This week on the RV Podcast we hear from Joe Russo, who with wife Kait creates the popular We’re the Russos YouTube Channel and blog. Joe has just written his second book, Tales from the Open Road, and in this episode of the RV Podcast, he drops by to share some of their adventures and misadventures.
Show Notes for Episode #251 July 17, 2019 of The RV Podcast;
WHAT MIKE AND JENNIFER ARE UP TO THIS WEEK
JENNIFER – As this episode is released, we are in the Nashville, TN area on a family vacation. We’re spending a week in a rented house outside of Nashville with our three grown children, their spouses and our eight grandkids. We’re just hanging out together and touring the area. We rented a house in the horse country near Franklin and among our planned activities, taking in the historic Grand Ole Opry.
MIKE – We’re really trying to make this a true vacation, too, meaning we’re cutting back on work as much as we can. Bo is with us and we drove the RV down and will take our time heading home, doing some wandering and exploring. I’m sure will chase down a couple of travel stories as we slowly head north.
If anyone is looking for an excuse to go camping and get outsides, I can help. Just 20 minutes a day spent in nature can help reduce stress hormone levels, according to a new study by University of Michigan researchers. It concluded that an efficient “nature pill” — 20 to 30 minutes walking, sitting or completing a physical activity outside or interacting with nature — can reduce health issues such as chronic stress, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease and weight. I like that. A “nature pill.” A great reason to go RVing!
A very good idea.
It’s that time in the podcast where we want to give a shoutout to our reviewer of the week, whose screen name is MLV55… who left us this wonderful five-star review on iTunes:
“I have listened to several different podcasts on RV'ing and this by far is the best one. It is very professionally done with great tips and ideas for everyone no matter what size RV you own. We are in the research and planning phases of buying a class A motorhome and have found what we have learned from Mike and Jennifer's podcasts to be very valuable. Plus, the sound like really nice people and are a pleasure to listen to. Mike and Jennifer, keep up the great work!
Thank you, MLV55. We so appreciated those kind words and your review. And we invite you dear listener, to do the same. Please leave us a review and a rating on iTunes or Stitcher or whatever app you listen to us on. We so appreciate the feedback and we read every one!
RV NEWS OF THE WEEK
Trails through Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore can be steep or sandy — but people who require hiking mobility assistance can now rent a motorized chair with treaded tracks to get around. The fact that the chair has tracks rather than wheels makes rougher terrain much more accessible. The program is run by volunteer group Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, which wants everyone to be able to experience the park's natural beauty. The group says the program is the first of its kind at a national park. The group currently has one chair that is available through reservations, but it is hoping to buy another one later this summer for children. The chairs are pretty pricey, with the first one costing more than $13,000. However, it's free for visitors to use and can carry up to 350 pounds. Since the program launched in June, the group has had more than a dozen visitors use it Volunteers try to do one run in the morning and one in the afternoon, allowing for the chair to be recharged between sessions.
We’ve reported extensively here about overcrowding in the National Parks as well as a woefully long backlog in maintenance and basic repairs. Congress and the administration have largely ignored the crisis and now at least one former superintendent at two National Parks says that given continued inaction, the best course of action is to shut down some parks so the others can survive. That was a thrust of an editorial in The Hill, an influential Washington DC publication by Gil Lusk, a well-respected former National Parks superintendent with 35 year’s experience. The parks are now running at a $12 billion deficit and infrastructure is crumbling daily, just as visitors continue pouring into the parks in record numbers.
If you ever had any doubts that the RV industry is experiencing explosive growth, a new study predicts it will grow from about $40 billion a year now to over $64 billion in five years. While manufacturers and dealers are smiling, consumers are noting that campground development is not keeping pace with RV sales and that service backlogs at RV dealers are expected to increase because of a continuing critical shortage of RV technicians.
Had it with being passed by speeding trucks on the Interstate? There’s a bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate that would require all new heavy trucks to be equipped with speed limiters that would stop them from going faster than 65 mph. The bipartisan bill is not the first attempt to put limiters on big rigs. Different versions of this bill have been introduced for a decade. All the other attempts have been blocked, thanks to opposition from the powerful trucking industry. This new bill has been endorsed by a cross-section of highway-safety advocacy groups. Most trucks on the road already have such devices set between 62 and 68 mph. The new bill would require that any truck – old or new – equipped with a limited must have it is use when it is being driven. Supporting this new bill is the Trucking Alliance, a truck safety group. I like what its executive director says: “There is no reason for an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer to operate at 70 mph or greater on our highways”
The last two years have been horrible for wildfires in the west. This year, it may be twice as bad. So says a coalition of fire fighters from numerous agencies that recently gathered in Southern California. They urged the various fire departments at the meeting to prepare for a potential doubling of grass fire acreage this season, with the most dangerous time expected between October and December. “These fires are growing exponentially and they’re requiring more resources,” the group noted. Over the past month, several heavily populated California counties were under excessive heat warnings with temperatures up to 107 degrees. and numerous wildfires spread across the state forcing many to evacuate their homes. It’s the same for western Canada. Wildfires in Alberta and Manitoba have burned thousands of acres of land over the past few weeks. The smoke from those fires made for hazy conditions across the Midwest and even into New England. It’s looking like another very bad year.
