RV vacations can teeter between pure delight and total disaster. Sometimes a getaway can be a bit too relaxing — without paying attention to weather and road conditions your family holiday could land you a spot on the evening news. If you’re not seeking notoriety, remember these scary situations RVers want to avoid:
RV Camping by the River — in a Flash Flood
A scenic riverfront RV spot is a big selling point for many campgrounds. After all, what better place to set up camp than underneath a lush canopy with the sound of rippling water to lull you to sleep at night? However before you book that reservation, think about whether or not the park is in a flood-prone area. RV parks situated downstream of mountains or reservoirs, or those located in dry desert environments are bad places to be if the weather turns soggy, even if rivers are nowhere in sight.
If your dreamy riverfront campsite happens to be downstream of a major reservoir, or in an area susceptible to flash-floods, here’s why you should choose another campsite.
RV Camping on Soggy Ground
Stepping onto a lush green lawn or sandy beach outside your front door sounds pleasant, but if the entire RV park is situated on bare ground, get ready to move if heavy rain starts falling. When an area has been hit by multiple rain storms, earthen fields can’t absorb excess water and the soggy ground will make moving impossible. Don’t wait for the storm to pass, move your rig and get to higher ground.
Driving Your RV Under a Low Bridge
If you only drive interstates it’s a safe bet you’ll never meet a bridge that’s too low for your RV, but once you exit the highway you can never be too sure. Many new GPS units made just for RVs will tell you where you’ll encounter low bridges on your itinerary, but don’t rely on technology to keep you safe.
Before leaving home, get a friend to help you measure your RV’s height from the highest point on the roof (usually on top of the air conditioner), to the ground. Memorize that number or stick it on a post-it and keep it on your dashboard. Always add a few extra inches to that figure just in case a posted low bridge clearance sign is inaccurate; if a road has been paved several times, that asphalt can raise the road by as much as two inches.
RV Camping During a Tornado
When a deadly tornado strikes, there’s a reason why mangled RV parks are the first images shown on the evening news: during a tornado, you’re better off lying prone in an irrigation ditch than if you stayed put in your RV. Tornadoes can happen nearly anywhere, anytime and shred a rig in seconds or hurl it into the air like a missile.
Forget trying to ride out a tornado in your RV. The best way to avoid being a victim is to pay attention to regional weather alerts and understand the difference between a “tornado watch “and a “tornado warning.”
Tornado Watch – Tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. Review and discuss your emergency plans, and check supplies and your safe room. Be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching. Acting early helps to save lives!
Tornado Warning – A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Tornado warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property. Go immediately to shelter.
Keep an eye on the weather by watching the sky – turbulent clouds, a greenish overcast and falling hail are good indicators that a tornado is brewing. Know the exact area in which you’re camped and if a twister is headed your way, pinpoint the nearest solid structure and get to it, fast.
Driving Your RV in Rush Hour Traffic
You might be able to get away from bad weather in the Dakotas but when you hit Houston or Los Angeles, you’ll never escape scary urban traffic. Driving a large RV through a major city’s rush hour is no picnic, so take a deep breath and remember these driving rules for RVs stuck in traffic:
- Slow down. It’s called a recreational vehicle for a reason: there’s no need to be in a hurry like everyone else when you’re living a freewheelin’ RV lifestyle. Keeping your speed to 65 mph will you save fuel and give you more time to react to changing traffic conditions.
- Do what truckers do: No, don’t toss trucker bombs out the window, but instead take cues from their driving tactics. Professional drivers know the best lanes to be in during traffic, they make cautious maneuvers and they don’t tailgate
- Watch brake lights: Heavy vehicles require much more braking distance than a passenger car. Don’t tailgate in stop-and-go conditions and if traffic starts flowing again, monitor brake lights on the horizon to watch for congestion up ahead.
- Know your route: Before you ever hit the highway, memorize the route you’re traveling to avoid making any unexpected, sudden maneuvers.
- Stay right: Let everyone who’s in a hurry pass you on the left; the right hand lane is reserved for taking it easy. Staying right also enables you to quickly pull over if you need an emergency lane.
Driving Your RV on a Narrow Road with No Turnaround
One of the scariest spots for a RV to end up is at the end of a long, narrow road with no place to turn around. While RV-friendly GPS units can help you avoid most dead ends, they’re not always foolproof. If you find yourself stuck at the end of a road with no turnaround, you will need to make one of two choices:
- back your RV up the entire way until you can safely turn around
- stay where you are and jockey your RV back and forth until you can turn around
Whatever you choose, it helps to stay calm and have a partner monitor outside conditions to ensure your rig comes out unscathed. Since backing up a motorhome and a towable call for completely different strategies, consider taking a RV driving course before you ever hit the highway to gain a good understanding of tricky maneuvers like backing up.
The next time you decide to hit the road in your RV, don’t let fear keep you from doing what you love. Every RV vacation can have a happy ending as long as you stay aware of local conditions and don’t take stupid chances. If the worst happens despite your preparedness, remember that RVs are replaceable, people are not. Be smart about how you react in tense situations and you’ll always go on to your next adventure.
Often called “The O.G. of full-time RVing,” Rene Agredano and her husband Jim Nelson hit the road in a fifth wheel trailer in 2007, after their dog Jerry lost a leg to terminal cancer. Sixteen years later they are still traveling and sharing their nomadic adventures at LiveWorkDream. As a self-employed wordsmith, Rene shares her expertise for many RV industry videos, publications such as the Escapees RV Club Magazine, and has authored numerous books, including the Essential RVing Guide to National Parks, and Income Anywhere, a guide to earning money on the road. She has been featured in global media outlets including the PBS documentary “NATURE: Why We Love Cats and Dogs,” The Guardian Sunday Edition, and the Dan Pink book Free Agent Nation.