Use this list of tips as your guide to a more satisfying motorhoming experience.
By Brent Peterson
Your motorhome came with an instruction manual, but your life didn’t. It’s a big world out there, with no shortage of off-ramps and activities to pursue.
Now, I’m not one to interfere (okay, maybe I am), but I’ve given your traveling lifestyle some thought, and I have a few recommendations. Consider me a positive role model, someone who’s been around the block once or twice, and take a look at these pearls of wisdom for a more enjoyable RVing experience.
- Eat at greasy spoons, neighborhood dives, and diners open into the wee hours of the morning. And always get the house specialty — no exceptions.
- Wake up early the next morning and exercise. It may take an hour of aerobics to burn off that big-as-your-head tenderloin you ate the night before (found in Solon, Iowa, by the way), but your body will thank you.
- If you don’t own a cell phone, ponder this image: a dark night on a lonely stretch of road and your motorhome has a flat tire. A cell phone is a must for frequent travelers. Keep a supplemental calling card as a backup for when cell signals falter.
- Spend a summer volunteering at a national park. The views can’t be beat. I recommend Acadia National Park in Maine; Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park; and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore along Lake Superior.
- Your motorhome is the ultimate tailgating machine, so use it. Visit every Major League Baseball park. When you’re done hitting the ballparks, tailgate at every NFL stadium on game day. Then, start all over again.
- Weigh your motorhome periodically. The pounds can creep aboard an RV as easily as they do on our waistlines.
- Be nice to your copilot. Otherwise, he or she will navigate you so far off the route that even a compass, a GPS, and an eager Boy Scout won’t be able to save you.
- Venture into the Northeast between mid-September and mid-October — the foliage is incredible. On occasion, do some primitive camping to keep your instincts sharp.
- Always carry a roll of duct tape, some PVC pipe, a small tool kit, and a plastic tarp in the motorhome. All of them will come in handy more than once.
- Visit the homes of your heroes. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida, and the Wyatt Earp Birthplace in Monmouth, Illinois, are two of my favorites.
- Go local, especially in terms of cuisine. Sample White Castle hamburgers in the Midwest; crunch into tacos in Baja, Mexico; enjoy a warm, soft pretzel in Philadelphia; and crack open the biggest Maine lobster you can afford.
- Invest in an electric awning if you’re awning kind of people.
- Buy the very best walking shoes, cutlery, atlas, bedding, inverter, and portable chair that you can find.
- Do as the Romans do.
- Purchase a National Parks Pass ($50; 888-GO-PARKS) for exceptional values at nearly 400 sites across the United States. Join the Disney Club ($39.95; 800-654-6347) for great savings if you’re heading to the Magic Kingdom or other Disney-related theme parks or resorts this year.
- Try the Blackberry wireless e-mail system if you crave your messages but are tired of lugging around a laptop to the campground office to hook up your modem.
- Visit roadside stands, farmer’s markets, and pick-your-own orchards whenever possible. It’s no myth — fresh produce simply tastes better.
- Get the biggest campground directory you can.
- Find the best deals on a new motorhome by shopping at the end of the year, during inclement weather, and while the economy is mired in a slowdown. Then comparison shop, comparison shop, comparison shop.
- Carry a high deductible on your RV insurance if you have the safety record to back it up.
- Spoil pets rotten.
- Take the grandchildren on a trip. Spoil them rotten, too.
- Bring along a list of important telephone numbers. The list should include numbers for your family; roadside assistance; your insurance company; your physicians; and your legal counsel. While you’re at it, make a list of other vital information, including medications, pet vaccinations, and warranties.
- Partake in activities that make your spouse happy. Remember, you’re in this together.
- Add Alaska; Washington, D.C.; Northern California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Telluride, Colorado, to your travel itinerary if you haven’t yet visited these places.
- Fly your country’s flag.
- Make sure your insurance covers you in other countries you’ll be traveling before departing on that dream trip. Bring rabies certificates for pets, and don’t crack jokes at the border. Less is more here.
