Eight weeks ago l parted ways from my corporate gig as CEO of BLiNQ Media and have been planning an epic summer trip with my family. My wife (Tovah) and I decided we wanted to see some of the great National Parks in the Northwest US as well as Western Canada (Alberta and British Columbia). We started off thinking we could just rent Airbnb’s and travel with a rented minivan, but soon realized traveling with our daughter Nina (3½), son London (1½) and our two dogs (40 lb and 80 lb) wasn’t going to be easy. So we then had the brilliant idea of doing this in an RV and it solved a lot of the space issues and gave us a lot of freedom to travel. We looked at renting a 22 foot RV but we needed to get something bigger and it was more cost effective to just buy something, especially for a 3+ month trip. Within 10 days we went from renting to buying a brand new 2016 Forest River Georgetown 364TS. It’s an amazing RV that gives us a floor-plan and features that’s perfect for our little adventure. Prior to this experience, Tovah and I knew nothing about RV’s; I can tell you I learnt so much in that 10 days and buying one was an interesting process, especially as its a new model and we’d never seen or test driven one (did all our research online). I can also guarantee that this is the first RV of it’s size (38 foot, with our bike racks it’s 42 foot) to enter the Sherwood Forest neighborhood in Midtown Atlanta. And yes, I was able to back it into our backyard.
We worked with a local RV dealer called National Indoor RV Center (who have been amazing and i’d recommend highly) to special order the RV from the manufacture. It took around 3 weeks to deliver and since then we’ve been doing some test runs to make sure we know how to operate it and get used to living in a smaller moving house on wheels. We’ve also added some safety features and made some tech modifications that will make things easier. As I’m a tech geek, I figured i’d share some of these if anyone was thinking of doing what we are about to do.
- Tire On – The Georgetown 364tS has six 22.5 inch wheels (which are big). in the event of a blowout on the front wheels the tires can come off quickly resulting in a horrific RV flipping (see this video). This product prevents the tire from coming off in an event of a blowout and reduce the risk of flipping the RV.
- Tire monitor sensors – My landscaper, Stan, asked his sister (experienced RV’er) for some advice for us before we take off on our long trip and one of the items she mentioned was a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). I bought the (TireMinder A1A) and installed it before we left on a test run to Cape San Blas (beach vacation that’s a 6+ hour drive). The normal pressure on the RV tires are 90 PSI but the monitor alerted me that the rear inside right tire (dually tires) was only 45 PSI; I would have never noticed the inside rear tire was low otherwise. I bought a portable air compressor called Porter-cable (highly recommended) and got the tire back to 90 PSI. However, by the next morning the TPMS system showed the the same tire had gone down to 79 PSI. We’d planned to leave for the beach in the RV that afternoon, so I called the dealership who arranged for someone to come to our house and fix the tire (again National Indoor RV Center have been amazing). Turns out the issue was a valve stem extender that had a slow leak and the tire was OK. I check the TPMS system before we leave any stop and it can alert me to any issue with any of the tire pressure or temperature issues while driving.
- Child seat harness – RV’s don’t have the same safety requirements as cars, and although the Georgetown 364TS has seat belts, they are not designed for kids’ car seats. So, we had the dealership make some modifications so we could safely lock down the car seats to a secure anchor point.
- Bunk Bed Guards – A big reason we bought the Georgetown 364TS was the bunkbeds for the kids. We didn’t want to setup the sofa-bed or dinette every night so the kids could sleep; the built in bunkbeds give the kids a permanent place to call there own. However, the bunkbeds are designed for adults or older kids); i.e. you can easily fall out if you roll over, and that’s very likely for our 3½ and a 1 ½ year olds. I solved this pretty easily by wrapping some MDF wood in nice fabric and wedging it in to act as a guard. Problem solved – kids are not falling out of bed and can still get it to the bed by crawling through the rungs in the ladder.
