Tips for Travel Trailer Newbies

Kenn and I purchased our first travel trailer in 2014. We’ve learned a lot over the ensuing years – usually the hard way. The purpose of this post is to share what we’ve learned so you don’t make the same mistakes we did. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of other mistakes you can make, LOL.)

  • First and foremost, you need to make sure the vehicle you plan to use to tow your travel trailer is up to the job. Don’t just focus on the dry weight of your camper; you’ll need to take into consideration the weight of the items (food, clothes, etc.) that you will be carrying. If you plan on dry camping, you’ll need to take into consideration the added weight of water in your fresh water tank. (Note: Water is heavy, y’all.)
  • If your travel trailer’s power cord doesn’t have a built in surge suppressor, buy a stand alone! We learned this lesson the hard way with our first travel trailer. We got hit with a power surge on our first trip which meant our trailer spent the next several weeks at the local dealer for repairs. This was followed by several more weeks at the shop when it turned out the initial repairs were incomplete.
  • Make sure you have a jack that is rated for the weight of your travel trailer. We had no need for a jack until we had a blowout on our second travel trailer. This is when we learned that our new trailer didn’t have a jack. Rest assured, once we got back home and recuperated, Kenn made a trip to Harbor Freight and corrected this oversight.
  • Roadside assistance is a great idea. Both of the travel trailers we’ve purchased new have come with a year of roadside service. Unfortunately, it had expired by the time our blowout occurred. If roadside assistance hadn’t also been available as a part of our insurance I’m not sure what we would have done. (Even with the roadside assistance, sitting by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in the Georgia heat for four hours was no fun. I was pretty close to heat exhaustion by the time the tire was replaced and we were back on the road.)
  • Make sure the hitch is latched. This seems obvious, but we bounced our travel trailer off the hitch three times before we got into the habit of quadruple-checking. We were fortunate that none of the instances occurred on busy roads but it was still stressful. Now we both check multiple times before we pull out.
  • In addition to checking the hitch (again), make sure all of the storage hatches are closed and locked, the stairs are up, and the door(s) are closed and locked with the safety bar in place. Even though we call ourselves doing all of these things, there have been two or three times we’ve had a good Samaritan call our attention to a problem while we’ve been driving down the road. (Thank you good Samaritans!)
  • Invest in a box of disposable gloves. Emptying the gray and black water tanks is never going to be a fun process but at least gloves make it a little more sanitary.
  • Make a checklist. Since we had a tendency to forget the same things over and over, Kenn made a checklist for us. Not only does it include items for the travel trailer such as the things I’ve listed here, it includes common food items such as olive oil, salt, and pepper, and clothing items such as jackets and hiking boots with plenty of blanks for us to add items specific to each trip.
  • Cut yourself – and any traveling companions – some slack. No matter how much you plan and double-check, there’s always something that can happen. When it does, you’ll get through it. It might not be fun, and it might not be easy, but it will be okay. (I’m still working on this one. When I get stressed, I get snippy/snarky so this is totally a “do as I say, not as I do” moment, LOL.)
  • Most importantly, have fun. After all, isn’t that the whole reason behind having a travel trailer?

Do you have a travel trailer? What tips would you add to this list?

The Electronic Tattletale

Prior to our purchase of Ruby the Big Red Truck, my research focused on things such as tow capacity, reliability, and longevity. While I know all of those things will serve us well, it’s the little previously unknown/unexpected features that I enjoy. I love the big, bulky interior door handles and the loud clicking of the turn indicator. However, far and away my favorite feature on the whole truck is the “lane assist” which beeps to let you know when you drift too far to one side or the other of your lane; we call this feature the electronic tattletale.

Image from Depositphotos.com

Kenn has always had a tendency to “wander” when he drives so he’s not as big a fan of the electronic tattletale as I am since he is the one she most often tattles on. Early on, he turned the lane assist off but I insisted that it stay on. (My truck, my rules.) Prior to Ruby and her electronic lane assist, that function belonged to me. A common complaint was that I missed a lot of the scenery in our travels because I was watching the road – even when I wasn’t the one driving.

