There are a few things people who live in cities take for granted, such as the availability of cell service, free cell service, banks and ATMs, different types of food, supplies and restaurants. Below are some tips to help you city slickers navigate small town, rural America.
Money and Plastic:
If you live in a city, you may not think twice about using your debit or credit card for every purchase. Not so in small town America; many small, family owned RV parks do not accept debit or credit cards, they only accept cash or paper checks. It may seem obsolete and old fashioned, but take along an old fashioned check book, with paper checks. Also, RV park laundromats usually do not have a change machine, and a small town may not have a bank. So before you leave, buy a few rolls of quarters. If you come up short, and the town has a car wash, you can get quarters there, or ask at the RV park office.
If you are planning on camping at state and national parks, bring a big wad of $10s, $5s, and $1s, to stuff campground envelopes. If there is a ranger or campground host, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to run your card, and most likely, there will be no one around at all, to take your money or plastic. You’ll put the bills in an envelope, drop it down a chute, and put the receipt in your window. The campground fees are often odd numbers, like $3 or $7, so you’ll need lots of ones.
Cell Service and Free Wifi:
There are many areas with little to no cell service. In the beautiful and natural areas you want to experience, you can go for 100 miles or more, with no cell signal at all. And if you think you’ll just pull into the nearest Starbucks or a McDonald’s, and use their free Wifi, there probably isn’t a Starbucks or McDonald’s for 100 miles. Many small towns do not have any major chain restaurants or businesses with free wifi. Before you leave on your trip, it’s wise to check your provider’s coverage map, and if cell service is important to you, you might plan your trip along a route with more consistent coverage.
You may believe that rural areas with lots of farms and ranches, would have great Farmer’s Markets, or lots of fresh local veggies and meats for sale. Wrong. But many small towns have little more than gas station food, even if they do have a small, locally owned grocery store.
If you have special dietary needs, such as gluten free, sugar free, organic, vegan, flouride-free toothpaste etc, stock up before you leave. Your chances of finding these items in a small, rural town are slim. Also stock up on any supplements you may need, as well as any prescription medication.
You may have trouble finding a place to fill your motorhome with propane, but you should be able to get a “propane exchange” on a 5 gallon tank. If you don’t already have one, installing an “extended stay kit” on your motorhome could make propane a simpler task, especially if you’re parked somewhere for a while. This kit will allow you to run off a 5 gallon propane tank, which could be exchanged at a gas station, the local hardware store, or even the Dollar store, rather than having to drive the motorhome in search of a place that can fill the on board tank.
In those small, scenic towns, in the heart of beautiful nature, don’t expect a Walmart. Also, many small town businesses may be close on Sunday, so check their hours. But you’ll still probably be able to find what you need. Most small towns have a Dollar Store, which may also have some food items, maybe a Napa auto, which may have some RV supplies, and a True Value or Ace hardware store, which will carry more than you think, including a few RV items, and even some clothing and gift items, and possibly pet food. So if there is a hardware store in town, check it out. You may be surprised by the variety you find inside.
ATVs and Guns:
Many folks out in the country ride around town on ATVs, even small children. And it’s not uncommon for country folk to open carry their firearms, either as side arms, or on the ATV or in their pickup. Ranchers often carry a rifle in their ATV or truck, to shoot coyotes. Don’t be alarmed if you hear gun fire in the distance, it’s likely just the locals engaging in a little target practice. Unlike the city, the presence of firearms in the country signifies a safe community.
Dogs, Horses, Donkeys and Cows:
Many very small towns (perhaps best described as hamlets) don’t really pay attention to leash laws, and there may be a few friendly town dogs wandering about. You may also be surprised to see dogs riding in the open bed of a pickup truck, or perched on top of an ATV.
So be careful driving, and be ready to stop for a dog in the road, and be careful with your own dog; as an outsider, your dog may be targeted, or, your dog may try to start trouble with the locals, so keep your dog on a leash.
Some small towns may also have a local herd of wild horses or burros (donkeys) wandering about, as well as semi-tame deer or moose. Be cautious, especially if you have your dog with you, keep it under control around these large animals. Momma donkeys or deer can become very aggressive if they have a baby with them, and a barking dog could trigger a confrontation.
Cows are unlikely to wander around in town, but they may stand in the middle of the road coming into town, or out on the smaller state routes, and dirt roads. If you see an “Open Range” sign, or if there isn’t a barbed wire fencing alongside the road, keep your eyes open for cattle, as well as other animals in the road, such as deer, elk, moose and antelope.
Coyotes, Bears, Wolves and Cougars:
You will hear coyotes howling at night, but don’t be alarmed, and don’t leave your pets outside at night. These predators will go after your pets, so your dog or cat belongs inside, safe with you, even if you are in an RV park. In some areas, the coyotes may be active during the day, so don’t leave your pets alone outside, even during the daylight hours.
Coyotes and bears in particular, will come into town to dig through the garbage, and hunt for small dogs and cats. Don’t leave any garbage or food items outside your rig that could attract predators. Lock it up, where the predators can’t get into it.
Keep your dog on a leash if there are coyotes around; one trick these clever predators will use, is to send out a female member of the pack out to lure a male dog, and she will lead him to the rest of the pack. You may think your large dog can handle a coyote, but your big dog can not handle a pack of coyotes.
If you are in a wilderness area, that is frequented by mountain lions, bears or wolves, you may want to stay close to camp, and keep your dog or pet close by, and on a leash. Below are links to some tips on how to handle these predators.
Overall, small town, rural America is a wonderful place; quiet, safe and serene, nestled in nature. Just set aside any preconceived notions, and come prepared for something different!
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