For Europeans exploring the North American Frontier, heading into the unknown was a very daunting task. The smart ones, (i.e. those that survived), were exceptional planners. Planning is still very important to us modern-day explorers. Recently retired from 30 years in the military, I can confirm the axiom, “no time spent planning is ever wasted”. Oh, and also the second axiom, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”.
Now, before you start donning combat boots and flak jackets, planning an RV trip is a wee bit easier than planning a major battle. Understand that the better prepared you are for your voyage, the better things will go. Dealing with snags is part of RV living, but you can minimize the effects.
After a full season (April to October) as Camp Hosts on Vancouver Island, it was time to take a major break and skip south for the winter. This would be a 5-month trek, covering several thousand kilometres. Our rig has performed exceptionally well as a home, but now it was time to prep for mobility.
How To Start Planning For A Cross-Country RV Trip
The first part of planning our cross-country RV trip was to prepare the RV. When we bought our Outback, Stone’s RV gave us an excellent booklet on the basics and their Facebook Page has many good tips. Prevention is the key when it comes to maintenance. Our rig has been in use all season, of course, but we still need to make sure it’s ready for the road. Here’s the short list of what we need to do:
- Self-maintenance. This includes everything we can do ourselves, i.e. lubricating slides, clean and condition the rubber roof, checking lug nut torques, tire pressure, etc. One of the keys to doing your own maintenance is to make it a regular habit. The more regularly you clean/check your rig, the more likely you are to notice issues and look after them early. We assembled a complete, but compact toolkit when we bought the Outback, as well as stocking a good supply of cleaning gear. Among our gear – a torque wrench and appropriate sockets for truck and trailer lug nuts, plus a small compressor capable of topping up to 80 psi required for all tires.
- Shop-maintenance. This covers the things above your skill level that should be absolutely required to be done by the pros. We scheduled our RV for that at the local dealership. They fixed some small warranty snags, checked axle alignment, repacked wheel bearings, and checked the brakes. These are critical components that must be in perfect working order before hitting the road on a long journey. They noted that while our trailer was very new, the factory grease in the wheel bearings was minimal and it was a good thing that we scheduled brought the RV in. New, doesn’t necessarily mean your RV is in great road ready conditions.
Paying Attention to Your RV’s Tires
Now, if you’re an avid follower of the many RV Facebook pages, you’ll no doubt have heard the many stories of tire blowouts. We’re certainly not about to risk our home on four round pieces of rubber. Stock RV tires are legally rated for your rig, but they’re not always top of the line. Some new tires may be brand new but have also been sitting in stock for a very long time.
It’s very important to check on the tire for 4 numbers. For example, the new tires we put on, have 26/17. That means they were made the 26th week of 2017. We purchased a full set of heavy-duty E-rated tires that will easily handle the weight of our RV and highway towing speeds. They also have sidewalls stiff enough for any accidental curb abuse. If we can advise on one major thing to check out and possibly upgrade prior to your long voyage it’s your RV’s tires.
Planning An RV Trip Into The U.S.
Touring to the U.S. seems to be a bit of a concern for some Canadian RVers. To date, we haven’t had any issues, but again, part of that is preparation. We arrived at the border prepared. This makes a big difference. Simple things, like rolling down all your windows as you arrive at customs. It indicates you’ve got nothing to hide and understand that they need to take a peek.
We also had an itinerary, the route marked on a map, and a complete inventory on what we were bringing in to the U.S. The inventory isn’t a huge deal for entering the U.S., but it most certainly is when you return to Canada. We’re keeping track of our purchases along the way, so when we get back, we’ll present the list of everything we brought down with us, and another list of everything we bought, complete with totals, and receipts. Every time I’ve done that, it’s been commented on just how prepared we are leaving us to be thanked and waved on without an issue.
Planning Your Route & Places To Stay
Our trip planning is mostly focused on avoiding old man winter. We didn’t want to tie ourselves to a very strict route and schedule, rather we had a rough outline. Our only hard and fast date were getting to Tampa, Florida for December 1st.
There is a risk to not booking well ahead during the winter months, but if you’re avoiding the huge tourist traps & popular snowbird destinations you can always find something. We planned a mix of resorts, Corps of Engineer Parks, and some boondocking, with a plan to keep the monthly budget to around $800 a month.
We have our America the Beautiful pass, which is the equivalent of the Parks Canada pass. We also have Good Sam, and Passport America. Overall, after logging some 20,000 km’s in two trips, the Passport America is definitely the winner for money savings. From end-October to mid-December, it netted us easily $400 plus in saved camping fees, for an $80 annual fee.
Good Sam hasn’t netted us the big savings in sites, 10% sounds good, but a lot of the parks that take Good Sam, offer the same discount to just about anyone. We have saved enough in camping fees and gear purchases at Camping World stores to justify it, but just barely. The other caveat with Good Sam is that you absolutely must ignore the Good Sam Ratings and do your own online research for reviews. We’ve seen RV parks rated 9 or 10 by Good Sam that rate a 1 on Trip Advisor and Google and are full of warnings to stay away. Good Sam really needs to improve their system and give honest reviews and let the cards fall where they may.
