You know what, I’ll go ahead and say it. RV camping is not always like it looks on social media or TV. RV camping can be as inexpensive or elaborate as you make it. It can be rewarding and enable wider access to outdoor recreation or it can quickly dissolve into a massive headache on wheels. I made a number of RV newbie mistakes on my maiden voyage that didn’t break my trip but definitely could’ve been avoided. Here’s what I learned the hard way so you don’t have to.
RV Newbie Mistakes
If you’ve never driven an RV or camping trailer, there is so much that can go wrong and detract from your ideal vacation. Read on for a step-by-step guide to take you through each aspect of a camping trip and how to avoid common mistakes for new RV owners and drivers.
Initial Safety Check
Far before you ever get behind the wheel for the first time, it’s really important to do a full safety check on your RV. Let a service technician at your rental or purchasing location walk you through every small thing, top to bottom, to make sure everything is in working order and that you know how to use it. If it can open, you should open it. If it’s moving, make sure it’s supposed to be moving.
This is also the perfect time to learn the skills you may not have encountered yet. You’ll need to know how to dump waste effectively and where to put fresh water or even gas. Where are all of the connections for sites with full hookups? How many amps of power do you need to connect to electricity? This is your opportunity to make sure you have full command over this vehicle, make sure nothing is leaking, and that everything runs smoothly the way it’s supposed to.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to check the tires. Bad tires will get you absolutely nowhere. Note if there are any speed restrictions for the tires that you must follow. Expect to hang out in the right lanes and take it easy on your journey.
Overpacking (and underpacking) can be a major RV newbie mistake. On my first trip, I loaded all of the storage areas up with every little thing I thought I might need while camping and then backups galore. And while some of it did come in handy, so much of it was never used. RV campers all have weight limits that are vital to ensuring a smooth trip. Too much stuff makes for too much to worry about. And if you are unable to close the storage cabinets and drawers, you run a major risk of unsecured items ending up everywhere while driving.
You’ll want basic tools, some entertainment for rainy days, and whatever items cater to the types of activities you do while camping. When it comes to food, bring enough so no one goes hungry. You won’t need to stock a full pantry of canned goods and bulk items. Pack lightly and make sure to spread the weight evenly throughout your RV.
Plan, Plan, Plan Ahead
Another major RV camping newbie mistake is not planning ahead. Bring maps — paper maps! — as a backup in case you lose reception on your phone. They make maps that are specifically for RVs that will point out potentially impassable roads or roads with low clearance overhangs that you may not know of until you get there. It’s not easy to flip around an RV just anywhere, so make sure you always know how you’re going to get to your destination.
Make sure you also know where you’re going. Book your campsite(s) in advance so you are guaranteed a spot when you arrive. First-come, first-serve campgrounds fill up quickly on weekends, so plan to arrive early or possibly even Thursday to secure a great spot. And if you’re hoping to boondock (camping on public land without a clearly marked campsite), have a few backup locations mapped out in case that perfect spot you read about online happens to be already taken.
Driving in an RV
Your RV won’t drive like a regular sedan. Often the estimated drive times on Google Maps won’t apply in an RV so add 10-20 minutes to each driving hour.
- Don’t drive too fast or exceed the speed limit dictated by tire size.
- Wind can have a major effect on your rig. Watch for sway and slow down or pull over if the wind gets too strong.
- Take it slow on gravel to avoid flats or sliding out.
- Stopping takes a little longer. Leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front of you to ensure you have enough time to stop.
And when it comes to parking the RV? The biggest mistake I made and have seen others make is to not practice backing up in the RV. Take it to a big parking lot and practice, practice, practice. A nice man at a campsite in Nebraska helped me back-in for the first time to my sheer embarrassment, but it will be infinitely better for you if you can confidently park once you’ve arrived at the campground.
Double-Check Your Rig Before Leaving the Campsite
I am not exaggerating when I stress it is important to check and then double-check your RV before you pull away. On the interior, make sure everything is securely fastened in place so it won’t shift in transit. On the exterior, take a few laps around the RV to ensure everything is where it belongs.
Don’t forget to lower the vent(s) to keep water and debris out. Put down antennas, satellites, or anything else attached to the roof or sides of your RV. Unhook all connections to water, electric, and sewer and make sure they are properly stored. And even check under the RV so you don’t try to drive away with leveling jacks or wheel chocks still in place. I almost lost my awning on the side of the highway because I didn’t make sure it was put away properly and the higher speeds started pulling it away from the RV.
Ready for the Big Trip?
Not sure if you’re ready to jump in and buy your own RV? Don’t let this extensive list of RV newbie mistakes intimidate you. Slow down, take your time, and remember safety first at all times. When you’re ready to hit the road, try an RV rental from Cruise America and benefit from their over 40 years of experience.
With an RV rental from Cruise America, you can take a test drive and rest easy knowing their service team is behind you all the way. Cruise America rental and service centers are conveniently located all across the country and each RV comes with 24/7 Traveler’s Assistance.
Take to the open road safely and in style. Get started with a visit to your local Cruise America or visit online to plan the perfect road trip.