Do you have a place to keep your gun safe?

Considerations when choosing a gun safe

If you are a gun owner, there are few things as important as safety. Aside from keeping yourself and those around you safe from injury by following the local laws, rules and regulations, it's also essential that you keep your firearm secured when it is not in use. One of the best ways to do this is by keeping a handgun lockbox or safe in your home, vehicle or wherever you store your firearm. However, not all firearms are created equal. Here are some tips for picking out the best and most secure gun safe for you:

Buy the correct size for your needs
If you only own 9mm pocket pistol, it's unnecessary to own a safe the size of a medium-sized car when a smaller portable safe will do the trick. On the other hand, if you own a small arsenal, you'll need something large enough to store everything securely. There are a few extra considerations you should make when picking out the size of your new safe. Think about both where you're going to put it and whether you expect your collection to grow in the near future. If you have an entire section of your basement dedicated to your firearms and plan to purchase additional guns in the future, go ahead and pick something out that's a bit bigger than you need right now and fill it up as you pick up more.

Consider different locks
Depending on who is in your house and how concerned you are about someone trying to access your firearms, you may need a heavy-duty lock or just a basic one. If there has been a string of thefts in your area or you are concerned about break-ins, there are much more advanced options, including fingerprint scanners and other digital locks. Because these can get expensive in a hurry, in most cases, a safe with both a combination and key should do the trick.

Look at steel thickness and fire resistance
No matter how sophisticated your lock is, it won't do  you any good if the steel of the body or the door is not strong enough. Avoid any metal that can bend easily, especially doors that aren't sturdy, as they can easily render the lock ineffective. Make sure the hinges of the door are on the inside so they cannot be tampered with. Aside from keeping others away from  your guns, your safe should also serve to protect your firearms from fire and water in the case of an emergency. When picking out a safe, look for one that can stand temperatures well over 1,000 degrees – which is how hot your house will get if it's on fire – for at least a half-hour. Similarly, your safe should be water resistant in the case of a flood. 

Are you ready to hit the slopes this winter?

Tips for your first time skiing or snowboarding

Though skiing and snowboarding are among the most popular winter sports in the country, there are plenty of people who are nervous to hit the slopes for the first time. If you've never given it a try before, you may not know where to find a ski hill. Rest assured that if your area gets snow – whether you live in the Rocky Mountains or in the Great Plains – there's a good chance there is a place to ski nearby. Here are a few tips to make sure your first skiing or snowboarding trip is a success:

Do your research
Unless you are heading out with a much more experience friend who is also extremely patient, you'll benefit from taking a lesson before tackling the slopes on your own. While deciding where you'll go for your first skiing trip, hop online and do a bit of research. Make sure you find a hill that offers lessons – most do – and check out reviews to find a certified instructor. You'll also need to keep an eye on the weather before heading out. For your first time skiing or snowboarding, you'll want to look for fresh snow. Powder – snow that is still fluffy and not yet icy from days of being packed down by others – will give you a little padding when you inevitably take a spill. It's also easier to travel through and gives you more control over your speed. 

Don't strike it out alone
While you may have a vision in your head of flying down a black diamond hill with no company but the wind whistling in your ears, understand that your first runs are probably going to involve a lot more awkward falling and retrieving dropped poles than cruising. For that reason, bring along an equally inexperienced friend or two. You'll have a great time learning together and it gives you someone to laugh with over your spills.

Dress appropriately 
Picking out your first snowboarding attire can be a bit tricky. Obviously, you need to protect yourself from the wind and snow. However, both skiing and snowboarding are tough workouts that can warm you up fairly quickly. A waterproof or water-resistant outer layer is a must. Under that, your best bet is to dress in layers that are easy to move in. Leave your jeans or any heavy cotton layers at home – if they get wet, they'll become extremely heavy and will cause your body temperature to drop. Instead, dress in light layers that you can remove if you start getting overheated. Fabric that wicks moisture away from your body is a plus. You'll also want to invest in a good pair of waterproof gloves or mittens. Your hands will come in contact with the snow more than almost anything else on your body, and having cold, wet hands is not a fun way to spend your day. 

