Years ago, my little family and I traveled around the entire United States. We learned as we went and definitely made our share of mistakes. As lots of people are renting or buying RVs and hitting the road during the Summer of Covid, I thought I’d share a few RV Hacks that are helpful, especially for first-timers.
If you’ve never traveled in an RV before, welcome to a new way of ‘safe bubble’ travel! But with the perks comes the negatives. Yes, you now have a self-contained safe bathroom to use and refrigerator to grab a snack from. However, you are also now tasked with the job of emptying your black-water tank and making sure your fridge is ‘leveled’ while parked (or risk damage).
Maintenance in an RV isn’t so bad if you can follow instructions. However, we have found that leaving sticky notes around the RV as gentle reminders to DO certain things before powering on, powering off, or hitting the road is a great way to go. We can only remember so much, especially if we’re tired or new to RV life!
Note to Self
Where to put posty notes in the RV:
- The Bathroom – This is the biggest debate ever in RV land. Paper in the RV toilet or not? Many long-term RVers will say throw the septic safe paper down the toilet and don’t stress about it. However, if you have kids, teens or a spouse who LOVES their TP, consider getting a diaper genie for paper products. We sadly DID have to deal with a toilet paper mountain from HELL in our RV black water/septic tank and are now firm believers that nothing good can come toilet paper that piles up. We find that a little posty note of sign that says NO PAPER down the toilet in the loo is a great reminder.
- Steering Wheel – My husband puts a note on the steering wheel that says ‘Remove Blocks’. He’ll put the blocks under our tires on when we are parked on the street with a little grade. It’s a safe and smart thing to do, however it’s easy to forget that they are there and then you rev up the RV to go and PLOP with a hard-landing off the blocks. Not a great way to start a trip!
- Fridge – Checking to see if the gas & electric is on to power is easy enough, but are items secure? Is the fridge level when parked? (RV fridges must be at level ground when on or the refrigerant can get clogged in the unit) I just have a posty that says ‘FRIDGE CHECK’ and I know what to look for before we take off. I’ll get to RV fridge packing tips below.
- Driver side posty – This is a great area for the passenger to place their own note if they have a unique job. It’s often my job to make sure cabinets are secure and windows are closed. A posty note saying ‘Cabin Check’ is a great reminder for me to do a quick run through on those items. It’s so annoying to take off, get on the highway and then hear the wind whistling though the back bathoom window that I forgot to shut!
Pack light. We struggle with this. The first time we did our trip around the U.S., we packed way to much and I’m convinced it dropped our MPG average. We had three bikes strapped to the back and used the bikes twice during a month long trip. While bikes are generally a great idea, think ahead about WHERE you are going and what the weather will be like. We were seldom parked at places where we could bike easily, or it was just TOO HOT to want to! Had we traveled in the Fall with cooler temps, then the bikes would have been a smarter choice.
Toys & Stuff – Fold-up chairs are a great idea, but make sure they are as light as possible. Most campgrounds will have picnic tables, but sometimes they are uncovered and in the direct sun. Chairs will allow you to walk to a lake or shaded tree and set up your relaxation station. BBQ equipment – We actually bring an induction stove with us so I can cook outside (as I can’t stand food cooking smells in my personal space where I sleep). However, do you need a BBQ? Probably not! Most RV parks and campgrounds have BBQs, so think about tools that you need to CLEAN the grill (trust me, they are never clean) and do you need to cook with (Briquettes? Wood?)
Sanitze EVERYTHING – During Covid Travel, make sure to stock your RV with Lysol Wipes (to wipe hands from touching dirty gas nozzles, wallets, keys, door handles, steering wheels after getting out), Wet Wipes (for easy cleanup) and Body Wipes (for quick body wipe downs when you are sweaty and don’t have time for a shower).
