Getting Back to Nature: How Forest Bathing Can Make Us Feel Better

Our collective “back to nature” response to the coronavirus outbreak is an important reminder of the irreplaceable value of our parks and natural lands

It took an event that forced the nation to stay at home to remind us how much we need to be outside. The spread of COVID-19 has required that we limit our contact with other people leading many of us to seek out connection with the natural world. From national parks and state parks to local hiking trails, Americans have been pouring out of their homes to enjoy places of peace and beauty.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier article I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods including enjoying nature. Subsequently, I listed numerous fun and healthy ways to enjoy nature including forest bathing.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tonic of the wilderness was Henry David Thoreau’s classic prescription for civilization and its discontents, offered in the 1854 essay Walden: Or, Life in the Woods.

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shinrin-Yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It started in Japan in the 1980s and has become an important piece of their preventative health care measures.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest bathing is taking time to unwind and connect with nature to improve your health. Simply put: Forest bathing is retreating to nature to immerse in the forest atmosphere. The idea is pretty straightforward… When you take time to visit a natural area and take a walk in a relaxed way, there are rejuvenating, restorative, and calming effects on your mind and body.

Corkscrew Sanctuary, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Healed By . . . Trees?

Spending time walking in a forest has positive effects on your body and mind. Following are some conclusions based on various studies conducted by doctors and psychologists.

Sequoia National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Physical benefits of a walk in a forest:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Enhanced immune response
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep
Myakka River State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mental benefits of a walk in a forest:

  • Improved mood
  • Improved short-term memory
  • Restored mental energy
  • Improved concentration
  • Enhanced creativity
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How can walking in a forest do all that? Scientists say some of it has to do with the chemicals plants give off to protect themselves from insects and to fight diseases. These chemicals have antibacterial and antifungal qualities and when we inhale them our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell that kills tumor- and virus-infected cells. Another reason is simple: Forests reduce stress, the root cause of many ailments.

Raccoon State Recreation Area, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Simply living around trees and looking at them is beneficial as well. A medical study found a 12 percent lower mortality rate for people who lived near green spaces with fewer incidences of a wide variety of diseases than people who lived in urban areas.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest (See poem below), North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, next time you’re near a swath of towering timber go right on under their welcoming limbs and take a hike.

Worth Pondering…

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

—Joyce Kilmer

An Isolation Itinerary: Places to Get Lost and Find Yourself

Looking for a road trip destination this summer? You will feel safe with this ‘isolation itinerary’.

The global COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the way we travel in 2020. The more we read, the more obvious it becomes that outside is better than inside.

2020 is shaping up to be the year of the road trip. Unlike a plane, train, or other public transport your RV is your personal space and allows you control the level of cleaning and sanitation and who you share the space with. Plus, fuel prices are low this year while airline availability has been greatly reduced. In an RV you can go where you want and stay in a campground, an RV park, or boondock on public lands.

Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Everyone want to get outside after months of the “stay at home” and for all these reasons natural sites like national parks, state parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other wide open spaces have seen a huge spike in interest.

The National Park Service states that more than 300 million people visit more than 400 national park areas in the U.S. each year. Since summer is typically the prime time for travel, it makes sense that many parks fill to capacity during these warmer months. 

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, with concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, national parks may be even harder to access than usual. Phased reopenings are occurring in many popular locations such as Arches, Zion, and Joshua Tree. Because national parks provide an ideal road trip destination, it’s safe to say they’ll be popular in the coming months. 

Gulf State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State parks can be a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts. Even better, they usually aren’t as busy as national parks. If you don’t want to take a chance on crowded national parks this summer visit one of more than 8,000 state park areas instead. State parks are often underrated destinations, but they can provide wonderful opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opportunities for outdoor recreation also draw people to national wildlife refuges. Many visitors enjoy fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing, nature photography, and hiking with 2,100 miles of public walking trails and boardwalks available. All these activities offer visitors a chance to unplug from the stresses of modern life and reconnect with their natural surroundings.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, we’ve put together a list of incredible state parks and natural wildlife refuges from coast to coast. You will feel safe with our researched “isolation itinerary.”