Protect your belongings
Neither skiing nor snowboarding are activities that lend themselves to carrying purses, bags or bulky items. You'll have to either rent a locker or leave your belongings in your car while you are out hitting the slopes. Because nothing can ruin a fun day out on the hills faster than returning to find that your car has been broken into and your valuables missing, make sure you take the proper steps to secure all of your belongings. Don't leave any valuables or electronics out on the seats or dashboard where passers by can see them. Consider picking up a portable safe – it's the perfect way to protect your small electronics, cash or firearms while you're away from the car. If you've used the car roof racks to transport your belongings to the resort, make sure all roof cargo is property secured.

Rent before buying
If you've never been skiing or snowboarding, don't let your enthusiasm get away from you. Buying a set of ski boots, skis and ski poles or a full snowboarding setup can cost you a pretty penny. You may get onto the hill and realized skiing isn't for you after all, or wish you had tried snowboarding instead. Plus, both skis and snowboards come in a huge variety of lengths, widths, thickness and a variety of other factors. Test out a couple of different boards or skis that the resort has for rent before buying so you know you're getting the right one for you. Check out helmet rental options as well.

Don't give up
Both skiing and snowboarding are tricky skills to pick up. No one straps on a board and drops into a halfpipe on their first day, so don't get discouraged. Take breaks when you need to so you don't get frustrated, and try a different instructor if you t feel like you haven't clicked with yours. Practice makes perfect, and with a little persistence, you'll soon find yourself with a fun and active new hobby. 

A Northern California car thief is finally behind bars.

Auto burglar finally behind bars

A man who broke into more than two dozen cars in Northern California has finally been arrested. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Vernon Rayshaun Evans-Carmichael, 22, was taken into custody in January facing 27 felony charges of burglary and grand theft.

Police told the source that Evans-Carmichael has been breaking into cars for at least six months. He was initially arrested in October but was able to post bail at that time. Since his release, he has broken into cars at two separate locations before getting arrested a second time. He is currently being held in a Santa Clara jail on $350,000 bail.

Los Altos Police Agent Mark Thompson told the Los Altos Town Crier that, in addition to the initial felony charges, Evans-Carmichael the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office also filed for four additional burglary and two more grand theft charges. These were for several auto burglaries that he allegedly committed in mid-January.

Evans-Carmichael's M.O.
According to the Chronicle, Evans-Carmichael generally targeted parked rental cars by smashing the windows. In the most recent car thefts, he stole electronics like laptops and camera equipment, which appears to be another pattern in his thefts.

For example, on Jan. 14, the Palo Alto police reported nine cars – seven of which were rentals – with smashed windows and electronics stolen from them, reported the Town Crier. At the time, the evidence turned up by the investigators pointed to Evans-Carmichael, who was also wanted for an outstanding bench warrant. He was then arrested on Jan. 16 in Contra Costa County and turned over to the Palo Alto police, where he was booked with another 17 felony charges.

Though Evans-Carmichael is currently behind bars, police are still warning area residents that similar thefts have continued. As recently as Jan. 27, eight vehicles were burglarized in a similar manner in downtown Palo Alto.

It seems that rental cars are a primary target, so those with "clear markings" that show the rental company logo or other indications that it is a leased car should be especially cautious. Police also stress the importance of not leaving valuables out on car seats or other place that are easily spotted from outside a vehicle.

"It's a crime of opportunity," Thompson said. "They're obviously just looking for anything they can take that is in plain view."

Auto security
The Evans-Carmichael burglaries shine a light on the importance of proper security. Though you may feel that your valuables are safely secured in your car, a single smashed window can lead to the theft of your electronics or firearm. When traveling, it is especially important that you take the proper steps to keep your items safe so you aren't stuck hundreds of miles from home with no phone or cash. Because of this, be sure you are taking every possible step to ensure your belongings are safe while on the road. Invest in a portable safe, which is large enough to fit a hand gun, small electronics or other valuables, but small enough to take with you in the car. Look for one that features a cord that allows you to anchor it to the vehicle.

