Karen Akpan, founder of The Mom Trotter and full-time RVer, shares her tips and tricks for everything you need to choose your RV, pick your destination, prepare for your trip, set up camp, and account for disruptions due to COVID-19.
I’ve been on the road with my husband and son full-time since March of this year. We sold our home and bought our RV in February and took a few weeks to renovate it. There were three main reasons for this transition: to spend more time together as a family, pay off debt, and travel to every U.S. state. We travel internationally as a family often and have been to over 30 countries, however with COVID-19 and being unable to travel abroad, RV travel is on the rise. It is the safest way to travel and stay socially distant. And even without COVID, traveling in an RV will allow us to travel the US at our own pace and still have our home and everything with us.
So far, Lake Tahoe has been our favorite place to visit. There is so much to do there. Truthfully, there have been no challenges for us at all. It has been one of the best experiences for my seven-year-old. One tip for full-time RV living is to make sure kids have their own space. RV’s are small, and having kids having their space helps adjust to full-time RV life.
If you’re planning a big road trip, an RV has major benefits: more space, a fluid schedule, flexible itinerary, your own gear, and the ability to make all your meals. RVing also offers the ability to take things slowly—by carrying your accommodations on your back like a turtle shell, you can draw out the journey, stopping (mostly) wherever and whenever you want. And while we’re all for that romantic idea, there is still some planning required to make your RV trip live up to its stress free and restorative potential.
1. Choose Your RV
RVs come in several varieties from large motorhomes of 21 feet or more to small tow-behind and pop-up options. The two main categories are towables and motorized. It’s important to consider what size RV best suits your needs along with what features you want.
Types of RV Classes
These are the large motorhomes you might think of first when considering an RV. These big RVs resemble buses and typically sleep between 6 and 8 people, depending on their size.
Contrary to their letter designation, Class B RVs are actually the smallest motorized campers. Often called campervans, these RVs are basically extra-large vans. They offer fewer amenities than other varieties, but they do typically come with a sink, toilet, and a shower.
These RVs are a hybrid between Class A and Class B varieties. Built on a truck chassis, these RVs are larger, more spacious, and offer more amenities than a Class A but are more maneuverable and easy to navigate than a Class A.
Also called travel trailers, these RVs offer the ability to bring your car, truck, or SUV with you on your trip. Navigation can be tricky at first, but this option affords your family the ability to park the camper and then explore the town in a regular vehicle.
Fifth Wheels are typically smaller than tow-behind trailers and must be attached to a truck with a gooseneck hitch. However, they still offer plenty of space and are easier to maneuver than tow-behind trailers.
The smallest tow-behind option, pop-up campers are for those travelers who don’t require a lot of bells and whistles. The tops of these campers collapse so that you’re towing a low profile trailer and then pop up after you park. They offer a place to sleep, eat, and go to the bathroom, but that’s typically about it.
Choose a Destination
It’s best practice to reserve an RV campsite ahead of time, to avoid last-minute fees or a full site. You can make a reservation six to nine months in advance at most National and State Parks. Campgrounds have check-in and check-out procedures just like hotels, so be sure to familiarize yourself with those details—if you show up after a campground has closed (which can be as early as 5 or 6 p.m.) you may end up needing to find another place to stay that night.
Your first trip should be a trial run. Choose a campground near your home and arrive with plenty of daylight left. This gives you the time you need to do your first real setup for the evening. It also offers the flexibility of heading home or to familiar stores in case you forgot anything. If you have trouble, feel free to ask for help. Campgrounds are a community of friendly people who are always willing to help.
Your next trip can be longer. You’ll be able to stretch your RV legs and become familiar with your RVs specifications such as length, width, height, and power needs on a more traditional road trip. This information is key when booking the correct campsite for your RVs size and hook-up requirements. Don’t forget that these specifications are also key in terms of clearing underpasses, tunnels, and bridges.
With an RV, you can park for the night anywhere that allows it. Places like Walmart parking lots and rest stops are great options. There are several apps that can help you with your research and planning. These apps allow you to check park status, mileage, and even aid you in packing. Some excellent apps include:
—Go RVing to help you find a campground.
If you’re interested in boondocking, the Bureau of Land Management has maps that note private vs public land—public land is usually completely free to stay on for up to two weeks.
Before You Go
It’s important to understand how things like the air conditioning, generator, and tank systems work, along with how to properly set up the RV if you choose a trailer type. When renting an RV be sure to ask the owner about any quirks the RV might have, as well as how to operate every part of the vehicle. Ask how to hook up the water and electrical systems, how to empty the blackwater, and how to prepare for a trip with no hook-ups if you’re going to a secluded area (known as “boondocking”). Always be sure to get detailed, written instructions from the owner.
Before you hit the road, remember to fill up your fresh water tank, get gas, and top of your LPG tank with propane for cooking. Stock your RV kitchen with food, and consider bringing an extra cooler with ice since refrigerators tend to be small. Put together a tool kit with a tire repair kit, flares, spare fuses, reflectors, spare tire, and jack.
At Your Campsite
Check that your campground has hookups to water and electricity. If you’re camping somewhere remote, the RV’s batteries (which are charged using the engine or solar panels) will still run your lights and water pump, though not things like a hairdryer or a TV. Be sure to keep an eye on your water tank levels, especially if you are boondocking. Consider bringing water jugs to use for drinking water, and utilize natural water sources like lakes, rivers, and streams for bathing (with biodegradable soap of course!).
Every RV has different set-ups, so your manual is your best friend. Set up could include things like chocking the wheels, switching on the 120-volt source (which powers that hair dryer, for example), attaching a sewer house, and hooking up to a water source. The least glamorous part of RVing is dealing with the “blackwater” (waste) and “greywater” (used sink and shower water) tanks. Every few days, you’ll need to find an RV dump station to empty it as the tanks gets full. Use Sanidumps to find a dump station near you.
Plan for Disruptions Due to COVID-19
RVing can be a very fluid travel experience, but living in a post-coronavirus world does make things a little more tricky than they used to be. As businesses and parks reopen in this transitional period, parks and campgrounds may have limited amenities like hook-ups, and public lands may have a smaller staff than they once did. Important factors to consider include:
—Open or Closed Park Status
—RV Camp Availability
—Are Public Areas Opened or Closed
—Are Outdoor Activities that were Once Available Still an Option
—WEAR A MASK