RV essentials list for easier, safer, comfier, and more fun road trips [motorhome gift guide]

Over 6 months and 10,000 miles, we crossed the USA from Washington to Florida, with kids, in a small motorhome. Here are 20+ things that helped the journey.

Traveling across the USA in a motorhome, camper van, or RV is a big dream for many people. During the spring, summer and fall of 2023, our family of four spent six months doing just that. After buying a used 25’ Class C motorhome in Washington state, we drove it over 10,000 miles across the country to Florida. We learned a thing or two about what we would put on an RV essentials list.

Since we would travel in a small space for a long time across a vast distance, naturally, we knew we’d need to make our RV feel like home.

Throughout our cross-country road trip, we figured out motorhome essentials that made our corner-to-corner camping trip easier, safer, comfortable, and more fun. Here’s what we did, and we hope it helps you have better RV trips, or maybe our RV gift giving guide inspires you to get something that improves someone else’s motorhome adventures.

“Since we would travel in a small space for a long time across a vast distance, naturally, we knew we’d need to make our RV feel like home.”

Motorhome/campervan gift guide and RV essentials list

Thermal cooker

Cooking in an RV is a fine balance of being mindful of your propane use and not overheating up your living space. That’s where a thermal cooker comes to the rescue. A similar size to a multicooker such as an InstantPot, the thermal cooker is two parts. An inner steel pot can go on the stove. Whether you’re cooking steel-cut oats, soup, beans, or a range of dishes, you get everything going on the stove, then put the lid on the pot, take it off heat, and set the pot inside an insulated shell.

Our thermal cooker has been one of our favorite things in our RV. We can use minimal fuel and heat up the rig less. Yet inside a couple of hours, we can serve up hot, perfectly cooked dishes ready to chow down on.

Cup console organizer (art and activity caddy)

No matter where we’re going or how long the drive is, the kids enjoy sitting at the table as we drive. To help make it easier for them to do activities, we put supplies in a console organizer that they can set on top of the table. A non-slip mat underneath keeps the organizer in place. That way, the kids have an easy spot to set art supplies, tissues, or the occasional small toy. And if we stop for a special drink, they can set it in one of the console’s cup holders.

CD-slot phone mount

We don’t have CDs anymore. Our phones supply all our in-rig audio and navigation. A phone mount that’s sturdy, easy to get to, and that has a good sightline is more challenging than you might think though. Fortunately, Jodie found a phone mount that uses the CD slot as the mount. It’s been incredibly sturdy, and not once has the mount failed or fallen out.

Mattress topper

RV mattresses are not known for their excessive comfort. Plus, sometimes it’s tricky to replace or upgrade an RV mattress, since they might be sized or shaped differently from regular mattresses. (For example, our mattress has a trimmed corner, so there’s more space to get to the bathroom area.) Instead of replacing your mattress, you can both save money and improve comfort by augmenting it.

We added a padded mattress topper. It’s done an amazing job of helping us sleep cooler and being more comfortable overnight. If you’re concerned about sleep quality or already having poor sleep, a mattress topper might be at the top of your RV essentials list.

Atlas (and ad hoc road trip bullet journal)

We just about only use our phones for en route navigation. However, behind the driver’s seat, we always keep a paper atlas for the entire country. It’s rare that we’ve needed it for navigation, but when we have, we’ve been really relieved that we did.

The atlas comes in the handiest while at camp, actually. As we looked ahead at cities and states to come, the large pages and broader view helped us see the trip’s future more clearly than we could from our tiny phone screens. Using the atlas also clued us into destinations we might not have noticed otherwise, such as Red River Gorge in Kentucky, or the National Historic Monument of President Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in southern Indiana.

One of the best ways a paper atlas comes in handy? Online navigation and mapping apps don’t always do well with back roads. For example, apps such as Google Maps don’t differentiate between paved roads and unpaved roads. A print atlas typically does a much better job of showing that distinction, so you can make better choices for the route you want to take.

Plus, our atlas doubles as a sort of on-the-road bullet journal. I regularly get out our atlas, highlight the latest route we’ve taken, and jot a couple of notes, with dates, for context on that part of the trip.

Also handy is this other atlas, designed especially for big rigs and RVs.

