RV Travel with Dietary Restrictions? Plan, and You Can!

Worried that a special diet will keep you from enjoying a weekend trip or full-time living in an RV?

Three Heartland owners talked with me about how they are able to enjoy the RV lifestyle and maintain their diet. With a combination of food restrictions that are both self-imposed and medically required, these women and their families have found ways to survive and thrive — and stay on the road.

Amy Hudson is new to RV travel, in a 2017 North Trail, with her husband, Rory, 9-year-old son, Ian, and two Brittany Spaniels.

Photo: courtesy Amy Hudson

Ann Mayer travels part time in a 2011 Landmark Rushmore with her husband, Dan, and their new pup.

Photo: courtesy Ann Mayer

Valerie Talley and her husband, Malcom, are the Traveling Talleys, and have been full-time RVers since 2013. They currently own a 2015 Big Country.

Photo: courtesy Valerie Talley

What type of special diet do you follow, and is it by choice or by physician’s orders?

Amy is on a self-imposed gluten free, dairy free, soy free diet, and she also avoids beans and legumes. In addition, her family avoids dietary ADHD triggers such as food dyes, preservatives, and certain other chemicals.

Ann maintains a medically advised diet that is free of gluten, sugar, and artificial sweeteners (any product made with saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose).

Valerie describes her dietary restrictions of little to no fats or oils, and no red meat or pork as “mainly self-imposed and somewhat advised.”

What prompted these changes in diet, and why is maintaining them important to you?

Amy reports that in 2001, her thyroid “went haywire.” After a long diagnostic process involving several doctors, she was placed on medication and experienced some improvement, but then gluten, soy and dairy became “a huge problem,” as did constipation.

“In 2009, suffering severe stomach pains (no one could touch me, it hurt that bad), and with no help from any medical professional (13 different docs), I decided to go gluten free.”

Amy undertook the information gathering process herself, explaining, “I am a research fanatic, and I lived on the computer researching anything related to symptoms, food, allergies, etc.”

Not only did Amy’s constipation problem disappear after changing her diet, but she learned “how to cook anything gluten free and dairy free,” and became a source of knowledge to friends.

“I will never eat gluten again. I rarely eat cheese. I avoid soy at all costs. I don’t like feeling horrible.”

Two of Amy’s favorite products
(Photo: courtesy Amy Hudson)

Ann says that thyroid cancer, a heart attack, weight gain, and increasingly bad lab results caused her doctor to address her diet. “Thyroid and heart disease are progressive diseases that lead to other illnesses or death if not controlled, so that was my wake-up call. I could keep doing what I was doing and die early — or change my diet and improve the odds that I would live a longer, healthier life.”

Noting a trusted friend’s success on the THM (Trim Healthy Mama) program, which advocates avoidance of gluten, sugar and artificial sweeteners, Ann gave it a try.

“After two years of eating GF/SF/ASF, I’m down 33 pounds, my weight is appropriate for my height and age, inflammation in my body has been reduced, my energy level is better, and my lab results have improved. In general, I simply feel better, so for me, it is a way of life.”

Valerie had surgery to remove her gall bladder three years ago, which led to her dietary restrictions. “Since then, my digestive tract has let me know, in not so subtle ways, that I needed to change my eating habits.”

Maintaining the diet is important for her overall health and well being. “I don’t enjoy being sick after eating my no-no foods, and my husband doesn’t enjoy the ‘pull over now’ bathroom stops I sometimes have to make.”

At least when towing an RV, Valerie pointed out, “the bathroom is right behind us!”

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced while living and/or traveling in your RV while trying to maintain this diet, and how did you tackle it?

Amy admits that finding restaurants and grocery stores that prepare or sell gluten free foods is the biggest challenge in traveling. She prepares beforehand by cooking and baking everything she can at home, including “foods like hamburger buns, bread, snacks, mixes, and other items, so I am not left without. I also create a list of restaurants and grocery stores that I know carry gluten free foods.”

Amy prepared all of these Thanksgiving foods to meet her family’s dietary restrictions, “completely from scratch, and allergy friendly”!
(Photo: courtesy Amy Hudson)

Ann says that the biggest challenges she faces when RV’ing are eating in restaurants and attending rally potluck dinners.

“At restaurants, I generally have a salad (dressing on the side) or order a burger or sandwich and skip the bread.  At rallies, I often bring my own meal or eat before I go, so I don’t have to miss the socializing aspect of the activity.”

Eating in the RV does not pose a problem. “I bring my alternative sweeteners and flours with me when we travel.”

To clarify, Ann explains that alternative sweeteners are natural and plant-based, not artificial. “Some of my favorites are stevia, honey, agave, palm sugar and monk fruit.”

