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Is RVing Safe?
Kait and I get questions about RV safety and boondocking safety a lot, even when there’s not a global pandemic going on. Lots of people are curious about safety on the road, and how we prepare for uncertainty while living in such a small space.
It’s good to have a sense of caution when it comes to exploring remote areas and adventuring into the unknown. But we’ve never let our fears stop us. We believe that with the right preparation, RVing can be a safe and fun way to explore.
Here are our best RV travel safety tips, all in one place. Lots of these are useful no matter how you travel or where you live, so we hope you’ll enjoy them regardless of where you are!
Travel and RV Safety Tips
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
This rule of thumb sounds obvious, but it can be easy to forget. Whether you’re parked at a Walmart or in the middle of the forest, always be aware of what’s around you. When you stop somewhere, get out and take a look around before you commit to staying. We’ve stopped in places where we just didn’t feel safe. Rather than try to talk ourselves into it, we’ve moved on.
We’ve also learned that those uncomfortable feelings are a matter of perspective. “Bad” neighborhoods typically don’t faze us; we used to live in one! We’re more cautious when we’re in the backcountry in areas that are unfamiliar to us. Use your best judgment and only stay in places where you are comfortable.
Keep an Eye on the Weather
As RVers, we are up close and personal with the elements, so we pay more attention to the weather now than we did when we lived in a house. Keeping an eye on the weather is a key part of RV safety.
Always know the weather forecast for your area, along with your destination and your route on travel days. It doesn’t matter how sunny and nice it is right now. There are so many places where the weather can change from blue sky to angry thunderstorm faster than you’d think.
Heavy rain can mean the difference between a dry campsite and a mud pit that feels more like quicksand. While a bit of mud might dampen your camping experience (pun intended), a lot can extend your stay indefinitely by getting you stuck. RVs are heavy and difficult to haul out, so this can leave you with a large tow bill. We’ve seen this happen several times. Don’t let it happen to you!
When pulling into a campsite or boondocking site, we’ll look around to see if our site is on higher ground if there’s rain in the forecast. (And yes, we learned this the hard way!) We also make sure we aren’t in the path of a wash. Don’t think you’re safe just because you’re in the desert, either. Flash flooding is common in many parts of the desert out west.
More RV Safety Tips for Weather:
- Check the landscape where you are. Can you see clear paths where water flows or pools? You don’t want to be camped in these areas. Higher ground with good drainage is best.
- Know the names of any bodies of water near your campsite, in case of a flood warning.
- Know which county you’re camping in. Weather warnings and alerts will often be listed by county name, rather than by city. There’s nothing worse than scrambling to figure out whether you’re in the path of a severe storm or not.
- Check the National Weather Service website for the updates in the United States.
- Read about our favorite weather app, and other apps we love for life on the road.
If you want to know what it’s like to ride out a severe thunderstorm in an RV, check out the video below. We were closer to a tornado than we’d ever like to be again!
Research the area. A few minutes of research about a place where you’ll be camped can make a huge difference in an emergency situation. Understand what services are available – or not – in your area. Where is the local hospital, vet, or mechanic? On a recent trip across the country in our camper, we had an issue with the truck. Because we wanted to be sure we didn’t get stranded, we planned our route to include major towns with a Ford dealership, just in case we needed a tow or emergency service.
Have an escape plan. Park in such a way that if something were to happen, you can make a quick exit. Whenever we park for the night, we always back into our spot. This way we’re facing the exit and ready to move quickly if needed. In the backcountry, we make sure to know the routes in and out. At a campground, know where key resources are located (water, fire extinguishers, bathhouses for shelter, camp hosts, ranger stations, etc.) in case you need them.
If you’re a visual person, check out Kait’s tip on parking about two minutes into this video:
Make Sure You Can Call for Help
One of the things we love most about traveling in a Class B van or 4 wheel camper is that we can go just about anywhere. We’ve been out in the backcountry a lot, often without cell coverage. While we love the freedom that comes with being unplugged, we also understand that if something were to happen, we’d be on our own.
But, of course, relying on a cell signal isn’t foolproof.
Not too long ago, I decided to take my motorcycle into the woods for a quick ride. One wayward tree stump and a minor crash later, I found myself lying on the ground in excruciating pain, with a dislocated shoulder and a disheartening “No Signal” icon on my phone.
