RV Basics

First Time RV Essential Stock Up Checklist

A lot of RV checklists are available online to help ensure you’re fully stocked up for your first trip. But many of them seem to list everything you might possibly want (if I have never done a puzzle at home, I’m probably not going to start on my next RV trip). Or included things I’ve never heard of and so definitely wouldn’t be able to use even if I had them (what is a “pie iron” anyway?) This list is much more pared down to what you probably need. You definitely will want other things, but these are essentials you won’t want to forget.

I made this list when stocking up our new RV (yes, we finally got a new one!) over the course of a couple of weeks as I kept realizing more things I was missing.

Here’s the RV!

This list works in general for any kind of RV but is specific to a class B with 30 AMP power. I’ve included links to what we’ve purchased (where applicable).

RV equipment:

Bedding and towels:

  • sheets, comforter, and pillows (we also have a mattress topper)
  • Quick dry towels in multiple sizes (we use these for all kinds of things: showers, hand towels, dish towels, outside table cloth…)



Obviously, this will vary, but some staples we started with are:

  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • canned beans and rice
  • nuts and protein bars
  • pancake mix and syrup
  • instant mashed potatoes, pasta, and marinara sauce

You can check out my post on food to road trip with here.

Bath/toiletries (we keep a travel toiletries bag):

  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss
  • Skincare of your choice
  • First aid kit
  • Soap and shampoo (you could use castile soap for an all in one option)


  • USB cords (for charging phones)
  • HDMI cable (for connecting laptop to TV to watch movies)
  • Flashlight

For lounging outside:

When heading out:

  • Fill water jug
  • Stock refrigerator
  • Full water bottles and coffee/tea travel mugs
  • Clothes, coats, and boots (remember clothes for lounging!)
  • Don’t forget retainers! (OK, this is only for those of us who had Invisalign)
RV Basics

How to (First-Time) Buy An RV Camper Van: What You Should Know

I started this site in 2014 when I bought an RV and set out to live and work in it full time as I traveled the country. I had never owned or spent time in an RV before and I had to learn absolutely everything as I went along. I had an amazing time but eventually moved back into an actual house and sold the RV.

Since then, I’ve gone on lots of road trips (from Seattle to NY and back, to San Antonio, to Tuscon, lots of trips down PCH…), using the car + hotels method. And that works fine too, but I missed having an RV. Last year, I almost bought a new Roadtrek Agile, but the company was in its non-existent phase and the lack of any visible warranty didn’t seem ideal.

These days, the stop at rest areas, restaurants, and hotels method isn’t as appealing. I have a portable bathroom set up that works great, but it’s not the same as bring a full bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom with you everywhere you go.

So, I’ve been on the hunt for an RV and maybe you are too! If you are new to the RV world and it all seems overwhelming, this post may help demystify things a bit.

First, my interest is in a camper van, otherwise known as a class B, so this post is mostly about that (although some of the information is applicable no mater what kind of RV you get). A class B looks like a regular van on the outside (a Mercedes Sprinter or Dodge Promaster, for instance), but the inside is an entire house. More on the pros and cons of that below.

Is Traveling in an RV Safe Right Now?

Next, is it actually a good idea to travel the country in an RV right now? Honestly, not really. I plan to do that eventually, but for now, I’m planning to use my new RV (once I can find it!) for shorter day trips and nearby overnights.

