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Getting Started with RVing When You Don’t Know How

Getting Started with RVing When You Don’t Know How

If you enjoy the outdoors and long to disconnect and spend more time with your family, you’ve probably considered getting an RV. Maybe you don’t want to dive in and spend half a million on a luxurious Class A motorhome. But you’d like to dip your toe in the waters with a travel trailer that will accommodate your family. Learning how to RV is vital to the success of your camping experience. If you don’t understand the basics before heading out, you’re in for a world of surprises.

Let’s help you get started RVing so you have the confidence to tackle that first trip.

How to RV: Know the Basics

Before planning your first camping trip, research and prepare for an enjoyable and uneventful experience. To set you up for success, let’s look at a handful of RV basics every newbie should follow.

Travel Trailer parked at campground
Plan, prepare, and practice before your first camping trip.

Establish Your Budget

If you don’t establish your budget first, you’ll set yourself up for trouble down the road. You don’t want a monthly RV payment you can’t afford. Then you can’t take advantage of other opportunities. You may miss out on visiting local attractions or trying local foods. Your money is all tied up in your RV instead of having a budget for fun activities.

In addition to having a budget for your rig, you also want a budget for other items. How much can you afford for food, gear, tickets, and campground fees? Do you have a maintenance and repair line item?

You must stick to the budget for other things as well as your RV. This is the best way to enjoy the RV lifestyle. You’ll feel prepared for whatever happens and can make good financial decisions as you travel.

Pro Tip: When creating your budget, make sure you know How Much an RV Costs to Own and Maintain.

Choose the Right Rig

Once you’ve established a budget, you need to choose a rig within that budget. But it’s not just about the money. You also want the floor plan that best fits your needs.

If traveling solo, you don’t need to purchase a 40-foot fifth-wheel bunkhouse, even if it’s within your budget. If you have a family of six, consider how your family eats, sleeps, and plays. Does the space accommodate those activities well?

You’ll also have to decide between a towable or drivable RV. If you choose motorized, you’ll spend more on the rig but won’t have to spend money on a truck. You’ll also need to consider if you need to tow a car or just drive the RV everywhere you want.

If you choose a towable trailer, pay attention to the towing, payload, and cargo capacities; and its gross vehicle weight ratings. Plus, you’ll spend more money if you don’t already have a tow vehicle or need to upgrade.

Motorhome, Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer For Full Time RV Life

Take Your Time

One of the biggest struggles for new RVers is trying to go too fast. Take your time when choosing a rig. Take your time when driving down the interstate. Take your time when planning a road trip.

And take your time when setting up camp and tearing down to head home.

When you get in a hurry, you forget or do things incorrectly. In the world of RVing, this can be dangerous and expensive. So make sure you don’t rush.

Get Organized

Getting organized may not sound very important, but it makes RV life run much more smoothly. Use tubs and bins for shelf storage. Install shelves in tall cabinets and outside storage bays. Figure out where you’ll put shoes.

An organized RV allows you to find things easily. It also tends to be cleaner when everything has a place. So spend time getting organized when you get your RV before you head out on your first weekend trip.

Set Up Camp

Finally, understand the setup process.

Watch YouTube videos. Read blog articles. Ask friends who already have a camper. If you aren’t confident in setting up your rig once you arrive at a campsite, you’ll start the weekend on the wrong foot.

First, understand the basics of hooking up the sewer, electricity, and water. Then, learn the order of what needs to happen first, second, third, etc.

Finally, know how to level your RV before you leave your house. How to use an RV is more than just knowing what switch does what action; it’s also how to do things correctly.

How to Setup Your RV Campsite for Beginners - Water, Sewer, Electric and Gear PLUS Newbie Checklist!

Understand How to Use Your RV Systems

Besides the basics of how to RV, you need to understand some important systems before planning your first camping trip. You don’t want to spend your entire first day trying to figure out why your air conditioning unit isn’t working. And don’t wait too long before emptying your holding tanks.

HVAC: Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning

Depending on the camping season and location, you’ll want to learn about the HVAC system in your RV. No one wants to be uncomfortable. You might lose the support of your family members if they don’t have air conditioning in Georgia in June.

Talk to the dealer or previous owner about how to operate the furnace and the air conditioning. Know what maintenance you need to do regularly to keep them in good condition and avoid repairs. Learn amperage and wattage and whether your RV is 30 amp or 50 amp. What runs on propane, and what runs on electricity?

Ventilation is also important. How do you get good airflow in an RV so it’s not musty? Research tips on reducing moisture when you cook, bathe, and travel to humid environments. This is very important to the overall condition of your RV because moisture leads to mold and mildew.

Batteries and Electricity

If you’re new to RVing, consider making the first few trips to a campground with full hookups. This means you’ll have electricity, water, and sewer without worrying about conserving.

First, feel familiar with the RV systems and more comfortable with the how-tos of RVing. Then you can start thinking about dry camping.

Don't Waste Your Money On Batteries - The Shocking Truth I Discovered When Testing RV Batteries

Boondocking, or dry camping, means you are completely self-sufficient. You have no hookups and are responsible for your own water and power. To do this successfully and comfortably, you must learn how your batteries work and how many watts you typically use. Then you must learn how to conserve water and fill your fresh tank. 

