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The Special Circumstances of Cross-Country RV Travel

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Embarking on a cross-country road trip in a spacious RV is an adventure like no other. It's not just a vehicle; it's your mobile haven. It should provide all the comforts of home condensed into approximately 200 square feet of space. When it comes to fulfilling the quintessential family-trip fantasy, an RV always plays a central role. Yet, unlike the simplicity of packing into a van and checking into motels, planning an RV journey demands meticulous attention to detail if you aim for a smooth and enjoyable experience.

Your RV becomes a microcosm of your daily life, complete with a kitchen, sleeping quarters, and a bathroom. While this convenience is unbeatable, sharing this compact space for an extended journey introduces its own set of dynamics. After a few days on the road, you might find that managing attitudes is challenge enough.

You should always try to eliminate any additional complications or obstacles that might arise. This starts with a customized space for cooking and comfortable mattresses for nighttime. Planning out your route, keeping extensive checklists and keeping things clean help more than you could imagine.

Here’s our best advice on keeping things as simple as possible so you can focus on the adventures you’ll be having outside your RV:

Do: Plan Your Route Carefully

Stopping for the night and getting to sleep is different in an RV. You can’t just pile into a motel room, pull out a sofa bed mattress for the kids and call it a day. When planning your route, you have to choose stops that get you close to great sites and fun hikes but also allow your type/size of RV and have any hookups you need.

Some campgrounds won’t allow RV’s over 30 feet long, and some might not have utility hookups. That might be fine for a night or two, but generators aren’t endless, neither is the RV’s water or septic system space. Research campgrounds before you settle on nightly stops.

Don’t: Wait until the Last Minute to Book Camp Sites

If you’re going to some of the most popular national parks, like Yellowstone, Glacier, or Joshua Tree, you can’t just pull up to a campground and expect a site will be available for the night(s) you need it. These parks fill up fast, and have limited space, so plan ahead and make reservations. That way, at the end of a long day you just have a few chores to do, and then you can kick back, relax around a fire, and all crawl into your separate RV beds to rest for the next day’s adventures.

Do: Consider Custom Sheets and Mattresses

Speaking of RV beds, don’t forget about the bedding. And because RV beds are usually custom sizes, you’ll likely need custom bed linens as well if you want to avoid the constant slipping and tugging that comes with fitted sheets that don’t actually fit. Plus, RV beds don’t usually come with very comfy mattresses. But you can have custom memory foam mattresses made for the RV – whether it’s a short queen for the back bedroom, or dorm size mattresses for the bunk beds.

Think about it: day after day of hikes and other outdoor adventures make for tired bones and sore muscles. You want your body to have a flimsy foam pad to work with when it’s trying to recover? Yes – said no one ever. Having CustomFoam or memory foam mattresses made for your RV is going to keep everybody more comfy – both asleep and during daytime activities.

If you haven’t considered them before, there’s even short queen mattresses specifically for RVs. They have the width of a queen mattress but are shorter to fit into unique RV spaces. It’s important to have enough space and support at night for long road trips.

Don’t: Forget to Secure the Cabinets and Refrigerator Doors

Everyone who has ever traveled anywhere in America knows are highways are not cute. It’s not always going to be a smooth ride, especially if you get up into mountains and canyons, where roads are bumpy, narrow, steep, and winding. If your kid grabs a soda out of the fridge and forgets to secure the door after they close it, one bad turn and you could have everything in your fridge come tumbling out. Same with the cabinets. This is mostly an issue on older RV’s, but still – not something to overlook.

Do: Practice Emptying the Septic and Water Tanks before Your Trip

Alright, so this is the catch when it comes to living on the road: you deal with the sewage you create. It’s not for the faint of heart – it’s gross; that’s just a reality. Have the least squeamish person in your family practice emptying and cleaning the septic tank before you begin your trip, and make sure you practice procedures for water and propane as well.

And as long as we’re talking about the bathroom, you’ve probably noticed there are one or more beds in the RV that are within 6 feet of the bathroom. Invest in some Poo-pourri, or make your own! You’ll be happy you did.

Don’t: Leave Your Car at Home without Researching Your Destinations First

RVs are huge; they can’t go everywhere. Some parks you can’t get around without a regular-sized car. A great example of this is Yellowstone – any message board will tell you that once you get into that area, you want to park your RV at the campground and get to the rest of your adventures via car.