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Located along the southern coastline of Alabama, Gulf State Park provides a beautiful escape to the seashore and nearby lakes. Use the in-park camping and full hookup RV sites as your base camp for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Or stay in one of the cottages or cabins found around the park. With more than 3.5 miles of white sand beaches and 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks, there’s plenty of space.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge preserves thousands of acres of diverse habitats and archaeological sites alongside the Columbia River. Taking a stroll from the parking lot, the pedestrian bridge allow you to stand over the railroad tracks and gaze westward over the mosaic of seasonal wetlands, permanent wetlands, grasslands, upland forests, riparian corridors, oak woodlands, and croplands that become home to thousands of ducks, geese, and swans that winter on the Refuge.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Babcock State Park, West Virginia

The 4,127-acre Babcock State Park is 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville  and the New River Gorge Bridge. You can hike, fish, and mountain bike in this scenic park though a huge attraction is seeing the Glade Creek Grist Mill. This is a fully functioning replica of Cooper’s Mill which once stood in the same area. The mill attracts photographers from all around to capture idyllic scenes along the creek. Campsites are available for overnight stays.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system.  Established in 1937 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds, the refuge plays a crucial role in the conservation of wetlands in the deser. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented on the Refuge.

Brasstown Bald State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia

Plan a trip to Georgia’s tallest mountain for amazing views and quality time with Mother Nature. As the state’s highest peak—4,784 feet above sea level—Brasstown Bald is among the first to display fall colors. Even in summer, you’ll find the mountain a worthy escape thanks to its picturesque location amid the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and its refreshing temperatures. Nearby, take a scenic drive through the national forest via the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway. From the byway, stop at Vogel State Park which offers ample camping, plus fishing, hiking, and lake swimming.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 as an overlay of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center for the protection of migratory birds. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks that provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals.

Worth Pondering…

Hiking a ridge, a meadow, or a river bottom, is as healthy a form of exercise as one can get. Hiking seems to put all the body cells back into rhythm.

—William O. Douglas, Justice, United States Supreme Court

On the Road Again: Summer Road Trip Safety Tips

Get on the road and stay safe with these safety tips

Days of packed resorts and amusement parks might be a thing of the past until we see a more consistent decrease in COVID-19 cases. Instead of packing out theme parks and resorts, families are gearing up and hitting the road. Millions of RV and camping enthusiasts are traveling the highways and byways of the U.S. and Canada this summer, many for the first time. And as more people join the RV lifestyle, it is increasingly important that RVers take the time to understand ways to safely enjoy these fun but challenging recreational vehicles.

Along Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s how to stay safe on the road and avoid accidents that may take you off the road for costly and time-consuming repairs—and raise your insurance premiums.

Always conduct a pre-drive safety check.

A “walk-around” visual inspection can save your life.

Driving north to Page and Lake Powell on US Highway 89 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure bay doors are closed and secured.

Double-check tow bar and safety cables.

Disconnect all power, cable TV, phone, water, and sewer hoses.

Retract jacks, steps, and awnings.

Driving Utah Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look under the rig for signs of fluid leaks.

Check signal lights, brake lights, and headlights prior to departure.

Check oil, transmission, and coolant levels.

Check the propane tank for leaks and intake/exhaust lines for blockages.

Driving a scenic road in Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check tire inflation pressure and examine tread wear.

Make sure carbon monoxide, smoke, and LP gas (propane) detectors are operational.

Check your surroundings (weather, overhangs, and ground hazards).

Turn LP gas (propane) OFF at the tank when traveling.

Connected to city water using a pressure regulator © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Never refill propane tanks with appliances or engine running.

Avoid refrigerator fires. Have your propane tank regularly checked by a certified dealer to ensure lines are in good operating condition and not leaking.

Follow the Rule of 20 Percent. Fully loaded rigs have slower acceleration and take longer to stop than cars. To compensate, add 20 percent to everything you do, from increasing your following distance, to judging if you have enough clearance, to safely merging into traffic.

Not the way to care for your tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Protect yourself from blowouts. Blowouts count for the majority of RV insurance claims. They’re caused by improper inflation, worn tread, an overloaded/overweight vehicle, and aged-out tires. To avoid cracking, regularly wash your tires with mild soap, water, and a soft brush. To prevent UV damage, keep your tires covered when you’re not driving.

Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimar, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Under- and over-inflation can both lead to blowouts. Check the inflation pressure on your tires at least once a month and always before a trip. Do this when tires are cold, since heat from driving temporarily increases air pressure. Never remove air from a hot tire. It can create dangerous under-inflation when the tire cools.

Check the age stamp on the tire and replace when 7 years old, no matter the condition of the tire.

Holiday Travel Park of Chattanooga, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Practice S.A.F.E. cornering:

  • Slowly approach the turn.
  • Arc the turn. Be careful not to start by swinging in the opposite direction, which can confuse drivers behind you.
  • Finish your turn completely. Don’t straighten the wheel before the back of the vehicle has cleared the pivot point.
Know your height. Covered bridge in Parke County, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience is Key. Practice! Practice! Practice!

