5 things to think about before a long trip

Are you taking a long trip in your Airstream soon? There's a lot to think about before you go. To make preparation easy, let's break it down into 5 simple principles.

1. Get your ship in shape

Your Airstream and tow vehicle are your support system for the entire trip, so you don't want any type of failure. It's one thing to have a glitch when you're on a long weekend and just a few hours from home; it's quite another to have a glitch when you're out for a month and in unfamiliar territory.

Obviously, you should get any upcoming truck maintenance out of the way before you go. This includes stuff like oil changes, new tires, new battery, and any repairs.

For the Airstream it's similar, but there's a lot more to inspect. I wrote up all the inspection procedures I use before and during a trip, in my book "The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance." It's a good idea to start checking out the Airstream a few weeks before you plan to go, in case you find something that requires an appointment at your local service center.

2. Get your gear on board early

For a long trip I strongly recommend being ready for all the common problems that crop during RV travel. That means having a few well-chosen tools and supplies on hand. If you have delayed getting essentials like a tire changing kit, let the long trip be your motivation to get fully prepared. 

I wrote a longer blog on things to pack that gets into suggestions in more detail.

By the way, it's a good idea to unpack/set-up and test any new equipment you've purchased for the long trip before you head out. The last thing you want on a long trip is to arrive at your first destination only to realize a piece is missing, you bought the wrong size, or the equipment doesn't work as expected and you need technical support.

If you're thinking about buying something like a water filter or a tire pressure monitor, get it a few weeks or even months before you set out for the trip. Like marathon runners say, "Don't try anything new on race day." 

Don't get stuck in the middle of nowhere without maintenance and other essentials. Plan ahead and test everything before you go.

3. Stock up on the rarities

You might be able to find your preferred brands, or special items like gluten-free food, at home. But there are a lot of places across the USA where your choices will be very limited. Try to pack enough of any specialized consumable that you really need. That includes everything from your dog's favorite chow to your favorite salon-quality hair products—as well as foods that can only be found in certain stores. 

Or, plan to pick up those items when you're near major metro areas. This can be part of your overall trip plan. Just don't expect to find every specialty item you can buy at home while you're camping near a western national park or in East Overshoe, WV. (Cashew milk, vegan butter, and Banza pasta come to mind here.)

In rural areas it can be difficult to find a natural food store. We stocked up on our  favorite provisions before leaving a metro area.

4. Think about contingencies

Like the saying goes, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans." The RV version might be "Life happens even while you're touring the country." That means lots of things could disrupt your trip.

This is something to discuss with your travel companion or family back home. What will you do if one of you gets seriously ill on the road? What if a hurricane hits Florida right when you arrive? What if a relative dies, or there's some other form of family emergency?

It's best to discuss these things before you set off, because if the worst happens you'll be in an emotional state and might end up arguing or making a rash choice.

In the past few years we've had to talk about the possibility of an elderly parent dying while we were on a long trip, and I'm really glad had that talk in advance. During our second major trip together, Tothie's dad died suddenly while we were 2,000 miles from home. 

I wouldn't want to be forced to decide at that moment whether one or both of us was going to fly back, or what we were going to do with the Airstream and the dog. We had a contingency plan and we already knew what we would do, which made everything much easier to handle.

5. Don't forget to have fun on the way!

I hear from so many people who have a trip planned to destination X — but no plan to stop along the way (other than to find a convenient campground by the highway). That's a shame. Our worst trips were those that required us to drive 400 miles a day for two or three days, without time for exploration in the local area. (Never again!)

The journey is the destination, so look at the map and try to see all the interesting things you can check out on the way to your ultimate stop. And I can tell you from experience, if you look closely enough, everything is interesting. Even places that people tend to zip through, like west Texas and central Nebraska, have their subtle fascinations.

Shorten your "driving days" and seek out those things that others fly past, and it's guaranteed that your long trip will be more memorable. 

4 comments

David Vaughan

David Vaughan

Great info and spot on! Prepare for the best and anticipate the worst.
Great blog…thanks!

Bob

Bob

Great reminder of things to think about when traveling outside of your comfort zone to destinations yet to be discovered. One thing that recently cropped up when we emptied our 23’ FB International Serenity is the weight of the contents. We piled everything in a spare bedroom then a realization happened OMG we were overloaded, by a bunch. The spare parts, extra utility items under the bed and cooking items, electrical cables, cleaning items weighed a lot, not to mention the clothing and shoes for everyday use. Now you suggest taking other items for extended travel, Yikes!

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

Bob, you’re right that everyone needs to be aware of the weight of items they are putting in their Airstream. In my experience, a lot of people travel with heavy stuff they don’t need, rarely use, or can obtain when needed. I’m talking about tool chests, large bottles of cleaning liquids, spare parts, cinder blocks (yes, really!), 5-gallon bottles of water, planks of wood, and much more.

I always advise people to think carefully about what they load in their Airstream and truck, to weigh the fully-loaded rig, and to do an annual review of what they’ve got tucked away in storage compartments that they haven’t used in the past year.

I have to point out that, although lots of people do it, it’s not a good practice to dump everything in one part of the Airstream (typically the bedroom) for travel. The Airstream design expects the weight of items to be spread around in various cabinets and storage compartments. If you don’t do that, you run the risk of unbalancing the trailer and having too little or too much tongue weight, which can be dangerous even if the overall weight is within specs.

Richard D

Richard D

On our looooong trips, we usually only pack clothes for five or six days, opting to do laundry in various locations. We also only pack food for about a week, since there are usualy places to go grocery shopping near where we stay. (We are glampers!) The only thing we take to cover the entire period of the trip is any medication.

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