Learning Curves: Selecting Campgrounds

The criteria for making campground choices is unique to our travel style and desired activities, but the need to locate campgrounds is universal.

Due to the extreme heat of the summer, we are sticking to weekend day trips to get a drive through view of some of our nearby campgrounds.

I am retired and have the benefit of free time to throughly research and screen numerous campgrounds. In his free time, Earl also spot checks areas online and brings up locations that I overlooked.

That means searching a 200 mile radius from Lily’s storage facility in north Georgia, roughly an easy half day drive. That area includes slices of four neighboring states: Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, along with the upper half of our home state Georgia.

Image: Target Base Camp Area

Target Base Camp Area: Continental United States view adapted from a free map provided at 50States.com

Before heading out on a day trip “inspection” we have selected locations from campground icons on Google Maps, mentions in camper’s blogs, Facebook group pages, camping apps, TripAdvisor comments and online reviews from various sources.

We also look over campsite photos and amenities, compare campground maps to Google earth views, check routes on Mapquest and route elevation apps, plus look over campground rules and regulations for even more information.

We want to select a few campgrounds to use over and over for short weekend camping trips, and as possible base camps for the first and last nights of any of our long trips. Through this research process a lot of area campgrounds have been screened and disregarded.

An upcoming post will feature a review of our first researched campground selection. We are looking forward to using our appealing basecamp during a trip that will include viewing the Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017.

Organization Series 2 of 5: Car

At long last, I am sharing an overview of camping items loaded into our car. We do not intend to take everything each time we head out. (For instance, we may take just one RV mat or tent on a short trip.) The goal is to plan well once and be prepared for different types of trips.

Prior to planning, I made several command decisions.

1. Items in the very back of the car will fit under the hatch cover, protected from sunlight and prying eyes.

2. The back seats will not be laid down. I want it to be easy to clear the seating area for passengers.

3. The driver’s sight lines must remain clear.

4. The car’s contents have to be kept in order, because we both need to be aware of every item’s whereabouts.

A few of the labels are still being worked out, but I did not want to delay this post any longer.

Driver’s Side

Back of driver’s front seat: – 8 Hanging Pockets
What was originally a door length pocket organizer was shortened for the back of the driver’s seat. (At a campsite, it can be transferred to hang in the corner of the shelter. It holds items we do not want to store in the heat of the storage room, so it is convenient that we can also hang the pockets in a closet at home.)
1. Pain Relief pills & Salve
2. Bandaids & Tissues
3. Neosporin
4. Insect Spray
5. (As needed)
6. (As needed)
7. Sun Screen & Chapstick
8. Hand Sanitizer & Wipes

Image: Behind Driver's Seat

Behind Driver’s Seat

Floor behind driver:
1 – 2 folded 8’X5′ RV mats & 2 runners

Back seat behind driver:
Portable toilet in box (covered with old blanket, cut and sewn to fit)

Image: Driver's Side

Driver’s Side

Center of Back Seat

Medium sized cooler & 3-4 Blue Ice Blocks
(To delete the mess and expense of using bags of ice, we will keep 3 Blue Ice Blocks in the cooler and 1 in the Vistabule freezer at all times. In rotation, a Blue Ice block will be moved to the bottom of the Vistabule freezer before breakfast and after supper – about every 12 hours. The cooler is lined with Reflectix, so we hope that the mass of 3 Blue Ice Blocks will keep drinks chilled in the cooler by using the rotation plan. That saves the galley refrigerator/freezer for food items.)

Passenger’s Side

Back of passenger’s front seat:
2. In Net Pocket: Rain Coat

Floor behind passenger:
1. Saratoga Jacks Thermal Cooker
2. Soft Bag (Black) for Electronics:
A. Solar Chargers
B. A/C Chargers
C. External Battery Pack
D. Spare Electronic Cords
3. Small Soft Bag (Green) for Batteries, packed as needed
(not seen in photo)
4. Attaché Case
(Holds iPads, maps and trip related information)
5. Folded Rain jacket
6. Small Sun Hat

