Signup for the "Familyman Weekly"

 
First Name:
Last Name:
E-mail address:

RVing Tips

Hey Dad,

These are some of the RVing tips that I’ve learned over the almost 15 years of some pretty serious RV travel with my family. I hope to be adding to it as I continue to learn little tricks to make RVing more fun and less stressful. Got a great tip you’d like to share? Send it to me.

Q — What do I need to know about RVing before I hit the road?

A — Two things: #1 It ‘aint easy #2 It is good. That’s about it. Sure, there are lots of things you’ll need to do differently than driving a regular car like…how to dump your waste tanks, the difference between black water and gray water, how to run your generator, when to use propane and electric, where to park, HOW to park, what roads to avoid, and how to cope with limited supplies. You can do some homework beforehand, but you really need to be out on the road to learn firsthand. Expect some mistakes and some mean looks from your wife, children, and the occasional drive you just cut off. But hey, that’s the fun of RVing. Check out my best of travel list!!!

Q — What should I take when I go RVing?

A – My list of must haves…

Tools (including a hacksaw/hammer)
Extra Antifreeze
Extra Oil
An extra fuel filter (this would have saved me about $500 recently)
Tie down Straps for awnings (it can get windy out there)…and bring some rope.
An extra length of water hose
50′ extension chord
Zip ties
RV toilet paper
iPhone chargers
Laundry stuff
Wire coat hanger (these things come in handy)
Duct tape, electrical tape, caulk, and caulk gun ( although you can get all that at Walmart if you need to)
15/20 amp fuses
flashlight
road hazard kit (you know.. those bright orange triangle-things)
Bug spray
Sun screen
A swim noodle…that’s right, a swim noodle. They make great noise stoppers. Split one side and slide it over a banging window blind or stick it on a sharp corner. Brilliant!!!
A mouse trap! (caught FOUR on my last trip)

Q — Can you give ANY other advice?

A –Yes. 1. Make sure you join Good Sam’s Club Road Side Assistance Program (not to be confused with the Sam’s Club started by Wal-Mart founder, Sam Walton). For less than $100, it gives you free towing up to 1000 miles, help in locating service centers, free flat repair, and a bunch of other things. DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT!!!!

In fact, if you use the link below, Familyman Ministries will receive a portion of your membership fee. I’m not kidding on this one!!!!

728x90 Full Color Various

2. Buy and use a GPS (saved my marriage). You can use your phone, but I like having a designated GPS. In fact, there is a RV version out there.

3. Use RV friendly phone Apps – I’m high tech now, and I LOVE my phone apps. Two that are indispensable:All Stays Rv and Campground. It costs a few bucks but it’s incredible. It lists all the places you can camp for free and all dumping stations…plus about everything else you could ever want as an RVer. Gas Buddy is another app that has saved me gobs of money. You tell me would you drive an extra 2 miles for 30 cent a gallon cheaper gas?? Oh, yeah. There are probably other apps…but these two are indispensable (I seem to like that word).

4. Get a Wal-Mart Rand McNally Road Atlas – These have a directory in the front and back listing all the Wal-marts in the country. My favorite thing to do each morning is to check off another ‘never before stayed at’ Walmart. Official Count: 259

Familyman Product Review

Black Water Treatment

Maintenance Tips

The First Law of RV Dynamics – Water is your enemy and always trying to get into your RV. You have to think like a soldier battling H2O. You can’t assume that just because no water is dripping from the ceiling everything is OK. I’m always looking at my ceiling for any signs of water. If a little tiny drip is sliding down your wall then…you got a leak. That’s why I’m always checking my calk lines to make sure everything looks good.

Note: NEVER use anything with silicone in it. NEVER. There will be times you’ll need to scrape off the old and Silicone is VERY difficult to remove and nothing sticks to is…like new calk. The best calk is Dicor (it’s a butyle calk). It costs a little more but is worth it. BUT the best tool for water protection is Eternabond Tape. It’s about $80 a roll (look on Amazon or Ebay) but guaranteed for 20 years. Get the 4″ seam tape and cover each of the seams. I’ve had so many leaks I can’t count before I discovered this product…none since Eternabond. Next RV I get, that’s the first thing I’ll buy and use.

*Ooo…I just uncovered my RV and see a little brown drip on the wall. I’ll pounce on that leak like a pit-bull on a kitten. All I need is a little putty knife and some Dicor Caulk.

