Category Archives: Travel Trailer Life

Getting Your Travel Trailer Ready to Go

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Brown sign reading Rockhound State Park
Welcome to the Rockhound State Park campground!

Whether you’ve been staying in a campground or boondocking on public land, when it’s time to leave, you have to prepare your travel trailer for the journey. While getting the trailer ready is not a complicated procedure, there are steps that must be taken in preparation for your trip. Use these tips as a checklist to make sure you’ve done everything that needs doing before you hit the road.

#1 Lower everything on the roof. Bring down antennas. Close vents.

Hose connected to campground water spigot in background. Thick black electrical cord connected to campground electrical box in foreground.
Unhook water and electricity connections before you leave.

#2 If you’re at a campground, disconnect utilities. If you have a hose hooked up to the sewer, dump your black and grey water tanks one last time, then put away your sewer hose. Unplug your electrical connection and put away the cord. Unhook your water hose from the city water connection and from the trailer as well. Be sure the hose is drained and put it away.

#3 Retract your awning completely.

#4 Pull in all slides.

#5 Pick up and put away any equipment (rugs, chairs, tables, grills, tools, hoses, etc.) you have outside.

#6 Consider dumping contents of fresh water tank if water will be easy to replace at your destination. Especially if you are close to your maximum weight, you might want to travel without the extra pounds a tank full of water will add.

#7 Make sure stove and oven are turned off.

#8 Make sure all faucets are turned off.

#9 Make sure all interior and exterior lights are turned off.

#10 Make sure heater and air conditioner are turned off.

#11 Close windows.

#12 Latch interior cabinet doors and close drawers securely.

#13 Put away anything sitting on counter tops, tables, or floors. You don’t want any objects sliding, flying, or crashing while the trailer is in motion. We find storing larger items in the bathtub or on the bed keeps them secure during travel.

#14 After all chores are done inside and everyone has exited the trailer, close the exterior door(s) securely and lock up.

#15 Move steps to the travel position.

#16 Hitch trailer to tow vehicle. (If you need more information about hitching a trailer to a tow vehicle, read my post “Hitched.”)

#17 Connect stabilizers and install sway controller. Made sure all components are in their proper positions and all pins are installed.

#18 Plug in cord that controls trailer’s lights.

#19 Check inflation of trailer’s tires. Add air if necessary.

#20 Remove chocks from wheels.

Green camping chair sitting alone in the sunlight.
Don’t leave your chair behind. Do a walk-around before you go.

#21 Walk around rig and tow vehicle for a final inspection. Are any belongings outside the trailer? Are all utilities unhooked? Are all windows and vents closed? Is the awning retracted? Are all antennas down? Is the campfire dead out? Are steps secured for travel? Is campsite clean? Make sure everything is picked up, put away, closed, latched, and ready to go.

#22 Check lights on the back of trailer to make sure all are working properly. Check running lights, brake lights, right turn indicator, and left turn indicator.

There! You’ve done it! You’ve gotten your travel trailer ready for the road. You can start your trip confident that you’ve taken care of everything that needs to be done before you begin your journey.  For tips on general trip preparation and how to get your tow vehicle ready to go, see my post “10 Things to Do Before You Hit the Road.”

If you have RV experience, what tips can you offer for getting a travel trailer or fifth wheel ready for the road? Please leave a response in the comments below.

I took the photos in this post.

Black and Grey Water Tanks

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I thought emptying our travel trailer’s black and grey water tanks was going to be absolutely disgusting, but it’s turned out to be not such a terrible job. If you’ve had an RV for a while, you’re probably an old hand at emptying your tanks, but if you’re new to RV life, I may be able to offer you a few tips on how to do this task quickly and efficiently.

If you’re squeamish about bodily waste and gag at the thought of getting your hands dirty, wear gloves. You can pick up boxes of nitrile or vinyl gloves pretty cheap at Harbor Freight. The Wal-Mart pharmacy department and most drugstores carry latex gloves; Wal-Mart usually also has disposable gloves in the paint department. Of course, single use items have a negative environmental impact, so you can do your part for Mother Nature by wearing heavy duty, reusable kitchen gloves when you’re emptying your waste tanks. After you’ve done your dumping, store your gloves with your sewer hose so you can always find them when you need them.

Speaking of sewer hoses, longer is better. When we bought our sewer hose, The Man and I agreed 10 feet of hose would be plenty. If I had known then what I know now, I would have purchased a hose that was 15 or even 20 feet long. Our hose has never been too short, but we have had to stretch it to its limit to get it to the drain a couple of times. Sometimes it’s challenging to pull the trailer to within ten feet of a dump station drain. If we had a longer hose, The Man wouldn’t have to work quite so hard to get the trailer quite so close to where we need it to be.