Some tech I added
- WiFi Ranger – Because we are constantly moving from one location to another, signing up for WiFi at each location or determining if the WiFi signal/strength is any good can/will be problematic on many levels. For one, entering a new WiFi code for every device (iPhones, iPads, laptops, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick, etc.) will get old fast, and with some camp grounds having WiFi only near the registration office, it’s unlikely we’ll get good signals. Lastly, I could use my MiFi, but cellular bandwidth can cost a lot (or not exist in remote areas), especially if we are streaming a bunch of shows (Game of Throne’s season finale anyone? this Sunday! I can’t wait). I found a solution to all my worries. It’s called WiFi Ranger, and it’s perfect for RV’s. I bought the mini pack that includes an Antenna called WiFi Ranger Sky2. The Sky2 mounts on the roof of the RV and can extend your range up to 2500 feet, boosting a weak signal from a distance. Sky2 connects via PoE to a pretty smart router called the WiFi Ranger Mini. The Mini integrates with the Sky2 (but can also find it’s own short distance repeaters) and will tether to my Verizon LTE MiFi via USB (and power the MiFi). The Mini will prioritize a WiFi signal (from the Sky2 or itself) based on signal strength, security, etc. If it can’t find a good WiFi signal it will then go to the MiFi, but will continue to prioritize a free WiFi signal if it becomes available in order to save my MiFi cellular bandwidth. Additionally, the Mini also has a multi-WAN feature that can blend multiple signals together and create hot standby’s incase one WiFi or cellular signal goes down and load balance them all. I also configure it to shut down the MiFi based on the amount of bandwidth my Verizon plan has. If that wasn’t enough, the Mini creates a signal private SSID (called Choudhury-RV) that all our devices connect to (regardless of the WiFi source) and creates an internal network the internal devices can use regardless if you have an internet connection or not (see Plex Server below). The Mini will also attempt to say yes to T&C on WiFi splash pages automatically or if it requires you to enter something, you just have to do it once through the WiFi Ranger control panel and all devices get instant internet without having to check a box or see splash screen. Pretty sweet.
- Plex Media Server – A big thank you to Marc Kagan for this awesome suggestion. I’m running Plex on my laptop and have my movies, music, and photos mapped so the Plex server can make those available through any device. If your are not familiar with Plex, you need to check it out; the interface is kick ass on desktop, iOS, Android and on other devices. Additionally, Plex just reads your files, determines what they are and downloads additional information such as movie thumbnails, trailer, and meta data of the movie, actors, directors, etc. Because the Plex server just runs on an internal network (the WiFi Ranger Mini), i don’t have to go out to the internet to stream anything to any of my devices. I can use a browser to play any of the content Plex is mapped to, but in most cases I find a Plex app on mobile devices, smart TV’s, Blue-ray players, etc. As an example, in order to view movies on the TV’s on the RV (we have 5, btw, which is crazy), I bought several Amazon Fire Stick that can run the Plex app, so now any TV, even a stand-alone TV not connected to the internet or internal network, can easily stream content from the Plex server (different content per connection). As a side-note, I chose the Fire Stick over chromeCast, Roku, and Apple TV (although i also have an Apple TV in the RV, as I’m a die hard Apple guy) because it’s generally faster, ties easily to my Amazon prime account (free Movies, TV shows, Music, and storage) unlike the Apple TV, has Netflix, Sling TV, HBO, PBS kids, and a whole lot more for $39.
- Automatic – Again, my friend Marc Kagan hooked me up; he gave me a beta version of Automatic he’d been testing out before they released a general release product. Automatic connects to my vehicle computer system via a standard connector (the one used by your mechanic to figure out why the check engine light is on). It connects to your phone via bluetooth to the Automatic app and can give you all sorts of info, such as the shit gas millage I get from the Ford V10, or that I applied the brakes hard one time today. It can also notify folks if i get in an accident (including the police) and of course I can get notifications on the engine light vaults and clear them myself if I want to:-)
Our journey began Thursday June 11th and I hope to share some stories on this blog as well as Tovah’s blog www.gypsyspirit.net. In fact here is Tovah’s latest blog post; so follow us both and let’s see where this journey takes our family.