Know your height. Believe it or not, hitting bridges and overhangs is one of the most common RV accidents. Know your exact clearance and write it on a sticky note on your dashboard. Speaking of measurement, most RVs are 8.5 feet wide and the average highway, about 10 feet. That gives you only a foot and a half of wiggle room.

Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you feel your front wheel slipping off the road into a rut, take your foot off the gas and gently brake. Jamming the brakes can get you deeper into the rut. Keep steering your RV forward. Once you’ve slowed down, gently turn to the left and ease out of the rut slowly. If you overcorrect by jerking the wheel left, you might jackknife.

Blake Ranch RV Park, Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Always back in to tight places, and pull out facing forward.

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.

7 Tips for Newbies to Know BEFORE the First Trip

Vacationing by RV this summer? Here’s what you need to know.

When you first heard the words “black water” in conversation, you may have assumed the speaker was discussing an obscure movie, perhaps an Australian film created by 3D models or a 2017 Jean-Claude Van Damme flick.

Camping at Jekyll Island Campground, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, if you’re one of the many people who decides to take a summer road trip in an RV you would know that the first definition of black water is solid and liquid waste that must be dumped from your RV holding tank.

Here are seven helpful tips to know before embarking on your first RV road trip.

Sewer hose connected and ready to dump © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Don’t get poop on yourself

If there’s a toilet in your rig—and there most likely is—you’re going to need to dump the waste—the aforementioned black water—at some point (likely sooner rather than later). When you go to open the storage compartment on the side of the vehicle to remove the cap and connect the sewer hose in order to dump, remember this: Make sure the dump valves are closed! Trust me on this! Read the page in your RV owner’s manual about the holding tanks. Make sure you close those latches! Otherwise, you might gag while your sneakers become “poop shoes” you can never wear again.

Sewer hose connection up-close © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Remember your toolkit

It’s hard to anticipate something like having your side view mirror get so loose that it no longer provides any help with attempting lane changes. But these things happen, and you should prepare for them, instead of relying on your copilot to turn or finding a man on the road who has a wrench you can borrow to tighten said mirror.

Sewer dump station © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring a toolkit. And store it on the curb side. Again, trust me on this. Bring Allen wrenches or Hex Key set. Bring duct tape and Rhino tape. Bring variety of screwdrivers including Phillips and Robertson. Bring hammer. Bring scissors. Bring a variety of wrenches. Bring plenty of rags. Be ready to fix the unanticipated.

Read carefully before pulling lever © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Pack sufficient cookware

If you’re renting an RV that comes stocked with kitchen tools, check that it also has pots and pans, cutting boards, and silverware. And if it has knives, make sure they’re sharp enough to cut effectively. Will the rental company reimburse you for replacing any missing or faulty cookware? It may be wise to take complete inventory of your cookware at time of rental.

Camping at Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Use leveling blocks

Like Legos? Stackable leveling blocks can be placed under your vehicle’s wheels in order to level out your parking spot. If you arrive at your camping site when it is dark or too tired to use leveling blocks, be prepared to face the consequences.  The fridge may stop running (because it relies on gravity to cool properly and only works when the vehicle is level). That brings us to the next tip.

Camping at Monahans Sands State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Arrive at your campground before dark

Plan your trip so that you get to your overnight parking spot before dark. Whether you’re driving into a campground, an RV park, or—especially—a place in the desert or woods where you’ll be boondocking (RV-speak for spending the night somewhere for free, without electric or water hookups), it’s important to be able to see your surroundings.

Camping at Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s very challenging to see camping site numbers and even harder to determine whether you’ve parked safely (and level) in the dark. Also: You want to wake up the next morning and be able to recognize your surroundings. Not knowing where you are can have a rather disturbing feel!

Camping at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Use RV toilet essentials

Sorry to bring up the poop thing again, but it’s important. Without it, traveling during a pandemic would be more dangerous. And if you don’t pack certain RV bathroom essentials, you’ll find yourself up a certain creek without a paddle.

Camping at Poches RV Park, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Knowing what your black water tank holds, the next logical question to ask is: how the heck do you keep it clean and odor-free? Fortunately, the availability of commercial chemicals and deodorizers makes it pretty simple to maintain your black tank on a regular basis.

Camping in Sequoia National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the start of your camping trip, add a dose of RV black water tank treatment, which may come in liquid form or in Tide-Pod-like packets. Be sure to add in about a gallon of water, as well, which helps the chemicals do their job. Along with keeping tank odors down, these chemicals also have the ability to break down solid waste and toilet paper. That makes for a much smoother process when it comes time to dump your tanks.

