Snowbirds Get Ready!
Snowbirds typically spend hours per day dreaming of warm January evenings sipping iced-tea while reading the latest snow news from home. As September nudges into October, the daydreaming becomes a full-time job. Unfortunately, especially for the new snowbird, little thought is put into the trip itself. You veterans hold your e-mails. I’m sure most of you have learned your lesson and many of you got it right the first time, but let’s assume that not everyone is knowledgeable of the potential hazards that await.
Here’s a list things I’ve learned from Hensley customers over the years. It’s not complete, but will protect you from 90% of the potential difficulties you’ll encounter:
Use a Paper Map – Yes, the GPS has made traveling oh so much easier. However–and this may come as a surprise to some of you–electronic devices aren’t perfect. They’ll lead you down roads the locals avoid at all costs. They’ll experience technical difficulties. They’ll lose satellite connection. Highlight your route on a good old-fashioned paper map (or maps), compare it with the GPS directions to make sure the electronic unit isn’t taking you to Miami, Poland, and keep it by your side in the tow vehicle.
Have a List of RV Parks enroute – Figure out how many miles you want to drive each day. Not how many your body can stand, leave yourself some time to stop and smell the roses. Say 400 miles per day. Now add and subtract 50 miles for a range of 350 to 450 miles. Using your handy map and Google Maps, figure out where that will land you each day. Find at least 3 RV parks or campgrounds in each range. Call them and check availability, utilities, etc. Then make a list of each park and the phone number to keep in the tow vehicle. Also mark the locations on your paper map.
Keep a Travel Journal – Especially if you’ll be taking the same route every year. Write down the places you stop, gas stations, restaurants, roads to avoid, RV dealerships, etc. Anything that will make it easier the next time around. Did you pull off a ramp for a gas station only to find it was ten miles off the freeway and too tight to get a Yugo to the pump? Write it down and put a red circle around that exit on your paper map (keep your map tucked into your journal). Did you find a vegetable stand that sells your favorite Hungarian Honeydew Melon that you just can’t find anywhere? Write it down. Rest stops with dog walk areas? Write it and mark it on the map.
Buy Spare Parts – You’re towing a ten-thousand pound box behind a four-thousand pound truck. Anything within that fifty feet of space can wear, break, or fall off. Make a list of parts that might go south before you do and keep spares on hand. These will include things like: trucktrailer light bulbs, hitch parts (Hensley has emergency kits for all our hitches), spare tires (please check the air), a collection of truck and trailer fuses, etc. You can think of others, I’m sure. By the way, be sure you’ve got a way to get a trailer tire off the ground if you need to change it. Leveling boards might not be enough. Most truck jacks don’t have that kind of range. A small ramp might be worth the space it takes up.
The Tool Kit – Americans are no longer a “do-it-yourself” society. We tend to call “the guy” when we need something fixed. Well guess what–“the guy” isn’t available at 8pm on a Sunday night in the middle of Wyoming. The complete tool list is a subject for another article, but get yourself a tool box that will fit in your storage area (the bigger the better, trust me on this), and fill it with the essentials: wrenches (both metric and standard, socket and open), screwdrivers, wire stripper and crimper, hammer, wrench extension (think rusty lug nuts), pliers, etc. Usually, you can stop at the ol’ Ace Hardware bargain bin and fill up with everything you need. Don’t go cheap on the socket wrenches though. Rusty lug nuts will eat those alive. Along with your tools, you’ll want WD-40, household oil, some sort of rusty lug nut breaker (you get the feeling I speak from experience), and any other chemical wonder formula you can think of. Oh yeah, and bug spray. Nothing like changing a tire in a swarm of mosquitoes.
Travel with Water – I’ll catch heat for this one, but you’re going to save very little by traveling with empty water tanks. And the first time you fill them at an RV park only to find you have a permanent funny odor afterwards, you’ll heed this advice. You always need water. If you’re broken down in a Wal-Mart parking lot, they frown on you running a 300 ft. hose to their bathrooms. RV parks and campgrounds are built on the cheap and lose utilities all the time. Better prepared than surprised (and unshowered).