During our trip to Amicalola Falls State Park, Kenn stumbled across another feature of the electronic tattletale. We were traveling along a curvy mountain road with Kenn behind the wheel and Ruby beeping on a regular basis. Suddenly, Kenn laughed. Apparently his “wandering” passed some threshold; he said a picture of a coffee cup popped up on the control panel with a note that it was time to take a break. Well played, Ruby! (Ruby’s dashboard/control panel are like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise in comparison to our older Toyotas.) I have to say, I’m enjoying my new found freedom in the passenger’s seat. It’s nice to be able to relax and watch the world go by instead of always being focused on the road.

What are your favorite features on your vehicle? (Heated seats are a close second to the electronic tattletale for me.)

Until next time, happy trails!

Google Maps vs. Waze

I am directionally challenged. Knowing which direction is which does not come naturally to me like it does to my husband, Kenn. I can work out directions if I know the time and can see the sun but that method isn’t particularly helpful in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. In spite of my directionally challangedness my primary function during our travels over the years has been that of navigator. (Many of our biggest traveling arguments have revolved around navigation. Translation: my hubby refusing to follow the directions given.) Map apps were a life changer for people like me.

Over the years, Google Maps has been our go-to map app. Prior to our road trip in 2019 Kenn decided that we should give Waze a try. It took me a bit to get the hang of Waze, but once I did, I really liked it. There are a wide variety of voices to chose from; my favorite was Kate with her proper British accent. (I thought Cookie Monster would be cute. I was wrong. Adding “om nom nom” after everything drove me nuts so the Cookie Monster voice was in use for less than a minute.) Waze has a game-like vibe that allows you to unlock achievements by collecting “candy” for various actions. Waze showing our speed in comparison to the current speed limit was helpful even though it wasn’t enough to keep us from getting a speeding ticket in the mail from Sioux City, Iowa a couple of weeks after we got home. (insert facepalm here) I also like the capability for users to mark and unmark things such as accidents, debris in the road, etc. in real-time. In my opinion, Waze also does a much better job with pronunciations; Google Maps garbles the simplest of names much less complicated ones. The biggest problem we had with Waze was that it relied on the availability of a cell signal instead of GPS. There are a lot of places in this big, beautiful country where there is no cell service; since we were traveling through a lot of those areas, we eventually had to revert back to Google Maps in order to have reliable information.

Image courtesy of http://www.depositphotos.com

One of the biggest problems with map apps in general becomes apparent when we are towing our travel trailer. When towing we avoid interstates and big cities as much as possible. However, map apps interpret “avoid highways” as “please take me down every crappy side road possible”. We’ve had Maps try to route us down roads that specifically forbid travel trailers, fire service roads, and a road leading under a railroad track with insufficient clearance for our travel trailer – this in spite of the fact that within sight distance, less than a block away, was a road that went over the railroad tracks. So far, we’ve been able to avoid these potential fiascoes. I’m waiting for the day we make the local news in some town because we’ve brought traffic to a complete halt due to following the directions of our map app. In my opinion, what we really need is either a separate app for those of us towing or a towing option in the current apps that is smart enough to allow us to avoid interstates and those roads that aren’t travel trailer friendly. App developers, are you listening?

Have you had any harrowing experiences due to map apps?

UPDATE: Since I wrote this post I have discovered an app called CoPilot RV that I will be testing out during our trips over the next few months. I’ll let you know what I think.

Review: Amicalola Falls State Park

Amicalola Falls State Park is located in the north Georgia mountains near Dawsonville; it is hands down my favorite Georgia state park. My family and I have gone to Amicalola many times over the years but our recent trip was only the second time we have camped. (For those not a fan of camping, the park also has a lodge and cabins.) Camping at Amicalola is not for the faint of heart; from the park entrance to the campground involves navigating a 25% grade. (Yes, you read that right.) As one of the park rangers once told us, this is where a lot of people discover that their tow vehicle isn’t up to the challenge.

The first time we camped at Amicalola we owned an RPOD 177 that we towed with our Toyota Highlander. The RPOD was near the top of the Highlander’s towing capacity but Bonnie (the Highlander) made it up the incline fine. It was the hairpin turn covered with loose gravel within the campground itself that really got my heart pumping. We made it (obviously) but we also drew a bit of an audience. (“Yeah, that gravel gives a lot of people trouble.”)