Even if you use those things properly, there is a rare possibility you might end up with a clog in your toilet—and that is not a pretty picture.

Hiking Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Wake up early and enjoy the sunrise

Driving your bathroom and kitchen around with you makes life super convenient. You can eat, nap, and relieve yourself whenever you’d like! With that in mind, here are several suggestions on structuring your days when you visit national or state parks: Wake up early. Make coffee. Drive inside the park to a place with a gorgeous view. Enjoy the sunrise and wildlife with few other humans around. Go on a hike

Enjoying camping on Lake Pleasant, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you return to your camping site, take some time to appreciate the RV lifestyle. Bask in the nature around you before retiring to your big sleeping box. And promise yourself you’ll go on another road trip real soon!

Worth Pondering…

Wherever we go, we’re always at home.

10 Questions to Ask When Choosing the Perfect RV for Your Family

The first barrier to living the RV life is discovering which type of RV is right for you

A comfortable bed to sleep in after the day spent playing at the lake? A kitchen to prepare your family’s favorite meals? A shower to clean up in after a long day on a hiking trail? A home away from home in all your favorite places?

Fifth-wheel trailer with tow vehicle at Leaf Verde RV Park in Buckeye, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do you want a big rig or a camper van? Will you drive a Class A or a bus conversion? Should you explore a Class C, or will a travel trailer work well with your truck? In the beginning, there are lots of questions. Yet asking questions is a good thing!

Class C motorhome at Wahweap RV Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ve decided you want to experience the RV lifestyle. Or maybe your family’s needs have changed and it’s time for an upgrade. With so many RVs to choose from it can be overwhelming. Don’t worry! Ask yourself these questions to help make the decision easier.

Travel trailer at Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do You Have a Tow Vehicle?

If you have a tow vehicle then you’ll want to narrow your search to RVs within your vehicle’s towing capacity. Don’t forget to add the weight of passengers, cargo, and liquids to the dry weight of the RV. You don’t want to fall in love with an RV only to determine that it exceeds your vehicle’s maximum capacity to tow safely.

Toy hauler fifth wheeler and tent trailer at River Run RV Park, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Many Beds Do You Require?

Sleeping arrangements in RVs range from plush king size beds to fold out beds. Think about how many your RV needs to sleep, and also the bedtime routine. Some people don’t mind turning dinettes or sofas into beds every night while others consider a designated pre-made bed for each person a must.

Truck camper at Saguaro Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where Will You Camp?

When most people think of RVing they think of campgrounds, but RVs open up a whole world of different types of adventure and exploration. Some RVs are better suited for boondocking or off grid camping with larger holding tanks and generators or solar panels. Perhaps you plan to use your RV to tailgate at sporting events. If your goal is to spend as much time as possible in national and state parks then length will be a consideration.

Boondocking near Quartzsite, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Amenities Do You Require?

Some buy an RV because they no longer want to sleep on the ground and want more protection from than what a tent offers. But creature comforts don’t stop at a roof and a bed. RVs are available with numerous amenities including gourmet kitchens and state of the art entertainment centers. Make a list of your most important amenities and prioritize.

Full service site including 50-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Activities Do You Enjoy?

Hobbies and activities will help you narrow down your RV search. Sport utility RVs, or toy haulers, provide space for ATVs, golf carts, and bikes. Since some RVs offer more storage space than others, consider where all that gear will go.

Taking everything with you! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Much Space Do You REALLY Need?

This is different for every family. Do you plan to use your RV every weekend all summer or for extended trips? Or is it going to be an every once in a while outing? Do your kids need their own bedroom? Do you need your own bedroom?

Scamp travel trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Is Your Preferred Floor Plan?

Visit RV shows and dealerships to get an idea of what floor plan will work best for you family. Spend time in the RVs. Sit on the couches. Lay on the beds. Walk into the bathrooms. Imagine cooking in the kitchen. Ask for brochures to take home. Most dealerships are happy to let you spend time in their RVs because they want you to be happy with the RV you choose.

Teardrop trailer at Distant Drum RV Park, Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider Maintenance and Repair

All RVs have maintenance and repair issues from time to time. New models come with a warranty where manufactures and dealerships take care of the repairs for a set amount of time. Pre-owned RVs are typically sold “as-is” meaning all repairs are your responsibly.

Class A motorhome (Diesel Pusher) at Columbia River RV Park, Portland, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Is Your Style of Travel?

Do you like moving every night or do you prefer to set up and stay at one campground for a while.

Airstream trailer at The Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Is Your Budget?