If you’ve never traveled in an RV, you may think it’s the safest choice, and for sure it’s probably the safest, but not as safe as staying home. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Campgrounds and RV parks are absolutely packed right now, so you may have trouble finding a reservation anywhere. (Although check the apps because things do open up!) If you’re comfortable spending the night in Walmart parking lots and truck stops (which I definitely am), you might be OK with a mostly traveling (vs. camping in one spot) type of vacation, although truck stop parking lots might be full too. Dispersed camping in national forests and public lands might be an option, although definitely research that in advance (and keep in mind that some of those roads are pretty rough). Some areas may be closed and some areas may be overrun with partiers. The Allstays app can help with the latter sometimes. For instance, I was looking into Moses lake dispersed camping and an Allstays review included: “The partying went on all night at the other campsites including vehicles spinning out and yelling… Seems like a really cool spot for those that want to enjoy the sand dunes on the weekend however if your driving through looking to rest I would recommend either finding a quiet spot not next to any of the other trailers or to keep going and find another location.” I’m researching the best ways to find spots now so look for a post soon on that.
  • Because everything is full, social distancing may be difficult. The dream is wide open spaces and no people other than you, but that may not be the reality in a lot of spots. Definitely do some research on where you’re thinking of traveling (especially trip reports from full time RVers). We like to mostly drive around during the day and find random isolated places to hang out. For instance, during yesterday’s day trip, we pulled off on an abandoned road and had lunch. A deer and a coyote (not together!) wandered by while we were there, but no other people.
  • RVs can have problems. Especially if you’re thinking of buying an older model, you might have trouble, but RVers with brand new vehicles will tell you that issues pop up with those too. I had a rock shatter one of my windows and my propane tank started leaking in winter and couldn’t find any place to repair either. So you could get stranded and need that hotel room you were trying to avoid. Even if you do find a place for repairs, you’re no longer living the dream far away from people.
  • Refrigerators and storage in RVs is pretty small, so if you’re gone more than a few days, you’ll have to find places to restock that might be unpredictable.

So, we’ll be sticking close to home for now. We are lucky enough to live an hour’s drive from mountains, beaches, and lots of wide open spaces.

What Kind of RV Should You Get?

I don’t know what kind you should get, but we’re getting a class B. When you’re new to the RV world, one of the first things you learn about are RV classifications. A class B is a full RV on a van chassis. My last RV was a Roadtek 170 Popular, which was on a Chevy van chassis and was around 19 feet long.

A class B is great for a single person or a couple, and depending on the size, maybe a child too. (Some, like the Winnebago Solis, have a pop up roof for a second bed.) The smallest class Bs are 19 feet long, and these are the easiest to park and maneuver around. Most are longer — between 21 and 24 feet, which provide a bit of extra room (especially storage), but won’t fit in a lot of parking spaces. Class Bs are small, for sure.

These days, you can find most class Bs on either a Mercedes Spring, Dodge Promaster, or Ford Transit chassis. You can find a pretty good list here. There are pros and cons to each chassis, but they all work well.

As you’re scanning the list of what’s available, some other key features to look for in addition to length and chassis are:

  • Bathroom – many class Bs have a full “wet bath” (separate room with a plumbed in toilet and shower combo), but some don’t have a bathroom at all, or have a portable cassette-style toilet. A quick way to check on the toilet is to look for a black tank in the specs. I wrote a post on emptying the black and grey tanks and the Russos wrote a post on using a portable cassette toilet.
  • Bed configuration and size – some setups have twin beds or bunk beds, and some have loft or murphy beds that drop down, but most have a sofa in the back that folds out into a bed. Some are easier to convert than others (touch of a button vs. manually moving things around) and they’re not all the same size.
  • Power – this is a huge topic, but the key thing to know when you’re staying out is that many set ups don’t have huge amounts of battery storage/replenishment so you can’t set up in the woods for weeks an expect to have infinite power. My Roadtrek had a small battery and solar panel setup that was OK for me for a couple of nights. These days, you can get more powerful lithium batteries, more solar, larger inverters… Most RVs have propane and a generator, but lots of options exist these days. With most set ups, you can’t run the air conditioner unless you’re plugged into shore power (for instance, at a campground with hookups) or have the generator running. Just be aware of this, and check to see what’s installed (and upgradeable) in the RV you’re looking at. In many cases, the standard installation is plenty.

I Can’t Find Any RVs for Sale!

This is the key issue right now. Inventory is super low and lead times are super long for ordering a new one. I’ve been quoted lead times from three months to twelve months depending on the manufacturer. So what to do?

First, be flexible. You may have your heart set on a Sprinter because you think it looks the coolest, but a Dodge Promaster may work just as well. You might not really need four wheel drive. A different color may be OK. Obviously, don’t compromise on anything you truly do need.

