These basic guidelines can help you to execute a safe and enjoyable motorhome excursion from start to finish.
By Jim Brightly, F358406, and Doug Uhlenbrock, Associate Editor
Throughout most of North America, winter has made its final blustery encore and spring has stepped onstage. For motorhomers, that means one thing: It’s time to go. Snowbirds who flocked south in the fall migrate back to their stationary nests, while the hibernators emerge from their dens, ready to set out on new adventures.
Whether your next motorhome trip is a weekend away or a months-long journey “” or somewhere in between “” proper preparation can make it go much more smoothly.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with a general trip-planning agenda that lists many of the things you should do to prepare and enjoy your next motorhome adventure. If you’re a new motorhome owner, this information can help you learn how to successfully execute a trip. If you’re a veteran motorhomer, you may pick up new ideas or be reminded of things you may have done at one time, but have since forgotten.
So, if you’re ready to hit the road, let’s get started.
Start your planning a month “” or longer “” from your intended departure date. Here are several things to take care of well in advance.
Decide where you’re going. This is the obvious starting point, but it can require quite a bit of research to make sure your trip is a success. Collect information about the area to which you will be traveling and the types of activities available once you arrive. Using the list of FMCA commercial member campgrounds published in the January 2009 issue of Family Motor Coaching (page 268) or your favorite campground directory, find several campgrounds near your destination. Select one that fits your requirements, and reserve a spot. Keep a list of other campgrounds in the area just in case the first one is not to your liking. Be sure to inquire about the campgrounds’ cancellation policies in case your trip gets delayed or another destination is selected.
Service time. Schedule to have your motorhome and towed vehicle (if you are traveling with one) serviced. This includes having the oil and other fluids checked and changed; the tires checked; the chassis inspected; and the generator serviced. This is also a good time to make sure the appliances and systems in the motorhome are operating properly. Test everything “” plumbing, electric, air-conditioning/heat, batteries, refrigerator (both electric and propane modes), oven/stove, TV, roof vents, interior, motorhome and towing lights, awnings “” and schedule an appointment to have malfunctioning items fixed. Checking these items in advance will leave plenty of time to get the appropriate repairs done. This is also a good time to lubricate latches, steps, storage compartment doors, etc.
Stock up. Go through the motorhome’s cabinets and make sure you have a ready stock of all necessities. Replace old or worn-out supplies and replenish items you use often. Don’t leave this for the last minute.
One Week From Departure
The excitement builds as you see the motorhome sitting in the driveway, knowing that soon you will be rolling down the highway.
Check it off. During this staging week, you will make countless trips into the motorhome, loading it with all the things you may need for your trip. So what do you bring? The accompanying checklist provides an inventory of many items motorhomers pack. Make a copy of it for each trip and check off items as you place them in the motorhome. Modify the list to eliminate items you don’t need and add to it things you want to bring along.
Power up. Plug the motorhome into shore power, turn on the refrigerator (make sure it works on both propane and electric), and begin packing food that needs to stay refrigerated. This can be started early in the week, with the final items brought out on the day of the trip. It’s a good idea to precool food items before putting them into the motorhome refrigerator. Plugging in to shore power also assures that your house batteries are fully charged.
Tank attention. Add toilet chemical to the black water tank and make sure you have some water in the fresh water tank. You may not want to fill it completely, as it will add weight to the motorhome and reduce fuel mileage, but make sure to put at least a few gallons in the tank. Fill the tank once you are near or at the campground, depending on whether you will have a water hookup.
Home affairs. Decide how your mail will be handled and who will collect the newspapers and other circulars left at your house. Will you have your home phone calls forwarded to a cell phone? Put timers on several lights in your home to give the appearance that someone is there, and have someone drop by occasionally to check on things. Set the thermostat to reduce heating or cooling inside the house according to the season. Turn off the main water valve. Dispose of anything in the pantry or refrigerator that may spoil during your trip. Have someone take your garbage can to the curb and return it to the storage area when emptied.
