Thursday, December 13, 2012


Saturday, November 16, 2012

Our original plan had been to leave on Friday, Nov 15, 2012 at 8:00 am, but Gary had to work overtime all week and with the delay of doing the camper repair we found that we were just too tired to finish packing the last minute items on Thursday to leave on Friday morning.  So we worked on packing on Friday, doing final chores and then hit the road today about noon.

We had gone to bed exhausted and decided that since we were on “vacation” there was no need to rush.  After all we were not on a set time schedule.

So after hugging our son and critters good-bye we slapped the Sesame Street Alphabet tape in the truck player and as our family tradition has it sang “C is for Cookie” with Cookie Monster as we finally hit the road.

The first day we made it just past Weatherford, OK from our home just outside of Tulsa, OK.  We could have gone further, but we try very hard to not travel after dark.  We learned a long time ago that if you want a decent place to camp or boondock stopping early works better than stopping late.

We decided to boondock between Weatherford and Elk City at the Love’s just off of highway I 40 for the night.  As we ate our dinner of Wiener Wraps, pork ‘n beans and chips we discussed that it was suppose to be in the low 40’s that night which could be a little bit nippy to get up and take care of personal business during the night.  Campers are not that well insulated compared to your average home, for those of you who have never camped in a fifth wheel with slides. 

Even though the slides have snug fitting rubber gaskets around them air still seeps in and that makes it a little cooler in the winter.

But that was not a problem, after all we had two brand new batteries on the fifth wheel with which to run the furnace.  EXCEPT, while we were eating a semi pulled in next to us to park for the night and it became obvious to us that while we could run the sides out there was a good chance the semi would clip the bedroom one as he departed in the morning while we still in bed sleeping and that would be a heck of a wake-up alarm.

Besides we generally don’t run the slides out even for a few minutes when boondocking.  Because you are suppose to be just sleeping, not camping. 

The problem was that in order to turn the furnace on we had to run the slides out to get to the switch to do so.  So we mulled over our options:

1.   Move on to somewhere else to sleep

2.   Re-park further down in the lot and that was already filling up fast.  In fact as we discussed this option the one place we could have safely ran the slides out was taken by a semi.

3.   Go to a campground and pay for hook-ups.

4.   Tough out the temps and just put another blanket on the bed. I was not fond of this idea as I get up at least once every night for calls of nature.

5.   The final option I came up with after we had heavily discussed the other four.  Run the slide out, turn on the furnace and then run the slide back in, before the semi could pull out and clip it.

We went with number five. While I kept a close eye out for the semi driver getting behind the wheel, just in case he was just stopped for dinner and not the night,  Gary ran the two slides out, got the furnace going and then quickly ran the slides back in.  No problem. 

Of course that meant that we couldn’t get to our closet or clothing drawers the next morning, but we could at least get into bed and sleep warm. Which we did quite well.
Again for you non-camper types.  The way the slides are set-up on campers is they slide into the empty floor space while traveling.  In the case of the bedroom for our fifth wheel the bed is snug up against the built in bureau drawers directly across from the bed when the slides are out.  This also helps to keep the drawers from popping open as you go down our nation's fine highways.
The living room slide goes over the entertainment center that also contains the control panel for the furnace, air conditioner and the non-working read-out panels. 
You can still walk through the narrow space between the sofa, recliners and eat at the kitchen table, as well as cook in the kitchen when that slide is in, it's just a little more snug.

Sure enough the next morning all the semis were gone, so opening the slides back up to shut off the furnace and get a clean change of clothes was not a problem.

If you have never been to Weatherford, OK the big highlight we see as we come through this town on our many a trips down I-40 is the wind mills, there are hundreds of the big white giants sitting atop the numerous hills of the region.  Like silent sentinels they slowly turn and are fascinating to watch as you travel through the town.  We never bore of watching their majestic arms slowly turn in the wind. 

We always end up discussing the pros and cons of wind generators as we see such devices along the way as well.  There is the inevitable discussion about cost versus output and of course there is the fact that it definitely changes the scenery from God’s wonders to man-made ones.

I always think of the Man from La Macha tilting at windmills and wonder what he would have thought of the silent white generators that graced the hills all around Weatherford.

Some are so close to the highway you can easily get photos of them.  We didn’t stop and take photos of them this trip as we did so when we took this same route four years ago and again when we were traveling and mystery shopping in 2010.  The photos shown with this post were taken in June of 2010, but they give you an idea of how huge and plentiful the wind mills are in this area.