When it comes to electronics, be sure to use laptop locks. These will not only protect the computer from theft, but will also protect it from damage sustained from the jarring movement that comes with travel. Again, find a laptop security box that features a padlock mounting point so it can be secured to the vehicle. 

Taking these steps will keep your belongings safe in case of a break in, and will have the added bonus of  discouraging someone from attempting to rob your car in the first place.

Are you planning your first solo trip?

Staying safe when traveling alone

For travelers, every experience is unique. For some, their ultimate trip would involve a group of friends, while others prefer to stick with just a single companion. For still others, seeing the country or wold solo is the best way to travel. While there are plenty of benefits of traveling alone, there are a few special considerations you should make.

Benefits of traveling alone
There's a lot to be said about not having to schedule your activities around someone else's timetable. Getting up and out when you are ready, resting when you're tired and lingering a bit longer in a particularly interesting museum are all appealing aspects. There is also the benefit of getting some "me time" while you are exploring a new city or trail. Many people regard the time they spent traveling alone as a period of real self-discovery. You will learn to be independent, entertain yourself and trust your instincts. Plus, without the burden of a second person or a group, you can change plans at the drop of a hat if you find something that suits your fancy. There's no compromising when you're by yourself – if you don't feel like waiting in a long line to kiss the Blarney Stone, you can skip it, and if you are willing to drive a couple of hours out of your way to catch a glimpse of Mount Rushmore, you don't have to worry about a sullen passenger.

Drawbacks of traveling solo
Of course, there is plenty to love about seeing the country or world by yourself, but there are also a handful of reasons that it's not for everyone. For example, it can get lonely being by yourself for weeks or even months at a time. This can be especially true if you travel to a country where you aren't fluent in the local language. You may also wish for someone to share the experience of seeing a new place with. Then, of course, there is the safety issue. When no one is around to watch your back, you are more defenseless when it comes to pickpockets, muggers and other ne'er-do-wells. Many people find that they are uncomfortable in cities by themselves, particularly at night. However, there are plenty of ways that travelers can feel safe even if they are alone.

Safety tips
Whether you're staying in a hotel room by yourself or a hostel with 10 strangers, keeping your valuables safe is paramount. The last thing you want to deal with on your big adventure is losing your passport, ID or credit cards. Here are a few ways to make sure none of these things happen to you:

  • Make a color copy of your passport and IDs and keep them in a safe place separate from the originals. That way, if your wallet or passport book is stolen, the process to have them replaced will be expedited. 
  • Avoid standing out as a tourist. Sure, once you start speaking, your accent will give you away, but there's no need for potential thieves to be able to pick you out as "not from around here" a block away. This means dressing in comfortable but appropriate clothing, figuring out your route in advance so you don't have your nose buried in a map and always walking confidently and with purpose.
  • Trust your gut. If a restaurant, park, street or cab feel a bit shady to you, walk away from it. Better safe than sorry.
  • Invest in a portable safe or small lockbox where you can store your valuables and paperwork while you're out enjoying the sights. The peace of mind you'll have burglars or with sticky fingers won't get their hands on your belongings will be worth the price.
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with friends or family members and check in with them regularly. If you go missing for whatever reason, "somewhere in Europe" is not a great start to look for you.
  • Be careful who you reveal information to. While meeting new people on trips can be fun, be on alert for potential scam artists.

Get the most out of your experience
One of the drawbacks to traveling alone is the fact that you don't have anyone to share the experience with. Reliving particularly fun adventures with your travel buddy is one of the best ways to keep the memories fresh. However, if you're alone, you're the sole proprietor of your experiences. To make sure you remember everything, consider keeping a journal or a blog that you update frequently. You'll be glad to reread it later and relive the memories that may have faded over time. If you're feeling lonely, write postcards or emails to those you miss – they'll love hearing from you. Most importantly, give yourself time to enjoy your own company. It's a great opportunity to work through your thoughts and form new opinions and plans.

Are you ready for AreaBFE?