Pets. If your pet is traveling with you, include food, bowls, treats, a leash, a chain or rope for outside the motorhome, plastic grocery bags and scooper to clean up after it, a sleeping mat, toys, etc. If a friend is watching your pet or it is being kenneled, prepare a travel bag that includes items it will need during its vacation.
Last-minute check. Go online or call state highway information services to check on highway closures, construction delays, etc. Confirm your campground reservations.
Loaded and locked. Make sure the compartment doors are closed and locked. Secure anything that may be attached to the rear ladder or elsewhere on the exterior of the motorhome. Make sure awnings are locked and secure.
Final preparations. Clean the windshield, cockpit windows, rearview monitor lens, and mirrors. Check the tire pressures on the motorhome and towed vehicle and adjust as necessary. Hook up the towed vehicle, taking your time to make sure all steps are completed. Make sure the connections are secure and the towing lights are operating. Check the motorhome’s headlights, taillights, etc. one last time. Unhook your shore electric and store the cord.
On The Road
Finally, you’re on your way. As the miles roll by, look ahead to the fun you will have when you arrive at your destination, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Take in the scenery; stop at places that look interesting; sample the regional food. Oftentimes the best finds will occur when you least expect them. So, don’t rush.
Fuel up. If you haven’t done so already, fuel the motorhome and towed vehicle. If you’re low on propane, get this tank filled as well.
Rest. Make sure to include rest breaks in your travel schedule, typically one every two to three hours, depending on the driver. Get out of the motorhome; stretch your legs; and grab something to eat or drink. The time out of the cockpit will allow you to refresh your mind and body. Do a quick visual inspection of the motorhome and towed vehicle. Check the tires, and make sure the towing and wiring connections are secure.
Know when to stop. Operating a motorhome for an extended period can sap your mental and physical energy. So, when you feel yourself getting tired or losing focus, it’s time to call it a day. Find a campground and stay the night. If there are no campgrounds in the area, pull into a Walmart or other RV-friendly retailer and get some sleep. Make sure to ask the manager whether it’s okay to stay for a short time. If given the go-ahead, remember that you’re there to rest, not to make camp. Also, patronize the store for things you may need or have forgotten, and do not leave any trash in the parking lot.
Almost there. As you near your destination, stop at a grocery store and purchase any items you may have forgotten. This is also a good time to fuel up the motorhome and towed vehicle if you haven’t done so recently. Remember, if you’re dry camping you will need more than a quarter-tank of fuel to operate the generator. Some fuel stops even have water and dump stations, so you may want to fill your fresh water tank or clean out your black water and gray water tanks before arriving at the campground.
At The Campground
Now it’s time to relax and have fun. But first, there are several things you need to take care of to make sure your stay is enjoyable.
Check in. Your first stop will be the campground office to check in. Make note of your vehicles’ license plate numbers before you go into the office. You will be given information about the campground and told where your campsite is located. This is the time to inquire about Wi-Fi availability (make sure to get the password), cable TV hookup, and any park restrictions. You also will want to ascertain whether you will have any trouble accessing your site. If you are concerned, perform a visual inspection of the site (walk or hitch a ride) before driving the motorhome to it.
Parking. Unhook the towed vehicle before parking the motorhome, regardless of whether you are in a back-in or pull-through site. Have your copilot or another member of your party help direct you in to assure that you are clearing all obstructions to the sides of the motorhome, plus above and below. Keep your parking assistant in view at all times, and stop the motorhome completely if you lose sight of the person. Once the motorhome is in position, place the transmission in park and engage the parking brake.
Set up. Level the motorhome, either with leveling jacks or blocks, and extend the slideouts. If using blocks, make sure to chock any tires that are on the ground. (Most commercial campsites are graded to be fairly level, but non-developed primitive camping areas may require quite a bit of effort to level the coach.) Move the towed vehicle off the street and into the campsite. Hook up the shore power, water, sewer, and cable TV. Make sure the shore power is working and check to see whether the refrigerator is operating in electric mode. If you are tired, rest. But if you’re still full of energy, set up the outdoor furniture, tables, grills, flags, etc. Deploy your over-the-air antenna or satellite dish and acquire TV reception.
