If you’ve read any of our travel posts by now, you’re probably thinking to yourself “all this sounds like a real hoot, but how the heck can I get me some of that action?”. A good question! Read on, and find (hopefully) the answers that you seek.
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Developing your itinerary
The world is a pretty darn big place, and deciding where to go and what to see is often the biggest blockade to making your roadie a reality. In order to help you along, we would strongly suggest the following as some key building blocks to point you in the right direction:
Google Maps – this may seem like an obvious trip planning go-to for some, but for others we highly recommend throwing away your moth-eaten, web-covered paper map or atlas and utilising this. Not only can you explore cities, countries and regions at the click of a mouse, you can also calculate driving distances and times, terrain you’ll have to drive over (hint – flick it into bike mode and it’ll provide you with a handy profile showing elevation gains/losses and expected terrain for your route), and other useful tidbits that you’d never get from a paper map.
Travel forums – we didn’t provide a link here, as we don’t really have a forum of choice – just decide the general direction you want to go in, then type it in your google search bar and plug in “forum” at the end, and you’ll get bucketloads of information from those who’ve been there and done that. For example, while deciding which route to take from Moab to Zion National Park, I typed in “which route between moab and zion” and got heaps of useful tips and pre-ordained itineraries. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, people!
Tripadvisor – once you’ve decided where you’re going, you’ll want to determine which attractions to visit and which adventures to experience. This is where something like tripadvisor comes into play, as you can scroll through different attractions for a given area and choose what you want to do based on other people’s ratings and reviews. This is particularly useful in large national parks and cities, where the opportunities are endless and therefore overwhelming.
Freecampsites.net – staying at paid campsites and hotels throughout your road trip really adds up, and in our opinion detracts from the experience. When we want to stay at RV parks, campsites or hotels, we typically use Google Maps to find whats available and how well reviewed the places are, then look up that establishment’s website for rates and details. When we don’t want to fork out a whole lot of dosh, however, freecampsites.net is a very useful tool. This site uses anecdotal information posted by other like-minded campers to provide maps showing where the nearest free campsites are, and how to get there. We’ve used this throughout our trip, and it has not failed to please.
Good Sam RV Guide – provides tips and listings of most payable campsites throughout North America. While we prefer to use Google Maps for a lot of our planning, with this the planning has been done for you, and you don’t always have cell coverage to run the searches anyway. This link will take you to the cheapest price for the guide on the net.
Now, it’s up to you. If you happen to be travelling North and Central America, you can always use our blog posts as a guide. We’ve done the hard work for you! If not, we’ve traveled in many of the other regions of the world, and can certainly provide some helpful tips or even write a post on your area of interest. Just pop us a comment and let us know.
Choosing your steed
As we found out through weeks of tireless research, there are a huge range of vehicular options available to the avid road tripper. Choosing the right one depends on what style of road trip you want to have, along with other factors such as distance, terrain, and budget. Here, we’ll explore the different “steeds” on the road tripping market, and explain their strengths and weaknesses so that you can make an informed decision.
These come in three classes – A, B, and C. Class A motorhomes of “RVs” (aka Recreational Vehicle) are ultra luxurious and probably way out of your price range. They’ll typically come as a purpose-built bus, and feature ridiculously luxurious things like full-sized living rooms, full range of appliances, ma
ster bedrooms with ensuites, full-sized
kitchens, etc. You get the idea – pure opulence. These guys often hover around the 100k mark to buy new, and you’d quickly spend the same amount again in gas consumption.
Class B motorhomes are, confusingly enough, actually the smallest of the
three classes. These guys are typically glorified vans, but come fitted out with small kitchens, beds and sometimes toilets. You can usually easily spot one of these guys by noting the raised roof.
Class C motorhomes are the mid-range guys, and this is the category to
which our own glorious RV belongs! Horray! They’re usually a van or light truck chassis and engine with a purpose-built cab on the back containing all manner of useful road trip things, like a small bathroom, kitchen, multiple beds, multiple sitting areas, air conditioning, etc. In theory, they encompass the best of both the class A and B worlds. They’re cheaper to run and maneuver than the C’s, but still have relatively comfortable living quarters which won’t give you cabin fever after being stuck inside for a day or two.
“Fifth wheel” trailers
Typically involving more than just one extra wheel, these are essentially motorhomes but without the motor. They’re designed to be towed and affixed to a pickup equipped with a special hitch on the truck bed, and can therefore be detached at any point and allow the owner to still have access to their vehicle.
These are essentially a crappier, but lighter, version of the 5th wheel. They are small trailers that attach to a normal trailer hitch on any vehicle, and once parked up can be expanded out to make room for “living quarters”.
