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New to RVing? 7 Things You Need to Know To Get Started

When you are new to RVing, the freedom, simplicity, and spontaneity that comes with an adventurous lifestyle can be both exciting and overwhelming. While some people are handy and dive into learning RVs’ unique systems and workings, others may not be quite as comfortable. Never fear! Before you spend days, weeks, and months researching, read our simple guide that outlines the basics of RVing.

New To RVing? We’ve Got You Covered!

Regardless of how often you like to travel, you must start out new to RVing at some point. Even after almost a decade of RV traveling, we remember the feeling of just getting started. The flexibility and free reign traveling an RV offers can frequently leave a person feeling inundated with information and advice. There are books, maps, how-to guides, blogs, YouTube videos, online courses, the internet, and your fellow RVers. 

Relax! We’re here to give you the essentials. The need-to-knows. Enough information to make you feel comfortable setting off on your first RV adventures, but not so much that you give up your RVing dreams.

tom and cait researching rvs on their computers
Before you spend days, weeks, and months researching, read this simple guide that outlines the basics of RVing.

7 Things You Need to Know If You’re New to RVing

These are some basic RV areas that will help set the groundwork for you, so you can begin to get more comfortable with your new style of exploration. We’ll be covering how to manage your RV resources, basic safety, and some of our best travel planning tips to get you started. 

1. How Your RV Power System Works

An RV is a car and a house. When starting out, it’s helpful to think of the systems you have in both and the differences between them. 

Most RVs have two power systems: the 12V DC system (like your car) and a 120V AC system (like your house).

You may also hear different terms like 30 amp, 50 amp, generators, solar, etc., but what does it all mean? Essentially, these are the power sources that provide electricity to your RV. 

12V DC System

Your RV batteries are at the heart of the 12V DC system. When you aren’t hooked up to an electrical pedestal, these batteries provide power to your appliances. Many things in your RV will not work if your RV batteries are dead, so monitoring and keeping them charged is important. 

120V AC System

This powers your outlets and large-draw appliances like a microwave. This system typically works when the RV is plugged into electrical but not when you’re going down the road. In other words, the outlets will not work in your RV when you’re not plugged in unless you have an RV inverter

RV Power Plug – 50 Amp, 30 Amp, or 20 Amp

The main power plug on your RV is designed to plug into an outlet designated for either 30amp or 50amp service at a campground electrical pedestal, depending on your specific RV’s size and power needs.

Generator & Solar Power

However, if electric hookups are not an option while camping, you can plug into a generator that will provide power or use RV solar panels to charge your RV batteries. Camping without hookups like this is called dry camping or boondocking.

RV electrical pedestal with 50 amp 30 amp and 20 amp power
RV electrical pedestal with 50 amp, 30 amp, and 20 amp power.

2. How Your RV Water System Works

When you are new to RVing, educating yourself on the three kinds of holding tanks within an RV’s water system is essential. The three types include the freshwater tank, the grey tank, and the black tank. 

RV Holding Tanks

The fresh water tank is as clear as its name. This tank carries clean, potable water to your shower and sink faucet. 

The grey tank collects water runoff from your shower as well as your RV sink faucet

Finally, the black tank holds all of the sewage water from the toilet. 

Your RV will come with tank level indicators, although (spoiler) they are often inaccurate. It’s wise to frequently check and monitor your tanks’ status to ensure you have no overflow at your campsite. 

Water Hookups

Now, let’s take a look at where the water comes from. The first option is to attach a hose to the city water connection from the outside of your RV. The other possibility is to operate the RV’s pump to use water stored in your freshwater tank. 

The city water bypasses the holding tank completely. So, while you’re using city water, the water spigot outside can remain on all the time.

The second option available is the fresh water tank and your on-board 12V DC water pump. When city water connections aren’t available at your campsite, you fill the freshwater tank at fill station and use the RV’s water pump to get it to the faucet, shower, etc. 

Water Filtration

We highly recommend using an RV water filter. Water quality varies tremendously from location to location, and we’ve seen far too many water boil notices to trust them all. If you’re just starting, a simple “blue pill” in-line filter will work for many cases. If you don’t use a water filter, we recommend not drinking out of your fresh tank.

3. How to Dump Your Waste Water

RV waste water includes both grey water and black water. These both need to be dumped into a designated dump station or sewer connection to empty your grey and black tanks.

On the side of your RV, usually in a compartment, you will find levers that allow you to dump the tanks. You’ll need to use an RV sewer hose that connects the sewer pipe on your RV to the dump station. 

One lever is specifically for the grey tank, and the other will be only for the black tank. It is always a best practice to dump your black tank first. This is simply because you can dump the grey tank – soapy water from your sink and shower – to aid in flushing out the hose. 

While you’re RVing at a park or campground, you’ll likely want to leave your sewage hose hooked up for convenience. However, it is important not to leave the black tank valve open because you don’t want the black liquid to drain and leave all the sewage solids in the tank. 

