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Our Trip Checklist for Extended Trips of Several Months

We'd be lost without our trip checklist, even though, after 11 extended RV trips in the last twenty years, we have 'getting ready' down to a science. Well, maybe not an exact science but, as long as we're organized and start the process approximately six weeks in advance, there's nothing to panic about at the last minute.

For winter trips we often leave between Christmas and New Year's and don't return until the end of May or early June. A good full five months!

Note: Some of the things we do to prepare for a trip have changed since I wrote these lists. Click here for recent (2017) and 2019 updates and additions to what's suggested here.

Before we get to the trip checklist, the first stage is actually the decision and planning of the trip.

The Decisions Stage:

A few months ago, the seed of an idea formed and soon we were asking ourselves:

  • Do we want to get away this winter?

  • Do we have enough money saved to be gone for this length of time, including a back-up emergency fund?

  • Is our RV in good enough shape to make this trip?

  • Are we okay about leaving our parents and loved ones behind right now. Is their health stable?

  • Are all the answers to the above positive? Then it's decided. We'll go.

The Planning Stage:

  • Where will we go?

    Part of the reason for winter RV travel is to avoid our northern winters, so it makes sense to head south again. We've got lots of familiar favorite places we'd like to revisit but there's always additional exploring we want to do.

  • When will we leave?

    If we have no plans for New Year's Eve, we stay around home for Christmas with the family but plan to be somewhere else, perhaps Nashville or somewhere on the beach in Texas, for New Year's Eve.

  • That's the whole plan.

    It's about as much planning as is required at this point. Although we believe in a trip checklist, we try to avoid having a schedule or a timetable once the trip starts - preferring to move on when it feels right and change directions as we see fit.

    It's likely we'll be in the southwest states we are familiar with: Texas, Arizona, California, and perhaps touch Nevada before the weather warms up a bit in late March. Then, gradually, we'll head farther north in Arizona, into Utah, Colorado, or New Mexico.

The Southwest States

The Southwest area where we'll be hanging out for the next five months

Why Five months?

Many snowbirds head home by April, when the weather starts to warm at home. I guess they're anxious to get their gardens planted and their income tax taken care of.

For us, the change in weather usually means it's time to leave the desert where it becomes too hot but April and May is the perfect time to explore the higher areas of Northern Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. There are, after all, other ways to take care of gardens and taxes.

We'll explore new areas

When in the southwest, we always retrace the route in one or more of my Frugal Shunpiker's Guides so that I can update and revise them. But we leave plenty of time to explore new places and details to add to each guide as well.

The Trip Checklist Stage:

Now, to make it all happen will require a bit of work. There's nothing like making a trip checklist or, in this case, a series of them, to keep us organized.

Trip Checklist 1:
Taking Care of the Details

  • Free ourselves from commitments - I'm retired now, but when I was still working, I tried to give four to six weeks notice to my employer. (They were always happy to have me return when we got back.)

  • Randy was his own boss so he would finish any promised jobs and take on no new work.

  • We have rental property. We check with our tenants to be sure there aren't issues that need to be addressed in the near future. We let them know our plans, who to contact in our absence, and how to get in touch with us while we are gone.

  • Check our passports. Make sure they don't expire until at least six months after our projected return.

  • Research options for and purchase extended health insurance. We're both over 60 years of age and need to answer a list of health questions to apply. As we age, we know we'll continually need to pay more for the same coverage than we paid on previous trips.

  • Check expiry dates on drivers licenses, health cards, credit cards.

  • Renew license plate stickers for car and RV early if they come due while we're away.

  • Check calendar- reschedule any routine appointments.

  • Photocopy all credit cards, passport, other forms of ID to leave with a family member (in case we lose ours.)

  • Check contents of safe and bank safety deposit boxes, i.e. insurance papers, wills, jewelry. It it all up to date? Revise as needed. (If we didn't travel regularly, that information would not likely be nearly as-up-to-date.)

  • Load the laptop we'll take along with any programs we'll need, test them, see that Wi-Fi Internet connection works.

  • Load our favorite driving music to play through the RV's stereo.

  • Email or phone friends about our plans (for winter trips we can tie this into our Christmas calls).

Trip Checklist 2:
A Health Check

  • Any health issues? Make appointments - visit doctor, dentist, optometrist etc.

  • Prescription drugs - pick up enough plus an extra month's supply to be on the safe side.

  • Supplements- stock up on those that we may have trouble finding on the trip.

Trip Checklist 3:
A Financial Check

  • If traveling to the US, transfer money into our US dollar travel account.

