We start our fifth year of RVing this month and can’t wait for all the adventures ahead. But along the way, in over 100,000 miles of travel, we’ve learned a few things.
And we’ve made some mistakes.
So here they are: RVing rules we’ve embraced after 75,000 miles of motorhome travel.
1) There is No Hurry – Okay, sometimes you really do have to be somewhere at a certain time but, in general, RV travel needs to be flexible. To enjoy it to the max, you need to be able to stop when you want, where you want. Setting an agenda, over-planning and plotting out stop-by-stop overnights is way too organized for us and causes us to miss the things you can’t find in a book or through online research, the things that just happen, like taking a road far off the interstate just because it looks interesting. It almost always is, unless it’s US 20 in Iowa. But hey, even that was worth driving because it gave me an example to cite as the word’s most boring drive.
2) Don’t believe interstate exit signs – Pet peeve time. I owe US 20 as the inspiration for this, too. A sign along the interstate says there is gas, in my case diesel, at the next exit. I took it. At the top of the exit ramp the sign again says diesel and points to the left. Great. Nope. That diesel station is 5.4 miles away in town. Meaning a more than 10 mile time-wasting roundtrip. Interstate signs are often a scam. I’m convinced the various state highway departments get kickbacks from local merchants to lure unsuspecting travelers off the road. Probably not true. But it helps to have someone to blame. Which directly leads me to the next lesson
3) Stay off the Interstates – They are boring. You’re in a tunnel. Trapped on the concrete. Buffeted by trucks. Surrounded by eye-pollution in the form of roadside signs. Forced to drive at ridiculously fast speeds. Everything around you blurs by. The only food available at the exits is fast food, which is invariably bad food. Sometimes, there is no choice. Around big cities, interstates help get you out of the congestion. But, generally, two-lane roads – the so-called blue highways – are always more interesting and get you closer to the places and people that make the RV life so enjoyable.
4) GPS units are all unreliable – If you rely totally on GPS to get you somewhere, sooner or later you’re going to miss your mark and be lost. In my role as a tech reporter for all 215 NBC-TV stations, I’ve tried them all – Garmin, Magellan, TomTom, Rand McNally, Clarion, the GPS apps, Google, Verizon and the GPS apps offered on Android and Apple devices. They all fail. They all are incomplete. Maps differ between them and there are GPS dead spots. A GPS transceiver needs at least four satellites to get any kind of a reliable fix. Even on flat ground with a clear line of sight there can be dead spots, where two or more satellites aren’t acquired. So, the transceiver just gives up as if there were no satellites were there. The solution: Carry paper maps. We now have a shoebox full of state maps. We use them more and more.
5) Take less clothing – We use something called eBags, soft little easy to store bags that hold an amazing amount of clothes. Jennifer has three pink ones. Girls always need more clothes. I take two blue ones. I dare not peek in hers. But for me, one bag is for underwear, socks and T-shirts – I pack five of each. The other is for an extra pair of shorts, a pair of jeans and three shirts. In our wardrobe closet in the coach I have on a hangar a dress pair of slacks, one dress shirt, one sweater, plus a rain jacket and a fleeced sweatshirt. Jennifer has the female equivalent in the wardrobe. Plus her three pink bags. We hit a laundrymat or pick a campground that has a washer and dryer about every five or six days.
6) You really can overnight in a rest area – Well, at least you can if you don’t set up camp early in the afternoon, put out the lawn chairs and string those twinkle lights that some RVers insist on using outside their rigs. Rest areas are to rest. Pulling in after dark and leaving in the morning after a night’s sleep is not going to get you in trouble, unless you make it look like you are spending the weekend. It helps being in a Type B Roadtrek.
7) Stay away from trucks when overnighting – Whether a Wal-Mart or a rest area, steer clear of trucks. They run their engines all night long. They pollute everything around them. They are noisy. On a lonely stretch of US Route 212 in Montana, we looked in vain for a national or state campground one night. There were none. Most of the area belonged to the Crow and then the Cheyenne Indian Reservations. Finally, about 11 PM near the town of Broadus, we found a state rest area and turned in. We even saw another Roadtrek like ours parked there, along with a handful of trucks. We blissfully went to sleep, only to awake at 1:30 AM to the sound of rumbling engines and the smell of diesel fumes. The place was bathed in light. Besides running their engines, many trucks keep their lights on. Every inch of space was taken up by trucks. There was no more sleep that night in that place. We left and drove all the way through into South Dakota, finally finding a KOA near Spearfish a little after 3 AM. We’ve had variations of that experience at many a Wal-Mart and now know… stay away from trucks.
8) Good camp chairs are a must – When we first started, we used two collapsible and telescoping camper chairs. They’re okay. Chief benefit was they break down small enough to fit in the rear storage under the rear sofa of our motorhome. But they really aren’t very comfortable. This year, we bought two of the gravity chairs that let you lie back and look at the sky. That’s what we call them. Our look-at-the-sky-chairs. They are inconvenient when it comes to traveling with them but so worth it when we want to relax somewhere. We store them folded up in the back of our coach, in the space between the rear sofa and the passenger side bench.