Do: Keep Your RV Bed Clean and Fresh

While you’re at it – upgrading your RV mattresses and bedding – make sure to get multiple sets of custom bed linens for each sleep space in the RV. Unless you’ve got a really fancy rig, you’re waiting until you get home to wash clothes, sheets and blankets. But you’ll be out and about hiking, swimming, rappelling and zip lining. And the weather isn’t always kind. All that sweat, dirt and dust you get covered in ends up all over your RV bed.

Have one or two extra sets of bed linens made for each mattress in the RV and get to crawl into a crisp, clean bed after a muddy day of hiking in the rain. As well, if you know the washing requirements of your custom RV bedding, you should consider using a laundromat whenever you come across one.

This doesn’t just apply to your bedding but your clothes. Dirty clothes and bedding sitting inside the RV will eventually reek into the rest of the space. Keeping your clothes and bedding has a big impact on saving space and keeping your space smelling nice and not like a pair of socks after a hike.

Don’t: Smoke Inside or Next to the RV

So many reasons. It’s a small space. Fabric absorbs smells. Cigarette smoke smell never comes out. It’s gross; just don’t. . If you’ve spent the money on custom RV bed sheets and other work, this is even more important. Don’t throw away all the time and money you’ve spent on making your RV space comfortable for yourself and everyone else.

Do: Consider Switching out Your RV Mattress for a Split Queen Mattress

One of the reasons most RV mattresses are foam and thin and sad is because of the logistics of how to get a queen or king-size mattress through a glorified truck trailer filled with all the obstacles of the couch, dining set, cabinets, bathroom, etc. No worries, though. You can get that new queen size RV mattress made as a split queen, and then setting up your bed will be a breeze.

Don’t: Ever Forget to Close up Your Outdoor Kitchen at Night

Bears. Raccoons. Coyotes. Wayward teens at the campground. It’s a terrible mess looking to happen that could cause real damage. The less uninvited guests at night the better off your trip and your sleep is. A custom RV bed can help you sleep but it won’t keep you asleep when a bear starts making noises outside your window.

Do: Consider Dorm-Style Mattresses for Your RV’s Bunk Beds

Just because the bunk beds tucked into the side of your RV’s hallway are narrow doesn’t mean they have to feel uncomfortable and cramped. Dorm-size mattresses tend to fit these long, narrow RV bunk beds; they’re a lot like the ones you might have stayed in at summer camp as a kid.

Why does this size bed exist? We have no idea. But since it does, make it fancy and get a memory foam mattress made for it. It’s probably where the kids are sleeping. Kids don’t tend to be morning people, and even some teenagers get homesick, so you should put a priority on making their sleep spaces in the RV as comfy as possible.

Don’t: Fail to Check that all Your Appliances Function before You Leave

You don’t want to be 7 hours into a drive, ask one of the kids to grab you a seltzer, only to receive a flat, room temperature can. Just the same, there aren’t really restaurants in the back roads of South Dakota; you likely planned home-made meals. What if you stop for the night and realize the stovetop isn’t working? Hope you know how to build a fire from scratch. Honestly, you really should know how to do that regardless – it’s a life skill.

Check the TV’s, the water pump, the water heater – think about everything you use during the day and do a walkthrough before you drive anywhere. We wanted to go glamping, not backwoods camping. Better over-prepared than under. Repeat this same process before you leave each place you stayed for the night. This will help you avoid surprise empty propane and water tanks while on the road.

Do: Practice Maneuvering and Parking the RV before You Go

While you don’t need a special license to drive an RV; it’s nothing like driving a car. It’s also nothing like driving a moving van, if you were thinking that gives you an advantage. Practice around your neighborhood before you go. It takes some practice and a realization of how big an RV is to properly back it into campsites and navigate winding roads safely.

A Couple Last Thoughts on Optimizing Your RV Road Trip

When you're on vacation, comfort takes center stage, particularly if your trip involves a packed itinerary with endless adventures. As you prepare to hit the open road, these essential tips will set your journey on a positive course, and it will stay that way.

You can create a homely atmosphere within your mobile haven. Stock your fridge with your favorite snacks and beverages. You want to make sure your cravings are satisfied throughout the trip without spending a fortune at a gas station. Don't forget to bring along your favorite music and movies to enhance the overall experience. While the goal is to create cherished memories of a scenic family trip, it's essential to remember most trips are not a comedy of errors filled with breakdowns and challenges.

As you embark on your RV adventure, let comfort be your constant companion. With the right mindset, preparation, and a focus on making the journey as enjoyable as the destination, your family road trip can become a story of joyful exploration and unforgettable moments.


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