Valerie also agrees that restaurants and potlucks cause issues, and it’s a challenge to remember to check menus before going out to eat, then to ask further questions of the wait staff, and also to ask questions about ingredients used in catered and potluck meals at rallies.

“Cooking for myself in the RV is not hard, and I find that I feel much better when I do stick to my diet. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who is willing to eat what I can eat, and does not expect me to fix him something separate from my food, though I do have frozen hamburger patties for him to grill along with my turkey burgers.”

In Valerie’s RV, it’s sometimes beef for him, chicken for her.
(Photo: courtesy Valerie Talley)

What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to try RVing because of their own special dietary needs?

Amy: To do their homework, to find and make lists of places that carry the foods they can have, and to not be afraid. Always have a plan and a backup plan.

Ann: Bake ahead, stock up on meals and snacks you can eat, and don’t hesitate to bring your special foods to group gatherings. Your friends will understand.

Valerie: Take a short trip in your RV, and see how it works for your needs. There are so many great places on the web to help with any dietary need. You do have to be proactive with your needs, and be willing to speak up when necessary, as I have learned and am still learning to do.

Is there anything else you’d like to add, such as online resources for support or recipes?

Amy recommends carolfenstercooks.com, foodphilosopher.com, cybelepascal.com, and glutenfreeonashoestring.com. She also added an endorsement for the benefits of maintaining a special diet. “I found that by converting to gluten free, soy free, dairy free and ADHD free, my family and I eat a lot healthier. We read every single label on a food item before we buy it.”

Ann encourages searching the internet for THM and GF/SF web sites, as many of them offer recipes and support groups. One of her favorite recipes is this one for Cilantro Lime Chicken.

Cilantro-Lime Chicken
Photo source: iFoodReal.com

Valerie offers the reminder that having your own kitchen behind you wherever you go actually makes things easier. “Coping with my dietary restrictions in the RV is easy, since I know how my food is prepared.”

Speaking of which, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve sprinkled this post with photos of some of the meals these women have turned out.

All this special diet stuff looks mighty appetizing to me, and I’d try any one of these dishes or products!

Even waffles, y’all. Waffles.
(Photo: courtesy Amy Hudson)

Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

RV Travels: 13 Ways You Know You’re in a Small Texas Town

I have spent almost ten years of my life living in Texas: a four-year stint in college, and nearly six years in my 40’s, due to a military move. My parents, my brother, and his family have lived there for more than two decades, so we’ve visited a lot too.

Plus, although we spend most of the year traveling, San Antonio is still our home base, and our younger son is a second-year physics and math major right up the highway at UT-Austin.

That’s my way of telling you that when it comes to small towns in Texas, I’ve got some familiarity. And after a truck breakdown left us stranded in one of them for two weeks earlier this year, I became an expert on observing the endearing quirks that make these places special.

1. The local tow truck driver doubles back after spotting you on the side of the highway with your hazard lights blinking, figuring you’re going to be his next call anyway. And he is correct.

If you’re gonna travel in an RV, get the best roadside assistance plan you can afford.
You will not regret it.

2. The RV park your 5th wheel is towed to is so new that nobody at the service shop knows the name of it, but they know exactly where it is and that it’s open for business.

The Wagon Yard RV park was nothing fancy, but wow, were we ever glad to have it!

3. You are very thankful that the RV park is new and unheard of because that means it has space available during spring break week in Texas. Every public grade school and university in the state gets the same week off for spring break, which makes last-minute lodging arrangements nearly impossible to obtain.

4. You become celebrities in the grocery store because you got there on bicycles instead of in a pickup truck. The clerk, upon hearing that our truck was in the shop, felt so sorry for us that she even helped load the groceries into our backpacks.

Of course we were all ready to go when we discovered the tires were flat.
Why wouldn’t they be?

5. All heads turn when someone walks through the door of the dinette.

6. And when that someone is a big ol’ farmer wearing denim overalls and work boots, the waitress greets him with a smile and a 2-syllable “Hey,” to which the farmer replies simply, “Sweet tea.” And the waitress sets it on the table by the time his fanny hits the chair.

7. Every store on Main Street, whether it’s open for business or appears to have been vacant for 20 years, bears a sign supporting the local high school team, with the obligatory incorrect apostrophe. “Go Zebra’s!”

8. Other than the dinette mentioned above, socializing occurs in one of two places: under the Friday night lights or in the Sunday morning pews.

9. You’re never allowed to forget which state you’re in here. Never. Not even in the bathroom.

Jesus ‘n’ Texas, y’all.

10. Your camera roll boasts photos of a BBQ plate, wildflowers, a road runner, and a spray-painted sign for a tractor pull — all from the same day.

11. And the tractor pull causes a significant uptick in traffic.

12. Being located right between two airports means nothing, as the options lack anything resembling a terminal or even planes. They are grass strips suitable for landing crop dusters, and there are cows grazing on them.

