We’ve heard from many readers of this blog who have recently purchased Casitas – special congrats to Marty and Russ, Don and Chris, Sheryl and Kurt! And we know from our blog correspondence that several others are thinking of doing the same thing. (Go Judy!)
This news makes us happy! There is no better way to see real America, enjoy the precious out-of-doors, and meet the most interesting people. Best of all: You do it all at your own pace, in your own rig – and without fear of breaking the bank.
We’re often asked for tips on how to make this lifestyle work. So in the interest of sharing good ideas, we’ve started this list. It’s organized into two parts – Prepping for living on the road and Living on the road.
It’s a live list. By that I mean that we will add to it as we develop new ideas. Tips we add after this original post will be underlined like this, for your reading discernment. So if you’re interested in this sort of thing – whether you’re a “Casita cousin” or not – be sure to check back here from time to time to get the latest info.
And most important: If you’ve tips of your own to share, please add them to the Comments section below this post. We want to learn from you, too!
1.PREPPING for Living on the Road
Invest in extra sets of bungees and Velcro straps. We have at least a dozen of each and use them for everything. They reinforce the straps on our bike rack; double-secure the cover of our propane tanks; keep our hoses, electrical cords, blankets, yoga mat, etc., in neat rounds. We even use one to secure the plastic bag in which we keep our special made-from-a-plastic-soda-bottle bird feeder.
Go solar. Our single most significant addition has been the solar panels G attached to the top of the Casita. This has removed all where-will-we-stay-tonight anxiety and is way better than an annoying, tranquility-piercing generator. (Tried that, hated it.) Many National Parks have lovely campsites but no hookups, for example, which can crimp the length of stay. But we’re able to linger as long as we want without fear of running out of power, as long as the sun is shining. (Our only limitation is the 25-gallon water tank, which we can mind for maximum efficiency and easily refill if need be by hose or jug.) G put two solar panels on top, one 80 watts and one 50 watts, plus a controller and an inverter. Jury’s out on whether the inverter is necessary. Total cost: $300. It took G – with no background in electrical work – a couple of YouTube how-to videos and two days’ effort last summer add the solar panels.
You cannot have too many extension cords. We packed five, figuring we were being obsessive. Not so. We needed the four longest ones all hooked together to plug in once on this trip so far when we were boondocking and our fridge accidentally shifted off gas and nearly drained the battery. Thank goodness we found an electrical outlet about half-a-football field away and we could recharge the battery without bagging the otherwise-perfect camp spot. (Ditto on a previous trip when we were desperate for some AC and the nearest outlet was through a garden, across an alley and around the corner.)
Protect those buttons on the top of the fridge. This is a Casita-specific tip. Twice now, one of us has accidentally bumped them and inadvertently shifted the fridge from propane to battery. Not good. The fridge will drain the battery in a couple of hours. A “Casita cousin” has placed a shield over his buttons; we’ve disconnected the fridge from the battery altogether as we’d rather risk losing a few groceries than losing our battery.
Develop an eclectic toolbox. We’ve tailored ours to tools that work on the car, the Casita and our bikes (e.g. metric Allen keys, most common are 3, 4, 5 and 6.) And we carry cure-alls like duct tape and Windex – even a bottle of Clorox. Not only has G fixed an array of our own problems, his toolbox was instrumental in fixing a neighbor-camper’s trailer door in Kickapoo Caverns State Park, a cousin’s refrigerator door in Weslaco, a pesky bike rack in Goliad, a fussy hitch in Palmetto Island State Park in Louisiana and a friend’s garage door in Vacherie, Louisiana. It was critical to our replacement of Casita battery in Mobile, Alabama.
Enjoy practice runs. We bought our Casita 11 years ago and were largely weekend warriors for years. This allowed us to determine what sorts of nips and tucks would best enhance our experience. But don’t get carried away. This isn’t about recreating your home experience. What would be the point? This is about smoothing the way to reveling in the out-of-doors.
Customize your Casita. Two examples: Convert all lights to LED to conserve energy and make your bed as comfortable as the one at home by supplementing the Casita-provided seat cushions with a slab of three-inch memory foam cut to size.
We also added a light over the external shower to make doing dishes there easier after dusk, added hooks on doors and suction-cup shelves on walls to hold everything from jeans to toothpaste and installed a plastic toilet-paper protector to keep it from getting wet when we’re showering.
