Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Our House is Available for Rent - OMG!

Embracing the inner teen girl in me- imagine an exasperated sigh, a squee of sheer excitement, and the dead eyes of being completely overwhelmed - our house is officially on the property manager's "For Rent" section of their website. In a couple of days, it'll be on others (Zillow, Trulia, etc.). I'm not sure if I want to whoop and holler in excitement or throw up.

The Front
Living Room / Dining Room
The Kitchen
So, for anyone interested in a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom, single family home in Columbia that oozes character, let me know. We need a renter, our first campsite reservation is June 21 at Disney's Fort Wilderness!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

So. Much. Stuff.

I come from a long line of pack rats
and my wife is full of good intentions.
Together, we have too much stuff!
I've started reading blogs of other fulltiming families. I just so happen to have joined a Fulltime Families group. Often one of the big challenges of hitting the road is you start with a house full of belongings and need to whittle it down to just what is going to live in the camper (and, in our case- what is going to live in storage each month). We want to "realistically minimize" what goes into the camper in order for it to not feel overwhelming to live there. We want to manage what goes into storage because that's expense (less stuff = less cost). And, I'm not alone - I was reading a post by Karen Church, she was talking about how to get started at purging and the difficulty that comes with it. Purging is hard to get started and frankly, pretty emotional- so many things that you come across tug on your heart strings. It is either a memory that it evokes or a plan that you wanted to do. The decision to not keep something is difficult!


Our daughter's school has a clothing collection box. It's a nice thing to know that we're giving the clothes to a charity, but it's also cool that the PTA gets proceeds from it. It's a do-gooder-double-whammy. Anything that we don't outright sell goes to the box. Check schools, churches, etc. for these donation boxes.

We've also collected school supplies to take into the school. And have some things earmarked for Goodwill or the Salvation Army. We even have a couple of things that would be useful at the hospital for the child-life folks.


Gifting is a slippery slope. We've been trying to balance giving someone something that we think would be useful (or fun) to them without unloading our crap on family and friends. I don't want to make my problem theirs.

I've also used the local Freecycle group a good bit. For instance, we replaced our microwave because the handle was sort of broken- I could see a renter breaking it off. It went to freecycle to someone who said theirs recently stopped working. My wife used a Facebook group to find a taker for our piano. Easy peasy and they come get the stuff!


Having a yard sale isn't an option for us with the accelerated timeframe that we're on. But, this can be a good way to get stuff out. Instead, I turned to Craigslist and yard sale groups on Facebook. This has sort of worked, but has been fairly slow an annoying when people are no shows or reschedule 7,000 times. My cousin (who is a junk connoisseur buying things at flea markets and re-selling them online) suggested that I look at local auction houses. Often times you can drop stuff off and they sell it taking a commission. I just did this for the first time this past week and let me tell you- for a low work method of selling stuff, it was ideal. Stuff sold cheap, but I unloaded a truck load of stuff in a fairly low-work way. The few things that I didn't sell, I took straight to the dump. I'll receive a check later this week.


And, some things aren't worthy of the space that they take up. We recycle what we can, but what we can't has been bagged up for the garbage. Last week, we had close to 7 bags (sadly).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Route, draft v0.2

As I mentioned, the planned route has been a living document. It changes as we get suggestions for places to go, people to see, and things to do. It also has to live up to some constraints (remarkably the most set in stone ones revolving around Disney!).

Route, draft v0.2
As I also mentioned, I've been building the route and keeping notes two ways:
  1. Using RVParky.com's Trip Planner
  2. Using a spreadsheet on Google Drive
But, here's the basic plan in words:
  • Starting from our home in Columbia, MD - drive to Florida over 2 nights where we'll spend a week at Disney's Fort Wilderness Campground
  • Spend another 2 weeks in nearby Clermont, FL where we'll play at Disney and do final touches on making the camper more livable + getting organized
  • Start our counter-clockwise trek around the outer part of the United States:
    • Spending a week in Atlanta, Cincinnati, and then just outside of Detroit
    • From here, we'll start to head west through Chicago, up to Wisconsin, Minnesota, and then bouncing around a bit until we make it to the West Coast
    • We'll make our way south exploring Washington, Oregon, and the California coast
    • At Mexico, we'll make a hard-left and head east through Arizon until we end up back in Florida where we'll spend 4-5 weeks avoiding the cold weather
  • As spring starts to peak around the corner, we'll head back out and trek around the inner United States in a clockwise direction:
    • Going into northern Alabama and making our way over to California (via Vegas, baby!) where we'll visit Death Valley and Yosemite
    • We'll reverse back, continuing north and eastward through Nevada, up into Wyoming for Yellowstone
    • We'll drop down into Denver to visit some family and hit Pikes Peak
    • The final Midwest jaunt will be to head eastward to St. Louis for the Gateway Arch
    • Our last scheduled stop is in West Virginia because, you know- that's an empty spot on my "states camped in" map!
All told, we currently have 59 weeks planned over a departure date of June 19 and returning in August of 2016!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Our house is a very very fine house

Because this is a big trip and not "going fulltime", we had to decide what to do with our house. Many ideas were kicked around, but we just weren't ready to sell it entirely and decided to see if renting it out was feasible. Spoiler alert: it is!