All about AreaBFE: 320 acres of open wilderness

For the uninitiated, AreaBFE is a recreational park in Moab, Utah. Its 320 acres can be used for any manner of outdoor activities – from hiking to dirt biking to camping. It was created by a group of guys 10 years ago who wanted to create a place where people could enjoy the landscape and all it offered without the threat of being kicked off by a cranky land owner. The site is open seven days a week all year round and is free to the public.

It is constantly being improved and new features are added often. According to its website, new trails and campsite are being developed all the time. In addition to being an inviting place for off-road vehicle enthusiasts, the area is available for corporate events, club gatherings, competitions, weddings and music festivals. These events, along with donations from users and the public at large, help keep AreaBFE open.

AreaBFE rules

As far as rules and regulations for a recreation facility go, AreaBFE is pretty lax. They ask that visitors to stick to the upper lot if they’re coming in for a day trip and reserve the lower lot for overnight camping. Camp sites also need to stay west of the tree line out of respect for neighbors in the area.

Once you’re settled in, the staff of AreaBFE don’t ask much of you. As the expression goes: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” This means no abandoning unneeded supplies, trash or materials behind and don’t take your new favorite rock home as a souvenir. Also, leave the vegetation alone. Don’t cut down trees, dig up plants or drive over shrubs.

Staying safe at AreaBFE

Just like any camping trip, you need to keep yourself and your belongings safe. Because AreaBFE relies on the honor system and a “police yourself” system, it’s up to you to look out for No. 1. If you’re leaving your car, truck or RV for any period of time, make sure you lock your belongings up securely. While your Jeep storage may be fine for holding onto your things while you’re driving or hanging around your campsite, you’ll need something a bit more secure if you’re not around to keep an eye on it. Bring along a portable safe for your valuables like small electronics or firearms that need some extra protection.

Because some of the trails are dangerous, avoid hitting the trails on your own. Traveling in groups is the best way to ensure you will have help if anything should happen.

On that note, while there aren’t any specified helmet rules in AreaBFE, make sure you are keeping yourself as safe as possible. Wear the proper safety gear for whatever activity you are engaging in. This means head gear, seatbelts and the appropriate pads, if necessary.

If  you’re planning to camp or hike for an extended period of time, be sure to bring the supplies you’ll need. Summer in Utah is no joke, so lots of water is always a must. Be sure to carry enough snacks and other supplies for the amount of time you’re planning on staying. Bringing a bit more water or provisions than you think you’ll need is never a bad idea, either.

Always keep a first-aid kit or other medical supplies with you when you’re going to be camping or engaging in any activities where you may take a spill or turn an ankle. You should also keep a flashlight with you in case you lose track of time and find yourself unexpectedly caught in the dark.

Most importantly, enjoy your time at AreaBFE. It was designed so people like you can enjoy the land, so take advantage of it.

Are you planning a hike to the Grand Canyon? Follow these tips to make the most out of your trip.

Tips for your Grand Canyon trip

There are few locations in the United States as iconic as the Grand Canyon. Whether you are just visiting to take in the views from the South Rim, are planning on taking a short hike or are paddling down the Colorado river and camping out for a few nights, you can be assured it will be a trip worth remembering. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your Grand Canyon experience:

Pick your season
While the summer is the undisputed traveling season across the country, think twice before you plan your Grand Canyon trip then, as temperatures can average as high as 106 degrees. If you're planning on simply stopping for a couple quick snapshots, excessively warm temperatures may not put too much of a damper on your plans. However, if you are looking to do some hiking, consider planning your trip around the cooler months to avoid the dangerously high temperatures. Couple that with the fact that Arizona thunderstorms tend to generate lightening, and you should have plenty of motivation to move your trip to cooler months. In fact, January sees average highs of 56 – those from parts of the country or world with harsh winters see that as ideal outdoor weather. On top of that, you can avoid fighting the massive crowds that tend to visit the canyon between Memorial Day and Labor Day by planning an off-season trip.