Just as there is an RV for every lifestyle, there is an RV for every budget. Decide on a budget before beginning your search. Pre-owned RVs are a great option for a limited budget.

Taking it all with you at Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimar, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buying an RV will be one of the best decisions you’ll make for your family. At the end of the day or a long weekend, spending time together and creating memories are what is important and that will happen in any type of RV.

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin

The 9 Things You Should Never Travel Without

Things you should never set off in your RV without

Every RV traveler has their go-to gadgets and comforts. These are the nine items that should always go with you when you travel.

Needed RV supplies include water and sewer hoses. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First aid kit

You can buy a first aid kit at your local pharmacy before setting off or you can make your own if your family has special medical needs that are not accommodated by the store-bought ones. Be sure to pack ample allergy medications in case you find that the local plant life triggers your allergies wherever you go.

Sewer hose and connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV essentials

These are the things your systems need like oil, coolant, windshield washer fluid, and spare batteries. Think outside of the RV as well such as road flares in case you break down, raincoats, rags, and anything else you may need to get back on the road again.

Water hose and city water connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camera

In reality, if you have a smartphone you probably have a camera capable of capturing amazing memories wherever you go. In fact, I agree with professional photographer Chase Jarvis, who says that “the best camera is the one you have with you.” 

Be prepared for varied weather conditions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Notebook and pen

Sometimes the best gadget is low-tech and simple. Always travel with a notebook and pen. Actually, for a guy who writes an RV blog my brain thinks surprisingly in analog, and pen on paper helps me organize my thoughts. And the best part is notebooks never run out of batteries.

Don’t forget supplies to ensure the safety and comfort of your pet. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electrical Protection System

When looking at an electrical protection system for your RV, you want to make sure it is more than a surge protector and monitors high and low voltage. This is what the Progressive Emergency Management System does and what models like Surge Guard and other brands do as well. When looking at an electrical protection system, be certain to consider the protection levels. Here is what you need out of a great electrical protection system:

  • Surge Protection
  • High and Low Voltage
  • Pedestal Analysis
  • Load side protection
Progressive Energy Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are different electrical protection brands on the market and the Progressive EMS is the unit that we trust with our RV. Others prefer Surge Guard brand. If you do not already have an electrical protection system for your RV, take it from me and other seasoned RVers—get an electrical protection system for your RV. You can’t go wrong with a model from Progressive or Surge Guard.

Enjoy camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack Tools and Spare Parts

Pack a well-stocked tool kit and store on the curb side of your RV. Include basic tools and items that may need to be replaced including LCD flashlights, spare fuses, LCD lights, jumper cables, nuts and bolts, WD-40, silicon spray, duct and gorilla tape, and cleaning supplies. Be sure to bring spare parts that are unique to your rig.

Creek Fire RV Resort, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

High-quality sewer hose

Some things you definitely don’t want to skimp on and your sewer hose is one of them. No one wants to be dealing with a ruptured sewer hose while on vacation. Invest in a high-end hose—your peace of mind and nasal passages will thank you.

Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunglasses Are a Must

When hitting the road in your RV, you’ll a good pair of sunglasses regardless of whether you’re heading to the beaches or to the mountains. No one wants to stare into the sun for hours on end not to mention that driving without sunglasses can be dangerous. Do yourself (and your eyes!) a favor and remember your shades.

The Peachoid, Gaffney, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last But Not Least, Know where you’re going

Okay, okay. You likely have a destination in mind. But if you’re heading out for months on end, you might want to bring along a few suggestions.

Now hit the road already!

Corpus Chrisiti, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.

Summer’s Not Cancelled: Before You Plan Your Summer Road Trip, Read This

Let’s face it: 2020 has been rough. That’s why we’re looking to find moments of joy and pleasure this summer.

Flights are mostly grounded, the Canada/U.S. border is shuttered, and after three months of mandatory staycation, cabin fever is at an all-time high. You need to get out of the house, we get it. But is it safe to travel this summer? Where can you travel to? And what do you need to know before hitting the open highway? Here, a guide to the great American (and Canadian) road trip of 2020 including the dos and don’ts of travel, what you need to pack, and the best places for a pee break.

Camping on Bartlett Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is camping a better option than staying in a hotel or renting a cottage?

Camping is definitely COVID-friendly since it involves zero time indoors and minimal interaction with other people outside of your bubble. Most national and state parks and campgrounds have re-opened in recent weeks, so go forth—just beware the communal campground bathroom.