Next, expand your search. If you are OK with not seeing the RV in person, you can buy one from anywhere in the country and have it shipped. Most dealerships will arrange this for you (or you can contact an RV shipping company and arrange this yourself). Of course, consider the extra cost of this when looking at prices.

Be open to new or used (if your budget allows). A used one that’s just a couple of years old might actually be less likely to have issues than a new one, since any problems have already been uncovered and fixed. As I mentioned earlier though, I’d be wary of getting something too old right now, just because things do start to need replacing after time and now is not the best time to be stuck on the road.

Once you have your general criteria set, check RV Trader for what’s out there. I use a nationwide search, sorted by newly listed. You can also check directly on local (or national) dealer web sites. You may find something that fits your criteria, but if not, you can set an alert to get an email when something new pops up or you can do a new search, sorted by “newly listed” each morning. Some things I’ve learned:

  • If it’s listed, it’s still probably not available. If you see the listing on RV Trader, click through to the dealer web site. It might say sold or sale pending.
  • If it says on order, it’s probably not on order. Probably that’s just the dealer wanting you to order it (with the corresponding long lead time).
  • If it has no price and no photos, it definitely is not a real RV that’s available to buy. Maybe you can order one. (It’s also possible the RV is on the way.)
  • It’s still worthwhile to call dealers that specialize in what you are looking for or that have listings that may or may not be real, as they do sometimes have real RVs on the way and you might be able to snag one of those with a shorter lead time than a new order. (These can be tricky as they often don’t know when the on order RVs will arrive.) At the very least, you can leave your contact info in case something becomes available. A lot of ordered RVs are coming in around now and not everyone has been able to get financing. Or maybe they’ve found something else while they’ve been waiting. So every so often something becomes available. (We just got a call from someone we talked to not long ago to let us know a 2020 used RV was on its way to them.)

RVs are available if you’re willing to be a bit flexible, especially with length. Shorter models are definitely harder to find. We narrowed down what we needed vs. what we thought we wanted. Everyone’s list will be different. Our must-haves included being as short as possible (19′ would be ideal, 21′ would be OK, 24′ would be too long), full bathroom, largish bed, new or slightly used. Our nice-to-haves included four wheel drive, Sprinter, lithium batteries/lots of off-the-grid power availability.

We first zeroed in on an Airstream Interstate 19 (would have to order and would take at least 3-4 months), then considered older, nearby older class Bs (not many to choose from; a lot older than we wanted) and finally decided on a new Midwest Legend (at a dealership in Louisiana so we have to wait (and pay for) shipping). It’s a Dodge Promaster instead of a Mercedes Sprinter. It’s not four wheel drive. It’s 21′ with a full bathroom and large bed. AGM batteries, 2000 watt inverter, 100 watt solar. So it hits our must haves, but not all of our nice to haves.

We were comfortable buying an RV sight unseen but only from a dealership (that we researched separately) and not from a private seller. We were only comfortable buying from a local private seller. We found the listing for the Legend on RV Trader, but I looked up the dealership and called the number on the web site and not the number on the RV Trader listing, just in case someone was scamming by using a dealership name. I looked up reviews of the dealership on Google Maps and a few other places and made sure most people had a good experience.

In order to find the Legend, I had to call a lot of dealerships across the country. From that, I was able to learn a lot about what inventory was available, what was on the way, and what the ordering situation was. In many cases, dealers had RVs on the way that you could put a deposit on.

With some patience and work, you can definitely find something to fit your needs and probably you will love it! If you haven’t had an RV before, definitely research what RV ownership is like first to see if it’s something you’d be up for and think through what the practical day to day would be like (not necessarily all isolated nature with only birds and chipmunks like from a Disney movie). Check out the Allstays app (or a similar app) to see what kind of campground availability exist in the areas you’re thinking of going.

But mostly, enjoy! And let me know how it goes!

Overnight RV Basics

An Ode To Trucks Stops & an RV How-To For Staying At Them

I sort of love truck stops. I love how they’re self-contained cities that come together and apart every day. I love that you can buy nearly everything you ever dreamed you might need or never knew you always needed at them. And when driving around the country in an RV, I just love that they exist.