Planning ahead
If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon with the intent to hike – whether it's short or long – it's important to do your research so you know what you're getting into. For example, if you have any known asthma, heart conditions, problems with your knees or back, or any other medical concerns, talk to your doctor before planning your trip and take it easy. Understand and respect your limits – many visitors report that the Grand Canyon is a more difficult hike than they expected. Make sure you plan out a reasonable route as well. There are plenty of maps and guides to help you do so. Keep in mind that you need to allow yourself about twice as long to climb back up as it takes for you to descend. That means that if you hike down into the canyon for about 30 minutes, it should take you about 60 minutes to get back up.

Short hikes
No matter how short you think your hike is going to be, it's still important to be prepared for anything. First and foremost, this means plenty of water. Particularly in the warmer months, don't wait until you're feeling parched to drink water, as this means you are already dehydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink between a half to full quart of water per hour that you are hiking. You'll also have to eat more than you might expect, so be sure to have a good meal before setting out, and bring snacks along with you on any trip longer than 30 minutes. Focus on salty foods, which will give you a boost in the electrolytes that your body needs.

Long hikes
If you're planning on a longer hike, it's essential that you bring food and sports drinks with you, especially if you are hiking during the summer. That said, the less you carry with you, the more enjoyable your hike will be. Anything heavy or valuable – think bulky electronics, firearms and so forth – should be left in your hotel room or car. Invest in a portable safe or lockbox so you don't have to worry about theft while you are enjoying the views. Be sure to take frequent breaks, too. Stopping for about 10 minutes every hour, even when you don't necessarily feel like you need it, will help you from wearing yourself out. Propping your legs up while you're sitting down will help as well. Depending on the time of day and how ambitious you're feeling, you may need to bring along compact flashlights so you don't find yourself navigating the hills in the dark.

Watch out for mules
While hiking is an extremely popular choice when it comes to enjoying the Grand Canyon, it's by no means your only option. Another well-liked activity is riding mules down the trails. If you happen to be hiking when a team of these steady animals passes you on the trail, make sure you pay attention to the wrangler's instructions. It's likely he or she will ask you to move off the trail to the uphill side and keep still while allowing the mules to pass. It's a good idea to wait until they are several lengths away from you before getting back on the trail. Remember, though the animals are well trained, quick movements or loud noises can startle them and cause injury to itself, its rider or you.

Protect your car from theft.

Keeping your valuables safe in your car

It seems that we have more valuables on us at all times than ever before. Smartphones, MP3 players, GPS devices, personal firearms, purses, wallets and watches all are usually on our person or at least in our vehicles at all times. While most of those objects make our daily lives easier, they also put us at risk of theft. If you leave your car parked on your driveway or the parking lot of hotel, you need to take every step to ensure that it – and the valuables that it holds – are protected from thieves. Here are a few tips to help you do just that:

Common sense
While most of these seem obvious enough, they do bear bringing up as good first steps to protecting your valuables. First of all, lock your doors and roll up your windows. If someone is going to try to break into your car, not having your car doors locked is like rolling out a welcome mat. Even if you're just stepping away from the car for a moment or two – like when you're running into the convenience store to pick up a drink after you pump gas – lock the doors behind you. If you have any valuables, especially small electronics that can easily be grabbed and resold, don't leave them on your dashboard or in the passenger seat where any passerby can see it. At the very least, store it in your center console or glove compartment. This goes for chargers as well. A few cords strewn around your center console are an indication that there are electronic devices nearby.

Choose a safe spot
If you're leaving your car, especially if it's overnight, be smart about the spot you pick. Parking it on a dark street in a questionable area will definitely result in a higher likelihood of a break-in than than in a secure, video-monitored parking garage. Of course, the latter isn't always an option, but you can still take steps to select a safe spot to park your car. Do your best to leave it in a spot with a lot of foot traffic – preferably near a busy store or restaurant. The key is to keep it in sight of as many people as possible. If a criminal is smashing your window, there's a better chance of someone calling the cops if there are a lot of people around to see it. Well-lit areas are preferable, and those under video surveillance are even better.