  • Check that we know all banking passwords and access codes.

  • Cancel any household services we can. Ask if there's a penalty or reconnection charge. We can usually put our home Internet service on vacation mode and save the monthly fee.

  • Cancel newspaper deliveries (we no longer have any)

  • If we'll be away on Apr 30th (tax filing deadline) we estimate what income tax we may owe. We've often filed electronically from outside of the country, but if we ran into issues doing so, we want to be sure we won't owe anything. In Canada there's no penalty for late filing if you don't owe money.

  • We set up preauthorized payments for all recurring monthly bills, year round, whether we're traveling or home.

  • Look ahead - are any annual payments or bills going to be coming in that we normally pay by cheque? Auto Insurance? Property Insurance? Regular donations to charities? Other renewal dates that we might miss?

    Tip: It's hard to remember things that only come up annually. Look through your payment statements for this time period last year to see what was paid.

Trip Checklist 4:
Getting the RV Ready

Randy gets the RV in order mechanically by checking:

  • Fluids filled or replaced

  • Battery levels are good

  • Oil change

  • Tires and tire pressure

  • Lights and electrical system

  • Wiring, hoses and sparkplugs

  • brakes and exhaust system in good shape


Then he checks the RV living quarters side of things:

  • Battery, furnace, propane tanks

  • Fridge, plumbing, holding tanks, hoses, electrical, inverter, solar panel

  • Sorts the RV toolbox, adding needed tools.

    Tip: Even if we run into a repair he can't handle, we may meet someone on the road who can help if we can provide the tools. We're also prepared to pay it forward and help others out. Having these tools saves money and has often fostered friendships on our travels.

  • Fills propane tank and enough fuel in the gas tank to get us across the border where gas is always cheaper.

  • Randy usually does some upgrades before each trip too. One year it was new stereo speakers, another year a drop-down leaf that becomes extra counter space. Most recently he made some shelves into sliding drawers for easier access.

    Over the years, he's come up with many great upgrades and alterations to suit our boondocking lifestyle. (I see another potential web page here, don't you?) One day, we should tell Roadtrek about his ideas.

When he's done, it's my turn to spend a day in the RV!

  • I go through every area of the RV, review every item that "lives" in the RV full-time, decide whether it goes, needs replacing, or is no longer useful enough to demand storage space.

  • Clean all RV surfaces

  • Launder all RV linens

    Tip: We use two good sleeping bags that zip together as our comforter. This gives optimal warmth with an option to remove one if we want less.

The Packing Stage

"Will All This Fit into a Camper Van?"

If it's winter, we can't load some of the items into the RV until we're ready to keep it heated, but now's the time to make decisions and gather up the items that we'll take along.

Here are some pictures of the layout of our 19-feet-long Roadtrek 190 Versatile camper van.

As long as we're organized, we have room for everything we need.

Roadtrek Livingroom Floor Plan

This is the floor plan without the beds made up

Roadtrek Sleeping Floor Plan

This is the floor plan with beds.



Built-in storage is over, under and all around the fixtures, which are:

1: Fridge

2: Sink

3: Stove

4: TV/VCR/DVD (not us - the laptop doubles as our entertainment center)

5: Toilet

6: Wardrobe (we put in shelves here, they hold more)

7: Privacy Doors

8: Shower (We don't have this but, in the newer units, it's a drain in the floor, shower head and curtain)

We leave the double bed set up at the back at all times. It's much easier and allows us to store stuff under the bed.

Tip: Sturdy baskets that slide under the bed store smaller loose items. They can be easily pulled forward from inside or out the back door.

Trip Checklist 5:
Things To Bring

With a small camper van, not much decision-making is involved. We know from other trips that we have room for all that we need, plus a few things that we want.

Items that always stay in the van:

  • Hydraulic jack and spare tire

  • Portable barbecue

  • Heavy extension cord

  • Clean Water hose

  • Tool box, engine oil, various fluids, Hanes mechanics manual

  • Folding table, 2 folding chairs

  • Extra 7 gal water jug

  • 2 waist packs and 1 backpack, 2 sets of hiking poles

  • Compass

  • 2 Flashlights

  • 1 Umbrella

  • Propane lamp

  • An axe and small saw (for campfires)

  • Candles, lighters, string, wire, misc. screws and fasteners

  • Small sewing kit

  • Dishes, bowls, utensils, pots and pans, 2 wine glasses

    Tip: We don't carry much glass but wine deserves the extra effort. We store glasses in a pair of thick socks so they're protected but take up no extra space.

