June 26, 2012
Filed under Blog
Traveling sounds like all fun and games at first – and it is, to a point – but along with all the adventure and excitement comes a lot of plain day-to-day stuff that needs to be considered and taken care of. Since my family and I have been RVing full-time since 2008, we’ve had a lot of time to figure out a lot of things that make life a little easier on the road. So, earlier today I sat down at our campsite picnic table with my parents and made a list of some things that anyone, whether full-timers or weekend warriors, should think about including on their pre-trip checklist…
Whether manufactured by Ultra-Fab, Camco, BAL, Olympian, or any other company, these three-legged contraptions serve one purpose: to tremendously help in stabilizing your fifth-wheel RV. It does this by supporting the kingpin (part that goes into the fifth-wheel hitch) and preventing motion up and down or side to side. After we began traveling full-time, it didn’t take long for us to realize we needed another way to stabilize our 42’ toy hauler. My mom, who at the time was pregnant, got nauseous frequently from all the movement caused by the rest of us as we walked around. Her problems were solved as soon as my dad went to Camping World and came back with the kingpin stabilizer. It generally only takes about five minutes to set up, and it’s worth its weight in gold.
Although full hookups are definitely great to have, they’re not always available everywhere we want to go. But even campgrounds that don’t have full hookups tend to usually have a dump station, often with a complimentary hose to rinse down any spillage (yes, it happens to everyone sometimes – I’ll share some stories in a later post).
The problem is that when you’re all set up, it’s such a pain to pack everything up, put in slide-outs, etc., just to go dump and come set back up again. These wheeled tanks solve that problem by giving you a portable tank to transfer your RV’s holding tank contents into, then pull to the dump station and empty. They range in size from 12-35 gallon, and come with two or four wheels. Currently we have an 18 gallon Thetford which has taken quite a beating since it replaced our old one in 2010. Between the two Thetford tanks we’ve had, they’ve been towed behind my bike (which, besides the fact that it ran off the road once and damaged the wheels, probably voided our warranty), flipped upside-down while full of sewage, and scooped up in the bucket of a tractor – but through thick and thin, they’ve held their contents. If you’re an avid RVer, make sure one of these is onboard.
Although hospitals stock exactly what I’m talking about, stealing is generally frowned upon, so you’ll have to pick one up elsewhere. These little plastic tubs, which until recently we’ve had two of, enable us to wash dishes in part of one sink, rinse in the other part, and put the dishes in a strainer located in the other side of the sink. This effectively turns a normal sink into three useful parts, and frees up more much-needed counter space. Then, if you’re somewhere deep in a national forest without hookups of any kind, the water can be carried outside and disposed of (click here for proper dish water disposal technique, and other Leave No Trace principles) instead of filling up your gray tank.
An air compressor can be invaluable – we generally use ours multiple times per week. It’s put to work airing up the RV tires, vehicle tires, and ATV tires, along with blowing out air filters and other dusty items. Unless you’re going to be using air tools, a 2-3 gallon air compressor is usually a good RV/travel size, and they can be purchased for $75-$300. These size air compressors come in “hot dog” or “pancake” shape. The two we’ve had so far have been “hot dog” shaped, so I can’t really compare the two beyond saying that the ones we’ve had seem to fit good in tight RV compartments.
Besides the tire attachment it should already come with, a little air gun is also something you should count on purchasing as well. They’re great for blowing dust out of just about anything, although with a 2-3 gallon air compressor the pressure runs out fast.
Durable and versatile are the first two words I think of when these incredible products by 3M are mentioned. It started out with one package a few years ago, and now we’re hooked (no pun intended)! Take a look around our 42’ fifth-wheel and you’ll find about 50 of these on the walls at any given time. They’re put to use holding up hats, backpacks, jackets, shelves, plants, jewelry, and many other things at various times. Amazingly, a single hook, depending on which size you’re using, can hold up to eight pounds, and will still peel off the wall without leaving so much as a smudge. When purchased they come with extra adhesive backing, and more is available in stores, so the hooks can be used, peeled off, and reused as many times as you want.
Another invaluable camper item, the toaster oven is great for saving on propane. We use ours daily for things such as making toast, reheating leftovers, baking bread, and cooking anything from mushrooms to squash. They’re generally smaller than a microwave, and although they take a little longer to heat up food, it’s usually worth the wait. For about the first year after we started traveling full-time, there was a microwave mounted above our stove. That all changed when it broke suddenly while in Arizona, and began turning on and off completely by itself – something that was slightly creepy, besides being obnoxious. The microwave was replaced not long after by a new toaster oven that sits on the counter, and we’ve had one ever since.
Lighting is a problem in many RVs. Windows tends to be low, often with most of them on one side of the RV, keeping sunlight below eye level and coming from one direction, making everything shadowy. If you find that I’m describing your RV, you probably need the same thing we have five of at various places around ours – a lamp. Clip-on lamps are easy to move, don’t take up much room, and give out enough light to brighten up an entire room if strategically placed. If you find glare is problem, aim them up at the ceiling, where the light will reflect back down with less intensity.
For many people internet is needed on a daily basis, but if you enjoy staying in national forests, as we do, it’s not something you’re going to get. Even many campgrounds that offer wireless internet have such slow service, especially at night when half the campground’s using it, that it’s nearly useless for anything but checking your email. This problem can be solved by getting your own mobile hotspot – something we’ve had for over four years. Technology is improving constantly, and options are numerous, so your best bet is to contact a cell phone provider (Sprint, Verizon, etc.) for more information.
This is a staple almost as important as beans and bacon! It can be used for sealing around a slide-out, patching minor tears in the roof, covering cracks in a shower or sink, filling exterior insect-inviting gaps or holes, and numerous other things. There are usually two basic kinds: interior and exterior. Interior is made for bathroom and kitchen use, while exterior is made for areas that will be more exposed to the elements. Don’t forget to clean the end off and replace the cap when you’re done, otherwise next time it might be clogged up.
An especially important item in the summer, a small grill can lower indoor heat dramatically by enabling you to cook outside, without having to go through the hassle of getting a fire going in the campsite fire ring. We have two propane grills and one electric skillet, all of which go in an outdoor compartment on the side of our RV. They’re used all the time around here for boiling water, cooking burgers, grilling chicken, and just about anything we’d use the stove in our RV for. Of course, they each have different advantages – an electric skillet can’t grill hot dogs, but a propane grill costs more to run – so a good idea is to have both on hand.
Being well-prepared is always a good idea, whether heading out in your RV for five days or five years. Something as trivial as a kingpin stabilizer or a plastic sink washtub can make all the difference between a good trip and a great trip.
Of course, there are probably hundreds of things that could be included in this list, but these are the top-10 must-have items for us. What are yours? Leave a comment and let me know what you can’t travel without – whether it’s a notebook or a jetpack…