Someone out there in the country has a good sense of humor.
(source: Apple Maps)

13. Related: more of your neighbors have four legs than two.

The RV park where we stayed for that little “detour” was in fact 8 miles from one small town we visited (Grandview), and 10 miles from the other (Cleburne).

Of all the places for the truck to break down? That was the middle-of-nowheriest.

Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission

From My RV Kitchen: Slow Cooker Cajun Pork Roast & Sweet Potatoes

Looking for something new to do with that pork in your freezer?

If you like the flavor combination of sweet and spicy, get it out, let it thaw, and make this.

I used a 2-lb boneless loin ribeye roast, but I think results would be equally pleasing with a tenderloin, shoulder roast, or even chops. You may need to adjust cook time depending on whether you’re using a boneless or bone-in cut.

Slow Cooker Cajun Pork Roast & Sweet Potatoes

2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped

1 small onion, sliced

2-3 lbs pork

2 medium sweet potatoes, quartered

1 tsp Cajun seasoning

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

Honey or maple syrup

Place celery and onion in bottom of slow cooker.

Set pork roast on top of vegetables.

Arrange potatoes around meat, and sprinkle all evenly with Cajun seasoning, cinnamon, and salt.

Drizzle honey or maple syrup lightly over top.

Cook on low for 3-6 hours, depending on how tender you like your pork and how mushy you like your sweet potatoes. The longer it cooks, the more tender/mushy it gets, so check the texture at the 3-hour mark and adjust accordingly.

Slice roast, and serve meat and potatoes with a slotted spoon, drizzling with pan juices if desired. Sprinkle on additional Cajun seasoning if you like more zing.

Side dish suggestions: corn on or off the cob, cole slaw, tossed salad, corn bread, and/or your favorite steamed green vegetable

Recipe inspired by this one from Food Done Good, which is equally tasty, but without the spice!

Author’s note: A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Psssst. We Found a Hidden Camping Gem in KY. Don’t Tell Anyone!

If you’re traveling across Kentucky on I-64, looking for a place to rest for a night or two, check out Lake Shelby Campground, just north of Shelbyville, KY. It might not be for the faint of heart, but it definitely has a lot of heart.

source: Google

The first thing you need to know is that it is small (10 RV spots; tent camping available), and access is along a narrow county park road. We made it in with The Toad, our 38’ 5th wheel plus bike rack on the rear, but it was tight. I would not recommend this park for RVs longer than ours.

The second thing you need to know is that hookups are water and 30-amp electric only, which rules out a lengthy stay for some folks. There is a dump station on the access road into the park.

Third thing? $20/night, cash and checks only. Be prepared with the correct payment method.

Oh, and there’s no wifi. Be prepared for that too. Our AT&T calling and data worked fine.

Plus, the spaces are set really close together, so you’ll get to know your neighbors.

That’s us, second from the right, with the BFT parked directly across the lot.


We stayed there for a week and loved it! Are you now wondering why?

Because we were willing to accept all the things above, which others might consider shortcomings, as perfectly acceptable trade-offs for a spot that backed right up to a lake, with serene views, easy access to a paved urban trail and a 9-hole golf course, and a friendly, down home feel that we very much appreciated.

The RV pads are located along one side of the parking lot at this combined city/county park, so local folks come and go all day to take advantage of the playground, boat launch, nature trails, boat rental, fishing holes, bird watching opportunities, and picnic areas.

However, the park closes at dusk, which means that all the non-campers leave the premises for the night. Even though we were there during Spring Break week and the following weekend, we heard far more noise from the resident flock of geese than we did from any families that had come to enjoy a day of outdoor activities.

There are a couple of communal fire pits and picnic tables for campers to share, and there’s also a bath house that’s a little on the rustic side. We did not make use of the showers ourselves as we prefer our own, but other reviews indicate that they are clean and that hot water is plentiful.

There are also tent sites for those who want to get even closer to nature on their visit to this park, which is not just family friendly but pet friendly too.

You know what this is, right?
It’s an Old Kentucky Home.

I think you’ll see from my photos why we found Lake Shelby Campground so enjoyable. We stayed there for the first week of April 2017, and learned that springtime in central Kentucky is almost too beautiful for words.

Lake Shelby Campground: Just the Facts

  • 35 miles east of Louisville, 25 miles west of Frankfort
  • about 9 miles north of I-64
  • GPS coordinates 38.232395, -85.220067
  • 14333 Burks Branch Road, Shelbyville KY 40065
  • (502) 633-5069
  • water and 30A electric only, dump station on site
  • bathrooms and showers
  • NO wifi or laundry
  • Campground website

Author’s notes:

A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

This is an independent review, and we received no compensation from Lake Shelby Campground.

