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Episode 75: Smartphone Hacks for RVers

| Updated Jul 13, 2023

Every RVer these days is pretty dependent on their smartphones. From directions, to finding attractions and to stay in touch with friends and families, our smartphones are overwhelmingly the most used gizmos we take with us when we travel by RV.

But they could work better, right? Battery life dies too fast. Data allocations get gobbled up by apps. The dreaded “no bars” indication of no nearby cell tower happens too often.

Our guest in the Traveling Tech segment of this podcast is SteveCastro, Director of Digital Development at the EGC Group, a New York advertising agency. [spp-timestamp time=”37:02″]


Steve offers a mix of security, data/power saving and everyday useful tips that most smartphone users are unaware of. You will want to tune into this episode and follow along as he shares his tips, which are written down for you towards the end of this post.

But there's much more in this episode as we talk about such things as:

  • Getting rid of black tank odors [spp-timestamp time=”11:03″]
  • Finding the right security system for your RV [spp-timestamp time=”13:36″]
  • Choosing the right small motorhome for you [spp-timestamp time=”22:00″]
  • A first-of-its-kind small motorhome RV show in Phoenix, AZ that will have more motorhomes from more Class B manufacturers than you will find anywhere. [spp-timestamp time=”22:00″]
  • And an off the-beaten path report from New York State [spp-timestamp time=”57:11″]

Keep scrolling down for full shownotes, links to resources and segment by segment info. You can click the hyperlinked time code to jump directly to that section from the shownotes below.

Complete Shownotes for the Roadtreking RV Podcast, Episode 75, released Feb. 17, 2016:


As Jennifer joins Mike at the top of the podcast, they share the birthday present they received last week from their three kids: A 10-month-old Norwegian Elkhound we decided to name named Bo. [spp-timestamp time=”3:30″]

Here's a picture of him as Jennifer was trying to record her part of this week's podcast

BoWe lost our previous dog, Tai, to cancer last July. He was a great traveler and many of our readers and listeners got to meet and enjoy hi as we made our way across North America.

We are unsure of this new pup. Man, a puppy is a lot of work. He's requiring constant supervision and we hope we have the energy to keep up!  We call him Bo, in honor of Tai, whose full name was Taibo. Wish us luck!


Today’s tip addresses an unpleasant subject: The stinky smell that sometimes comes from the black water waste tank on an RV. [spp-timestamp time=”11:03″]

First, use a lot of water to flush. Yes, you may have to empty it more that way but we have found mixing water by at least two to one is the easiest way to keep odors down. By that I mean, whatever you put in the toilet, put twice that much water in.

calgonWe also use something called the “Geo Method.” Essentially, this mixes two cups of water softener and one cup of household detergent in a gallon of water that we pour down the toilet after every time that we dump the black tanks. It really heps keep odors down. We use Calgon Powdered Water Softener. It supposedly dissolves the fastest. We had trouble finding it in stores and ordered it on Amazon. They make a liquid version of this product. It may work, too, though the person who told us about this stressed that we should use the powdered kind.

Anyway, we’ve been using this concoction for a couple of years now and find it really does a nice job.

One more related tip. Sometimes, gunk gets caked on black water tanks after a lt of use, especially if the unit hasn’t been used much. If you suspect that is an issue, buy a bag of ice, drop it down the toilet and drive around for a while. The ice bangs around in there and loosens the crud. After you think the ice has melted, flush with lots of water and then dump.

That’s this week’s tip. If you have a tip you’d like me to consider, just send me at email at Jennifer AT

Security Devices For an RV

The Canary device
The Canary device

A listener named Sherie is about to get a new Class B RV and is worried about security. She sent in a voice message and wondered whether Mike and Jennifer have done anything different since our RV was broken into last summer. Mike brings her up to date on what we learned, talking specifically about the Windshield Witness dash cam we have and how that helped identify the thief. He also talks about a new $199 unit he plans to review called the Canary. This has a wide angle HD camera, monitors temperature and sends video via Wi Fi to your smartphone and it alerts you to a break in, yet also lets you check up on your pets. [spp-timestamp time=”13:36″]

Choosing the Right Class B RV for You

We are recently retired and interested in a Class B of a shorter length for easier parking. Are there pros and cons when looking at Roadtrek vs Pleasure-Way etc.? How do I learn what models/year that have issues when looking at earlier years? Thanks Greg Rockford, MI

The key things Mike says to consider are the brand’s dealership network, service availability and manufacturer reputation. Then compare specific floor plan needs you have. Mike suggests he visit an RV show and check into our Roadtreking Facebook Group to be on contact with other Class B owners. But in particular, if you can get to Phoneix, AZ, there is a fantastic RV show coming March 17-20 that is totally devoted to small motorhomes. It will be held INDOORS at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ, so there’s no chance of it being hot inside the air conditioned stadium.  As of now, they’ll have Roadtrek, Leisure Travel Vans, Winnebago and Thor Motor Coaches.  They’ll probably have between 60 and 80 Class B style products to choose between as well as some shorter Class C units.  Test drives will be available.  All units will be clearly priced with a sales price.  Even some pre-owned units will be available. [spp-timestamp time=”22:00″]