This part of the podcast is brought to you by RadPower Bikes,an electric bike manufacturer offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping
LISTENER QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
From Lisa, via email:
My husband and I will be living in our RV while we are building our house while also spending some time in it traveling. We are wondering what your opinion is of the best options for internet access. We have hotspots on our phones, but found out that we quickly use up our data from those watching netflix. Thanks in advance for your help and we really enjoy your podcast!
One year of unlimited data for $360. It uses the AT&T network
By unlimited they mean they don’t cut you off BUT if you do exceed 22 GB of data in a single month you are subject to to what they call “network management.” That means if you are accessing a tower that is experiencing congestion, your connection speed can be throttled, or slowed down.
The down side to this is it has to be mounted on the roof. You’ll probably need an RV tech to do that for you. Some working needs to be done and you have to buy a $400 device and the $360 data plan.
You can get a Mi-Fi, or Jet Pack device from Verizon. It costs $99 with a two-year contract, plus $10 a month for the hotspot fee. Add on to that the standard monthly Verizon bill… But the jetPack is also limited to 20 GB a month and often that allocation is shared and gobbled up by your tablets or smartphones.
I have to warn you: Verizon pricing is really complicated. They are always changing their plans and I am convinced they make them intentionally complicated so you need to go to one of their stores, where a sales person can either upsell you or get you into whatever plan works best for them.
There are other carriers out there with enticing offers but those are the ones with the best coverage.
Now, you mentioned streaming on Netflix.
Watching TV shows or movies on Netflix uses about 1 GB of data per hour for each stream of standard definition video, and up to 3 GB per hour for each stream of HD video. Streaming and downloading take up a similar amount of data.
Do you have a question you’d like us to answer, or a comment on the things we’re discussing. If so, we invite you to leave us that question or comment on the special voicemail number we have for the podcast – it’s 586-372-6990. If you are driving and can’t write it down right now, just go to the RV Lifestyle travel blog at rvlifestyle.com and scroll down the page. You’ll see that number prominently posted on the blog.
This part of the RV Podcast is brought to you by Battle Born Batteries, maker of quality, safe and reliable lithium batteries that can be installed in just about every RV. Get in touch with Battle Born to find out what lithium batteries and an upgraded energy management system can add to your RV Lifestyle. Check them out at https://rvlifestyle.com/lithium
RV INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK
Joe Russo’s new book, Tales from the Open Road, just went on sale on Amazon. It tells the adventures and misadventures he and wife Kait experienced in their first year as fulltime RVers. Moving from a house into a Class A RV, trying to make a living on the road and learning just what minimalism really is.
Joe and Kait are two of our friends and I asked Joe to come on the show and share his story about Life On the Road. You can follow Joe and Kait at https://weretherussos.com/
His new book is available at https://amzn.to/2XE4Qow
Here's a transcript of the interview:
Mike Wendland: Well, Joe Russo was on the other end of the line right now. Hey Joe, how are you?
Joe Russo: Good. How have you been?
Mike Wendland: Well, we are doing great. We miss seeing Kate, but please give her our best.
Joe Russo: Yeah absolutely.
Mike Wendland: And we hope to run into you guys a couple of times yet this year as we all keep traveling back and forth in the country. So tell us about this new book, now you left off with your first book, which was kind of the whole van life story, right? And then where does this one begin and where does it take us?
Joe Russo: So the first book was all about what it took us to go from living in a house full time, having corporate careers and then finally hitting the road. And book two, it's called Tales From the Open Road, The Adventures and Misadventures of RV Living. I'm still getting used to the title, but basically it picks up on day one of our journey. And initially Kate and I only planned to spend a year on the road, but what ended up happening was about a month in, we kind of almost had like a falling out, realized we were on two different pages, but in the end we both realized that all we really wanted was to stay on the road, continually travel, indefinitely. And throughout the book it goes on about how we decided to go from this just being a longterm vacation to an actual lifestyle. How we started building our business, our YouTube channel, making money on the road, and by the end of the book it's when we decide to sell our class A and then start moving into what should be van life.