RV Holding Tank Dumping 1-2-3

4. Safety Tips for Towing and Towed Vehicles

Anytime you’re driving or pulling an RV of any length or size, everyone’s safety is a top consideration. Here are a few factors to remember for safely towing a trailer. 

Attempting to tow more weight than what your tow vehicle is rated to handle puts you and other drivers at risk and increases the likelihood of damage to your vehicle. Understanding an RV’s fully loaded weight before hooking it up to your vehicle (or even purchasing the RV!).

Also, be sure you have a proper understanding of your hitch system. Whether you have a fifth wheel or are using a weight-distribution hitch with sway control on a travel trailer, understanding how they work is essential. When set up correctly, well-maintained hitch systems will provide the safest towing experience while RVing.

Cars towed behind motorhomes are nicknamed “toads” in the RV world. When double towing toads, trailers, or boats behind your motorhome, always be sure to factor that weight into your calculations, too. 

How to Double Tow Two Trailers - Triple Towing a Boat Behind Our Fifth Wheel RV - 70 Feet Long!

5. How to Plan and Route Your RV Trip

While Google Maps and Waze are decent apps for planning travels, they do not know that you’re driving an RV. They cannot factor in the length, width, and height of your rig. Instead, think about trying these navigation apps as an alternative:

  • RVLife RV Safe GPS is an app that turns your phone into an RV GPS. It shows grades, low clearance alerts, weight restrictions, propane-restricted tunnels, and more. It’s included in the RV Life Pro bundle. The bundle is just $49/year and also includes RV Trip Wizard to plan your RV trips and routes and Maintain My RV. Learn more here.
  • CoPilot GPS is an RVer favorite for trip planning. In the areas where cell service can be sporadic, this app has an offline navigation feature that provides clear directions. CoPilot GPS also calculates your route according to the size and class of your RV. 

6. Best Apps and Resources for RV Travel Planning and Campgrounds

You’ll find many apps out there for finding places to stay. We have a couple of top recommendations to get you started:

  1. Campendium – This app specializes in providing campground reviews from fellow RVers. You’ll find detailed information such as traveler photos, cell service coverage, and different GPS coordinates. To help you locate free camping and overnight parking at Cabela’s and Cracker Barrel, look no further than the Campendium app.
  2. RV Trip Wizard – This simple web-based RV trip planning tool helps you plan every aspect of your route. From rest stops to fuel stations to campgrounds filtered by RV membership, RV Trip Wizard makes travel planning a breeze!
  3. The Allstays app is also a well-rounded tool for the avid nomad. The small $9.99 fee required for use more than pays for itself in very little time. Not only can you plan your trip, but you can also locate RV dump stations, truck stops, rest areas, and even camping options with reviews included. By using Allstays, you can also locate your nearest Walmart or Pilot gas station. 

Chances are these and countless other handy apps will spare you many hours of unwanted stress that traveling can sometimes bring.

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

7. Use a Pre- and Post-Trip Walkaround and Checklist

A walkaround is important to confirm everything on the RV’s interior and exterior is secure for travel. Be sure to check all doors, stabilizers, stairs, etc., to ensure they are safe and road-ready. 

When you’re new to RVing, remembering everything can certainly be overwhelming. That’s when having a functional RV departure checklist nearby can be useful.

Another consideration is to make a checklist that’s specific to your RV and all of its components. Always remember to take your time to check everything on your RV before heading out. It is far more to your advantage than performing a rushed and scatterbrained inspection.

Welcome To The RV Life!

If you’re new to RVing, consider these tips a baseline. Take comfort in knowing that every one of your fellow RVers was new once, too. And most of them are willing to help! The RV community has various backgrounds, ages, and experience levels. In our experience, they have been most helpful to those learning the ropes.

We wish you luck in starting your new RVing journey! If you haven’t already, subscribe to our newsletter to start your adventure right with RV tips and tricks delivered daily to your inbox.

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Welcome, fellow RVer!

About Tom and Caitlin Morton

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 Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Bruce M Rider

Tuesday 3rd of May 2022

I have a question. The answer is probably as obvious as black & grey. Why can't the grey water be used for flushing the head? Sure would conserve a lot of potable water while boondocking. The soapy water would also have a chance to slish around in the black water holding tank & potentially help to clean it.

Mortons on the Move

Sunday 22nd of January 2023

No reason, Boats do it sometimes or use seawater. There would need to be another pump and filter, but it could be added. No manufacturer that I know of installes it however. The toilet might need to be sealed as well because grey water tends to smell bad and filling the toilet with it could really smell.

Drew

Thursday 4th of February 2021

I just love this groovy site- it's on-point, reaches out, all inclusive, and is soooo "NOW"!

Clint Rairdon

Tuesday 2nd of February 2021

We just put a down payment on our first travel trailer, and take possession in December. Really looking forward to retirement and spending my first year traveling the west. Going to boondock as much as possible !!

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 2nd of February 2021

Awesome! Congratulations on your new travel trailer!!! If you haven't already, be sure to check out our article Important Things To Know Before Going Boondocking: https://www.mortonsonthemove.com/what-is-boondocking/