Getting started is overwhelming!
Here's the overall list of things for getting ready to get on the road:

  1. Because we will not be local to deal with tenants, we decided on a property management company (Key Property Management) to handle the rental aspect of the property.
    • We interviewed 3 different property management companies.
    • The property management rates ranged from either a flat rate to 7-10% of the rent for their monthly fees.
    • The property management's "lease commission/fee" ranged from 70-100% of the first month's rent to a flat rate.
  2. Selling or giving away everything that we can - years of baby stuff, furniture that we don't use, old clothes, old electronics, you name it. I'm trying to minimize as much as possible for what has to go into storage.
    • The sales have been occurring on Craigslist and yardsale groups on Facebook - these have been aggravating with people being interested and then disappearing.
    • My wife prepared a ton of stuff for our local Tot Swap consignment sale. The timing of this was perfect and we were able to take a truck full of stuff to it.
    • We've donated and given away a bunch so far (with much more to go). My daughter's school has a clothing collection box that benefits the school's PTA. I'm also contacting the local women's shelter to see if they can use much of the baby stuff.
    • I've used Freecycle to give away a variety of things that just don't have value, but I can't stand to see go to the dump.
    • And finally, tonight I'm going to the local auction to see how it works. I have an appointment next week to take stuff for them to auction off.
  3. Interviewed moving companies to get an idea of how big of a storage space we need and for help loading the truck.
    • We looked at the various "POD" and "Cube" storage places that deliver and drop off a container outside of your home. We generally cannot do this as our driveway is too short and steep and we have no front yard that isn't landscaped. Given the sizes that we need, we would need multiple containers and this ended up being more expensive than other options.
    • I debated between a self-storage unit and the warehouse container idea. For the size that we'd need, the warehouse container wasn't much more expensive. The downside to a warehouse container is the lack of accessibility from when we send it to the warehouse to when we're done. However, I am struggling with the self-storage concept with pest control and it being completely unattended for 12 months.
    • I even had the wacky and crazy idea of just buying a 40' utility trailer, loading it up and then parking that at a storage facility. I figure I could buy one that's a few years old and resell it at the end. The biggest problem with this is financing it ahead of time and the hassle of buying/selling it.
  4. Getting the house ready for rent:
    • The leasing agent will need a nice tidy & clean house for the listing photos.
    • There are small repairs that need all around- new smoke alarms throughout the house, fixing those faucets & fixtures that were fine for us but now need fixing, etc.
  5. Packing, packing, and more packing (which will lead to more selling, giving away, and donating!).
  6. Tinkering on the camper to get it ready - I'm finally buying a surge protector and tire pressure monitors. We also want to make some tweaks inside of the camper to make it more livable.
    • Removing a sofa from the bunkhouse and putting in bookshelves;
    • Adding a desk in the bedroom for my office;
    • Adding a desk in the bunkhouse for my daughter's schooling;
    • Adding pull out shelves and shelves within shelves to make more usable space.
  7. Exploring what is needed to boost our WiFi and cellular data access so that I can work while this happens. I list this separately because of it's importance to just livability aspects of the camper.
  8. Crash course in home schooling! We've ran the gamut from just enrolling my daughter in online public schooling to buying a ready-made curriculum to developing our own curriculum and finally settling on utilizing a consultant to help us create the curriculum.

Route Planning

The plan is a draft. It's a living document. And it's constantly in-flux. Like any good plan is.

Current Route
To build my plan, I have used a spreadsheet on Google Drive. This spreadsheet started as a list of destination ideas and places that we definitely would like to go see. I then added a second worksheet of the dates of things that we knew to start (a week at Disney World in Florida was already on the books and one of my wife's nonnegotiables). I started adding weeks to this and mapping distances between the two points on Google Maps. After a while, I had quite a few weeks planned out.

Google Docs Spreadsheet
But, using Google Maps and a spreadsheet was cumbersome. I went looking for a mapping website that would let me plug in a series of destinations; which surprisingly, was remarkably difficult to find something that fit my needs. A forum member on the Forest River Forums recommended that I take a look at rvparky.com. I had heard of these folks due to their popular app and didn't know that their was a corresponding Trip Planner on his web site. While extremely rudimentary, the Trip Planner was exactly what I was hoping for. You enter your starting point and date and then after that each destination and the number of days that you want to be somewhere. He ties into his rvparky database and offers campground destinations at each location. There's a map that shows the list of destinations and a basic route between them. It tells you the number of miles between each location. Here's my current trip plan.

