Before leaving a campsite and heading to a new one, we plan our entire route and research potential places to stop for fun, fuel, and bathroom breaks. Hitting the road with an RV requires more action than stomping on the gas pedal.
First things first, you need to know precise details about your rig. If you've been on the road a while, you probably know this information, but on the off chance you don't:
- Weight. Scales at most truck stops will be able to (for a small fee) give you this number. You'll want to know the combined weight of your vehicle and RV so you won't exceed weight limits on bridges and overpasses you may encounter.
- Height. The height listed on our RV's data plate may not be accurate, especially if you've added an air conditioner, cell booster, solar panels, etc. to the roof of your rig. To measure the height, get your hands on a clinometer. For $1, you can download and use the SeeLevel Visual Clinometer to your iPhone/iPad if you don't have access to a traditional clinometer. Again, you'll want to know the height of your rig so you know if you can fit under bridges, overpasses, low-hanging wires, etc.
- Length. Get out ye olde measuring tape! You'll want to know the length of your rig (your truck and RV) to know if you can fit in parking spaces and if you can drive on certain roads.
- Tire pressure. This has nothing to do with trip planning, but you need to check the tire pressure of all truck and RV tires before heading out on an adventure. Might as well do it now.
I like to post these dimensions on a sticky note to the dashboard in the cab of the truck so I can quickly reference them when driving, if needed. It might seem ridiculous, but when you're driving down a road at 55 mph it's nice to quickly have the reassurance that you'll fit under a 13' 6" overpass.
Second, you'll need to consult resources to figure out important information about the routes you might take:
- Height, weight, length. As previously mentioned, you'll need to know if you can fit on all routes.
- Gradients. Driving through the mountains with an RV is NOT the same as driving in a car. You will want to know exactly what to expect so you won't burn out your brakes on your trip.
- Accommodating fuel stations. Not all fuel stations have diesel (if you need it) and not all have awnings tall enough for you to fit under or lots large enough for you to get in and out. You can't fill up somewhere if you can't get close to a pump.
- Rest stop locations. The gas tank on your truck is likely larger than your bladder. You'll want to be aware of where rest stops are along your route and if they can fit your rig.
- Weather. Bad weather and strong winds make RV travel dangerous and sometimes impossible. You'll need to know all you can about the weather you'll encounter on a drive.
- Check-out/check-in times. If you plan to stay in a campground, you need to know what time you have to leave by and when you can check in at your new site. RV travel isn't like a hotel where you can leave your RV at the check-in point until your site is ready.
The following resources are the ones we use to help us find out as much information as we can about the trips we want to take. Some are digital, some aren't. Having multiple sources of information is important because cell signals aren't always available.
- The NextEXIT (printed annually, be sure to get most current version) tells you all you need to know about what is available along interstate highway exits. My favorite feature of this book is that gas stations are color coded to let you know if your rig will fit at a gas station.
- Rand McNally's Deluxe Motor Carriers' Road Atlas (printed annually, be sure to get the most current version) tells you exactly what roads can accommodate you. In addition to including height and weight restrictions, it highlights all approved large vehicle routes.
- Multiple GPS apps: Waze, Google Maps, Apple Maps, Motion X, and whatever is the installed GPS in your vehicle. You will quickly learn that some apps have features that work better in cities and others cover remote areas better. Some are better for helping to navigate routes where there are detours, etc. You'll have a much better experience if you reference multiple GPS apps.
- The Mountain Directory App: iPhone/iPad and Android is by far the best resource for identifying what types of gradients you'll face on your trip. For your sanity and safety, it can often make sense to take indirect routes to avoid steep climbs and descents.
- Police scanning live stream is important when coming upon accidents and other situations when driving.
- The GasBuddy app for iPhone/iPad and Android provides gas prices at nearby stations, so you can find the best price. It is a crowdsourced app, so be sure to report what you find to help others out, too.
- The AllStays -- Camp & RV app for iPhone/iPad. In addition to providing valuable information about campsites, it also provides detailed information about truck stops, rest stops, covered bridges, low clearances, service providers, runaway ramps, camping stores, free stays, some restaurants, etc., along your route.
- Weather apps: Dark Sky Weather, Weather Bug, and RadarScope.
What resources do you use and rely on for safe travel? We're always on the lookout for good information, so please share your favorites in the comments.