Travel “smart” when motorhoming alone. Here’s how.
By Jane E. Blair, F308488
While motorhoming full-time as a single female, I’ve run into my share of people who can’t believe that I’m comfortable traveling alone. Yes, it can be a challenge, but I’ve discovered it’s not too difficult as long as I remain alert, cautious, and follow a set of traveling rules that I’ve established for myself. There are basic issues of personal safety that should be adhered to whether you’re going down the road or parked for the night. It’s wise to make rules for yourself and always stick to them. Here are mine.
For communication purposes, I carry a cell phone with a no-roaming, no-long-distance calling plan. For backup, I have a handheld CB radio that will run on batteries, but I typically keep it plugged into a 12-volt connection at the front of the motorhome. As you enter a different state while driving, and occasionally a new county, you may see signs posted that provide the emergency telephone number for the highway patrol or the 911 emergency system. Keep a pad of paper and a pen handy to jot down those numbers.
Travel with your doors locked and the window locks engaged. This is more important in crowded urban areas of the country, but isolated backcountry roads can be dangerous as well. Have a second ignition key made for your towed vehicle so you can lock the doors while leaving one key in the ignition for towing and the other on your keychain for unlocking the door. Take the ignition key out when you stop for the night and relock the vehicle.
When you need a break from driving, do so in a rest area where other RVs are parked, if possible. Or look for rest areas where families are stopped. The best rest areas are those with an open information center or a visible patrol stop. Lock your vehicle when you exit to use the facilities.
If you stop for the night in a non-organized camping area, such as a Wal-Mart, ask permission to stay; find out whether there are 24-hour patrols; park near other RVers if possible; park close to streetlights (you can use a sleep mask if the light keeps you awake); and let someone know where you are. Even better, stop at the local police department, if there’s room in their parking lot. Keep your doors locked and don’t “camp.” Be ready to leave instantly if you are concerned about something going on in that parking lot, which means keeping the slideouts in, the leveling jacks up, and the patio chairs stowed.
Although some states allow overnight parking in rest areas, I tend to avoid doing this. I made one exception in the four years I’ve been traveling. I stayed the night at an information rest area in Texas that had a security patrol on the premises. I checked in with the patrolman and let him know I was staying there. He kept an eye on me, then passed on the “protection duty” to his relief. Unfortunately, my night’s stay was joined by what sounded like 500 diesel-powered 18-wheelers whose engines ran the whole night. That’s another reason I avoid rest areas.
Try to stop for the night before it gets dark. If you’re in an organized campground, you can meet your neighbors, acquaint yourself with the park, and get on the list for any security patrols the campground might have. If you’re in an unorganized area, you can “scout” the neighborhood; notice the types of customers frequenting the businesses; and check out the local security precautions that businesses have taken. I personally find stopping in an area where businesses have bars and security gates over the windows and doors rather unnerving. Seeing what kind of protection is being used in the area should tell you something about its safety. If you feel unsure about an area, leave and find another spot.
Even though you’ve always had the desire to check out the isolated grave of Snaky, the Wild West’s Most Notorious Rattlesnake Connoisseur, you’ll probably find that the only route there is a narrow gravel dead-end road. If this is the case, park the motorhome in a secure, patrolled spot; lock it; and take the towed vehicle to the site and enjoy to your heart’s content.
Although this might not always be possible, travel with friends in a caravan. There is safety in numbers. Unfortunately, I am usually going in a different direction than the friends I’ve met in RV parks, so joining them isn’t feasible. But sometimes I’ll come across other motorhomes heading in the same direction I’m traveling and will just tag along. Luckily, I haven’t joined up with Bonnie and Clyde. Somehow those amiable, gray-haired couples seem harmless. But just in case they start acting kind of funny, you can just drop back and give them some room. If your company stops in a rest area, it’s nice to pull in also and say hello. You might want to ask them if they mind whether you stick with them for a few miles. Assure them that you’re not out to hijack their motorhome, and, in general, just be the usual friendly motorhomer like those you meet all over the country.
Even though I love spur-of-the-moment adventures, I do try to plan a route and tell friends and family where I’m going; which route I’ll take to get there; when I should arrive; and where I plan to stay along the way and when I get to my destination. Regular communication with friends or family will save headaches and heartaches.
I carry a list of contacts in my purse for emergency notification by authorities should I be involved in an accident. I also update and send that same list to family and friends on a regular basis. There may be a better place to keep something like that, but my purse seems to be the most logical place for me.
