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Prep Checklists Galore

chalk board icon of calendar page with 30 days to depart

With empathy for slow moving bears blinking in the Spring sunshine after rising from a restorative winter’s nap, we too are preparing to emerge from our own cozy den and rejoin the bright world to explore. We are thirty days out from our Grand Depart, commencing our second season as volunteers working in Grand Teton National Park.

Which means our life revolves around checklists. RVers live for checklists! We write them. Compare them. Trade them. Update them. Share them. Make videos about them. Quote them like gospel. There are the What-To-Pack lists, What-Tools-Should-I-Have lists, Arrive-In-Camp lists, and Depart-Camp lists, Maintenance lists, Winterize, De-winterize, etc. Even Dream-Campground-to-Stay-At lists. They can be overwhelming!

a chalkboard closet door is great for the high priority To-Do List

What is all the fuss about? I mean, we all learned in grade school how to make lists. Bullets, indents, numbered, alphanumeric — simple right?! Ah, but faced with a blank sheet of paper, how do you get started?

My parents have an RV, and my mom, being a blue-ribbon 4-Her and with an education in home economics, is an accomplished list maker. Without her, I never would have been able to grocery shop for a Navy dinner for 90 that we hosted back in the day. Her RV supply list is just as impressive and detailed!

With Mom’s inventory list as a jumping off point, we started working through what purchases we needed and wanted to make (two different things!) before taking delivery of our trailer in 2018. The ‘shopping’ lists are organized by categories like: Kitchen, Safety Gear, Tools & Maintenance, and Camp Life. After determining if we had extra items in the house that could live in the trailer, we could easily see what remained to be acquired.

ItemNeed to Purchase?Have it?
Torque Wrenchnoyes
LED Road Flareyeson order, 3/14
Safety Vestno4
Work glovesyesno
example of original shopping list prior to taking delivery of our Airstream

Some items I put on the list with no intention of shopping for the first time we outfitted the Airstream. They are there as ticklers regarding friendly recommendations that we are not 100% sure we will find useful and worthy of their weight or storage space. We re-evaluate the lists and make changes after major trips.

Right now, we are working on our Pre-trip Planning Checklist, which came about from previous vacation post-it notes, refrigerator stickies, desk calendar notations, and various other “Don’t Forget To Do This” strategies. On a list like this, order doesn’t matter, we just need to remember to do IT, whatever IT is.

Pre-Trip planning checklist

Your own lists will be different. For example, we don’t currently have pets or kids to accommodate. Trips of a short duration will not require all of these tasks be accomplished either. But this is the core list currently at the center of our life.

The next list requiring our attention will be the one for loading the Airstream. Our trailer lives in the drive way here in Central Pennsylvania, uncovered. It patiently endures temperature and humidity swings as it waits for us. Out of an abundance of caution, I bring into the house everything that is fabric, that is liquid, or might be of interest to unwanted pest visitors. So my packing lists are reminders so that we don’t end up forgetting to repack the smell-be-gone black tank treatment.

The next most important lists are the task lists we use every time we arrive at and break camp. These lists are perhaps the most talked about and shared checklists within the RV community. How you set up and how you break down camp are not about making sure the Welcome Mat is out and the beer is cold (although they do have their role to play). The Departure and Arrival Checklists are about safety; both personal and property, and peace of mind.

And order of tasks does matter a bit more. For tasks such as hitching the trailer to the tow vehicle, the step order is obviously important to achieve the proper and safe connection. As the person responsible for the initial tasks to secure the interior of the trailer pair to departure, I use order of starting at the rear of the trailer and working forward (along with the checklist) to make sure that I don’t miss a step. When I finish in an area, I lower the curtain, a useful visual cue where I still have to check.

Inside, I am verifying that nothing loose remains on tabletop or counter surfaces. Like a flight stewardess I am making sure the upper and lower cabinets are snapped shut, windows are closed, antenna are lowered. Appliances such as the water pump are off, computers are not plugged in, etc. Outside, Dave is disconnecting services, stowing hose, ensuring the awning is retracted, and generally making sure that the trailer is buttoned up and ready to travel. Then we switch. Dave double checks the interior, while I walk around the outside, touching every storage door, window edge, water access panel, awning hinge, hitch cotter pin, and kitchen hood vent flap that I think should locked and stowed. It is our interpretation of the occupational safety methods employed in Japan, known as pointing and calling. Even with our checklists, this double checking and touching method has caught mistakes we each missed.

Secure for Sea: Departure Checklist as of April 2021

Dave also has a checklist for inside the truck cab. We go over the egress plan – how we are going to pull out from the campsite and any obstacles (trees, ditches, poles, branches) he needs to be aware of. We talk about the basics of the route and the fuel plan. The checklist is a good reminder for adjusting the settings in the truck such as trip odometer, GPS route entered, tow haul mode is on, etc.

Dave’s departure checklist for inside the tow vehicle

The arrival checklist is probably the easiest one to try to cheat on — you are tired of being in the tow vehicle and excited to jump out and get camp set up to start enjoying yourself. But for the sake of safety, and to avoid setting yourself up for experiencing the dreaded “You’ll never believe what happened!” stories, an arrival checklist is also an important tool.

Ours begins at check-in, even with Harvest Hosts. Ask if and where the storm shelter is. Yup, we’ve gotten some funny looks, but on one trip we were very glad we asked. It had not occurred to the farmer to think about that. That night, the next town over had a tornado, and we had the comfort of knowing exactly where — in the dark on strange property — we would run if it started heading toward us. Score one for personal safety on the arrival checklist!

For safety of property — both your trailer and your host’s property, use the checklist reminders to assess your campsite for location of hookups and any ground or overhead obstacles to avoid. The driver and spotter should have the back-in plan agreed to before the trailer moves. GOAL = Get Out And Look is an excellent travel mantra.

Making Landfall: checklist of tasks for arriving in camp

If your parent’s super power does not happen to be making lists, and you do not have a stack of old vacation planning notes, fear not! As I mentioned before, RVers are generous with their check lists — just ask them! No one list you read will match your situation exactly. Not your trailer. Not your life style. Not your personality. But after surveying just a few ideas of what other folks are using, you’ll have a good idea of what you want, or don’t want to work with on your own. We are happy to share what we have as a starting point for your own thinking. Fellow RVers who shared useful checklist advice include:

We are very excited to have the opportunity to serve the National Park Service as volunteers this season — even if living focused on multipage checklists makes that hard to remember some days. But without them, we’d never arrive in one piece! We hope this explains a little of what we are up to as we make preparations to get underway, and if you are a new or experienced RVer, that our checklists can help freshen up your own procedures, tactics, and techniques playbook.

Is there a checklist you are looking for to get yourself started? Maybe we have a draft. Let us know and we can make a new post.

Stay Safe, Be Well. ~K

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