Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned Airstreamer, using checklists is a simple way to make sure you get on the road safely and don't forget anything important.
That's why we are big believers in checklists. Airline pilots use them. Surgical teams use them. Airstreamers should use them too.
Ironically, the more experienced Airstreamer you become, the more you think you don’t need a checklist, because you “know it all.” We have been reminded of this folly on our two most recent trips.
Admittedly, we'd become a bit lax with using our checklists. So last month we arrived in Pasadena, CA without Rich's shaver, the dog's carry bag, or our CarGenerator (which was a real bummer because over 4 days/nights of boondocking, we had about 60 minutes of sun to power the portable solar kit.)
We'd also fallen into the trap of thinking "well, it's only a quick/last minute trip and we're only traveling a few hours..." Ha. Well last week, we arrived in the quirky little town of Quartzsite, AZ without Rich's ear plugs, honey, hot sauce, flavored seltzers, or enough olive oil for the trip.
So, as we recommit ourselves to using checklists in 2023, we're also updating our existing ones. Although Rich and I make small changes to our lists after every trip, an annual review of every list is good practice–especially if you've added new equipment or upgrades.
Here are a few suggestions about our recommended checklists, and how we approach our own.
The Ubiquitous Departure and Arrival Checklists
Everyone should have a personalized version of these two essentials. You can find samples and templates all over the Internet, and Rich includes them in his Newbie's Guide to Airstreaming book. (Which is complimentary from Airstream, when you purchase a new Airstream.)
Departure and Arrival checklists are pretty generic, but they are terrific when you are a new Airstream owner because that's when you need to know the basics and establish a routine.
These two checklists include things like this (excerpt from our personal list):
- Use leveling blocks to level the trailer
- Plug in EMS to campground power, and connect to Airstream
- Attach drinking water hose
- Attach sewer hose
- Deploy stabilizers
- Pull out RV mat, Zip Dee chairs, side table
- Inside -
- Turn off pump
- Secure shower door
- Pull bathroom ceiling fan vent closed
- Lock windows and pull shades
- Turn off all lights and pull all curtains closed
- Remove and stow knives from magnetic strip
- Put kitchen tool holder in overhead compartment
- Put paper towels in drawer
- Outside –
- Unplug and stow power cord and EMS
- Unhook and stow the water hose
- Dump black and gray tanks and stow sewer hose
- Check tire pressure and tire condition
- Verify hitch is good to go, chains are not dragging, etc.
- Walk around the Airstream to make sure all windows and doors are shut
- In Truck –
- Turn on TST
- Turn on back up camera
- Make sure brake controller is set properly and working
If you are new and haven't customized the Arrival and Departure checklists, grab a template and personalize it. If you haven't reviewed your Arrival and Departure and Arrival checklists lately, make a plan to do so before this year's camping season. Even when you are experienced, both are useful when you have a campground neighbor whose friendly conversation can distract you from something important.
The Do, Pack, Check Checklist
Of course, certain things are always inside the trailer or a storage compartment–plates, silverware, tire changing kit, drinking water hose, etc. But there are still a surprising amount of things that you need to remember to do or take with you on every trip.
To make sure important things are not overlooked, Rich uses one of two, long checklists for each trip. One checklist is for short trips (two weeks or less) and the other is for long trips. Each checklist is broken into sections that basically cover these three tasks:1. Things to DO. For example:
- Wash the truck
- Get the truck's oil changed
- Sanitize water tank
- Lube the hitch ball
- Outerwear (hiking boots, coat)
- C-GEAR RV mat
- Electric toothbrush and charger
- Other toiletries
- Tire pressure and tire condition
- TST monitor charge (and plug in if needed)
- Breakaway switch
Your list will be highly customized to your needs. Rich prints a copy this checklist prior to every trip, and checks off boxes as he completes things. Here's an excerpt of his 'short trip' list:
The Go List Method
This is what I use as my countdown checklist. Basically it's a laundry list of all the things I need to take on a trip. Many of these things I don't have a duplicate of, so I can't rely on it being in the Airstream.
