Hitting the Road: All You Need to Know about RV Travel

Hitting the Road: All You Need to Know about RV Travel
photo by Ashley Doyle Pooser / @ThisOneTinyLife

RV travel seems to be more popular than ever before. Especially in these unprecedented times when traditional travel has been restricted, there are even more great reasons to consider hitting the road with your family! My family has been traveling full-time in our travel trailer for the past year. We’ve seen 35 states and made some incredible memories, but there are pros and cons just like anything else in life. Through the good times, the bad times, and the downright ugly times, I still wouldn’t trade it. If you’re considering the RV lifestyle for your next vacation (or even as a new way of life), there are definitely some things to keep in mind.

What Kind of RV Should I Get?

You’ll first need to decide which RV will work best for your family. There are three main types to consider: a motorhome, a 5th wheel, and a travel trailer. While a motorhome offers the convenience of being fully self-contained, you’ll have to think about how you’ll get around once you’ve reached a destination. Most families tow a car behind their RV to explore the area or make grocery trips. A 5th wheel or travel trailer can be towed behind your vehicle and adds the convenience of more space than most motorhomes. A dedicated bunkroom for the kids is a huge bonus.

If you’ve decided a 5th wheel or travel trailer is right for your family, here’s my best tip. Choose which camper best fits your family’s needs before you buy a vehicle to tow it. It can be a headache to figure out how much towing capacity your camper will require of your vehicle.

Here are a few helpful terms to remember:

  • Dry Weight: how much your camper weighs before you load it up with gear and supplies and fill the tanks.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight: the maximum your camper should weigh after you’ve moved in and filled the tanks.
  • Hitch Weight: how much weight the trailer hitch will be transferring to your towing vehicle.
  • Payload: how much weight you add to your towing vehicle (the hitch weight and the weight of your cargo—and people—combined).
  • Towing Capacity: how much weight your towing vehicle can safely pull.

This part of the process can be the most overwhelming, but once you’ve got it safely figured out, you’re ready to hit the road!

How Should I Pack?

Now that we’ve talked a bit about the different weights to consider, you can see why being intentional when you pack is so important. As you decide what to bring with you on your trip, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Every little thing adds up to that maximum weight your trailer can hold and your vehicle can tow. Items that have multiple uses are awesome, especially if it adds storage or organization. My favorite is an ottoman that looks cute, adds seating, and can hold extra blankets and sheets inside.

Storage space is extremely limited. Marie Kondo the heck out of whatever clothes and linens make the cut. Get creative in your cabinets and closets. We’ve used kitchen cabinet organizers to organize our clothes. We’ve used shoe box bins in our pantry. We’ve used shoe organizers to keep toiletries.

Use all of your space. If your camper has a dinette booth, you can use the space under the benches for storage. The couches and bunks usually have hidden space to be used. Most campers have a hinged platform for the master bed to allow you even more storage space there. We’ve hung quite a few things on our walls as well.

What Should I Bring?

Next thing to consider is where to put everything. Let’s talk about which items are worthy of taking up that valuable space! Here are some examples of things we’ve used enough to consider them must-haves:

  • Corelle dishes are sturdy enough to withstand the earthquake that happens in your cabinets every time your trailer rolls down the highway. Plus, they can be microwaved!
  • Collapsible mixing bowls/colanders are great for cooking, washing dishes, and don’t take up any space.
  • 2-3 good dish towels help when you’re hand washing dishes for the millionth time, wiping down picnic tables, or cushioning breakables for travel.
  • Command hooks are perfect for adding photos or decor to your camper or adding extra storage opportunities without adding holes or tearing your walls.
  • An outdoor rug has been priceless. It helps our campsite stay less muddy or dusty, adds a homey feel, and gives the kids extra space to spread out. Extend that living space!
  • Comfy camp chairs will take the relaxation to the next level as you enjoy a sunset and some fresh air.
  • Citronella candles will keep the bugs away as you enjoy the sunset and add some ambiance.
  • A water filter pitcher keeps your water tasting clean and fresh no matter where you’re camping.
  • A white noise app or machine will help drown out any noise from nearby roads or neighbors.

