FLIPPING NOMAD NAVIGATES ADVENTURE WITH RV & GMC SIERRA HEAVY DUTY TRUCK
A professional RV renovator known as The Flipping Nomad, Cortni Armstrong has lived in an RV full time for the last six years. Her decision to embark on this minimalist lifestyle of exploring new places wasn’t an immediate process. Learn how she conquered her own fears to successfully fulfill a dream.
My name is Cortni. I am a dog mom and business owner who is a lover of warm weather, good coffee and breathing new life into old things. But most of all, I have a love for wandering that I can’t keep contained. This hasn’t always been the case.
While I craved a life of travel and adventure in my early days, I had several hang-ups. My head was filled with reasons about why I couldn’t do it. The first reason I gave was I didn’t have anyone to go with me. As a mid-20s bachelorette, I didn’t have that one key person, like a husband, to come along. Plus, my girlfriends were into their careers and couldn’t take off for weeks at a time like I could.
As I was processing that reason, I came up with even more arguments about why I couldn’t travel. Two of the big ones were I’m a girl, and it’s not safe for girls to travel alone. The other was I didn’t know how to handle an RV and didn’t have anyone to teach me.
After a while, my desire to travel became greater than the reasons I had been telling myself why I shouldn’t. I metaphorically threw up my hands and yelled, “Enough! I want to go so bad! I’m going to figure it out no matter what it takes!”
That was a freeing moment for me and a very pivotal point in my life. It made me realize the false limits we put on ourselves. The reasons I had been telling myself were just excuses. It was fear talking. It wasn’t the true reality of the situation.
Since that moment, I took steps toward pursuing my goal of being a solo traveler. I’ve learned to pull† an RV on my own and have visited dozens of places. To help anyone else out there who has a desire to see the world, here are some tips and lessons that I’ve learned along the way.
If you’re like me and ready to put fear in its place, it’s time to get practical about your excuses and solve them.
One of the best ways to break the excuse of not having anyone to go with is joining a virtual solo traveler community. Social media groups are great for this.
After I had crushed the excuse of not having anybody to go with me, I had to teach myself how to handle the RV on the road. Since I didn’t have a teacher, I took my first truck and trailer to a high school parking lot on a Saturday and drove laps. It gave me a feel for how the trailer responded to the truck. It also helped me figure out where the trailer would be in relation to the truck during turning maneuvers. The trailer goes anywhere you go. It just cuts the corner a little bit sharper.
One of the biggest lessons I had to learn was how to back the RV. If you have any experience in backing, then you know it can be tricky. That’s because the trailer moves in the opposite direction of the truck.
Over the years, I’ve been able to figure out a hack to this. Here’s how:
- First, put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel
- Next push your hand in the direction that you want the trailer to go.
By following these two steps, it takes the awkward, opposite motion out of backing.
Once you’ve gotten a feel for the basics in a wide-open space, it’s time to take it a step further and get a feel for the real world. Start by taking your trailer with you on an average day. Maybe go to the grocery store to get a feel for parking lots. Take it to pick your kids up from soccer practice to get a feel for heavy traffic. Go get gas to experience tight spaces at filling stations.
Even jump on the freeway. Just drive for two exits and get off. Then turn around and get back on. This will give you a feel for merging into traffic and traveling at higher speeds.
Rent a trailer if you want towing experience before buying an RV. Companies with rental moving trucks usually offer trailers too. Just keep in mind some trailers are quite small. And small trailers, like single axles, are harder to maneuver than bigger trailers.
READY FOR THE ROAD
Once you have gotten a feel for how an RV tows, it’s time to take those initial steps toward your first adventure. These include some basics to ensure a smooth departure and arrival.
Before my RV is hitched up, I like to fill my Sierra Heavy Duty's fuel tank and plan my route. Getting fuel without the trailer is easier, especially if the filling station is small.
It’s also smart to plan your route before departing, especially if you want to avoid steep grades. Before I started planning my route prior to departure, I accidentally found myself on the Teton Pass in Wyoming. There is a 10 percent grade uphill for 4 miles and a 10 percent grade downhill for 4 miles.
The GMC Sierra Heavy Duty truck I drive today can handle that pass without a problem. But the old pickup truck I was driving didn’t have the same amount of power. This white-knuckle experience had me shaking by the time I reached the bottom of the pass. It was also a hard and fast lesson on how important it is to have a proper truck.
And if I had planned my route, I would have been able to take a one-hour detour to avoid this mountain range entirely. That extra hour would have been worth every minute. There are many available apps or books with mountain grades listed and alternative routes.
A third suggestion is to use checklists. As a solo traveler, everything is reliant on you. No one will be there to remind you to do things or catch something that was forgotten.
I have a checklist for both my arrival and departure. I used to have paper checklists but now my Sierra Heavy Duty handles that for me. The pre-departure checklists with the GMC Infotainment System’s† available In-Vehicle Trailering App† are also customized to the specific things I need for my trailer.
