RV Safety and Preparedness – Tips to Stay Safe While RVing

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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

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 of it can extend your stay indefinitely by getting you stuck. RVs are heavy and difficult to tow 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 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 floods are 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!

Plan Ahead

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. This can sometimes be accomplished by looking at a satellite map of the area. 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.

Because we work from the road, we have some cool technology to keep us connected. Our weBoost Drive Reach cell signal booster has allowed us to get usable signal in some pretty remote areas. Read: Top Cell Booster for RV Travel.

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’ve since purchased a Garmin InReach Explorer. This is a satellite communication device that allows us to send and receive texts via satelite and in an emergency situation, push the SOS button to have search and rescue come to our aid. The newest version of the Explorer is the Garmin GPSMAP 66i. There is also the smaller Garmin inReach Mini 2 that is perfect for hikers and mountain bikers.

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!)

Kait and I interviewed Jeff Dooley on our Podcast, RVing with Joe and Kait, who is a law enforcement veteran with over 26 years of experience about how to stay safe on the road. Jeff shares invaluable insights into developing a safety-focused mindset, essential for ensuring a secure and enjoyable RVing experience and tools you can use to make sure you get home from that RV adventure safely. 

Have an Emergency Plan and Review it Often, Especially for Severe Weather

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.

Keep Passengers Safe Using Seat Belts When Traveling in a Motorhome

Most motorhomes have at at least two seats with seatbelts – the driver and passenger seat. If you’re traveling with friends or family, make sure your RV has enough seat belts to accommodate everyone. While it may be tempting for your passengers to roam around the RV while you’re driving down the road, they should remain buckled. Not only could they get seriously injured if the driver had to, for example, slam on the brakes, but they could also impact the driver causing them to lose control. For those of you with travel trailers, no passengers should be allowed to ride in the trailer while it’s going down the road.

If you need extra space for friends and family, have one of them follow along in a car so that everyone can arrive safe and enjoy the vacation.

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.

Don’t Overload Your RV

Overloading a motorhome puts excess stress and wear on the tires, suspension and braking systems. This can cause premature failures and an increase in braking distance, making it harder to avoid an accident.

For trailers, even if you have a heavy duty truck capable of towing well over your trailers GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating), overloading a trailer will stress the frame, wheels, axles, brakes etc of the trailer.

All RVs come with a sticker (typically a yellow sticker on the front door or inside the RV near the driver’s compartment) that will specify the vehicle or trailer GVWR. This is the max gross weight that the RV should be. If you have a truck or motorhome, there should also be a GCWR (gross combined weight rating) which is the max weight of the vehicle plus anything your towing. They will also typically list a carrying capacity. This is the difference between the curb weight of the vehicle and the GVWR. The carrying capacity is how much stuff you can bring along but it also includes any passengers, water, etc.

How to weigh an RV. Most truck stops will have a CAT scale. Simply drive onto the scale and push the call button. Someone will pop on and ask you a few questions…typically they’ll want your truck number and a few other things truckers need to provide. We simply tell them we’re a private RV. Once they weigh you, go inside and pay (as of writing this it’s $13.50) and they’ll hand you a weigh slip. This will show the weight of your front wheels (steer), rear wheels (drive) and the trailer along with a combined weight.

Check Tire Pressures Regularly

An improperly inflated RV tire can lead to overheating and cause the tire to blow out. This can lead to severe damage to the RV and a loss of control, especially for large Class A motorhomes since they’re so tall and heavy. We’ve had multiple people we know have tire blowouts, one of which caused the motorhome to veer off the road and into an embankment, totalling the RV.

When checking tire pressures, look for any dry rot and note the date that the tires were produced. There’s a 4 digit code – the first two are the week of the year and the second two are the year the tire was manufactured. RV tires have a lifespan of 5-7 years, regardless of how many miles are on them.

Other Check Items: Brakes, Propane Tank, Batteries, etc

Regular maintenance on your RV is crucial. While you might get away with not replacing a set of squeaky brakes on your car, it’s a different story if you have a 20,000 pound motorhome that’s towing a 5,000 pound Jeep. I always like to do a walkaround of the RV to visually check different components. I’ll check the propane tank for leaks, rust, loose fittings, etc. I’ll look at the batteries to check for corrosion and loose connections. I also like to look at the frame and tow hitch to check for any obvious cracks and while I’m down there I’ll keep an eye out for any leaking fluids.

