Travel Day Surprises


Liz Wilcox

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Author of Tales From the Black Tank, Liz Wilcox is an Army wife turned RV entrepreneur. When she’s not out exploring the US with her family, you can find her telling jokes and swapping campfire stories. She is a firm believer in the power of the campfire and refuses to settle for suburban survival. At the end of 2017, she gave up personal space in return for personal freedom, hitting the road in a 2007 Jayco Greyhawk. As a full-time RVer, she has a passion for creating community among campers of all kinds through humor and storytelling. You can learn more and become part of her community at The Virtual Campground.

Surprises can be fun. I love seeing the excitement in my toddler’s eyes when she is told a surprise is coming. On the other hand, seeing the look of shock and frustration on my husband’s face when we are surprised while traveling in the RV?

That’s not fun at all.

Even the most experienced RVer can experience travel day surprises now and then. Being prepared and having a sense of humor can go a long way when these events occur. Here are a few travel day surprises we’ve experienced while RVing and what you can do to avoid them.

Packing Up Camp is Stressful

packing up an rv

No amount of research prepared me for this surprise.

My family and I were stationary RVers before we hit the road for full-time travel. That means we had only traveled a couple times in the RV when the time came to hit the road.

And of course, we had big plans for our first day of travel. We got up early and started packing up.

We were all over the place. I took the trash out, then put the car seat in the RV. After, I found more trash in the bathroom and had to make the long walk to the dumpster again. In other words, there was no order and things were taking much longer than expected.

It didn’t help that our power pole wasn’t feeding us enough electricity and my husband had to spend an hour manually pulling in the slide. I thought my husband was going to give up RVing right then and there.

As you can imagine, we didn’t get very far into our plans that day. We did, however learn some things about how to make the beginning of each travel day go easier.

Have a Checklist on Hand

rv checklist

This will make things go as smoothly as possible. It’s also a great timesaver. After printing out checklists, we cut our pack-up time (and stress!) in half. No longer are we arguing about whose job it is to put in the awning, or stopping on the highway because we forgot to lock all the storage bays.

Be Prepared at the Dump Station

be prepared at the dump station

Being unprepared when dumping your tanks is definitely not how you want to start your travel day. It can also make you very unpopular in the campground. A fellow camper told me he once had a terrible accident at the dump station. Black tank hose in hand, people waiting in line were quickly furious and unforgiving as he searched for a solution to his broken hose.

If he can’t get away with that, imagine how you might be seen for simply being unprepared.

Be sure to research how to dump your tanks before getting in line. You can do this through YouTube, blog posts, manuals, or even asking a friendly camper the day before you pack up.

I also recommend keeping all your supplies for dumping in once place. We have a bucket that stores everything, and we keep latex gloves right beside it. This allows us to dump in record speed and pack up easily.

RVing is Life in the Slow Lane

Before RVing, I took a lot of road trips. And it was always a fun game to see how quickly I could get from one destination to another. I would see the GPS estimated time of arrival and immediately start guessing how much time I could knock off. You’ve done this too, right?

On RV travel days, I now do the opposite. When we first got our motorhome, we decided to make a short trip to the Alabama Gulf Coast to visit a friend. We left on a Friday after work, and the GPS told us it would take about 3 hours. I told my friend we’d be there in about 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Six hours later, we arrived at almost midnight. We were all tired, hungry, and confused at why it took us so long to get there.

Here’s what I’ve learned after six months of full-time traveling in our rig:

At Best, You Should Travel at 65 MPH

Sure, the speed limit says 70. But when it comes to braking because a Honda Civic cut you off, you really don’t want to be going very fast in the first place. We’ve learned the hard way that 65 is a safe speed on the highway.

Our motorhome and tow vehicle combined weigh over 16,000 lbs. Keeping this in mind really helps us not travel too fast.

Don’t be in a Rush

We once traveled 900 miles in 48 hours. By the time we arrived at our campsite, my husband and I weren’t speaking. This was especially terrible because it was our wedding anniversary. #campingfail

When we feel rushed, we are stressed to the max. We pack up too quickly, we forget things, and little nasty surprises start popping up all over the place. For example, we forgot to get propane, there was none for 100 miles, and we were about to run out on an especially cold night. And don’t forget we weren’t speaking at this point, so the idea of having to “snuggle up” for the night was less than appealing.

Slowing down, traveling a half day (at most!), and taking time to ensure every task is crossed off your list really helps make sure you get the most out of your trip.

Add 15-25 Minutes to Every Hour your GPS Estimates

This might seem excessive, but it’s not.

You won’t be going very fast, and chances are you will be stopping more often than you planned. For us, we always end up stopping more if we hit traffic. It’s just too stressful to put up with the constant braking and speeding up of such a heavy vehicle.

We also have a child and dog, so they need to stop more often for potty breaks and to stretch their legs.

If you’re the type that likes to get off the highway for roadside attractions, adding this time to your travel day makes it easier to say yes to fun things you see. It’s already planned in!

You Might Break Down

Breakdowns are just a fact of life, whether you’ve got a motorhome or truck and trailer. Within a month of traveling full-time, we had our first break down on the side of a major highway. It was the worst travel day surprise.