These are your average mini-vans/people carriers, that have been converted into small campers. Typically, this would involve something simple like removing all the rear passenger seats and building a basic wooden or aluminium bed frame on which to place a mattress, then using the area under the frame as storage. Some people take it a few steps further, adding a small kitchenette with gas burners and fridge, or even a small toilet if there’s space. These are the DIY’ers dream, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re bound to get laughed at.
The bottom line
We’ve thought long and hard about which of these options is the cream of the crop for road tripping awesomeness, and the fact of the matter is that there is no “best one”. Sorry, that sounds kind of useless, but it’s all about context, neh? Buses/Class A’s are good for those who have a good stock of money to invest, want to stay in “opulent” conditions, and don’t plan on travelling too far down the road. Retrofitted vans and Class B’s are excellent for mileage and thus come into their own when travelling over huge distances over relatively short periods of time. Tent trailers are just plain crappy, but can be good for those who just want to have slightly more classy or “glampy” camping experiences at the local park or campground.
That being said, we are nonetheless entitled to our opinions! Especially considering this is our site – you can go somewhere else if you don’t like em. So…our first choice? The fifth wheel. We’ve been in them, seen them around, and envied the freedom they offer their owners. Freedom, you say? Well, the real drawback with the motorhome is that the driving quarters are connected to the living quarters. As such, if you want to explore anywhere which requires a vehicle, you are severely limited by the fact that you have to take your living room, kitchen, toilet and bedroom with you. The 5th wheel can be relatively easily disconnected from the vehicle that pulls it, allowing you to leave your living quarters in situ while you jet away and explore to your hearts content.
A proud RV owner might read this and indignantly point out that you can tow a smaller vehicle behind your RV for just such explorations, but this has some serious drawbacks, including severely lowered mileage, the need for another set of plates and insurance, and a much longer drivetrain. The other beauty about the 5th wheel is that if something goes wrong with the driving components of the system (i.e. the pickup), you can simply camp out in the trailer while the vehicle gets fixed.
3. What gear to bring
You might “pffftt” at this, but believe me when I say that you have A LOT to learn about RVing, if you’ve never done it before. For that matter, I bet you don’t know the half of what you need to bring on an extended continental road trip in order to survive, let alone enjoy yourself. Luckily, we’ve already been there, and have very generously saved you a whole lot of stress and head-scratching by laying it all out below.
Gear that everyone needs on a road trip
AAA or CAA Membership
I hate to say it, but at some point you’re going to need it – towing, jumping, breaking in, flat tires – it’s definitely worth buying some peace of mind. Rather sadly, we’ve already used my CAA RV Gold Membership three times in the past 3 months.
Here, you have three choices – a GPS navigator unit, Google Maps on your iPhone or Android, or a good old paper map. As a minimum, I’d recommend using your Google Maps via your phone when you have signal, and a paper map when you don’t. There a times, though, when a GPS unit can’t be beaten, and you should seriously consider making the small investment.
Below, I’ve provided links to the highest rated and cheapest options for GPS units and paper maps, respectively. You’re welcome.
- Garmin nüvi 42LM 4.3-Inch Portable Vehicle GPS with Lifetime Maps
- Rand McNally 2016 Road Atlas of Canada, USA and Mexico
Roadside Assistance Kit
We don’t want to keep coming back to this topic, but chances are you’re going to break down at some point on your epic roadie. We’ve used our jumper cables well over 50 times in the past 3 months, and things like flashlights, bungee cables, screwdrivers and reflective vests can definitely come in handy. This kit has them all, and comes highly rated at $40 on Amazon. It even comes complete with a 34 piece first aid kit, so you can bandage up the wound you received from mis-handling that screwdriver.
12 Volt Electric cooler
Unless you’re travelling in the depths of winter, you’re going to need to keep all your perishable goodies cold, lest they rot. With the 3-way built-in fridge in our RV gone-bust long ago, we had to find another means of keeping our food cold. After extensive research, we settled on the Koolatron P95, as it had steller reviews, was highly energy efficient and thus used up less battery, and was a good size.
This thing has (literally) been a life saver on our trip, allowing us to go many days at a time without visiting the supermarket. It plugs right into your car cigarette lighter, but also comes with an AC adapter so you can plug it in at home or in your hotel room.
Chances are that, in between hiking vast mountain ranges and exchanging friendly insults with local tribesmen, you’ll want to just chill out and read a book. We’d also be willing to hazard a guess that you don’t quite have the space to be towing around an extensive library of intersting novels for your reading pleasure. Solution: e-books! I use an Amazon kindle, which can store countless books in one tiny tablet, lasts weeks if not months between charges, and doesn’t strain your eyes. The new Kindle Paperwhite comes ridiculously well-reviewed, and at $120 won’t break the bank.
OK, so you’ve got the electric cooler, but you don’t want to be eating cold carrots and deli meats throughout the entire trip, right? Well, it might be time to invest in a portable gas stove, if you don’t already have one. As a rule of thumb, these are space-efficient and are super cheap and easy to run. We’ve included a couple of options below, the first of which is probably better suited to storing in your car and using while on the road, the second of which is better suited to backcountry camping expeditions and the like. Mind you don’t singe your eyebrows off, though!