While shopping for RV accessories, we saw the special, expensive RV/marine toilet paper that’s supposed to break down quickly. We contemplated buying the special toilet paper, but decided against it. We already bought the cheapest toilet paper any store offers, and The Man had read testimonies online from people who didn’t feel the need to use special toilet paper in their RV toilets. BIG MISTAKE! We ended up with toilet paper not breaking down and clogging our system. Now we do not put ANY toilet paper into our toilet. Used toilet paper gets put in a covered wastebasket next to the toilet. We line the wastebasket with a plastic bag, and when the bag is full it’s removed, tied shut, and disposed of with our other trash.

We still have not tried the special RV/marine toilet paper. After dealing with the clog, we decided not to take any more chances. From our lives as vandwellers, we were already accustomed to dealing with our own waste, so a little toilet paper in the garbage can doesn’t disgust us. Dealing with toilet paper in a garbage can is a LOT easier than dealing with a clogged black water system.

Our travel trailer has an indicator to tell us how full our black and grey water tanks are. At the touch of a button, lights indicate if our tanks are empty, ⅓ full, ⅔ full, or full. When we picked up our travel trailer, the indicator said the black water tank was ⅔ full. The fellow who serviced the trailer said he’d emptied the black water tank, but later we wondered if he’d forgotten to do so. He also told us that sometimes a piece of toilet paper stuck in the tank can trigger a sensor and tell you the tank has waste in it when it doesn’t. Because we didn’t want the extra weight of a full black water tank while traveling or the problems caused by petrified poop in the tank, we were determined to make sure the tank was empty. After using enzymes in the tank, adding 5+ gallons of water, and dumping three times within five days, our indicator finally showed the tank was empty. Yay!

However, after using the toilet only a few times, the indicator showed the tank was ⅔ full again. Weird and impossible! Coyote Sue (a veteran of a number of motorhomes and pull-behind trailers) told us that most people with older RVs don’t rely on the holding tank indicators, but instead develop an understanding of how long they can go between dumps. Coyote Sue also keeps a logbook where she writes down where she stays each night, what she likes or dislikes about the place, and when she dumps her tanks. I’ve started keeping a logbook of our own, so I can look back and see when we dumped our tanks. We know if we dumped Sunday (for example), there’s no way we’ve filled the black water tank by Wednesday, no matter what the indicator tells us.

During our endeavor to completely empty our black water tank, I discovered that enzymes are not just to solve problems, but to prevent problems too. I didn’t really know what I was looking for when I stood in front of the RV toilet system enzymes display in Wal-Mart. There were at least a dozen options to choose from, including liquids and powders that had to be measured and poured, premeasured liquids in little bottles, and toss-ins which consists of powder in a membrane that breaks down to release the powder (a lot like laundry pods, I suppose).  A sign at the dump station at Rockhound State Park prohibited the dumping of formaldehyde (and a handful of other chemicals I’d never heard of), so I chose a liquid labeled “natural” and “no formaldehyde.” I also bought a measuring cup set at the Dollar Tree so we could divvy out the right amount every time and have a cup that was dedicated to only this job. (To my chagrin, The Man simply pours into the toilet the amount of enzymes he thinks we need at any given time without bothering to measure.)

Bottle of RV Digest-It holding tank treatment in foreground. Mountains and clouds in the background
This is our second bottle of RV Digest-It. This is the brand of enzymes I prefer to liquefy the solid waste in our black water tank.

After we emptied the first bottle of enzymes (I think the brand name was Thetford Campa-Chem Natural RV Holding Tank Treatment) we bought Unique Camping & Marine RV Digest-It brand at Ace Hardware. It costs us upwards of $13 per 32 fluid ounce bottle, but the instructions call for 2 ounces as the regular dose, instead of the 4 ounces per dose called for with the product I purchased at Wal-Mart. Since we use less of it, I think it’s worth spending a little more. Also, it seems to do its job, which definitely makes it worth the money.

None of the enzyme products I’ve seen say how often they should be used, so we turned to Coyote Sue for advice again. She said she adds an enzyme product (I believe she uses toss-ins) after dumping her tank, then again about a week later. She typically travels alone, so she may need to add enzymes (and dump) less often than The Man and I do.