What Should I Cook?

Whatever you want! Most camper kitchens are small, but offer the same conveniences as your home. We cooked an entire traditional Thanksgiving meal in our little travel trailer. It took a little more organization and a little more time, but we got to enjoy all the yummy foods we would have had at our house.

Many campers come with an outdoor kitchen area which offers a small fridge, a sink, and a grill. Utilizing that space can be a big help. Especially if you’re traveling in warm weather and want to avoid heating up the kitchen.

A couple things that are super helpful to have in your camper kitchen is a pressure cooker and a pizza stone. The pressure cooker can be set up inside or outside and frees up your burners and your oven for cooking other things. The pizza stone helps to evenly distribute the heat in your oven so your food doesn’t get burned on the outside and stay raw on the inside.

I’m All Packed Up, Now What?

Now you get to the fun part—planning your trip! What kind of experience do you want for your family? Are you looking for the fun and convenience of a hotel or resort, but wanting to save some money? Or maybe you’re looking to get back to nature and want a more traditional camping experience with a bit more comfort. There’s no wrong way to RV! Here are a few different options:

  • RV Parks offer a wide variety of amenities, from water parks to mini golf to fishing to casinos. Reservations might need to be made further in advance and the fees will run more than the other options we’ll be discussing, but still usually much less than hotels. The facilities will often be more updated and each site should offer full hook-ups (water, electricity, and sewer) and there will be staff available to assist you. RV Parks or Resorts are perfect for when you want a fun-filled getaway without having to pay hotel or resort prices.
  • State Parks are a great option for when you want to get back to nature, but still have the convenience of bathhouse facilities and access to water and electricity. Each park is different in what’s offered, so be sure to check. There is usually a limit on how many nights you can stay. Some sites might not have sewer. Some sites might not be able to accommodate the electricity needs your camper may have. But what they lack in amenities, state parks make up for in beautiful scenery, hiking trails, starry skies, and cheap rates.
  • Boondocking is the term RVers use for when you just find some empty space and set up. There is a lot to consider when you boondock and you’ll need to do your research. Make sure you’re allowed to camp, whether you’re in a national forest or on land supervised by the Bureau of Land Management. Keep in mind you won’t have access to electricity, so consider a generator. You’ll need to bring your own water, whether you fill the camper’s potable water tank or buy gallon jugs from the store. You’ll also need a way to empty your gray tank (any water that goes down a drain—sink or shower) and your black tank (anything that goes down the toilet). Most boondocking sites are fairly remote and you may or may not have access to cell phone coverage. There’s a lot to think about when you boondock, but the benefits are pretty amazing. You can set up to maximize whichever incredible view you want outside your windows. You can get away from it all and have total privacy. It’s completely free!

Once you decide where you’re going, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll get there. There are a few different GPS apps that are extremely useful when planning your route. Look for an app that’s geared towards semi-truck drivers. It’ll show you which roads to avoid if there are low clearances (please don’t scrape your air conditioner off your roof), where there are truck stops (these are much easier to pull into for fuel), and will also show you where there are dump stations to empty your tanks or where you can check the weight of your rig.

Get Out There and Have Some Fun!

Now that we’ve covered all the details, here’s what I would tell you if we were sitting together over coffee or having a glass of wine by the campfire. The RV lifestyle is not perfect. Space is cramped. Emptying tanks is gross. Travel days can be slow and stressful. But the freedom that comes with this life is priceless. We’ve stood on top of skyscrapers in New York City and at the edge of the Grand Canyon. We’ve watched seals on Cape Cod and sea lions in California. We’ve parked our tiny home on a bison ranch in Wyoming and on the sugar white sands of Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s not always easy, but it’s never boring. The hard days are far outnumbered by the incredible experiences we’ve shared as a family that we’ll talk about for years and years to come.

Now it’s your turn! Get out there and make some memories. We only have this one tiny life to do it.