Sunset in the Coconino National Forest, looking northeast toward Sedona, AZ, 4/17/15

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Bit More Travel in 2015

In addition to my Winter/Spring travels in 2015, I got to spend another 6 weeks on the road in the Fall in/near Southern California.  At the end of October I arrived just in time for my nephew's wedding, one of the most joyous ceremonies I've ever attended.

Gillian and David after introduced as husband and wife, 10/24/15.
(photo from David's Facebook page)

I also enjoyed time with traveling friends and family.  I love being with folks who get my love for travel, nature, and living simply.  In November, I camped with folks on some BLM desert near Quartzsite, AZ.

On a supply run to Parker, new friend Debra and I hammed
it up with Elvis at Bobby D's Diner. (11/12/15)
You can read about Debra's amazing journey, thriving with
a traumatic brain injury here (TBIVanGirl).  

I also got to camp with two of my bothers and their wives at Joshua Tree NP for a couple of nights. I must have been having too much fun to take photos of us all.  But, loved sharing that time together all the same.  

My trusty Prius turned 210,000 miles while at
Joshua Tree National Park.
What a good, dependable vehicle it's been!  (11/18/2015)  

Every year the cousins, on our mothers' side, gather together the Saturday before Thanksgiving in Southern California.  Every year I look forward to this reunion of love and laughter, a generations-old tradition.

A beautiful day in Southern California to have our
Thanksgiving meal outside, hosted by Cousin Donna
and husband Bob.  (11/21/15 photo shared by
Cousin Melissa on Facebook)
I enjoyed the actual Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas and New Years Days with family in Washington State.  Shortly after, I hit the road again, heading back south.  I hope to be posting more pictures and blog posts soon on my current adventures.

Safe travels everyone!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Outside Living Product Reviews,
Feb-May 2015

I wanted to make my camp site more convenient and usable while being at a single location for weeks at a time.  I've always considered myself living out of my car (vs. in it).  That continued to be true even with the limited number of miles I traveled.

In this post I'll be reviewing the kitchen table on the left;
the umbrella with stand in the middle (folded up), and
the mat on the ground to the right.  BLM land in Ehrenberg, 2/26/15  

Unfortunately, none of these 3 extra items that I took for outside living proved to be real winners.

Although not exactly like the older camp kitchen I brought with me, this one is
fairly similar.  Click on image to view in  

I've had the camp kitchen that I brought with me for about 10 years.  It's very functional and well built.  But, it takes up quite a bit of room so haven't taken it in the Prius in the past.  And, that's the same reason I won't be taking it with me for future snowbirding; it takes up too much storage space (36"x18"x3").  Although convenient once set up, I really don't need it unless I'm cooking for more than just me.  Instead, I can cook under my hatch (teardrop-trailer-galley style) just fine. When I need more counter space to cook for a crowd, I'll borrow a table.  Or, I'll get a different counter-height table that folds up smaller, if I can find one.

Similar to the 9' crank tilt umbrella that I brought with me.
 Click on image to view in amazon. 

Like the camp kitchen, I've had the shade umbrella and stand for many years.  I knew I'd have days of hot sunshine and would want some shade.  I use umbrellas for that purpose at my house; so, thought I'd try one while being a snowbird.  I brought a 9' market umbrella made of light weight aluminum.  It had a crank and titled.  But, even when disassembled, it's larger than I'd like to carry in the Prius (55"x6"x6").  My goal is to keep all of my gear below window level and that was not possible with this umbrella.

This stand is similar to the one I brought while being a snowbird.
 Click on image to view in

Because I was trying to reduce the amount of weight and space used by my gear, I took our smallest and lightest stand (about 35 lbs.).  I secured it at the front floor which meant I needed to unpack almost everything to access it.  But, when the sun was hot, I was sure glad for the shade. Unfortunately, this lighter-weight stand wasn't up to keeping the umbrella upright with the winds.  I had to also tether the umbrella to the car to keep it from tipping over and blowing away. Sadly, a large wind gust came up while in Moab.  It turned the umbrella inside out, breaking and bending its ribs.  For my next snowbirding trip, I'm researching how to make shade with a mesh tarp that will withstand the winds.  The trick will be to figure out how to stake it in the sand and rocks.

