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After the most epic imaginable month of tent camping and mountain biking in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I realized that it was my destiny to be a full-time RVer – how else will I visit all the best mountain biking and surf towns in the USA, but still have a place to work when it's raining?
The epiphany came to me while I was climbing the Benson Grade fire road to Eh Line — but as I started thinking through the logistics of my new life plan, I realized I had no idea how to tow.
Instead of nightmares where I'm on my way to Uganda and I suddenly remember I haven't had my vaccines yet, I began having stressful dreams about backing up a trailer.
Meanwhile, everyone I knew kept suggesting instead of a real RV, I get a stupid little van — hence Before Anyone Else Suggests It, I Would Literally Rather Die Than Live in a Van. (#VanDeath).
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I totally hate gender stereotypes (see also: 6 Things Men Think They Know About Women That are TOTALLY Wrong), but there seemed to be a very clear difference between the sexes over why they would make such an offensive, preposterous suggestion:
Men thought I should get a van because 20- and 30-something year old men think vans are cool. Perhaps they simply haven't thought through the reality of having to squat, shuffle, scoot, and crawl every time they needed to do something in their home.
Women thought I should get a van because they thought towing an actual RV would be too scary and hard for them.
This makes me sad. I hate how much women doubt themselves.
So I decided to put together a list of strategies to help everyone — woman or man — overcome their fear of towing so they can start living the life they want.
1. Every time you see a truck, trailer, or RV on the road, ask yourself, "Is that person really smarter than me? Is that person really a better driver than me?"
There are so many RVs and trucks on the road right now — and I refused to believe that all those people can do it, but I can't.
Fear is not always rational or reasonable. I know that I'm an incredibly smart person and a really good driver. Fear can make you forget – so remind yourself. Every time you see a large vehicle on the road.
Remember: downward social comparison is the number one best way to feel better about yourself. But upward social comparison gives us courage and willingness to try to improve.
It's popular to say, "Stop comparing yourself to other people!" But I think that's dumb. I think you should be comparing yourself to others all the time.
(I didn't actually realize it at the time, but asking myself these questions was very similar to Byron Katie's The Work, which is a successful strategy for disrupting toxic thought and relationship patterns.)
2. Become an expert at acceptance and willingness.
Through my work at Paved With Verbs, I've worked with hundreds of incredible students — one of whom introduced me to the psychological concept of willingness. (I love that you can have a master's in psychology from Stanford and still learn new things from teenagers!)
I don't think I fully understood willingness until I was sitting by the lake with my handsome buddy Enzo and Queen Redgina:
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And I saw a man trying to back a trailer down the boat ramp.
It literally took him 25 minutes to back up 25 feet.
He tried and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed. He got out of his truck, looked around, got back in, tried again, failed again.
Until he finally got it.
The only way you can tow a travel trailer or fifth wheel is to accept that this is going to happen to you, too.
To be free to live the life you want, you have to be willing to spend 25 minutes backing out of a parking spot. You have to be willing to be frustrated or embarrassed. You have to be willing to possibly end up on Youtube, because there are a lot of cruel, empty assholes whose only joy comes from humiliating others.
If you aren't willing to do this, you can't tow. Period. The only way to learn how to do it is to make a lot of mistakes.
For your first trip, keep the schedule flexible. Allow all the time in the world to get from A to B. Accept that you will be embarrassed sometimes. Be willing.
3. Understand that all the driver really does is push buttons.
In most RVing couples, the man gets all the credit for being the driver.
But all he's doing in pushing buttons.
It's the wife who gets out of the truck, stands in his sightline, and directs him into the spot, helping make sure he doesn't hit anything or run his cab into his fifth wheel.
When you're backing up a trailer, you really can't see what's behind you — which is why most people, most of the time, rely on a spotter.
They don't have some magic amazing backing up skill.
They have a spotter.
Before you hit the road, it's important to practice every part of the setup and driving in a safe, open space. It's important to know how much to turn your wheel (and, for me, how to known when your truck wheels are straight — half the time, when I thought they were, they weren't).
But it's not important to be perfect at every possible maneuver you might possibly be doing.
Because you're likely going to have a spotter for that.
Even if you're a solo traveler, like me, you're either going to be dispersed camping (meaning it's a more open area with less stuff to hit) or you're going to be in a campground — and RVers love helping other RVers. (But truckers hate us.)
Every single time I've had to do anything tricky, someone showed up, without me even asking, to help give guidance if I needed it. As long as you know how to do what they tell you to do, you can do what they tell you to do.
However — let's return to willingness for a second.
I know that eventually, I'm going to have to do something tricky, and there won't be anyone around to help me.
In this case, what I'll likely end up doing is getting out of my truck, looking, getting back in my truck, backing... then getting out of my truck, looking, adjusting, backing.
It might take me 25 minutes to do what I'm trying to do. But that's fine. Eventually, I will get it — because I refuse to believe every other driver out there can do it, but I can't.
4. Find the product solution to the thing you're worried about.
There are product solutions for almost every problem you might encounter while RVing.
For me, the thing I was most worried about was having a blowout on the road — that's a scary and expensive problem. So the one upgrade I've invested in so far was the Truck System Technologies tire pressure sensors — basically this one, but I didn't get the color display, because why would I need that?
I know that without this system, I would be stopping the vehicle and manually checking my pressure all the time — whenever I went from a colder temperature to a warmer one, whenever I accidentally hit a curb or two. If the peace of mind weren't worth $300, the fact that, if this prevents a single blowout (and many RVers have more than two), it will more than pay for itself, will.
If the thing you're more worried about is backing up, there are backup cameras available for as low at $69. If you're afraid of dead batteries, theft, liability, low clearance, or something else... there is likely a product solution for that.
5. You can avoid almost all hairy situations by planning ahead.
If you really don't want to back out of a site with the whole campground watching, you might never have to — just plan ahead and reserve pull-through spots only.
If you really don't want to end up in a parking lot you can't get out of, take a look at the area on the satellite map and plan your entrance and exit before you hit the road.
RVers have to plan more carefully than tent campers, and many invest in apps like RV Trip Wizard or special GPS units designed for RVs. This will ensure you don't end up at a bridge, road, or tunnel you can't fit through.
On that note, if you plan to RV, you need to know how tall, long, and wide you are. It's weird to me how many people don't know this crucial information (though, for the most part, they get along just fine).
But — again! — if they can do it, you definitely can.
So... that's pretty much it. I went from having scary dreams about backing up my trailer to driving from Iowa to Fargo to Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and California in it without any particular fear or problems.
Though I have now officially changed my first flat tire. (Fifteen years of driving without a single problem, then I get a nail in my tire on my third day of RVing.)
Other crappy things will happen eventually — and I am willing to deal with them when they do.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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