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Questions and Answers

Below are some of the questions and comments we've received about RVing and RVing with Kids, along with our replies.  A list of the questions is below.  Click on a question to jump to our reply.

I call it "our reply" since there are many possible answers.  As this is a collection of past e-mails that span four years, some replies are redundant but written at a different time, mood, or inspiration. 


Whether you go on a two week RV vacation or are preparing to go full-time, keep this in mind: the time you spend preparing for the trip, the driving, the RV repairs, and other trials and tribulations are all parts of your journey and pleasure of life.  Enjoy each for what they offer.

For us, many destinations; whether a particular location or life goal, take on a feeling of "been there, done that, what's next?"  So enjoy your journey.

                                                Follow your dreams -- Life is not a dress rehearsal

                                          (Quote from Joe Lacey, a fellow RVer)
ã Copyright Nodland 1999, 2002
 
 

LIST OF QUESTIONS

Q 1:  What type of fifth wheel do you have and does it have a separate bunk room for the kids?
Q 2: We thought about full time RVing but after our last trip I'll have to work even harder to get 
my wife to agree.
Q 3: I am curious how you handle schooling the children on the road. 
Q 4: One wonders of the pit falls along the way and I'm sure you folks have met your share.
Q 5: Would you please share some of  the "hard knocks" you have had?
Q 6: What about health care?
Q 7: Do you know of other families doing this same sort of thing?
Q 8: Are there websites on the subject (RVing)?
Q 9: Does your family do regular reports that we can access?
Q 10: How can I hook up with other families while travelling?
Q 11: I am writing to you to ask your perspective on the pros and cons of fulltiming with kids as well as costs involved.
Q 12: Any suggestions of what to do with the grandkids?
Q 13: Everyday I wonder if we are making the right decision!  Everybody thinks we're crazy for selling our house (our security...so they say) and hitting the road! 
Q 14: How do you like your units and what would you have done differently?
Q 15: Will she [our daughter] make friends?  Will she get bored? 
Q 16: Did you have any changes in your income after starting full-time RVing?  If yes, how much? 
Q 17: How much was the initial investment cost at the beginning?  How much is the regular running cost?  Do you save more by full-timing? 
Q 18: We bought a motorhome and are wondering if we'll need a tow car? 
Q 19: How do you handle your mail, paying bills, etc.? 
Q 20: How about membership stuff, groups, parks, etc.? 
Q 21: How do you connect to the Internet? Do you have a cell phone that is nationwide like AT&T?
Q 22: What about getting cash?  Do you just pay the fees and use ATM's? What about paying bills?
Q 23: Who is the best organization to register our kids with?
Q 24: Campground memberships? Sleeping arrangements? School Schedule?
Q 25: Could you tell me more details about your home-schooling? 
Q 26: Do you recall any specific episodes about Mitch or Max at school, where you felt the public school system didn't work
for them or threatened their future? 
Q 27: Do you do school every day? 
Q 28: We are leaving in June heading toward Alaska from Georgia and were wondering about instant phone hook-ups at
campgrounds
Q 29: Is there a forum or newsletter or some way we can access helpful information?
Q 30:
Q 31:
Q 32:
Q 33:

 



Question 1: What type of fifth wheel do you have and does it have a separate bunk room for the kids?

Reply: We bought a King of the Road fifth-wheel four years ago.  It's a good trailer -- about 330 square feet of living area, wood framed with three slides-outs. The downside is that it's heavy.  The kids used to pull out the queen sized bed inside of the living room couch for sleeping, but now Mitch chooses to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor and Max sleeps on the couch.  Four years ago there weren't as many options for bunk house models.  Since then, I've seen several that I like. I think the bunk house might have a lot of advantages.  It would give the boys a place of their own with room for their clothes and projects.

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Comment 2: My wife and I just returned from a motorhome trip to Page Arizona and the Grand Canyon.  We'd thought about full time RVing, but after our last trip I'll have to work even harder to get her to agree.

My son-in-law and daughter bought a 17 year old motorhome and invited his mother and my wife and I to go along on an "adventure." Well, after 16 days of breakdowns in some very desolate spots along Highway 44, my wife was very anxious to get home to Canada. It's a good thing that our son-in-law is very handy or I think that we would have found our way to the nearest airport and flown back to Canada.

Reply: Doesn't sound like much fun. So far, we haven't broken down along the road.  Once, with our older truck, we had a fan belt break and it took out every other belt along with it.  I always carry an extra belt for the water pump, so we were able to drive to the next town before the battery went dead.  It was getting dark and the alternator wasn't working, but we made it.  We also had a blow out, but simply put on the spare tire and drove to the nearest town.  Our transmission went out on our 2000 model Ford F-550 truck recently, but we were within two miles of a Ford dealer.  It could have gone out anywhere between Salt Lake City and nowhere.  So with a little preparation and a little luck we've done alright.

Another factor that probably made a difference -- a very important difference -- is that you were one of three separate families traveling for over two weeks in a very confined space.  You didn't have your own house, (RV,) to go home to at night that was your own space. Though we admire your daughter and son-in-law for undertaking a trip like this, we think it might have been better is you had stayed in a hotel along the way for a few of your nights.  (That's a lot of people in an older motorhome -- especially if you're not used to camping.)

