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 seems 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 1300+ 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.

 

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 for 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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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