In fact, as I write about this vacation I will include information about various landmarks and things to see from those trips as well, because I wasn’t blogging in 2008 at all and was doing limited blogging in 2010.  The 2008 photos were from this near same trip and was in November 2008, so if you see a reference to 2008 in future posts that is the trip I am speaking about.

So day one was spent traveling, then stopping to cook a hot meal and going to bed early to move on to Day 2.  Sorry it was such a boring post.

Since we didn’t take any photos this first day I’m including the windmill photos of 2010 and  a map of the route we took for the trip.  Maybe it will be helpful to “follow along” as we go.

Jan who loved seeing the windmills because it proved we were actually on the road again away from OK.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Nov. 11, 2012

Murphy has been determined to undermine this trip for the last few weeks, but so far we are holding him off at arm’s length.  Here’s hoping we can hold him off completely, even while on the trip.

I’m going to give you a run down of what we ran in to so you might head off such Murphy problems yourself when planning a getaway.

We have been plugging away hard at saving money for the trip, but things keep popping up.  The biggie was for some strange reason airfares for the time dh would normally fly to Las Vegas for the AutoCad University DROPPED considerably, like nearly $700!!! OW!  That hurts the fuel budget like crazy.  Because after all if we weren’t vacationing he’d fly out there on the company dollar. 

I’ll be truthful, I was NOT amused when he came home and told me what his expense check was, but rules are rules and this was the agreement we had with his employer.  So that difference had to be met.  A hard look was put on the budget and quite truthfully I considered staying home, but oh I wanted this trip so bad.  So we adjusted the budget plans to cut expenses on things to see and do.  We also added more boondocking to the schedule.  I also decided that certain clothing items I had planned on purchasing just for the trip and would not have normally purchased were not really needed and therefore that budget travel expense could help cover fuel costs. It was a simple matter of deciding what want was the strongest and the desire for the trip outweighed getting a nice evening wear outfit when I had clothing that would work already in my wardrobe. We are, if nothing else, flexible.

Next the truck insurance I had on the schedule as due in December turned out due late November.  So my sinking fund was going to be a little short for that, but not bad and we couldn’t leave without being properly insured.  Jumped that hurtle and moved on.

Next on the Murphy hit parade very nearly killed the trip entirely.  We knew that with all the boondocking we’d be doing in cold weather we needed to replace the second battery in the camper.  I’d actually budgeted for that, it was a major problem it uncovered that caused us to worry about finances big time.

After he hooked up the new battery Gary went inside the camper to check the power of the two batteries and discovered the electronic read out panel for the holding tanks wasn’t working.  Now you don’t need those to use a camper, but they sure are helpful and that wasn’t the big threat, it was what he discovered next. 

When you live in the woods, as we do, no matter what you do there is always a rodent problem.  We knew that the readout panel probably wasn’t working due to a chewed wire.  This gave us concern that other wires might be chewed so he backed the truck up to the trailer and hooked up the wiring for the tail and running lights to see if they would work.  NO! 

This is a MAJOR problem, you can’t safely or legally travel without tail or running lights and we’d had this happen before about 5 years ago and then it was over $600 to get the wiring fixed.  That was when the repair people were getting $69 per hour for the work and now they were getting $99 or more per hour! We simply could not pay that type of money on top of everything else and still make the trip. 

We discussed staying at cheap motels and going without the trailer, after all our fuel economy would be much better and if that was the only trade off it would be close in cost, but we’d still need to do the repair when we got home and that would put us eating most or all of our meals out of an ice chest or at a fast food restaurant.  This would add an additional $600 to the trip costs.  A no go for us.

Plus I’ll admit it, we both worried about the possibility of picking up bed bugs at some hotel along the way, not an option on either of our parts.  One of the main reasons we like the camper is we always know who slept in the bed last and that it was NOT a bedbug!

That left only one other option, repair it ourselves.  Now for those of you who have never worked on fifth wheel camper wiring don’t bother to look for wiring diagrams on the web for a Sierra fifth wheel because they don’t exist per the manufacturer.  It seems each individual Sierra is wired by an individual in whatever manner he sees fit.  Which in turn makes for some interesting searches for the wiring in the walls and floor of the camper should a repair ever need done.