After about three months of full time travel, our trailer no longer felt like a camping RV, but felt like home.  When times get a little stressful it's always nice to be home.  This might sound strange, but no matter where we are, our home is always with us.  You are probably comfortable driving down the street or across town to a store or appointment.  It's the same for us.  But now we are comfortable driving across the continent.

It used to be that I was nervous going new places.  For instance, the desert -- where we would die of thirst if we broke down.  Then it was Florida where the alligators would get us.  We actually stayed in a KOA RV park where we had to pass large alligators along the trail to get to the dog walk.  (Did you know a gaiter can run 45 mph?)  Besides, we learned that the alligators were not the problem -- the locals told us it was the water moccasins to watch out for.  We've been in New Orleans where we heard we would be mugged and if we took photos our camera would be taken.  Well, take a look at our web site and you'll find pictures of New Orleans so you know we got out with the camera.  We've heard that we shouldn't go into Mexico because our children will be kidnapped.  Then there was Alaska in March with the 26 below zero temperatures.  It was a little scary driving for 100 miles between towns and only seeing another vehicle once every 30 minutes.  If we had broken down you couldn't even pull off of the road, and forget about walking for help..

But again, we had no problem.  I am mechanically handy and very creative.  I can dream up some sort of a fix to most little problems.  It's also part of the adventure.  Somewhere near the very beginning of our web pages is a story about the rear-end going out on our old truck. A family stopped to see if we needed help and when they saw that we would have to get work done on the truck, they invited us to camp at their ranch for the night.  It turned out that their next-door neighbors were some people that we had got to know from spending 24 hours waiting for the Rose Parade.  Go check out the story on our webpage.

Now we are comfortable with North America as our back yard.  We stay out of the bad parts of the big cities, just as anyone would do in their own town.  I agree that having an older RV that will breakdown often is for the younger generation.  We've paid our dues.  Our truck is two years old and our fifth-wheel trail is now four years old.

Tell your wife we look forward to meeting up on the road someday.  Follow your dreams, life is not a dress rehearsal.  Don't be afraid to die -- be afraid to not live.

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Question 3: I am curious how you handle schooling the children on the road.  I would like to retire soon and set out on our long awaited travels.  We have always thought that we would wait until the children were grown and out of the nest before my retirement.  But for health reason, that may be impractical.  I need to find a good program of home school type support.

ReplyThere are lots of packaged curriculums for home schooling out there.  The one that has been around for years is Calvert, (but I think that it only goes up to grades 6 or 8).  I don't have their website, but I'm sure you can find them on the web.  A good source for seeing other curriculums is a bimonthly newspaper called The Link.  The newspaper is free and is packed with advertisers that sell everything that has to do with homeschooling.  Their website is http://www.homeschoolnewslink.com.

Two publishers that I like, (that sell workbooks if you'd like to put together your own curriculum is EPS, (Educators Publishing Service).  Their website is www.epsbooks.com or you can order a catalog at 1-800-225-5750.  Also, for grades K-6, I like Evan-Moor.  Their website is www.evan-moor.com and they also have a catalog.

Our approach to homeschooling is not traditional and is mostly done by a lot of reading and learning through living and traveling.  If you are interested in hearing more about "Unschooling" I will be happy to tell you more about it and provide you with some resources.

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Question 4: One wonders of the pit falls along the way and I'm sure you folks have met your share.

Reply: It depends a lot on your perspective.  We've been to dentists, doctors, hair salons, etc. in many states and all with no real problems.  We have enough money to maintain our truck and trailer and have always had blown out tires or failed transmissions near town and never had to be towed, (knock on wood).  Checking out books from libraries is impossible without a local address for a library card. Blockbuster works well across the entire country for renting videos, and any medical prescriptions we need filled can be transferred from one pharmacy to another.

At first, space was a big challenge, but we are quite creative and space problems quickly gave way to weight problems.  We have upgraded our truck to Ford's F-550, installed higher rated tires on the trailer, and reinforced the trailer's axle mounts and axle shackles.

Activities that require large equipment or space are difficult.  As our boys get older they ask for welders, would love to build a fort in the woods, dream of building a go-cart or hovercraft from scratch, etc.

I think one of the greatest challenges is yet to come. Girl friends.  One of these days, one of the boys will say, "I'm not going -- I'm staying here and you can't make me go."

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Question 5: Would you please share some of  the "hard knocks" you have had.  We are moving cautiously and would welcome advice/encouragement and heed any warning you might give.

Reply I could say, you'll learn as you go, but then I don't know your style and personality. Asking and talking to people is a good way to learn and there are a few good RVing magazines.  We like Trailer Life and the Escapees bimonthly magazine.  Here's some of the things you may soon discover -- hopefully, not the hard way.

This is a small list of possible adventures you may get to enjoy.  Some people see this type of stuff as terrible things to deal with, and sometimes we do too.  If you look at it as the adventure that life is providing you with for the day, you can begin to find the joy in discovering how to repair an awning or watching Old Faithful erupt from a water main that you just backed into.

The day after sending this reply I had yet another hard knock.  I have quick connects on our hose, so it was easy to simply unhook the hose from the trailer, fill a five gallon water container, and then reconnect the hose all without turning off the water.  Six inches away from our water system connect is another outlet for rinsing out the black water tank.  Well, you guessed it, I hooked the hose back to this rinse connection.  Since the tank drain was closed the first indication there was a problem was when the black water tank and toilet bowl filled to the top and started flowing down the steps from the bathroom into the kitchen.  Oh S#!+.

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Question 6: What about health care?