The 4'x6' version of this reversible RV mat was still too big
for using with my Prius.  Instead, I'll keep it to use with our Class C.
Click on image to view in  
I like the look and function of a rug.  So, I got a 4'x6' reversible RV mat.  A rug makes a campsite feel homey and inviting.  And, it also keeps me from tracking so much dirt into the car. But, I only used it about 20% of the time.  Sometimes it was too windy.  Even with rocks piled on, it would blow away.  Other times it was too wet and muddy.  The whole mat would sink down, oozing mud through the weave with each step.  And another time there wasn't enough room to lay it out without having to dig up plants, which I won't do.  So, I ended up using a small rag rug most of the time.

My favorite travel chair so far.  Click on image to view in  

The chair I brought this year isn't specific to being a snowbird.  I've brought a chair with me on my travels every year.  But, I like this one so well that I wanted to do a product review on it.   It sits up a bit higher than the umbrella chairs I've used in the past, as well as provides better support.  It also folds up smaller than any other director's chair that I've seen (16.5"x 2.5"x 17.5").  It's a bit heavier at 9lbs.  My only complaint is that I needed to re-glue Velcro to the frame.

That's the end of my product reviews from my 2015 snowbird stays.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Product Reviews for Power,
Snowbirding Feb-May 2015

Although my Prius provides power very efficiently while in "park," it still uses some fuel to keep its own batteries charged.  And, when the engine runs to recharge its batteries, it creates noise which I want to avoid. So, I found additional, quieter means of getting power to recharge my electronics.

When driving, I use a 5-way USB splitter to recharge my devices and batteries.
It is plugged into one of the Prius' 12v ports.
Courthouse Butte, Red Rock Scenic Byway.  Sedona, AZ  4/22/15
In the past I've gone into coffee shops or fast food places to recharge my electronics while enjoying a meal or a cup of coffee.  Since I was mostly boondocking in the back country, I had little opportunity to recharge my devices at various food joints.  So, I decided to try some external lithium batteries along with a solar panel, while also conserving power as much as possible.

5 Port USB charger used to recharge my devices and batteries
from the Prius.  Click on image to view on

To conserve power, I used my smart phone as much as possible, instead of my 2-in-1 tablet/laptop.  I'm online a lot.  The smart phone uses much less power than the tablet/laptop.  After a while, I learned to do almost everything on my smart phone, except tasks that took lots of typing or photo editing.  All electronics were turned off when I wasn't using them.  Instead of using my smartphone for an alarm clock, I got a cheap LED watch that I hung by my bed.  I kept my phone off while I slept.  To reduce my need for lighting, I tried to go to bed and wake with the sun.  I replaced the Prius' dome light with a small LED to use when needed.

This cheap LED watch hung next to my bed, used in lieu of my phone to
conserve power.  The red time only shows when the watch face is pressed.
Click on image to view on  

For solar power, I used the Goal Zero's Nomad7 system.  I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it charged my devices and external batteries.  It was much faster than 110 connections in town or 12v ports in the car.  My depleted 18.6Ah lithium battery would get about 85% full when hooked up to the panel on a sunny day.   I would typically set the panel on the roof of the Prius, reorienting toward the sun throughout the day (if I remembered).  When the sun was shinning, I could, go 3-4 days without needing to use my car for power.  

Goal Zero Nomad 7w Solar Panel System.  Click on image to view on

In addition to charging the batteries in my electronic devices, I also charged several external lithium batteries that I used to power my devices (10, 13 and 16.8 Ah).  The 10Ah external lithium battery not only had charging ports, but was a car battery jump starter which I used once.  I was very pleased that something so small and light could jump start my car.

Anker 13Ah External Battery.  Click on image to view on 

16.8Ah External Battery. Click on image to view on

10Ah external battery with jump starter. Click on image to view on

With these batteries fully charged, I could use my smartphone, laptop and hotspot all day and into the evening.  If we had more than one day of clouds, I needed to use my car or go into town to recharge my devices.

I recommend all of the above products.

However, before I am a snowbird again I will do some additional research and probably make a few changes.  I've heard that lithium batteries do not have a very long shelf life.  So, by next winter I may need to find replacements.  I also would like a large enough solar array to be able to fully recharge all of my devices and batteries in one sunny day.

One item I will not bring with me again is a conventional jump starter.  It seemed like a good idea because in addition to jumping a dead battery, it also had charging ports (USB and 12v), an air compressor, and work light.  At 11"x11"x9" and 18 pounds, however, it was difficult to secure for travel and, at the same time, remain accessible for use.  I'd rather just stick with the small lithium jump starter (pictured above) and get a small compressor to replace this item.  On the bright side, John was happy to get this surprise "gift" to assist the weak battery in his daily driver.

A conventional jump starter battery with charging ports, and air compressor.  
Click on image to view on  

More product reviews to come.