Today's modern families set out to explore new lands in roomy recreational vehicles (motorhomes) rather than the covered wagons of their pioneer counterparts of over a century and a half ago. Packing an RV for a family road trip can seem like a ridiculously tedious chore. To put it in perspective, it can be helpful to consider how packing the modern RV compares to the Pioneers’ counterpart: stocking a covered wagon with enough supplies to last for six months or more. Most wagons of the type used by newcomers to the American West were only about ten feet long and four feet wide, and although the wagons were built with ergonomic storage in mind, families had to make difficult decisions about what to take on the trail and what to leave behind. That is rarely the case for those supplying their RV with road-trip basics.
Trial and error was the only real way that early pioneer families had of finding out what they should pack and what they should learn to live without. They most likely started out by packing way too many superfluous items. The most important thing for them to pack was food because they could not be assured of wild game being in plentiful supply during their trip. Because refrigeration didn't exist in covered wagons, they had to pack foods that weren't prone to spoiling. Flour, heavily salted bacon, corn meal, dried fruits, coffee, sugar, rice and beans were common staples packed by pioneers to provide them with nutritional sustenance on their way west. Making every food storage inch count was essential to their survival. Modern families taking voyages in their RVs can simply take the off-ramp and have access to all manner of readily available cuisine and beverage choices.
Packing household goods into covered wagons was much like putting together a three-dimensional puzzle. Butter churns, ironing boards, pillows, the family china collection, tables, washtubs and bolts of cloth intermingled with other items, and comforters spread on top of the tightly packed pile became the family bed for the duration of the trip. More often than not, all nonessential items didn't make it to the west with the families who lovingly selected them to accompany them to the location of their new lives. Instead, they frequently wound up being left on the trail when the exhausted horses and oxen that were pulling the wagons needed lighter loads in order to be able to keep going. Conversely, America's highways that are brimming with RV travelers during the summer months are not littered with items that have been deemed superfluous and must be sacrificed if families are to have any hope of reaching their destinations.
Household items that did make it to the west with the pioneers usually earned their passage by pulling double duty. India rubber mattresses, for instance, could be filled with water that could be used for drinking and cooking during the day and as primitive waterbeds after being refilled at night. It was recommended by seasoned pioneers that each wagon carry at least 50 gallons of water because long stretches of trail existed with no available water sources. Today's RV travelers probably choose to carry at least a few bottles of water in the vehicle's refrigerator, but if someone forgets to pack it, the family can easily replenish their water supply at the next convenience store or rest stop long before dehydration sets in.
The major difference between properly packing a covered wagon for a long journey westward through unknown territory and packing an RV for a family road trip is that failure to properly furnish a covered wagon with the right supplies could have fatal results. RV travelers who neglect to pack certain items are merely inconvenienced, but that usually only lasts as long as the time it takes to replace the forgotten items with retail store purchases. RV packing tips and hints can cover the basics and help RVers prepare for surprises on the road, but in the event that something is missed, it’s typically very easy to obtain a solution.