Fortunately, I was able to hike to a spot with just enough coverage to text Kait my location. Whenever I go out for a motorcycle ride, I make sure to tell Kait my route and approximate timing. That way, if I’m not back by a certain time, she knows something is wrong and where to go look for me. Had I not been able to hike out or find cell service, at least I knew she would eventually find me.
We’re now researching and planning to buy a satellite communication device like the Garmin InReach Explorer, in case either of us ends up in this situation again.
More RV Safety Tips for Connectivity:
- Tell your family where you’re going and when you’ll be in touch. Even when we’re together, Kait and I take precautions when we go off-grid in places with patchy cell service. We always let family know where we are and when to expect to hear from us.
- In the backcountry, consider registering with the forest service or ranger’s office. That way, they know you’re there and are better equipped to help you if needed.
- If you can, carry a satellite communication device so you’re not dependent on cell signal.
Have a Way to Protect Yourself
Whether you’re at a campground or out in the wilderness, there may come a time when you need to protect yourself. This can mean protection from another person, or from a wild animal like a bear or mountain lion.
There is no shortage of choices when it comes to self-defense, from firearms to pepper/bear sprays to blunt objects. Pick the method that you feel most comfortable with. Then, practice using it. Whatever you choose, it’s important that you know how to use it before you ever need to. (And hopefully, you won’t.)
More RV Safety Tips for Self-Defense:
- Trust your gut. If you’re uncomfortable, don’t rationalize. Either leave the situation or take steps to make yourself comfortable, like carrying one of the methods of self-protection described above.
- Be confident and aware. Don’t be afraid to ask locals which areas are and aren’t safe for travelers to visit, especially after dark. Try not to get buried in your phone. You’re here to see the sights, remember? Keep your eyes up and stay engaged with your surroundings.
- Bring attention to yourself. This works for both human and animal predators. Your voice is a powerful weapon; use it to bring other people to your aid if you’re in an uncomfortable encounter with another person, or to let wild animals know that you won’t be easy prey.
- Take a self-defense class. Even if you travel with a partner who looks like a professional wrestler, you probably aren’t together 24/7 (even if it might feel like it at times), so it’s a good idea for each of you to know some basic self-defense. (Kait took a great self-defense course led by Kathryn Cockrell, who inspired many of these tips. Thanks, Kathryn!)
Have an Emergency Plan and Review it Often
What will you do if there is a natural disaster in your area? How about if you get separated from your partner? Is there a meeting point? Run through various scenarios so that you’re prepared if something does happen.
For example, if we’re at a campground and there’s the possibility it might flood, Kait and I will prepare to bug out if needed. We’ll unplug from the pedestal, put loose items away, and get the vehicle ready to drive at a moment’s notice.
This doesn’t mean you should never get comfortable at a campsite! Be adaptable and adjust to your circumstances. Would we prepare for flood conditions in southern California during a drought, if there was no rain anywhere within 100 miles? Probably not. But if we were in a low area with rain ten miles away that could cause a flash flood, we’d be paying attention.
Create a Pre-departure Checklist
A checklist can help you make sure that loose items get properly secured, bay doors get closed, levelers get pulled up, tires get pressurized to a safe range, and so on. We’ve seen and heard stories of people driving out of the campground with their awning or stairs out, or dragging their power cord behind them (I’m guilty of this one myself.)
Too many times, we found ourselves with a drawer flying open as we drove because we’d forgotten to latch it. These types of oversights can be dangerous. So, we made ourselves a checklist. You can find our RV checklists here.
Preparation is Key
A huge part of RV safety is simply being prepared. Here are some tips to help you prepare for just about anything that RV life might throw at you.
Have a source of clean water
We always carry multiple RV water purification systems in our camper, even though we mostly camp in places where clean water is readily available. Our main system is the Travel Berkey, which is perfect for RVing, but we’ve found others that work great as well.
As long as we have access to a water source – any water source – we can purify it and drink water that won’t get us sick. When there’s a natural disaster like a hurricane, an earthquake, or even something as unprecedented as the COVID-19 pandemic, bottled water is one of the first items to disappear from store shelves. Because we have our Travel Berkey, we never have to worry about how we’ll get clean drinking water. Read more about what we think of the Berkey and where to buy one.