Tools & Equipment For The Journey
Along with discount memberships, there are a few other tools we’d recommend.
- Road Atlas. Planning a long-distance RV trip via a tablet, GPS, or laptop is a pain. Having a large road atlas to do the basic planning will really simplify the process. We have our tablets, a cell phone, and built-in GPS in our Chevrolet 1-ton Diesel.
- OnStar. We also have the truck’s OnStar with hands-free calling and built-in Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi isn’t cheap in Canada but when we renewed our 10GB monthly plan in the U.S. it was almost ¼ the price!
- Credit Card. We have a BMO U.S. Dollar Mastercard and U.S. dollar savings account. It makes for very easy transactions in the U.S. and building up funds for next season’s trip.
- Guides/Apps. We have the Guide to U.S. National Parks and Monuments and Camping with Corps of Engineers, and Apps to locate Good Sam, Passport America, BLM (Bureau of Land Management), and COE (Corps of Engineer) parks. If you’re planning budget consciously, you can get your monthly camping fees down to well under $20 a night for full hookups.
Planning For Weather
When you are travelling thousands of kilometres you have to be prepared for just about any kind of weather. Our trip from Vancouver Island along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and northern California included a couple of very cool and rainy days. Good raingear and a fleece will mean the weather won’t stop you from enjoying the outdoors. Even in central Florida though, you will get winter temperatures in the single digits, so plan accordingly.
Travelling long distances in the span of a day can mean that you could see many different types of weather which can lead to uncomfortable driving situations. Whether its rain, snow, or wind, it’s a good idea to know what kind of weather you’ll be coming across during your travels. The website get-there-dry.com is simple to use website that’ll tell you the weather for certain locations between point A & B, helping to allow you to make better travel-related decisions.
As RCAF aircrew for decades, I know the value of a checklist. From inspecting our aircraft to dire emergencies, we had checklists for everything. You don’t need to be quite so detailed but a few checklists are a great help.
These are all the mundane things you need to check through before you head out…
- Mail? Do you have a forwarding service or a good friend/relative that can help?
- Bills – online bill payment, e-bills, and paperless banking really help keep the money going where it needs to while you’re basking in the sun.
- Communications – Unless you’re staying at 5-star resorts with wi-fi, phone, etc, how will you stay in touch? Many options here, our Chev 3500 has built-in wi-fi, and phone, so we’re our own mobile communications grid.
- Cell Phone plan – Most providers offer roaming plans for the US. Do some comparison shopping, and check on the possibility of getting a US phone and service as it may be cheaper for long stays.
- Home Insurance – If you’re a home-dweller, most home policies won’t cover you for absences longer than 30 days, so be sure to check on that and either get additional insurance or a house-sitter.
- Health Care – Know your Provincial Health Care coverage and understand what you’ll need in the way of additional coverage.
- Vehicle(s) – Same applies to your truck & RV as many dealerships offer extended coverage, and companies such as Good Sam & CoachNet can offer roadside assistance and even additional medical coverage. The Canadian Snowbird Association is another place to get additional coverage and facts.
- Customs/Immigration – This is a biggy. Know what the rules are for extended stays in the US. Many think it’s a blanket 6 months a year when it’s actually a lot more complicated and stays are based on a 3-year rolling period.
- Crossing the Border – When we left Nova Scotia for BC, we went on a 3-week trek via the US with essentially everything we owned. Rather than a big hassle, we contacted Canada Customs and asked what was the best way to ensure that when we returned to Canada we could clearly show what we brought into the US and what we bought while travelling. We were told to prepare an inventory of all contents of our truck and travel trailer. Then simply stop at the Canada Customs Office at the border, present the inventory and Customs Officials would inspect and sign/stamp each page. Sure, it’s a bit of work to do but when we arrived back in Canada we breezed through customs and were congratulated by the officers on how prepared we were. Know what you can and can’t bring back and forth across the border, too.
Our Plan in Action
With almost 2 months complete and 3 more to go, I have to say we haven’t faced anything that’s brought our plans into question. Our truck has been flawless only requiring a scheduled oil change and tire rotation.
Our Outback 328RL has had two issues. We had a slide cable start to fray badly and we were very concerned about it snapping. Fortunately, a call to Stone’s netted a part replacement in 48 hours and a recommended dealer to take it to for warranty replacement. We scheduled the truck’s oil/tire work same day so we lost very little vacation time.
If you’ve ever dreamed of taking the plunge and doing a months-long trek with your RV, I can certainly highly recommend it. A bit of pre-planning, a sense of adventure and you’ll bring home lifelong memories and a burning desire to do it all over again.