Reply: Routine medical and dental appointments we usually schedule well in advance in our old home town.  We're there a couple of times a year to visit family.  When we need medical or dental elsewhere in the country we usually ask for recommendations from the RV park.  Even if you're not staying at a retirement or destination type of park you could call or visit one nearby to get a good recommendation.   The parks where the Snowbirds land for several weeks or months always have this type of information.  The overnight style RV parks along the freeway may not have as much information.

We have been pleased with the care we have received throughout the country.  Certainly some experiences have been better than others, but nothing dramatic.

As far as medical insurance, we don't have a good answer.  We use Blue Cross-Blue Shield out of Texas, (because Texas is our official state of residency.)  We have high deductibles to keep the premiums as low as possible.

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Question 7:  Do you know of other families doing this same sort of thing?

Reply: Yes, we do.  We are the coordinators of a group known as RVing with Kids.  It's a BOF (birds of a feather, i.e., special interest group) of the Escapees RV Club.  If you are a member of the Escapees RV club you can join. There are no meetings, no newsletters, no obligations.  There are about 12 other families and I will send you an updated list of member names and e-mail addresses.  Todate, no one has organized a get-together, but it would be fun to do this sometime.

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Question 8: Are there websites on the subject (RVing)?

Reply:  Sure.  There is the Escapee's RV Club, and I bet the other clubs like Good Sam and FMCA have sites.  There's also RV Magazine, Trailer Life and others.  If you use any web searcher you'll find several others.  You can pick up a copy of Kay Peterson's book Home Is Where You Park It from the library or order it through the Escapees website, www.escapees.com. (Kay is the founder of the Escapees.)  We have a few links to other sites on our homepage as well.

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Question 9: Does your family do regular reports that we can access?

Reply: Yes, we do reports but not on any regular schedule.  You can see them on www.road-school.com.  Click on either Past Adventures or Travel Journal for the entire list of past stories and pictures.  Altogether our site is about 80 mb, mostly pictures, I recently organized all my local files and can now produce a CD version of the entire site.  I did this to send a copy to my cousin, an elementary school teacher, so that she could use it in her classroom.  For $10, (basically the cost of burning the CD and shipping), I can send you a copy.  I can also add you to our distribution list so that you will recieve a short notice whenever we add a story to our website.  To either request a CD or be added to our web site send us an e-mail.

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Question 10: Hi, we are a full time ( for at least a year or so...we are open) rving family travelling the country. We have three boys, 5,7, and 9. My husband is in the merchant marine and goes out for three months at a time. . . . . I feel a little overwhelmed lately, compounded with some loneliness. Do you have any ideas about how I can hook up with others in a similar situation, via email, or even better in person?

Reply:When we first started traveling we did not travel with other people very often.  During the school year the RV parks were filled with older, retired folks and we aren't the type to play cards or dominos.

Ideas, you ask.  Well, the news has bowling on TV right now.  OK, not such a good idea.  I guess the trick is to find a few activities that the kids can attend while you can associate with other adults.  Last fall our boys signed up to play football in San Diego at the local Recreation center, (we were going to be there for eight weeks.)  It seemed like there were a few families that we could have developed a social relationship with had we chosen to do so.  There are probably some other ideas like this.

The key is to break the ice and develop a relationship.  People like to share stories about their life, so be a good listener and ask questions to lead the conversations the directions you'd like to go.  Also, tell them about your story.  Homeschooling and traveling are interesting to others.  Just be careful not to dominate the time and keep in mind that a different life style can be scary to some people.  People generally are attracted to situations and ideas that are similar to their own.  Stimulate their curiosity but fill their desire for comfort.

Others ideas may be some sort of minimal volunteer activity.  This could involve the kids and other young adults.  Volunteering at an old folks home may not fit the bill.

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Question 11:  In the next 3-5 years we would like to start doing at least 3-4 month trips every year, if not going full time.    We already homeschool our children so that will not be an adjustment.  We just purchased a new 5th wheel this year with bunks for the kids.  We are leaving it at one park for the summer and spending about 3 days /week there.

I am writing to you to ask your perspective on the pros and cons of fulltiming with kids as well as costs involved.

Reply: Local camping is a great way to find out if full-timing is a good idea for your family.  There's a lot of people that can't handle the small space and "24 hour togetherness" on a full-time basis.  I'd also suggest extended vacations if possible.  Before we were full-timers we spent a month in Utah's National Parks in a pickup truck and camper.  We had such a great time that we knew full-timing would work for us.

Even though it sounds great to sell everything and take off down the road, you have to know where your money is coming from.  Before we were full-time RV'ers, I, (Cheryl,) had a data processing service that I did from home.  When we decided to travel full-time, Ed and I "molded" my business into a completely Internet dependent venture.  In other words, it wasn't necessary to meet with my client, my employees, etc.  Everything is done via Internet, cell phone, Fed Ex or mail. Our cost of living is so much less than it was when we had a house, a mortgage and property taxes, that we are easily able to live on just one income instead of two.  If you have any way of telecommuting or have a computer based business, it will be easy to make a living while full-time RVing.

If you're not in this line of work, you can always check out the Workamper News, (I think that you can see it on line, or go to www.Escapees.com and follow their link.)  This is a publication that advertises jobs for full-time travelers.

If you only travel for a year or so, you'll be doing so much to broaden your children's horizons.  Travel, (slow travel -- not the fast vacation mode), is the best educator there is.

