Hi subscribers, we are currently in Joshua Tree National Park and decided before we go back to detailing our reviews (and it’s a rain/snow mix 38 degrees) of our National Parks and best boondocking spots across the West, we thought it would be helpful to get a “Top 10 things new Vanlifer’s/ RVer’s should have or do before heading out on your trips.” After living in our van for nearly three months here are the things that have truly made life easier on the road.
10. Foldable Durable Shovel- In our first trip, we were in the Mohave Desert going down a dirt road to a boondocking spot and the dirt was very soft due to a recent rainstorm so we got stuck. This foldable shovel we got at REI, packs away easily under our bed storage and has become helpful a number of times already. It’s also useful for properly preparing a fire pit (digging out and disposing of ash so you can have a safer fire), or burying human or pet waste at the proper depth.
9. Boondocking- If you are like us, we are not too interested in staying in RV parks unless we need to dump tanks or catch up on washing clothes. We prefer more open space and would rather not listen to generators or close neighbors-we get enough of that at home. We prefer the freedom of staying off the beaten path. Especially with Coronavirus, this helps with the new social distancing guidance. We found having a membership with Harvest Host- we have listed a 15% discount code you can use to join has been helpful. These are farms, vineyards and golf courses who welcome you to stay a night for free, in exchange for their hospitality, Harvest Host asks you to make a small purchase in return. Such as, a bottle of wine, some produce, happy hour or play a round of golf. We also found the websites freecampsites.net and Campendium to be very helpful at finding spots to camp off the beaten path. Don’t forget to stop at BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and Forest Service Ranger Stations to also get information on the best free dispersed camping opportunities when you go into a national forest area. At the time of this blog all of the BLM and Forest Service offices have been closed due to Coronavirus so you will need to visit the BLM website and National Park and Forest Service websites. They do a pretty good job of highlighting free disperse camping areas. If you check back to our blog we try to highlight the various boondocking spots we have visited on our trips, moving forward. Also, with COVID-19 you will now want to check out these two sites on Park closures, thanks to DYRT for this well-done article and links to every state.
8. Dumping- Dumping and flushing your tanks is not for the faint of heart. Here is a good website to find RV dump spots, several gas stations have them for free if you fill up for gas and in many of the small towns their city parks have dump stations, waste treatment plants and many rest areas also make them available. We found to keep your Van/RV clean it’s nice to purchase a small trash can with attached lid to put your sewer elbow, a 25 ft black tank flush hose, gloves and to purchase this sewer hose and elbow for the Boldt or similar RV without exterior storage. We have hyper-linked our favorites on Amazon by Camco, we are part of the Amazon Associates program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com items we have highlighted in this post.
If you don’t have outside storage, we put this trash can (when we purchased it, it was only $9.99, think prices went up with COVID-19) in our bathroom until we get some outside storage. (We are still testing out our van and our needs and since we have 1 year free roadside assistance we aren’t rushing to go purchase just yet, but considering these two companies spare tire and storage options for Sprinters- OWL and ALUMINESS seems to get the best reviews on the REVEL Facebook groups).
7. Atlas- You are going to be places where there my be limited cellular service and your navigation system may not take you the most efficient or correct route, it is always good to have an old school paper Atlas. It is cheap peace of mind. One can also make notes about areas to visit or recon later. This atlas also highlights the national parks, it is one of our favorites-less expensive and has saved us a number of times. They also list most of the rest areas that sometimes your navigation system may miss. We have found a number of rest areas also provide free or $10 RV dumping options.
6.Extra Water- We found bringing this 6-gallon plastic water container has been very helpful. Many vans and RVs have a gravity fill option. We have found in many parks, campground and rest areas there will be water spigots but not ones you can attach a hose to. This way you can fill up the container and easily gravity fill till your tanks are full. Also, you may be boondocking in areas where there is no water and its nice to have extra capacity so you don’t run out. Here is one we purchased when we had to do a Walmart run in the middle of no where California. REI has much nicer one (it has a valve you can open for faster pours) we also have purchased but forgot at home when we left on our trip.
5. Dog Sign– Everyone loves the four-legged furry friend and if they see one when it is hot outside they will think they are coming to the rescue to break one of your windows so our little friend doesn’t cook. It is important to let people know you have ventilation, your AC on, there is food and water and there is no need to break your Van or RV window trying to be a good Samaritan. Here is an example of one I made for Bode.
4. Gloves– If you have a diesel rig, diesel pumps are different at every station. Some fill slow, some fill fast, some spill, some don’t. We found it is helpful to have gloves to fill your tank so you don’t have diesel carcinogens on your hands. We purchased these at Walmart when filling gas nearby but here is a pair on Amazon that should also work well. Also, extra advice I used to be a NO NO will never shop at Walmart because of the way they treat their employees but in this new world of Coronavirus their free Walmart grocery service where you can go online order all the items you need and then have it ready for pick up and not have to step inside the store is a great option in our new reality. Keep other shoppers, employees and yourself safe and healthy! Download the app.
3. DEF– If you have a diesel rig you need to refill your DEF. In many rigs it is about 5 gallons. This stuff is somewhat toxic so you don’t want it inside your Van/RV to spill. We also learned that many gas stations, Walmart and stores that carry the 1-2.5 gallon DEF it could be on the shelf too long and go bad (we didn’t realize DEF has a shelf life). We have found many of the large truck stops like PILOT, Flying J’s and Travel Centers have DEF pumps where you can fill directly into your rig at a better price for ‘fresh DEF’ and you don’t have to store it.
2.Commercial Cardlock Gas Membership– We did not know this, but those commercial gas stations you see across the country where you have to have a special card to use the pumps are sometimes open for individuals with diesel RVs/Vans to join. We signed up with Pacific Pride/CFN. We have found so far the prices are lower than the typical diesel gas station. When you apply tell them Greg Stempson sent you and we may get a little credit in the future. They don’t provide an affiliate program but if they see enough people join because of this blog/vlog then they are considering creating one in the future that you could join too. So you don’t have to learn the hard way, here are a couple things to keep in mind when you start using the cardlock. There are two sizes of diesel nozzles, you want the smaller for RVs. Second, try it in your tank first sometimes the nozzle can be damaged then go to the cardlock and select your pump and put in your code. You can only put in a code 3 times then you get locked out and you must call the number on the front of your card for them to unlock up, it takes 10 minutes. This is to ensure no one steals your card and tries to get gas. When there isn’t a cardlock available we sometimes use the gas buddy app. It is fairly accurate and helps to find the next best diesel gas station.
1.Pre-Trip check- And Our number 1 advice for new Vanlifers/Rvers is to do a pre-trip check. If you are on the West Coast Les Schwab Tire Centers offers free Pre-Trip checks where they will check your tire pressure, fill any tires and tighten your lug nuts. The last thing you want is to have your wheel fall off in the middle of no-where. Les Schwab also offers another great service if you are full-time RVers they will stow your tires if you have studded winter tires and then summer tires and change them out whenever you need.
We hope these were helpful hints for you. Here is our video for those you are auditory learners! Next week, we will go back to our adventures and later on we will provide our top 10 gadgets for Vanlifer’s/RVers! Cheers! For your enjoyment here is a picture of us at Joshua Tree National Park in middle of a snow storm in March, crazy when just a few days earlier it was in the 70s and later Bode enjoying the rocks after the snow subsided!