As I write this, I’m in Wyoming, huddled in my trailer in near gale-force winds. They’re gusting up to 65 MPH, or so my weather app tells me, and hitting my trailer broadside. It feels and sounds like giants are slapping the sides of my trailer with baseball bats every once in a while. In between, I feel like I’m in the movie Twister.
At first, I thought the trailer might actually tip over. “That would be really scary,” I thought to myself, feeling like I was trying to write while on a roller coaster. Sayonara, concentration.
But with a little Googling, I found that small trailers don’t start to tip over until 55 MPH, and it would probably have to be steady wind at that speed to make it happen. Around 70+ MPH is where it gets more likely. So, you know … I’ve got a little buffer there, right?
It doesn’t make sleep any easier, but it’s good to know.
Why am I introducing this post by talking about weather? It’s not because I have the worst conversational skills ever. (Or rather, it’s not JUST because of that.)
When I started my journey as a solo RVer, I knew I’d have to learn a lot—and quickly. I’d never towed a trailer before, much less backed one into a spot in an RV park, with other campers waiting on me. I’d never really fixed anything, or even used an electric drill. I’d never camped alone for more than a night or two.
If you’re keeping track, that’s a lot of nevers.
As 2020 draws mercifully to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons I’ve learned this year. I’ve been a full time solo RVer for a year and a half now. I’m still a beginner in many ways, but I’ve come away from Year 1 with a few lessons that might be helpful to other newbies. So here goes.
Top 3 lessons:
#1: No matter how much you like alone time, too much of it gets lonel
Like many writers I know, I’m an introvert. I like people, but spending too much time socializing or in big groups drains my energy. So when COVID hit and most of us hung up our keys for a while, stayed put, and kept our distance, I thought, “I’ve been training my whole life for this.” I genuinely thought that months of social distancing would be no big deal for me. I spend lots of time alone anyway. No big deal. I’ve got this.
Fast-forward 4-6 weeks, and I noticed that I was doing some of my usual activities with less frequency. You know, things like taking showers. And moving around.
I love the outdoors, but if it hadn’t been for my dog, I probably wouldn’t have spent much time outside. I got moody about almost everything, and my self-prepared meals took a sharp nosedive from sort-of-healthy to ice-cream-isn’t-dinner.
In short: I was depressed.
That’s when I realized: I do need human interaction, after all. I’m not nearly as independent or as introverted as I like to think. And weeks of nothing but the occasional Zoom chat just wasn’t gonna do it for me.
It might sound obvious to lots of people, but for me, this was eye-opening. I need to stay in places where I can see friends or even strangers once in a while. If I can’t do that, I start speaking to my dog in full paragraphs, and my personal hygiene borders on questionable.
If you’re also lonely in COVID-related isolation—or any other kind of isolation, for that matter—here are some things I’ve found helpful:
- If you’re comfortable with it, find public spaces to visit (safely): parks, museums, outdoor restaurants, hiking trails, libraries … Whatever you like. Just being near other people is a nice change if you’ve been alone too long.
- Try reading instead of watching TV. I can’t explain why, but TV seems to deepen my sense of isolation. Reading, on the other hand, reduces it.
- Don’t forget the phone. You might not have fast enough internet for Zoom, but it’s still okay to pick up the phone every once in a while and talk to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. It’s not as good as face-to-face interaction, but the conversation is way better than what you’ll get from your dog. Trust me on this.
- Do things you love: play music, write poems, paint watercolors, go running. When our hobbies fall by the wayside, so do our moods.
- And even if it isn’t something you love, try to force yourself to get outside and exercise. Every single time I do this, I feel instantly better.
#2: Do Your Research—Knowing is Half the Battle
Part of the allure of solo RV life, at least for me, is the ability to be “in the wind.” I can show up at a place on a whim, and stay until I don’t want to anymore.
That little fantasy of mine doesn’t leave a lot of room for things like researching travel destinations, but it really should.