Emergency Utilities – We’ve covered water. Need I say make sure the propane tanks are full? I didn’t think so. Electricity, however, is often an area where we skimp. Anyone living in a hurricane-prone area can tell you that a generator is a must. If you’re going south, you’re either going to a hurricane-prone area or someplace prone to other sources of power outage. A generator can be a bit costly, but they come in handy for both RV and home power outages. A 1000 watt generator can keep a freezer and refrigerator operating indefinitely as long as there’s gas available. And if you or your spouse require electric medical equipment, a generator is a must.
There you have a few basics to keep you busy before the big trip. Always give yourself plenty of time and don’t go into panic mode if you end up stuck for a few days. It happens to everyone who tows on a regular basis. Learn to make the most of it and maybe even discover new sights and new friends.
How about our veteran snowbirds? What advice do you have to add to this list?
Kelly Connell says
I have a friend who looks up possible gas station stops on Google Earth to make sure their rig will easily fit…she then prints up these photos and puts them into a binder for future reference!
Carl Ferrie says
I have a coupe comments to make concerning “Towing Tips For Snowbirds.”
1. The term Snowbirds best describes a group of RV’ers who go from one summer location to one winter location–usually with no stops between. My experience is that true Snowbirds do not travel except for the necessary move from summer to winter location and back. I know Snowbirds that pull or drive less than1,000 miles per year, but it is true they must be ready for the unexpected on the road.
2. Full-time RVer’s on the other hand–and yes, some of them are really Snowbirds but full-time RVer sounds more exciting to them–own an RV because they want to see this amazing place called The United States Of America. Living and traveling in an RV full-time allows one to experience every geographical area of the Country and stay long enough to learn and live each unique culture. Full-time RVer’s are not Snowbirds!
3. You are right about GPS systems and the use of good old paper maps. There are two new GPS systems on the market that are expressly designed for RV and Motor Carrier use, one by Garmin and the other by Rand McNally. They allow you to punch in your vehicle dimensions weight, etc and will keep you you of a lot of trouble by not taking you on roads your rig will not fit on. Another very low cost option–one I use– is to purchase a Rand McNally Motor Carriers’ Atlas and double check your planned route with it (this one has never let me down).
4. Generators. Most motor homes come with a generator, either standard or optional, and a lot of “Toy-Haulers” also come with generators. That leaves conventional travel trailers and 5th wheels as the prime generator market. 1KW may sound like a logical size to keep your reefer and a small medical device operational and it may even allow you to watch TV. If you are anything more than a weekend warrior I would strongly suggest you consider a generator of 2.5-3KW minimum–when it is 100 degrees outside and the campground power is off (or the voltage is too low to use) the sound of that larger generator and the flood of cool air will be worth every penny you invested.
5. There is a short list of replacement parts and tools you should not leave home without and these are pretty much intuitive to most people. The real key is PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE!! Do those repairs and maintenance on your terms, not the worst of times in possibly the worst possible place. I’d much rather spend $500.00 replacing that part that isn’t quite worn out yet than have it cost me my life later!!
Just some thoughts for you to mull over. I have only been on the road full-time for 12 years so I am still learning, but I can proudly state that I have never been on the side of the road because of equipment failure (except one flat tire). I pull a Mobile Suits 36TK3 with a very custom Ford F550.
Hensley Mfg says
That’s true. Full-timers and snowbirds are not the same. That’s the topic for another article (perhaps a book). Full-timing is much bigger undertaking. My first piece of advice is this: don’t sell your home until you’ve tried living in your trailer for a year. It’s the rare bird who can go from 2000 sq. ft. of space to 500 sq. ft. with no damage to psyche or spouse!
jeff Wells says
Add RTV Silicone to the toolkit.
After you have filled your watertank verify your pump is pumping that water. Fun is having a full tank of water and your check valve is stuck not allowing any water to flow.
Check seams around windows for weather cracks and repair
I found a book nicknamed the RVer’s bible ( the next exit) very usefull.