Command hooks

Getting the most out of an RV’s limited space is an immense help for keeping things organized and decreasing clutter. Whether a hook by the bathroom sink for a hand towel or hooks over the bed for light jackets, our stash of command hooks continues to come in handy.

Also handy is this double-sided tape designed for hanging stuff on walls.

Quick-dry Turkish-style towels

Towels that are too thick can take longer to dry and take more storage space in a limited area. We instead opted for thinner, Turkish-style towels. They dry fast, are easy to manage for laundry, and take up little room in storage or hanging to dry on their wall hooks.

We’ve also really liked this set of hand towels.

Sticker map

Whenever we’re at a campground, we love looking at other rigs and seeing who has a map of where they’ve been. We find it one of the most inspiring parts of RV travel. So, one thing we added to our motorhome is our very own sticker map. This vinyl map was easy to mount on the inside of our door (and we stuck the map to a small whiteboard first). Every time we travel in a new state, the kids take turns on who gets to add that sticker to the map.

People love to see where others have traveled (and what might be next to fill in). Whatever your camper van, trailer, or motorhome, a sticker map definitely deserves to be on your RV essentials list.

Tire pressure gauge designed for 18 wheelers and RVs

Keeping your motorhome’s tires at the right pressure can save you money on fuel, cut down on wear and tear on your tires, and make it less likely that you have a dangerous tire problem while driving. Unfortunately, the ballpoint-pen style pressure gauge you might have in your car won’t cut it for something like a motorhome or RV.

Instead, you can pick up a longer trucker style gauge at most auto supply shops. We keep one in the cubby on the driver’s side door. Checking tire pressure has been a big help to us for keeping our tires at the right pressure.

Tool kit

At a minimum, a basic tool kit is handy for the various adjustments and fixes that RV owners need to make now and again.

Our segment of the St. Clair Family is not exactly big auto mechanics. We travel with a small tool bag which includes basics from different screwdrivers to hex wrenches, along with spare fuses, bolts, and other bits and bobs that can come in handy for motorhome living.

Covered ice trays

Especially when RVing during the hot summer months, cold drinks are top on Jodie’s RV essentials list. However, it’s hard to make ice when you’re driving around in a rocking, swaying, bumpity-bumping RV. Our covered ice trays make it much easier.

We start our ice cubes by filling the trays earlier in the day, before we set out, so the water is at least starting to freeze. The covers contain the water, so there’s less chance of spills. Plus, it’s easier to stack the ice trays, so we can make better use of our limited freezer space.

Small rechargeable USB fans

Since RVs have different window configurations and are essentially heat-absorbing metal boxes on wheels, air flow for comfort can be challenging. When we’re camping, as much as possible, we like to have the windows open.

We set up four rechargeable fans around the RV: at the door, the back window, the large window at the table, and in one of the cabover windows. The fans are small yet quiet, and they move a lot more air than you might think. Having that airflow cools down the RV faster and keeps us more comfortable during hot days.

Stovetop kettle

As much as we love an electric kettle, a stovetop kettle is our most-used appliance in the RV. As long as we can run the stove, we can heat water, which is handy for those times when we aren’t on a power hook-up. We make lots of tea and cocoa, not to mention the occasional instant noodle.

Plus, instead of using a standard automatic coffee maker, we make pourover coffees or moka pots. Our handy stovetop kettle is always at the ready.

Our particular kettle came from a friend who had a spare, and she gifted it to us. But if we needed to replace it, we’d be partial to one like this.

Another handy thing for a kettle? Every couple of weeks we put some hot water down the kitchen sink drain and bathroom sink drain, just to help keep them clear.

Good kitchen knives: 3-piece Victorinox set

Life is too short for crappy cutlery, and that’s why decent knives at high on our RV essentials list. Poorly made knives don’t hold a good edge, and they turn cooking into a chore, with a side of more likelihood of you getting cut. We brought along our German chef’s knife and paring knife, which Anthony has had for over 20 years, so prepping food is easier and more fun. If we were buying new knives for the motorhome though, we would get this 3-piece set from Victorinox, complete with a paring knife and two sizes of chef knife.