We put a plastic grid-mat on the shower floor so our bare feet feel dry when we’re brushing our teeth or washing our hands….
G expanded our counter space for cooking indoors by converting the burner cover into a fold-out shelf. And we moved the paper-towel holder outside of the compartment it was in to make better use of that compartment space. You can see both the fold-out shelf and the newly located paper-towel holder in this photo.
We skipped the factory-installed microwave and bought our own smaller model to recoup storage space in that compartment, and we mounted a special plastic holder for our iPads to keep them from taking up valuable counter space.
We put our soaps and shampoos in pumps on the wall to conserve sink-top space.
G added a sewer line extension to accommodate weirdly placed sewer drains at many campsites. (You’d be surprised.) Here’s where we tucked the cylinder in which we carry the extra line – between the trailer front and the propane tanks.
Packing. The best advice here came from Phoenix friends Judy and Tom (check out their blog at NewAmericanNomads.com), who boldly ditched everything a few years ago and have traveled the country in a Mercedes van ever since: “Don’t think in terms of space; think in terms of access.” In other words, rather than packing as much as space allows (my instinct), pack to make access easy. It’s no fun having to unpack 90 things to get to that pot or that chair or that lantern. Judy’s rule of thumb: If you can’t reach everything within one layer, you’ve got too much stuff. (This is, admittedly, an art form whose perfection we’re still seeking.)
Skip the rooftop carrier: We bought one and then as we were packing in February for our March 1 departure – with Judy’s excellent advice (see above) reverberating in our brains – we wondered if we really needed it. How many jackets, shoes, toolkits, hoses, do we really need? We’d planned to put the things we wouldn’t need often up above since it would be a bit cumbersome to reach them. And then we figured: If we don’t expect to need them often, maybe we don’t need them at all. So we left the carrier in the garage in Dallas. Haven’t missed it a bit.
Duplicate your keys: We have duplicate sets for the car, the Casita and the bike lock. Or, rather, had. We’ve already lost one of the bike-lock keys. We really must get another duplicate made before we lose that one, too.
Ditch the Deet. It doesn’t work, at least not for me. I’ve taken to making my own rosemary lotion, which seems to repel the mosquitos (if not the biting gnats). Don’t forget to apply behind the ears! And we burn a lot of lavender incense, which they also seem to dislike. Clearly the birds and frogs aren’t holding up their end of the bargain; they need to eat more bugs. Other suggestions on this score would be very much welcome….
Get savvy about life’s necessities. Pack plenty of cigarette-lighter multiple-plug charging cords for all your electronics.
Bring a headlamp for each of you so you can maneuver hands-free after dark. And don’t forget those hand-held battery-operated fans (or the hang-around-your-neck version) for those of us who are always hot.
Anti-itch cream for those mosquito bites. A can of powerful bug killer for when ants or mosquitos invade your traveling bedroom. And a tube of the original Shoe Goo is invaluable; we’ve used it to fix everything from shoes and sunglasses to torn Velcro straps and a broken bike tire air valve.
Duct tape. Windex. Toss in an eye mask – it’s not like you can go into the next room if one of you can’t sleep and wants to read with the light on….
Did I mention anti- itch cream?
Get creative. G rigged a special hanging holder for his iPad so we can watch free Vudu movies in bed on it. He’s as proud of this as he is of his duck à l’orange.
Install shocks. We went for years without these and added them only last summer in effort to cut down on the bike-rack jiggling during our year on the road. We’ve since moved the bike rack to the front of the car, but still think the shocks were worth the effort to reduce overall Casita bumpiness along the road.
Consider a WonderWasher. This small machine is easy to carry (lot of things fit inside it) and is a breeze to use when we’ve electricity. It allows us to wash shirts, underwear, small towels, etc., while on the road, elongating the time between laundromats. Tip: Don’t forget to budget time/sunshine for the laundry to dry. Washing clothes doesn’t help much if you can’t get them dry, per our experience at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida when it insisted on raining for the next 24 hours. We wound up trying to dry the clothes inside the Casita with the heat turned on full blast (while we sat in the car), and when that didn’t work, we hoofed it to a good old-fashioned laundromat and fed quarters into a couple of dryers.
(More tips to come as we think of them.)
2.LIVING on the Road.