Our most recent trip was our first trip with Ruby as our tow vehicle. Ruby hauled our Flagstaff Micro Lite 21FBRS up the 25% incline like it was nothing. Even the ridiculously heavy fog wasn’t enough to stress us out with Ruby on the job. (Can you tell I like my big red truck? LOL.)

The view from the cab

The campground itself is relatively small with only 24 campsites and one bath house. However, it is laid out well and the road had been recently paved. There was also no gravel on the hairpin turn this time so it seems that someone finally devised a way to prevent that problem. Even though we arrived in rain and fog (not uncommon when we travel) it moved out overnight so we were able to get out and enjoy the rest of our trip. There are all sorts of things to see and do within the park itself, not the least of which is viewing the falls. Many of the activities and events have currently been curtailed due to COVID-19 so I recommend that you check the website (link at the beginning of this post) for the latest information before traveling.

Amicalola Falls

It wouldn’t be a trip to Amicalola without viewing the falls so we did hike the stairs partway down the falls. The stairs at the falls are labeled as “Strenuous” and they are not kidding but there is also an accessible parking lot and trail which allows for viewing without the hike. We ventured out a little further this time and traveled down forestry service roads to reach the trailhead for Long Creek Falls. While the forestry service road itself was in less than stellar shape in some areas the ride was worth it for the winter wonderland of ice-covered trees we discovered at the top of a ridge. (You can see my favorite photo here.) The hike from the trailhead to the falls was approximately one mile and wasn’t strenuous at all. The falls were small but definitely worth the walk.

Long Creek Falls

Right now, I’m a happy girl. I’ve been struggling a bit with the continued self-isolation due to COVID and this was a much needed trip. My soul is always the most at peace in the mountains and being at my favorite park made it even better. *happy sigh*

Now I have to finish packing for our next adventure! Until next time, happy trails!

Achievement Unlocked: Towing

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to Ruby, our new-to-us Toyota Tundra. We took Ruby on her first camping expedition last weekend; I’ll post about that next week. Even though we have owned a travel trailer since 2014, I have never driven while towing. Even though I know this puts a heavy burden on my husband, just the idea of driving while towing has always freaked me out and sent my anxiety level through the roof.

When we purchased my husband’s Toyota Tacoma in 2015 I wasn’t sure I would ever get used to driving it; it felt so much bigger than my Highlander. So, of course, I expected driving the Tundra (which is huge) be be an even bigger adjustment. However, much to my surprise, I actually love driving Ruby. I was apparently born to drive a big honkin’ truck. Who knew? So, on our trip home I decided I’d give towing a try and… I did it! I know that may seem like nothing to many of you but since traffic/driving is one of the biggest triggers for my anxieties, for me it’s a Really Big Deal and I’m proud of myself. I didn’t drive for long, only about twenty miles on a two-lane road between two small towns but now that I have done it once, I know I can do it again and for a longer stretch.

There’s no stopping me now, y’all!

Vintage style camper trailer and camping scene

The End of an Era

In January 2006 my husband and I traded in our Dodge Caravan on a 2005 Toyota Highlander. The Caravan had served us well while were were chauffeuring around growing teenage boys (two of our own and oodles of their friends). However, by 2006, most of those boys had their driver’s licenses and most of our chauffeuring days were behind us. We needed a vehicle big enough to haul the four of us when our boys were with us but not too big for just the two of us. After much research and several test drives of various vehicles we settled on the Highlander. Our choice turned out to be a good one. Our Highlander, named Bonnie, safely carried my husband on several work trips from Georgia to San Antonio and back not to mention our daily commutes to work, vacations, and the Great Road Trip of 2019. However, as of January 30, 2021, Bonnie has gone on to a new home with our daughter-in-law. Even though Bonnie is now fifteen years old and has a little over than 207,000 miles on her I have no doubt that with good routine maintenance she still has several years of life left in her.