Jackery 300 portable power supply

Our 300-watt portable power station helps us with everything from charging while off-grid to topping up a computer battery while we work at a picnic table. We’re on our second Jackery (we sold the first when we sold our pop-up camper in 2022), and have been thrilled with both units. The 300 model is small enough to be about the size of a lunch box. Yet with it, we can keep our phones, tablets, and notebook computers charged. Jodie can even use the Jackery to charge her prosthetic leg.

Portable screen house

Other than the bathroom, our motorhome is one room. To extend our space, we travel with a portable screen house. The kids and I can set it up in minutes, and set it either on a bare space at our campsite, or we put it over a picnic table. It gives us another room—and a way we can be outside with some protection against sun and bugs. Instead of tapered sides, we find that straight-sided screen houses feel roomier and are easier to move around inside, especially if you set up the screen house over your site’s picnic table or want to put camp chairs inside.

Reflective windshield privacy cover

Privacy is lovely. When we roll into camp, Jodie immediately sets up our quilted, reflected “sleeping mask” over the windshield and cab side windows. Not only does it increase our privacy, but the mask also blocks sunlight, helping us keep the RV cooler. And when we’re traveling, the mask folds up small for stashing behind the driver’s seat.

Cell signal booster… with camera tripod

From work and school to entertainment, odds are you won’t have Wi-Fi but still need to be online. A cell booster has been a big help to us. Typically, you can permanently mount a signal booster to the top of your rig, and that’s something we may look at doing this summer. For now, we attach the booster to a camera tripod and set it up outside. We’ve never had to worry about security, and when we’re about to go somewhere, it only takes a couple of minutes to bring the booster inside and stow it.

Speaking of a tripod, it’s been handy to have on in our kit. Whether for mounting our cell booster or for taking photos with our camera or our phone. It’s much easier to get a family dancing video (such as when we celebrated driving across the USA from corner to corner) or for when you need the camera set to get a dramatic background, like we managed when driving through Yellowstone National Park.

Compact, simple games

Games are always wonderful to relax, and we often turn to our game stash when we want some screen-free fun time as well. We typically focus on more compact games that don’t have lots and lots of easily lost pieces. Of course, as interests change, kids grow, and we discover new-to-us games, our game stash changes too, but here’s what’s in it right now:

Yahtzee

Carcassonne

D&D Dungeon Mayhem

One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Uno

Along with these, we keep a couple of decks of cards and a few 6-sided dice on hand.

E-readers

When we pruned our possessions in 2022, eliminating our shelves and shelves of books was one of the hardest things we did. As much as we love physical, printed books, when we travel, we only read e-books. Each of us has an e-reader, which for us is the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. However, Kobo’s e-readers are also excellent, and we sometimes use the Apple Books app on our phones, especially for the occasional travel guidebook that we purchase.

E-readers make our camp reading so much easier. The kids especially are voracious readers. If it weren’t for ebooks, we’d constantly be having to get print books, store them, make space for more, and get them to new owners. Having ebooks makes our reading much simpler, more compact, and much, much more doable.

Portable Bluetooth speaker

We can jam out the way we want, wherever we are, online or offline. Our compact, affordable, durable, portable Bluetooth speaker has been our audio companion throughout our camping, RVing, and globetrotting adventures. It’s easy to switch devices, plus the battery has a long run time. Having our speaker makes it so much easier to enjoy music as a family wherever we’re camping.

Also useful in our motorhome

Binoculars

Lap desk

Bathroom organizers

Pantry organizers

RV water supply water filter

RV water pressure regulator

Stick-on levels (one for the side, one for the back)

Use our RV essentials list to make your motorhome feel more like home

Whether towable trailer or compact motorhome, we all have different priorities about what makes our house on wheels feel more like home. As you travel and adventure in your RV, you’ll soon get a feel for the things you need to add, get rid of, or change up, so that your RV works better and feels just right for you and your fellow travelers.

We love traveling in our motorhome. We know also that four people in a small space for long periods of time can be challenging. That’s part of why we have put in the work to get what we need for our rig from our RV essentials list. Traveling thousands of miles, for months at a time, has been far more enjoyable because we have what we need and want to feel at home in our RV. We hope you can find the same feeling for yours.

Find your RV essentials

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Essential Gift Giving Guide for RV Owners
About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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