True Tales of Wasted Money: 4 RV Accessories That Just Weren’t Worth It, and 1 Happy Turn-Around

Raise your hand if you’ve never bought an RV or camping product that didn’t work out.

No hands up?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s happened to us too.

We’ve all made regrettable impulse buys online or in camping and sporting goods stores. Sometimes even items we’ve carefully researched and budgeted for before purchasing just don’t perform as expected, or live up to the hype, or simply don’t come in handy after all.

I asked a few Heartland RV owners for true tales about “accessory fails” that they couldn’t wait to warn others about, and also included one of my own.

Vent covers

John Daniels, really liked the MaxxAir II vent covers he’d installed on his Trail Runner, but when he bought a new Prowler and tried to move the vent covers to it, he found that they didn’t fit.

“MaxxAir doesn’t intend to make brackets to fit the new E-Z Lift vent covers — the ones with the handle instead of the twist knob,” he said.

“I wound up buying three of their plain-Jane bottom line vent covers (author’s clarification: MaxxAir Standard covers), as they bolted right up. However, they don’t create the same air flow as the MaxxAir II’s.”

Close-up of standard MaxxAir vent
(photo courtesy J. Daniels)

Standard MaxxAir vents installed on a Prowler
(photo courtesy J. Daniels)

Head sets

Kelly and Michael Barnett, of RV There Yet Chronicles, and owners of a 2011 Landmark Key Largo, revealed that when they picked up their coach from the dealer, they also purchased two headsets for the purpose of communicating easily while hitching up and unhitching.

“The idea was that we wouldn’t be yelling back and forth, and would be able to speak calmly to each other while performing this task,” Kelly said.

“It’s a great idea, and we used them maybe half a dozen times, but they just weren’t us. I guess we prefer the old tried and true method of yelling at each other to get the job done.”

Sewer Flushing Attachment

Lisa and Dan Brown, of Always on Liberty, and owners of a 2016 Landmark Ashland, bought a Hydro Flush 45 by Valterra, and wish they hadn’t.

“There’s this clear elbow fitting that attaches to the sewer hose and the sewage line, that has a place to hook up a water hose for flushing,” Lisa explained.

“What a waste of money. After 5 minutes of initial use, leaking water and crap, Dan threw that thang….Oh wait, he ‘donated’ it to Mr. Dumpster, with words from a sailor.”

(source: Camping World)

Solar Powered Garden Lights

This one’s mine. We made an impulse buy at a big box store, thinking a cheerfully lit pathway would add some pizazz and safety to nighttime walks back to The Toad.

The fact that the things were on clearance should have been a big clue. Outdoor light fixtures that retail for less than $2.00 each were undoubtedly not built to last, and these didn’t. One never even lit up properly, and the other three gradually fell apart after only about 6 months of use.

(source: Harbor Freight)

Propane Tank Monitoring System

Finally, to leave things on a more cheerful note, here’s the story of an item that was at first thought to be a waste of money, but thanks to intervention from the manufacturer, turned out to be worth it after all.

Erika and Tony Dorsey, of Our Mammoth Travels, and owners of a 2016 Big Country, saw a magazine advertisement for a product that uses ultrasound to measure the level of fuel left in a propane tank, and sends a signal via Bluetooth to a smart phone to let users see that amount.

“Once it was available to the public, in February of 2016, I immediately bought it,” said Erika, about the Mopeka TankCheck monitoring system.

After a few struggles getting the sensors in place and syncing phones to the device, things went even more wrong. “The reading seemed good at first, but within a few hours, it stopped receiving the Bluetooth signal and read 0%. We tried multiple times to re-sync the sensors, and it would work for about a day, and then not,” Erika said.

“Propane season” ended, and the Dorseys forgot about the system, until fall rolled around and they were again wanting to know their tank levels. “We replaced the batteries in the sensors thinking maybe that was an issue, but nope, same result. Even with different tanks, repositioning the sensors, new phones, etc.,” Erika said.

She saw another advertisement touting the product’s 3-year warranty, so she contacted the company. “Surprisingly, it didn’t take much to convince them I needed two new sensors. They shipped them and did not require the old ones back.”

And now? “The new sensors work perfectly as intended, and we love the product! So much so that I asked if they would send us a couple to raffle off at the West Texas Chapter Rally. The company is based in TX, and the owner was happy to oblige!” Erika reported.

(source: Mopeka)

Buyers Beware

Here’s hoping that maybe — just maybe — these stories will help you keep some money in your wallet, or at least put it toward a product that adds value to your RV lifestyle.

Feel free to tell your own “True Tale of Fail” in the comments below, but do avoid manufacturer vendettas, please. Let’s keep things light, yet informative, as a way to save other RV owners a little money, time and frustration.

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and other contributors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Heartland RVs.)