Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fulltime RVing FAQ #2: How do you get your mail, license plates, etc?

The 2nd most asked question I get after “How can you afford to do this?”, is about mail and having an address to conduct business through.   It would be nice to be able to totally unplug from all the land based ways but our insurance companies, banks, vehicle licensing and voting offices seem to insist that we have some stationary place to be found.    This might be a challenge for us free rolling folks except that there are many entrepreneurial land-based folks out there to help us and keep us rolling.

Two days before I bought my RV & sold my house, I went to license my new Jeep using the Personal Mailbox that I set up with a private company in Colorado.  The licensing office kicked out the address and refused to let me license the vehicle with that address.  So ended up using a family members address in Missouri to license the Jeep and my motorhome.  The sales tax and licensing requirements in Missouri were not optimal and it costs me thousands more dollars than it would have if I had licensed in another state. 

Towards the end of my first year on the road, I met a full-time couple that explained to me that there were many companies and groups that served RVer’s and that I just needed to do a little research and decide which would be best for me.  Some state options were Texas, Florida, Oregon, Montana and South Dakota.   There may be others but these are the main ones that I have come across.  Each state has their own set of rules, regulation and fees and their own pluses and minuses.   My choice came down to the Escapee’s in Livingston, TX or a company in South Dakota.   I chose South Dakota.  I like that they have no vehicle inspection requirement and that the tax when you buy a motorhome is around 3%.  It is actually calculated a couple ways but you end up not paying more than 3%.  The other thing that I liked about South Dakota was that I didn’t have to have a SD Drivers license _before_ I could register my vehicles there.   I also like that it is in the middle of the country, thus when I do go and renew my drivers license (the only thing that has to be done in person) it isn’t as far as going from one coast to another coast.   When I changed from Missouri to South Dakota my costs for licensing and insuring my vehicles literally dropped by a almost two thousand dollars.

So once I chose the state that was best for me, then I had to choose a mail forwarding company.  The best way to choose a company is not only to compare services and rates but also to talk with others licensing in the state about their experience.   Most mailing services will give you options to have your mail sent on demand or on a set date every month, they may charge annually or by the number of times you have mail sent.  Usually they have separate fees for licensing your vehicles, if they offer that service.  I did a lot of research before choosing my first South Dakota service.  I ultimately went with a company that had been recommended to me. It turned into a very bad experience.   I went with “My Home Address” in Emery, SD and I had so many problems getting my mail over the two years I was with them and was treated so rudely that finally changed.  I did a lot of research before jumping to another company and ended up choosing My Dakota Address.  One of the things that drew me to this company is that they offer the option to have what mail you receive emailed to you.  I get my mail forwarded  to me when I need tax document or something important like that.  I don’t really care when I get my Good Sam card.  So knowing what mail I have sitting there helps me make the decision on when I want my mail sent to me.  I have found it very helpful.  The other thing that your mailing service should do for you,  is to help you register your vehicles and help you navigate what you need to do to vote.  My Dakota Address has been helpful to me with all of these and has given prompt friendly replies to all my queries.  I have been with them now for over three years and not had any problems.   

What’s worked well for me may not be ideal for you. Using a family member’s home for your mail may seem like a good way to start out but it can also get to be burdensome for them.  There are many options out there, so do your research and find what’s best for your needs.   No need to stay land-based and sit around and wait for your mail .. get out on the road and keep those wheels turning.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Journal excerpts - Bears at Katmai National Park/Brook Falls, AK

July 30th, 2004 Homer, AK to Katmai National Park, AK

The Float plane out of Homer was delayed 2 times and almost canceled because of the rain but then it cleared up and we were able to take off. I was very happy because this is the last day that they are going to Katmai National Park for their tours. Katmai is the only known place where Grizzly bears actually gather to fish. We went to Brook Falls which is the place that you see on National Geographic with the bears standing on top of the falls with the salmon jumping into their mouth. We went on a 8 seater float plane. The two hour flight over alone was worth the price to go.

The first thing that we did was go to a ranger talk where they told us all the do’s and don’ts of being there. After the training we got a Brooks Camp pin to show we had been through the training. The number one thing we learned in the training was that we had to leave all food and anything that had an odor to it, in a one locked storage shed. There was other storage for non food related items. They do have picnic table right there by the office and food storage place where you can sit out and eat but you can’t take anything not even a power bar out on the trails or to the falls. There are cabins available there for folks to stay over night but they looked pretty small and sparse.

I headed down the trail to the falls. The first part of the trail went by a river where you could see all the salmon in the water. Eventually you enter into forest, which was a little erie. You are encouraged to walk with others but their wasn’t anyone around when I was there so I waited a little till some more people came. This was the part where the folks the night before had told me they had three bears charge by them. Once you get closer to the river, you go through a gate to a raised platform to walk on. It is about 10’ off the ground and you are not suppose to stop for any reason while on the platform because they say it disrupts the bears behavior. I didn’t see any bears until I got to the river viewing platform where there was a bigggg momma bear and two cubs and what looked to be a teen bear.
The cubs were so cute to watch play then their mom left them on the bank while she went fishing and they climbed a little ways up a tree trunk to watch her together, then came down and fell asleep on each other as they watched her. TOO CUTE! The size of momma bears claws were amazing. Momma bears fishing methods left a bit to be desired, since she seemed like she was trying to body slam the fish. She and the teenage bear, both seemed to kind of just do a sprawling dive for the fish. I didn’t see either one be successful.

I walked further up to the Brook Falls viewing platform. It is a two tier platform that can hold about 10 people. Folks with their huge camera’s and tripods were here. This is where you see all the famous shots from of the fish jumping into the bears mouth. It was pretty cool. There were bears on top of the falls and below the falls and then a little further down the river as well. Some of the younger looking bears were on the outskirts. Two bears below the falls started growling at each other, one had a big gash on its head already. They had their mouths open and charged but one backed away.

I thought it interesting that the bears on the top didn’t move too much to try and get a fish. One could jump right next to him and he wouldn’t even lean over to get it. Basically they just waited till one jumped right into them. A couple below the falls would sit there & then stick their head under the water for a while looking for fish, occasionally they would catch one. The sea gulls were also hanging out here and after a bear would get a fish and eat what they wanted, the sea gulls would move in. They sat near the bear and squawked away until the bear moved.

When a huge bear came out on the top of the falls all the other bears above and below headed out of the water and back into the woods or at least further down the stream. He was massive and the 8 other bears took off, so I watched him a bit and then headed back to watch the cubs again.

After a couple hours I headed back to the main camp and had a snack. After that I decided to walk down the shoreline a bit and just relax. I had walked about a 3/4 mile when I looked ahead and saw a bear also taking a stroll down the shoreline and headed towards me. We seemed to notice each other at the same time, as we both stopped and stared. I sat down on a rock to watch for a minute. He was now about a quarter mile away. Once we saw each other he kind of ambled into the water a little and then would walk towards me some more, alternating between ignoring me and being very attentive. After a few minutes, I rose and took a trail away from the beach to give him his space. It was a serene moment being alone on a beach, in the middle of no where, with a grizzly bear. Something I won’t forget.   The return flight was a whole experience in itself  ..  the whole adventure just more than a blog post can hold...  :-)


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