When navigating life in an RV, you encounter all kinds of things that don’t come with instructions. I want everything to have a sign, all the time, telling me how it all works. But life isn’t like that. RV-centric places aren’t like that. And truck stops certainly aren’t like that.

So if you’re an RVer intimidated by truck stops, read on for instructions. At least according to what I’ve been able to figure out so far. And you too, can enjoy a sunrise over a truck stop.

flying j

Tips for Choosing a Truck Stop

You’ll see throughout this post that my best tip is to choose a Flying J or Pilot as I have found to them to be by far the most RV friendly, but you can get a lot of great info from the AllStays app. Entries look like this and tell you not only how a location has been rated (mostly by commercial drivers) but what amenities it has (probably don’t go to that second one):

allstays truck stop review truck stop review

Tips on Staying Overnight

truck stopYou can totally stay overnight. Especially if you stay at a Flying J or Pilot (which is now one company called Pilot Flying J, but their locations are still separately branded). They are totally friendly to RVers. The web site very explicitly confirms it:

“Had enough driving for one day? Pull in to one of our RV reserved parking spots or any other open parking space. Grab some dinner, stock up on supplies, and spend the night to get ready for that long drive ahead of you tomorrow.”

I love staying someplace I am explicitly welcomed.

I have found that other truck stops have signs stating parking limits of 4 hours or less. I pulled into a Love’s that had signage restricting parking to one hour. I called and the manager said I had to come in and get special approval to stay overnight. (She followed that by explaining she had to make sure I wasn’t going to block her handicapped parking in front on the store, although I’m not sure why I, or anyone else, would be in danger of doing that.) Which didn’t sound welcoming at all.

truck stopIf the truck stop you plan to stay at is not a Flying J or Pilot, you should probably call ahead or ask a desk clerk, just to be sure, unless you see signage or an online notation that RVs can park overnight.

I’ve stayed at lots other truck stops (including lots of Love’s and many independent places), and most of the time when I asked, they seemed confused I even asked first, but then there are those places that said I needed special permission, so you just never know.

It’s much easier for me to sleep if I’m not worried someone is going to bang on my door at any second yelling at me, and it only takes a minute to ask. (I tend to call vs. go in as you’ll see later in this post.)

truck stopDon’t park where a truck would park or block where trucks might need to drive through or in any way get in the way of the trucks. They get grumpy.

This isn’t really an issue for an RV like mine that can fit in any parking spot, but I often see larger RVs that can only park in the truck areas. If you ask inside, they’ll often steer you towards parking lengthwise in normal parking spots on the edges of the parking lot if it’s big enough, but this isn’t always an option, so depending on your length, you might not have a choice.

The AllStays app generally notes the number of (truck) parking spaces each truck stop. If you have a long rig, you might want to avoid truck stops with less than 50 spaces and the ones noted not to have much space. AllStays is used by commercial drivers as well as RVers so the truck stop comments have a lot of information about the lots that are stress-inducing. (To see this in action, just check out YouTube, where drivers love to post videos of crazy lot situations.)

truck stopIt might be noisy. As you’ll see from the next tip, I drive around a little and try to find a quiet spot, but I honestly have never been bothered by the truck noise. Mostly I have my fan or furnace on and the white noise totally blocks out the trucks. But even without that, the trucks are mostly white noise themselves.

Once, I stayed at a truck stop that played music on the outside speakers all night. I couldn’t make it through the entire night. (I even went inside to ask about it, and they said the music was just on all the time and there was nothing at all they could do about it.)

truck stopDrive around and scout the place out before settling on a space. I often have found quiet spots out of the way, on the edge between the car section and the trucks section. I try to back into a spot with a wall or hedge behind it so that people and cars aren’t coming and going right next to my bed while I’m sleeping.

Here’s an example of where I’ve parked just on the other side of the truckers. (Although this isn’t ideal; I should have backed in. But this was one of my earlier truck stops.)

truck stop parking

This is a much better parking place:

truck stop parking

And this spot is just about perfect:

truck stop parking

Look at how peaceful my view is:

truck stop parking

 Tips on Truck Stop Showers

As I have written about here before, I love truck stop showers. They are by far the cleanest, most luxurious showers I have found anywhere on the road, fancy RV parks included.

