How Do You Prepare for a Disaster When You Live in an RV?



With recent disasters on everyone’s mind, I’m thinking about emergency preparedness in an RV, how it differs from living in an house, and ways RVers can better prepare – even with limited space.

IMG_9755 Happy-go-lucky munchkins without a care in the world, hangin’ in the RV.

The first thing that comes to mind is that there are some clear advantages to living in an RV during a disaster:

1. Your entire house and everything you own is already mobile, so getting your family and all your stuff out of harm’s way doesn’t take much effort. (Just un-hook all your hoses and cords, and you’re ready to move!)

2. You have a built-in fresh water tank. Just get in the habit of keeping it full, and when the water supply gets shut-off, you’ve got some time before worrying. (We keep our 114 gallon tank full even when we’re not traveling just in case we need it.)

3. While many families strive to get a supply of batteries, solar panels and a back-up generator in case the city power fails, most of us already have these things built-into our RVs. Just recently the electricity went out for almost an entire day during a windstorm. We simply cranked up the generator and went about our business. (We also have a 60 gallon gas tank to feed our generator.)

4. Your family is usually together and that means you won’t have to waste time trying to round them up at school and work. (Let alone worry about what’s happened to them!)

5. You’re more likely to be staying in an RV park outside of the city in a more of a rural setting. Cities can get chaotic fast during a crisis. 

6. You and your kids are used to roughing it and you’re practiced at lighting fires, cooking outdoors, and being resourceful when things aren’t working.  If the situation gets scary, it won’t be such a shock to the system and your kids will be more likely to just roll with it.

7. You’re practiced at being a close-knit team. RVing forces you to work together, relying on each other’s strengths and covering for each other’s weaknesses. If trouble hits, everyone will easily get into “team mode.”

8. You know the roads because you’ve been driving them. A lot. I had taken road trips before, but didn’t realize how strategic you can get deciding how to travel from Point A to Point B. You learn how to best utilize rest stops, truck stops and alternate routes when driving an RV.

There are some disadvantages of being an RV during a disaster too.

1. You have less space to store essentials, like food, medicine and other supplies. Living in a house with ample storage is the clear winner in this category.

2. If you’re traveling, you might be far away from anyone you know. Staying close to family and friends is where you want to be during an emergency.

3. An RV is not the best place to be if a natural disaster should surprise you where you’re sleeping. Tornados, flash floods and big storms will toss you around like a Pepsi can. (I remember camping in Missouri during a tornado warning and being hit with the reality that tornado + RV = certain disaster.)

4. If roads are blocked or in bad shape, you won’t get far if you’re eight-feet wide and 13-feet tall. Smaller and maneuverable is always better if you need to flee a bad situation.

5. Ideally, if you live in a neighborhood, you know your neighbors and can depend on them in an emergency. It’s harder to build this rapport with RVers who come and go on a regular basis. (Although the RVing community does tend to be friendlier and more helpful.)

I could go on, but I’d rather think of things we RVers can do to prepare. Here’s my list:

  • Invest in more alternative power options for your RV. We have a generator and adequate battery storage, but we’d like to get some solar panels and a few more batteries. (There are a ton of government programs that will pay a percentage of your renewable energy upgrades, too! See the list here:
  • Keep water in your fresh water tank. Obviously you won’t want them totally full when driving, but there’s no reason why you can’t have them filled when hooked up for several days or weeks.
  • You should have a store a non-perishable food. Even though space is tight, find some. Your best bet is to find dehydrated and sealed meals that you will only have to add water to in order to eat. They will take up less space and will be lighter than regular canned food, and will store better in higher heat. (I like *eFoods products. They’re less than a buck per serving, have no GMO food, no MSG or trans fats. That’s hard to find for this price. Disclaimer: I do have a relationship with eFoods Global & may receive a commission if you buy from them using this link.)
  • Keep your propane canisters full. If you only have one, get a back up. 
  • Bulk up your medicine supplies with: rubbing alcohol, bandages, iodine pills, vitamin C, and extra medications you might need.
  • Collect general emergency supplies like: flashlights, bleach (for sterilizing) extra batteries, an emergency radio, emergency blankets and road flares.
  • Install a level 4 water filter in your RV so you can drink just about anything from anywhere. It helps to have some water tablets around just in case, too.
  • Fishing poles, nets, walkie-talkies, matches and other outdoor equipment may come in handy if you can’t get to a grocery store. 
  • Keep your truck or motorhome gas tank full. Our rule: we fill up at half a tank. (That’s are rule when driving, too.) Buy a few extra gas cans in case you need to stock up.
  • Get a good road map so you don’t have to rely strictly on your GPS.
  • Keep extra cash on hand. If you cannot get to a bank or cannot use a credit card, that cash store will come in handy. (You can keep it hidden in plain site with one of these unusual pantry safes.)

