Having spent two years on the road as a full-time RVer, I encountered many things I wish someone had told me before I left on my journey. A lot of these things would have come in useful, too.
For example, I wish I’d known: how to find free waste dumps; how to find last minute spots where you can park 49’ of rig, tow dolly, and toad while avoiding rest areas and truck stops; and the fact that trucker GPS systems exist.
There are tons of things that are useful, but a couple of things in particular stand out to me now as wisdom worth their hypothetical weight in gold. If only I had known before I had left, I could have made some much wiser choices along the way. Sadly, my path was to learn things the hard way.
You know that question of what would you tell your younger self if you could go back in time? Well, there are many things that would come up for me, and while I can’t say that these things would be at the very top of my advice list with which I would enlighten my younger self, I can say that they’d certainly be under consideration.
Know the terrain ahead of you.
Ok, so perhaps this a no-brainer to some of you – I get that. Some folks like to plan out every last 1/32nd of a mile they are going to travel, replete with time schedule, the cheapest gas stops, sights, restaurants, scenic RV parks (with reservations made months in advance, of course), and so forth. If you are one of these types of people, just go ahead and skip on to the next section. You’ve got this.
The rest of you, listen up – most especially those of you who are like me – the free, wandering spirit who randomly picks a direction in the morning and heads that way just because it feels right. (Yes, I really travel this way.) The more you fit the aforementioned description, the more important this will be for you – although it really applies to everyone who isn’t an overachiever in the pre-trip planning department.
They say that it’s more about the journey than the destination. This becomes even more true if you are about to take your rig up and down a 13% grade with hairpin turns, you didn’t realize it would be there, and there is no way to turn around. Yes, this happened to me on the Sea-to-Sky Highway north of Whistler, British Columbia. (You’ve been warned.)
I was on my way back from Alaska and felt super comfy driving my rig in the mountains. By this point, I’d been up and over the Rockies several times on my meandering route. My well-seasoned driving skills got a quick wake-up call that I shan’t soon forget.
Not long after this experience I discovered an app known as the Mountain Directory. It has been instrumental in avoiding similar situations. In no way has it turned me into an “advanced planner” when it comes to my RV travels, but once I’ve decided to head in a particular direction I check this app and it tells me what the grades will be, where they will happen, and for how many miles they will last. It’s one of the best things I’ve found for RV travel, along with RV LIFE Trip Wizard.
The weather will eventually catch you.
No matter how good you may think your planning skills are, they are no match for Mother Nature. She has tricks in spades, and she is guaranteed to keep you on your toes no matter where you might be RVing. While knowing the general forecast for the next 10 days or so can help you avoid 10 straight days of rain, what it can’t tell you are when tornadoes, dust storms, hail, and other anomalies like high winds might crop up.
The one thing that is for certain is that you will eventually find yourself face to face with one of these types of weather events, and unless your RV is equipped with a teleportation device (à la Star Trek) you had better be prepared. Preparedness means a number of things: knowing what kind of weather you might be facing based on your geographical location, evacuation routes, and ready-access to up-to-date weather info.
In terms of geography, some things are straightforward, such as being in Tornado Alley during spring and fall or being on the Pacific Coast where the storms are legendary and unexpected earthquakes could cause a tsunami. Other weather conditions that might be less easy to predict are mountain weather which can change from one minute to the next and high wind conditions that can come literally out of nowhere and hit you broadside on a clear day.
Regardless of the general predictability, you need emergency weather data pushed to you as soon as a dangerous condition is imminent. In this digital age, the most common way we can get immediate access to such information is through our phones. Granted, you might be out of cell tower reach some of the time, but that won’t always be the case so it’s best to just have the apps installed with alerts turned on.
The app that I have found particularly handy for this purpose is called Dark Sky Weather. It provides the standard forecast information like other weather apps, but it stands out in one particular area. It gives a super-accurate forecast for the next hour’s weather that is accurate nearly to the minute.
You may also want to invest in a NOAA Weather and Public Alerts Emergency Radio:
This one from Amazon also serves as a flashlight and reading lamp. It can be powered by hand-cranking, three AAA batteries, solar charging, or micro USB cable.