- Gasone GS-3000 portable gas stove ($25 on Amazon.com)
- Coleman Bottle-top Propane Stove ($24 on Amazon.com)
RV-specific gear and gadgets
So, you’ve just bought an RV. As the sense of triumph at your new purchase wears off, a strange feeling starts to creep in: panic. You begin to realise that you know NOTHING about RVing, or that what knowledge you do have is not sufficient to get you through one night on the road with your shiny new road-beast.
Well, we’ve been there, and we’ll save you the floundering and time-wasting with a few key tips on what equipment you MUST buy, and what you probably SHOULD buy to make your RVing experience an enjoyable one. Thus, the first section will list all those items which are essential for a fully-functioning RV, and the second will detail those which will make your life a heck of a lot easier on the road.
RV Equipment Essentials
There are some things you just can’t go without. If you’ve bought a brand new RV, chances are the dealer has thrown in a “welcome package” which may already include some of these items, but likely not all. For those of you who took the plunge and bought a used motorhome, there may already be these things in the RV but chances are they’re in a sorry state and you should inspect each and every one to determine whether they need to be replaced.
1. Sewer Hose
Most campgrounds provide a dump station where you can flush out your accumulated blackwater waste (aka sewage). In order to do this, you’ll need to connect a dedicated sewer hose from your blackwater tank connection to the dump station itself. Consider buying two lengths of sewer hose with interlocking connections, so that you can extend the hose length if you can’t park close enough to the dump station. Camco’s 20′ Revolution Swivel Hose (pictured) fits the bill and doesn’t break the bank, at $28.96 on Amazon.com.
When we bought it a few months back, our RV already had a “pre-loved” sewer hose in one of the storage compartments which promptly broke in two the first time we tried to use it, showering prehistoric poo fragments in all directions. If you’ve acquired a used RV, it’s probably better to avoid what happened to us and throw the old hose out and buy a new one!
2. Power Adapter
Generally speaking, you theoretically SHOULDN’T need a power adapter for your RV, as RV campgrounds should provide the full range of power outlets. But most of the time this isn’t the case, and if you don’t have the right plug type you’ll either be sitting there in the dark or going to another place which does have what you need. Having a range of adapters ensures this will never happen, so consider having the following in your “man drawer”:
- 15M/30F adapter (the M and F refer to “male” and “female” connectors, while the numbers correspond to the amperage)
- 30M/15F adapter
- 30M/50F adapter
- 30F/50M adapter
- 15M/50F adapter
Note that you don’t need to get all of the above adapters, but you first need to look at your RV power cord to determine which ones you do need to get. A large plug with three prongs is the most common, and is 30 amp, whereas some bigger/newer RVs have 50 amp plugs which have four prongs. The 15 amp plugs are the standard plugs you see in your house. If you have a 30 amp RV, consider buying, as a minimum, the 15M/30F adapter. If you have a 50 amp RV, consider buying the 15M/50F adapter, as RV parks will almost always provide 15 amp plugins.
3. Potable Water Hose
This is a no-brainer. You need a potable (usually these are coloured white and the basic ones simply look like a glorified garden hose) hose to fill up your potable water tank and operate on mains/municipal water while hooked up to a water supply at a campground. A regulator will help with fluctuations in water pressure and prevent you from soaking your shirt when you first turn the tap on after hooking up, but it’s not essential and for this reason it’s not included in this list.
If you don’t like the taste of plastic, consider paying a little more for a higher quality drinking water hose, such as the Camco Premium Drinking Water Hose, at $21.25 on Amazon.com.
4. Jerry Can
Some might question as to why I placed this in the “essentials” list, but if you’re spending a lot of time on the road, chances are you’ll thank your lucky stars you had a jerry can full of fuel when you run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. RVs are notorious gas guzzlers, so consider buying a larger (i.e. 5 gallon/20 L) jerry can, which should get you to the nearest gas station. If you have reservations about placing a full gas can in your RV storage compartments, you could consider buying one with a metal frame which you can then strap to your tow bar.
5. Blackwater Chemical Treatment
Unless you want your RV to stink to high heaven, you’ll need to put a splash of holding tank chemical treatment into your blackwater tank every time you empty it. Not only does this neutralise odours from the tank, it also helps to break down the organic matter in the tank and prevent blockages. Make sure you always use a biodegradable product, and do your research – some brands are a lot more effective than others. Camco’s RV Toilet Treatment ($18.80 on Amazon for a gallon, which gets you 64 treatments) is cost effective and is very well respected in the RV world. We prefer to buy the bulk liquid treatments, as the individually packaged “convenience” products are expensive and quickly depleted.