In early 2017, the first test spin in our 2006 Tiffin Phaeton took us to southwestern Kentucky. We considered various campgrounds around Mammoth Cave National Park, settling on Nolin Lake State Park because it had improved plots that accommodated our 40-foot motorhome and towed Chevy Cavalier.
We didn’t realize how far it would be from the beaten path. More like we didn’t realize the “skinny” roads leading there would barely qualify as “beaten paths.” And, thus we learned the most important of our dozen first-timer lessons.
- Do NOT trust GPS. Before you go, learn about the skinny roads between highways and final destination. Review a map or, better yet, Google Earth for a sense of topography. You don’t want to travel a single lane, hilly, twisty ridge that slopes steeply downward on each side and suddenly come across the sign: “Road ends in water.” It happened to us. Fortunately, Gary was able to turnaround on an abandon lot.
- Have paper maps or directions as backup. Hilly and/or remote areas may cause you to drop connection. If you’re unplugged you may be unable to navigate using GPS or Googlemaps.
- Use Google Earth to survey your reserved spot. Get perspective on its relationship to other campers, playgrounds, bathhouses, attractions and such. Then, choose wisely.
- Call ahead if you’re planning to boondock at Walmart. They can tell you if it’s permitted and where to park. We called 30 minutes before and were told to take a spot just past the Garden Center. Another Walmart had a promotion underway and asked us to move on.
- Plan a menu and shop for the details. That includes beverages, wine and spirits. By planning ahead you control food price and quality.
- Schedule downtime. After setting up, we headed to Target for things we’d forgotten. The driving, shopping and housekeeping ate up the first day. We had been so excited to share our experience that he invited his sister for a day and I invited my cousin for the next day. Somehow lunch rolled into cave tours rolled into dinner. Sunday arrived and we were on the road again. We’d forgotten to relax.
- Don’t count on WiFi or phone service. Many campgrounds are remote by design, especially among the hills. And, some offer WiFi, but it’s sketchy. Revel in being unplugged. Connect with the people around you.
- Ask experienced RVers what to pack. I never would have guessed how much we’d love an electric tea kettle for nearly instant hot water. And, I was thankful to have an Instantpot pressure cooker and a cast iron skillet. He was grateful he’d taken work gloves for dirty tasks.
- Be prepared. Our guests were grateful for the extra toothbrushes and linens when car trouble forced them to stay overnight.
- Have notepaper and pen to list what you forgot so you can pack it for next time. I’m rounding up a tablecloth for the campground picnic table. He’s bringing grill accessories and pliers.
- Think campfire. Carry campfire starters. However, buy your campfire wood locally and leave extras behind. You don’t want to spread wood-borne pests from region to region.
- Bring a plastic bin for recyclables. We packed up our cans, bottles and cardboard to take home for recycling.