Mike Wendland: Now you were initially in a class A which gave you lots of room compared to the B life that you're living in now, but what were the first big things you had to adjust to out there? I mean it must've been quite a shock coming from a corporate life, California, a house in the suburbs and now a class A motor home. What were the initial bumps?
Joe Russo: It was certainly an adjustment. I think there was, one of the biggest adjustments was trying to live around my partner 24/7, so while Kate and I had lived together for quite awhile, we always had our jobs so we'd be gone during the day and the only times we really spent all the time together was on weekends. So that was a huge adjustment and that was the reason why we were starting to really butt heads that first month and kind of needed a, like come to Jesus moment between the two of us to kind of align ourselves. And what we found was we just weren't communicating enough, when something bothered her she wasn't talking to me, I wasn't talking to her. I've listened to some of your podcasts and you and Jennifer talked about that exact same thing. You guys, you always have to be talking and communicating when you live in such a small space.
Mike Wendland: Well I thought it was just us, that we were just difficult. So Joe, what's the takeaway for, you know, you're seeing them every week as we do, more and more people are deciding that they are going to go out and live this kind of life. So what's that first takeaway that you would urge everybody to be aware of and expecting as they hit the road? Besides communication.
Joe Russo: Sure.
Mike Wendland: So what do they learn from that?
Joe Russo: I would say that regardless of whether you're a couple, a family, single and you're going to hit the road, learn to be flexible. I think what some people will have a big difficulty with is they will cement their plans, make reservations, and think that the whole year is going to go their way and things change, you run into mechanical issues. You get to a fork in the road and you want to go right rather than left. And it's just, that's the way this lifestyle really tends to flow better, at least from our perspective. And I would just say be flexible, be willing to change and just keep your eyes open for all the world around you.
Mike Wendland: Now you get through that stage, you both came to this crisis, I guess, and that's the first phase of adjustment, how did you work through that? And how did you both make sure you're on the same page?
Joe Russo: Well, Kate was driving the class A at the time and she had just had enough, and I think whatever it was a straw that broke the camel's back finally did. She pulled over into a rest area, pulled the motor home alongside and said, “Look, we need to get out and have a conversation.” So we sat down, we both talked about our problems and what was bothering us. And what we found was we both wanted the same thing. We were just trying to go in different directions to achieve it. And once we came to that common ground, it was much easier from then on in. Now that's not to say we didn't have our issues beyond that, but what we learned was to sit down and discuss it before it became a big issue.
Mike Wendland: And that's pretty good advice for any kind of a relationship.
Joe Russo: Absolutely.
Mike Wendland: Do you think that because you are in a relatively confined space and 24/7 together, that it brings these issue, for any relationship, no matter how solid it's going to bring these to the forefront, isn't it?
Joe Russo: Absolutely. Because there's no way to escape the other person. So the issues either build up and explode or you have to sit down and discuss them and resolve them.
Mike Wendland: I remember with Jennifer the first time for me was one day she looked at me and she, you know, that serious look that they can give us where you know you better listen. And she said, I need some space with you not in it. And so as you're describing that, I'm thinking about that moment for us. So Joe, tell us some of the, we know them adventures because we see them on the, where the Russo's youtube channel every week. And we'll get to those in a minute, but talk about some of the misadventures, because a lot of people out there think it's going to be all sunshine. Trust me, we just got rained out after a week in the Adirondacks. It's not always sunshine. They think there's going to be no literal bumps in the road, that the units are going to work. Great. Talk about the misadventures and the reality check that people need to know going into that part of the world.
Joe Russo: Oh man. There is such a wide variety. I would say one of the big ones, and I think the most stressful to us were always the, I'll call them the breakdowns, although we never technically broke down. You run into issues that either prevent you from moving on to that next place or like we got stuck at the factory where we bought our RV. We only planned to be there for a week. We were there for almost a month because of all the work they were doing. There was one time we were coming up and over the Rockies, and something with the cold weather, the new RV and how the RV was expanding and contracting. When I went to go open or close the door at a rest area, the door wouldn't close. You can't drive down the road with the door open on your motor home. So you know there were times like that where you really kind of had to suck it up, figure out a solution and just deal with it.
Joe Russo: And I think the other big ones for us too were weather. So a couple of times we got caught in flash floods. You know, we would get a warning on our phone flash flood on this river and we look out of the RV window and the river is right behind us and it's midnight pitch dark. You know, a tornado once touch down within 30 miles of the motor home and we were freaked out. So there were all sorts of things throughout that year and a half, and I think going back to my comment earlier about being flexible, the more flexible you can be, the less these impact your travels.