Q — Where do you go for RV parts?

A — The internet is a great place for just about any RV part. But when you find  a good place you stick with it. I really like PPL Motor-home for general parts and recently got some stuff at GetRVParts.com.

The best way to approach it is to get the part number from your manual (you can get those online as well) and to search for the exact part. Don’t give up…there’s hardly a part on your RV that you can’t find.

Q — How do you sleep everyone?

A — We use every square inch. Here’s the rundown: My wife and I are on the queen-sized bed in the back, two kids on the dinette (it folds down), two on couches, three in the bunks we installed, and a baby in a Peapod in the shower…or any available space. In our last RV, we installed a swing down bunk over the driver’s seat (it was a job) and one child slept between the two captain’s chairs on a board spanning the distance. Not super comfy…but it worked. In this newer RV (which is 24 years old) we’re as comfortable as ten peas in a pod.

Q — What do you think about slide-outs?

A — Never had them. The older RVs we could afford didn’t have them. They do add a ton of living space although it can make things kind of tight while you’re in transit. I’m guessing they have their own maintenance issues because all the RV magazines offer after-market solutions for slide-outs. I know my family would love to have them…maybe in the future. I would say, that we’ve never had them and we’ve gotten along just fine. Don’t let anyone talk you into spending MORE because they say you HAVE to have slides.

Q — My fridge keeps turning off?

A — Open the outside compartment and blow out the combustion chamber. I’ve had mine quit working, and it was because soot builds up around the burner. Blew it out and it works like a charm. This might also solve problems in your hot water heater. I always start out with the simplest fix.

Q — My generator won’t start?

A — I was having trouble with my generator this spring. I thought I had figured out what it was…even found the $100 part on eBay and then decided to Google the problem. Found a forum where a guy had the same problem. One of the guys suggested checking the fuses or even the little red-buttoned breaker near the outside start switch. Walked out to the RV pushed the little red button (which had been tripped) and it started right up. BING!!!! Love simple fixes.* So, when it’s not working check your fuses (You might save yourself some future frustration by labeling all your fuses so you know which fuse is the light over the bathroom sink).

*The generator turned off again. This time I checked the antifreeze level and it was very LOW. The sensors keep it from running. Filled it up…and it’s worked like a charm.

**This fall I changed my oil and afterwards the breaker kept popping. Turns out…I forgot to put OIL in it after draining and changing the filter!!! Thanks to an oil sensor that was working I didn’t burn up my generator. But it might be a clue if you genset keeps throwing a breaker – check the oil.

wally docking

Q — Do you ever spend the night in Wal-Mart parking lots?

A — You betcha!!!  It’s called Wall-Docking, and we practically live there from April through July. In fact, I’d say we spend about 80% of our nights at Wal-Mart. If you’ve never stayed there, you’re in for a treat. Not only are they safe, they’re practically everywhere.

Frequently asked Wal-Mart questions:

Q — Do you have to ask permission to park?

A — No*. Just look for posted signs that might forbid parking there…then go to Lowe’s.

*Some folks like to ask permission…but I’m telling you when you ask, you’d think you were speaking a foreign language. They don’t even know what you’re asking.

Note: if you know where you’re going to be camping, a call-ahead might save you a lot of frustration.

Q — I’ve heard they offer hook ups. Is that true?

A – In your dreams! Sorry, but you’ll be boon docking it.

Q — What if the signs say, “No Truck Parking?”

A — If you’re NOT a truck, you CAN park. RVs are NOT trucks. Also, we’ve been in a pinch a few times and have asked even if it says no RV parking. More than once they’ve said, “Yeah go ahead…just park over on the edge.” I once called the police to check and they said they NEVER ticket on private property. Don’t know if that is accurate, but that’s what they told me.

Get the iphone/android app ALL STAYS. AllStays Pro Camping Information It will tell you which Walmarts allow parking and which won’t.

If you get it…and you should. Click through this icon and we’ll get a portion of the proceeds.

728x90 Full Color Various

BTW – When staying at Wal-Mart remember: you are a special guest and they have allowed you to stay on their property. So leave it clean, don’t use your leveling jacks (indents in hot pavement), shop for your RV supplies (cheapest RV toilet paper on the planet) and food in their store, and make sure you take your carts back to the cart corral.

Q — Are there other free places to stay?

