Friday, February 28, 2014

Some responses to your comments, and thoughts about Solar

First off, it is really fun and easy to make plans and reservations for the future when you are an armchair RVer, parked at your own house with 20 amp power and reliable water.  

This is not boondocking, but no reservations are required.

When traveling on business, when someone else was paying the bill, I would stay at "better" hotels. When traveling on my own dime, or just sleeping somewhere while on a ski trip, I stayed at some of the less expensive motels. Clean, relatively safe, but not fancy. Older places, but no "by the hour" rooms if you know what I mean.

Once the house sells and the proceeds are in decent income-yielding investments, our financial situation looks pretty good. We have our Social Security income, medicare and a supplemental health care plans, no debts, no storage, no mortgage, and no dependents. But I am a frugal person and want to live within a budget. If RV plans are made in JELLO, budgets must be the powdered mix they start with. 

To balance the cost of staying at some posh RV resorts with their heated pools and other amenities, I am looking forward to exploring public lands and other legal boondocking opportunities.  I have heard of Harvest Hosts in the past, but I don't see it as a way to keep expenses down.  If we stayed overnight at a winery, we would probably go in for a wine tasting which is not free, and would probably buy a bottle or three of their wine.

Wineries don't sell the cheep stuff we are used to, so the whole experience would cost more than a local RV park. For on the road stops, I don't mind an occasional Walmart.  Craig is not very enthusiastic about them. I guess some are OK, but the ones we have stopped at have been bright and noisy. We have eaten at Cracker Barrel, but not stayed at one.  They seem to be far and few between in California.  It is always a possibility, but again I would stop there for the convenience not for the economy   I'm sure we would eat there, and the meals could add up to nearly as much as a park space.

I'm sure we will investigate "Boondockers Welcome" and keep our eyes and ears open for other low cost options.

We have used our Passport America discounts and stayed at a couple of Escapee parks. You can dry camp at many of them for less than $10 a night. Full hook up spots run in the low $20's. We really like their homey feel.

We have looked at a few National Park campgrounds, and because the Alfa is only 35' long, we could stay at some, but most don't have power. The privately run concessioners parks in or near the National parks do, and that is where we have stayed so far. Except for our few days at Yosemite where we ran the generator. I really felt bad about that with our noise and smell polluting the campground.

We have been talking about getting a solar system on the Alfa. We think it would be best to go ahead and get it as soon as possible.

We have not yet looked into what we need or want, nor what it will cost.  But I have run some numbers on how long it would take for dollars spent on a solar system to balance  paying private RV park space rents.

Considering that some places we might use the solar because there are no power hook ups, the saving on space rent might be about $30 per night.  For every $1000 spent on solar we could boondock or stay at a no-hookup park for 33 nights.

I have no idea how much a good solar system will cost but running an extension on the above numbers, $5000 spent would be recovered in about 150 nights.

Spread out over two years, that would be 6 to 7 nights a month. 

Of course at the end of the two years we would still have a  solar system, slightly depreciated. Maintenance cost is always an unknown.

Doing a solar system is certainly cost effective if you plan on dry camping part of the time.  The freedom to do so is priceless!

We have talked about going to see Solar Mike over at the Slabs after the Alfa Owners Rally in April.  

We would appreciate any input you may give us. 

  • Useful URL's, what to watch out for.
  • How not to be ripped off as newbies.
  • How much it should cost.  

But, as always, the house sale has to close first!


  1. Sorry, can't help you on the solar stuff. I thought I would do that at one time, but it turned out not to be who I am.

  2. Even though we boondocked for the whole month of January and we boondock overnght when we are on the move, we just never thought the investment in solar would be worth it for us. So no answers from us. But lots of your readers are solar folks and will have lots of good info. We also tried Harvest Hosts but we don't drink wine but still felt like we should buy a bottle. So that didn't work for us either.

  3. I thought about solar too but have learned that I don't really need it with my style of travel. My (frugal) advice is to live in your rig for a while to determine what your needs are.

  4. I'd recommend waiting a year before you invest in solar. I thought when we hit the road solar would be a perfect option for us.

    After a year's experience, we found we had no need for it. With discount clubs (SKP and Passport America) longer stays at one place and military campgrounds, the cost was not justified for us.

    The limited times we boondock, the generator and batteries more than cover our needs.

    Solar can be added any time if you still feel you need it.

    YMMV :c)

  5. Well, here is the blog post from when we did our solar:

    and this two part tutorial really helped us:
    part one
    part two

  6. Solar Mike is a good choice for a solar installation. Nice fella & knows his stuff. Deciding on how much to spend on a solar system depends on how much power you need to use. Kelly & I are not big power users so we didn't need a big system. We have 1 240 watt roof panel, a 1500 watt inverter & 2 deep cell batteries plus a Blue Sky solar boost monitor. I think we spent somewhere around $2,000. It is basically the same system we had on our Damon Class A for 5 years. Aside from 1 blown fuse it was trouble free all that time. Now if we were traveling in a hot summer climate & needed to run the A/C with our set-up we couldn't do it. A/C takes a lot of power & that is where the expense comes in for extra panels, batteries, & a bigger inverter etc. We paid for our first solar system in no time when we figured out what we would have had to pay in RV Park fees. Yes, & then there's that wonderful freedom solar power gives you.....:))

  7. I think the advice to wait for a while before you spend a lot on solar just to make sure you really are the kind of folks who want to spend most of their time boondocking is right on. You have your generator to use in the meantime and you will have time to learn a lot more about solar and your lifestyle as you travel. Using solar for A/C is not realistic based on how much power you would need.

  8. I am not much help on the solar decision, either, Merikay. However, if we were full timers, I think we would go for the expense for more than just the savings. There is a freedom to being able to park where you need to without having to figure out the power issue. We used our generator in Key West, but so were a lot of other rigs. It was part of the park culture. We can boondock easily for several days without solar, but if we were going to be out full time I would want the freedom that solar can provide. Be sure to read Nina's information about solar setups, and that guy at the slabs, as you already know seems pretty well known. Follow your gut and good luck with the installation and of course, the house closing!

  9. additional comment: there are a ton of Cracker Barrel's in Florida and the south, so if you are planning to go to Florida, a Cracker Barrel isn't a bad option for a free night or two now and then. No solar required for that, of course. We just stayed in our first one, bought a nice dinner for two for 17.77. Not a bad price. Of course, the shirts I bought added a bit to the cost. :)


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