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Question 12: . . . .we are headed to Columbus, OH to visit cousins, stay in a KOA and experience the science museum there.  Any suggestions of what to do with the kids are so helpful.  I understand the importance of having a pool—they love to swim.

Reply: You were asking what to do with your grandkids -- sounds to me like you're doing everything right!  Besides National Parks, Science Museums and swimming pools are at the top of our list.

I think that any cultural events that are in your area are important too.  Learning about our country and it's history can be so interesting, (if they're not sitting in a classroom doing it, that is).

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Comment 13: Thanks for your encouragment!  Boy, we need it.  Everyday I wonder if we are making the right decision!  Everybody thinks we're crazy for selling our house (our security...so they say) and hitting the road!  It is a little scary, I must admit! But,you know...it's funny....the other day, the 3 of us sat down and made a "pro and con" list for living on the road.  Guess which side won; the "pro" list!!  It was probably 3 times longer than the "against Rving side".  It made me really think that this is a great idea after all. Your plans sound exciting.  I remember the planning stages -- I thought we'd never actually get on the road.  Be persistent, work off of a check-off sheet, don't give up and it will happen.

Reply: Your plans sound exciting.  I remember the planning stages -- I thought we'd never actually get on the road.  Be persistent, work off of a check-off sheet, don't give up and it will happen.

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Question 14: By the way,,,,we also like the 32 5th wheels and plan on getting a 1-Ton Diesel dually.  How do you like your units and what would you have done differently?

Reply: We really like our 32' 5th wheel and truck.  Even though it will be tempting, I'd suggest not buying anything longer than 32.'  There's a lot of places
that trailers longer than that just can't get into, (older parks, National Park campgrounds, etc.)  Make sure and get slide-outs though -- they make
all of the difference in the world, especially with kids.  Storage space is always a consideration but over time you'll become very creative on storing more and more stuff in less space.  The problem that is harder to overcome is the wieght.

Here's a list of what I would do differently, or the same, next time.

There are probably many other item to add to this list that I would know about if I had a diffent model trailer or motorhome.  If you know of any other items to add to this list send us an e-mail.

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Question 15: We have three grown children and Emmy (our 11 year-old) still at home.  She has been home schooled just about all of her school years and she loves it!!  She is very excited about living in a trailer and traveling.  She loves people of all ages and plays and entertains herself very well. We have a fantastic relationship...but I still worry.  Will she make friends?  Will she get bored?

Reply: As far as your daughter being lonesome -- if she's the only child at home and you're homeschooling, I don't think that there will be much difference.
There are always children to play with at campgrounds, (especially in the summer and school holidays).  You will be so busy going places and seeing new
things that she won't have time to be lonely.

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Question 16: Did you have any changes in your income after starting full-time RVing?  If yes, how much?

Reply: My husband, Ed, was in management at the Boeing Airplane Company.  He had been there for 20 years.  I have been self-employed, (working at home) for the past 14 years providing various computer services.  We had a beautiful "dream" house on a lake, (with an equally big mortgage, property taxes, maintenance costs, etc, etc.).   By selling our house and moving into a new $50,000 fifth-wheel, Ed was able to quit his job.  Since my business is computer related and home-based, it is completely mobile, and we are easily able to support ourselves with my business alone.

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Question 17: How much was the initial investment cost at the beginning?  How much is the regular running cost?  Do you save more by full-timing?

Reply:   Our initial cost was $50,000 for a new fifth-wheel, (which we financed).  We already had a pick-up truck, so used that for the tow vehicle.  When we sold our house we just broke even, so didn't have a huge amount of money from that.  What was surprising is that our cost of living is so much less than it used to be, that we were able to pay off our trailer and purchase a new 2000 model truck which is half-way paid for too.  (My business has been very busy though; we used to have one employee and we now have three -- all Moms that work at home).

People often ask us about our gas expenses -- we actually drive less than we did when we had a house.  We both had cars; and between Ed's commute and my driving kids back and forth to school, our annual mileage was between 6,000 and 10,000 miles more than it is now.

We purchased a membership in Thousand Trails.  They have a network of very nice campgrounds all over the country.  The initial cost of our membership was $1,200 and there is an annual dues of $800.  We don't do this, but there are many, many RV'ers who live full-time within this system.  By paying the $800, you can stay at Thousand Trail parks all year with no additional cost.  That means that your TOTAL annual rent is $800 and this includes your electric and water.  All of the parks have a nice club house, swimming pool, tennis court and planned activities.  The down side is these parks are usually 30 miles or more from large cities.  So if you like to stay near the cities or visit the historical sites and museums you have a longer daily drive.  Also look for a resale.  they will be cheaper than a new membership purchase.  The dues are also $1200 for new members even if you buy a resale.

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Question 18:We bought a motorhome and were wondering if you'd need a tow car?

Reply:  -- In one word -- YES!!!!!  When you're living in an RV full-time it needs to feel like a house.  In other words, if you want to go to the store or out to dinner, I don't think you'll want to take your home with you.  Hooking and unhooking utilities too often is a hassle, then having to level every time you park is a pain.  RV's are often impossible to park in downtown areas, (especially in older eastern cities.)  Parking garages rarely accommodate anything that's tall.  We have a tough time just parking our truck in some cities, (our RV is a 5th wheel and we pull it with a F550 pickup -- it's a big truck, but not much larger than a standard pickup.)  Another reason that I think a tow-car is a good idea is because of your son, (we've already raised four kids -- they're all between the ages of 22 and 25, so have some teenage experience.)  Traveling for kids is not as exciting as it is for adults, (as you'll soon see.)  Possibly, if driving lessons go along with traveling, it might make life more interesting for him.  We do, however, know one family that only has a motorhome.  They complain about it, but are still RVing.

