’t possible, so this is a good resource to have.

UPDATE 4/20/21: The National Park Service recently launched its own official app that is pretty impressive. If you are looking for any NPS-related info, be sure to download it!

 

So there you have it — all the apps we find to be essential in our full-time Airstream travels!

Of note, we are in no way associated with these companies and therefore are only promoting these apps because they work well for us. All app icon images were screenshot from the Apple App Store.

 

 

Harvest Host at Emerson Vineyards – Monmouth, OR

Emerson Vineyards – Harvest Host

11665 Airlie Road, Monmouth, OR

As we made our way from the Portland area to the Coast, we stopped for a night at a Harvest Host at Emerson Vineyards. According to the reviews, this is a popular stop that features live entertainment on Friday nights, though we were the sole RV on the Monday night that we stayed. We didn’t do any wine tasting, but did purchase a bottle of their award-winning Brother Red, which is a 5-grape blend. Minus the sporadic distant gunshots, this was a peaceful, private stay where we were able to test our newly installed solar and lithium batteries.

Solar Panels, Batteries, and Brakes in Eugene, OR

Solar and Battery Upgrade

When we bought the Airstream in June of 2017, we had the dealership install two 100w flex solar panels. We never upgraded the batteries to anything beyond what was installed at the factory, and even after replacing those first batteries with a new set (of the same), they were never able to hold a charge like we would need to successfully function without shore power (that’s what RVers call an electric hookup). We talked about upgrading the batteries for a while, and in doing research, found that our flex panels don’t generally have a long life expectancy either. In April, after 15 months on the road, we decided we wanted to add two more solar panels and upgrade to lithium batteries. We knew we were missing out on one of the benefits of this lifestyle, which is to be able to stay places without having to hook up. There are so many options out there for boondocking, especially in the West. We wanted to have the convenience and flexibility to be able to subsist for a few nights and not have to depend on electricity. We scheduled an appointment for late August with AM Solar in Springfield, Oregon, who we found to have rave reviews.

We originally were going to have them install just two 100w rigid panels, but decided to have them replace the flex panels as well. We now have four 100w rigid panels. We swapped our crappy batteries for two Battle Born 12v 100Ah lithium batteries. Our original converter has been disconnected and replaced with two lithium-compatible chargers. To complete the upgrade, a Victron battery monitor system was installed so we can monitor our battery levels as well as our solar input on our phones in the Victron app.

There are two big decisions that need to be made when upgrading solar and batteries: Lithium vs AGM batteries and Fixed vs Portable solar panels. You should make these decisions based on how YOU are going to use YOUR rig – don’t worry about how other people are using theirs. We weren’t looking to be able to live off grid 100% of the time, though we are fully capable of doing that now, but to have the flexibility and convenience to make decisions about where we stay independent of whether or not there’s an electric hook up. Sometimes we want full hookups, other times we don’t. We have a great setup now for the times we don’t.

There are some solar purists out there that feel that anything other than portable solar panels are a waste of money. Again, this depends on how you’re going to use your rig. For the non-RVers out there, when you park a trailer in direct sun, it gets hot inside. Alternatively, when you park in the shade, it stays cooler. For the people that like to stay off grid regularly, being able to park in the shade but still receive sun on the solar panels is a necessity. In cases like this, one would need to have portable solar panels that are plugged into the RV by a long cord, but sit on the ground and are able to be moved around and adjusted as needed in reference to where the sun is in the sky. We don’t like heat. When it’s hot, we like to use our air conditioning. In order to use a/c, we need to have an electric hookup as our inverter does not support running a/c. It’s possible to install an inverter powerful enough that will allow you to run a/c strictly off of battery power as opposed to shore power, but it’s very pricy, and as I said, we aren’t looking to go off grid permanently so it’s unnecessary for us. If it’s hot, we like to be on shore power. Therefore, we don’t need to be able to park in the shade and still get sun to our solar panels. We’ll save our dependent-on-solar-panels days for cooler temps that allow us to sit in direct sun without feeling like we’re slowing baking inside our Airstream.

Wholesale Solar has a great blog post that explains lithium vs AGM batteries better than I ever could, so please click here to read it if this topic interests you. For us, the deciding factors were that lithium has a much greater depth of discharge, a faster charge rate, and a longer lifespan.