Camping at Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs are the way to travel this summer

When social-distancing norms came into place, the RV industry looked at itself, blinked, and realized it was about to experience a silver lining in an otherwise tough global situation. If there’s any moment that RV life would take over the world, it’d be this one.

Waiting for service at the Freightliner Custom Chassis Service Center in Gaffney, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And so far, “taking over the world” it just might. A recent survey conducted by the Cairn Consulting Group shows that Americans and Canadians are—more than ever—hard-pressed to find ways to travel, get into nature, and break from the daily chaos but with quarantine still in mind. In other words, we’re ready to hit the outdoors for RV adventures.

Getting back to nature on Avery Island in Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, it’s just safer. You’re self-contained. No shared toilet seats, no stuffing into a flying sardine tube. And it’s cheaper than a lot of options—given the current economic climate, that’s a big no-brainer. You have your own space, plus many amenities offered at a resort.

The Lakes at Chowchilla Golf and RV Resort offers numerous amenities. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs come in practically every shape and size because RVers are not one-size-fits-all. Some like rigs that help to disconnect for days in places like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) free dispersed camping areas and bring only the necessities with us. 

Truck camper at Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Teardrop trailer sales exploding

As with any crisis—locally, nationally or globally, people need to make adjustments. The long tentacles of COVID-19 are far-reaching. But people are resourceful; they roll with the punches including economic punches. There are people who are struggling to stay safe and isolated while others are just trying to keep a roof over their heads. 

A mini-trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even the most modest of trailers have become a sight for sore eyes. Teardrop trailer sales in particular, have boomed in the recent months. They’re simple, but they get the job done. They provide dependable shelter and a place to sleep. Some even come equipped with bathrooms and a mini kitchen.

A teardrop trailer at Distant Drums RV Park in Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are nine teardrops you can check out online that are popular with campers:

  • Micro Minnie by Winnebago
  • The Happier Camper
  • iCamp Elite Travel Trailer
  • The Little Guy Max Tear Drop Camper
  • Timberline Trailer by HomeGrown
  • The Scamp 13-Foot Teardrop Camper
  • The KZ Spree Escape Mini
  • 2019 nuCamp RV T@B 320 S Boondock
  • The Jayco Hummingbird
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What if I just want to hit the open road and see where the wind takes me?

With all due respect, summer 2020 is probably not the best time to live out your Jack Kerouac fantasy. Planning in advance is essential and that includes a pandemic-specific packing list. Make sure to stock up your COVID kit before departure. Face masks, Lysol wipes, sanitizer, and toilet paper as the new road trip essentials. These items are in high demand and may be out of stock.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s where to hit the road

If you’re lucky enough to have access to your home on wheels, where should you go? These options are beautiful and located along major road-trip routes in the US, meaning there are plenty of places to refuel and relax.

Bay St. Louis, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One important note: We do not want to suggest you bombard beautiful places, rural areas, or small towns. Ideally, you will gather all your supplies where you live and make minimal stops during your trip. Keep to yourself as much as possible, and have a plan B at the ready. If your destination looks busy, pass it.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Make it a good day! Get outdoors!

Wildness is a Necessity: Interest in Camping Is at an All-Time High Following COVID-19 Outbreak

Now, more than ever before, it is evident that the outdoors is vital to our wellbeing.

The international ripple of COVID-19 has dealt a crippling hand to select businesses and industries. And yet, unfamiliar circumstances have simultaneously provided others unparalleled profitability—and not just those in the toilet paper or hand sanitizer industries.

Meaher State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sales of bicycles, for example, have spiked so significantly in the U.S. that the nation is now facing a shortage—especially on low-end models—as overworked suppliers struggle to keep up with the never-before-seen demand.

Along the Colorado River, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Similarly, public interest in camping has increased exponentially in the months since the nation first locked its doors. A dread of at-home confinement has led to the American public turning its eyes toward the outdoors, according to recent data.

Along the Mississippi River, Arkansas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some families have spent decades loading up the camper and heading to the lakes and forests for a week or two of relaxation. But thanks to a drastic change in travel habits, some folks are now getting that first camper and discovering state parks. It’s the kind of family getaway that’s been around for a long time, hitching up the camper, or loading the motorhome, or packing a tent and heading to a state park. Those campsites are tucked away in piney hills, laid out along clear-water lakes or streams, or nestled among the oak trees in a mountain hideaway.

Parker Canyon Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The renowned naturalist John Muir wrote that “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

The world has changed immensely since he wrote this in 1901. People, now more than ever, seek the benefits of nature.

Pinnacles National Park,California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Safe Ways to Recreate Outside This Summer

Now, more than ever before, it is evident that the outdoors is vital to our wellbeing.