A — Oh, yeah. You can stay at Cracker Barrel (although you might be all alone). You can also stay at Target, truck stops (kind of noisy), church lots (ask first), and some rest stops. Just about any big open space is fair game…but be prepared to move if someone comes knocking. Some other cheap options are fair grounds and Corp of Engineer campgrounds

FYI – My official count…259 unique Wal-Marts (no duplicates…one Wal-mart I’ve stayed at 6 times…that’s almost a WEEK). I record them in my Wal-Mart Rand-McNally Road atlas .

Hey Todd and Family, 

Thought you would appreciate this! Looks like we’re Wal-Marting sooner than expected. Family asleep and the smell of diesel. Living the dream! ~ The Meyer Family (PA) Photo below

walmart lewis

Q — Do most rest stops have free dump stations?

A — No. But when you find one…you’ve found a good thing. I just found out Georgia has dump-stations at their rest stops. Iowa and some along the top of Ohio (toll road) do as well. Here is a state by state guide to free dump-stations.

Q — I need help!! My wife and I just bought our first RV…. It is a class C Tioga, 1981 with a Dodge chassis. We cannot find parts. We need a new “gas tank filler neck surround” and a vacuum breaker for the Thetford Aqua Magic IV toilet. Have you encountered an RV salvage and/or parts dealer where you can get parts (reasonable)?*

A – Repairing RVs goes hand in hand with RVing. As the old RVing saying goes: If it ain’t broke…it will be. First place I go to is PPL Motorhomes. They have a large selection of RV parts, and thoserv surplus store PPL folks know their stuff and have been very helpful. I’m sure they have a part for your Thetford toilet, and will get it right out *(by the way tell them the Familyman sent you)*. If that doesn’t work, because your part is ancient, then I would contact a RV salvage place like RV Surplus  and Factory Rv Surplus in our neck of the woods or Arizona RV Salvage (I bought the hardware for my swing down bunks from them). If those don’t work…Google. It may take you a little work, but you’ll find your old part.

Here’s another little RV gem – All Season’s RV Appliances (service, parts, and sales) not only are the reasonably priced…but they sell factory seconds A/C’s and other appliances. I bought a roof A/C brand new and it was cheap!!! In fact, I have my RV furnace being worked on right now. Need an appliance? They’re your folks.

Need a body work or paint job? Precision Painting & Interiors (Bremen, IN) they did an amazing job on my damaged RV…AMAZING!!! Tell them Todd Wilson sent you.

Todd’s Tip for Trouble Free RVing

Stop, Look, and Listen – Keep an eye on your gauges. If anything looks odd, check it out. Don’t wait. Bad things happen to those who wait. Also, every time you stop, look under your RV or do a walk around. It’s amazing how often I see a latch unlocked and something hanging from it. One time I looked up and my A/C shroud was missing…another time a huge cover grill on the back of my RV was about to fall off.

This time out I noticed a small wet spot under the engine. I dropped down and stuck my hand in it and sniffed…fuel. I found a fuel line high up in the motor that was fixed with a quick tightening of the wrench. That could have gotten a lot worse fast had I not been aware of drips. I also check my tires often. If you have a duel tires in the back (two on each side) check the inside tire. It could be flat without you knowing it. Just give it a good thump.

Q — What about meals?

A – My wife is queen of quick meals. Actually when we first started we had all kinds of dinner ware and high ideals of cooking on the road. Now we use paper and plastic and like quick and dirty (er…clean). It’s not that my wife isn’t willing to cook something grander…it’s just that we don’t have to wait. Because 10 people waiting can get mighty ugly cramped in the kitchen. So my wife does a lot of microwavable meats for fajitas and tacos. Hot dogs are a favorite too. Eating out is a very nice option!!!!!!

RV RENO

Q — Here are some questions sent in by a familyman who is planning to do a little RV renovation.

