• Top 10 Traits of Happy RV Couples

    This article originally appeared on the RV site at BellaOnline.com.

    Living in a small space with another person, oftentimes no larger than some people’s closets, can be tricky. Many people say they couldn’t do it because it’s too much togetherness. Others think they can do it, but find out once they hit the road that they aren’t as compatible in small spaces as they previously assumed. When my husband and I took our first extended RV trip, we learned pretty quickly that there were certain attributes that RV couples had to have; otherwise, RVing could be a miserable experience. After meeting and spending time with hundreds of other RV couples, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 traits that happy and successful RVing couples share.

    1. Work as a team
    Both members of the couple realize and respect the fact that they are part of a team. They divvy up tasks equally and pitch in where needed. When one person is driving, the other assumes the role of navigator. Ever notice other RVing couples while backing into their site? One person usually jumps out of the rig to guide the driver safely into the site. That’s a perfect example of teamwork. In fact, I’ve rarely seen an RVing couple not set up camp as a team effort.

    2. Give each other space
    Personal space. Everybody needs it. Sometimes it’s hard to come by in an RV. Letting your sweetheart take her morning walks solo, or encouraging your hubby to sit outside while he updates his blog will give each of you some extra breathing room. So she wants to visit that flea market up the road but you have no interest. Tell her to have fun without you and use that time to practice your trumpet while she’s gone.

    3. Genuinely like hanging out with each other
    Happy RV couples really enjoy each other’s company. They are each other’s best friends and the thought of spending that much quality time together appeals to them. Happy RV couples don’t just tolerate each other. If you have longstanding issues within your relationship, it’s probably best to take care of them before embarking on any long-term RV road trip. You want to have fun on your trip, not rehash old wounds that tend to surface on rough driving days.

    4. Have their own hobbies
    If you love to knit and he loves to watch Ultimate Fighting, the next time a fight is on would be a great time for you to escape the rig and go join a group of fellow knitting RVers. Each member of the couple should have access to several of their own hobbies. Better yet, discover a few new ones along the way.

    5. Have shared hobbies
    There’s nothing more fun than bringing along your shared hobbies as well. On my first big RV trip, my husband and I brought our guitars along. We spent time every day learning new songs together and played in several music jams with other RVers. Many of my favorite memories of the trip revolve around this quality time shared together.

    6. Share a vision of the future
    Both members of the RV couple have a shared vision of your future together. One couple I know didn’t really talk about their retirement plans until the last year of the husband’s retirement. The husband found out that his wife had no travel plans in her future and wanted to stay put in her home. This caused a rift with this couple because the husband was under the impression that they would sell the house and travel full-time. Check in with one another on a regular basis and make sure that you’re on the same page.

    7. Get enough sleep
    This may seem simple, but we all know that sleep deprivation causes plenty of arguments--especially on long and grueling travel days. If you know you are spending the night in a rest area and there’s going to be a lot of noisy activity around you, find a white noise app on your cell phone and sleep with it next to you.

    8. Plan wisely
    Spending a half hour each morning over coffee, double checking your trip route and managing the finances can do wonders for stress relief. And stress-free RVers are happy RVers!

    9. Enjoy traveling by RV
    This one may seem obvious, but I’ve heard too many stories where one person is RVing just to appease the other person, and that doesn’t work. If your wife prefers hobnobbing at Club Med, and you like boondocking with other desert rats, eventually, you’re going to run into some issues. The best way around this is compromise.

    10. Learn the art of compromise
    All year long you planned to visit the Grand Canyon in May so you could hike down to Phantom Ranch before it got too hot, and then you found out about your nephew’s wedding taking place in Washington State that month. Your husband is determined to be there. Rather than arguing about it, or missing out on your original plans, figure out a way to fit them both in! You might be in for an even better adventure than you first thought.

  • Cultivating a Sacred Relationship with Cacao

    This article is part 1 of a 3 part series that originally appeared in Natural Awakenings magazine.

    Mmmmm...chocolate. It's one of the most beloved foods on the planet. And for good reason—chocolate tastes delicious and, like exercise, it increases the production of feel-good endorphins in our brains, giving this magical confection the ability to swiftly put a positive spin on the day. And that’s just the beginning. Many of the over 300 known compounds in chocolate are not only healthy for our bodies but can induce pleasurable effects on our minds. 

    But what if there was an even deeper reason we find ourselves often reaching for those delectable chocolate chunks or mugs of creamy hot cocoa? What if our spirits were aching to cultivate a stronger connection with cacao—the sacred plant medicine used for making our beloved chocolate treats.

    The ancient Mayans revered cacao, believing it to be a sacred medicine that opens our hearts while returning us to a state of balance, harmony and bliss. This nurturing plant spirit gently reminds us to relish the sweetness of life while encouraging us to deepen our relationships with ourselves and others. With all of the admiration associated with the consumption of chocolate, it’s no surprise that this sacred plant teacher has something to teach us about love.