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Question 19: How do you handle your mail, paying bills, etc.?

Reply:  We use the Escapees mail forwarding service.  It's about $80 a year plus postage.  They have been extremely reliable.  The address we use as our "home address" is the Escapees address plus a number (which appears to most people as an apartment number.)  Our drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, bank, credit cards, insurance and everything else uses this address as our permanent home address.

When we need our mail (about every week or two), we call the Escapees Mail Service and tell them where we are, (or where we're going to be.)  We give them the address, (it's usually c/o General Delivery at the city we're staying in,) and they send it to us.  Typically, three days later we go to the local post office and pick it up.   As far as banking and paying bills -- we handle all of our bank deposits by mail, (I haven't found any bank that has nationwide branches.)

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Question 20: How about membership stuff, groups, parks, etc.?

Reply:  -- The Escapees dues is well worth the $50 (or is it $60) per year.  The Escapees Magazine is worth that.  We also have a membership to Thousand Trails; we paid $1,200 for the membership and then $800 per year for unlimited camping.  Coast To Coast and RPI are good deals too, but you only need one of them -- not both.  The one thing that I wouldn't travel without is a Trailer Life Campground Directory, (about $20)  -- you can buy it at Camping World.  It lists all of the National, State, County and City parks as well as the private RV parks.  Several people have suggested Passport Americaand there are other campgounds and discount camping organization but we are not familiar with them.

You mentioned Thousand Trails which I am familiar with and then RPI which I am not familiar with.

RPI stands for Resort Parks International (I think).  You have to own a campsite at one of their member parks to use their program.  Have you heard of Coast To Coast?  They both work exactly the same way.  If you're a member of their program, (it costs about $50 per year for dues,) you can stay at their member parks for about $5 a night.  We are members of both and we use these parks occasionally, but not that often.  The parks are usually located just far enough away from what you want to see to be inconvenient.  Once in a while it's a good deal, but often it's easier just to pay $10 or $15 more a night and be where you want to be.  If you want more information on these, let me know.  RPI's phone number is (800)635-8498, Coast To Coast's phone number is (800)368-5721.  To buy a campground in a membership park, (so you can use RPI or Coast To Coast,) you can get a list of resales available in the back of any RV'ing magazine -- don't EVER pay retail for a campground membership.  I think we paid $200 for ours, (which is a real dumpy park in Georgia,) with a $120 per year maintenance fee.  If you buy into Thousand Trails, they usually throw in RPI as part of the deal.

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Question 21: How do you connect up to the Internet.  I noticed that you use AOL.  Do they have a number that is local everywhere or do you pay by the minute for using it? Are phone lines available at the hookups?   Are you pleased with their service?     Do you have a cell phone also that is nationwide like AT&T?

Reply:  Hooking up to the web is often a challenge.  Usually RV parks have a modem hookup in their office. Sometimes they use their their fax or credit card line and some charge for usage or limit your time.  This is not the case as much as it was four years ago.   Once in a while you can find an RV park with phone lines to the sites, (a REAL luxury.)  A lot of times we'll pull into a truck stop and have lunch in the restaurant.  There's usually phones on the tables so we just unplug the phone and hook up the laptop.   When we get work done on our truck we've found most Ford dealers let us hook up somewhere while we wait.  Once we even said we were waiting for our truck to be fixed just to get a  phone line.  Big cities can be more difficult to find a line.  The community is not setup to suppot people that don't have a phoneline in their house.

Internet cafes often have lines to use for a small price and often they have a high speed TCP/IP network cable available.  Many Kinkos have a highspeed connect you can use at no cost, but others don't even have a slow phoneline.

AOL  has the most local access numbers of any provider.  If we are in a place with no local AOL access number, we use AOL's 800 line and it cost an extra ten cents per minute.  Most of the large cities and fair sized towns have local numbers.  It's mostly the midwest out in the middle of Utah, Wyoming, Montana, northern Arizon, and similar remote places that we use the 800 number.  To save on per minute costs, set your laptop up to send and receive all your mail and then read and compose it off-line.

Yes, we use AT&T wireless and have their One Rate service.  We have often thought about switching but are not really sure that Verizon would be much better.  You need to access the areas you may in the most and pick the service that has the best coverage.  I think both offer comparable pricing plans and have additional free weekend and evening minutes.  But then it's been a while since I compared so it coupld be different now.

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Question 22: . . . .What about drawing money out though.  Do you just pay the fees and use ATM's?  What about paying bills?

Reply:  Yes, we use ATMs and pay the fee. We usually draw out several hundred at a time so we don't end up paying a $2.00 charge for fouty dollars.  As much as possible we use a credit card.  One bill each month and it adds up the "air miles."

We have a few bills setup for automatic payments from our checking account.  the others we send in checks for. We know when our bills are due, and in case we haven't received our credit card statement in time, I either call the company for the balance or just send a check in to cover the minimum, (so it's on time,) and then send in the balance when I get the statement.
 