- Take a weekend to work on the motorhome. Follow preventive and general maintenance procedures for the RV’s appliances and internal systems; wash and wax the exterior; vacuum the carpet and launder the drapes; spray for bugs; throw out or donate needless gear; and give the interior a thorough cleaning it won’t soon forget.
- Purge the holding tanks before hitting the road. The weight loss — and fuel savings — can be significant.
- Don’t push it when on the road. Take frequent breaks, switch drivers, and keep speeds and mileage at reasonable levels. Don’t torture your passengers with Herculean travel days — they will mutiny. Relax; this is supposed to be fun.
- Don’t visit Texas in August — you will burst into flames.
- Don’t suffer pay showers gladly, but carry a roll of quarters in your bathroom kit if you’re using the facilities.
- Don’t buy a preowned motorhome that was formerly a rental unit. Remember how you drive rentals?
- Don’t venture into Chicago’s city limits from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. or from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. These are lost hours that you will never get back.
- Don’t venture onto your RV’s roof before the morning dew has dried. Wet roofs have sent more than a few motorhomers sliding. Exercise caution at all times, and don’t climb up that ladder unless it’s absolutely necessary, especially if your legs aren’t what they used to be.
- Don’t come down the mountain in any gear other than the one you went up in — your transmission will thank you.
- Don’t worry about what the neighbors think when you arrive at your campsite. Take your time backing in: go slowly and cautiously. Yelling at your copilot won’t help. Neither will backing over the picnic table.
- Don’t travel without some form of roadside assistance. The RV gods have a wicked sense of humor.
- Don’t call your copilot a “brainless oaf.” The resulting cold spell onboard is worse than any navigational blunder. Believe me, I speak from experience.
- Don’t skimp on the motorhome’s engine. Buy the biggest one you can, and don’t look back.
- Don’t forget the s’mores. Consider a bag of marshmallows, a couple of chocolate bars, and a box of graham crackers non-negotiable packing items.
- Don’t plunge right into full-timing. Work your way up to it, taking longer and longer trips before selling the house and hitting the road. Baby steps are best until you’re ready. Then live it up!
- Don’t complain about the price of fuel. It would still be a bargain at twice the price.
- Don’t forget to tell the kids where you are and where you’re going. They worry.
- Don’t underestimate solar power — it works.
- Don’t answer the door in the middle of the night when camped in parts unknown unless someone’s waving a badge on the other side.
- Don’t forget that the simplest recipes are always the best. Here’s one: Heat 2 cups of canned tomatoes, half an onion (peeled but unchopped), and 5 tablespoons of butter at a low simmer for 45 minutes. Pour over pasta. Rejoice.
- Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol, while on certain types of medication, or when fatigued. Piloting a 20,000-pound motorhome is challenging enough as it is.
- Don’t let these RV nuisances spoil the trip: clanking mini-blinds; traffic; soggy firewood; muddy pawprints on the bedspread; a lukewarm shower; or a decapitated TV antenna, courtesy of that highway overpass.
- Don’t forget to lower the TV antenna.
- Don’t miss a chance to spend the night at such phenomenal RV resorts as California’s Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort, Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, or two knockout properties in the Florida Keys: Fiesta Key KOA and Sugarloaf Key KOA. Find other good places to stay, and share them with others.
- Don’t throw recyclables into the campfire. It’s not a furnace and it won’t turn your aluminum drink can into dust.
- Don’t argue with the police. You can’t bully your way out of a ticket.
- Don’t forget the motorhome’s exterior height. Write it down and post it near the driver’s seat so you won’t forget.
- Don’t overpack. The greatest excesses come in the form of unnecessary cookware, superfluous tools, storage pods filled with who knows what, and work you have no intention of doing.
- Don’t fill up the diesel pusher at seldom-visited gas stations. Diesel fuel is like baked goods — the fresher the better. Opt for fill-ups at travel plazas and truck stops along the interstate to make sure you’re purchasing recently delivered fuel.
- Don’t cram a month’s worth of activities into two weeks. Otherwise, you’ll need a vacation from your vacation.