9) Follow the 230 rule – I had a fulltimer explain this to be early on. The 230 rule is “you stop when you have driven 230 miles or it’s 2:30 in the afternoon.” A variation is the 300 rule. No more than 300 miles or stop by 3:00 PM. Regardless, the idea is get somewhere while it is still early enough to explore, chill, enjoy the place when you’re not wasted from driving mega miles. We are trying to adhere to that rule. In our early days, I looked at the daily driving mileage as a challenge. The more the better. I kept trying to set anther personal best. It’s 735 miles, by the way. Silly. Stupid, really. Is there anything worse than pulling into a campsite after dark? Less mileage and stopping early is our new mantra.
10) Put away the bed – Granted, this is a personal preference. I know many Type B owners use the two single beds in the rear and leave them made as a bed everyday. We tried that but we prefer to sleep with the bed made up as a king. And every morning, we put it and the bedding away and make the back into a sofa again. It’s neater, gives us more space a place to eat, work on the computer and not feel cramped. The few times we’ve left it as a bed has made the coach feel way too small.
11) Eat out often– Okay, here’s where we are way, way different than most RVers. But, again, this has worked best for us. For our style, not yours. I refuse to feel guilty about this: Most of the time, we eat in restaurants. We do fix breakfast in the coach, usually something simple like cereal and a banana. I carry a Keurig coffee maker and make two cups every morning. We usually pick up lunch at a restaurant and, about every other day, find a local place for dinner. When we do fix dinner in the RV, it’s simple and light, like grilled chicken strips over a salad. We use the Cuisinart Griddler for grilling and most of the cooking we do, instead of a charcoal or propane grill. The local restaurants really give you a feel for the people and place. It’s as much cultural as convenient. So we don’t fight it or feel shamed because we’re not carrying lots of frozen dishes and cooking every meal in the motorhome. We’re not fulltimers, though at times this year it sure seemed like it at time. If we were fulltimers, it would be different, I’m sure. But for now, we eat out. A lot.
12) Campground Wi-Fi is a joke – Don’t even bother. Unless you are the only campers around. Otherwise, the guy three units down streaming Netflix videos has gobbled up all the bandwidth. Campground Wi-Fi is shared. That means s-l-o-w. We carry our own Verizon Mi-Fi data card to create our own network. All the carriers have similar devices. But maybe I should quit talking about that. Because we noticed this year that in many a campground, so many other people are now doing the same thing, that often even the cell service is so maxed out it is almost as slow as campground Wi-Fi. See why we like boondocking?
13) Winter is just as much fun as summer – We camp out in our motorhome all year round. Alas, we do have to winterize, living in Michigan as we do. But other than having to drink from bottled water and flush the toilet with antifreeze, it’s just as easy to RV in the winter as it is in the summer. Winter RVing is awesome. The crowds are gone, the snow makes everything beautiful and it is really, really fun. We’re again planning a winter camping trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in February.
14) Don’t make impulsive purchases – Here’s my confession time, where I mess up all the time. Case in point: Two folding bikes. I shelled out over $1200 to buy two Bike Friday folding bikes a while ago when I saw them at a rally in Oregon. Big mistake. Yes, they are cool bikes. But, really, we didn’t need them. We have two full-sized bikes at home. If we will be using a bike a lot, I just need to put them on a bike rack attached to the rear hitch. I’m going to list the bikes on Craig’s List and make a promise to Jennifer to never again buy on impulse. I also sold the StowAway2 cargo box I bought a couple years ago (another $700 impulse buy.) Yes, it holds a lot of stuff. But we really don’t need a lot of stuff. The more we RV, the less we find we need to pack. Oh yeah, then there’s my drone. Another impulsive purchase. I used the camera-equipped quadricopter fewer than a half dozen times on our trips. Sold that, too.
15) The RV lifestyle can be very unhealthy – I saved this for last and I hate to mention this but I think it needs saying. So I will. Food and drink consumption need to be controlled. We spent a week this past year on a very nice campground (I won’t say where) in which every day was themed to some event that involved alcohol. There were parties and happy hours every night and the place, made up mostly of seasonal RV residents, seemed to be stuck in the Sixties. The music around the pool played non-stop oldies and it was like these seniors were on perpetual spring breaks. It would have been amusing if it were not so sad. There were people whizzing by in golf carts that should have been pulled over for DUI. The only good thing was these were, after all, seniors, and by 9 PM, they had all gone to bed. We’ve seen this in different degrees at other places and have had other RVers tell us they have noticed the same thing, too.
So there. Fifteen lessons we’ve earned that have become rules for the road for us.
I’m sure there will be more this year. See you out there…