Organize your stuff. Always put things back in the same place. This sounds small, but it’s not. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more frustrating than not being able to find the lighter you need for the stove, or the Velcro straps to secure the circle of hose, or the tire chalks, or the small piece of wood you put under the hitch when you detach to make re-hitching easier, etc. We’ve belched more swear words over misplaced necessities than anything else. (And we’re still looking for things we’ve misplaced.)
Check the sun. When you’re in the south, seek shade. When you’re in the north, seek sun. We learned this the hard way. Our Texas-born shade-seeking habit impaired our solar-panel effectiveness in a heavily forested New Jersey state park. This required an otherwise unnecessary campsite move to assure adequate sunlight.
Always go slow over railroad tracks. They can be surprisingly bumpy, even when they look smooth. Every bump is magnified when you’re pulling a trailer. We almost lost the bikes off the back of the Casita (before we moved them to the front of the car), thanks to a bigger-bounce-than-expected railroad crossing.
Overnight carefully. Speaking of railroad tracks, make sure there aren’t any near where you’re planning to sleep – or you won’t. Also, never park on a spot covered by bird poop – or else you’ll become the spot covered in bird poop. Look out for ant hills.
Ban paper. My single favorite thing about our Casita is its bathroom. I’m so over those 2 a.m. walks to the outhouse, and I can wash my hair anytime I want! Make the maintenance of your black-water tank easy by banning toilet paper from the toilet. At the risk of oversharing, we put it in a small, lined, covered canister in the bathroom and take out the trash before we move on to the next spot. In 11 years we’ve never had any problem – or even an odor issue – with our sewer tank. We also use a salt shaker (with a cover for the humidity) to sprinkle a bit of the wonderfully fresh-smelling CampaChem blue powder in the bowl after each usage.
Get familiar with the shower-drain valve: It’s under the front of the Casita, reachable from under the tongue. You want it open when you’re camping so the shower drains into the gray water tank. You want it closed when you’re in the road so your gray water doesn’t slosh back onto your shower floor.
Dump on a slant: When dumping, put risers under the tire on the opposite side of the drainage pipe. This will expedite the dumping process; it also makes it more thorough.
Beware of the slosh: We have a 25-gallon water tank, but we know it’s almost impossible to fill it to the tippy top, due to the air hole in the tank. So we figure its real capacity is closer to 20-22 gallons – less if you consider the slosh factor when going up and down steep hills. Case in point: We started one day in New Hampshire with a half tank and had barely a quarter an hour later when we arrived at our destination after traveling over hill and dale.
UPDATE (8/13/18): Since I wrote this tip we’ve learned a new trick to minimize slosh. After we fill the water tank, we take a small rubber nipple (like from an eye dropper) and plug the air hole with it. G uses the cover from one of his Gum brushes to secure the nipple in place when he closes/locks the compartment door. This prevents water from leaking through the air hole and probably conserves several gallons a fill-up. (You must remove the nipple when refilling the tank.)
Visit the Visitors Centers: Most states have them within just a few miles of their border along interstates and major highways. The brochures are plentiful and the staffers enthusiastically helpful. If you’re doing multiple states, it pays to get your roadmaps at these centers. Yes, GoogleMaps is great, but sometimes the old-fashioned paper kind is best for providing a broader visual context. And visitors centers are about the only place where paper roadmaps are still free. (Canada’s visitors centers are fabulous, too. I’ve never met friendlier people!)
Send in the woman. When asking permission to overnight at a SuperWalmart or Home Depot, have the woman make the ask. Perhaps it’s our imagination, but it seems it’s harder for the store manager to say no to a woman than a man.
Seek liquor in plastic. Buy your booze in plastic bottles whenever possible. It weighs less and weight’s an issue when you’re trying to travel light. Also, plastic bottles don’t break and take up less space. (When glass in unavoidable, consider pouring the contents into a series of smaller plastic bottles, for the above-stated reasons.
Double-time everything. Whether it’s planning your travel time, a hike or bike ride, your dinner prep or your grocery run, figure on twice as much time as you would at home. Things just take longer on the road, and there are so many – mostly pleasant – distractions along the way that you should allow yourself to enjoy. (That singing bird whose name you must discover, the beckoning nature trail, the campsite neighbor with the interesting tale to tell, or just getting lost in a daydream.) This way you’ll never feel gotta-rush stress, and you’ll more often feel ahead of schedule than behind.
(More tips to come as we think of them.)