May 15, 2004, marked one month on the road as full-time RVers. The initial flush of excitement had dissipated and the creeping panic of “oh-my-god-what-have-we-done” was rearing its ugly head. There we were with no income, a downward stock market depleting our savings, and we’d left Florida with all family, friends, clients and other support systems behind.
I told Jim we should rush on up to New Jersey where we had a free campsite waiting for us in the form of a friend’s driveway. We could save the cost of gas by staying put for a few weeks. We could bury our noses in our computers, get some website work done and make a little money.
He said, “Well, all right, but let’s go for a walk on this beach first, OK?” He’s a smart man. He knows that arguing with me about money is a fruitless exercise, but giving me a change of scenery will win his case most every time.
We were parked at the Ocracoke campground at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I tore myself away from my worrying and joined Jim and Odie (our mini-poodle) for a walk on the beach. I took my camera. I was in heaven. My worries washed away with each wave, and in their place was the growing certainty that this was the life I wanted to lead.
It is now 7 years later. We’ve been around the country several times and filled in every state in the lower 48 on our RV’s map. We’ve lost count of the number of national parks we’ve visited. We saw all 12 official U.S. presidential museums, plus a few unofficial ones. We’ve stayed in luxury RV resorts, seedy trailer parks, empty spaces in the desert, and friends’ driveways! All the while we’ve been working one way or another and figuring out how to pay our way. We’ve only just begun.
Technology Makes Our Life Possible!
Jim and I made our living in the computer training field before we hit the road. We really didn’t know what we would do to make a living on the road, but you can bet we needed computers and the Internet. In 2004, cellular data cards were not an option. If we wanted to have the Internet wherever we went, we needed to fork over $6,000 for a Datastorm satellite dish. We did. And we loved it.
There we were at Ocracoke campground in Cape Hatteras National Seashore: No electricity, no water or sewer, no phone, but we had Internet access! We could work on our websites – at least while we ran the generator.
Finding Our Way with GPS and Mapping Software
We love maps, and that big print Rand McNally is always within reach when we’re on the road, but the ways that computers can enhance the map experience these days are priceless. When planning our trips with the computer, we have the ability to search along our route for the types of places we like to go: presidential museums, hot springs, Thousand Trails parks, etc. We use Microsoft® Streets & Trips to do all of this at once. With paper maps, we would need several large directories and guide books to accomplish the same tasks, not to mention the notebooks we’d have to fill with our decisions of where to go.
And I just don’t know how we ever lived without GPS navigation. I’ll never forget when the toll booth operator told us that we couldn’t go through the tunnel in Baltimore. He made us exit the highway — after he extracted the toll from us! We got off at an exit that put us on city streets with crisscrossing railroad tracks. We were lost, but because of the GPS navigation on our laptop, we knew exactly where we were and we could navigate to the nearest bridge.
We are also fascinated with Google Earth. Using its 3-D mapping software, we can fully explore a destination from the comfort of our coach. When we realized we would only have two days to spend in Washington D.C., we spent time beforehand getting acquainted with the city using Google Earth. By the time we arrived in person, we knew exactly what we wanted to do.
Preserving Our Travels in Pictures
I’m not a shopper. I don’t buy souvenirs. There’s no place to put them if I did! My one vice is taking lots of digital photos. They don’t cost anything, they don’t weigh anything, and they don’t take up closet space. In our eight years of RVing, we’ve amassed 42,473 pictures! That’s according to the count that Picasa gives me. Picasa is a free program by Google that you can download to your computer to help you organize and edit your digital pictures. One thing I love about Picasa is that it can manage pictures on an external hard drive just as easily as those on your computer’s internal drive.
Picasa makes it so simple to add captions to pictures that I caption all my “keepers.” That way, even when memory fails me — as it is prone to do — I know exactly what a picture is about. Even better, I can find a picture by searching for any word included in the caption. Want to find that picture of Stonehenge on the Columbia River? Just type Stonehenge into the search box.
Probably the best thing about Picasa is how easy it is to make your pictures look better with just a couple clicks. Make a dark picture lighter, or a crooked picture straighter; Picasa makes it single-click easy. We get lots of compliments on our photos. We know it’s because we spend just a few seconds improving them with Picasa before we share.
Sharing Travel Photos with Web Albums and Facebook
With just a couple clicks, and using space that Google provides for free, Picasa will upload your best photos to a Web Album where all your friends, family and potential new friends can see them. We also use Facebook to keep in touch. Now, with our Droid smart phones, it’s a matter of seconds to snap a photo and upload it to Facebook where friends can see it. You can see our public Picasa Web Albums at www.picasaweb.google.com/chrisguld.
Keeping Our Travelog with Blogger
I’ve always been a journal writer. I have journals going back to when I was 8 years old! Unfortunately those paper books got wet and ruined somewhere along the way. Now, I keep my journal on the Web. There are so many advantages to this. First of all, it will never get destroyed. It’s on the Web, and I back it up to my own computer periodically. You can include pictures, even videos. It is also easy to search. If I want to remember where we were in July of 2007, simply click on the archive link for that month. Need to know the name of the great RV park where we stayed in Montana next to the hot springs? Just search for hot springs and browse through the results. Blogger.com is the free program we use to write about our travels. See our public blog at www.geeksontour.blogspot.com.
What About You?
More and more people are finding that laptop computers (and smart phones and GPS’s, etc.) are indispensable to their RV travels. Are you one of them? How do you use technology to enhance your travels? Leave us a comment below.
The author, Chris Guld, has a business called Geeks on Tour with her husband, Jim. Chris and Jim present seminars at rallies and have taught thousands of RVers to use their computers as they travel. GeeksOnTour.com is a membership website with hundreds of “Show-Me-How” tutorial videos on topics of interest to travelers, such as managing digital photos with Picasa, route planning with Streets and Trips, and sharing your travels on a website using Blogger. You can follow Chris and Jim and leave comments on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/geeksontour.