I know there are other items to add to the list. What do you think?


Rene March 12, 2011 at 11:46 pm

One thing I would add is to have an emergency escape list and a packed bag ready with essentials, including that wad of cash.

We were caught in a flash flood last year where we almost had to abandon our rig. I had seconds to consider what to grab, and failed miserably. After that, we put together an emergency checklist and taped it inside a cabinet door, then packed a small suitcase with essentials. While a disaster would stuck, at least I know we would have a change of undies and food for our dog if we had to run fast!

Tracy March 13, 2011 at 12:03 am

I LOVE your blog! This is a great post! One thing I would add regarding the emergency cash….cash is bulky to carry around if you have enough of it. We had planned to save a few thousand to have on hand but it seemed like an awful lot to keep. So we invested in gold instead. One small 1/4 Kruggerand cost about 350, but it is very small and lightweight. We traveled for a few weeks without our trailer and wanted to have an emergency backup but felt unsafe carrying so much cash. When we got a few of the gold coins, I relaized how much easier and safer they are to hide and store. Just a thought!
P.S. Thanks for the comment on my blog! :)
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Rene March 13, 2011 at 12:22 am

Aww thanks.

Gold coin is interesting, never thought of that! Easy to hide too and not as easy to spend when you’re too lazy to go to the ATM and want to grab it out of your emergency bag.

Happy Travels!
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Melanie March 13, 2011 at 2:46 am

Rene — I like those suggestions; thanks for adding them! I wonder what we’d put in a bug-out bag and where we’d keep it. Maybe we could use our backpacks? The list is smart taped to the inside of a cabinet is very smart. Great tips from someone who knows! (Glad you’re safe and sound!)

Tracy — Thanks for the compliment! We are big gold fans, too. Honestly, for six years we’ve been suggesting friends and family have a little stash. It’s smart to have both cash and gold though. There will be times cash will be easier to use than gold… and in the event of a currency crisis, gold sure will come in handy, especially as you point out, in small increments. Thanks for adding this!

Boyink March 13, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Ive started traveling with a full water tank. I know common RV sense says save the weight for better fuel mileage but it’s made no discernible difference to ours. Disaster is likely to strike on a travel day as an at rest day – might as well know you can just pull off somewhere and have water along with your reserve water and power. We do it more just out of uncertainty of where we’ll be and like to know we can boondocks if need be. We don’t have as big of a tank @ 31 gallons though.
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Melanie March 13, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Boyink — I’m glad you shared that. Many RVers go bone dry when driving to save on gas. (We have done this too!) But it is smart to have several gallons a fresh water on board just in case. You make a good point about the likelihood of disaster striking while driving.

I’m very happy to have this discussion… it’s been on my mind especially with Japan in the news. Traveling can make you more vulnerable in some ways, so we need to be extra cautious just in case!

Stephanie March 13, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Thanks for this super helpful and thoughtful article, Melanie. This topic has definitely been on my mind because of the quake in Japan.
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Melanie March 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Hi Stephanie! Thanks for the compliment. I’m sure there are many more things I’ve left out of the list. I just read your \Give Every Day\ website and love the idea of encouraging people to give up their place in line… I tend to do that whenever I see an opportunity. I’m usually never in a hurry anyway, and people really appreciate it.

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greenminimalism July 21, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I started traveling with a full water tank. I know common RV sense says save the weight for better fuel mileage but it’s made no discernible difference to ours. Disaster is likely to strike on a travel day as an at rest day – might as well know you can just pull off somewhere and have water along with your reserve water and power. We do it more just out of uncertainty of where we’ll be and like to know we can boondocks if need be. We don’t have as big of a tank @ 31 gallons though.

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