Planning Your RV Vacation: 5 Common Mistakes
Being well prepared can make the difference between a vacation disaster and an unforgettable adventure. A lot of work goes into planning a vacation, especially if you’re going in a recreational vehicle. Here we will discuss 5 common mistakes made by new RV goers, and how you can avoid them. Whether you’re a first-timer or an RV pro, you’ll find these pointers to be helpful even if they are just a refresher.
Daily Mileage and Travel Time
As part of planning your route, it’s important to be realistic about your total mileage vs travel time vs the total length of your vacation. We all want to get the most out of your vacation and see it all. Covering too much ground over a short amount of time can lead to a stressful trip.
Let’s use an example. You and your family want to visit Yosemite National Park and figure a week will be plenty of time. You open google maps and see that it’s only 500 or so miles, and an 8-hour drive time. You think to yourself, If can work 8 hours a day, I can certainly drive 8 hours in a day. So, 2 days of driving and 5 days at Yosemite. 8-10 hours a day is totally doable for experienced drivers, but even for professionals, it’s considered to be in the upper limit of what is safe , let alone enjoyable. Let’s not forget that this is supposed to be a relaxing vacation after all! Another common mistake is forgetting to factor in time for restroom and stretch breaks, meals, traffic, and the fact that travel times are usually slower in an RV vs a car.
Generally, we recommend increasing your estimated driving time by 50%. So that 8-hour drive quickly turns into 12. If you break that up into two days of travel, you leave yourself plenty of time to take breaks, enjoy the scenery, and even have time to see the world’s largest something-or-other along the way. If you only have 7 days for your trip, you’re now looking at 4 days of travel and only 3 days at Yosemite. You will also want to think about how long it will take to get settled in at your campsite, and how long it will take to clean and pack up before you leave. Be generous with your budgeted time and give yourself an extra day or two if possible. It’s far better to have extra time at your destination, than to feel rushed on the road!
Know your rig, know your route
When planning an RV vacation, there are a lot of factors to consider. Some of the most overlooked factors include route planning. If you’re traveling in a small Class-B campervan, you can pretty much plan your trip as if you’re driving a car. However, if you’re taking a 36ft Class-A motorhome, there are a few things to consider along the way. Fuel stops are a big one. It’s important to familiarize yourself with your rig’s gas mileage and range, and plan fuel stops accordingly. A large rig will be more difficult to navigate through a standard gas station, so you may want to find truck stops along the way. When none are available, google street view can help you determine if your RV will fit at the pumps and allow easy entrances and exits.
Knowing your rig’s dimensions is also critical. Height restrictions are the most common limiting factor, along with your width. Planning your route while keeping this in mind will help you avoid narrow roads, small tunnels, and low bridges. If you’re new to driving a motorhome, it will take some time to get comfortable with it. It is especially important to use a spotter whenever possible. While backing into your campsite, be sure to use your side mirrors as well as your backup camera. Also know your rig height and clearance of your campsite. Cameras and mirrors can show you what’s around you, but you will need to rely on your spotter to keep an eye on clearances that are above you. Keep in mind that there is a lot of sensitive equipment on your roof like wi-fi transmitters, antennas, air conditioners, and even solar panels. Those pesky tree branches are the most common cause of RV damage and can really do a number on paint and fiberglass.
An RV provides many of the comforts of home, but packing for your trip can be daunting. Making a list can be very helpful in making sure you don’t forget anything critical. What you may not consider is that a list can also keep you from overpacking. It’s tempting to bring everything you can imagine yourself using on your trip. You may be surprised how much stuff you don’t end up needing. Your destination is also a big factor to consider while packing. Look around your destination to see if there are stores nearby, or if it is remote and isolated. For example, if there is a grocery store nearby, you may be able to travel lighter by shopping near your destination. If there is a laundromat close to your destination or along your route, you may be able to get away with packing far less clothing. Packing light saves a lot of time and effort when it comes to loading and unloading your rig. It also makes for a quicker set-up and break-down time at your destination.
A lot of unnecessary gear can also affect your gas mileage. On a long trip, fuel costs can really add up. One way to help with your fuel economy is to keep your holding tanks as empty as possible while you’re on the road. Have just enough fresh water on board to use the restroom and wash your hands (about 1/3) and be sure to empty your black and grey holding tanks before you hit the road.
Check the Weather
This one seems obvious but is easy to overlook, especially if you are going to an area where the conditions can be dangerous and/or change quickly. If there is a chance of snow, for example, this will significantly impact the way your RV will function and may require specialized procedures and equipment. Rain can also cause a lot of complications. If renting an RV during the rainy season, you may want to consider a larger model in case you and your family are stuck inside for long periods of time. Wind can also determine what kink of outdoor equipment you bring. With strong winds, you may not be able to use your awning or shade canopies without them blowing away. Hot temperatures can also affect the way your RV operates. Air conditioners, for example, may only be able to cool your RV by 20 degrees or so. That means if it is 100 degrees outside, your A/C may only be able to lower the temperature to around 80 degrees inside your rig. Planning for the weather ahead of time will ensure that you and your family will be happy campers.
Prepare for Emergencies
It’s always a good idea to have a Plan B prepared in case things turn sideways. Unfortunately, accidents do happen, plans get interrupted, and unforeseen events can take place without notice. Some basics to consider are accidents, injuries, closures, and breakdowns. If you’re not properly prepared, any of these problems can stop your vacation dead in its tracks, and being far from home can make everything even more difficult.
Injuries can happen out of nowhere, especially when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings. A first aid kit is a must for any camping trip and will prove invaluable when it comes to the most common types of minor injuries. For more serious injuries, it’s a good idea to have a plan of action. Will you have cell phone signal in the area or a landline nearby so you can call for help? What emergency services are available and how long will it take for them to arrive? Where is the closest hospital? When seconds mater, these are some of the answers you want to have ahead of time.
Closures can happen quickly and unexpectedly. Recently, Yosemite National Park had to close due to unprecedented flooding. Fires have caused closures of several popular parks throughout the year and let’s not forget about COVID-19 which can cause closures just about anywhere at any time. A trip insurance policy can help you recoup costs if you’re faced with closures or unforeseen interruptions. Having a standby destination in mind can help salvage you vacation. Be sure to check the National Park Service website for conditions and closures before you leave.
Even if your RV is in tip top shape, breakdowns can happen at any time. It’s a good idea to have a roadside assistance policy in place to get you back on the road. Services like Coach-Net and AAA RV+ can be a lifesaver when it comes to breakdowns. They both offer tire changes, battery replacement, and lockouts and towing throughout the US and Canada. In addition, companies like Coach-Net can help you with 24-hour RV technical assistance and provide help with reservations at parks, hotels, and restaurants.
Accidents can be a showstopper, so it’s important to know what to do if it happens to you. RVs are big and awkward and are a lot more likely to contact fixed objects. Therefore, having the proper insurance is critical. RVs can be very expensive and difficult to fix, so it is important to make sure that your level of insurance coverage is appropriate for your rig. If renting, it’s also important to know what your financial responsibility and liabilities are so there are no surprises if you return your rig with a ding or two.