Keep your car tidy
Aside from not leaving your brand-new smartphone out in plain view, keeping a generally neat car is another deterrent. If you have lots of boxes or a spread over your back seat, potential thieves may assume you may be hiding something of value. There are many GPS models that anchor to car windshields. Even if the whole contraption is removed, it often leaves a circular smudge on the glass, which indicates a GPS device is likely in the car.

Hide valuables before you park
If you pull into a hotel parking spot and spend five minutes stashing various electronics or other valuables out of sight in different parts of your car, there is a good chance an alert criminal has observed the whole thing and now knows that you have expensive items and where they are hiding. Before you reach your final destination, pull over and stow away these items safely.

Avoid valets if possible
While the vast majority of parking attendants are honest, it only takes one to make off with the GPS you left in the center console or the extra cash you keep in the glove compartment. If you do valet park, remember to lock up your valuables if possible well before arriving.

Invest in a security system
Should someone break into your vehicle, you should make it as difficult as possible for the thief to make off with any of your belongings. There are a few items you can pick up that will help keep your valuables secure. Laptop locks are great for those who need to carry their computers around with them. They'll not only keep your laptop safe from theft, but it will keep it from getting jarred and damaged during transport. A portable safe is a good all-around product for things like cash, electronics, handguns and other smaller valuables. Look for one with a strong cord that can anchor it to your car. 

Check your car upon returning
As soon as you get back to your car where you have valuables hidden, check for them immediately. If you do discover anything missing, you'll want to call the police and file a report as soon as possible, which will give you the best possible chances of recovering the stolen items. Remember, a car doesn't have to look ransacked to have been robbed. They may even have taken your laptop and left the case undisturbed. 

Save a couple bucks while you're on the road.

Money saving tips for your next road trip

Whether you're packing up your RV for a trip with the whole family or setting out alone in a two-seater convertible, road trips are one of the great American traditions. While many chose to drive to their destinations because they love the open road, there are plenty of people who see driving as a more affordable alternative to flying. Either way, saving a few bucks on gas is something just about anyone can get on board with. On that note, here are a few tips to get you to your destination as inexpensively as possible:

Take it easy
Getting every mile out of each gallon of gas is one of the best ways to save money while you're on the road. Putting a little extra care in your driving style will help you do just that. In general, you should avoid stomping on either the accelerator or the brakes – obviously, the latter tip should be ignored in an emergency – as both will lower the fuel efficiency of the car. If you see a red light or some traffic congestion up ahead, don't speed towards it and then slam on the brakes to screech to a halt at the last second. Rather, try to coast in as gently as possible. Then, when the light turns green, don't peel out like you're in a drag race. 

Slow down
Cars and trucks tend to be most gas efficient when they are traveling somewhere between 40 and 60 miles per hour. Of course, driving 45 miles per hour is probably unsafe for most major highways, so don't sacrifice safety for fuel efficiency. However, be aware that the faster you drive, the more gas you're going to use. Cruising along at 90 miles per hour is not only unsafe and could land you a speeding ticket, but will cost you at the pump as well.

Proper tire inflation
If you take good care of your tires, your tires will take care of you. The importance of properly inflated tires cannot be overstated. If you let your tires get too low – something that happens naturally, not just when there is a leak or puncture – the car's fuel efficiency will suffer, because there will be greater rolling resistance and the engine will have to work harder to get the car moving. On the other hand, an overinflated tire puts you at risk of a dangerous blowout. 

Draft
Now we're getting into some classic NASCAR tricks. Professional racers draft behind other cars to cut down the wind resistance, making their cars faster and more efficient. You can try the same thing on the road if you're careful. Drive at a safe distance behind a semitruck and you should see a couple more miles per gallon. 

Use your GPS
Unless you're driving a route that you're extremely familiar with, plug your trip into a GPS. First of all, it will prevent you from getting lost and using up gas traveling in the wrong direction. Plus, you can stick to the shortest possible route, which should keep you from needing to stop at the pump as often. Stick to major highways as much as possible to avoid the stop-and-go traffic that comes with smaller towns and traffic lights. 