We knew the last time the chewed wire had been in the back section so carefully dh removed the convertor box, the layers of paneling checking each individual wire as he went.  Late on Saturday he found a single chewed wire and repaired it.  He then tested the lights.  NOTHING again, so he moved on to toward the paneling directly behind the driver’s side tail light.  Jackpot!  Every single wire was chewed completely in two.  Much testing, wire splicing, more testing for safety. Much later that evening we had a full set of working running and tail lights. 

He spent Sunday re-installing the paneling so professionally you could not tell it had ever been removed.  He added two extra things as he worked. The first was a LARGE dose of rat and mouse killer. 

We use Just One Bite brand.  A vet recommended it to us years ago and we have had great success with it.  It mummifies the rodent so even if they die in your wall they don’t smell. 

The vet also said that as long as our mousing dogs and cats did not eat the poison directly they would have to eat numerous of the poisoned rodents at once for it to affect them.  Since none of them will touch a rodent they didn’t personally just kill we have been secure in using it because we NEVER put it anywhere there is even the slightest possibility that a pet would get it.

The second thing was an easy access panel behind the convertor box, out of sight, for future replenishing of said poison so perhaps we will not have this problem ever again.

So with two days worth of work we figure dh saved us $1,000 he says that is well worth every sore muscle in his body from doing the chore.

We still don’t have a working control panel, but dh is already working on possibilities as to where that problem might be to do the repair himself when we get back home.

Murphy, however, was not finished with us.  We both take some minor medications and I called them in for refill to make certain we had plenty for the trip.  The pharmacy called the doctor and the doctor insisted upon seeing both of us BEFORE the trip.  NUTS that was scheduled in the budget for January.  Doc wouldn’t see it any other way and he wouldn’t refill our prescriptions without a visit.

Okay, we have a medical sinking fund, but if it went the way it normally does the two of us at once  two months before we had it scheduled it was going to more than sink the sinking fund.  Thanks Murphy!

Only guess what, it seems we had met our deductibles under our new insurance plan –we thought we still had a bit to go, and what I thought would be $200-$300 extra turned out to be $30 from the sinking fund, no extra vacation money had to be spent—gotta love sinking funds! Talk about a big sigh of relief.  Even better, we found out we were both in far better medical shape than we were a year ago.  That was music to our ears!  I guess the extra walking, home grown and prepared organic foods are paying off.  While we both are still nearly 100 pounds overweight we are in much better shape blood pressure wise and cholesterol levels.  Sweet!

All this extra work, doctor visits and overtime put us way behind schedule.  Once the repair was complete and the mess from doing it was cleaned up we found we only had four short days to do a major packing.

I usually start packing a month or so before, but since we kept running into Murphy we hadn’t been certain I would even be making the trip or that Gary would do no more than fly to Las Vegas without me.   No sense in packing only to have to unpack it all.  Or if we decided to go without the trailer then packing would have to been done an entirely different way. So we had waited.  Stay tuned the trip is about to begin.

Jan who hopes nothing else comes up now that we’ve paid all our non-refundable fees in OK.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Oct. 1, 2012

I decided that is silly that I create new packing lists, menu lists, grocery lists and such with every trip.  So I created an electronic file that contains master lists of all the lists I normally do.  Oh my gosh, is that organization creeping into the travel blog.  HELP!  I can’t be getting that organized, but I am.

As I made out the menus I made a master grocery list of exactly what I’d need to prepare those menus.  We pretty well take the same meals every trip, so it only makes sense. 

Of course trips of varying lengths will require different amounts of groceries, but the basic list will stay the same. 

Much as I do for our home meals I offer up the list of “this is what meals we have available” to whoever is traveling with me the night before and we choose the next day’s meal then.  That way if I find I’ve ran out of or left an ingredient at home I will have time to get it, or find a substitution in the camper pantry. 

I’ve also started packing more and more dehydrated foods in the camper because they keep without refrigeration, last for an extremely long time if stored properly and are light to pack. 

Because I pack foods my family will normally eat there are no major “surprises” along the way to cause upset tummies due to strange foods.  With having a full, albeit small,  kitchen in the camper I can cook good filling meals for a fraction of what we’d pay to eat out.

On our clothing lists I made out lists for each family member and for each season, including the conflicting seasons of leaving a cold and rainy Oklahoma to go to a beautiful sunny and HOT Florida.  I did not put quantities on the list, just the basics we always take. 

When it’s time for the packing I can easily add quantities for each person (or better yet let them add their own quantities) and print out a fresh list to check off for the number of days needed.