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Question 23: I guess you would call us "newbies", or since we haven't left the city yet, "wannabies".  We are a family of four, our daughters are 4yrs. and 5 1/2yrs. old. We sold our house,  our business, our cars, most everything else, except personal valuables.  The little we have left is stored in a friends garage.   We plan on leaving L.A. the 9th of April, to AZ to pick up our new home. We are planning to be on the road for 2 years, but who knows.  We plan on homeschooling on the road.  Our oldest daughter will turn 6 yrs. in July.  I taught 1st grade until our first daughter was born.  I have been homeschooling them already, but have not had to be registered with any organization because of their ages.  What should I be doing to prepare for the fall semester?  Who is the best organization to register with?  I've been doing reseach via the internet, but I cannot make a clear cut decesion?  Can you help?  I appreciate the advise from an experienced family.

Reply:  As far as your question about registering the kids, I suggest not "registering" them at all unless your are showing residency in a state that requires it and the school system is demanding you to register..

When we started traveling almost 3 years ago, I was really concerned about doing school the "right way."  I remember being very concerned about making mistakes, so I tried to create our own carbon-copy of a traditional school -- same curriculum, staying in touch with the kid's old school, etc.  Well, the longer we were away from the public school system, the more I realized how valuable the freedom of educating in our own style was -- away from someone else's view of what was "right."

So, in short, your children are yours -- they are not obligated to a school district or governmental agency.  What you decide to do is completely your own business.

If you're still concerned though, I would check with your state of residence's requirements -- you can check with the homeschool association of your state and they'll let you know what the latest requirements for homeschoolers are, (they're changing all the time). Also get answers from a few different sources.  You may find conflicting answers depending on what each person thinks is the best for you..

Once you get started in your travels, you'll encounter the same questions over and over again -- "do you have your children tested?" --  "what about socialization?" -- "how do you know whether they're up to grade level?" -- and on and on and on.  Some people will think you're crazy and others will tell you it's the best thing you can do for your kids.

I hope my response doesn't sound too strange or has put you off, but once you've spent some time living this lifestyle I think you'll agree that you really have to think "out of the box" and learn to trust and follow your own feelings.

We are fortunate to have a good mix between us I love history, language, the arts and geography.  My husband is into higher level math, electronics, computer programming, physics and engineering.  We are both involved with people skills and interpersonal relations and personal growth.  If there is a subject that you don't have much background in you can either start learning yourself along with your kids or find homeschool resource centers to suppliment your knowledge.  This is usually not an issue until the highschool years.

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Question 24: Campground memberships? Sleeping arrangements? School Schedule?

Reply:  I think it's a good idea not to buy into any of the campground memberships until you know you want them.  Boondocking is great -- lots of Escapees spend most nights in Wal Mart parking lots. State and National Parks are inexpensive and a lot more fun.  A lot of boondockers spend time on BLM land and other low cost areas.

You asked about beds -- our boys pull out the couch every night.  We stash the big comforter and pillows behind the couch every morning, but leave the sheets and light blanket on the bed.  It's a good arrangement, (but I don't know how it'll be when they're 16 and 18 years old.)  UPDATE: As of 2002 Mitch has choosen to sleep on the floor and Max sleeps on the couch.  Mitch tried a few different cots and pads, but still prefers the floor.  He also like to setup a tent outside when we are in warmer climates for a longer period of time.

You asked whether we do school every day or not -- no, we don't sit down with text books everyday.  We are real unschoolers, very project oriented, (combining math, English, etc. into everyday real life situations.)  The one thing that we do regularly is independent reading and spelling, (Max really needs it.)  We do tons of reading while we're driving, (I read aloud to the family.)  We read history, (if you need a good program I can recommend one,) classic literature and books on investing.  We like story problems for math and Ed's slowly going through a college level algebra book with them.  Their handwriting is not very good, because they don't write enough.  We go to lots of museums and factory tours.

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Question 25: Could you tell me more details about your home-schooling? Reply:  This is a subject we have very strong opinions on.  Ed and I are very committed to education and family reform issues.  We feel that the existing education system is severely short changing many children, and in fact, harming them.  The system makes the assumption that all children (people) have the same needs, learnong style, interest, and further that they develop various cognitive skills at the same time.

As far as our own style, we follow John Holt's "unschooling" philosophy -- learning from life.  This is quite easy to do with our nomadic lifestyle.  We read history and classic literature together as a family.

We do, however, use a couple of text books, but not the "grade level" type.  For example, our 12 year old son is using an algebra book that we purchased at a university book store.  This doesn't mean that he's doing college level work, it just seems that in traditional schools there is so much repetitive work year after year, it's easier just to start with an advanced book and slowly work through it.  When we hit a topic that appears to complex we change course and come back to that topic a month or two later.  In the "system" you get stuck being drug through a subject, get labled as dumb or "no good at math" and may spiral downward with no hope of regaining self confidance or a motivation for learning a particular subject or worse yet school as a whole..

A series we use is Joy Hakim's 13 volume set entitled A History Of US.  These are wonderful books that cover the history of the United States.  Some people may ask how our kids would do on a history pop quiz -- could they come up with exact dates, places and names.  Well, maybe they could, but probably not.  What they do have, though, is an in-depth understanding of what went on and why things happened the way they did.

