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Top 10 RV Lessons learned after 75,000 miles

We just turned 60,000 miles on our Roadtrek Etrek as we pulled into our Michigan driveway after our latest trip, which essentially was four months on the road through 21 states, taking us from Cape Cod on the Atlantic to the far Pacific Northwest. When you add the 15,000 miles we drove in our first RV – a 2006 RS Adventurous – that now gives us 75,000 miles under our collective wheels.

We are no longer rookies.

Indeed, we’ve learned a few things.

And I’ve made some mistakes. But you’ll have to read to the end of this for my confessions.

Granted, these are our own RV lessons. They’re personal, related to our style of travel. They may not be what you want.

1) There is No Hurry – Okay, sometimes you really do have to be somewhere at a certain time but, in general, RV travel needs to be flexible. To enjoy it to the max, you need to be able to stop when you want, where you want. Setting an agenda, over-planning and plotting out stop-by-stop overnights is way too organized for us and causes us to miss the things you can’t find in a book or through online research, the things that just happen, like taking a road far off the interstate just because it looks interesting. It almost always is, unless it’s US 20 in Iowa. But hey, even that was worth driving because it gave me an example to cite as the word’s most boring drive.

2) Don’t believe interstate exit signs – Pet peeve time. I owe US20 as the inspiration for this, too. A sign along the interstate says there is gas, in my case diesel, at the next exit. You take it. At the top of the exit ramp the sign again says diesel and points to the left. Great. Uh huh. That diesel is 5.4 miles away in town. Meaning a more than 10 mile time-wasting roundtrip. I have found the RoadNinja app the best tool for finding reliable fuel at exits. Interstate signs are a scam. I’m convinced the various state highway departments get kickbacks from local merchants to lure unsuspecting travelers off the road. Probably not true. But it helps to have someone to blame. Which directly leads me to the next lesson

We cook on the Cuisinart Griddler

We cook on the Cuisinart Griddler

3) Stay off the Interstates – They are boring. You’re in a tunnel. Trapped on the concrete. Buffeted by trucks. Surrounded by eye-pollution in the form of roadside signs. Forced to drive at ridiculously fast speeds. Everything around you blurs by. The only food available at the exits is fast food which is invariably bad food. Sometimes, there is no choice. Around big cities, interstates help get you out of the congestion. But, generally, two-lane roads – the so-called blue highways – are always more interesting and get you closer to the places and people that make the RV life so enjoyable.

4) Take less clothes – We use eBags. Jennifer has three pink ones. Girls always need more clothes. I take two blue ones. I dare not peek in hers. But for me, one bag is for underwear, socks and T-shirts – I pack five of each. The other is for an extra pair of shorts, a pair of jeans and three shirts. In our wardrobe I have on a hangar a dress pair of slacks, one dress shirt, one sweater, plus a rain jacket and a fleeced sweatshirt. Jennifer has the female equivalent in the wardrobe. Plus her three pink bags. We hit a laundrymat or pick a campground that has a washer and dryer about every five or six days.

These gravity chairs take up a lot of room but are worth it

These gravity chairs take up a lot of room but are worth it

5) Good camp chairs are a must – When we first started, we used two collapsible and telescoping Pico chairs. They’re okay. Chief benefit was they break down small enough to fit in the rear storage under the rear sofa. But they really aren’t very comfortable. This year, we bought two of the gravity chairs that let you lie back and look at the sky. That’s what we call them. Our look-at-the-sky-chairs. They are inconvenient when it comes to traveling with them but so worth it when we want to relax somewhere. We store them folded up in the back, in the space between the rear sofa and the passenger side bench.

6) Follow the 230 rule – I had a fulltimer explain this to be early on. The 230 rule is “you stop when you have driven 230 miles or it’s 2:30 in the afternoon.” A variation is the 300 rule. No more than 300 miles or stop by 3:00PM. Regardless, the idea is get somewhere while it is still early enough to explore, chill, enjoy the place when you’re not wasted from driving mega miles. We are trying to adhere to that rule. In our early days, I looked at the daily driving mileage as a challenge. The more the better. I kept trying to set anther personal best. It’s 735 miles, by the way. Silly. Stupid, really. Is there anything worse than pulling into a campsite after dark? Less mileage and stopping early is our new mantra.

7) Put away the bed – Granted, this is a personal preference. I know many Roadtrekers use the two single beds and leave them made as a bed everyday. We tried that but we prefer to sleep with the bed made up as a king. And every morning, we put it and the bedding away and make the back into a sofa again. It’s neater, gives us more space a place to eat, work on the computer and not feel cramped. The few times we’ve left it as a bed has made the coach feel way too small.

