Living in Austin, Texas, road tripping to West Texas has always been on my bucket list. I rent RVs often and love trying out new makes and models. Testing out an Airstream is something I had been wanting to try. We rented this 2020 Caravel a few miles from home. It had everything we needed for two, plus it was stylish and looked striking behind my Volvo XC60. It was the first time pulling a trailer with my Volvo, and I was praying Eliza (my car) would be able to handle it. Spoiler alert: she did great!
The RV owners, Madi and Griff, helped us hook up and gave us a thorough walkthrough before we hit the road to experience the “land of striking beauty” stopping in Marfa, Alpine, Terlingua, and Big Bend National Park.
Here are a few things you might want to know before heading to West Texas where it feels like you either landed on Mars (it’s dusty!) or stepped back in time.
Stock up on food and essentials before heading west
Of course, all camping trips take some pre-planning and include thinking through topics like, where to camp, what to do, and what route to take. But camping in West Texas requires extra attention especially when it comes to packing groceries and essentials to make a meal. West Texas towns have convenient stores and restaurants, but we quickly found that their hours of operation were unreliable. On one particular night, we were planning to get pizza from a shop in town. We went to leave and realized that it closed at 6 pm! There were a number of times we were thankful for our RV stocked with food.
We grocery shopped beforehand and stopped at the last Walmart on our route, which was 100 miles from our destination. We planned a few meals that were easy to make including chicken quesadillas, a pot of chili, macaroni and cheese, tacos, and grilled sandwiches.
Downloading a couple of recipes and saving them to your phone is also a good idea. The Wi-Fi and cell service was spotty at best, and I was glad to have my favorite chili recipe saved for easy access.
Download your directions! No service + unreliable Wi-Fi = one stranded camper
When people tell you there is no service in West Texas near Big Bend National Park they aren’t kidding. Thankfully we downloaded the area on Google Maps before the trip. Having the maps available offline saved us from being stranded or guessing how to get back to our Airstream.
We weren’t always smart enough to download our itineraries. For one campground, they gave us longitude and latitude coordinates to find their location. Unfortunately, we didn’t have those details saved before going off the grid. We also didn’t save the detailed instructions the owner sent us with the check-in time and process. We luckily got a signal for a few minutes to find our way. But don’t bank on one bar of 3G in the desert!
Watch your gas gauge and fill up when you can
Thankfully my boyfriend and travel partner, Zach, had some experience with towing. He knew that our MPG would drastically decrease with the airstream attached. If this is obvious to you, it was just not something I had considered. So when we approached a sign that said “last gas station for 100 miles,” Zach promptly exited and filled up our tank for the unknown road ahead. Due to his diligence, we never were close to empty but in the vastness of West Texas, gas stations are hard to come by so don’t get yourself in a pickle.
It’s a long drive to West Texas. From Austin, it took 7.5 hours and for most of that, the signal was weak. So to pass the time, make sure to pre-download road trip playlists, an audiobook, or your favorite podcast. We renewed our satellite radio subscription for endless tunes. Driving in the silence will quickly make the long drive feel like an eternity.
Pack layers for unpredictable conditions
We experienced sun, rain, wind, hot and cold in the seven days we were out there. It was 85 one day, raining, and 45 the next. The temperature swings are fierce and the weather is unpredictable. We rode horses in 65 degrees, partly cloudy weather in the morning and then hiked Big Bend in 40-degree weather after a rainstorm in the afternoon. But don’t let the weather scare you away. As the park ranger said, “The desert comes alive after a rainstorm.” And he was right. We saw incredible views with fog rolling over the cliffs. To this day it was the most breathtaking moment I have ever experienced.
We stayed at the Marfa Airstream park and found a boondocking location on Campendium. They were different experiences but both fun and worth the visit. Next time, we want to camp in Chisos Basin inside the National Park. Remember to book six months out! National Park campgrounds book up months in advance.
Travel often, travel well.