For issues of safety, not only for you but for your motorhome, here’s another set of rules.
First, and foremost, join an RV-friendly emergency road service. Having a toll-free number “” or any number, for that matter “” to call if you find yourself sitting at the side of the road with a flat tire or a dead engine can alleviate a lot of worries. There are Good Samaritans out there who may stop to offer assistance. In those cases, I can only say, use your good judgment. I will be eternally grateful to the young man who flagged me down to tell me that I had a flat tire on my towed vehicle and then offered to change the tire. In the initial conversation through the driver’s-side window, he told me his in-laws traveled in a motorhome and he knew how difficult it was to always know what’s going on behind you. He also was very polite and offered his cell phone for me to use if I wanted to call for assistance. Sometimes, you just know.
Keep your motorhome serviced. Read your maintenance manuals and follow the service schedules. If you’re not mechanically inclined “” I am not “” find a good, well-recommended service shop where belts, buckles, hoses, clamps, and so forth can be checked before you head out on the road. Examine your tire pressures regularly and learn what the correct pressure should be. Check the oil and other fluid levels before heading out. If you don’t know where to check the fluids and the location of the refills, ask your mechanic to teach you. And don’t forget to check the water in the batteries if you have those types.
Learn to read and understand the gauges on the dashboard. Memorize what the engine sounds like when it’s running correctly so you’ll recognize unusual clanks, bangs, and thumps. Also, get a feel for the ride so you’ll know the difference when a tire is low, your tires on the passenger side are off the road, or you’re getting blown around. This sounds simple, but if you don’t recognize a problem, you can be caught unaware and in danger.
Check the hitch between your motorhome and towed vehicle for tight connections, and see that all pins and bolts are in place and secured. Make sure the drop between the motorhome and towed vehicle is within safety limits. Most experts say six inches or less. Be sure your towed vehicle is ready for towing; the gear shifter is in the proper position; tires are inflated to correct pressure; wheels and steering wheel are free to turn. I also recommend using an auxiliary braking system on the towed car. And as an added precaution, be sure your car is actually attached to the motorhome before you drive off. Nothing is more embarrassing than having to go back to the last campground to retrieve it.
As a precaution, I fill the fuel tank whenever it gets to half-full. It can be a long way between fuel stops that accommodate large vehicles such as a motorhome, especially if your RV uses diesel fuel, as mine does. It also reduces price shock when you’re finished filling up. In addition, keep the gas tank on your towed vehicle full or close to full. It’s your emergency vehicle. Don’t forget about it.
Carry flares and/or lights to set out as warnings in case you have to pull off the road at night or in inclement weather. It’s also a good idea to use them if your vehicle becomes disabled alongside the road.
My cabinets and refrigerator always have enough food to tide me over for a day or two in case I’m stuck somewhere. I keep my propane tank close to full for the same reason. I carry enough water to get by as well. I try to empty at least the gray water tank before I head out. Dump stations can be scarce if you don’t stay in organized campgrounds and people really do not appreciate your dumping waste on their property, even if it’s only soapy water.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some other must-dos, or make-sure-ofs, but this is a start to staying safe during your travels. Traveling is for fun; it’s not supposed to make your gray hair grayer.
Lastly, I’ve found that it also helps to have a big dog onboard “” along with a big stick.
Safety Tips For the solo traveler
- carry a cell phone
- carry a handheld CB radio that will run on batteries and 12-volt power
- jot down the emergency telephone numbers posted on road signs
- when you enter a new state or county
- travel with all doors and windows locked
- have two ignition keys for your towed vehicle
- seek permission to overnight in a non-organized camping area;
- park near streetlights and other RVers; lock doors; be ready to leave at a moment’s notice
- stop before nightfall
- get to know your neighbors in organized campgrounds
- travel with friends and family when possible
- have 24-hour RV emergency road service
- keep your motorhome serviced
- carry a list of emergency contact numbers
- regularly check tire pressure, oil, and fluid levels
- learn to read and understand dashboard gauges
- refuel at a half-tank
- keep the towed vehicle’s gas tank full
- carry flares/warning lights to use in emergency situations
- keep ample groceries onboard
- Keep propane and water tanks full
- dump whenever possible
- remove the key from your towed vehicle’s ignition when you stop
- take breaks in well-populated areas
- lock your vehicle when you leave it
- let friends and family know your whereabouts at all times