We’re not really campground people, although we did stay in one for a week while working on the road to our property. Our campsite included hookups to electricity, water, and sewer. I’d already read about proper sewer hookup procedure, but the host at the campground reminded me of what to do. While hooked up to the sewer at a campground, keep the black water tank closed until it is ⅔ full or until you are ready to dump before leaving. If you leave the tank valve open while connected to the drain, the liquid will drain away each time it’s added to the tank and not be there to help flush out the solid waste. Your sewer hose will get clogged if you leave the black water tank open, the camp host put it delicately while wrinkling her nose. I wonder if she knew this from personal experience or from watching other campers.

Whether dumping into the sewer drain at a campsite or at a dump station, dump the black water tank first, then the grey water tanks. The grey water should be less gross than the black water and will help wash the black water grossness away. After dumping and disconnecting your sewer hose, you can use fresh water to give the hose a good rinse, making sure all waste water goes down the drain.

So there you have it: everything I’ve learned so far about maintaining an RV’s grey and black water tanks.

If you have RV experience, what tips can you offer a newbie like me? Please leave a response in the comments below.

I took the photo in this post.

A History of Caravans, aka Travel Trailers

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It’s July now and the height of the summer travel season in the United States. Lots of folks are out and about with their travel trailers, but have you ever wondered about the history of these RVs that are towed behind a car or truck? Today I’m sharing a guest post from CAMP (Caravan & Motorhome Parts) all about the history of travel trailers, or caravans, as they are called in England.

Do you own a travel trailer? You may be wondering how travel trailers started out.

They originally come from the UK, and in England they are called caravans. The word “caravan” comes from the Moroccan term “karwan” which is the name of a group of desert travelers.

The caravan you own today probably has a sleek modern interior, bathroom, kitchen, HD TV and plenty more extras. However, if you go back 100 years your caravan would look completely different.

Back in 1885, Dr. William Stables purchased the first caravan ever made and called it “The Wanderer.” The same summer he bought the caravan he traveled 1400 miles across the UK powered by 2 horses.

When caravans were first introduced, they were seen as an upper class luxury, and a person needed a lot of money to buy such an item. Of course today caravans are widely accessible to people who love holidays and camping.

1919 was the year caravans started to look more like what we recognize today. People stopped using horses to move the mobile homes and progressed to using cars. This was a result of the end of World War I and people having a higher income which allowed them to buy vehicles.

Thanks to Caravan and Motorhome Parts we have a collection of the best pieces of caravan history put together in this timeline infographic. Now we can see the development of camping vehicles throughout history.

History of Caravans




Weather and the Travel Trailer

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When I was a van dweller, I didn’t give the weather a lot of thought. I didn’t

Trees Covered With Snow

like driving in the rain (never have, never will), so perhaps I’d change my departure time if it was raining when I was ready to leave. I was more concerned with ice and snow and did a better job of planning my travels in the winter, especially in the mountains. But wind? I never thought about the wind when traveling in my van.

Assorted-color Flags Under Gray Clouds

Of course, I noticed the wind when traveling in my van, especially in states with windy conditions like Kansas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Especially in my two vans with high tops, I was aware of the wind. I was lucky to have never met a gust that blew me (or scared me) off the road. Sometimes I slowed down when the wind was strong, and sometimes I held on to the steering wheel tightly with both hands, but wind never changed my travel plans.

Things are different now that The Man and I are living and traveling in a tongue-pull trailer. It’s not as easy as it once was to just get up and go.

After picking up our travel trailer, we made a trip of several hundred miles to get back to our temporary home base in Southern New Mexico. When we arrived at Rockhound State Park to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, we found no empty campsites.  We ended up staying in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart. The location wasn’t an ideal campsite, but we didn’t mind too much because we were in our new home. The next time we went to Rockhound, we found an acceptable vacant campsite, and The Man backed in our travel trailer.

We stayed at Rockhound for about a week, splurging $4 a night to connect to electricity. We decided to head about 100 miles down the road and spend a few days at Elephant Butte Lake State Park before setting off for our final destination. We agreed to leave on Wednesday.

We woke up at our usual time that morning, between 5:00 and 6:30. I was up first, which was unusual, but The Man soon followed. He made and drank his coffee while I wrote the first draft of a blog post. We’d done most of our cleaning and putting away the night before, so we didn’t have to do much before we left.

I was heating leftovers for my breakfast when The Man asked me if I’d be ready to go soon. I told him would be ready after I ate my breakfast and brushed my teeth.

I’d noticed the wind had been strong ever since I’d gotten out of bed, which was unusual. Even in New Mexico, the wind doesn’t typically blow until the sun is out. As I ate my breakfast, the trailer continued to shimmy and shake, but I didn’t think much about it or consider what it might mean for our travel plans.

