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4 Winter RVing Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

The best thing about a house on wheels is that you can choose the environment you want to be in. Too hot? Move north or into the mountains. Too cold? Move south or drive across the border into Mexico. In spite of this, chances are that you’ll experience a few true winter nights in your camper. If you enjoy winter camping, then you might even choose to stay put during arctic storms and snowfall on purpose.

I do not enjoy cold weather, so I’m often woefully underprepared. Ironically, this does makes it even more difficult for me to tolerate anything below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Consequently, these are the top four winter RVing lessons I had to learn the hard way.

1. Anchor the Trailer for High Winds

Whenever we experience wind storms, the motorhomes at the campground always seem to stay put. Fifth wheels are next in line for stability. Both are heavier and motorhomes have at least four wheels, which improves stability. Travel trailers, however, are more susceptible to wind when parked. If you’re RVing in a wind-prone area, this is a good time to use the big rigs as windbreakers.

Even then, you might need to anchor your RV by hooking it up to your truck. In my case, the truck weighs the same or more than my trailer, so it reduces the shaking and gives me peace of mind. But, if you plan to do this, do it before the wind storm hits. One month into RVing, I had the unpleasant experience of re-hitching in high winds and freezing temperatures in Nevada.

2. Manage the Heating System

The Toyota FJ Cruiser was discontinued for the U.S. market in 2014, but it is still one of the most capable vehicles on the road. Nevertheless, it’s a V6 and my trailer is 80% of its towing capacity when fully loaded. Consequently, I always travel light. One way I used to accomplish this was by only filling one propane tank at a time. You can imagine how that worked out when I needed to use the furnace in the winter.

I also learned the hard way that propane alone won’t work your furnace. The RV needs electricity to light the burner and get the heat going. If you aren’t plugged in or your battery is dead, it will just push room-temperature air around the RV. You might also start to hear your fridge clicking nonstop because it needs electricity when running on propane for exactly the same reason.

3. Prevent RV Condensation

Once I was comfortable with the RV in Nevada, it was time to head to Arizona and then California. You might have started to notice a trend here: I spent my winters in the desert. Deserts are dry and so I was 100% sure that condensation would never be a problem for me. Surely, that makes logical sense. I ran my furnace, boiled water for tea at night, left the clothes to dry inside overnight—and got condensation in thanks.

I often saw the droplets on the windows and didn’t think anything of it. Then, one morning I woke up in a puddle on the bed. Thankfully, I hadn’t peed myself, but condensation isn’t exactly a good alternative explanation. Who wants to sleep in a cold wet bed during the winter? I learned the hard way that even deserts are not immune to condensation and that I had to adjust my night-time habits to reduce it.

4. Keep Warm Clothes in the RV

Last year, around this time of year, I got a storage unit in Vegas. While I can fit all my personal items in the RV and still be within weight restrictions, I’m still towing with my beloved FJ Cruiser. So, I leave my out-of-season items there and pass through Vegas to switch things out. Well, what happens when my plans change at the last minute, which they often do?

For example, this September, I left my winter stuff there on my way to Mexico. Who needs sweaters on the beach at the tail end of summer? But, then I decided to spend the Thanksgiving weekend in below-freezing New Mexico temperatures. So, guess who had to drive 8 hours back to Las Vegas to get her winter gear. Moral of the story? Always have winter gear handy when it’s… well … WINTER! No matter where you originally decided to spend it.

Unlike many Americans, I didn’t grow up with RVs and my parents weren’t able to show me the ropes. RVing was something I had to learn myself in my 30s. That includes hitching up, unhitching, towing, and backing up a trailer. There are thousands of other BIPOCs across America who would love to do the same, but lack the information, the resources, the encouragement, and the representation.

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