Image: Behind Passenger's Seat

Behind Passenger’s Seat

Back Seat Behind Passenger:
1. Two stacked plastic boxes (while in transit) to stow a rotation of shoes: shower shoes, sneakers or hiking boots & slip on shoes
(These boxes can go on the TDT’s fenders or beneath the TDT’s doorways while in camp. The boxes keep shoes dry and bug free. If heavy rain is expected, or the camp does not allow loose items outside, the shoe boxes are taken inside the cabin and stacked between our feet or can be set on the galley counter and reached through the pass thru.)
2. Large Sun Hat

Image: Passenger's Side

Passenger’s Side

Hatch Area

Behind passenger seats:
2 plastic totes
(These are stored at home between trips.)
A. Colleen’s clothes, towel and toiletries bag
B. Earl’s clothes, towel and toiletries bag
C. Zip Bag (to hold soap and plastic bags for dirty laundry) atop one of the totes. (Filled dirty clothes bags will share back hatch space with tents.)

Image: Totes for Clothes and Toiletries

Totes for Clothes and Toiletries

Between wheel wells:
Top: 3 plastic storage boxes (across top of drawer units)
1. Driver’s Side – Games, Books and Writing Supplies
2. Middle – foil, extra paper towels, storage bags & napkins
3. Passenger’s Side – shower curtains and shower curtain rings (used as side walls, also as an outdoor projection screen. There is one additional liner, stored in the cabin, that is cut one down to size for an indoor projection screen.)
Bottom: 3 units of storage drawers (3 sallow drawers each)
1. Driver’s Side – Site supplies
A. Top – Art Supplies / Dry Eraser Sign Board & Manuals Folder)
B. Center – Hooks / Table Cloths
C. Bottom – Clips / String Lights
2. Middle – Dry food
A. Top – Dry Cereals / Dry Grains
B. Center – Dry Sauces / Dry Starches
C. Bottom – Canned Meats / Dry Vegetables
3. Passenger’s Side – Small Tools and electronic cables
A. Top – Microfiber Towels/ Set-Up (various tent stakes)
B. Center – Tools / Flash Lights
C. Bottom – Sports Radio / Electronics

Image: Storage Between Wheel Wells

Storage Between Wheel Wells

In back of wheel wells, next to hatch door:
1. RV Fire Extinguisher #1 (A second extinguisher is carried in the Vistabule’s cabin.)
2. REI Alcove Shelter Bag
3. Small Bags for 2 REI Side Walls
4. Changing Tent Bag
5. 12X12 Screen Shelter Bag
6. Space for dirty clothes bag

Image: Back Hatch

Back Hatch

Mission accomplished: the hatch cover closes to hide contents in the back, items around the passenger seat are easy to pull out, the driver’s sight lines are clear, and we both know where to find things.

Image: Hatch Cover Extended

Hatch Cover Extended

It is helpful for us to have this packing guide documented and we are hopeful it may interest others in some way. A couple of the storage ideas are adapted from ideas floating around the Internet and shared on Pinterest, but I do not believe that any of these can be attributed to a different original source.

Please feel welcome to follow, and comment with your suggestions or questions.

The five part Doze Dine Dawdle Organization Series will continue with three additional posts to give more details: 3) Galley, 4) Cabin, and 5) Exterior Storage Box.

Organization part 1 – Initial Steps

This is the first of a five part Doze Dine Dawdle Organization Series to share details: 1) Initial Steps 2) Car, 3) Galley, 4) Cabin, and 5) Exterior Storage Box.

Organizing storage between the Teardrop Trailer, tool box and car has been an ongoing experiment for us. This series will cover our thought (and lack of thought) processes, favorite finds, a few resource links, and inventory lists in parts 2 – 5.

Pre-Teardrop, we had organized bug-out gear with whatever was on hand. That meant stacking labeled shoe boxes into a large suitcase that was never used for its intended purpose. It was similar to a cook box, a way to keep all of the small items packed and ready to go.

Bug-Out Suitcase

Bug-Out Suitcase / Cook Box

A medium sized suitcase held set-up gear and tools for erecting a tent and arranging a campsite. Though bulky, the loaded bags were a successful solution. They could easily be shifted in or out of the car.