Here are some basics that should be on everybody’s checklist:
- Sweep the floor before bringing the slides in (you don’t want pebbles scratching the flooring)
- Raise stabilizers
- Check trailer lights
- Final walk around (make sure you didn’t forget something like your sunglasses on a picnic table)
- Double-check safety mechanisms (hitch locked, chains attached, etc.)
The In-Vehicle Trailering App’s trailer light test significantly decreases the amount of time it takes me to test my lights. Before, I had to run back and forth from the truck’s cab to the rear of the trailer. Now I just push a button on the dash and the truck runs through the trailer’s lights (left and right blinker, brakes, reverse lights, flasher).
It’s important you don’t let anyone interrupt you during the arrival and departure procedures. There are several safety tasks, and you should not be distracted while performing them. If someone wants to chat, politely ask to continue the conversation once you are done. This includes digital distractions. Don’t talk on the phone, text or browse social media while working through checklists.
Finally, on my departure list, I have a note to remember my packing list. On my packing list are items like coffee creamer, dog food and sunscreen.
OUT IN THE WORLD
Once you’ve gotten some practice and have your trip planned, it’s finally time to hit the road.
Just remember a few considerations that I always make.
First I don’t ever go below a half a tank of fuel. It’s a good rule of thumb in case a gas station is too tight for you to get into. This can help you in other situations too, such as if you are in a long stretch between gas stations or, like me, can’t find a station with diesel fuel.
This same rule goes for diesel exhaust fluid if you drive a diesel pickup truck. One of the many helpful features of my Sierra Heavy Duty truck is it warns me when its diesel exhaust fluid is half full.
And trust your gut about the area you’re in. If it doesn’t feel right to you, move on.
This is especially true if you are staying in an area where your RV isn’t connected to water, sewer or electricity. This is referred to as boondocking. An example of this would be staying overnight in an RV park, national forest or in a shopping center’s parking lot.
In my 4 years of solo traveling, I have only had one instance where the area felt a little off. I wasn’t in danger by any means, but I wasn’t feeling 100 percent sure about where I was. So, I just moved on to the next location. It’s a lot safer out there than you think, so don’t let that hold you back. But you should always keep a healthy respect for safety.
YOU HAVE ARRIVED
With the road behind you, it’s time to set up camp.
I rely heavily on my Sierra Heavy Duty when parking. Since I don’t have a spotter, I have an accessory camera† mounted on the back of my RV. It acts as my second set of eyes when backing. Plus, the images appear on the Sierra Heavy Duty’s infotainment screen when you’re using a compatible rear camera. So, I don’t need a second monitor sitting on the dash and blocking my view.
Once you’re comfortable with where you are going to park, start working through the arrival list. Many of these tasks are performed during your departure tasks, but in reverse.
One important step I’ve learned is to make sure your electrical cord, water hose and sewer hose are long enough to reach the hookups before you disconnect the truck and trailer. It’s annoying when you go through the work of getting your RV level and disconnected only to realize it needs to be moved over by two feet.
If you are confused or need help backing, don’t be afraid to ask for help. RVers are some of the most kindhearted people you’ll meet. If you are having a hard time backing, don’t be surprised if somebody even offers to do it for you. Just remember, don’t let anyone interrupt you if they just want to socialize.
My GMC Sierra Heavy Duty offers an available feature called Smart Trailer that I can use from the infotainment system† or a compatible smartphone to help set up my campsite. Smart Trailer works with my compatible RV’s iN•Command® Control System† with Global Connect® from ASA Electronics.
With Smart Trailer, I can prep a water heater for a hot shower or turn on the RV’s air conditioner while I’m on the road. And depending on what type of RV you have, Smart Trailer can extend or retract awnings and slide-outs, operate the lights, or prime a trailer’s generator.
After you’re settled, there are some safety precautions to take as a solo traveler. I never post my real-time location on social media, especially on accounts that are public. I wait until after I leave to post anything about my stay.
However, I do suggest sharing your real-time location with at least one trustworthy person. My location is shared with my mom because she is my emergency contact. This way, if something happens, she knows where I am.
I let her know if I’m going to go do anything where I could be injured, like hiking or mountain biking. I also let her know as soon as I am done so she doesn’t fret. And I keep a note with her contact information in the backpack that I take on my hikes as a final precaution.
Solo traveling has been a milestone in my life.
It was hard at first to figure it all out on my own. I used to think it would have been easier with a partner or a teacher to show me how everything is done. I definitely had moments of frustration working through it all. But now I’m glad there was no one there to help or show me the way.
It has been empowering to know I taught myself how to do everything. And it is freeing to experience all these incredible places after finding the courage to go alone. This opened my eyes to the false limitations we put on ourselves. The reasons I once fed myself was just fear having too much power over my life.
So what are you waiting for? Join a virtual community, get some practice, make your checklists, grab a GMC vehicle and get out there.