Note: I have shared these tips before online and at the seminars I present at RV rallies, but it never hurts to have a reminder.
Spend enough time behind the wheel of a motorhome or dragging a fifth wheel or travel trailer around the country and you’ll eventually pick up a lot of knowledge and ideas that will make your trips smoother and more enjoyable. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned in over eighteen years of fulltime RVing.
1. A safe trip starts long before you ever turn the key. The night before we hit the road, we map out our trip for the next day and write it down in a notebook. Included is the route we will be traveling on, distances between cities or points of interest, and location of any stops we might plan on making, by mile marker number. Any other noteworthy items are also included, such as major climbs or downhill grades we will encounter. With the information all on one or two sheets of notebook paper, the co-pilot does not have to sort through a library of information every time the driver needs an update or directions. The evening planning session will also include looking for bypass routes around any major cities we will be entering. Usually, the loop routes will help us avoid the worst of the metropolitan traffic congestion, though they might add a few miles to our trip, and frequently the time savings make it worth the extra miles.
2. Knowing how the mile markers are laid out on interstate highways is a handy skill. With few exceptions, mile markers begin at the southern or western state line and progress to the opposite state line. Where two routes join together, a guidebook such as The Next EXIT will tell you which route the mile markers follow. Any good map or atlas will include mile markers for all exits and rest areas, which is very useful information when you need a pit stop and don’t want to pull over on the shoulder of the highway.
3. Even though most RVs are self-contained, rest areas are very important. We prefer to use our own facilities, but the opportunity to get out and stretch our legs can be very relaxing. Too many drivers, myself included, get road fixation and do not stop often enough. Try to stop every hundred miles or so, if for no other reason than to get out and walk around the rig to check the tires and the tow connections and get a breath of fresh air. It’s even more important to get up and move around as we age to help prevent blood clots.
4. We try to be off the road long before dark but sometimes plans don’t work out. As we grow older, the eyes aren’t what they used to be. A pair of safety or shooting glasses with yellow lenses makes it easier to see in fading light and can give you an extra hour or so of safe driving if you can’t stop.
5. Driver comfort can go a long way toward safety on a road trip. Having a light snack ready to ward off the afternoon munchies is helpful. My co-pilot also keeps a cool, damp washcloth handy for wiping my forehead and neck on long trips to help keep me refreshed and alert. Little things like keeping a small cooler up front with snacks and a washcloth in a zip lock bag with some ice can make the miles go by easier.
6. On the subject of driver comfort, for years I had severe hip and back pain any time I drove several hours in a day. Then a chiropractor friend told me to stop carrying my wallet in my back pocket when driving. That lump on one side can cause your hip to shift enough to create short term pain and long term problems. Now my wallet rides in a desk drawer when we’re in the motorhome or in the console of our SUV when driving around town.
7. Even with an RV GPS to guide us, a good road atlas comes in handy when we have to make a sudden detour due to an accident or bad weather up ahead. Every RV should have a good road atlas on board. There are many to choose from, but our favorite is the Rand McNally version we pick up at Walmart. It’s basically the same Rand McNally atlas you’ll find anywhere else for more money, but an added bonus is a complete listing of all Walmart and Sam’s Club locations coast to coast. We’ve spent many a night at Camp Wally World. We keep an atlas in our RV and a second in our dinghy for use on day trips. You can also find an excellent trucker’s road atlas at Amazon or at truck stops that has lots of information handy to anyone driving a big RV, including bridge and underpass heights on secondary roads.
8. Though the language of some of the truckers can get pretty rank, a CB radio is a valuable tool. We used ours in strange cities for directions, if needed, and to alert us to traffic backups from accidents or road construction. The truckers are pretty good at relaying information back behind them about which lanes to be in to get past the slowdown.
9. In heavy traffic, the driver has to concentrate on a dozen things at once. Having a co-pilot who watches the right side mirror for oncoming traffic and keeps an eye out for road signs ahead can be a tremendous help. RVs take up a lot of highway, and changing lanes can be dangerous, especially at the last minute. Knowing ahead of time which lane you need to be in will give you the time you need to get there safely.
10. Last, but certainly not least, the co-pilot should also know how to assume the pilot’s position if needed. I think in most RVs, one or the other is the primary driver, often the man. But I am amazed at how many women we have met who have absolutely no idea how to drive the rig. More than once we have seen situations where the driver of an RV has become ill or incapacitated, and the co-pilot had to find someone else to take them where they needed to be. While the co-pilot may not be the primary driver, spending some time behind the wheel is essential. Besides, the driver will come away with a better appreciation of your skills if you change jobs from time to time. Good training can turn a tentative co-pilot into a skilled RV driver. The RV Driving School has professional driving instructors around the country and at many RV rallies coast to coast.
Congratulations Marty Rash, winner of our drawing for an autographed copy of Big Lake Wedding, the fifteenth book in my Big Lake mystery series. We had 74 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.
Thought For The Day – I have days when my life is just one tent away from a circus.