In this section of our blog, we will be highlighting different gear and gadgets that we enjoy. Many of the items make our travel experience easier:
Jelane – I’ve used Campsuds for as long as I can remember when I went camping. It has been a staple. So when we began to RV it just seemed a natural to continue to use Campsuds. This past year we were unable to find Campsuds so we decided to try another brand but we found it wasn’t as effective. We had to add more soap while we were washing our dishes with the other brand. We are surprised that when we visited most RV camp stores, they don’t carry this or other biodegradable soaps. One of Campsuds special advantages is that you can wash dishes in hot, cold and salt water and not be concerned. Soap residue doesn’t stick like regular soap, which can make you sick.
Distilled White Vinegar
Eileen – This is one of my favorite products on the road and off. What do I use it for? What DON’T I use it for is a better question. Distilled white vinegar is 99.9% anti-bacterial. I use it mainly to clean my house. So…why not the camperervan? Distilled white vinegar disinfects my counters, sink, faucet, microwave, mirrors, metal surfaces, refrigerator, stove, light fixtures, door handles driver’s wheel, dashboard and vinyl floor. Check any chemically manufactured cleaner. You won’t find a better sanitizer…or a safer one. Our living quarters are small in the campervan. I’d rather use a biodegradable product than breath toxic chemicals all day and night.
I fill a small plastic spray bottle with full strength distilled white vinegar and store it inside an insulated coffee mug in the cabinet (black van+ sun+ liquid in a plastic bottle=leaks). I stopped buying disinfecting wipes once I discovered how easy, effective, and inexpensive cleaning with vinegar was. The wipes came in a bulky plastic cylinder that took up sacred shelf space in the van. Worst of all, the wipes often dried-out before I had used them. At four dollars a can, it seemed silly compared to the two dollars and forty cents it cost for a gallon of distilled white vinegar. I haven’t finished the gallon I set aside to use in the van two years ago!
I spray a little vinegar on my hands when they get smelly (preparing chicken) or black and sticky (putting air in the tires). Vinegar is also great for de-greasing dishes, pots and pans. It cleans thoroughly with less effort and wards off dysentery (a traveler’s nightmare).
Plus, I like the clean, fresh smell that fills the van every time I spray. It will neutralize any odor. And guess what? You can use vinegar to neutralize a jellyfish bite. You laugh, but has a jellyfish ever bitten you? Trust me. Vinegar might become your favorite traveling commodity too!
Foam Twisting Straps
Jelane – When I first saw these I thought they looked a bit odd, kind of like a miniature fnoodle with a wire inside. But before long my mind came up with a great way for me to use this item, although I love my Strap-its I found after one season that the elastic strap was losing some of it’s elasticity from the wear and tear to help stabilize the bicycles. So I thought this would be a great replacement. They are a bit like a giant twist that you use for bread or that come wrapped around cables. The great thing about these is that the foam adds padding so there is no scratching the bikes and with three twist you turn the ends down to lock. They really tighten the hold on the bikes giving us a more secure feeling as we wiz down the highway.
Garden Botanika Fresh Mint Shampoo and Conditioner – www.gardenbotanika.com
Jelane – When we aren’t using No-Bite-Me Soap for both our bodies and hair, we like to use Garden Botanika’s Fresh Mint Shampoo and Conditioner. It is another product that we find helps to deter insects while camping. We love the smell of the Fresh Mint and it is gentle on our hair. A little goes a long way.
Eileen-Anything that takes less time and energy to use is top priority on my packing list. The hot pot boils water faster and safer than the microwave or propane stove.
My favorite beverage is a cup of hot tea. What? I’m Irish. And as my Grandmother Mac used to say, “There is nothing worse than a cup of lukewarm ‘dishwater’”! No worry with a hot pot…the water is thoroughly boiled in an instant. One time we had been dry camping for a few days, then decided to stay the next night at a KOA. In the morning, I automatically began to light the propane stove to make my tea. Jelane gently reminded me that we now had electric hook-up and I could use my hot pot. It took 20 minutes less to make my tea than the morning before! Plus, why pay for propane when electricity was already included in the price to camp.