Look around. Do a visual inspection of the motorhome. Check under the coach to make sure no fluids are leaking, including the fresh water hose.
Call home. Dial up or send an e-mail to family or friends letting them know you made it to your destination and give them any pertinent information (campground phone number, campsite location, etc.) so that you can be contacted in the event of an emergency.
Keep sewer line closed. Do not leave your black water and/or gray water tank drain valves open even if you have a sewage hookup. This can lead to unpleasantness inside your motorhome.
Campsite security. When calling it a day, make sure any campfires or grill coals are extinguished. Lock doors when you are away from the motorhome or when you turn in for the night. Put away things that might “walk away” when you are gone or sleeping. Put trash in campground receptacles; don’t leave trash outside the motorhome, as it can attract wildlife you don’t want hanging around your campsite.
Be respectful of your neighbors and turn off the gas water heater at night. Some people are light sleepers, and the on-and-off cycle of the heater burner can be annoying in the middle of the night.
You’ve had a great adventure, but now it’s time to leave. Staying focused on what needs to be done before departing may be the hardest part of the entire trip, since it’s easy to put off tasks until the last minute. So, pay attention to details to make sure everything is in order before you leave.
Prepping. If you plan to leave first thing in the morning, stow chairs, tables, flags, and other items you will not need the night before. Check the tire pressures on the motorhome and towed vehicle. Drain and flush out the black and gray water tanks and make sure to put some water in the fresh water tank. Retract the awnings and secure them.
Tear down. In the morning, or just before you are about to leave, disconnect the utilities and put all connections back in their proper places. Put down the TV antenna/satellite dish. Retract the slideouts, remove chocks from the wheels, and retract the levelers/remove blocks. Lock all storage compartments and do a walk-around to make sure everything is put away and secured. Police the campsite and dispose of any garbage in a campground receptacle. If you did not have a sewer hookup, pull the motorhome from the campsite and drain the black and gray water tanks at the campground dump station.
Hooking up. Move the motorhome into the street to hook up the towed vehicle. If it is a busy street, be courteous and pull the vehicles to an open area before hooking up. Do not rush this process or become distracted while performing the setup procedures. Make sure all of the connections are secure (tow bar, safety chains, electric) and that all of the lights “” including the turn signals “” on the motorhome and towed vehicle are operating.
Secure the interior. Make sure everything inside the motorhome is properly stored, cabinets are latched, and doors are closed.
Going Home “” Or To Your Next Destination
Back on the road again, you think of the lasting memories collected during your stay. But remember, the trip isn’t over, and you must remain vigilant to the travel details that will assure a safe return home.
Fill up/drain tanks. If you did not fuel up the motorhome and towed vehicle before entering the campground, do so. If you did not drain the black and gray tanks at the campground, find a Flying J or another place with a dump station and unload the tanks “” there’s no sense carrying that extra weight.
Take it easy. You may be tempted to get home, or to your next stop, as quickly as possible. Resist the urge to rush. As you did during your drive to the campground, rest when necessary and stay overnight if you become too tired to drive safely. Whenever you stop, perform a quick inspection of the motorhome and towed vehicle.
Back Home Again
As you exit and navigate back to your stationary residence, you may feel both sadness that your adventure has come to an end and happiness to be home safe and sound.
Unhook the towed vehicle. Check all of the towing equipment and store it in an appropriate place.
Remove perishables. Depending on when you arrive home, unload the contents of the refrigerator. If you will be waiting until the next day to unpack, connect to your residential electric outlet and make sure the refrigerator switches to electric. Remove anything from the cabinets that may spoil. Some items can be left in the motorhome year-round, others only if you are taking another trip soon.
Unpack. Go through your packing list and determine what goes back into your stationary home and what stays in the motorhome. Unload dirty laundry, sheets, towels, etc.
One more check. Visually inspect the motorhome, again checking under the coach for leaking fluids. Check the oil and tire pressures.
Tanks. Drain the fresh water tank. Make sure you’ve put the necessary chemicals in the black water tank according to product recommendations.