Most importantly though, our travel is our principle teacher.  We've visited over 50 National Parks and National Historic sites and have participated in the "Junior Ranger" programs at all of them, (let me know if you want to know more about this program -- it is invaluable to traveling children).  We have also visited at least 50 science and natural history museums.  We have visited every city that was significant in early American History and toured it's sites.  We spent a long time in Washington, DC touring it's buildings and learning how government works.  Most recently, we spent a month touring the United Kingdom, France and Spain, (no, we didn't bring the RV).  What makes this so enjoyable is that Ed and I learn as much as the children do.

So, to answer your questions, we don't report to any school districts and we don't follow a set curriculum, it would serve no purpose us.  We are not against regulations to protect abused or neglected children.  Without some sort of regulation it would be difficult to help children like this.

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Question 26: Do you recall any specific episodes about Mitch or Max at school, where youI felt the public school system didn't work for them or threatened their future.

Reply:  I didn't go into this in my previous writings, but I was already well aware of the problems and dangers associated with public schools before the boys were old enough to start school.  We already had experienced problems with our older children and I was determined not to see the same thing happen to Mitch and Max.

As I told you last week, when Ed and I got married we both had two small children from previous marriages.  While these kids were growing up, we both worked full-time jobs.  We were very involved in their lives -- both in school and after school with sports and other after school activities.  Almost every day we would hurry out of work to pick up one of the kids and go to baseball, soccer, basketball, or football practice.  We encouraged them to be good students, watched their grades and participated in school events.  We felt like we were doing everything right, but things went very wrong.

Each one of them seemed fine until they reached the 9th or 10th grade.  Then silently, almost unnoticeably to us, the idea of school -- as a place of learning -- became totally meaningless.  To them, school had nothing to do with real life.

Speaking of my own two children, it was obvious to them that whatever the teachers were "teaching" was of no real importance.  They had no aspirations for the future, (they didn't plan on being doctors, lawyers, etc.), so they didn't take any of their school subjects seriously.  They had grown past the age where good grades were important to them -- they only went to school because they were "supposed to".

Though they complained they hated school, (which I thought was normal because I hated it when I was their age too,) I made them go.  Sadly, what I realize now, is that making them go to school every day was the worse thing I could have done to them -- almost like giving them a little poison for breakfast each morning.

By being in school, the only thing that they were learning was how to "fit in" -- how to find their position in a mixed-up society of people their own age.  A large percentage of high school students realize that school has no real relevance for them -- attending daily classes will not help them in their future lives, but because their parents are forcing them to go; (because society tells the parents that they are supposed to,) these kids are subjected to a daily environment of having to fit into aspecific social group.  If they fail to fit into a group, they face fear, humiliation and degrading treatment.

In one instance, when things were starting to go downhill with my daughter, (she was skipping school, not doing homework, etc.), I came to school to pick her up for an appointment.  I was there during a ten-minute class change and the hall was full of students.  I had the boys with me, (Max was 2 and Mitch was 4.)  I was carrying Max and holding Mitch by the hand.  As I walked to our meeting place, the language that I heard being shouted throughout the hall was obscene and disgusting.   Sexual slurs and threats loudly being thrown between groups of boys and girls, without caring if a parent with young children was present.

I located my daughter and while we were walking out, a fight broke out among a group of boys in front of us.  I had to physically grab Mitch, pick him up and jump out of the way to avoid being caught in the middle.  Once again, my presence there didn't slow them down a bit, and I never saw a teacher or adult staff member while I was in the hall.  I asked my daughter about this, and her reply was "it's always like this here."  I was finally starting to realize that "learning" was impossible under these conditions, unfortunately, I found this out too late for our older children.

As it turned out, my son, Brady -- a straight A student in 6th grade, dropped out during his senior year of high school.  He said that "he couldn't stand the bullshit anymore."

Gabe, Ed's son, did better -- he realized that he had enough credits in his junior year, so he took a couple of summer classes at the community collage and received his diploma without ever having to attend the 12th grade.

Harmony, Ed's daughter, dropped out during 11th grade and switched over to an alternative highschool program.  She said the public school was full of social gmaes and daily bullshit. She said her teachers agreed with her. At the alternative school she said she could get her assingments and finish her work in three to four hours and then go on with her life.

Bridget, my daughter, dropped out in the 10th grade.  She ended up single and pregnant at 19.  Today, she has gotten her GED, is working in the factory at Boeing and raising her daughter on her own, (with no support from the baby's father or the government.)

These were hard lessons to learn.  The most heartbreaking thing in the world was to watch my precious children fall apart before my eyes and I'm determined that it won't happen again.  So when it was time for Mitch and Max to start school, I was both hopeful and wary.

Mitch started 1st grade in a brand new, innovative public school program -- a Parent-Teacher Co-op.  To have your child participate in the program, a parent was required to work in the classroom for four hours per week.  During the first two years it was great.  Mitch's teacher was wonderful -- she had almost an "unschooling style".  I was very happy with Mitch's academic growth and he was happy going to school.  Max started Kindergarten in the Co-op.  He had a great Montessori style teacher -- everything was going well.

However, the following year, as the Co-op expanded, it changed locations and brought on new teachers.  These new teachers had styles that were different from the ones we were used to.  Mitch's teacher was domineering while Max's teacher let the kids run wild.  In both cases, their learning and joy in school suffered.

But more frightening, as I worked in the school, I could see groups starting to form among the older 5th and 6th grade students.  I started to hear foul language casually being used among the students and I could see a lot of teasing and disrespect being shown to one another.  I saw how the adult staff members ignored most of the problems and overreacted to others.  I knew there was a better environment for my kids to grow up in.  So when we were finally ready to travel, I happily withdrew them from school.