I don’t like boiling water in the microwave. I never know how much time it takes to boil. The scalding water spews over the paper cup and I burn myself or…you guessed it…dishwater. It’s easier and safer to pour the boiled water from the spout of the sturdy hot pot. Plus, there’s enough hot water for a pot of tea and Jelane’s hot chocolate.
We carry drinking water in our van, but at times, we’ve run out. Water tastes so different depending on what part of the country we are visiting. When it smells like rotten eggs, I usually give it a one-minute boil before drinking. It’s probably not necessary, but it brings peace of mind. Any concern about contamination has been illuminated.
When showers are not available or unsanitary, the hot pot provides warm water for a “splash bath”. We dilute boiled with room temperature water in a dishpan, strip and sponge down with washcloth and soap. These body splashes are very refreshing after a bike or hike on a hot or humid day. Our body temperatures re-adjust faster and it feels like we just had a shower.
We bring the hot pot along when we stay at hotels too. Those insulated thermoses used to dispense hot water often taste like stale coffee. Yuck. Besides, I often enjoy an afternoon cup of tea. This makes it easy.
In a pinch, you can use the hot pot to heat canned soup (if the metal coil is underneath and not inside the unit). I make sure, though, to take extra care cleaning it afterwards to eliminate odors (hot water, baking soda, and white distiller vinegar). I prefer using only water in the hot pot. I burned the last motor out too soon making soup. Now, I carry a supply of cup-of-soup instead. Perfect if I need something nutritional, warm, and convenient in-between meals.
Jelane – We have seen many log turners in camping stores but found they were just too big to take with us in Abbey. So one day while looking at our garden tools I discovered this rake that Eileen had picked up at an auction a few years back. The handle was longer than our other tools and the three prongs were slightly bent. I wrestled with it and re-adjusted the prongs as I tried flipping some firewood. I added reflective tape so it would be easier to find at night near the campfire. It works pretty well with most fire pits, but Eileen would like a handle extension for some of the campfire pits that are low or underground.
Looped Bungee cords with a ball
Jelane – A small container of assorted bungee cords and straps stays in the van all year around. Recently when the back binding strap broke on my snowshoes I was able to repair them by digging through the container. The cords were a new edition from our trip to Michigan, a loop of bungee with a big ball on the end. I was able to loop them through the binding and stretch them around my ankle to make a replacement strap. What a find. I broke the straps on the first day of our trip so without the bungees there would have been no snowshoeing the rest of the time! These cords will find multiple uses in the future.
Microfiber Dish Drying Matt
Jelane – This has been a great addition whether it has been to use at our campsite table, in Abbey or at a dish station at a campground. The matt is absorbent, lightweight and quick drying. It makes doing the dishes easier and more sanitary when using public facilities.
Eileen – I like to keep clean…even when I’m camping. Jelane bought me my first microfiber towel and suggested I use it as a bath towel. It was leathery, dense and not much larger than a man’s handkerchief. I laughed and tucked the towel away … far away. Then the summer of 2008, we watched the Olympics on TV. I saw swimmers drying themselves with microfiber towels. Funny how this would be my Olympic motivation, but I decided to give the towel a try. I list it now as one of my essential items to use while travel camping.
The beauty of bathing with a microfiber towel:
- The fiber absorbs more than three times its size and like a sponge, can be squeezed out and used again and again. (If water gets into your tent or RV or boat, the towel can absorb it quickly.)
- First-made products were one- sized and dried very stiff. Today, you can find super- soft (ultra-suede and satin finish) in any size from washcloth to beach towel.
- The towel dries quickly – with or without help from the sun. Is there anything worse than planting your face into a wet, smelly towel? Yuck! Cotton is great at home, but when I’m on the road, I want my microfiber towels.