  • French press coffee maker, tea kettle

  • bed sheets, sleeping bags or comforter, pillows, towels, washcloths, tea towels

Trip Checklist 6:
Packing

Everything that does not already "live" in the van has to be collected and moved into place. The collection process can take place gradually over several weeks.

Tip: Start a basket in the house several weeks before departure. Instead of writing items on a list, move things to the basket as you think of them. Next to the basket, post a list and write down everything you think of that you'll need but can't yet go into the basket.

Aside from the household items that are already in the van, we will need to bring:

  • Clothes. Rolled is better than folded to avoid wrinkles. No clothes that need clothes hangers.

  • Footwear - sandals, hiking boots, walking/running shoes, and dancing slippers.
    Shoes take up a lot of space. Only bring what you think you really need, then choose at least one pair to leave behind.

  • Personal hygiene products

  • First aid supplies, sunscreen

  • Haircutting scissors and comb (Yes, that stylish cut you see in our photos is compliments of Randy's mobile salon!)

  • Binoculars

  • Water bottles

  • Sun glasses

  • Reading glasses

  • Double A and triple A batteries

  • Camera (mostly just use our phone now)

  • Portable bluetooth speaker

  • Cell phone and charge cables

  • Laptop

  • Map books

  • Any reference books and recreational reading. We love physical books but an e-reader saves both space and weight.

  • Any equipment we use for our fitness program - as long as it's small.

  • Cleaning supplies - I use half vinegar and half Dawn dish soap for almost everything.

  • paper, pens, blank journals, paints, or other hobby supplies

Trip Checklist 7:
Goodbyes to Family

This shouldn't really require a checklist but, hey, I'm trying to keep it all neatly organized in list form. Could anyone actually be so excited to get away that they forget this step?

  • Get together with family and close friends to say goodbye.

  • Call others if we can't see them in person - for winter trips, we tie it all into our Christmas visit.

  • For the next several months we'll rely on phone and video calls, texts, and emails to stay in touch.

    Tip: On a Canadian based cell phone, our-of-country roaming fees can really add up. We each have an unlocked phone and replace the SIM card in one to become a pay-by-the-month USA-based plan. We check for messages on the other phone but don't pick up unless it's urgent.

    Trip Checklist 8:
    Closing Down the House

    Unless you've rented your home or have a house sitter, you need to prepare to lock it down.

    • Arrange for mail pick up (option to have post office hold it for a fee).

    • Arrange for someone to do a regular house check. (Insurance usually requires it).

    • Arrange for snow removal and/or lawn mowing.

    • Go through kitchen cupboards - don't leave anything that could attract mice or insects.

    • Tip: To save on cupboard space in the RV, repackage food items. Get rid of bulky boxes for items like cereal, pasta etc. replacing with clear sturdy zipper bags.

    • Empty and clean fridge and freezer.

    • Seal and lock windows.

    • Bring house plants to a friend, or ask whoever checks the house to water them.

    • Leave a spare key to the house with neighbors in case of emergency.

    • Cars don't like to sit for months. We now ask a family member to use the car or at least move it regularly. In the past we would remove all but comprehensive insurance, store the car, and save a few dollars. But the car deteriorated with each trip we took.

    Trip Checklist 9:
    The Day Before Departure

    • Check weather forecast for the areas we'll be driving through.

    • Start the fridge and furnace in the RV.

    • Load everything into its proper location in the RV. (Usually takes most of the day).

      Tip: Everything has to go in its own place. We try to be consistent so we can remember where things are. For the less-used items that are tucked away the farthest, I tape a list of the contents inside the storage door.

    • Fill the fresh water jug - if it's a winter trip, we won't use the RV's plumbing until we're in warmer weather.

    • Do a last load of laundry. From here on, it's Laundromats.

    • Wash the last dishes and get rid of all household garbage.

    Trip Checklist 10:
    Departure

  • Enjoy a last long shower with ample hot water.

  • Turn off the main water valve.

  • Turn the gas off to the home stove and water heater.

  • Turn the home furnace down to minimum.

  • Move any containers with liquids to the sink or bathtub, in case they freeze if anything goes wrong with the furnace.

  • Unplug emptied home fridge and freezer - leaving doors ajar.

  • Unplug most appliances.

  • Draw the blinds.

  • A final walk through the house.

  • Every trip checklist item complete?

  • Set alarm and auto-timer on lights.
  • Lock the door.

    And we're off for our next adventure!


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