In the spring, I traveled to a small town in Tennessee. It was a beautiful place, with ample hiking in lush green spaces, and waterfalls, creeks, and streams everywhere. As a native of a very dry state where rain is rare and waterfalls are nearly unheard of, I was thrilled. For a few days.
That’s when I learned—because I hadn’t done any research at all—that spring in most places is the start of tick season.
Now, I come from Colorado, where ticks are sometimes a reality in the mountains, but are mostly unheard of in town. In my 30-something years of living there, I’d only seen one. So I sort of forgot they existed … And then I went to the south in the spring.
Ticks were everywhere. It was like something out of a horror film. After one short walk, I’d pick three off myself and probably a dozen off my dog. I found a tick embedded in my calf during a shower one day, despite routine checks. With shaking hands, I pulled the thing out, trying not to think: There was a BUG in my BODY.
My dog is a Siberian Husky, with the kind of thick double coat that makes you wonder if there’s anything to him BUT fur, so finding tiny bugs on him was a nearly impossible task. As it turned out, trying to make sure ticks didn’t eat him alive nearly drove me insane.
Listen: I’m no great fan of bugs, but I’m usually fine with them. I don’t mind spiders, or mosquitos, or flies. But for some reason (probably the fact that they embed themselves in your skin and carry disease), the ticks this spring made me crazy.
I constantly thought I saw them. (And usually, I was right.) They were everywhere. I couldn’t walk the 10 feet from my trailer to my truck without both the dog and me picking up ticks. I started to have tick-related nightmares. I spent an hour or more each day pawing obsessively through my own hair and my dog’s. I felt the twitchiness of someone who is rapidly losing their grip on sanity.
And the thing that took me from a relatively happy person to a paranoid mess was a bug that’s sometimes as small as the head of a pin.
I suppose a sub-lesson here is how delicate our grip on mental health can be … But that’s another post.
But back to my point.
Had I done even a few minutes of research ahead of time, I’d have known to expect ticks, and I would have arrived prepared.
Sometimes I think that arriving with the proper expectations is the most important part of travel. If you know what you’re getting into, more or less, it feels like a fun adventure. If you’re totally blindsided, you might have weeks of nightmares.
The same goes for route planning.
Today, for instance, I’m on the side of a highway in Wyoming with no cell signal and very little idea where I am. I’m going to have to make some tough decisions about where I stay overnight. If I’d paid more attention to various waypoints along my route, I’d have some decent ideas right now. But as it is … I’m going to have to wing it. Which can be fun, but when you’re traveling solo, mostly it’s just stressful.
Here are some great resources to help you do your homework:
- Campendium, Allstays, HarvestHosts, RV TripWizard and Freecampsites.net: These are my go-to resources when I’m looking for camping at my next destination (and, ideally, in between—just in case). You can find both paid and free spots on each of these resources, and there are reviews from other campers so you can see photos and get a good idea of what you’re in for.
- Weather Underground: No weather center is accurate all the time, but I’ve found Wunderground to be the best resource for things like wind and temperatures you can expect at a destination. If you pay attention, this could save you from dry camping in 90+ degree temperatures with zero shade. Don’t be like me.
- Don’t skimp on route planning, especially when it comes to gas stations. I hate fueling with my trailer attached. If I’m not paying attention, I seem to always get low on fuel when the only gas station I can seem to find is tiny with impossible turns, and packed with sedans sitting in front of the one diesel pump, even though they take unleaded. You don’t have to do hours of research ahead of time, but it’s worth your while to look at an app like GasBuddy or Trucker Path ahead of time to get a good feel for where the gas stations and rest stops will (and won’t) be along your route. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “I’ll pull off at the next rest stop,” only to find that it’s 2 HOURS down the road.
#3: Things will go wrong. You might logically know that they might, but I’m telling you—they WILL. And you’ll still have fun, anyway.