Mike Wendland: Yeah, I think one of the pieces of advice somebody once gave me was you have to spend much more time paying attention to the weather because we're basically in the weather all the time.
Joe Russo: Yeah.
Mike Wendland: There might be a little wall around us, but it's nothing like a house. So now your book takes us through these first things, the lessons you've learned, but there came a time when this was no longer a vacation for you and that you realized to stay out on the road, you had to make a living, what are the lessons that you learned that you tell us about in the book that people can take away from that?
Joe Russo: Well for us it was learning to treat this as a business. When we first started working on our website, that's how we got things started. It was more of a hobby, and although we dedicated time to it, we didn't make it a full time business. And it wasn't until, I think it was about three or four months into this new lifestyle of ours where we started our YouTube channel and really making weekly videos or daily videos that it kind of clicked with us. And we realized we have to put in a lot of time and effort, And at least up front, I mean when we started and we were putting YouTube videos up, we were making about enough to cover a cup of coffee, and by about a year later we were covering our monthly expenses. So there was a lot of work, a lot of upfront stuff that had to happen with little to no payoff. And we just had to trust that if we kept doing it and we did things right that eventually it would make us a living.
Mike Wendland: I keep referring to us all as the YouTube couples, the RV couples, 'cause you know, this is our seventh year, there weren't very many back then and you guys have been at this a number of years and now it seems like every day I'm hearing of two or three more couples that are doing this. And many of them start off as a hobby. But I think that thing that more and more people are realizing is how just about anybody can make a really nice living on the road as long as you have an understanding of technology. That's the most important thing that I've seen.
Joe Russo: Absolutely. And even for people who have zero understanding of technology, and there are things like camping, wolfing working at an Amazon fulfillment center for part of the year. I've heard of all different things and all spectrum of lifestyle that if you want to be on the road full time and you need to find a way to make a living, there's something out there to suit you.
Mike Wendland: Why do you think this lifestyle is booming so, why is it so? I mean the growth is phenomenal. What's unique about this time that we're in that we're seeing so many people trying to embrace the RV lifestyle, either in van life or something a little bigger?
Joe Russo: Sure. I think people are really seeing the benefit of it. And I think with the advent of a lot of the YouTuber couples, you mentioned us yourselves, a lot of the other people who were out there years ago, I think the movement has caught on through all of the content we're sharing and kind of walking people through it. When we first decided to live this lifestyle, it was something Kate came up with on a whim. We had no idea about it, we'd never been in a motor home. And until I got online and I start reading blog posts, watching videos and things, I was really nervous about it. And it wasn't until I saw other people doing it, and they were loving it, that I started to feel more comfortable and more like I could do it. So I think those resources have really helped people decide that, hey, this lifestyle might very well work for me.
Mike Wendland: What are the biggest frustrations that you guys find out there, even now after you have made this transition, built a business on the road, things like overcrowded campgrounds or finding a place that's not boon docking friendly. What are any trends, anything that's causing you more alarm this year than it did last year?
Joe Russo: I would say the amount of free places to camp is slowly drying up and the places that are left are getting inundated by other people.
Mike Wendland: That's 'cause we keep talking about them. Right? It's like we've got to quit sharing our fishing holes. Yeah.
Joe Russo: Yeah, exactly. And it's not, you know, I love sharing this stuff, but at the same time, there's always the talk of the people who might show up at Walmart put their stuff all over the ground and basically their RV explodes onto the parking lot and the next thing you know, everyone at the parking lot is being kicked out because they're no longer allowing that. And that's happened to us a few times where, you know, that RV has shown up. We've been doing some other camping throughout California and more and more we're seeing signs that oversized vehicles are not allowed to park within the city limit or within a certain area. So I think that is kind of ringing an alarm in the back of my head. I still think there's a lot of places out there you can go, but it's starting to become more and more restricted.
Mike Wendland: And how important is it that people develop a mechanical abilities if they're going to do this? You're actually pretty handy with these things much more handy than I am. I always just call mobile tech guys and they're great by the way, but advice about when breakdowns occur because a lot of people are like me, we're good at running it and pushing the buttons, but fixing it not so good. What advice do you have for them?
Joe Russo: Well, to give people a bit of background. I would call myself a fairly competent shade tree mechanic so I can tear down an engine, rebuild it, and I know my way around [inaudible 00:13:40]. So when I, even in the camper van, I carry what I would consider a fairly full set of tools and we actually have a video on our YouTube channel about that where I go through my entire tool kit and show you everything I have. But I think it's very important for people to learn how to do just basic things because that can save you a lot of stress.