The lists for the camper supplies itself are basic, but all inclusive, pots, pans, shampoo, bath soap everything we leave in the camper between trips.  This list was printed out and then I went out to the camper and verified everything was fully stocked for the length of trip we were taking.  Guess what I found the salt and pepper shakers needed refilling.  A minor thing, but an annoyance if we’d got on the road and didn’t have seasoning.  I also found that my dried onions had got funky. 

A fresh list was put in the camper to mark if we ran out of or damaged something while out this or any future trip so they could be restocked promptly and take some of the stress of packing everything at once on the next trip.

This all sounds so simple, so why didn’t I think of it and do it before now?  Many of you probably already have done something like this, but not me.  Guess I’m just slow in some respects and old habits die hard. 

Jan who is working on becoming more organized in all aspects of her life in OK

Monday, December 10, 2012


September 19, 2012

Yes, a secret getaway.  Oh it’s not entirely a secret, a few people knew, but not everyone.  By the time this is posted we will be home safe and sound. The trip, at this point, is scheduled to be approximately three weeks long.  It’s a combination of business and pleasure travel.  I’ll be writing this over a multi-month period, but then they will be posted after we return from the trip a report at a time.  I’ve chosen to do the reports this way for two reasons.

The first is safety.  Many people advertise on various lists, social networks, blogs and such when they are getting ready to go away for a short trip.  Heck, I’ve done that myself to some extent when we were traveling for a living, but even those posts always ran behind so no one knew for certain if we were home and when we were gone. 

This can be a safety issue in this day and age, because bad guys read blogs too and will take advantage when they KNOW no one is home.  While we were traveling more or less full time my son was still at home taking care of things.  But on this trip that would not be the situation at times.  So the posts will be composed, then posted after my return.

The second is far simpler, I don’t want to tie myself to writing every day while traveling.  I want to take notes and then later enjoy the memories as I write.

So that’s the explanation of the strange dates for this series of posts.

Now on to the reason for the trip.  The initial reason was for Gary to attend AutoCad University 2012.  He works for a firm that understands the importance of keeping their employees educated on the latest technology. They are a great company to work for in more ways than one.  The company decided to pay for his trip to Las Vegas for AU so that he could take classes then return to the firm and train others on what he learned.

They are also a family orientated firm so when he approached them about them allowing him to travel in our truck and fifth wheel with me to include a vacation along the way to and from for us they agreed to give him the airfare money for the fuel for the trip.

We had done the math and calculated that the airfare and fuel would work out to be just about the same.  So the major hurtle of taking any vacation this year, other than a couple of short trips to Silver Dollar City this last spring, would be jumped with ease.

Next was the vacation time.  Again not a problem, in fact it would be a solution to a problem.  He had vacation time that needed to be used prior to the end of the year or lose it.  He had more than ample time built up for the trip we were considering. 

The third was actually our biggest problem emotionally, the timing of the trip.  AU took place the week after Thanksgiving.  In order to travel at a leisurely pace, and arrive on time we would need to leave the Friday before Thanksgiving.  Meaning we would not be home for Thanksgiving with our son.  This bothered both dh and I more than just a little bit.

The timing also meant we would be traveling home during his birthday week and arriving home on the weekend after his birthday.  Again a major problem where my husband and I were concerned.

It turned out that both bothered us far more than it bothered our son.  He pointed out that for us Thanksgiving was basically a big meal day, because we were thankful for all we have every day and we could have the big meal prior to our leaving. 

He also pointed out that generally on any of our birthdays we wait until the weekend to celebrate and we would be home on his birthday weekend.   So that became the plan.

So our travel dates were picked.  We would leave on the Friday before Thanksgiving, November 16, 2012 using four hours of vacation time for that day, because my husband works half days on Fridays.  Then traveling over the weekend for two more travel days. 

The next week was Thanksgiving and the company would be closed Thursday and Friday.  That meant we only needed 27 hours vacation time for that week. 

AU was the following week, and that would be for the company, so no vacation time was needed for it. He would attend classes during the week while I window shopped, enjoyed the amenities of the hotel, and write. Then in the evenings we would attend the networking events, enjoy good food and good entertainment.  While his employer was paying for him to attend these events, we did have to pay $250 for me to attend them ahead of time. 

We would leave Las Vegas and take the next week traveling home. That would be a full 40 hour week.  So all in all we would be using 71 hours (approximately 8 days) of vacation time for 24 day vacation trip. Not bad.