Time your trip
We've all watched gas prices rise and fall – mostly rise – seemingly at will. There isn't a whole lot you can do about overall gas prices, but you can find some patterns. For example, gas prices tend to rise on weekends and in the days surrounding holidays. If possible, plan your trips so they don't coincide with these days.

Find deals
There are lots of ways to save money on the road aside from making your car as fuel efficient as possible. Doing a bit of research before you take off can pay off in dividends. A quick Internet search can point you to lots of hotels that offer special deals with your stay. For example, you may be get a gift card or coupon for discounted gas when you check out. Another trick is to download one of many smartphone apps that find prices at nearby gas stations. Have your copilot search around to find the cheapest gas in the area when it comes time to fill up.

Protect your belongings
Though you may not take it into account when you're budgeting out your road trip, having your valuables stolen while you're at a gas station or hotel can not only be devastating, but extremely pricey. If you're using a roof cargo container, make sure it is securely locked at all times. If you have anything of particular value – important paperwork, electronics, cash or a firearm – bring along a portable safe to make sure no one can make off with your belongings. Look for one that has a heavy-duty cord that can anchor it to your car so it can't be removed by a thief. 

Here are some tips to get your RV ready for spring.

Is your RV ready for spring?

With spring right around the corner, you may be mentally preparing for the hiking and camping trips you have planned once winter is through. If you're like millions of Americans, you've probably got your recreational vehicle stored away for the winter and are itching to hit the road. Before you do, here are a few tips to make sure your RV is as ready for a trip as you are:

De-winterize
If you live in a climate that tends to see sub-freezing temperatures each winter, hopefully you've winterized your RV. The first step to getting your vehicle ready for the spring is to flush the antifreeze out of the fresh water system. To do this, simply open each of the vehicle's faucets and drains and run fresh water through the system until the antifreeze is completely cleared.

Sanitize
It's a good idea to then sanitize your water system to ensure the water is safe for you and your family. To do this, you'll first have to close all of the faucets and plug the drains. Then, mix a quarter cup of bleach for every 15 gallons your water tank holds. Open the faucets and allow them to run until you can smell the bleach, then shut them off again. Don't touch anything for at least 12 hours while it soaks, then turn on your faucets one more time to allow the tank to drain. Just like with the antifreeze, you'll need to continue to run fresh water through the system until you can no longer smell any bleach.

Clean
Once your water system is ready to go, give the entire RV a thorough cleaning inside and out. Not only will this keep the vehicle looking sharp, but regularly clearing away dirt and grime will prevent buildup that has the potential to damage the coatings of finish on the RV. Weather permitting, opening the windows and doors for a few hours will help air out any musty smells.

Electronics
Next, go through and check out any electronics, from the radio to the light over the bathroom mirror, to make sure everything is in working order. It's best to catch any issues while the RV is still parked at home instead of in a parking lot in the middle of South Dakota.

Security
While on the road, you need to protect your belongings. If you already have a lockbox, check it over to make sure it's in good condition. Depending on what you are traveling with, you should consider investing in some kind of security box to protect things like jewelry, important paperwork or firearms.

Tires
Before driving your RV anywhere, it's important to check every tire, including any spares you carry. Because the weather cooled and then warmed back up as winter turned to spring, there's a good chance they are no longer properly inflated, so use a tire pressure gauge to check them and fill them up to the recommended level. You should be able to find the proper tire pressure posted near the driver's side door or in the owner's manual. If you drive on underinflated tires, your fuel efficiency will suffer, while an overinflated tire runs the risk of blowing out. While you're inflating them, check for any bulges, tears or bald spots, which can form when the vehicle is stationary for a long period of time.

Batteries
You probably unplugged your dry cell, coach and chassis batteries before you stored the RV. Before reconnecting them, give them a good once-over. Inspect the terminals and clamps for corrosion, as well as the charge levels, which may have dropped while in storage. This is also a good time to replace any batteries in your smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.

Generator
Next, you'll have to change the oil and filters in your generator if you didn't do so before storing it. Before running the generator, be sure to check the exhaust system for any damage. Make sure you run the generator for about two hours before bringing it on the road.