Q – Full body paint is expensive but looks great, your opinion?
A – Paint it or get used to it. There are some places that can buff if back..but you’d have to check. A fellow familyman has a business in CA restoring and repainting RVs. Check them out.
Q – Tripple bunks, hard to do?
A – Not hard…but I had to remove a closet and a washer drier. Not super spacious about 2 feet per bunk.
Q – Reupholster couch and dinette in leather, did you do yourself?
A –  we used vinyl and it was the smartest thing we did. In fact  we just did the seat cushions thinking the backs my be cold…but five years later and the backs need to be redone and the seats look brand new. No we did not do it ourselves. we removed them and took them to our Amish re-upholsterer. He did a great job.
Q – Update colors, wallpaper,etc, how did u do this?
A – We wallpapered…but for some strange reason it didn’t stay real well. Then I re-did it with white beadboard over the old. It was a job but turned out well. One thing I’d do different is use wood bead-board (the thin sheets) and paint. I got the pre-painted heavy board…and it didn’t do well with moisture. ***(I just re-did it the right way…with real wood :))
Q – The wooden cabinets look terrible what do you recommend?
A –  A couple of options…you can paint them (whcih might lighten the whole RV up)…or you can restore them. Last year I found this Restore a Finish and it worked amazingly!! I’m always going to keep a can around to touch up spots.
Q – Want to put in flat panel TVs and surround sound, is it OK to drill into things?
A –  Yep…but be looking for wires. Make sure you have something sturdy to hang the TV on.
Q – Where did u get the extra seat belts to bolt into the floor and how did u so that without breaking anything?
A – There is an RV surplus place up here that has them (about $30 per set). I bolted them to the floor or metal framing. Not too hard. You’ll need one person on top and one below the rig so you don’t drill into the gas tank. :)

Q — What advice would you give a 36-year-old father of three…

…(11/daughter, 9/son, 7/son) who is considering stepping into his first RV? Is it good timing given my kids age? Does it really create amazing family bonding opportunities? Will it make me a real stud with my wife?*

A – The age of your kids is PERFECT. Actually, any age is perfect…because NOW is the perfect time AND the ONLY time we have. I know some who wait for the perfect age and it never comes. They look for perfect economic conditions, gas prices, and RV prices, and they never get any better. So my advice is seize the RV by the horns and Do it NOW. It ain’t getting any cheaper and you ‘aint getting any younger. Just do it.

Yes, it does offer amazing bonding opportunities. Being smashed into a tight space for any length of time is good for families…especially in our “give me my space” age that we live in. Your family will be forced to share space, the bathroom, and everything else. It isn’t always easy…but it is good. Will it make you a stud with your wife? Oh, yeah…unless she kills you first. What it will do is give your family tons of great memories that they will cherish for a lifetime.

Q — A problem with freezing?

“We ran across your blog while looking for RV tips. We are getting ready to travel to OH in our motor home. Do you think we will have a problem with freezing (in late October)? We are looking to purchase a farm in Ohio.”

A – You shouldn’t have any trouble. I usually, don’t winterize* my RV until Oct. 31. I’ve even gone later than that. We can have some cold weather, but if you’re living in the RV, the heat from the coach should be enough to keep things thawed. You need some really cold weather for several days to freeze things up.

I once waited too long to winterize my RV and the drain pipes froze. It took my about half a day to thaw them out but there was no damage. I think you’ll be fine. Make sure you have a full tank of propane…you don’t want to run out because it can get a little nippy at night. I have run out of propane…not fun. *

To winterize my RV I drain all the water from the lines, tank, and water heater and replace it with a couple gallons of RV antifreeze (look for it on sale at Wal-Mart or Menard’s). I also, remove everything from the cabinets…that might make a mouse snack…which is EVERYTHING. Think they won’t chew on those plastic handles on your utensils? Guess again. Paper products? They love that stuff. Play it safe and remove everything!!!

Q — What have been some of your favorite places to travel?

A – There are so many wonderful places to travel in the USA. But my favorite bang for your buck is THE FATHER ROAD. It runs from Chicago to Orlando and is dotted with nostalgic places all along the way. I also have some favorite roads like… I-40 (parallels Route 66), I-10 (Through the Florida Panhandle across the bayou, and into Texas), 1-95 (a great road down the east coast…I love the flower planted highways of North Carolina). Ooo…and of course you have to travel A1A down the coast of Florida. Have a favorite? I’d love to hear about it.

Q — Where are the best Familyman Friendly Beaches in the USA?

A – I asked the same question. Here’s what a bunch of dads suggested.

Q – What are the best traveling songs?

A – Glad you asked. These are the best of the road traveling songs.

Q – Where is the world’s biggest bottle of Ketchup?

A – Near St. Louis…and here are a bunch of other world’s biggest suggestions.