RVParky.com Screenshot
A couple of negatives to it:
  1. It often can't figure out routes for national parks & forests because the pin location ends up being on a mountain top where there are no roads. I thought I had broken the site and my map when I added Yosemite. The site's owner (Lenny) got back to me and told me that for those areas, I had to use the campground selector for the location in order for it to have a routeable address. Easy-peasy and he updated the site to give a helpful error message. Impressive service!
  2. You cannot change a location once you enter it. You can add a new one and then remove the one you wanted to change. It's not a huge problem, it's just kind of hokey.
  3. You cannot add metadata about the destinations. You can provide a campground, but you can't enter any notes. I'd like to be able to enter some specific details like area attractions and even the average temperature for the area for the time that I'm there. Just an open notes field would be GREAT. If this is added, #2 needs corrected- otherwise, you could lose data.
  4. It is not mobile friendly (which is surprising given that their primary product is an app).
  5. The letters on the icons currently only go from A-Z so if you exceed 26 stops, you're left with blank map icons (which gets confusing with 59 on my current plan and one location that I hit multiple times!).
I keep my spreadsheet in sync with the map so that I can handle #3 in my "negatives" list. It's a hassle to have to update 2 locations each time that I want to make a change to my route or plan.

Current RVParky.com Trip Plan | Current Spreadsheet of Destinations + Attractions

The Idea / Plan

The Now or Never trip idea/plan is to take a year and explore the country. We would will move from location to location each week on Mondays. I figure each move will cover anywhere from 150 up to a staggering 500 miles in some of the spread out area of the west. Unfortunately, with some of the long days- I'm not going to get to see some of the roadside America touristy-attractions (such as the World's Largest Catfish, or the Jolly Green Giant, or possibly the Alien Inn).

The sad/crappy part is that I'll have to continue to work full-time while we're away. (Ok, hold your sympathy- I get that this is an AWESOME opportunity!) Because of my work schedule, we'll essentially have 2 weekend days for our site-seeing. So, while it sounds great to "have a week at each location", the reality is- it'll be an accelerated visit each place.

We've decided that we are ignoring the north east and east coast, because we can do these in the future. So it cuts down on some of the places that we need to go. It was still very hard to map a route out that hits as many states as possible, gets us a flavor of each location, and doesn't miss too much. We have 52-60 weeks from the end of one school year to when my daughter would need to go back to start school on the first day.

I've started mapping the route out- starting with a Disney World vacation at Fort Wilderness, going counter-clockwise, first north and crossing the country, heading south down the coast and returning to Florida for our first winter (getting some more Disney time in!). Once spring starts to spring, we'll head back out going clockwise this time, from Florida to northern Alabama, the whole way to Death Valley and Yosemite and then bouncing around like a ping pong ball to hit the Midwest.


We started kicking around this idea in late 2013. I threw it out as a wild idea and we chuckled, "there's no flipping way, don't be stupid". And like a rabid dog with a bone, I kept making the joke. It turned into "no way". We're making progress here. Instead, we decided that we would back off on the plan and simply do a summer away and see how it goes.

For the summer of 2014, we packed up our camper and closed up our house and headed to Florida,  continued from there to Alabama, north to Indiana, and finally returned home (MD). All told we were gone for 7 weeks or so. Once we got home, we reevaluated how it went:
  • Overall, mostly ok but there were challenges
  • The biggest challenge, my working situation was very slapped together (hard folding chair and a TV tray table for a desk)
  • The next challenge was the livability of the camper, each move required a lot of shuffling in and out of stuff; we had too much stuff; you name it (one big space sucker was the smallest of the family- my then 2 year old still slept in a pack and play)
  • None of the above were reason enough to not do it.
However, we got home and quickly realized/decided that there were details of the year long project that were just "too big" (selling/packing the house (the idea was I wanted to move anyway), figuring out home/online school and costs associated with it, travel plans, etc.). We both let it go.

And then, the weekend of March 6-8, my wife (Mandie) went on a scrapbooking weekend with friends in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, you can do public online/cyber schooling for free. Mandie got talking with one of her friends who does it and how great it worked for their family. She had the epiphany that our daughter was getting older and if we ever wanted to do something like this as a family- it was Now or Never. Unbeknownst to me, I was thinking the same sort of thing- our daughter was getting older, if we really ever had a hope of doing this- it was Now or Never.

At dinner on March 8, my very ferklempt wife recounted her experiences over the weekend. Much to her surprise, I told her I had the same thoughts. While I'm not a man of faith- I can't help but see it as a sign. We swore our daughter to secrecy and the planning to a "go/no go" decision began. The problem was, we have 3 months and 10 days to get everything in order.