The thrill of the open road and the opportunity to wake up in a new location every morning—living an RV lifestyle is full of adventure. With each adventure, however, there is risk. The unpredictable nature practically dictates that the unexpected is likely to happen and it is your ability to “go with the flow” and learn from your mistakes that makes the journey a successful one.
One thing you can do to ensure the greatest amount of control over your experience is to plan ahead and try to anticipate anything that may go wrong. Our rig is 43-feet long and around 14-feet high with the rooftop air-conditioning units; plus, we usually pull a 24-foot cargo trailer, as well. Without proper planning—or by assuming the information we were given was accurate — we have found ourselves unnecessarily driving down roads that were not meant for a rig of our size. Here are some tricks that we have learned along the way.
Plan Where You Will Stay
There are many different ways to find great RV parks, campgrounds, and dry camping spots around the country. Apps like “AllStays” provide a range of helpful information, but don’t assume it's entirely correct; call ahead and verify.
Verify the Location
Make sure the park is where the website or app “claims” that it is. Occasionally, the address hasn’t been correct or the directions provided were inaccurate. For example, one evening we were following directions to a mid-sized campground in Arkansas. According to the directions, we had reached our destination. In reality, we were at a train track and the park was nowhere in sight; plus, the surrounding roads were gravel, and more narrow than we could comfortably drive the RV.
To remedy the situation, I decided to take the Suburban and scout out the area in hope of finding the park. Instead, I found myself on the steep, narrow driveway of a foul-mouthed and threatening woman. I tried to explain my situation and after taking pictures of my license plate, accusing me of trespassing and messing up her stuff, she screamed at me to get off her property. I very carefully backed down the dangerous drive and after we finally got the RV turned around, we passed on into Missouri. This would have been avoided by calling the campground to verify the actual directions.
Verify Whether It’s Open
Make sure the park is open. With so many options across the country, it is nearly impossible for all of them to be up to date at all times. When they change owners or management, they often change other things, as well, such as the dates they are open. When we arrived in Minot, ND, for example, we planned to check in at the local KOA. Four years earlier, in 2011, the area suffered devastation when the Souris River flooded. It had been closed ever since. Aside from the excess driving, this was a relatively harmless incident as we easily found another campground nearby.
A more treacherous trip, however, was when we were seeking a particular state park outside St. Louis. We had gotten a late start and wanted to stop for the night. It was in October and many of the accommodations in the Midwest had already closed for the season. We found one that claimed to be open year-round and headed toward it across gravel roads that were exceptionally narrow and several bridges with weight limits that I feared we exceeded. When we arrived, the sign announced the park was “closed.” The app had been incorrect. To avoid wild goose chases, call ahead and verify the dates.
Verify for Accommodation
Make sure the accommodations will meet your needs. Often, even year-round parks turn off access to the water and sewer at the individual sites during cold weather. This is something that is not always advertised. It’s also a good idea to check the roads and the entrances.
In 2014, we arrived at our summer destination to discover that it had been hit by a tornado the day before and there were several trees down across the main drive. Upon arrival, we spent several hours clearing the way in order to pull into our spot. That was when we discovered that twin 4-foot stone pillars guarded the narrow entrance. It took another hour to position the RV in such a way as to be able to pass, unscratched between them. By calling ahead, we could have at least discovered what was in store for us and made other plans.
Plan Your Route
Plan your trip to fit the size of your rig. Use your GPS and set it to direct you to the most appropriate route, not just the shortest. Narrow, hilly, windy roads can be hazardous in a motorhome. For example, when we were driving through Washington, we missed a turn and the GPS redirected us onto a tiny gravel road with drop offs on both sides. On one turn, the passenger-side tires of the trailer went off the road. Fortunately, the Tourmaster was powerful enough to pull it back onto the road and although it looked like a driveway, it did cross through to a major road and we were back on our way.
Consider using apps like “AllStays” and “Ways” as real time back-ups. AllStays identifies low overpasses that could pose a hazard to high profile vehicles. Remember that satellites and any rooftop air conditioning units can be sheared clean off by attempting to drive under an overpass that is too low. The Internet is full of images of RVs, semi trucks, and buses whose drivers thought they could “make it.” Ways alerts you of bridges, narrow roads, wrecks, debris in the road, and anything else that may impede your travel or make the conditions more difficult for RVS and large vehicles.
Plan Your Fuel and Dump Stops
Aps like AllStays, Ways, and Gas Guru help you find appropriate places for pit stops. AllStays shows all major truck stops and convenience stores. It describes which accommodate trucks, provide water, and have dump-stations, laundry facilities, and overnight parking, as well as other amenities. Large rigs and diesel pushers like ours can be expensive when traveling. Ways and Gas Guru list all fuel stations and compare prices so you can choose the least expensive places to fill up.
Although truck stops are built to allow ample access for motorhomes, other gas stations aren’t guaranteed to be. Many have narrow entrances and poorly marked blockades. Also, during colder temperatures, it is possible that the water will have been shut off. To ensure that you can fully service your rig when you stop, it is a good idea to call and verify ahead of time.
Driving around is just part of the adventure when you live in a motorhome. Improperly planned and verified routes, pit stops, and destinations, however, can result in unnecessary detours and potentially hazardous conditions. By doing proper research and having a “plan B,” as well as even a “plan C,” you can take more control of your adventures and keep them at a level with which you are comfortable.
It is one thing to have an exciting life and another thing entirely to have a stressful one. If you found this informative or interesting, please share on social media sites like Facebook to save others the inconvenience of learning things for themselves. Learn from my mistakes and save yourself the trouble.
Knowing your RV’s size does not totally ensure mistakes won’t be made. In trying to get to an O’Reilly Auto Parts store that had a tiny parking lot (we needed an oil filter for our generator), we pulled into what appeared to be a much larger parking lot at a Comfort Inn and Suites. Although in the dark, it looked like a sizeable lot, it “dead-ended” into a 15-foot, greater than 45-degree angle ramp that passed into a bank parking lot. With impatient drivers behind us, my husband decided to “go for it.“ With a loud screech and a bit of drag, we lost our tailpipe and the hitch that connects our trailer. Fortunately, the chains kept the trailer in line with us and we had thought ahead and already purchased a new hitch. So the moral to that story is to plan ahead for accidents, but that is a post for another day.