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As states and local communities continue to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, guidelines about what activities are safest and where people should visit continue to evolve. Many are seeking opportunities for outdoor recreation, including visits to the nation’s public lands, waterways, and public spaces like parks and trails.

Artisan Village, Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the summer season in full swing, the Recreate Responsibly Coalition released an update to its tips, initially released in May, for safely recreating outdoors. The coalition first came together two months ago as a group of two dozen organizations based in Washington State. Since then, the group has grown into a diverse, nationwide community of over 500 businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, outdoor media, and influencers. The coalition’s common ground is a shared love of the outdoors, a desire to help everyone experience the benefits of nature, and a belief that by sharing best practices, people can get outside safely and help keep our parks, trails, and public lands open.

Along the Tech at St. Martinsville, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The overall #RecreateResponsibly message remains simple: We all have a role to play in keeping people, places, and communities safe as we enjoy the outdoors this summer and beyond. 

The latest #RecreateResponsibly guidelines are:

  • Know Before You Go—Check the status of the place you want to visit. If it is closed, don’t go. If it’s crowded, have a backup plan.
  • Plan Ahead—Prepare for facilities to be closed, pack lunch, and bring essentials like hand sanitizer.
  • Explore Locally—Limit long-distance travel and make use of local parks, trails, and public spaces. Be mindful of your impact on the communities you visit.
  • Practice Physical Distancing—Keep your group size small. Be prepared to cover your nose and mouth and give others space. If you are sick, stay home.
  • Play It Safe—Slow down and choose lower-risk activities to reduce your risk of injury. Search and rescue operations and health care resources are both strained.
  • Leave No Trace—Respect public lands and waters, as well as Native and local communities. Take all your garbage with you.
Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wilderness needs no defense, only more defenders.

—Edward Abbey

Advice to Help You Get Outside This Summer

Tips for people who don’t really camp but kinda want to camp

It’s the summer of camping. It’s the summer of RV rentals and takeout picnics, of visiting national parks, and exploring small towns. Summer has always been the season of road trips, but this year, being able to escape the four walls you’ve been quarantining in holds even more appeal.

Versailles, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After spending half the year cooped up inside due to a certain virus we’re all sick of thinking about, our need for a good old fashioned camping trip has never been greater.

But camping can be intimidating, especially for first-timers. The key is preparation.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to bring (sunscreen and socks!), what to do (hike and stargaze!), and what to know (bears and bug prevention!) for a successful camping trip.

Socks might be the most important thing you pack. No kidding! Wet socks—whether from rain, mud, sweat, or a wet trail—make feet blister easier which can pretty much end your fun times right there.

Quail Gate State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To avoid unwanted run-ins with bears and other wily critters, you’ll need to put all of your “smellables” away (this includes toothpaste). If you plan on doing any hiking in bear country, invest in some bear spray.

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t forget the deet. And don’t stress about it too much, either. Past health problems caused by the insect repellent were mostly due to overapplication and ingestion. If you apply as the label recommends (once a day, to exposed skin only), and wash it off at the end of the day, you’ll be fine. It certainly beats risking mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile—or the woes of being the mosquito magnet at camp.

An added benefit of camping: You might just wake up to the sight of a rugged mountain range bathed in morning sunlight, like we did in the photo below at Catalina State Park.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shutdown-induced boredom renewed our appreciation for scenic drives; now, we’re going full-on day trip, complete with roadside attractions, oldies on the radio, and a cooler in the back—but wait. 

Weekenders, meanwhile, are back in love with RVs. According to industry predictions, 46 million people plan to hit the road in an RV this summer. And it’s not just seniors getting in on the wonderful world of sewer drains and s’mores; millenials who used to roll their eyes at their parents’ traditional ways are largely behind the wheel. 

Camping in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those motorhomes, camper vans, and trailers are bottlenecking the national parks which are reopening across the country to renewed enthusiasm. For self-contained campers—those whose idea of roughing it includes being able to keep all your stuff within 10 feet—campsite reservations are among the hottest tickets to be had. Want to camp in Arches? Check back in October, when some spots might open up.