It’s one thing to think vaguely that, yeah, your travel plans might get derailed. But it’s a whole different thing to have it happen, time and time again.
Here are just a few things that have thrown a wrench into some of my best-laid plans:
- COVID (duh – whose life wasn’t interrupted by this?). But it’s worth a mention, because for full-time RVers, this spring and summer were a pretty crazy roller coaster of having no idea where you might be living the next day. I’m out west, where things have mostly calmed down, but no one knows what the future holds.
- The underbelly of my trailer fell apart while I was traveling 65 MPH on the interstate. I didn’t realize it until I’d gotten to my destination, so in the middle of nowhere, I had to do a patch job with duct tape to tide me over until a professional could take a look. Which meant an unplanned detour hours out of the way to the nearest city.
- My dog picked up hundreds of foxtails at a dog park, and a few got embedded in his skin and infected. Over the course of a summer, this resulted in no fewer than 4 separate vet visits, and completely changed my travel plans. I’d intended to put my dog in daycare while I visited national parks, but since he spent most of the summer healing from stitches, that wasn’t an option.
- One day, I had an appointment to get my wheel bearings packed at 9 a.m. The whole process was supposed to take no more than 2 hours. But the tech didn’t have my trailer ready for me until almost 4 p.m., at which point the weather was too bad to travel. So, I got snowed in with no reservations and no plans to stay, which threw off a week’s worth of plans.
- I’ve mangled stabilizer jacks and stairs while boondocking, and had to wait in a town so parts could be shipped to me for repairs.
- WEATHER. You can’t outsmart Mother Nature, no matter how many weather apps you use. I’m not saying don’t use them—definitely use them—but trust your eyes and ears, too. And don’t be too surprised when the weather throws a wrench in your plans.
You get the idea. Things will go wrong while you’re RVing.
But here’s the upshot: you figure it out. Sure, you end up with a different itinerary than the one you planned. You’ll skip some destinations altogether, and spend more time in others than you ever wanted to.
It’s all part of the adventure. Do your best to see it that way, and you’ll still have fun. Maybe not when you’re sitting on the side of the highway with a flat tire and no cell signal, but after that. Once you’ve figure out how you’ll handle it.
Plans change, and not always in a way that’s exciting. But I think my best lesson from this year is that I can handle the things life throws my way. Even if I’ve never dealt with them before, I’m confident now that I’ll figure it out. And best of all, I’ve met some really cool people and seen some really cool places that I’d have otherwise missed along the way.
Here are my best tips for “expecting the unexpected,” as much as you can:
- Always have a plan B. This is related to research, but the basic idea is: don’t drive into a situation blind. Have a basic knowledge of where you’re going, and get a feel for what a backup plan might look like, if you have to veer off course.
- Travel with essential tools, and have at least a basic knowledge of how to use them.
- Always have some sort of exit strategy if you’re traveling in places with little to no signal. This might be a paper map, a GPS device, or basic knowledge of local geography.
- Make the time to explore random things that pop up along the way. Some of my best experiences this year have happened because I’ve pulled over when I saw something interesting, or I went off the beaten path just a little way. You’ll be amazed at what you can find.
- Keep an open mind. Some of your best memories might happen when plans fall apart. My family and I tried to do a hike in Glacier National Park this summer and were initially crushed when we got to the trailhead at 7 a.m. to find the parking lot completely full. We thought about just giving up, but instead, we found a different hike that we all ended up loving. We had a fantastic day, which wouldn’t have happened if we’d just gone back to our campground in defeat.
And there you have it! I hope this post is helpful to anyone else who’s just starting out, or planning some RV travel in the near future.
If you’re so inclined, comment below and let us all know: what are YOUR top lessons learned from RVing?
Sarah is a freelance writer who’s been a full-time solo RVer for nearly two years. To learn more or to get in touch, visit www.flourishwriting.com or find her on social media @flourishwriting.