Road trip checklist -- don’t leave home without one
Part of the road trip planning for any RV travel should be creation of a road trip checklist. My wife and I used two such lists. One was the road trip checklist itself, on which we had written the names of important items that we didn’t want to leave behind. The other was what we called our “launch pad checklist,” which I consulted every time I broke camp. On the launch pad list, I literally checked off with a pen the chores I needed to complete before we launched out of a campground and down the highway on another day’s adventure. These included things such as “close windows and vents,” “turn off propane,” “raise stabilizer jacks.” Mundane stuff? Yes, but you don’t want to be barreling down the highway with a thick shower of sparks rooster-tailing behind your rig and your extended stabilizer jacks scraping along the concrete.
Karen and I spent more than a year on the road in a fifth-wheel trailer, logging more than 30,000 miles, on a road trip to self-discovery. Thanks to our checklists, the trip went smoothly. Thousands of couples dream of an adventure such as that, and we found that it’s well within reach of many, if not most. If you’re willing to make the temporary adjustments in your life that a road trip requires, and willing to do the necessary planning, there’s probably little reason you can’t launch yourself on a similar journey.
The story of our adventure, and how we approached it, I’ve described in my book, In Search of America’s Heartbeat: Twelve Months on the Road. We’d had zero experience of any kind with RV travel before our road trip, and we approached the endeavor with just a bit of concern. The fact that the trip turned out to be so enjoyable resulted, in large part, from careful planning. And a part of that planning was creation of our road trip checklist, which helped ensure that when we headed down the highway we left nothing important behind.
Everyone’s checklist will be a bit different, depending on a person’s idiosyncrasies. But here are the things we had written on our personal list:
- Cell phone. For calling the kids, ordering pizza, calling for help when the motor conks out.
- Laptop computer. For going on-line to get information, for e-mailing friends, for banking on-line, making campground reservations, playing video games.
- Portable computer printer. For making checklists, printing maps of routes obtained on the laptop, writing letters to the editor.
- Hometown phone book. For calling doctors, dentists, bankers or insurance agents, getting addresses to send holiday cards, birthday cards, wish-you-were-here cards.
- One or more RV campground guides. Some not only list campgrounds by location within particular states, but describe the facilities, indicate cost, and evaluate each campground according to cleanliness, aesthetics and other criteria.
- Membership in an RV organization that provides its members discounts at campgrounds. Why should you pay full price when others don’t?
- First aid kit. You may be miles from immediate help when an accident occurs. If an accident occurs.
- Good highway atlas. With every state under one cover, you don’t need a pile of maps. However, piles of maps are nice, too, and you can find some great maps at visitor centers near state borders on many major highways.
- Hand-held GPS unit. A nice luxury if your vehicle doesn’t already have one installed. It can point the way when you’re temporarily confused. And when your pile of maps lacks the one you need the most.
- Small cooler. Good for packing a lunch to carry with you in the vehicle. Eliminates the need to open your RV’s refrigerator while traveling or to open your wallet at McDonald’s.
- Tape recorder. The best way to take notes while traveling. Record sights, experiences, impressions as they occur, in as much detail as you wish. These are invaluable later. You’ll never get them written down and, if you do, never in as much detail. You can transcribe your tape-recorded notes later on your laptop.
- Passport. If there’s even a remote chance that you’ll enter Mexico or Canada. (To enter Mexico with a vehicle you’ll need special Mexican insurance issued by a Mexican company. Buy it on the U.S. side of the border. In Canada, your U.S. insurance probably is okay, but check. Entering either country -- especially Mexico -- is better avoided if you’re carrying a firearm.)
- Fishing equipment. But only if you fish. Chessmen if you chess, cards if you card, and so forth.
- Books. Take a few from home, and pick up others along the way. A lot of RV campgrounds provide paperback libraries where you can leave books you have finished and pick up a like number of others to take with you.
- Walkie-talkies. Invaluable for help backing a large rig into a campsite. Also useful for calling a spouse from a campground laundry to carry clean underwear and socks to the RV.
- Box of tools. Now you’re ready for anything.
- Launch pad checklist. You’ll make your own on your laptop, with little boxes beside each launch pad chore so you can check them off as you complete them. Your list will be individually your own, depending on the routine required to prepare your individual RV for travel.
Sometimes, in spite of the best planning, little things can go temporarily wrong. In case they do, it’s good to be prepared. Here are a few things you might want to consider for backup:
- Spare tires. Both for your vehicle and for your RV if they’re not one and the same.
- Emergency road service plan. Several organizations offer them, and it can be encouraging to know you can get a tow without paying or get a tire changed if need be on a large and heavy vehicle.
- Portable air compressor. So you can take care of a soft tire in the campground or at the side of the road. Get the kind that runs off a 12-volt battery and plugs into an outlet in your vehicle.
- Fire extinguisher. Your RV probably came with one. If not, get one.
- Medical records. If you have any serious maladies, discuss with your doctor the advisability of carrying a copy of some of your records. If your doctor’s records are electronic, find out before you go how another physician may access them.
- Firearms. Some people carry them, some people don’t. It’s a decision that merits careful thought. If you plan to travel outside your own state, check the laws of the states in which you intend to travel. They vary widely, and in some parts of the country create a legal minefield. If you’re considering taking a firearm into Canada, contact in advance that country’s Border Services Agency. If you’re considering taking a firearm into Mexico, don’t.
This list will get you started, but ultimately you will develop your own road trip checklist. Ideas will occur as you undertake your road trip planning, and after a shakedown cruise or two you will have a list that is uniquely yours.