Pests
It's no secret that rodents and other pests love to make homes in RVs and other vehicles in storage. If you used tape to cover any vents or openings, be sure to remove it before driving. You'll also need to check all of the nooks and crannies, like cabinets, closets and storage areas, for any critters that may have built a nest over the winter.

Fluids
Just like any car, you need to run a general check on the engine to make sure everything is in good working order. The RV will likely require an oil change and will need to have its fluids topped off. While you're at it, check the wiper blades to see if they need to be cleaned or replaced.

Make sure you are practicing the proper fire safety techniques when camping.

Campfire safety tips

Whether it's a cool summer night or a chilly winter afternoon, you don't need Smokey the Bear to tell you that campfires can be dangerous and need to be attended to carefully. Even if you have been building fires since you were a Cub Scout, it's important to brush up on your safety techniques. Here are a few tips to make sure you leave your campsite just as you found it:

Selecting a site
No matter where you find yourself camping, selecting a proper location for your fire is an essential first step. This is more than just how close to your tent the fire pit can be or what a safe distance from the nearest plant growth is. Before you leave for your trip, check for the weather and any fire restrictions that may be in place where you plan to camp. While you are driving to the site, keep an eye out for signs that indicate fire danger. Even in generally safe areas, a dry spell or a particularly windy day can make any campfire dangerous. Once you're confident the weather is on your side, double check that the campsite you selected is fire-friendly. In some cases, you may need to obtain a permit before getting started. 

After all of that is cleared up, it's time to pick a spot to start your fire. If you're camping in a developed site, there is a good chance there is a fire pit already designated for use. Usually, it's surrounded by a metal wall or a ring of rocks. If not, pick a spot that is at least 15 feet away from your tent, as well as any shrubs, trees or any other potentially flammable objects, including low-hanging branches. Clear any grass, twigs, leaves and extra firewood from a 10-foot diameter around the fire pit.

Starting your fire
Always remember to use local wood when building a fire. No matter how much truck bed storage you have, hauling your own firewood from more than 50 miles away can introduce new insects to the campground, which have the potential to cause huge problems to the local flora and fauna. Generally, you can find wood for sale at nearby stores. If you start collecting fuel from your immediate area, only use downed wood. Cutting trees or breaking branches – even those on dead trees – may disrupt birds and other animals who make their homes there.

To get started, build a small cone or stack of dry twigs or sticks and ignite them using only a match or lighter. Do not use any kind of flammable liquid when starting or maintaining the fire. As the flame grows, introduce gradually larger pieces of wood, saving the biggest pieces for the end. As the fire grows, push embers into the center of the fire to ensure they burn completely. The best way to protect the surrounding forest is to reduce everything to white ash.

Staying safe around the fire
Always keep a bucket of water nearby in case the fire starts to get out of control. Also, consider keeping a shovel nearby to throw sand to extinguish any errant flames. Never leave the fire unless you have put it out completely and are confident it is cool. Any extra wood or flammable objects should be kept upwind and well away from the fire. If you have brought any valuables to the campsite with you, consider investing in a lockbox or portable safe to ensure their safety. For drying out wet clothing, secure a cord between two trees safely above the flames. Be sure it is taut, then carefully hang the clothes over the fire. If you have any children or pets with you, do not let them near the fire and never leave them unsupervised. Kids should be taught proper fire safety techniques, including how to stop, drop and roll if their clothing catches fire. Never burn trash that can't be completely consumed by the fire, like plastic, foil or cans.

Putting out the fire
Whether you are leaving for the afternoon or for good, safely and thoroughly extinguishing your fire is paramount to preventing a forest fire. When you leave your campsite, all of the coals, embers and unburned wood or ashes should be completely put out and cool to the touch. The best way to do this is to pour water over the embers until the hissing sound stops. Then, stir the ashes and continue to add more water. Repeat this until you are confident that the fire is out completely. If you don't have water nearby, you may mix soil and sand with the embers. Continue to add and stir the mixture until everything has cooled. Be sure to avoid burying the remains of your fire, as they may begin to smolder and burn.