That’s so D – Muffler Men are scattered all over the country, and they just beg for stopping the car and taking a family muffler manphoto. You can lean more about these American Giants here. You can also get a history of their origin from the man who made them, here.

Q – What do you think about the National Parks?

A – I love the National Parks and all that they offer. Not only are they reasonably priced, offer spectacular scenery, historical places and ooze with nostalgic campyness, BUT they are places that dads get to experience with their family. Your children will one day look at old photos standing next to the Liberty Bell or Old Faithful and say to their children, “I went there with my dad.” Priceless.

We interviewed Familyman, Harley McAllister on the Familyman Show about his website national parks with kids. It’s  a great show.

Q – How about some great places to stop from Chicago to Galveston, TX?

My family is road tripping from Chicago to Memphis and then on to Houston/Galveston, Texas.  Are there any points of interest along the way I should show my kids? I.e. The giant Cross in Effingham, IL?

Perhaps there’s an app out there that would help Dads find points off the beaten path.

A – If you’re going through Springfield, IL. Awesome Lincoln museum/house/law office/tomb (5 stars)…plus birthplace of the corn dog (called the Cozy Dog). Memphis is home to Graceland (but have never been) the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot (the Loraine) and Civil Rights Museum…plus lots of cool Memphis stuff on their main street.

Houston…Bucky’s Truck stop (just stop and get some Beaver Nuggets). If you go through Dallas you could go to the Money Place which is the mint and they print paper money—cool. Fort Worth stock yards neat…be on the look out for two strollers we left there.
Clinton museum in Little Rock (never been there)…his birth home in Hope, AR (just a drive by)
If you go straight down from Memphis to the coast, I-10 is a cool drive all above the bayou…lost of places to see gators and stuff (airboat & swamp buggies places)…then new Orleans (only during the day) my kids could care less about it.
I’m sure there’s neat stuff to do in Houston…but we haven’t done it. Hope that helps a little.
PS – My favorite off the beaten path stuff website (and they even have an app…is Roadside America.)
PPS – Here’s the dads follow up email…We took I-57 out of Chicago, so we missed Springfield….but in Memphis, we were able to check out Graceland, the Lorraine Hotel, and a place called the Crystal Shrine Grotto….although being in the middle of a cemetery, it was pretty cool place.  Some artist created 10 scenes of the Life of Christ inside a man-made cave….kids loved it.
Graceland and Lorraine Hotel were pretty cool, but my kids (8 and under) weren’t as interested as I was.On the I-10 corridor, we didn’t see any gators roadside, but we did stop by a FREE small Gator petting zoo outside Lafayette (at the Louisiana Oil and Gas Park)…and also stopped in nearby Rayne, LA (Frog capital of the world).
Wasn’t able to find anything on Bucky’s in Houston…but did enjoy ribs at Rudy’s Country Store & BBQ (gas station and good ribs).In Galveston, we enjoyed the Lone Star Flight Museum, which was a warehouse filled with several different planes dating all the way back to WWI….and if you wanted to spend the $$, you could fly in them….the kids loved it.

Q — Do you have some Familyman traveling tips you can share?

A – You bet I do.

Q — Do you know of any Family friendly campgrounds?

We normally stay in Wal-Marts…but here are some suggestions made by some camping dads.

Q – Do you all use seat belts while on the road?

A – Yes. we had to add them and ended up bolting them through the floor to steel brackets. We’ve done that on three RVs. The thing is RVs don’t come with that many seat belts.  I know some let their kids walk around…but it always makes me nervous. We have a huge window up front and it would only take a quick stop to send a kid through the windshield. We do let our kids get up…but they have to ask. That way I can say…we’re in traffic, about ready to go down a steep hill…whatever.

Q – Do you tow a dinghy (a car)? If not, how to you get around once at a campground?  

A – We don’t…only because we tow a trailer full of books and products when we travel. We would otherwise. We really don’t do campgrounds…just Wal-marts. If we did, we’d drive the RV whenever we needed to go. It would be a pain. I think you could pull a 12 passenger van…but I’d make sure the RV is rated to pull that weight.

Q – Any other blogs or forums that you recommend to learn about traveling and purchasing tips for a motor homes?

A – There are probably dozens…but I think the important thing is not to over think it. You sound smart enough to figure it out. The more you search for answers the more fearful you’ll become. Just go for it. Look for a good deal so that if you need to upgrade you can without losing your shirt.