We had just stopped at a rest area near Savannah, Georgia. Spirits were high, as we were only about 45 minutes from our destination. We had just spent a couple weeks up north in the winter, and were so happy to be in warmer weather.

We got back in the RV, buckled the toddler in for our final stretch of highway. My husband merged onto the road, making his way to the middle lane to cruise at a comfortable pace. He hit the gas to pass a semi truck and….nothing. There was no acceleration.

I look at my husband in the most non-panicked way possible. “Everything okay, babe?” Ridiculous question, I know.

He pressed the gas a few times, said some things I won’t mention, and pulled over to the side of the road. This is where I began to seriously freak out, as I have no mechanical knowledge and couldn’t even remember what kind of insurance we have to get us off the side of the road.

rv broken down roadside

My husband looked terribly annoyed. He has a lot of mechanical knowledge, so he went outside to “tinker.” He came back, looked on Google and YouTube for the problem and solution. I turned to Facebook and started posting in any and all RV groups I could think of.

Meanwhile, our daughter started to stress. She’d been in her car seat on and off for three days and she had enough! The dog started to shake. The cat burrowed himself into some unknown corner, plotting his escape from this insanity, I’m sure.

After about an hour, I told my husband we needed a tow truck. He agreed and we called our insurance, who politely said we don’t have that option, but asked if we have Good Sam.

“Oh yeah!” I exclaimed and quickly hung up.

We discovered we are 100% covered for a tow, but it’s Sunday and there was only one driver on the road…about 50 miles from us…at another call.

So we waited.

My husband continued to search and discovered what the issue is. By the time the tow truck driver arrived, Ed was confident he could fix it once he got to the auto parts store.

And he did.

But then we discovered our cat is missing. We search for an hour in the dark for him before we agreed Sgt. Tibbs reverted back to his feral ways.

The day was done. We were exhausted and sad. We hopped back into our rig and headed to the campground.

So what can you learn from my horrific experience?

Get Good Sam Insurance

Holy moly, am I glad we purchased this additional coverage. When I called my primary insurance, I couldn’t believe my full-timers package didn’t come with any type of towing service. At all! Good Sam saved our butts (and wallets) out there on the highway.

Ask for Help

While Ed has a lot of experience working on cars, he doesn’t know everything. Going to Facebook and talking to other RV owners, we were able to diagnose the problem within an hour. We also got invaluable advice on how to fix our rig to get back on the road that night!

Here are my favorite Facebook groups for helpful RV advice!

Have a Sense of Humor

It can be really hard to laugh when you’re on the side of the road, the kids are screaming, and your spouse is fuh-lipping out! I totally get it.

But a sense of humor can go a long way in the most stressful times. I know if I didn’t laugh about these surprises, I most certainly wouldn’t have a good time at the campground. And isn’t that what RVing is all about? Getting away and letting go of all the stress?

Keep laughing friends!

  • Comment (10)
  • Bill and Janet says:

    We just purchased a motorhome and I am intimidated by the whole water systems ! It is a used rv and I want to disinfect all ! Before we start out should I buy new hoses etc ?

  • Kelly Courtnay says:

    I really want to do this….

  • Sharon Pratt says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. I tried to go to your website however was unable to connect to it. Any ideas? My husband retired from the ftucking industry and calculates time by using the speed of 50 mph. He’s usually fairly accurate in our arrival time. We tend to choose slower routes unless driving at night. Highways can be so frustrating with tailgaters, speeders and the like.

  • Sheila McVicar says:

    Hello, Liz!
    Thank you for the hilarious RV story from the Black tank!
    Cheers from Australia,

  • Candace Rivero says:

    Liz, I used to estimate ETA when I was an OTR truck driver and I used the same technique when RVing. Count the miles times 2. So if you have 200 miles to cover, figure 4 hours. Most RVers travel 200 – 300 miles in a day. 6 hours driving (or riding) is ENOUGH! If there are emergencies or traffic delays, that adds to the time and is not fun for anyone, but especially the driver who is working their mind 100% of the time while behind the wheel. Leave after a decent breakfast, have a light lunch, drink lots of water ad get out and stretch every hour or so for just a few minutes. Prepare the RV the night before so you are not running late, and be checked in to your destination by 3pm. Set your intentions of really enjoying your travel days and more often than not, you will.

  • Liz Wilcox says:

    Oh no! I’m sorry I am just now seeing this Sharon. If you ever see this, I changed my domain name and that could be the problem.

    Try going to

    You are so right about tailgaters and 50 mph is pretty accurate for RVs too.

  • Liz Wilcox says:

    There is a lot that goes into full-timing.

    If you’re serious about hitting the road, my friends and I have created an online event to teach you everything you need to start full-timing successfully. It’s called Full Time Freedom Week and we have over 30 RVers and industry experts coming on live (online!) to bring you the best content.

    Check it out at!It is happening November 19th-23rd.

  • Liz Wilcox says:

    Yes, definitely buy new hoses! And give it a good scrubbing, especially if the RV has been sitting for a while.

    Hope that helps and let me know if you need any more tips!

  • Liz Wilcox says:

    You are so welcome Sheila! I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

  • Liz from The Virtual Campground says:

    Thanks for sharing those tips Candace! You always have the best advice, seriously! I like what you said about setting the intentions of the day. So simple, so smart, so effective!!!!!

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