If you’re traveling by RV — especially if it’s a permanent lifestyle — it’s easy to feel like you’re insulated from the world. You’ve basically got your home all around you wherever you go.
But there’s still a lot that can go wrong, from mechanical problems to bad weather (and the combination, if you’ve got a leaky roof) that can leave you stuck on the road, or worse, if you aren’t prepared. Here are some ways to make sure you are.
Know the Weather Forecast
Keep an eye on the forecast both before and during your trip to be sure you’re not driving into the kind of weather that can play havoc with an RV. Download a good weather app (and keep your smartphone charged) to monitor the immediate and long-term forecast. Enter all your destinations before you leave, so you can keep track of changes as you go.
Be aware that different kinds of weather can cause different kinds of problems.
Most RVs are higher off the ground than cars, which means they have a higher center of gravity and are more prone to swaying in high winds. At best, you’ll have to constantly correct your steering to compensate for the wind and keep from swerving into the next lane — or off the road. Worst, in extremely high winds, an RV can even flip onto its side.
Just like the pipes in your house, the pipes in your RV can freeze. Check to see whether your RV has a heated water duct system. Also, look for antifreeze for drinking water systems (not the kind you put in your engine!) that are made specifically for RVs.
Also be sure to pack a well-insulated, water-resistant jacket, plus gloves, a hat, scarf, water-resistant boots, and a mummy bag in the event your heat stops working.
Check to be sure your headlights are working before you head into any potentially snowy weather. Take along an ice scraper, snow brush, and tire chains. If you get stuck, you’ll need a warm blanket and possibly handwarmers.
For the bigger picture, it’s a good idea to have a portable generator installed onboard. Even if you’re heading toward a warmer destination, a backup power source can serve you well at campgrounds that allow them.
Frayed or streaky windshield wipers are the last thing you need heading into a rainstorm. You’ll also want to inspect the roof for leaks and your tires for traction (more on both below). Don’t try to drive through significant flooding; your RV may be higher off the ground, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get stuck and stall out in standing or running water.
Check Your Tires
There’s more weight riding on an RV’s tires than on car tires, so it’s important to give them the attention they deserve. Check the tire pressure regularly and tighten the lug nuts before you go out on the road.
If you only use your RV periodically, having it sit stationary for long periods with the tires in the same position can cause deflation. Check your owner’s manual for the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) and inflate them to that level, and move the RV periodically to prevent flat spots or uneven wear.
Something else to watch for: Tire pressure changes with the weather, dropping 1 to 2 pounds per square inch for every 10 degrees cooler it gets outside. Take along your own tire gauge or, better yet, install a pressure monitoring system that can alert you to problems early on. Best option: a system that monitors both tire pressure and heat.
Before you leave, check for signs of wear on your tire tread and look for bulges or cracks in your sidewalls. Tire blowouts cause 200 deaths and 11,000 accidents per year, and when a tire blows, controlling an RV is even harder than controlling a car.
Perform Preventative Maintenance
Just like a car, an RV needs to have the oil changed regularly. If you use your RV frequently, that typically means every 3,000 to 4,000 miles. But if you don’t, and your RV sits in storage for long periods, then consider changing the oil with the change of seasons.
Also, check the brakes to make sure they’re lubricated and the brake pads aren’t overworn. And if you need a tuneup or filter changes, be sure to see a trusted mechanic.
Inspect Your Roof
There’s more at stake with a roof inspection than just keeping water from dripping onto your head while you’re trying to sleep. If water gets through your roof and into the inner ceiling panels, it can cause lots of damage that can cascade into more problems. The resulting repairs can run into the thousands of dollars if you don’t stay on top of it.
Check the seams around the edges, skylights, and AC unit for leaks, and use a sealant to patch any cracks you find. This inspection and upkeep should be done three to four times a year.
An internet connection is vital, whether you’re working remotely from your RV or just want to be sure you can contact someone in case of an emergency. You may or may not be in range of a cell tower at any given point on your route, so it’s worthwhile to purchase a cellular signal or Wi-Fi booster.
You should also be sure to pack an extra cell phone charger to keep your communications juiced, just in case. Furthermore, an external battery or portable power supply can ensure your essentials stay powered on. Just make sure you keep it charged.
Pack a tool kit
A roadside emergency kit probably seems like a no-brainer, but don’t forget to take along a tool kit as well. After all, you’re driving around in your house. Include items like pliers, screwdrivers (both flat and Phillips-head), Allen wrenches, a ratchet and socket set, wire cutters, electrical and duct tape, a flashlight, and a utility knife or multipurpose tool.
In the event of an emergency that leaves you stranded, you should also have a backup supply of non-perishable food and water. If you take medication or have a pet, make sure to pack extra medicine and pet food.
You want to make sure that you have all of the right clothes to keep you in comfort throughout your travels. We recommend that you look at a company like Emigre who specialize in travel wear. You can get pretty much everything that you need from clothes for hot weather, to clothes for cold weather. It’s never possible to know when something is going to go wrong, and you may find yourself waiting in the cold or the heat for a while. While people do not think of clothes typically when it comes to preparedness, you’re going to thank yourself that you did!
There are plenty of things to keep in mind before you hit the road, and this is just a partial list. (We didn’t even touch on fire safety!). But this should give you an idea of how much prep work you have to do before departing. Take heart, though: The fun you can have will make all the effort more than worth it.
Guest Post by Molly Barnes, a full-time digital nomad, exploring and working remotely in different cities in the US. She and her boyfriend Jacob created the website Digital Nomad Life to share their journey and help others to pursue a nomadic lifestyle.
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