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10 tips for winter RV road trips

Your first task is to figure out if your RV has already been winterized, and whether it needs to be.

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Kirill Gorlov - stock.adobe.com

Winter RV road trips are more popular than ever this year as people look for socially distanced vacations that don’t involve airplanes or hotels.

But while renting an RV for a road trip may seem like a safer alternative to traditional travel in the midst of COVID-19, winter road trips present their own challenges.

Here are 10 things to know before taking your RV out in the snow:

1. Decide whether your RV needs to be winterized

Your task is to figure out if your RV has already been winterized, and whether it needs to be.

Winterizing your RV means you’ve taken steps such as:

• Emptying water tanks.

• Draining the water heater and water lines.

• Disabling plumbing in order to prevent the pipes from bursting or being destroyed.

If you’re traveling someplace where temperatures are going to get below freezing, you’ll need to winterize your RV. It’s a process you can do yourself, though your local RV company may also be willing to do it for you.

But winterizing your RV is not always a must-do. If a vehicle has been winterized, you won’t be able to use the sink or bathroom inside the RV as usual.

2. Get the right heater

If your campsite is hooked up to electricity, then an electric heater is your best bet to save money. But if you’re camping somewhere without an electric hookup, avoid using the onboard heat systems.

As far as the RV’s built-in furnace, keep it clean by using compressed air or a soft brush to remove debris. Otherwise, obstructions may prevent air from flowing properly.

3. Insulate your RV properly

Don’t forget the slide outs: If your RV has slide outs (a cut-out portion of your RV that increases the living space available), RV blogger Ashley Mann recommends placing a foam board of insulation underneath each of your RV slides to reduce drafts.

Consider an RV skirt: It’s exactly what it sounds like — a skirt, often made of vinyl, that wraps around your RV. By creating a barrier of insulated air, the skirt is designed to keep the RV warmer inside.

4. Prepare your pipes and tanks so they don’t freeze

It’s not just you who needs to stay warm: Your RV’s pipes need protection from the freezing cold, too. Water leftover in pipes and hoses can turn to ice and expand, which can cause them to crack or burst.

If you’re traveling in an RV on only a few cold nights per year, an easy method to prevent pipes from freezing is to keep a faucet slowly running through the night.

Another easy alternative is to purchase heat tape, which you wrap around your RV water hose. Plug the tape into a power source, and the tape will remain heated as long as it is plugged in, keeping the hose warm.

5. Check your tires

If your RV doesn’t have snow tires and you’re planning to drive through icy road conditions, make sure you have a set of snow chains.

But depending on where your RV came from, you might not even be able to drive on those roads. Many big RV rental companies, such as Cruise America, explicitly prohibit renters from using chains on their motorhomes, as they can cause damage.

6. Pack the right gear

While you want to avoid overpacking, sometimes winter can call for a few extra items.

Consider packing:

Vent insulator pillows: A $10 to $40 pillow that you insert into openings like roof vents to keep warm air in and cold air out.

Apps to check the weather and road conditions: Apps like Weather Hi-Def Radar include snowfall and wind speed maps.

• Gear to keep you warm: Pack electric blankets, hand warmer packets and waterproof, windproof clothing.

• Slippers: You probably don’t want to be walking around your RV in dirty or snowy shoes; slippers can protect your feet from cold floors.

A snow shovel and ice scraper: You might need to dig out your RV and scrape ice from your windows when it’s time to drive.

Extra emergency items: Whether it’s additional driving equipment like chains or camping goods like canned food, make an exception to the “don’t overpack” rule when it’s in the name of emergency supplies.

7. Keep cold air from coming in the windows

You might not get to wake up to a winter wonderland, but keeping the shades closed when it’s snowy will keep you warmer. As far as the windows themselves, make sure they’re properly insulated.

8. Check the campground schedule

If you like to drive without an itinerary and stop whenever you feel like it, you’ll still need to do some advance planning. Many campgrounds close in winter, so verify potential campsite locations are open before you hit the road.

9. Drive carefully

Driving an RV in harsh winter weather requires the same common sense you need to drive an RV any other day: Slow down and avoid being on the road when it’s dark.

But winter brings new variables: Motorhomes typically have rear-wheel drive so the brakes will handle differently on slippery roads than what you’re used to.

With RVs, it’s even more important that you ease on the brakes, and leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle ahead.And when driving in snowy conditions, put your headlights on the low-beam setting.

10. Head south

When all else fails, set your GPS to go south. At least that’s the advice of full-time RV traveler Michelle Fishburne.

“Just the thought of road ice and an RV causes me to flinch and brings back scary images of when my father tried to control the slide of our car as ice got the better of us,” she says. “I’ll skip the stress and the potential for standing in the frigid, snowy air as I call for help.”