Bonnie, sporting her stickers from our various travels

Why has Bonnie gone to a new home? Well, as of January 26, 2021 we are what I swore we would never be – a two truck family. (I really need to stop using the word “never” – I think I’ve already done all of the things I swore I would never do.) We already had a Toyota Tacoma. My husband has owned many trucks over the years, most of which I hated. We bought his 2006 Tacoma used in 2015. It was such a relief to finally have a truck that I wasn’t afraid to ride in or drive. We were able to use the Tacoma to tow our RPOD 180 and its tow package is the only reason we were able to upgrade to our Flagstaff Micro Lite 21FBRS without purchasing a bigger tow vehicle.

So, if we could tow with our current truck why did we invest in a bigger truck now? My husband does the driving when we’re towing and I know that towing with his Tacoma makes him nervous, even knowing that we’re not even at the upper end of its tow capability. We have towed in mountainous areas and the Tacoma does fine, it just doesn’t have a lot of power to spare. Recently, I became aware that the Tacoma’s stopping capability while towing worried him. Our retirement plans included at least one road trip every year. The pandemic cancelled our planned trip for 2020 but we are planning to try again this Fall. (Hopefully we will be able to receive COVID vaccines by then.) So, we decided to go ahead and make the investment. Since our two Toyotas have been good to us, a Toyota Tundra was the next logical step for us. Researching trucks did nothing but reinforce this choice. So, we went for a test drive and came home with a new truck. Well, a new-to-us truck. Ruby the Big Red Truck is a 2018 model.

Meet Ruby, the big red truck

My husband has already taken the Tundra and the travel trailer out for a short drive so he could get the hitch configured properly. He came home very happy with the way the Ruby handled both while towing and stopping during the outing. Now I have two goals:

  1. Get used to driving a much larger vehicle.
  2. Start doing some of the driving when we’re towing the camper

Traffic/driving are two of the biggest triggers for my anxieties but I refuse to let my anxieties rule me so, I can do this. Right? Wish me luck!

The Great Road Trip of 2019

Last year my husband and I began what we hope to make a yearly tradition – a road trip to visit parts of the country we have yet to see. It was also supposed to be our first long-term trip with our camper but that changed due to concerns over rising gas prices. (My husband’s truck only gets 8-9 mpg when towing so that’s always something to take into consideration.) Our ultimate destination was Glacier National Park. It was when we began researching and mapping out our route that we realized we were thinking like Southerners.

What do I mean by “thinking like a Southerner”? We initially planned our trip to coincide with Memorial Day weekend to reduce the number of vacation days my husband would need to take. (I had retired at the end of April.) However, when I began doing some research on Glacier I discovered that the Going To The Sun road through the park may not open until late June/early July depending on the amount of snow to be cleared. Snow? In July? As a life-long native of the South the thought of snow on the ground in July is unfathomable. Heck, we barely get snow in January and February. But, with that useful tidbit in mind, we rescheduled our trip for July.

Honestly, I’m glad we decided against taking the camper. We travel slower when towing so we wouldn’t have been able to see as much as we did if we had. Not to mention the fact that towing a camper through some of the mountain ranges we traveled would have probably made me hyperventilate. So, instead of taking my husband’s Toyota Tacoma, we made the trip in my then 14-year-old Toyota Highlander in order to take advantage of the better mileage.

Bonnie, my Highlander, got stickers to commemorate our trip

Was it a good trip? Absolutely. Did we learn a few things to implement in future trips? Definitely. In 17 days we covered 6048.5 miles, 13 states, and 6 national parks/monuments.

States visited:

Alabama
Mississippi
Tennessee
Arkansas
Kansas
Oklahoma
Iowa
Missouri
South Dakota
Wyoming
Montana
Idaho
Colorado

National Parks/Monuments visited:

Badlands
Mount Rushmore
Devil’s Tower
Glacier
Yellowstone
Grand Tetons

I’ll go into more detail regarding lessons learned in a later post but the biggest lesson we learned was to build more downtime into our schedule. We kept to a pretty grueling pace and only had a couple of days where we didn’t have anything planned. As enjoyable as the trip was, we were exhausted by the time we got home.

Do you have any road trip tips?