Truck stop showers, unlike a lot of RV park and campground showers, never have bugs or cold chills or only cold water or open pipes instead of shower heads or a rope that you have to hold down to keep the water on. Yes, that last thing only happened once, but still. I’m still bitter about it.

You get a huge, private bathroom with great water pressure and shower heads and plenty of hot water, and most even come with a towel! (Here’s a YouTube video someone made of a Flying J that begins with the shower.)

truck stopTruck stop showers are $12. Everywhere. $12. I happened upon a $6 shower at an independent truck stop once and I was completely in shock. Because no matter where you go, you’ll always pay $12. (Unless you buy more than $500 a month in gas at a Flying J/Pilot, which gives you free showers for a month, but as much gas as you might go through in an RV, that much gas is probably unlikely.) If you react to the price with “$12! That’s crazy! I’ll just go someplace else!”, the clerk will be highly entertained.

Bonus updated tip: During a discussion in the Roadtrek Facebook group, we started talking about whether a couple can take a shower together ($12 total) or not ($24 total). And generally, couples can shower together! (Which doesn’t mean they have to be in the actual shower together. They can just go into the room together.) You can ask for extra towels in that case and some truck stops have “team showers” (for instance a married commercial driving team), which are larger.

truck stopWear flip flops. This isn’t really a dis on truck stops. I recommend flip flops for showers at campgrounds and RV parks too. Always pack flip flops in your shower bag.

truck stopSpeaking of, have a shower bag! Again, this isn’t really truck stop-specific. I have a little travel toiletry bag (with duplicate items from my RV shower) so that I can just grab it and go and don’t have to pack and unpack anything every day just to take a shower. I keep it out of the way on my bathroom floor.

truck stopYou don’t need to bring in a towel, but you may as well, just in case. I’ve never encountered a truck stop shower that didn’t provide at least a bath towel (and sometimes a whole set of towels), but I always have a back up with me.

Most of the time, you can just leave the towels in the room when you leave, but one independent truck stop I stopped at had a towel drop near the front counter.truck stop shower

truck stop shower

truck stopYou probably need your own toiletries. Most truck stop showers provide soap, either as one of those little wrapped travel soaps you might get a hotel off the highway or in a bulk pump in the shower, but not always. I’ve gotten a little bottle of shampoo once (I still used my fancy shampoo instead) and I’ve never gotten conditioner.

truck stopThe private bathroom is really secure. Flying J/Pilot generally has a 4 digit code printed on your receipt that you use to unlock the door (you sometimes have to wait for your name to be called/displayed on a monitor that tells you which room number is yours), but other places just give you a key.

 Tips on Coffee

I dunno. I’m just not a coffee snob, especially in the morning. Sure, I can tell the difference between bad and good coffee, and one time, I stopped to get coffee at McDonald’s and they accidentally gave me someone else’s with 4 sugars in it (so said the side of the cup, I realized way too late) and I had to throw that right away (obviously, blech), but mostly I just need drinkable caffeine.

truck stopTruck stops always have tons of coffee choices, with names like “morning thunder” and “extra extra bold buzz this coffee will really keep you awake and bouncing around and can you tell we are drinking this coffee right now as we brainstorm coffee names”.

truck stopIf you use a travel mug (which I do anyway to keep my coffee hot and to keep the bugs out when I’m wandering around a campground in the morning), you get the refill price, which tends to vary in price (based on who is ringing you up and how large she decides your cup is) from $2 to 50 cents.

truck stopMany truck stop chains have loyalty cards (and Flying J/Pilots take Good Sam cards in lieu of theirs), which either give you a discount on each cup or build up to a free one.

truck stopMostly, you’re going to find powered creamer and maybe some weird pump-driven non-dairy creamer liquid. I try to keep milk in my refrigerator to add once I get back to my RV.