Understanding these things will help you learn more about your dry camping needs. Do you need two or three solar panels? How many batteries do you need? Do you want to upgrade to lithium batteries? Are you just going to use a generator? How you’ll supply power is of utmost importance when you try boondocking. 

Pro Tip: Thinking about giving boondocking a try? Here are a few Important Things To Know Before You Go.

Slide Operation

If you have an Airstream, you won’t need to know how to operate slide-outs. But many RVs have at least one. Some have up to four or more. Knowing how to use your slides properly is critical to the setup and tear-down processes.

It takes more than just knowing the correct buttons to push. Know how much weight you can put on the slides. Learn the proper maintenance to keep them in good condition. And always check underneath them inside and outside the RV before pushing them in.

You also want to ensure you know how far out your slides will go when you arrive at a campsite. Otherwise, you risk hitting a tree or the power pedestal.

Hookups and Holding Tanks

Understanding the plumbing and holding tank system is crucial to ensuring you have an enjoyable weekend. Practice hooking up the sewer and water hose and power cord at home, so you don’t feel lost when you start your first camping trip. Come prepared with all of the needed gear and know where everything connects.

And always, always wear gloves when handling the sewer hose.

Tom dumping RV holding tanks
Using a dump station gets easier with practice.

Don’t count on your sensors when it’s time to empty the holding tanks. Learning how often you have to dump your tanks takes some getting used to. If you camp for a weekend, you probably don’t need to empty your tanks until right before you leave. If you camp for a week or longer, you’ll have to gauge your water and waste going into the tanks based on their capacities.

Always empty the black tank first and then the gray tank. This allows the gray tank of mostly soapy water to flush out the remaining solids and gunk from the black tank that might have gotten stuck in the sewer hose.

Tips for RV Maintenance

Numerous checklists on the Internet will help you know how often you need to do certain things to maintain your RV. Using an RV is one thing, but taking care of it is just as important. If you don’t properly maintain your rig, you’ll likely experience problems that lead to costly repairs.

For example, many RVers suggest checking the seals at least once a month. Some manufacturers require this to maintain the warranty. Cleaning the air conditioning units in the spring prevents any issues once the summer heat rolls around.

You’ll also want to keep products on hand to help with maintenance and repairs. You don’t want to travel without these things. When you need them, you may not have a store that carries them within driving distance.

RV air conditioning maintenance
Save yourself money on expensive repairs by keeping up with regular maintenance.

Tips for Planning Camping Trips

When you feel ready to start planning your camping trips, plan as far in advance as you can. Ask off work several months in advance so you can make reservations without worrying if the campground will be full. 

Stay close to home the first few trips. So if you do end up having any issues, you have friends you can call or a short drive back home. If you purchase a new rig, stay close to the dealer. Then you can work out any problems before you head out on a cross-country road trip.

Take advantage of apps when planning, too. Download a good RV-safe GPS app and one to find fuel stations. When going on a longer trip, download a trip planning app to help you find campgrounds, attractions, and rest areas along your route.

Get your family involved when planning. Ensure everyone has a say about where you’ll go, what you’ll eat, and what you’ll do. If one child wants to go paddleboarding and the other wants to read in a hammock, provide time to do both. Getting the family involved in the planning helps make the trip theirs, not just yours.

How We Plan our Full-Time RV Travels - One Year on the Road

Tips for Learning How to Drive Your RV

There are three classes of motorized RVs: Class A, Class B, and Class C. The type you purchase may depend on how comfortable you are driving it. The Class B RVs compare in size to transit vans and maneuver much easier. 

But if you choose a Class A or Class C motorhome, they’ll be much heavier and longer. Spend several days driving in an empty parking lot to get comfortable with your new rig. Or you might want to consider attending driving school if you’ve never driven anything larger than a Honda Civic.

If you choose a towable RV like a travel trailer or fifth wheel, you still have a learning curve. Towing a 42-foot fifth wheel is much different than towing a flatbed trailer with a lawn mower. Again, take several days to practice turning and backing up in an empty parking lot. Learn your turning radius. Then know how to turn the steering wheel to make your RV go a particular direction.

Finally, ask for help. If you have a friend who’s been RVing for a decade, ask him to go with you to help guide you as you learn. You want to ensure you travel safely when you head out on your first camping trip. You also want to ensure you can get into your campsite without attracting all the neighbors.

Tom learning how to drive Class A RV
Learning how to drive an RV takes practice.

Start Your RVing Experience With Confidence

Getting your first RV is exciting. But it’s also nerve-wracking. It can feel scary for some people who have never towed anything before or have never driven anything longer than their minivan.

You probably have heard horror stories about RVs catching on fire or poop spilling out all over the ground. These things happen but are less likely to occur if you prepare.

Take the time to understand how to RV and give yourself grace when things go wrong. You can learn some things on the fly while others you can prepare for. But start your RVing experience on the right foot by knowing the basics, understanding the systems, and following tips from veteran RVers. You’ll be glad you did.

If you’re thinking about RVing full-time, it’s important to understand the costs. Learn How Much It Costs to Full-Time RV before you jump into this lifestyle.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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