Clothing/Bedding – Everyone was assigned their own cabinets for clothing. Most RVs have tall cabinets with no shelves. I recommend installing lightweight shelving to allow more vertical organization OR if you’re renting, inexpensive lightweight boxes of Tupperware are the way to go.
Blankets – even if you think you’re going to be hot on your trip, make sure to have clothing for cool nights and most importantly an extra blanket. On our round the country trip, we sweltered in high heat through the South and mid-west. When we hit Yellowstone, we froze. We went from 90 degree nights to 50 degree evenings and we simply weren’t prepared. We ended up wearing several layers on clothing in order to get some non-frozen sleep.
Foam Pads – Most RV beds or sofa-convertible beds are horrible. I recommend getting a foam memory pad or at the very least an egg-crate foam pad. Your back will thank you.
Utensils – Again, don’t go crazy. Paper plates are the way to go. Washing cutlery is no big deal, but washing dinner plates every day is an order and will fill your gray water tank quickly. One large sized pan with raised sides is all most people need. You can boil water in it and make soup, or stir fry up some veggies and noodles. Do not forget a plastic spatula, good knife or two and of course the magic three – beer, bottle and can opener!
We are in strange Covid times, so this food packing list is with the pandemic in mind. Normally I would say grab groceries as you go, but it’s probably best to limit exposure and travel with what you need.
Tupperware – We find it helpful to take things like cereal, crackers, nuts and store them in Tupperware. As space is at a premium, it’s easier to stack uniform sized Tupperware and provides extra container storage for things like leftovers. I also crack some eggs in advance and store them in sealed Tupperware. Not only do I not worry about breaking eggs while traveling, but they are easy to use with no mess when it’s time to make an omelet on a busy morning. Almond milk is shelf stable and a great choice for cereal and coffees. As the lone milk drinker in the family, I bring a large mason jar full of milk in the fridge for my own personal coffee consumption and it takes up very little space.
Produce – vegetables like potatoes, bell peppers, carrots, apples, onions are super easy to pack and store with good shelf life. If traveling in the warmer months, be sure to look for roadside farm stands. They are a great safe, outdoor way to shop for fresh ‘delicate’ produce items on the go like grapes, avocados, tomatoes, greens and other fruit. Make sure you are comfortable with your fresh water source in your RV (has it been sanitized?) or bring a few extra gallons of drinking water to rinse fruit off with.
Keep it secure! As much as I hate plastic, I do think that plastic containers are the way to go in an RV fridge. Things are sliding around and possibly smashing into each other, so you don’t need broken glass in there. Some people use tiny friction fit curtain rods to run across each shelf to ‘lock’ in items. The door will still shut just fine and it provides a little extra security!
Mapping & Planning
On a budget and ready to dry camp (no power or water hookups)? Check out Harvest Hosts. After you join (memberships are super affordable for the year) you will have access to wineries, farms, breweries, golf courses and other unique locations around the country to camp overnight for FREE! Each one will have their own set of rules and notification. If they sell something, it’s polite to purchase something in return for the free overnight stay. Remember – if you camp at a campground you will pay anywhere from $50 to $150 overnight, so supporting one of these businesses offering free camping is a no brainer! We love staying at wineries because we’re going to drink wine anyway, so it’s fun to do a tasting, walk to our RV, make dinner and have a glass of wine with the sunset. Dreamy! Visit Harvest Host here.
There are websites, apps and tools out there that will help you plan out your distance, route, camping stops and gas needs. However, I recommend looking up additional stops in advance such as ‘Dump Stations with fresh potable water’ (Rv Dumps) and if you’re doing a REALLY big trip, plan to make a stop half-way through your trip for a ‘maintenance check’.
When we traveled from California to South Florida, we had an RV place already picked out to do an oil change, fluid, brake and tire check. This gave us the peace of mind to continue on with our loop as we headed north and then back to the West Coast. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure!
Have fun! If you have any questions or RV Hack Tips of your own, please reach out by posting below. Be prepared but be smart with your space!