Tips On Getting Gas

I realize I’m sounding like a Flying J/Pilot commercial about now, but I promise I don’t know them and they are not paying me for this post. (Although, if anyone from their company is reading this, feel free to randomly send me money!) But you can use your Good Sam card at their pumps for a gas discount. Other chains give gas discounts with their loyalty cards, probably. But I’m loyal to them, so I wouldn’t know (ha!).

Presumably truck stops have lower gas prices because they buy in some serious bulk to cater to all those trucks. I don’t know if that’s true, but at the very least, they tend to be a lot easier to get in and out of since they’re a lot bigger than regular gas stations.

Propane and Dump Stations

Many truck stops have these! I use the AllStays app to find out. Again, some chains have loyalty cards that give you discounts on the dump station. I’ve paid as little as $5.


I have a monthly plan with Flying J/Pilot, which typically works great (and often five or more different wifi points are available to accommodate the traffic). Many trucks stops have fast food restaurants (like McDonald’s or Denny’s) attached to them with free wifi. Of course, I sometimes just use the hotspot on my phone.


I’ve never done my laundry at a truck stop (I generally do that once a week or so at a campground or RV park) but most trucks stops have laundry facilities.

Business Services

Many trucks stops have printing/scanning/faxing and mail services, along with services like Western Union and ATMs.

Gyms/Game Rooms/Haircuts/Lounges/Etc.

Yeah, some have massage services that I’m not too clear on. And I’m too vain to get a haircut at a truck stop. I saw a post about one truck stop with a dentist! But mostly, I’d suggest asking the staff about use of things like the gym. At times I’ve seen notations on AllStays for particular locations that certain facilities are for commercial drivers only.


This is the best. I love wandering around and checking out all the random stuff for sale. It’s like walking around

truck stop shoppping

truck stop shopping

Tips On Being A Woman Alone At a Truck Stop

Not long ago, a guy said to me that surely all the commercial drivers who saw me at truck stops just assumed I was a prostitute. Um, thanks? But seriously, I have never gotten that vibe at all. (Although I see a few YouTube videos show some places that do have that vibe.)

I mean, be careful, sure, just as you would anywhere.

I will often pull into a place late at night and not get out of my RV at all. That way, I know for sure there’s no random serial killer or axe murderer hanging out who has seen that I’m a woman alone and has followed me back to my RV, waiting for me to fall asleep. I wait until morning to get gas and stock up on groceries.

But I feel safer staying at a truck stop than I feel staying most places. It’s open 24 hours a day. It’s well lit and well staffed. I don’t park in the middle of the trucks — I park on the non-commercial side — so I’m never alone and hidden away. Mostly the showers are right off the main store area, but even the few times I’ve had to walk through the TV lounge area to get to them, no one has paid any attention to me. Everyone is watching the game, or getting food, or doing whatever in the little time they have before they have to get back on the road.

There’s no reason commercial drivers would be more dangerous than anyone else we might encounter in the world. My grandpa was a truck driver and he was just about the awesomest.

Bonus Tip!

Bobtails are trucks without trailers. So you can totally park where you see these signs.

bob tail parking


RV Basics

But What About Power in a RoadTrek? Don’t You Run Out?

Today, a reader question! Michael asks how I get power when I’m not plugged in.

roadtrek power

I do have to manage the process but it’s way easier than you might think. Since I have the littlest Roadtrek, I also have the least amount of power to work with. (Well, some older models may have even less — for instance, they may not have generators.) A model like the E-Trek is amazing: huge solar panels, 8 batteries, 5000 watt inverter. You basically never have to plug that thing in.

But back to my littlest Roadtrek.

First, spoiler alert: I’ve never run out of power!

My Roadtrek has two sources of power: electricity (in varying forms) and propane. Propane is the simplest. I just get the tank filled when I’m running low and it powers the furnace, stove, hot water heater, and refrigerator,which switches to propane automatically when another power source isn’t available.

The refrigerator has little status lights that tell me what type of power it’s using:

refrigerator power roadtrek

Electricity is available in several forms, which boil down to high power mode and low power mode.

In high power mode, I can run everything: air conditioner, microwave, my Nespresso machine (Mmmm, coffee….).