It’s bad out there, The Man said.

What’s bad? I asked. I assumed he was talking about the wind, but I wasn’t sure.

Have you looked outside? he asked.

I shook my head, then moved to the window. When I looked outside, I realized we were experiencing a full-on dust storm. I could see nothing outside the immediate surroundings of the campground. I couldn’t see any of the buildings dotting the land that slopes away from the campground. I couldn’t see the town off in the distance. Heck, I could barely make out the mountains that I knew surrounded us. The wind carried not only enough dust to block out the human-made structures I was accustomed to looking at every day, but so much dust filled the air that the very mountains were obscured. That, my friend, is a lot of dust.

I thought about the signs I’d seen in New Mexico and Arizona, the ones that say “Dust Storms May Exist” and “Zero Visibility Possible” and “Blowing Dust Area.” I thought about the signs in New Mexico telling drivers what to do if they were caught in a dust storm and couldn’t see anything. (Pull off roadway. Turn lights off. Foot off brake. Stay buckled.) The situation we were in was exactly what those signs were about.

We’d be fools to take the trailer out in this, I told The Man.

I knew he really wanted to leave, but he agreed with me. We would be fools to take the trailer out in this.

The wind delay got me thinking about how the weather is going to affect our travels with the trailer.

You wouldn’t want to pull that trailer in the rain either, I pointed out to The Man, and he agreed he wouldn’t want to do that.

Water Dew in Clear Glass Panel

We’re going to have to start looking at the weather before we leave, I told him.

Pulling the trailer is already a challenge for The Man. (I haven’t even attempted to drive the truck with the trailer attached to it.) Keeping the entire rig in his lane, watching out for the mistakes of other drivers, letting folks enter the interstate via the on ramps all contribute to his stress. Slippery roads and low visibility would certainly add to the tension. Why drive through bad weather if we can avoid it?

Checking the weather forecast is such a simple thing. If we have internet access, it’s really easy to do. My new plan is to check the forecast for proposed departure dates as soon as we begin discussing leaving. If there’s rain or ice of sleet or snow or high winds in the forecast along our route, we’ll leave as many days earlier or later as it takes to stay safe.

The high winds lasted over 24 hours. They shook the trailer all day. I felt like I was in a boat for hours. Some gusts were so strong, I wondered if the trailer would be blown over. The wind was still shaking the trailer when we went to bed. Thankfully the air was calmer the next morning (but still quite brisk by anyone’s standards), and we were able to make it safely to our next destination.

Do you check the weather forecast before you hit the road? How bad does the weather have to be before you postpone travel? What do you find most difficult to drive in: rain, wind, snow, or sleet? Please leave a comment telling how weather impacts your travel days.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/trees-covered-with-snow-833013/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-color-flags-under-gray-clouds-1685842/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cars-dew-drops-125510/.

Hitched

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I was vaguely aware that hitching a trailer to the tow vehicle was more work than I wanted to do, but I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to trade vanlife for a tongue-pull RV.

New Mexico State Parks logo includes drawing of a sunset, trees, grass, and water.

When we arrived at Rockhound State Park on Monday to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, The Man backed the travel trailer onto site 28 and unhooked it from the truck. I was inside cooking dinner while he went through the separation process, so I had no idea what was involved.

On Saturday the indicator told us our black and grey water tanks were ⅔ full (That happened fast! The Man and I told each other), so we figured we should do our first dump.  The Man also wanted to take the trailer to a truck stop to have it weighed. Of course, the trailer had to be hitched to the truck before we could go.

I thought The Man would take care of the hitching. After all, he’d driven the truck towing the trailer, backed it on to the campsite, and uncoupled the trailer from the truck. I thought the trailer hitch was his domain. However, he opened the front door, stuck his head in, and requested my help.

What he wanted to do seemed impossible. He wanted to position our enormous pickup truck just so in order to line up the ball on the back with the hitch on the front of the trailer. How was that ever going to work? It doesn’t help that I’m terrible at backing up a vehicle and worse at directing someone else in backing. I never know which way the steering wheel should be turned or when to straighten the wheels. I hate it when someone asks me to guide them. When I am able to do my own backing, I’m acting more intuitively than consciously. How am I supposed to tell anyone else how to back up when I can’t even verbalize the process to myself?

The Man’s been driving about two decades longer than I have; he started in his teens, while I started in my 30s. He’s also had a lot more experience hitching trailers, hauling trailers, and guiding other drivers in backing into the spot where they need to be. Often, especially in high stress situations, The Man has difficulty putting his thoughts into words. During the hitching of the trailer, all of these factors came together to create a situation of comic proportions, only none of it was funny in the moment.