Joe Russo: And when I say basic, I mean if there are things within your RV, like let's say one of the drawers comes off the track or one of the doors isn't closing properly, look at it, watch a YouTube video, find a resource or person to help you fix that on your own. Because what ends up happening is a lot of people who aren't able to have those skills, or they don't feel like trying it, you end up with this long list you have to take into an RV mechanic and as you probably know, with more and more RVs on the road these days, it could be months before you get in to see anybody. So the more you take care of yourself, the better. Especially if you're out boon docking something happens and you need to get back into town.
Mike Wendland: So good advice on the [inaudible 00:14:51], we'll put a link to that, to your toolbox segment on there so people can go for it. So you went from a house to a class A, then do a class B, a van, and now you're still, you've been in the process of shopping for another van. But what caused you to downsize? I mean that was a pretty big downsize from a house to a class A, but …
Joe Russo: It was.
Mike Wendland: But you guys are tried and true van life people now, do you ever miss the bigger size?
Joe Russo: There are times I miss the bathroom and yeah, I'd love to have some more space. But the reason we got the class A in the first place was we had two big dogs at the time, so we really needed the extra room. I don't think those dogs would have worked in a class B. But as we continued to travel, we lost one of our dogs. Our other dog, Leo, he was great in a small space. So what we were learning was we didn't need all this space, and we would continually have like spring cleaning and downsize what was in our vehicle. And at a point in our Class A, we had baggies and cabinets and things like that that were just empty. There was nothing in them and the stuff that we did have, a lot of it we weren't using and didn't need, we just didn't want to get rid of it.
Joe Russo: So we began thinking about it and Kate is the one who kind of had the inspiration, hey, we should go smaller, let's start looking at vans. I wasn't sold on the idea, but after awhile it really kind of came to fruition and we moved into a van and I would not want to go back to something larger.
Mike Wendland: Well, it's been fun to follow you guys along and we will continue to do that. Before I let you go again, we'll link to Joe and Kate's book. It'll all be out there in their website as well, but tell everybody what you're in right now, you're shopping for, and that's become kind of a whole theme of this season, if that's what we call our YouTube channels these days.
Joe Russo: Yes, exactly.
Mike Wendland: So, what are you in now?
Joe Russo: So we are currently in the Storyteller Overland Mode four by four. This is their prototype was, which is on a transit chassis, and it's got the Quigley four by four system. I don't know if you can kind of hear it in the background, but I'm running the AC currently off of their battery bank. It's got 750 amp hours of lithium. This thing is a beast and we're really enjoying it so far.
Mike Wendland: So Storyteller is a fairly new brand and they build these in Birmingham, Alabama.
Joe Russo: Correct.
Mike Wendland: We met them at the RVX show, I think it was RVX.
Joe Russo: Yep.
Mike Wendland: No we met them at the Super B Show, and I can't keep these shows together, but I was very impressed with them and I've been interested to watch you guys and any idea yet what you're going to end up with?
Joe Russo: No clue.
Mike Wendland: No clue?
Joe Russo: We did try a leisure travel van Wonder per you're suggestion.
Mike Wendland: That was actually the same one we used for a couple of weeks. Yeah.
Joe Russo: Yeah.
Mike Wendland: Hey, by the way, I left a chair in that, you know that chair you were using, that's our chair. Is it still there?
Joe Russo: It's still there. I put it right back in.
Mike Wendland: I've got to get that back. Yeah. Jennifer, we watched your video and just, “Hey, that's our chair. You forgot to bring it.” And I said, “Oh Man, I did.” Anyway, go ahead?
Joe Russo: We love that, but it was a bit, I think that would be the max size we would want to go. One thing we've been doing is I've actually started traveling with a motorcycle again, so that's actually on the back of this van. So we want to try with the motorcycle on the back, we want to stay under 25, 24 feet because we liked fitting into a fairly standard parking spot even if we have to hang over a bit.
Mike Wendland: That's great. Well Joe Russo from, We're The Russo's. Please give Jennifer and my best to Kate. We'll see you guys out there on the road and we look forward to reading your new book and we will have a Amazon link where everybody can pick it up. Tell everybody that doesn't bother to read my show notes where we'll link to you, but tell everybody where they can find out and follow your adventures?
Joe Russo: So you can follow our adventures at WereTheRussos.com, and basically everything we do is posted up on there, including links to our videos. And the title of the new book is going to be, I'm getting still getting used to this, Tales From The Open Road, The Adventures and Misadventures of RV Living.
Mike Wendland: And we'll again link to it, but somebody can go and search Amazon for that if they are too lazy to look at the show notes. Hey Joe, always good to see and we'll see you sometime this summer.
Joe Russo: Thank you, bye.
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