Awning care. Open the awnings (especially if you stowed them wet or damp) and rinse them off with clean water. If they are soiled with bird droppings, tree sap, pollen, etc., clean them according to manufacturer recommendations. Allow the awnings to dry completely before rolling them up again. Make sure they are locked and secure once you’re finished.
Clean the interior. Vacuum or mop the floors, wipe down the counters and tables, dust, clean the bathroom, and wipe down mirrors and windows. Cleaning now will mean one less thing to do before your next trip.
Don’t forget the exterior. Do not let dirt, tree sap, exhaust soot, or other filth to remain on the exterior of the coach for an extended period. This can affect the motorhome’s finish.
Fix it up. Make any minor repairs to the motorhome. For larger issues, schedule a service appointment.
With that journey completed, you can begin planning your next adventure, knowing that you and your motorhome will be well-prepared to hit the road again.
Don’t Forget …
While packing for a trip, using a checklist is an excellent way to make sure you have everything you need. Make several copies of this checklist and modify it with additions and deletions. You can even make individual lists for those special events, such as tailgating at soccer tourneys, backcountry fishing trips, or NASCAR events.
* Air mattresses and sleeping bags (if you’re expecting extra guests)
* Aluminum foil, plastic bags, wide-mouth plastic jars
* Batteries (a variety of sizes for your onboard gadgets)
* Books (particularly reference books relevant to the geographic areas in which you’re traveling), games, Frisbee, and writing materials
* Bottled water, either individual or larger containers
* Bungee cords, rope, and a variety of tapes (duct, electrical, masking, Teflon, transparent)
* Calamine lotion (for poison ivy/oak/sumac and insect bites)
* Camera, camcorder, and computer, plus related battery chargers
* Camp stove and/or portable grill plus fuel, charcoal, lighter fluid (don’t forget to put matches in a waterproof container)
* Cell phone(s) with chargers
* Clean-up materials (soaps, scrubbers, rags, trash bags, dish drainer)
* Coaxial TV cable (for cable TV hookup)
* Condiments (salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup, etc.)
* Cooking utensils, pots, pans, teakettle, griddle, butane lighter, can opener, coffee supplies (pot, filters, scoop), potholders, dishes, and tableware
* Coolers (and ice or ice substitutes)
* Cutting board and at least one great knife (with a sharpener)
* Fire extinguishers
* Firewood and fire-starter sticks (if you’re dry camping)
* First-aid kit, including pain remedies, cold and flu medicine, bandages
* Folding or inflatable furniture, camp stools, extra beds, stands for coolers and stoves
* Food and drinks
* Gloves (for checking fluid levels, cold weather protection, and handling sewer hose)
* Ground cloth or outdoor carpeting (for under the awning and to help keep the RV floor clean)
* Hoses (sewer, white for fresh water, green for clean-out)
* Insect repellent and citronella candles
* Lantern (extra mantles, carrying case, tripod, fuel) and several flashlights
* Layered clothing
* Leveling blocks (if your coach isn’t equipped with automatic hydraulic levelers)
* LPG canisters for lanterns, stoves, grills, and other outdoor appliances
* Mop and brooms, including a small whisk broom
* Multipurpose camper’s tool with at least one knife blade (and corkscrew, if you use one)
* Navigation devices (atlases, maps, GPS, or laptop with navigation program)
* Outdoor table
* Paper goods (towels, plates, toilet and facial tissue)
* Personal hygiene products
* Personal pillows
* Pet supplies (if you’re bringing a pet)
* Plastic goods (zipper bags, cups, small food storage containers)
* Power cable adapters
* Prescription medications
* Rain gear
* Sun screen
* Tablecloth (with outdoor clips), napkins, pot holders, and kitchen towels
* Thermal drink holders
* Toolkit (that would enable you to complete any small or usual home repair, plus a hand ax and shop towels)
* Toilet chemical
* Water container (5-gallon, if you’re dry camping)
* Wet wipes
* Whistle and signaling mirror (if you’re a hiker)