How to Manage an RV Life Break: Storage & Packing Tips

How to Manage an RV Life Break: Storage & Packing Tips
Tips for full-timers taking a trip via plane.
By: Noel Fleming & Chris Miller

Living in a van full-time for multiple years has educated us about travel both in and out of the RV. When we sold our condo and cars, we naively thought that our lives would consist of all travel being done via the van. We reasoned that was the definition of “full-time.” However, we’ve come to learn that even full-timing involves traveling without your RV. While that sounds a bit strange and definitely felt strange to us at first, we now recognize that it’s just another aspect of RV life.

With many people planning to visit loved ones over the holidays, we thought it would be a good time to share some of our tips for leaving your RV behind when you travel. Although we recently made the switch to a Class C, we learned how to store our RV while living in our first rolling home: a Travato van. But, these tips should apply to most RV types!

Reasons for RV-Free Travel as Full-Timers

Along our RV adventures, and for a variety of reasons, we’ve determined that RV-free travel via air travel or auto travel has been a better option for the situation. Time constraints, weather, and mileage considerations had us opting to fly instead of drive our van on various occasions. We flew for a variety of reasons: to celebrate a wedding, to visit family over the holidays, to attend a funeral, and to receive medical treatment. In our case, these flights were usually for a singular purpose to a specific location.

However, there are many RVers who “hopscotch” across the U.S. These owners drive their RV to enjoy a desired destination for a period of time. At the end of their stay, they find a local place to leave their RV whether in storage or at a friend’s while they fly back home. When they are ready to travel again, they fly back to their RV, pick it up, and head to another destination. In this regard, the hopscotch travelers decrease the wear on their rigs and increase the time that they get to enjoy their chosen destinations.

Preparing for Packing

Regardless of the rationale for your own RV-free travel, you’ve got to prepare for the luggage situation. When we had a sticks-and-bricks home with ample closet space, storing luggage or roller bags was not an issue. In our van, there’s barely storage room for a backpack. 

Knowing that there would be times that we (as in two people) would be traveling away from the van, we discovered a wide variety of packable luggage on Amazon. We opted for the “bago” brand and purchased two large-sized bags (27”, 80L) for when we might need to check a bag, two medium-sized (23”, 60L) that can be used as a carry on, and two backpacks (25L). All items are packable, lightweight, and water-resistant. Since all of these bags compact to minimal size, we had the space required to store all six of them in our 109-square-foot camper van. Thanks again to Winnebago for creating such efficient use of storage space in our 2019 Travato GL!

Choosing an Airport

Now, choosing luggage is one thing, choosing an airport is a bit more challenging. When we lived in our condo, we had one home airport. Now that we are traveling the U.S in our RV, we have had the occasion to use several airports in a variety of states. Finding the right airport may depend on your travel route, your flight destination, the storage lot, the flight options, and of course the ticket price. 

In one situation, when Chris had a medical procedure, we bought a one-way ticket from our then current location, Jacksonville, FL, and another one-way ticket to return her to San Antonio, TX, so she could rejoin our caravan that was traveling to a van rally near San Diego, CA. This "thinking outside of the box thing" has now become a "thinking outside of the RV thing" and has enabled us to be when and where we want to be.

Planning for RV Storage

Since we’ve had the occasion to leave the van behind many times, we have navigated through the world of temporary RV storage. However, we’ve experienced some glitches along the way. Once, after researching and selecting an off-site parking lot to store the van, we were told upon arrival that the facility was unable to accommodate our size vehicle and did not carry insurance for our RV. These restrictions had not been listed on the respective website. We had spoken multiple times to personnel in advance, provided our camper van dimensions, and even paid a deposit. Yet, we suddenly found ourselves scrambling to find an alternative solution in time for our flight. 

We have since relied on multiple sources and given ourselves extra time to make sure that the RV is securely parked. Sprinting through an airport is never our chosen form of cardio workout for the day.

WallyPark Airport Parking is one off-airport parking company that currently services ten major U.S. airports. It’s conveniently open 24/7, 365 days a year. It offers luggage assistance, shuttle service from your rig door to the airline terminal, short- and long-term parking, and travel agent and corporate discount programs. You can book online and even alter your reservations once they are made. Of course, there’s an app for that and you can check parking restrictions in terms of height, length, and width of your vehicle. 

Several such off-airport companies provide similar services, offer perks, and are designed to establish a strong clientele via loyalty rewards and discount programs. It is worth investigating these well-established companies.  We have found them to be more capable of accommodating oversized vehicles.

On-site airport parking is another efficient option and is available at many destinations. For example, the long-term parking at Jacksonville International Airport provides ample uncovered parking for larger rigs. Fortunately for us, the 13’ high covered garage parking accommodated our camper van.

Pre-Storage Considerations

We considered the upcoming forecast, so that we’d know if our fresh, black, and grey tanks would need to be drained or winterized. Going through our exit checklist, we ensured that all of our systems were turned off, that our food provisions were appropriately stored to deter any hungry invaders, and that our shades and curtains were drawn to eliminate any prying eyes. 

We parked under bright lights, in a central location in the garage, and nearby a pedestrian moving walkway that led to the terminal. We know many other van lifers who would never leave their bikes locked onto the back of their van, but we did so and had no issues upon our return.

Auto Rental Tips

As for auto rental considerations, be sure to do your homework. Quotes change based on where you pick up and/or drop off as well as how many drivers you plan to use. There are a number of companies that include an additional driver without any additional fees. Using a ride share program to the car rental lot may save you a considerable amount of money when compared to renting from the nearest location, especially if you are using an airport in a densely populated area. We were surprised to learn that Costco offers car rentals at a significantly lower rate than many of the online travel sites that we had scoured. 

Insurance coverage while driving a rental car is another area worth researching. If you, like us, carry only RV insurance, be sure to check if your RV policy offers any type of auto insurance. We were surprised to learn that ours does not. Since we no longer owned cars, we were no longer covered by our insurance to drive a car. 

We do, however, carry a renters and umbrella policy through USAA. We were able to add a non-owners policy (a car insurance policy that allows drivers to have coverage when they rent or borrow a vehicle). A non-owner car insurance policy offers very specific coverage, including specific bodily injury and property damage liability coverage.

 We also discovered that many Visa credit cards will cover theft, damage to the rental car, towing, and loss-of-use charges if you do not have a personal auto insurance policy. Check with your credit card company for details as there may be limitations or restrictions based on your membership or where you’re located.

We hope our shared lessons increase your ease when dealing with logistics necessary for RV-free travel. Needless to say, a highlight of RV-free travel is returning to your rig, finding it in the same condition you parked it, and hopping inside for another adventure.

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