Welcome to “Ask an RV Expert,” the advice column where RVillage experts answer your questions about common RV maintenance problems.
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Dear RVillage Expert: How can I avoid dangerous roads in my RV? —Linda D.
RVs are proof that not all roadways are created equal. Whether you’re towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel or cruising down the road in a driveable rig, traveling by RV just isn’t the same as traveling in a car. From low-clearance tunnels and bridges to downright dangerous roads, it’s crucial that RV owners map their routes beforehand to avoid getting themselves and their rigs stuck in an anxiety-inducing situation.
But exactly how do RV owners avoid encountering unfavorable routes?
Apps, maps, and a little preparation all play a role in dodging these dicey roadways, so let’s look at a few things you can do to plan the perfect RV-friendly route before your next adventure.
Know your rig. Measure your RV’s height and length to navigate low-clearance obstacles like tunnels, bridges, gas station awnings, power lines, and more. Be sure to include your A/C unit, antennas, and other roof accessories when measuring your rig’s height.
RV-friendly GPS. Using an RV route planning app is a must. GPS systems for cars won’t provide you with routes that are safe and driveable for RVs. The best apps for RVing let you input your rig’s height and length to customize a route that’s specific to your RV. Apps like Togo RV, inRoute, and RV Life Trip Wizard are all great options for mapping routes and roadways that are RV-friendly.
Have a backup map. Despite modern technology, when cell phone service isn’t available, you’re going to need a backup plan in order to prevent getting lost or stranded during your travels. Keep a paper atlas with you at all times when traveling and try to download offline versions of your route before taking to the road.
Be patient. Accept the fact that traveling in an RV means longer routes, lower speed limits, and extra stops. The best way to avoid dangerous situations on the road is to take your time and take the extra precautions needed to keep yourself and other drivers safe.
Know yourself. Steep grades, winding roads, and elevation aren’t for everybody. Even if the route allows RVs, it doesn’t mean that you’ll feel comfortable taking it. Don’t push your own limitations. The best part about RVing can be the journey getting to your destination, so be kind to yourself and take roads you feel safe and confident driving on––even if it means taking a little extra time getting there.
Dear RVillage Expert: What do RVers use to check the weather on your route? —Kristy R.
When it comes to weather, staying in the know is key to planning a safe RV trip. Slick roadways, high winds, and downpours can all make driving or towing an RV stressful and dangerous.
While there are plenty of apps out there to help you stay on top of weather conditions, there’s more to weather safety when traveling and camping in your RV than simply keeping an eye on the sky. Having the right gear, safety plans, and awareness are all ways to ensure you and your loved ones are prepared for severe weather on the road and at the campground.
Here are a few tips, apps, and gear recommendations for staying safe during inclement weather.
Apps to download. For radar and forecast updates, The Weather Channel, Clime NOAA Weather and Radar, and AccuWeather are all highly recommended by RVers. For wind-specific updates, the app Windy can help you avoid traveling in windy conditions. And apps like inRoute will show you expected weather based on the route you enter for your trip.
Buy a weather radio. Even if you have all the apps that you think you need, an NOAA-certified weather radio (with a hand crank) is still a must-have in case you’re without power or cell phone service.
Turn on alerts. Enable emergency alerts on your cell phone so you can be notified when severe weather is in your area. These text-like notifications will also inform you of missing child reports and other public safety alerts that you should be aware of.
The right gear. Depending on your destination and time of year, you should keep your RV equipped with items that you might need during specific weather situations. From cold weather clothing to traction boards, shovels, and rain gear, these items can keep you protected in snowy, muddy, and frigid conditions.
Have a plan. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, have a plan in mind in case you need to seek shelter. Always know where your campground’s storm shelter (or nearest sturdy structure) is located when you’re camping. This will take the guesswork out of finding shelter should an emergency occur.
Dear RVillage Expert: Are campground reservations necessary when traveling or should we just take our chances? —Barbara R.
Part of planning your RV route is knowing where you’re going to stay along the way. As camping and RVing continue to grow in popularity, so does the demand for campsites across the U.S. While this doesn’t mean sporadic travel is totally done for, most major national and state park campgrounds have moved to reservation-based systems that call for advance bookings. For these campgrounds, you’ll most likely need to reserve your spot weeks to months in advance during peak seasons.
But this doesn’t mean that all campgrounds require such planning. You can still snag a site within a few days’ notice or even by showing up the day of in hopes of an open space. There are also first-come, first-served campsites at many public lands.
Here are a few tips for booking (or not booking) a site during your trip.
Be realistic. If you’re planning to show up at a popular national park on a holiday weekend with expectations of finding an open campsite, you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment. Popular destinations during peak camping seasons are most likely going to require advance planning and reservations. Plan accordingly.
Map your route. Once you know your travel route, you can use an app like Campendium to locate campgrounds along the way. This will make it easy to check out camper reviews, see pictures of the campground, and know whether or not it offers the space and amenities you need.
Have a backup plan. If your walk-up plans fail, have a second (or third) plan in place so you’re not driving around all day or night looking for a place to park. Use sites like Overnight RV Parking to find parking lots in your area to use for the night if nearby campgrounds are full.
Be flexible. Even if a walk-up site is available, that doesn’t always mean there are full hookups. Be prepared to dry camp in order to grab a last-minute campsite.
Plan ahead. And if you don’t want to hassle with dry camping, scrambling for an open space, or searching for a parking lot, simply book your campsite ahead of time. The stress that comes with spontaneity isn’t for everybody. If you want the comfort of knowing you’ll have a place to set up camp at night, reservations are always the way to go.
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