Our fourth hurtle was of course finances.  We run on a shoestring in this household, as does much of the nation.  So we needed to decide how to pay for the trip and still enjoy ourselves.

Ahhh, a perfect theme for the traveling on a shoestring blog. So this is how we earned money for the trip and saved money while traveling and had a wonderful time.

Of course there was mystery shopping and merchandising on my part.  Massive amounts of it to be certain.  As luck would have it I hit the feast part of the feast and famine of mystery shopping opportunities.  So I was able to put extra money that would have previously gone on my debt snowball and into my Disneyworld travel fund back for this trip.

The same could be said for overtime on my husband’s part.  The company was very busy in the weeks before we left and he worked massive amounts of overtime. 

I know it sounds like we should have been able to not even worry about finances for the trip as a result of all of this “extra” income, but remember we are gazelle intense on getting out of debt.  So only 1/10th of this “extra” income went into the travel fund.  The rest went toward our debt payoff.

As Dave Ramsey says “Live like no one else, so you can later live like no one else.”  We decided we’d rather do this trip on a tight budget and get debt free so we could travel big in another year or two.  So we challenged ourselves to have a great trip on as little money as possible.

First the budget:

Fuel, as I already said the company was covering most of that.

The evening fee for me, $250, no short changing that one.

Meals:.  Truthfully when traveling we don’t consider meals that we eat at the camper as a vacation expense because we would be eating those same meals at home anyway.  Our plan was to eat all meals at the camper when we were not in Las Vegas. While in Las Vegas the fee for AU included 3 meals a day for Gary and the evening meal for me.  I planned on eating from the cheap meals offered at the casinos for breakfast and lunch.  I also planned on having my own bottled water we had bulk purchased ahead of time in my hotel room.  Bottled water is very expensive in Las Vegas and because of the location I tend to drink twice the water I normally do. So designating a suitcase for water going into the hotel would be a huge money saver.  

Entertainment: What is a vacation without entertainment? Time to get new travel books from AAA—gotta love our membership, we get our money’s worth out of their services in many ways every year.  We decided to do this trip as a penny hike trip.  For those of you have not previously read this blog that means each night as we camped we would look through travel books from AAA and the various states we would travel in and see what we could find for free or nearly free along or near our basic route.   Then go see it the next day, even if it meant an extra night or two of camping in an area or going off route some.  There would be no hard set schedules for us.  Just the goal of arriving on time in Las Vegas to check in on that Sunday for registration and Monday for the hotel.  Then a return goal to arrive home in time to do laundry prior to dh having to be back to work.

I also started ordering in travel info from the various states.  Those brochures often have discounts in them for various activities.  So I ordered them as soon as we knew for certain we were going. My mailbox filled up quickly.  I ordered for any state I thought me might possibly touch.

Clothing: Our normal basic wardrobe would work well for most of the trip, but while in Las Vegas I would need a few nice things to wear to the evening entertainment. I also needed new shoes.  By planning ahead of time I would, hopefully, be able to find the “perfect” clothing and shoes at discounted prices.

Vehicle and trailer preparation:  Since we maintain our vehicles anyway this could not be actually considered an “extra” for the trip.

Camping:  We will boondock some, stay in Corps of Engineer or National Park campgrounds whenever possible, and the rest of course will be at regular campgrounds EXCEPT while we are in Las Vegas.  The company was paying for us to stay in a hotel there, so we would park our camper, hopefully, in a secure lot while staying at the MGM Grand.  We had hoped to stay at the Mandalay Bay, where the event was being hosted, but that filled up quickly and we weren’t able to get a room there.

Emergency fund:  Never leave home without one!  But thanks to following the Total Money Makeover plan we already had our baby emergency fund set up.

Next would be menu planning—that could be a blog post(s) in itself. We eat the same meals on the road that we eat at home.  The camper has a full, albeit small, kitchen.

Then there are the inevitable lists.  I am a list maker, plain and simple.  I start with an outline of what all lists I need for a planned project.  Then I create the lists from that. 

So now you know what’s been going on and the posts on it you will be seeing as we travel on a shoestring for a nearly four week secret getaway.
So now our secret is out and the posts that will follow will be on preparing for the trip, and the trip itself.  Stay tuned for daily (hopefully) updates.
Jan who had a blast on the trip and did quite well on her budget in OK