8) Eat out often- Okay, here’s where we are way, way different than most Roadtrekers. But, again, this has worked best for us. For our style, not yours. I refuse to feel guilty about this: Most of the time, we eat in restaurants. We do fix breakfast in the Roadtrek, usually something simple like cereal and a banana. I carry a Keurig coffee maker and make two cups every morning. We usually pick up lunch at a restaurant and, about every other day, find a local place for dinner. When we do fix dinner in the Roadtrek, it’s simple and light, like grilled chicken strips over a salad. We use the Cuisinart Griddler for grilling and most of the cooking we do, instead of a charcoal or propane grill. The local restaurants really give you a feel for the people and place. It’s as much cultural as convenient. So we don’t fight it or feel shamed because we’re not carrying lots of frozen dishes and cooking every meal in the motorhome.  We’re not fulltimers, though the last four months have sure seemed like it at time. If we were, it would be different, I’m sure. But for now, we eat out. A lot.

9) Winter is just as much fun as summer – We camp out in our Roadtrek all year round. Alas, we do have to winterize, living in Michigan as we do. But other than having to drink from bottled water and flush the toilet with antifreeze, it’s just as easy to RV in the winter as it is in the summer. Winter RVing is awesome. The crowds are gone, the snow makes everything beautiful and it is really, really fun. If you want to try it, drop me a note. We’re planning a winter camping trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in February and will invite a few winter camping newbies next year.

Wanna buy a cargo box, two folding bikes and a drone? Impulsive purchases all.

Wanna buy a cargo box, two folding bikes and a drone? Impulsive purchases all.

10) Don’t make impulsive purchases – Here’s my confession time, where I mess up all the time. Case in point: Two folding bikes. I shelled out over $1200 to buy two Bike Friday folding bikes this summer when I saw them at a rally in Oregon.  Big mistake. Yes, they are cool bikes. But, really,  we didn’t need them. We have two full-sized bikes at home. If we will be using a bike a lot, I just need to put them on a bike rack attached to the rear hitch. I’m going to list the bikes on Craig’s List and make a promise to Jennifer to never again buy on impulse. I may also be listing the StowAway2 cargo box I bought this year (another $700 impulse buy.) Yes, it holds a lot of stuff. But we really don’t need a lot of stuff. The more we RV, the less we find we need to pack. Oh yeah, then there’s my drone. Another impulsive purchase. I’ve used the camera-equipped quadricopter fewer than a half dozen times on our trips. Maybe that will go on Craigs List, too.

So there you go…. my top 10 lessons learned. There were a lot of other things we’ve learned. But they tell me blog posts that have the phrase “top 10″ in them are read a lot more. Nobody would read “the 37 things we’ve learned…” So maybe I’ll do another list of my “top 10″ other lessons down the road. And another one after that.

How about you? Use comments below to pass along the things unique to your RV style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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19 comments

  1. Keith

    Great list Mike. I appreciate your sharing your remorse over some of your purchases. We all have fallen victim to this. I bicycle a lot and at times have desired to have more storage so I have been following your experience with the Stowaway and recently with the Bike Fridays. Your comments in this article have made me rethink what I really need. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Ron Reis

    The road signs directing you to gas and food are paid for by the name on the sign. I used to work for Burger King accounts payable and those signs are definitely a paid advertisement.

    Reply
  3. Joel Russell

    Mike, love your reporting but I am an Iowan. Hiway 20 in Iowa is beautiful and a great drive to enjoy the farms, the animals the crops. These drives make me proud to be an Iowan and appreciate what our rural friends provide.

    Reply
  4. Cathy Doern Stone

    Thank you!!! I am going to rent a class b motor home ..and drive to the coast. I am in Oregon. I dream of freedom , traveling slowly and seeing at much beauty as possible . If trial run goes well…I am going forward..talk about a newbie!!! and will need as many tips as possible..101 lessons.

    Reply
  5. Davydd

    You are right on after 75,000 miles. I can’t disagree with a single point.

    Number 4 is frustrating. When packing I am always torn in what to take, what I need, what I like, etc. After 130,000 miles I wonder if I have truly learned my lesson as I have always taken way more clothes than I need or end up wearing on trips up to 3 months. We have eliminated hanging clothes and have become expert folders. We carry two small duffel bags in case we visit family or friends that provide a bed in a house or a very rare stop at a motel.

