A Checklist for Packing Up and Moving Campsites

Samantha and Blake sit under the awning of their Dutchmen Voltage with two children.

We’ve visited 16 states with our two toddlers and two mastiffs since we dove into full-time RV living eight months ago. Our journey launched in Northern Virginia, and even though neither of us had spent a night in an RV before we hit the open road, we’re fast learners.

When we’re on the road, we only have one set rule: Make everywhere we go feel like home. As we traverse the country, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to pack and unpack our RV, and we focus on all the little things that turn our RV into the comfortable, homey space we love. We’ve learned the best way to pack and unpack our RV through trial and error, and we’ve also picked up some great tips from other travelers on the road.

The first few times we moved our RV to a new campsite, the packing and unpacking process took hours. Now we have an efficient strategy in place and have crafted a detailed checklist that fits our needs. We always pack and unpack according to the duration of our stay, so for example, for overnight stays we only unpack what we need.

We use a phased approach: Preparation, then packing the inside of the fifth wheel and lastly packing the outside fifth wheel.

PREPARATION

  1. To make the travel day go smoothly, we outline our plan and timeline the night before. We discuss our route, sightseeing, food and any possible delays or road challenges (such as snow/rain or steep mountain passes).

  2. We refuel our truck without the fifth wheel, which is much more convenient than waiting until we hit the road.

  3. We divide our checklist to outline who does which task. Samantha typically does the inside packing and I take the outside packing. Then, we double check the work together, ensuring we don’t leave anything behind .

    Pro Tip:

    On necessities—Ask your travel companions if there’s anything they need easy access to while you’re on the road or when you first arrive. Then pack those items somewhere easy to reach.

  4. We always plan to depart in the morning. This allows time for travel adjustments, optimal driver energy levels and any issues that might arise with our next location.

  5. The morning of a move, we gear up with a local coffee, have a quick conversation to confirm that we are on-point with the plan and then we get to work!

    Pro Tip:

    On campgrounds—Research your campsite before arrival. You can often find campground photos and diagrams of their layouts online. But just in case you arrive at a site and it’s not what you expected, a good packing job will ensure you can change plans and still have access to your most important items.

INSIDE THE RIG

Packing inside is best delegated to whomever is best at securing your precious belongings. It’s important to secure indoor items well; at high speeds, everything will jostle and move around.

Imagine your rig coming to a very fast stop, due to unforeseen road situations. Will your cabinet items all slide into each other? It is less likely that you will accelerate quickly, shifting items back, so instead prepare with an eye on securing everything from moving forward.

RVs are well-designed to endure road conditions. After all, it functions as a house you drive––which means everything needs to be designed to withstand movement. You just need to learn how to best utilize the space. Look for places where you can use plastic containers to group like items, or place rolled up towels between items to help reduce the amount of empty space in cabinets. If you have too much empty space in a cabinet, try consolidating two cabinets into one and leaving the other totally empty when you’re on the road.

Indoor checklist:

  1. Pack room by room, following the same checklist for each space.

  2. Remove all unsecured wall hangings, like signs or picture frames. We love hanging things on the wall with velcro, as it can withstand travel, which means less packing.

    Pro Tip:

    On safety and security—Make sure you secure your windows, clean the floors, retract your awning and empty the trash before you begin packing. Otherwise you may find yourself having to undo your packing progress just to grab an awning hook.

  3. Move all loose tabletop items to cushy areas. Other loose items on countertops or bedside stands are put into containers, drawers or onto the soft surface of the bed while we’re on the road.

  4. For kitchen or bathroom items you want to store upright, like plants or flowers, store them in the sink. The bathroom sink is a great catch-all for toiletries while you’re moving. Store any shower items in a plastic container or in a wall-mounted storage unit.

  5. Move all free-standing furniture to the front of the room. Secure your TV and anything else that’s fragile or valuable.

    Pro Tip:

    On where to start—Pack your least essential items first. These will be secured in cabinets or around the perimeter of the room, which means they will be blocked in by whatever you pack next. Your most important items should get packed in the middle of the RV, which will be the first to get unpacked when you arrive at your new campsite.

  6. Double check the fridge to make sure there are no open containers that could spill or glass bottles that could fall over.

  7. Check to make sure all your cabinets are closed and secure so they will not open during your drive.

  8. Close all open windows and retract your awnings. Even wind through a small bathroom window can cause a lot of problems.

  9. Finally, roll up your rugs. Sweep to remove debris under the slides and then pull your slides in.

    Pro Tip:

    On the big stuff—Load the big stuff last. This helps pin everything else in place, and it ensures you’ll have a walkway through the RV until moments before you hit the road.

OUTSIDE THE RIG

Packing the outside focuses on two things: gear and utilities.  Packing is easiest when everything has a designated spot on travel day, so find a spot that works for each item and use it every time.

Outdoor checklist:

  1. Pack up your easy outdoor items like chairs, bikes, coolers, a firepit, outdoor rugs, strollers, etc. We put these items either inside the RV or in our truck.

  2. Empty your tanks before travel if you can. Empty your black tank first, followed by your gray tank so that the gray water flushes the hose. We follow with a hose rinse with clean water before packing our sewer hoses into their designated plastic container.

    Pro Tip:

    On hoses—Hose packing can be gruesome if you’re not careful. I like to empty our hoses by holding one end in the air and walking the line to the other end, ensuring anything inside comes out one end. Then I follow up by rinsing it with vinegar. This helps keep your storage container clean—but it also ensures that you’ll notice any cracks in your hoses before they become a problem.

  3. Unplug and wrap up your electrical cord. We use a bungee cord to keep it from getting tangled and then place it in its storage location.

  4. Next, disconnect your water hoses, wrap them up and store them neatly for travel. We love flexible hoses as they fit into whatever designated nook we have open in our external storage.

  5. Lastly, before you connect the rig to a tow vehicle, check the tire pressures on all tires and double check all our door locks. Even though there are monitoring systems, we like to do this all manually for peace of mind.

    Pro Tip:

    On the dirtier tasks—I like to do the dirty tasks last. That way, if I make a mess, I only have to change clothes once. This includes things like emptying and packing hoses.  There’s nothing worse than getting black water all over yourself and then still having a ton of packing to do.

THE SERIOUS STUFF

The final step before departing is the most important part of travel days. Hook up your trailer to your tow vehicle. It’s best to do this with complete concentration and focus, as well as teamwork. Things inside the RV can break and life will go on, but a mistake made hitching your RV to your truck can impact your safety in profound ways. So, take your time on this last step, and you’ll ensure you have many happy journeys to come.

Samantha and Blake travel in a 2019 Dutchmen Voltage.