Suitcases

Suitcases filled with Bug-Out Gear

A lot of those basic cook box supplies were packed during our first long “shake down” trip from Georgia to Minnesota to pick-up Lily, our Vistabule Teardrop Trailer. Those items were quickly transferred from car into Lily’s storage areas during our first afternoon in a campground.

We still did not know the exact dimensions of the Vistabule’s storage spaces, but I guesstimated and made a inventory list for each drawer and shelf. Our loose plan was to place like items together, near their point of use.

Another consideration was that some cabin storage spaces were blocked when the futon was up or down in the cabin. The lower cabinets next to the air conditioner were easiest to reach at night when the bed was in position. When the sofa was up during the day, the front floor wells were more accessible.

For our second outing the focus became short local trips, and staying in place for several days. Until Earl retires, weekend get-aways will be our primary type of travel. We pared down a few of the supplies, like excess silverware and flashlights.

Yet, we also wanted to include new gear and prepped camp meals. That meant packing additional items into the car, including comfortable camp chairs and a cooler.

The food needed to stay cold on the way to the Teardrop’s storage facility. Plus, the plan for this trip was to use the Teardrop’s refrigerator freezer solely as a freezer and continue using the cooler for chilled foods. (Yes, we (I) ended up taking too much food.)

Anyway, the job of loading everything into the car was left to Earl. He was a fabulous moving-day-style packer. He laid down one of the back seats and juggled the shapes like puzzle pieces. Everything was in without blocking the use of the rearview mirror.

Camping Gear

Car Loaded With Camping Gear

At the campsite, we found ourselves repeatedly shuffling around the things left in the car, searching for whatever was needed. Part of the problem was not being able to return each item to a designated storage spot where we could find it again.

After returning from the trip, we spent a week putting our heads together to plan better organization for the car. That included reconsidering what was stored in the trailer’s cabin during transit and how to handle camp meals. We took a lot of measurements for different areas in the back of the car and tried out placing equipment in proposed spaces. Then, we purchased and labeled new storage pieces.

The Vistabule’s galley and cabin shelves and drawers were also measured in order to line them. The liners were cut and all fit, so that chore was completed. It actually went fairly quick and the numerous measurements were entered into my iPhone Notes for future reference.

Measurements

Interior Shelving and Drawer Measurements Saved To iPhone Notes

As a special mention, from the very beginning, our top online “advisor” has been Cosmo Weems. I watched his videos repeatedly as we considered ordering and outfitting our Teardrop Trailer. We even purchased some products recommended by Cosmo, for example the REI Alcove shelter and collapsible food containers.

Cosmo has a website dedicated to listing the products that are shown on his YouTube channel.  Cosmo Weems: Website Link

His videos showcase his Vistabule Teardrop Trailer, his love of the outdoors and “real” food, campsites visited, plus his thoughts about the camping products he has used.  Cosmo Weems: YouTube Channel Link

The five part Doze Dine Dawdle Organization Series will continue with four additional posts to share more details: 2) Car, 3) Galley, 4) Cabin, and 5) Exterior Storage Box.

If you are not already a follower: To receive a notice as the segments are added, hit the blue “Follow Button” at the bottom of the righthand menu column.

Learning Curves 1 – 8

“Learning Curves” will feature experiences we have had with our 2010 Subaru 4 cylinder Outback and 2017 Vistabule Teardrop Trailer. We are not experts, just newbies, so be wary and use your own common sense, along with research, for information regarding the combination of tow vehicle and Teardrop Trailer you own.

#1. Mirrors

Initially, I did not expect that our Subaru Outback’s sideview mirrors would be adequate while towing. We even purchased a pair of clamp on mirror extensions.

Later, I located and followed an online guide for sideview mirror adjustment.

Car and Driver: How to adjust your mirrors to avoid blind spots

Once on the road with just the side mirror adjustments, the Vistabule’s width and window view through the body of the trailer provided good sight lines. So, the mirror extensions were not necessary.

#2. Tight Turns

The next worry was about making tight right turns at intersections.