So, what exactly can we do with our fancy new batteries and solar panels? We recently spent about 24 hours at a Harvest Hosts to try our new system out. We made dinner in the oven, watched hours of TV, had the furnace kick in a few times, ran the fridge on propane, charged cell phones, used the water pump as needed, turned on lights, and used the stove to heat water for the French press. The lowest our batteries got to was 78%, and seeing as they can safely get down to 20% and we were not holding back on using power, we were very impressed. Even though it was raining when we hitched up and rained for about half of our 4-hour drive, we were back up to 100% when we reached our next destination, thanks to our solar panels.

While this project was not cheap, to us, the convenience it provides and the money we can save boondocking is worth every penny. The staff at AM Solar are consummate professionals and did an amazing job. Everything is under warranty for an unheard of seven years, so we have peace of mind that if any issues should arise in years to come, AM Solar has our back!

AM Solar

3555 Marcola Road, Springfield, OR 97477

www.amsolar.com

The finished product!
AM Solar used one of the storage compartments under one of our twin beds to install the batteries and equipment.
Battle Born lithium batteries come with a 10-year warranty.
The battery screen in the VictronConnect app.
The solar screen in the VictronConnect app.

 

What’s that sound?

The day before we dropped the Airstream off at AM Solar, we pulled into a campground in Cascade Locks, Oregon and noticed an odd rattling sound coming from the wheel area on the passenger side of the Airstream. Travis crawled underneath to see if he could see what was going on, but didn’t see anything obvious. Seeing as there was nothing we could do where we currently were, we hitched up the next day and continued to Springfield with bated breath. We knew there was an Airstream dealership/service center in Portland, so figured that was going to be our best option. After we dropped the Airstream off at AM Solar, we drove to our hotel in downtown Eugene. Along the way, we noticed a billboard for Sutton RV, the ‘Pacific Northwest’s Original Airstream Dealership’ which was located in Eugene.

Guys, this is the second time we’ve had an issue with the Airstream and both times we happened to be in a city with an Airstream dealership/service center. What are the odds?

We called them the next morning, which was a Monday. We explained our situation: weird noise; full timers; Airstream currently at AM Solar until Thursday; Airstream would be dropped off at Ultimate Airstreams the following Tuesday. It was a small window of time. They were busy. It was short notice. BUT, they told us to bring it in Thursday and they would look at it to at least diagnose the problem. We cancelled the first night of our RV park stay and extended our hotel stay one night. We picked the trailer up Thursday from AM Solar and drove 15 minutes to Sutton RV. Just 2.5 hours later we got a call saying one of our brakes was basically shredded and needed to be replaced. They had the part and the Airstream would be fixed and ready to go Friday afternoon. Yay! We were able to pick the Airstream up 24 hours after dropping it off and continue on our way to Portland. Kelly at Sutton RV did us a solid and was awesome to work with. While we hope we never have to see them again, we know we’d receive fantastic service from a hard-working and honest service department if a problem were to arise in their area again.

Sutton RV

2400 W. 7th Ave, Eugene, OR 97402

www.suttonrv.com

The old. When Kelly sent this picture he said, “Your holding bolts broke off and you had parts missing.” Yikes!
The new.

 

Our Stay in Eugene

While AM Solar was working on the Airstream and Sutton RV fixed our brake issue, we stayed at the Home 2 Suites in Eugene. While the hotel was very nice – suite with kitchenette, indoor pool, free breakfast, free laundry, decent fitness center – I would not stay there again. There’s a very large transient population in downtown Eugene, which made us feel a little uncomfortable walking around. After living in San Diego for a while, homelessness is not unfamiliar to us, but we saw some really nasty things that were pretty off putting. Our recommendation for anyone getting work done at AM Solar that needs to stay in a hotel for a few days would be to stay in Springfield.

Home 2 Suites by Hilton Eugene Downtown

102 W 11th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401

www.hilton.com

 

Our First Harvest Hosts Stay

We were supposed to spend four nights at Death Valley over the New Year holiday, but due to a government shutdown, we had to change our plans. We were able to stay an additional three days at the RV park that we were at in Del Mar, CA, but had to find someplace to move to for the fourth night. We called ahead to Wine Ridge Resort, which was to be our next stop, to see if we could check in a day early. They were fully booked, so we looked to Harvest Hosts for a place to stay.

Harvest Hosts is a collection of wineries, breweries, museums, farms, golf courses, and other such locations that allow RVers to stay for free on their property for one night or more. The only thing that is asked is that you patronize the establishment in some way, whether it’s buying a bottle of wine or touring the museum or something similar.