I’m going to back the truck up until the ball is under the hitch, he told me. Tell me when I’m all lined up, he said as he hopped into the truck.

Ok. It all looked lined up to me, so I told him to come on back. I didn’t tell him to stop until the ball was under the hitch. When he got out of the truck to assess the situation, he was not happy. He hadn’t expected me to have him come all the way back in one fell swoop.

I could have fucked up everything, he said, but I pointed out everything was ok because he’s stopped when I told him to.

He just shook his head at me.

While the ball was under the hitch, it was two inches too far to the right. The Man explained he was going to pull the truck forward and my job was to look at the ball on the back of the truck, then direct him in moving the truck an inch or two to the left until the ball and hitch lined up perfectly for connection.

I think I laughed. First of all, looking at the ball and hitch and determining if they were aligned seemed impossible to me. I’m the roommate who can’t tell if a picture is hanging crooked on the wall. If someone asks me if a picture is straight, all I can offer is a shrug. Who knows? Maybe? It looks ok to me. Sure, I could tell if backing up the truck would bring the ball into the general proximity of the hitch, but how would I know if the ball was directly under the hitch until the two objects were within inches of each other? The Man seemed to think I should be able to determine alignment from a distance.

Secondly, being able to give directions in how to move the giant truck two inches seemed preposterous. Is it even possible to get something so big to move only two inches? The Man seemed to think it was.

The situation we found ourselves in consisted of him  barely turning the steering wheel, then backing up slowly while holding his door open and turning his upper body around to see where he was going while I made sure he didn’t crash the truck into the trailer. At one point he jumped from the truck and stomped to the back while lamenting, I have no help! I guess he meant my help was no help at all.

Again, all of this might have been funny had it been happening on television or the big screen. (I’ve always thought Janeane Garofalo should play me in the biopic about my life.) However, since we were actually experiencing the chaos, neither of us was laughing.

At one point I complained that in the 21st century there should be a device to tell us when the ball and hitch are perfectly aligned. I figured it would use lasers and a female voice (much like that of the Google Maps lady in my last phone) would instruct the driver one inch to the left or two inches to the right. This is technology I would pay for!

Apparently, some ball/hitch alignment technology does exist, although it’s not quite like I imagined. In the article “Trailer Hitch Alignment Products: Do They Really Work? Which Ones Are Best?”  on the Do-It-Yourself RV website, author Artie Beaty describes and rates four hitch alignment products.

One (the Gooseneck Easy Coupler Hitch Hook-up Mirror) is (as the name suggests) a mirror for a fifth wheel trailer that “provides a clear line of sight straight down to your hitch.”

Two of the products (the Camco Magnetic Hitch Alignment Kit and the Never Miss Hitch System from Uncle Norm’s Marine Products) make use of poles or posts that attach to the trailer and tow vehicle and stand high enough for the driver to see. When the poles are aligned, the ball and hitch are aligned too.

The final product mentioned in the article is the Hopkins Smart Hitch Camera, and it’s a bit more like the technologically advanced system I’d imagined (although no voice guide is included). In this system, “a camera attached to your hitch gives you a live view in the driver’s seat [via a computer screen] to help guide your hitch in.” This system “has three different ‘SmartZones’ displayed on the screen to alert you to how far away things are.”

When I showed The Man the devices I found while researching this post, he wasn’t impressed. First he said he would make his own components to do the same job. Then he changed his mind and said he didn’t need any alignment product. He was confident all he needed was practice. I think we should make our lives easier if we can afford to, but he’s confident we can do it on our own.

I have no plans to ever hitch and haul that trailer on my own. If something happened to The Man tomorrow, I’d want to go back to vanlife. However, if I had to hitch the trailer by myself, I would certainly get myself some assistance via one of the pole products. I’d have a difficult enough time backing up the truck. So why not get some help with the alignment of the ball and hitch?

We finally did get the trailer hitched, thanks much more to The Man’s abilities than to my own. At one point the ball and hitch were about three feet apart, but he looked at them and said yes, they were lined up. When he backed the truck into position, sure enough the ball slid right under the hitch socket.

Once the ball and hitch were attached, we went through other steps: attaching the components of the sway control system, removing chocks from under wheels, disconnecting the water and electricity, and making sure all windows and vents were closed. The Man was beyond frustrated, and I was practically in tears. I wished we never had to hitch that damn trailer again.

I you have experience hitching a travel trailer, I’d love to know your tips and tricks. Please leave a comment!

I took the photo used in this post.