I often wonder about parents who's children are grown and went through the public school system -- if they had a chance to raise their children again, would they do it the same way?  I think that a lot of them would choose alternative methods of education.  I've been given a "second chance" with Mitch and Max, and I'm determined not to make the same mistakes I made before. [This time we'll at least try something different or make new mistakes.]

I haven't really given you any specific examples or episodes for Mitch and Max like you requested.  I'll try to remember something and forward it on to you.  However, I wanted you to know that my experiences with our older children are my main motivation for avoiding public schools.

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Question 27: . . . . . Do you do school every day or not?

Reply:  -- no, we don't sit down with text books everyday.  We are real unschoolers, very project oriented, (combining math, English, etc. into everyday real life situations.)  The one thing that we do regularly is independent reading and spelling, (Max really needs it.)  We do tons of reading while we're driving, (I read aloud to the family.)  We read history, (if you need a good program I can recommend one,) classic literature and books on investing.  We like story problems for math and Ed's slowly going through a college level algebra book with them.  Their handwriting is not very good, because they don't write enough.  We go to lots of museums and factory tours.

It's great to hear that you're going to be homeschooling your boys.  When we started traveling three years ago, we thought that our school should be a copy of a traditional American school -- 30 minutes for reading, 30 minutes for math, 30 minutes for writing and so on and so on.  We soon learned that nobody liked it and nobody learned.

We got rid of this schedule completely.  We relaxed and lived an interesting life of travel, camping, going to natural history and science museums and working on projects together.  We still use books but Math is usually done as a challenging game, reading is a good book of their choice or classic literature on a CD, history is a series of interesting stories read by Cheryl as we're traveling.  The boys take an active part in our businesses and are learning about different forms of investing.  We all enjoy ourselves and we all learn together.

In the U.S. this homeschooling style is known as "unschooling."  If you're interested in reading about "unschooling" there are several books written by John Holt, (known in the U.S. as the Father of Homeschooling).  There is also a bimonthly publication on unschooling called "Growing Without Schools."  If you're interested, write back and I'll get you more information.

Good luck homeschooling your boys. We think that not sending children to a traditional school and spending learning time together is the greatest gift you can give your family.  We think that the world will become a better, kinder place for everybody if more people are willing to live and teach in this untraditional way.

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Question 28: We are leaving in June heading toward Alaska from Georgia and were wondering about instant phone hookups at campgrounds.

Reply:  What we've found in the past three years of RVing probably won't sound too encouraging.  Instant phone lines are few and far between.  There are some out there, but not many.  Often the campgrounds that do have instant phone lines to the site will charge you for time used, (like a hotel does.)  Once in a while you'll find one that doesn't charge anything, but not often.  If you see a campground ad listing phone lines, (like in the Trailer Life or Woodalls directory,) be sure to call and verify that it is an "instant" line. Often the directories advertise that they have phone lines, but it is actually a line that needs to be activated by the telephone company.  (For instance, if someone is going to spend a few months at a certain campground, they would call the phone company and have service started, wait a few days for the installation guy to come, pay the hook up fee, etc. just like you are renting an apartment.)

The best methods we've found for getting online for extended periods of time are:

RV parks with a phone line designated strictly for laptop users.  Call before you arrive -- make sure to ask if there is a time limit or a charge.

Truck stops with phones on the tables in the restaurant.  You go in and order lunch, unhook the phone and plug in your laptop.  There are good truck stop directories available -- let me know if you need some titles.

Rent an inexpensive (Motel 6 type) room for the day in an area with a free access line.  AOL seems to cover the country best, but we often land in a place that doesn't have a free line, so we end up paying $6 an hour to use their 800 access line.

Everyone thinks that libraries will work for computer access, they do if you want to do E-mail or surf using the libraries PC. But they don't for real work, (for us anyway.)  You can't use your own computer, (or software.)  If you only need web access, they are great and free, but downloading and uploading files from your own laptop is not practical at libraries.

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Question 29: My husband and I just joined Escapees, largely motivated by the opportunity to network with other RVing families.  We are in the process of selling our home and sorting through years of accumulated stuff to sell, store or pack, and hope to purchase an RV sometime this summer and take off by September to travel for at least a year.  We have 3 children ages 12, 10, and 6, and I have been homeschooling them for most of 8 years, though they have all had some public school experience.  Is there a forum or newsletter or some way we can access helpful information as we move closer to the point of no return?

Reply: Sounds like you are in the same phase we were in five years ago.  It took us three years to sell our house on a lake.  By the time the house sold we had reduce our stuff to a manageable size and the final step was fairly easy.

I don't know of any forums for RVing families but there are many RVing forums and many homeschooling forums.  Yahoo Groups is one source and many of the Escapee BOF (Birds of a Feather) groups have a Yahoo Group or similar forum.  For a Homeschool source check out "The Homeschool Link."  Also see Questions 7, 8 and 9 above.  You will learn a lot about RVing from your RV neighbors in the RV parks. During the first several months you'll meet lots of helpful people and learn a lot of do's and don'ts.  The full-time RVing community is very friendly, helpful and have the time to talk.  Weekenders are often in a hurry to have fun or get back by Sunday night and may not have as much RVing experience.  Even before you leave you could go to a local RV park and find the full-time RVers.   

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