    Where does cacao come from?

    All the chocolate that we consume comes from cacao seeds derived from the cacao tree, a small tropical evergreen tree found mostly in Africa, South America and tropical regions south of the equator.

    Most of us are used to consuming chocolate products containing cocoa powder or cocoa butter, which is raw cacao that has been roasted at high temperatures. Raw cacao, on the other hand, refers to the raw, unsweetened beans that are un-roasted, fermented, dried and then cold-pressed to keep the healthful and pleasure-inducing compounds of the cacao intact.

    This amazing plant medicine is considered a superfood because it is high in antioxidants and minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron. However, perhaps the best part about cacao is that it can induce that awe-inspiring feeling of being in love.

    Feel good qualities

    Raw cacao can stimulate feelings of being in love because of the many active compounds it contains that are known to enhance mood, increase vitality and mental focus, stimulate pleasure, encourage creativity, and open our hearts to a more loving emotional state.

    Cacao contains a neurotransmitter called anandamide, also known as the “bliss molecule” which produces feelings of euphoria. And this is just one of the many pleasure-producing compounds in cacao in addition to phenethylamine, polyphenols, caffeine and theobromine along with beneficial minerals like magnesium that promote inner peace.

    In next month’s column, we’ll learn more about these cacao constituents and how the regular consumption of cacao can help you experience more bliss, more joy and more love in your life.

  • Book Review: 'The Longest Way Home' by Andrew McCarthy

    I first developed my crush on Andrew McCarthy in 1985 when he starred in the film, The Beniker Gang. Of course, his role as Blaine in Pretty in Pink a year later solidified that crush. Perhaps it was a combo of his innocent good looks, his sensitivity mixed with a slight aloofness in the characters he played, and the way his eyes fleetingly widened in intimate scenes. Whatever it was, he had "it." And I’ve just recently discovered that he has “it” even more in another arena--memoir, my all-time favorite genre.

    In the book The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down, Andrew McCarthy takes us on a beautiful journey across the globe and through his psyche as he goes on an emotional voyage of settling down.

    I think what makes McCarthy’s story so alluring is that he gifts us with a rare glimpse into the softer side of the male psyche. It’s an emotionally vulnerable, honest portrayal of a man figuring out how to embrace the fullness of a life that is being offered to him. In his quest to offer his complete self to his fiancé and his two children, he realizes he has to release some of his habitual solitary ways for a more complex, yet richer, family life.

    One of the aspects I love about the book is that while he describes in remarkable detail the places that he visits--he is an editor-at-large for National Geographic Traveler, after all--he doesn’t weigh the reader down with heavy details of the surrounding scenery. Each word is masterfully chosen so as to leave more space for what most intrigues me--acquiring the juicy details about this fascinating man’s inner landscape.

    McCarthy leaves no stone unturned as he magnificently goes through the process of his struggles with intimate relationships. We learn of his sadness at the distance in his relationship with his father, why he attracts bodyguard-type male friends, his reservations on getting married and all the complicated emotions that go along with it, and his wanting a closer bond with his son and daughter. We even learn about his special relationship with places--like Dublin.

    From Patagonia, Ireland and Vienna to the tippy top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, we follow McCarthy on an illuminating journey as he shines a light on all areas of his life and relationships. He has a refreshing perspective on his reasoning behind his travels away from his family. "I’m going to use them the way I have always used travel: to find answers." he writes. "I’m setting out in order to gain the insight necessary to bring me home."

    Along with the great narrative, the book is filled with captivating dialogue so the reader feels right there in many of the scenes. Not only did I gain a greater understanding of and compassion for McCarthy, I was charmed by his loyal and patient fiancé, D. Another lovely main character in this book is McCarthy’s wise sidekick, Seve; this guy is like Yoda, always offering up sage advice and knowing exactly what McCarthy needs to hear at any given moment.

    If you’re looking for a deeply introspective and adventurous tale from a male author that shamelessly talks about love, commitment and what it means to be there for your family, then The Longest Way Home should be your next read.

  • Film Review: 'The Way,' written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen

    This article originally appeared on the RV site at BellaOnline.com.

    The Way
    , written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez is a heart-warming tale of a man who sets out to retrieve the remains of his estranged son and ends up on an unexpected and transformative pilgrimage.

    The film follows the main character Tom (Martin Sheen), a working stiff California ophthalmologist, to Europe so that he could retrieve the remains of his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez). When Tom arrives in the French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, he learns that Daniel died while embarking on a pilgrimage on the El Camino de Santiago, also known as “The Way of Saint James,” which begins on the French side of the Pyrenees and continues along a path through northern Spain ending 500 miles later at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela.