Hi Mike and Jennifer: I sure enjoy your blog and podcasts. I am an old camper via a Jayco trailer, but have decided I want to move down to a type b motorcoach. I have researched heavily the Type b rv and feel like my wife and I can make it just fine. What do you like about your unit the Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL? I plan to do boondocking and like the idea of lots of solar and battery power. Thanks for your response. Mark, Tennessee

Mike explains the main draw of the CS. All that solar and boondocking power – 650 watts of solar on the roof and a 20K Amp Hour bank of Lithium Ion batteries for extended off the grid camping that allows him to be energy independent. And the other main draw: The large 7 cubic foot refrigerator on the CS! [spp-timestamp time=”27:00″]


There’s a big controversy in South Dakota involving RVers who use mail forwarding services as an address for voter registration. [spp-timestamp time=”30:22″]

Newly introduced legislation seeks to reduce the influence of nomadic recreational-vehicle owners on South Dakota elections.

State Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, last week introduced a bill that would essentially forbid the use of a mail-forwarding service as an address for voter registration.

Read the full story from the Rapid City Journal

TRAVELING TECH TIP: Smartphone Hacks for RVers

Mike interviews SteveCastro, Director of Digital Development at the EGC Group, a top Manhattan advertising agency. [spp-timestamp time=”37:02″]

steve carusoSteve offers a mix of security, data/power saving and everyday useful tips that most smartphone users are unaware of.

Steve’s favorite app these days is Swarm. He uses it to keep a record of the paces he’s been, as sort of a travel diary.

Here are some of his tips:

1)  Change your phone’s wallpaper background (the picture that comes up when your screen is locked) from a pretty scenic to something useful: an image of your name and a contact number (other than your own, obviously).  You can do this by taking a screen shot after you input the info in a notepad   function, or simply scrawl it on a piece of paper and take a camera shot.  This way, passerby who finds your locked lost phone will have a way to contact you.

2)  With all the streaming, downloading and Periscoping we’re doing these days, it’s no wonder many of us our exceeding the limits on our date packages.  And yet most service providers let you set up warning (some even shut data connections off completely) when you near you monthly limit. Look for these options in the data setup area of your phone and employ them.  There are also a variety of 3rd party apps that will perform the same function and let you know what apps or services are being the data hogs on your device.

3)  Forget your charger while on the road? Your campground can probably supply you with a USB cable that you can use on a variety of devices to get a charge.

4)  If you find yourself in an area that has poor signal coverage, activate your phone’s airplane mode for a minute or so. When you return to cellular mode, your phone will automatically connect to the nearest cell tower, instead of the weaker tower it might have been holding onto.

5)  Facing an emergency situation and your cell phone suddenly has no bars? Try dialing 112. In most instances, this will allow your phone to use ANY available service (even if it’s not your provider and even if your phone is locked) and connect you to an emergency operator for assistance.

6)  Cell phone companies love tagging on a convenience fee for using their 411 information service when you need to get a phone number or address. And while Google can usually find any number you need, many of us are too lazy to conduct a search – or are busy operating a motor vehicle.  But there’s a free 411 service you can call:  (800) FREE 411 (800-373-3411) which will get you a number or address without incurring a fee.

7)  GPS is a huge data hog and yet many of us rely on our phone’s GPS to get us to our destinations.  There are several ways to beat the GPS at its own game.  A) Before your road trip, simply screenshot your travel directions and refer to them rather than live location services. B) Many apps, including Google Maps, allow you to download the maps of the area where you’re traveling.  Do this while you’re connected to wi-fi and then store the map.  This will save you mobile date charges and actually be a lifesaver if you are traveling in an area with limited reception.

8) This is a tough one, but it will save your data allowance and associated overage charges in the long run: pay for full versions of your Apps. Why?  Because all those ads the “free” editions continually present to you are downloaded items.  This means, the app is constantly using your data plan to deliver you commercials!  If you pay for the app, and eliminate or limit these ads, you’ll have more date for other, more critical, uses.  This also saves your battery, too.

9) Another way to save on data and battery consumption is to form good web browsing habits.  Try to browse only mobile versions of your favorite websites (the best way is to download that site’s mobile app). This allows the site to load faster and optimize data usage.

10)  Putting your phone into airplane mode allows it to charge faster since it disables the power sapping transmission functions. It’s true, you’ll temporarily be unable to receive calls or texts, but your phone will have its incoming juice dedicated to charging the battery.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT –   The Finger Lakes area of New York

Off the Beaten Path Reporter Tom Burkett reports on lots of out of the way tourist destinations in New York State, especially applicable for RVers who visit the Niagara Falls and Buffalo, NY region. From a quirky kazoo factory in Eden, NY to beautiful lakes to the world famousChautauqua community, you’ll want to listen up for these great attractions. [spp-timestamp time=”57:11″]

This episode of Roadtreking the RV Podcast is brought to you by:

  • Van City RV in St. Louis, and their Partner Dealerships Creston RV in Kalispell, Montana, and Wagon Trail RV in Las Vegas. Bringing You the largest Inventory of class B’s from three locations
  • Alde… the only name to know when choosing a heating system for your RV
  • Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest and most reliable 4G LTE Networks

Mike Wendland

Published on 2016-02-17

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

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