We found a second winery in Pahrump, where Wine Ridge is located, that is a Harvest Hosts property — Sanders Family Winery — and made arrangements to stay there for the night. The winery is a beautiful, quiet property and seeing as it was New Year’s Day, it was closed and we were the only ones around. The owners, Jack and his wife, live on property. Jack stopped out to meet us, and seeing as it was super cold (low of 22 that night), said that we could use our generator.

We made it through the night without anything freezing (yay!) and stopped in to the tasting room for some free wine tasting the next day. The wine was delicious and we ended up purchasing three bottles. I’d also like to note that they are very dog friendly, and invited Max into the tasting room (which we did) and said we could let him run around off leash on property (we didn’t do that, but it was a nice offer). After the tasting, we hooked up and moved on to Wine Ridge Resort. We stayed at Wine Ridge in February 2018, and you can read about that stay here.

It was a very cold night, but the setting with Mt. Charleston, agaves, and grape vines was very peaceful.

If you’re interested in signing up for Harvest Hosts, get 15% off with this link here. Harvest Hosts Classics, with 600+ locations, is $79/year. Harvest Hosts + Golf, with over 1000+ locations, is $119/year.

One Year on the Road

Today marks one year since we started living, working and traveling full time in our Airstream. One year ago feels both so incredibly distant, but also like it flew by! We have learned a lot in the last twelve months — about ourselves, about our airstream, and about what we hope to get out of this lifestyle. Here’s a look back at our first year as nomads:

We travelled 7,997 miles across 16 states:

California

Alabama Hills – Lone Pine, CA
Trinidad, CA
Poway, CA
Newport Beach, CA

Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park – Overton, NV
Las Vegas, NV
Zephyr Cove (Lake Tahoe), NV

Utah

Snow Canyon State Park – Ivins, UT
Snow Canyon State Park – Ivins, UT

Arizona

Page, AZ
Antelope Canyon – Page, AZ

New Mexico

Santa Fe, NM (We were in Santa Fe for only one night and checked out Meow Wolf, which we highly recommend!)

Colorado

Pueblo, CO
Lake Pueblo State Park – Pueblo, CO
Lake Pueblo State Park – Pueblo, CO

Kansas

Dodge City, KS (It was VERY cold and windy the couple of nights we were there, so we didn’t get a chance to explore.)

Missouri

National World War I Museum and Memorial – Kansas City, MO
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art – Kansas City, MO
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum – Independence, MO

Iowa

(We spent two isolated, quiet nights in Cedar Point, IA and have nothing to show for it. Sorry, Iowa)

Wisconsin

Breezy Hills Campground – Fond du Lac, WI
Van Dyne, WI
Neshonoc Lakeside Camp Resort – West Salem, WI

Minnesota

Minneopa State Park – Mankato, MN
Bunker Hills Campground – Coon Rapids, MN
Bunker Hills Campground – Coon Rapids, MN

South Dakota

Dignity Statue – Chamberlain, SD
Black Elk Peak – Black Hills of SD
Black Elk Peak – Black Hills of SD
Custer State Park – Custer, SD

Wyoming

Devils Tower, WY

Montana

Max was super excited for Montana!
Garryowen, MT
Billings, MT (with cotton from the Cottonwood trees floating in the air)
Along the ‘M’ Trail in Bozeman, MT

Washington

Spokane, WA
Spokane, WA

Oregon

Cannon Beach, OR
Otis, OR
Ona Beach State Park – Newport, OR
Reedsport, OR
Winchester Bay, OR
Coos Bay, OR

 

We visited 24 National Park Service sites:

Joshua Tree National Park

Death Valley National Park

Saguaro National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

Badlands National Park

Wind Cave National Park

Glacier National Park

Redwood National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Yosemite National Park

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument

 

Harry S. Truman National Historic Site

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Manzanar National Historic Site

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area

…and one ghost town (Bodie, CA)…

…the world’s only corn palace (Mitchell, SD)…

…and a cheese factory (Tillamook, OR).

We drank some beer…

Santa Fe, NM
Yachats, OR
Coos Bay, OR

…and some liquor…

Coram, MT

…and some wine!

Pahrump, NV
Temecula, CA

We boondocked for the first time in Wisconsin on a family friend’s farm…

…and stayed at a Harvest Hosts for the first time in Nevada.

Travis ran a half marathon in Death Valley…

…and we learned how to play pickle ball.

We did a lot of hiking…

…and a bit of relaxing.

But most importantly, we were able to spend a lot of time with family and friends!

As you can see, it was a great year! We have a lot of amazing adventures planned for 2019, and we look forward to sharing them with you!