    Instead of leaving France, Tom makes an uncharacteristic decision to finish the hike in honor of Daniel and sets off on a solo journey along The Way. While hiking along the trail (and it appears in the beginning, much to Tom’s chagrin) he runs across other pilgrims--Yoost, a goofy, adorable Dutchman; Sarah, a feisty and complicated Canadian woman; and the lively Jack, a writer from Ireland. Each of the travelers, carrying more than just the weight of their backpacks, has very personal reasons for hiking the Camino. As the film progresses, we find out more about each of these lovable characters and their plights.

    As armchair travelers of this moving film, we get a delightful taste of hiking the Camino. We see the visually stunning scenery and experience what it’s like to stay the night in a crowded refugio with hundreds of other pilgrims. We get to meet the other colorful characters they encounter along the way. And we get to watch Tom’s little tribe begin to heal the wounded parts of themselves that inspired them to hike the Camino in the first place.

    While each of the pilgrims might be working on their own demons along the way, we realize through the film that journeys of this nature cannot truly be solo journeys. We come to appreciate that each of us is truly interconnected to those around us--whether we like it or not! The film does a great job of showing the creation of a small community and how much it helps each of the individuals to be able to connect with others and bond through shared experiences. It’s a very inspiring film. Not only for the community aspect, but the film also highlights in a very entertaining and interesting way that out of tragedy comes light.

    The Way brilliantly depicts the romance and the humanity of the story, from the stellar cast, lovely soundtrack, and gorgeous cinematography. It is full of funny and poignant moments. We see the hardships, the ups and downs, and the heartwarming bond forming with this small band of travelers.

    The film reminds us that the reasons we journey are as varied as the different styles of journeys we take. Some journey to get a glimpse of new cultures and experience life, others are running away from something, others running to something, and still others may be unaware of why they are journeying.

    I’m chalking this film up as one of my all-time favorites and I have a feeling that other RVers will enjoy the film too. For those RVers that like to pack light, you’ll be happy to know you can rent this movie on Amazon.com for three nights for only $2.99.

    For more information visit TheWay-TheMovie.com.

  • Overnight RV Camping at Walmart

    This article originally appeared on the RV Site at BellaOnline.com.

    t’s been a long day of driving and you’re tired. It’s late at night and even though you’ve checked your smart phone app, did a Google search, and consulted your trusty campground guides, it's apparent that there are no campgrounds until the next town. The only problem is that town is another 65 miles away. You need a safe place to stay the night--and soon. Suddenly, out of the dark night, you see the familiar glow of a Walmart Supercenter at the next exit. Did you know that store probably allows overnight RV parking?

    Many Walmarts across North America follow a corporate policy to allow RVs to stay overnight. If you drive into a Walmart and see several other RVs huddled together in a far corner of the parking lot, there’s a very good chance that you can stay the night. If you don’t see any other RVs, go ahead and park in one of the farther corners of the parking lot. Then go inside to the customer service counter and ask if they allow overnight RV parking. If they say yes, just make sure your rig is located in the designated RV parking area, and then relax and enjoy your stay.

    If they do not allow overnight parking it is usually one of two reasons: either a city ordinance doesn’t allow it, or other RVers have abused the privilege in the past. If you visit the www.walmartatlas.com/no-park-walmarts website, you’ll be able to download a pdf file of all the Walmart and Walmart Supercenter locations that do not allow overnight parking. You can also join the free Yahoo discussion group "WalmartRVing" and swap tales with other group members. There is a pdf file on that site which includes pertinent overnight parking information as well.

    Let’s keep this privilege. In order for RVers to keep this great perk at the stores that do allow overnight parking, make sure to keep a low profile and don’t go to great lengths to set up camp. Stay as long as you need to get some rest and fill up on supplies, and then move on. I’ve seen many instances where people have been "camping" in a Walmart parking lot for days, with slide outs extended, and levelers grinding into the pavement.

    Wondering about your safety? Walmarts are usually a safe place to stay. We’ve stayed in Walmart parking lots on many, many occasions and have only had one creepy-feeling experience. Security guards patrol Walmart parking lots, plus there are tons of security cameras in place. However, always remember to use your common sense. Don’t be the lonely RV in the parking lot, there is safety in numbers so don’t be shy. Park near the other RVers—heck, you might even make a new best friend. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If you feel uncomfortable in a particular location, move on. It is always better to be on the safe side.

    How do you find out where the Walmarts are located? Walmart sells a Rand McNally road atlas that includes a Walmart store directory. The listings are complete with highway, exit number and addresses for every state and includes Canada and Mexico. You can also get on the www.walmart.com website and see if there is a Walmart along your trip route.

    Before you stay for the night remember these few things. Once you arrive at Walmart, ask the friendly folks at the customer service desk if the store allows overnight parking. Be courteous parking lot guests and patronize the store if at all possible. Be alert for any situation that feels unsafe. And most importantly, get the rest you need to keep your travels safe.

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