Have an Emergency Food Stash
Part of our RV safety and preparedness plan is to always have 30 days or more of food with us. You may think that’s not possible in a small space like a van or a truck bed camper, but let me assure you – it is!
Here’s the key, though: only store food that you’re actually going to eat. We love dry goods like rice, quinoa, beans and other grains. They’re easy to store and have a long shelf life, so we buy them in bulk. When we open a bag, we buy another one to replace it.
More RV Safety Tips for Food Storage:
- In addition to dry goods, canned meats or fish (we prefer sardines in oil) are also great to have on hand. We can eat them as snacks, or add them to power bowls.
- When foods you enjoy go on sale, buy extra and add them to your stash. You don’t need to do this all at once; it can be as easy as just picking up an extra item or two every time you shop. When we traveled with our dogs, we kept a stash of treats and dog food for them, too.
Carry Some Tools and Have a Basic Understanding of Your RV
This way, if something breaks, you may not have to pack up and drive to a dealer for service. Having your home in a service bay can be an aggravating experience, and it’s nice to be able to avoid the costs involved with having someone else complete your repairs.
If you can troubleshoot and even fix something yourself, you can save time and money, and get back to enjoying the RV lifestyle.
We were reminded just how valuable this can be recently, when we discovered a leak in the roof of our new camper. The manufacturer told us we could take it to any RV repair shop to have it fixed under warranty. Sounds great, right?
The problem was, the rain wasn’t going to wait for us to get somewhere for service, and we didn’t want any water damage to our camper in the meantime. Instead, I fixed the roof myself. This saved us getting any mold or water damage, and we were back on the road the following day.
We’ve been able to avoid getting towed or having to get a hotel room while our RV sat in a service bay on many occasions, because I had my tools and the basic knowledge of how to use them.
More RV Safety Tips for RV Repair:
- If you aren’t sure how to fix something, do some research. Don’t feel like just because you haven’t done something before, you aren’t capable of doing it. With the right tools and some determination, you can really surprise yourself. Like anything, do your research and proceed with caution. YouTube and RV forums can provide a wealth of information, but if you have any doubts, contact a professional.
- Keep digital copies of manuals for quick reference when something goes wrong. (Digital copies are also searchable so you don’t have to flip through the entire manual to find what you’re looking for.)
Have a Back-up Plan
Even if you’ve had reservations for months, always arrive with a back-up plan. We’ve pulled into campgrounds with plans to spend a few weeks and, due to weather or the campground itself, decided to leave sooner than planned. Since we rarely make reservations, when we pick a place to stay, we’ll also have an idea of other spots we can go in case our original plan falls through.
The few times we’ve been caught without a back-up and needed it, we’ve found ourselves stressed and scrambling to find a place to sleep. Not fun.
While You’re at it, Have a Plan to Hunker Down
If you’re a full-time RVer like us, you may not have a home base to return to if you need to stop traveling and stay in one spot for a while. Like, say, if a global pandemic breaks out!
Even when you’re not dealing with campgrounds closing and states shutting down during the coronavirus outbreak, you may need a place to call home for a while. For example, we needed a place to stay for a while when I had shoulder surgery last year. We keep a list of friends and family we can call on if we need a place to park temporarily.
For longer stays or in places where we don’t have that kind of support, we can rent an AirBNB or book a long-term stay at a campground. When you book an extended stay somewhere, there is usually a discount in the form of a weekly or monthly rate. We’ve found these can sometimes be more than 50% off the regular nightly rate, so shop around and don’t be afraid to ask.
More RV Safety Tips on Preparation:
- Understand your insurance policies …. BEFORE you need them. We knew we had roadside assistance included in our policy, but until we read the fine print, we didn’t know any of the particulars. It’s good to have the details handy when you need them, like the fact that your policy may only cover 1 hour of a mechanic’s labor at the site of a breakdown and a tow of up to 300 miles.
- If you have health insurance, are you covered in places where you’re traveling? For a couple of years, we only had coverage in Texas (the state where we’re domiciled). Make sure you’re clear on what your health insurance covers if you’re outside your home state or country.
Is it safe to travel in an RV?
I hope this post makes you feel that you can be safe just about anywhere, so long as you take the time to prepare. As with any adventure worth taking, there are risks, but we think they’re worth it. If you have ways to prepare that we haven’t discussed, please share them with us!
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