For many new to RVing, driving that “big old box” can be rather intimidating. Making the switch from driving something the size of, say, an SUV to something that seems as huge as a house can give you more than a little pause.
With that new size comes a new need: planning ahead with an exit strategy. We don’t mean getting out of the RV lifestyle, but rather, planning ahead to get your RV out of places you might otherwise get stuck in. Here’s a common scenario: Your tow vehicle is low on fuel. Pulling into any old gas station can get real complicated if you find you don’t have room to turn and pull out from the islands. Another scenario? Driving down a back-country road and it just keeps getting narrower and narrower. We’ve been RVing for decades, but sure enough, just last summer this little problem happened to us.
Here’s where seasoned RVers can provide advice from experience. Here’s a summation of wisdom learned from life on wheels.
Look ahead: Whether it’s a fueling stop or looking for a place to put up the rig for the night, do your best to look before you pull in. Don’t just see the fuel pump or the fire ring, also look to see how you’ll get out of that location. Eyeball not only for tight corners and obstructions at ground level, but also look up to check for low-lying roof canopies, tree branches, etc.
This same strategy can hold true for pulling into an unknown road. Many RVers are known for pulling up to the side of the road and then setting out ahead on foot to look over unknown ground. Here was our problem: Looking for a historic bridge, we were so intent on where it might be that we drove right past it and on up a very long, winding road that got narrower and narrower. When we reached the end, there wasn’t a convenient place to turn around. A little more attention to our surroundings as we went could have spared us the 45 minutes it took to get untangled and turned back around.
Have more than one source of planning: With technological advances, plenty of RVers have found a GPS unit to be a great road traveling companion. But don’t solely rely on a GPS because a system is only as good as its programming. Even GPS systems that can be programmed to be on the lookout for low bridges and narrow roads may not be up to date. Keep a weather eye open for construction signs that warn of danger ahead. Having along paper maps and consulting both these and the GPS can spare you a lot of trouble. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask locals for current information. And be sure to update your GPS software often!
Plan ahead for trouble: Traveling in Washington’s back country had us heading downgrade on a narrow Forest Service road. Coming cautiously on a tight curve, dead ahead we found a pickup pulling a heavily loaded horse trailer. Unfortunately the truck chose that time for a major transmission failure, completely blocking the road. Happily we had practiced getting our rig turned around on narrow spots before. In this case it stood us in good stead, as that narrow road was bordered on one side by a rock wall, and on the other by a steep drop-off. It took the navigator to call the “stop!” signal when the back side of the rig was out over open air and the wheels not-quite-touching the road edge. After many back and forth maneuvers, we were headed back up hill and the long route to civilization.
If you haven’t learned how to back up your rig and feel comfortable with the process, don’t delay. Find a quiet stretch of roadway or a big empty parking lot and back up, back up, and back up some more. If you get caught on one of those nasty narrowing roads, you may have to back up a long way to get out of trouble.
Prepare yourself mentally as well. We found a few nasty spots in New England where unmarked low overpasses meant we had to literally stop traffic and block it while we managed to get turned around. Yes, you’ll upset some people, but it’s a lot better than plowing on to your own disaster.
Don’t let these words frighten you away from RVing. Sooner or later, nearly any one of us can find ourselves in a sticky situation. Don’t panic, take your time, walk around, and find your way out. You’ll have plenty of stories to tell around the campfire.
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. Visit icanrv.com for more information.