Yes, I have one in every size and color. I use the extra-large for the beach, pool or drying a big dog; large and medium for showering and drying dishes. I even sliced-up one large towel to
make six washcloths. The towels did not fray or need to be bound. I sewed ribbon loops on any that didn’t already have one. The towels hang on one of the many hooks in the van and dry quickly in- between usages.
In the morning, I slip a washcloth into my pocket and head to the campground bathroom. I wash and dry my face and hands. I use it again at night. Sometimes I forget to pull it out of my pocket (it’s so light). Guess what? It even dries there. I can usually go five to seven days before it needs washing. Then, I hand wash it with biodegradable soap, squeeze it out and it’s ready for use. (It also responds well to machine washing and drying.) Best of all, this towel dries you…even when it’s wet.
(Take a look at my bio…I’m keeping cool with a wet one wrapped around my neck!)
No-Bite-Me Soap – www.sallyeander.com
Jelane – This is now the only soap we take with us when we travel. We found this soap for the first time in Michigan at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. It was the summer of 2008 and the mosquitos were ferocious. We were getting eaten alive. We were most concerned about Lucy our golden retriever. Stopped in the camp store. We were looking around when one of us spotted No-Bite-Me Soap. We read the label and thought it was worth giving it a shot. Bathed Lucy with the soap and took showers ourselves. We were amazed at how effective it was at deterring the mosquitos. We take some of the soap with us now when we hike. Dab it on with some water, and it doesn’t feel sticky, after a hike, the soap washes off easily. It feels great to wash with and we love the smell. We laughed when we realized the soap was made it New York and we had to go all the way to Michigan to learn about it!
Jelane – While backpacking using multiple bags of different colors made finding items in the deep recesses of my pack easier. Since our first multiple week trip, we have purchased packing cubes/bags from two companies, each company made cubes/bags in sets of three in consecutively smaller sizes. The only problem was that the cubes/bags came in one color: black. I missed using a color code system. Plus many times when either Eileen or I were rummaging in our duffels, an identical bag would pop out and inevitably end up in the other’s duffle causing confusion. A couple of years ago this was resolved by adding patches to our bags. I had some patches from hiking in Acadia National Park and from my days in Girl Scouts. I selected a different patch for each bag. Eileen also found patches for her bags. It has made packing easier and created less confusion for both of us.
Purex Complete 3-in-1 Laundry Sheets (laundry soap, softener, and dryer sheet) www.purex.com
Eileen-What a great invention! This product is so convenient, practical and light. It combines laundry soap, softener and dryer sheet into one. One sheet per load is all you need. You just transfer the sheet into the dryer with your clothes. We own a black van. In the summer, when the van sits in the sun, the interior temperature builds to a boil. Can you imagine what this does to a plastic bottle of liquid laundry detergent? Cleaning up sticky spills that spread to our other shelf items is no fun. Anyhow, the Purex laundry soap sheets are the size of dryer sheets. You can store them anywhere and take only what you need. I put a few in a quart size freezer bag and keep the rest at home in a cool place. The sheets can dry-out from direct sunlight. Carrying laundry to the Laundromat is much easier without the weight of liquid or powder detergent. I like the fact that the detergent is pre-measured. It also fits with my MO of packing items that serve more than one purpose.
Rolla Roaster – www.rollaroaster.com
Jelane – Growing up, whenever my family had a barbeque on the grill for dinner, the final treat always seemed to be roasted marshmallows. Sometimes it was just marshmallows and sometimes it was s’mores. We used these great roasting forks that made it possible to make the perfect light brown confection with a gooey center. When I started camping I couldn’t find a roasting fork and made due with sticks and wooden dowels. Then one day in a catalogue I saw it, the Rolla Roaster. My heart skipped a beat! That year everyone got a Rolla Roaster for a Christmas! The design was perfect. The telescopic pole allows you to: adjust your distance from the fire without moving, and to easily roll the marshmallow with your fingertips via a small rotating disc rather than twirling the wooden grip in your hand. Making the perfect golden brown marshmallow is no longer just a dream. Hot dogs are also a breeze.