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the more popular parks at capacity, people are discovering America’s beautiful B-sides: Enter national forests with millions of acres to explore and hardly any people. America’s 154 national forests cover more than 188 million acres across 40 states: three times the total area protected by the 62 national parks. State parks, county and regional parks, and the lesser-loved national parks are now as valid a destination as Disney World reminding us that sprawling protected lands should never be taken for granted. So yeah, you’ve got options in these favorite often-overlooked natural playgrounds from coast to coast.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These throwbacks to the “good old days” have always been available to us. But a funny thing happened this spring when we all started to hunker down, faced with unprecedented anxiety about the still-uncertain future: Collectively, people yearned not just for fresh air, but for the familiar

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut, Alamogordo, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The past is telling us that the best way to experience the present is to hop in an oversized vehicle and hit the road. To take a three-hour detour to see the world’s largest pistachio nut or some cute little town that somebody said has good pie. To struggle with a cheap popup tent and tell ghost stories with our friends. To get out this summer and barrel down the highway to rediscover places from our youth.

Discover cute little towns like Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For now, those simple pleasures of discovery and escape from an increasingly fraught world—and sometimes, that’s enough.

Worth Pondering…

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.

—Douglas Adams

Camping Etiquette: Getting Away From Each Other & Doing It Together

Be smart. Be kind. Be considerate.

Since I am writing this article during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ll start with the caveat that camping etiquette now includes respecting the health of others by maintaining social distancing and sanitary protocols. Much as we crave our former levels of interaction, this is a time when it’s absolutely okay to politely decline an invitation to a potluck or other gathering—unless you know your neighbors well and/or are comfortable with the level of safety precautions that will be taken.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the arrival of summer, one thing is certain. Americans and Canadians will flee the cities by the thousands in search of open space and a chance to get away from the rest of us. The situation is akin to the hippie movement of the ’60s when everyone was being different but doing it all together.

Jack’s Landing RV Resort, Grants Pass, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That means that virtually every campground and outdoor recreation venue within four hours of every major cities will be full each and every weekend—full of people getting away from it all and doing it together.

Eagles Landing RV Park, Auburn, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan ahead and take care of last-minute errands sooner rather than later since a brief stop on the way out of town Friday afternoon could cost you that last available camping spot.

Campground courtesy (the unwritten rules of etiquette) is an easy way to ensure that a group of people living in close proximity together where sounds travel and light can be a disturbance continue to camp together in harmony.

Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spending time in a campground requires a certain level of community patience and a willingness to live and let live, there are some basic rules of camping etiquette that will help create a friendly atmosphere and make the camping experience more enjoyable for everyone.

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be friendly and greet other campers. Again, this is part of being within the camping community and even though you may not know the other people, you all have a common goal of enjoying the camping experience.

Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep in mind that I may be in the campground to get away from it all and wish to hear the wind blowing through the aspens, the chatter of squirrels, or perhaps the call of a jay. While I recognize your right to enjoy a little music, I don’t necessarily share your musical taste unless, of course, it’s Willie’s “On the road again…“. That is why they make headphones.

Jekyll Island Campground, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In that same vein, remember not all generators are created equal. Some are designed to run very quietly, and others are not. Quiet hours are there for a reason.

Follow the campground rules and regulations. These rules usually include speed limits, fire regulations, quiet times, and so on. Adhering to these rules is one of the basics of campground etiquette. Be sure to review and enforce the rules with your children, as well.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be considerate when arriving late or leaving early. If you arrive at the campsite after dark or leave before dawn, remember that others may be sleeping. Be as unobtrusive as possible. If setting up, do the least amount you need to get through the night and keep voices quiet and lights dim. If you are leaving early, pack up the bulk of your items the day before so you can make a quick get away with the least amount of disturbance possible.

Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Contain yourself and your camping gear and supplies within your campsite area. When you set up your RV, don’t allow slideouts or awnings to extend beyond your site and into the neighboring  area. Keep all belongings, chairs, mats, toys, etc. within your campsite. If you need to place your satellite dish in another campsite in order to receive a signal, ask for permission from the people occupying the site.

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another common misstep is that of walking through another person’s camp without being invited. Treat other campsites as private property. A campsite is a person’s home away from home. When someone is set up in a campsite, that site becomes their property for the duration of their stay. It is their personal space, and it should be treated that way. Never cut across another occupied site without permission. If the washrooms or beach access are on the other side of a site, walk around.

Lockhart State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be a responsible pet owner. If you are traveling with pets, make sure they are well taken care of. Keep dogs on leashes whenever they are outside so they are not bothering your neighbors and discourage them from barking. Never leave a dog that barks or howls unattended. Clean up after your pet—always.

Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Clean up after yourself. When you prepare to exit the campsite, be sure to remove all trash regardless of its origin. Always leave the campsite as clean, or cleaner, than it was when you arrived. The camp host and the next camper will appreciate it.

The bottom line is that camping requires us to respect the land and one another. When it comes down to it, continued success of this ongoing social experiment requires it.

Monahans Sandhill State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Have an enjoyable and safe camping summer.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?