I've set it up in my iPhone "Notes" app, in a way that lets me tick off each item once it's done.
Taking my own advice from this blog, I'm in the process of updating this checklist because I realized on our latest trip that it could be better organized and it is woefully outdated. Also, because we keep forgetting to pack certain favorite foods and beverages, I also plan to make a separate and more comprehensive list specifically for that, which will include spices and condiments.
The Keep it Stocked Checklist
The impetus of this checklist was my frustration of arriving at several destinations over the last six months, only to find that several important items that are supposed to always be in the Airstream, were not there. (Thankfully, none of them was toilet paper.)
Have you ever seen the cleaning/paper product stock checklist in the restrooms at large retailers like Target or Home Depot? I borrowed this idea from that. I like to keep the Airstream bath stocked with items that I don't have to remember to pack every time. These include:
- Hand towels, bath towels, wash cloths
- Toilet paper
- Cotton balls and Q-Tips
- Tweezers and nail clippers
- Shampoo, conditioner
- Body wash
- Dental floss
- Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Tums
I had always done a spot check before each trip to make sure everything is stocked. But that has resulted in missing items upon arrival.
So now I've created a Stocked Item Checklist, which is laminated and taped to the inside of the bathroom cabinet door. At the end of a trip I put a checkmark next to things that are stocked. When we pack for the next trip, we know what we need to replenish.
How many lists do you need?
There’s no right or wrong answer to this. It depends on how you travel and camp. (And maybe how OCD you are.)
You don’t have to limit yourself to just checklists for prepping/packing, arrival, and departure. You might want to have a checklist for hitching and unhitching. It can be easy to lose your place in the hitching up process, especially when you're new at it. And that could prove to be a safety issue or expensive mistake down the road. Or, you could create a checklist for determining whether you've got a slow gas leak. We demonstrate that in this video, using GasStop. Checklists like these two could save you from disaster.
Or perhaps you want to create preparedness/“what if” lists such as: What if I have a flat tire? What if we have a major water leak while on the road? or What if our dog gets bitten by a snake or becomes very sick?
Truth is, there is almost no limit to the lists that can come in handy, once you start personalizing them to the way you travel. We’ve found that making lists is highly effective in keeping us organized and on track. Plus, it gives us a great sense of completion when we’ve checked off all the items on the list.
Do you use checklists we haven't mentioned? Share them in the Comments for other Airstreamers to read.
Great thoughts, Tothie, and I appreciated your ideas on keeping lists updated and using iPhone lists. I have always used a packing list I created in MS WORD but like your idea much better. Also, sanitizing the fresh water tank on your checklist is an area where I could use a little help so perhaps a future post? I hate doing it because it takes forever for the fresh tank to completely drain after the bleach as been left standing and rinsing the tank more than once takes so much time.
Not a Airstream owner but love watching your videos and reading your emails.
The check list was awesome and as one gets older I’m 83 there is more to remember with less to remember it with……so a check list is even more important to keep and remembering where it is. Thanks for this reminder.
Gil —we did a post on sanitizing the fresh water tank (and the entire plumbing system). You can read it here:
Draining the tanks is definitely slow. Opening all of the faucets inside the Airstream, and the low-point drain, will help speed it up a little.
In our early Airstreaming days, we almost drove off with our trailer jack lowered when leaving our site. Thankfully, our camp neighbor alerted us to the impending disaster. That’s when we created our first checklist for departure. Thanks for so many additional ideas to keep us organized!
Once upon a time I left my EMS chained to the power post. I have a routine, every step of set-up and departure is etched in my brain, but this time, while I was breaking camp, someone walked past our campsite and began talking with me. When he had finished talking I got back to work, but my routine habits, being interrupted, didn’t return to their regularly scheduled pattern. So I left the EMS behind. It was returned to me, thanks to the good campground host with a bolt cutter.
Don’t forget the checklist.
If you are an iPhone user you can get a great app called “Pack” that lets you make as many checklists as you like.