So how often should you do these checks? It really depends on how often you use your RV. If you’re RV sits a lot, then I would suggest a good walkaround before every trip. If you’re a full-timer who’s always on the move then it might make sense to check every time you have the oil changed.

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 First Aid Kit

We are our own first responders. Having a first aid kit and knowing how to use it can make quick work of a finger that you sliced open while chopping onions or save a life. First aid kits come in all shapes and sizes but it’s good to have the basics on hand and build the kit from there depending on what you think you’ll need and what you know how to use.

Along with basic first aid items, we always carry a trauma kit with us that includes a tourniquet, sucking chest wound patches, intubation tube, Israeli bandages and a few other goodies. While we find these to be critical items, they’re useless without the proper training. We were able to take a CPR and first aid class through our local county’s health department. There are other organizations that host these types of classes like the YMCA.

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.

Kait will also buy freeze dried food or MREs for me when they go on sale.

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 find a hotel 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?

It’s as safe as you make it. If you follow the tips I’ve laid out in this post then it’s my opinion, that traveling in an RV can be a safe way to travel. Of course things can always happen but that’s true for traveling by plane, car and train.

Is it safe to live in an RV?

Again, I would say it’s as safe as you make it. Be aware of your surroundings, the weather and be prepared if something should happen. An RV is not a sticks and bricks house – meaning that if a severe storm comes through, your RV may not weather it like a fixed home would, especially when it comes to something like a tornado. That said, the beauty of an RV is that you can move it out of the path of danger (assuming you knew it was coming).

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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8 thoughts on “RV Safety and Preparedness – Tips to Stay Safe While RVing”

  1. Get a Garmin InReach! Not only is it a SOS device but it can track your travels leaving an every ten minute cookie crumble on a web-based map. It can also bluetooth to a non-wifi iPad that you can then use as a navigation device. Off road we use USFS Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) to navigate on authorized trails. MVUMs are available free on the Avenza mapping platform.

  2. I enjoy reading about your adventures and hope to someday get out there myself. However, I’m pretty old already and my funds are limited. I have three dogs, 2 little, 1 medium big, and they would be going with me wherever I end up. I couldn’t afford campgrounds so would have to boondock as much as possible. I plan to eventually buy a Dodge ProMaster van and squeeze us and everything we need inside. I’m the type who would rather use whatever I already have. People in houses always have more than they need but it’s usually a matter of what you want to take, which adds up pretty fast. Sorry, I ramble alot. I’d like to know what you do about your dogs’ pooping while in dog friendly parks, if you have to leave them for some reason in your RV, do you totally lock up doors, windows and go? Do you leave a window open? How safe is it to leave a pet inside a vehicle? What if there’s a change in weather while you’re gone and they’re likely to get too cold or too hot? What if they tip over their water bowl and are left with no water ? Are they restrained while inside? That could be a disaster if there was a fire, or someone breaking in, etc. I’ve never traveled long distances with mine yet, an hour or two at the most so far. It will be a whole new adventure for all of us. Thank you for your response.

    • Hi Helen,

      Leaving your pets behind in the RV isn’t much different than leaving them at home alone. If the weather was nice (you would be comfortable in the RV without AC or heat), then we’d just crack some windows, put up the shades and run the ceiling fan. It would keep the RV at a nice temperature for the pups and give them fresh air. We wouldn’t restrain them and typically they slept while we were gone. We also wouldn’t leave for more than a few hours at a time just so if something did happen, we’d be back to check on them. If you’re really concerned, they make wireless pet monitors like this one: https://amzn.to/37WKVsS
      Oh and for the poop, if there wasn’t a trashcan readily available at the park, we’d drive somewhere and dump it right away. We never left it in the RV. If you’re boondocking somewhere for a while you can take a small trashcan or something and set it outside of your RV and then dump it when you leave and find a trashcan.

  3. Great article! Highly recommend the inReach. You do have to pay for a subscription but the least expensive plan is $15 per month. I have a relative who will call AAA if I send them a text with my inReach. I’ve also used the SOS function to call for help for someone else when we were a 30 to 60 minute drive from the nearest cell reception and they were 2 miles from the nearest trail head.

  4. Aren’t you concerned about having to go outside in order to get to the steering wheel to bug out?

    Also why did Kait shave her head in the first place?

    Thanks and stay safe

    • Hey Andrea – not being able to access the cab without going outside is not a big concern for us. While it would be nice to have, it wasn’t a requirement for us.


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