Silver punchbowl teacups
Eileen-I found these priceless gems at the clearance section on the back shelf of an Oneida flatware outlet. You might find them at a yard sale or in your Grandmother’s china closet. They are one of my favorite traveling companions. I smile every time I use one.
Just the right size for travel and tucking away, silver teacups stack nicely on top of each other or standard coffee mugs. They are non-breakable, non-chipping, and nearly non-destructible. Who would think such formal ware would be so practical on camping excursions? Their most amazing feature is that they cool any drink automatically. Is there anything more refreshing after a long, hot hike than a cold drink, especially when ice isn’t available? It’s like magic, watching the little cup sweat with beads of cold perspiration. Sometimes after I finish drinking, I press the tiny cup like a compress against my forehead or face. Ahhhh!
It fits nicely in the cup holder console or in my lap while driving. Turns out too much G.O.R.P. (good old raisins and peanuts)…is really NOT so good. The 4 ounce size regulates the amount. This restriction is beneficial when gulping water with medications before bed. Who wants to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom? The size can also be an advantage if unexpected guests arrive and your wine bottle is half empty. Less is more. “Clink” a toast and share a laugh as you hold the elegant silver handle between your forefingers. Make sure you raise an outstretched pinkie for the occasion…and for Grandma.
Skreenz – www.skreenz.com
Jelane – One of the first items we bought after Abbey II came home was Skreenz. They are screens for the windows that keep the bugs out. There were several times in Abbey I, when it had been a hot summer’s night and sleeping with the windows open would have been nice. But we didn’t want a van full of bugs, plus we lock ourselves in for safety reasons. I knew that heat would be an issue at times during the day with a black van. This particular product came to our attention via a Yahoo group that I belong to for GTRV owners. Skreenz (thick nylon mesh screens that cover the windows) have been all we could want and more. With design they are easy to use, they slip over the upper doorframe like a pillowcase. And having two layers of screen, give us privacy and distort anyone’s vision into the van so folks can’t tell if the window is up or down. They have been well worth the investment.
Stainless Steel Insulated Mugs
Jelane – A couple of years ago, Eileen suggested we try an old backpacking trick of hers: using our coffee mugs for our meals. When Eileen worked as an outdoor educator backpacking with teens, each person was given a mug and a spoon to use for all of their meals. Now after we have our morning beverages, we make instant oatmeal in our mugs. When having soup, we use the mugs again. What is great about the stainless steel insulated type is that the mugs keep our food hot longer and it makes clean up faster. Plus they don’t break when dropped or banged around while traveling. Our method is to wipe the food particles out with a bit of paper towel, and wash the mugs. It makes for a quick meal and a quick exit.
Torches and Flashlights
Jelane – So, I am a flashlight geek. I admitted it, I love a good flashlight and my new favorite are the torches and flashlights from Life+Gear. We have orange and red small thin torches and the large blue/purple flashlight. What I love about them is that you have a high intensity light on the one end and the other is a colored glowing handle that is both a storage area (for the flashlight) and a whistle for the thin torch. Both kinds are lightweight and feel nice in your hand. The tall thin torches can be worn with a lanyard around your neck as a safety device (in one of the settings the light flashes). I have also using Velcro strapping to attach the thin torch to my bicycle handlebars for a quick and easy headlight while riding. Very versatile and a lot of fun!
Jelane – A varieties of Velcro straps are part of the van supplies, one type is a strap made out of an elastic fabric with Velcro on both ends (STRAPits). I use these most often for items that are coiled in our storage area, like the shore/campground power cords. The straps help keep things neat and tidy. The STRAPits also came in handy for steadying the bike rack while traveling. The elastic fabric pulls the bikes together and cuts down the swinging. The small Velcro straps with a looped end are used for the power cords on appliances. We loop them around the cord. It stays attached while the appliance (i.e. hot pot, crock-pot, ceramic heater) is in use so we don’t loose the strap. When it’s time to stow, we can bundle the cords up. Many people use them for their computer or stereo. We also keep extras around for other potential odd jobs.