Fortunately, at least in the area of St. Paul, MN around the Vistabule factory, street lanes and intersections were wide. I felt comfortable while driving toward the Interstate we needed. That gave me a feeling for how the teardrop trailer tracked the car during turns, and some confidence.

#3. Uphill climbs

With a 4 cylinder engine in our Subaru Outback, I also dreaded the idea of tugging the teardrop trailer uphill.

The first entrance ramp onto the Interstate was somewhat steep, but I accelerated on the approach and barely noticed the weight of the Vistabule while going up.

Otherwise, driving on most of the graded inclines of an Interstate was fine. Long steep uphill grades are noticeable in our 4 cylinder car, so I did slow down for those. I noticed that hilly areas use up more gas. I learned not to expect to maintain speed or to pass another vehicle while climbing.

While going up long grades, the aim was to avoid undue stress on the engine. I stayed right, listened to the engine, and watched the RPM gauge. Going down long grades, I slowed down, just touching the brake infrequently.

[I am still concerned about climbing mountain roads into campgrounds and do not know what extremes our car can handle while towing the Vistabule. I half joke that we will camp in the valleys and unhitch the car to explore the mountains.]

#4. Tight Spots

Another worry was about getting into tight spots and not being able to escape since I did not have practice backing up the Vistabule.

It was easy to see the Vistabule’s fender edges in each side view mirror when it was straight behind the car. Turning radius and length, not the width, were my major concerns in evaluation of needed space.

Advance precaution was quickly a normal habit; glancing over the available driving space or parking spaces before entering drive-ins, gas stations and shopping centers. For example, since we were on unknown roads, we topped up gas when the gauge indicated half a tank. That way, we were never hesitant to pass by a crowded gas station that would be difficult to maneuver.

#5. Backing Up

My first effort backing up against a corner curb of an empty parking lot went fairly well. The next three back-up moments involved camping spots and did not go well. I will admit I gave up after just a few tries.

The second spot was managed by looping around the road again and pulling though.

For the last two, I just backed the Vistabule angled into the general direction. Then we unhitched as quickly as possible and easily pushed the trailer into position.

Later we were told that being able to easily push the Vistabule was an attractive feature to the neighboring campers who watched us.

Have no shame. As soon as possible find an big empty space to practice backing.

livinlightly: How to backup a travel trailer like a pro

#6. Length

The main thing I had to keep in mind while cruising down roads was the additional 14 foot length of our trailer. The Vistabule was easy to drive at Internet speeds without undue strain to the car’s engine on flat surfaces, but always needed increased space for stopping distance.

Not only did I not want to stop fast, I also wanted to give people behind me plenty of notice by gradually slowing down before stopping. Even as we kept to the speed of the rest of the traffic in our lane, sometimes there were drivers around us who had no consideration of how trailers handle. Tailgaters and quick lane changers exist everywhere. It was always necessary, but especially anytime traffic started stacking up, to leave plenty of space for cars to move between us and the vehicle ahead.

Every glance in the mirrors reminded me when the trailer was with us. There was no problem making adjustments back and forth between driving with or without the trailer attached.

7. Wind Sheer

People asked me about it, but I had not thought of wind sheer against the side of the Vistabule while driving. The Vistabule’s size, height and shape is similar to our car and reacted the same to wind sheer.

(Naturally, Teardrop Trailer brands and models vary a great deal and each will handle differently. So, wind sheer is something that should be considered.)

During our trip there were two days of wind gusts in the 20 to 30 mph range. Gusts pushed us to a side twice, but not out of lane; easily controlled. In hilly areas where gusts seemed to come in and out of the shapes of the terrain, I did slow down as a precaution – much the same as I would normally do while driving the car on its own in touchy weather or road conditions.

8. Bounce

I also did not wonder if Vistabule would bounce while driving along, though I had though of swaying and fish tailing.

(Bounce and sway will differ between models of trailers, plus things like distribution of load weight and tire pressure may cause differences in handling. You need to know the limits and guidelines for the specific Teardrop Trailer you tow.)

While it may not be true of all, the Vistabule’s Teardrop Trailer has independent suspension. My description is that it tracked behind the tow vehicle without exaggerated motion.

Our Vistabule was a dream to tow.