    With number 5 we have a garage full of tried and abandoned chairs. We still carry two of those folding and telescoping director chairs mostly for socializing around a campfire. We discovered zero gravity lounge chairs at Cabelas that fold up and occupy the 5″ clear space between the rear doors and sofa perfectly — space previously not used.

    On number 8 I am a roadfooder with a specialty pursuit of breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches. My wife still believes in living normal and preparing meals. Then when we get in places like Cajun country in Louisiana we both go a bit crazy until satiated. We mostly cook outside on a propane grill or over charcoal during any multiple day stays.

    Those impulsive purchases never go away but you reduce them by process of elimination. I too have a hitch cargo carrier I quickly learned to instantly dislike when I realized it adds about 3 feet to your overall length and changes your parking habits. Right now I am battling a desire to carry an outdoor Pizza Que propane pizza maker. Thank you for dousing the flame for folding bikes.

    Reply
  6. tom hopkins

    thanks Mike, but a lot of neat things about US20, and if you stay om it to Dubuque and then cross into Illionos there is a real pretty drive thru the Galena area..

    http://www.ask.com/wiki/U.S._Route_20_in_Iowa?qsrc=3044

    check out some more before you totally write off US20 on the eastern part of the state is a very nice campground at Backbone State Park, lots of neat stuff built by the CCC boys during the dperession. My father in law worked on the park during the CCC days, just FYI.

    Reply
  7. Barbara K

    Mike – can you give me a pointer to your “gravity chairs”? I think I saw a photo of you in one and thought it looked REALLY comfortable!!!
    Barbara

    Reply
  8. Loggenrock

    Hey Mike! You are right – to each their own! We’ve put almost 85K on ours visiting most of North America (all the States and all but 3 Provinces). Our situation might be different, but our ‘Trek becomes our home. Bed stays made up with real sheets/etc., no travel-sacks for us! We RARELY eat out – that becomes a major expense on the road – we prefer to cook/eat what and how we do any other day. We do buy local food to prepare, tho… We’ll use the Interstates and throw down some serious miles to GET someplace, then it’s time to explore a new or favorite destination. I have no problem pulling in to a truck stop at 9pm or after to spend the night – we will often stop and cook/eat dinner at the “usual” time at some scenic spot, then drive a bit more before pulling in for a night. We, too, like those “anti-gravity” chairs. Another good use for your bike rack – that’s where ours travel! The problem we find with carrying items inside while travelling is where do you put them at night? Different if you are always in a campground… And yes – it is easy to over-pack on clothing. We take clothes that are multi-function – meaning nylon pants that zip off the legs and become shorts, a SPF-rated longsleeve shirt that is nicely styled when you visit someplace “fancy”, one pair of sturdy low-cut hikers – suitable for trail or town. The more time folks spend doing this, the more adept they will become! Safe travels! ST

    Reply
  9. Elaine

    This is great. I agree Iowa 20 is not boring. We love those highways through towns and territories that are strange to us. Plus I prefer flatlands to mountains any day, much easier to drive and admire scenery. We droce US 24 clear from Michigan to Colorado Springs a few years back, best trip ever! Gooseberry Pie was a great find on that trip.

    We love eating out and always seem to bring enough home to eat at least one meal on the road. I save the leftovers for travel days when it is faster to eat in. We like to save daylight time for driving on travel days. – unless we go near a must try spot, like Stroud’s in KC, or Lambert’s in Missouri. Then it is so great to have the refrigerator on board for all the great leftovers.

    So good to see how you store the zero gravity chairs while driving. I had given up bringing them in our RT Ranger. Finding a place to put them overnight when we are not in a campground may be a challenge. What do you do with them at night?

    Reply
  10. Christine Ducey

    Great lessons! I wholeheartedly agree with #6! We try to stick to the 300 mile limit each travel day. And #7: We ALWAYS put the bed away. When the weather is not good we enjoy sitting in our “living room” with our feet up and our 3 dogs snuggled beside us. It only takes 5 or so minutes to make up the bed each night and the same amount of time to break it down in the morning.

    One lesson we have learned: Fill your fuel tank at noon even if you don’t think you need it. We were just in Sequoia NP and the drive up hill for an hour to the campground took way more fuel than we had expected. We arrived at the campground running on fumes. Our nice neighbor loaned us his generator gas can or else we would have never made it to the next gas station. He received a full can of gas and a bunch of goodies from the local grocery for his neighborliness.

    Reply
  11. Jenuity

    Thanks! New roadtrek er here! Picking it up next weekend! Wondering where you use your griddler? Inside on counter? Outside? Seems like a versatile tool to consider vs a propane grill. Any thoughts appreciated!

    Reply

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