I’m in high power mode when I’m running the generator (which runs on gas from my fuel tank) or when I’m plugged in. My electrical system is 30 amps, so I can plug directly into a 30 amp outlet, or I can use an adapter to go plug into 50 amps (at some RV parks and campgrounds to accommodate larger RVs) or the 15 or 20 amp outlets you might have at your house.

When I’m plugged into 50 amps, I still only have 30 amps available. When I plug into 15 or 20 amps, well, I only have those 15 or 20. The outlet you plug into at a campground or RV park has a circuit breaker and you also have them inside the RV so if you overload the system, you’ll flip a breaker (or both the outside and inside breaker, like that one time I was running the air conditioner and the microwave at the same time).

roadtrek 170 breaker

But 15 amps is plenty to run the air conditioner.

I almost never use the generator. Mostly because I don’t need to, and also, noise. There are exceptions:


No services for 100 miles? No problem. I’ll just fire up the generator and make some coffee.

View on Instagram

To turn on the generator, I just flip the switch:

roadtrek 170 generator

Unless I need the air conditioner because it’s thousands of degrees outside, I don’t ever really need to plug in. That is, I don’t need to plug in from a “do I have enough power to run this” perspective. If I’m staying in one place for several days, I likely will want to plug in because I’m otherwise on battery, which doesn’t last forever.

So let’s talk about the battery!

The battery is low power mode. On battery, I can’t run the microwave, the air conditioner, or my Nespresso machine. Low power mode runs off of the house battery (which is different from the engine battery). The battery charges when I’m driving, when I’m plugged into power, when I’m running the generator, and from my solar panels.

I mostly keep it charged from driving since I don’t tend to stay in one place too long. If I was out in the woods for a week, for instance, the solar panels would probably not be enough since they only charge the battery a little. In that case, I’d probably run the generator for a while to charge back up.

But if I drive a couple of hours (which I tend to do most days), the battery gets charged back up no problem.

With battery alone, I can run all the 12 volt stuff: the water pump (to flush the toilet or turn on the faucet at the sink), the roof fan, the hot water heater, the refrigerator, the interior lights, the LP gas and CO detectors).

I can also flip on the inverter (which turns battery (DC) power to AC) in order to use two of the outlets (the one for the TV/DVD player and the one above the kitchen counter).

The inverter only provides about 750 watts of power though. (Which is why the Nespresso machine, at 1500 watts, is out.) With the inverter, I can run the TV and DVD player (and hence have music through the speakers), charge my laptop and phone, and power things like my curling iron or a small fan.

But how long can I do those things? For that, we look at amp hours. How many does my battery hold and how quickly do my solar panels replenish the battery? How much power does everything take? It’s math, people. Math! No one told me there would be math.

I have one 12 volt battery, which gives me 95 amp hours. Under optimal conditions, my solar panels recharge the battery with 3.5 amp hours (and the conditions are never optimal). An overhead light is maybe 2 amps, the fan is around 4.

When I’m parked even for a couple of days, I’m probably only going to use the fan and charge up my laptop and phone. Sure, I’ll need the water pump every so often, but I’m not really using that much power. Turning something on generally takes more power than keeping it running too (I tried using a lower wattage coffee maker once and the instant I turned it on, it sucked up half my battery).

But the point is, I really don’t have to do math. If I were out in the woods for a week, maybe. Parked in a Walmart parking lot all night and then parked by the ocean all day, not really. I find that I’m not using much power and the solar panels do OK to keep the battery from dipping too low.

I can monitor everything on a handy panel. The battery status is on the far right. Right now, it’s just below fully charged. The propane, however, is almost empty (it’s the status on the far left). (The second set of lights is the fresh water tank and the third and fourth set are the black and grey water tanks, respectively.)

roadtrek 170 power monitor

On mornings when I’m not plugged in, I generally heat water in a kettle on the stove and make coffee via Aeropress or Starbucks Via.

When I’m driving, I charge my phone, iPad, and laptop (I use an inverter I plug into the cigarette lighter).

See Michael? No sacrifices needed. And I have coffee available no matter the circumstance. And that’s really the most important thing.