Before purchasing our camper (a 27-foot 2016 Keystone Passport Elite 23RB) back in March 2016, we had done a lot of road tripping and tent camping. We went to several RV shows. There was a lot of research involved. We thought we knew what we were getting into. And while it was not a complete shock, there were definitely a few things that we didn’t expect.
Whether you just bought your first RV or are still trying to determine if RVing is right for you, here are our tips for new RVers to help you get started. For those of you still searching for your first RV, check out our RV Show Survival Guide.
(Disclaimer: When we link to places you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes which earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy for more information.)
You Need a Lot of Stuff
Perhaps the most important thing to know is that your RV will not come equipped with everything you need to drive off the lot and go camping. The dealer may offer you a “starter kit” of the basics, but you’ll still need a lot of stuff.
That “stuff” is everything from a hitch (for a pull-behind trailer or fifth-wheel) to bedding to camp chairs and everything in between.
If you’re not sure where to start with this, check out our guide to Outfitting Your New RV. Here, we share everything we’ve purchased for our camper – both the must-haves and the wants.
Of course, what you need will somewhat depend on how big your RV is and the specific floor plan, but expect to need a decent amount of stuff. Not all of it is crucial right off the bat, but you will want to be comfortable, especially if you are planning on spending extended periods of time in the RV.
I guarantee that there will be a few things that you thought you could live without that you eventually decide you can’t.
Your RV is a Second Home
As you are stocking your new RV and trying to figure out just why you need so much stuff, remember that this is a second home. Yes, you can bring some stuff with you from your house rather than stock a second everything in the camper, but that sometimes gets old. And, often, you need different types of things in the RV, such as unbreakable dishes.
But, the most important reason to think of your RV as a second home is for tax purposes. Yep, even if you’re only spending a few nights a year in your camper, you can still write it off as a second home.
Admittedly, with the tax changes that went into effect for 2018, particularly the increased standard deduction, this may be less important than in previous years. Still, if you itemize your deductions, you can save a bit by claiming your RV as a second home.
Don’t Always Trust Your GPS
Once you’ve stocked your rig, it’s time to hit the road. Just be careful when following your car or phone’s GPS. A couple of things to consider – the estimated arrival time will likely be wrong and you have to watch out for low overpasses, small roads and tight places in general.
If you’re traveling on the interstate, chances are you will not be going the speed limit with your RV. Everyone is a bit different in terms of how fast they are comfortable driving, but in general, you likely won’t be traveling 70+ mph consistently. Thus, it will take longer than the GPS says it will take. Just be sure to consider this when determining how far you want to drive in one day.
Additionally, most RVs need to watch out for low overpasses, which will not always be noted on your GPS. Some systems may have a setting for this, but our experience is those cost extra money. If you are driving on the interstates, you shouldn’t have any issues with this. But, if you prefer back roads, then this is certainly something to watch out for.
Some roads even ban campers altogether. Granted, those are few and far between, but it is still something to watch out for.
You Can’t Stop Just Anywhere
Once you’ve set your route, at some point you’re probably going to need to stop. Whether it is for food, a bathroom or gas, unless you’re only driving an hour or two, you should always expect to have to stop. And when you’re bigger than the average vehicle, that isn’t always easy.
Whether you are pulling a camper or driving a motorhome, you can’t just pull through a fast food drive-thru. Even parking at a restaurant can be difficult or impossible. Gas stations are typically a bit better, but not always.
We have come to love truck stops such as Pilot/Flying J and Love’s. While you may not always want to go into the truck area, the regular parking lots are typically fairly large and will accommodate RVs.
If you can’t find a truck stop, I suggest using the satellite view on Google Maps or Apple Maps to view any unfamiliar gas stations or parking lots. Look to see that you have plenty of room to park and maneuver through the area in general.
And, yes, be prepared to not be able to stop even if you thought you should be able to fit.
You’ll Probably Want a Get-Around Vehicle
All that consideration of tight spaces isn’t just for your road trip, it’s for getting around once you reach your destination, too. You certainly don’t want to be driving a large RV everywhere you go. At least I wouldn’t want to.
If you’ve got a smaller motorhome, you might be able to maneuver through city streets and parking lots just fine, but consider the hookups at your campground. You will not want to have to disconnect your water, power and sewer every time you need to leave your campsite.
For those pulling a trailer or fifth-wheel, you’ve got your get-around vehicle already. Otherwise, carefully consider what you can tow with your motorhome AND if it is towable. Yep, not all cars will tow or tow well, which is why you sometimes see towed cars on a dolly.
Hopefully, these were things you considered before buying your RV. If not, you’ll have to figure out what works for you and your vehicles.
Expect Things to Go Wrong
Any trip you take is likely to have something go wrong. Whether it is booking a hotel that is not as convenient as expected or forgetting to make reservations or getting a flat tire, the truth is that things can and will go wrong.
That, of course, is also true with an RV. This is one reason why we purchased a trailer rather than a motorhome – one less engine to have to worry about. But, things still happen.
One summer, we overtightened a window crank and broke the crank to the point that the window had to be taped closed. That same trip, the pull bar on the black water tank fell off, so we couldn’t empty the tank until we got a new one. Currently, we have something leaking in the bathroom and we haven’t yet figured out where it is coming from.
Things happen. Sometimes they are small and can wait for repairs. Sometimes they are big. Should you get into an accident, getting an RV towed is a lot more difficult than getting a car towed.
That is not meant to discourage you from getting an RV. They are wonderful and the vast majority of the time we have absolutely no issues or problems. Just remember that there will be times you have to deal with things and it might now always be easy or quick.
Read about our experiences Finding RV Service on the Road here.
RVing Might Save Money Over a Hotel, But it’s Not Guaranteed
If you’re hoping to save some money by RVing, hopefully, you did some math before taking the plunge. Finances, of course, will depend on how you currently travel, how much you travel and what RV you buy.
Before buying a camper, we did a lot of tent camping to save on hotel costs. If getting a hotel, we generally spent about $100/night while also saving points to redeem periodically. Of course, tent camping and redeeming points for free hotel stays brought our average cost per night down quite a bit.
Based on that, we do not save money by having our camper versus tent camping with some hotel stays. The camper itself was a large purchase. We have to pay for storage since we live in a condo. We spend a lot more money on gas when pulling the camper, and getting a campsite with full hookups often costs more than a tent site. Yes, these expenses add up.
If you are not a tent camper and typically spend at least one hundred dollars a night on a hotel when traveling, you likely will be able to save some money by RVing. This is especially true if you can be comfortable in a mid-size RV that you can store at home.
But, remember, having an RV is not just about the money. It is the experience, too. Being able to have your own bed, cook your own meals and have some privacy in your home makes a big difference, even if it’s not saving you money.
You Don’t Have to Stay in a Campground
If you are looking to save money, remember that you don’t always have to stay in a campground. Yep, having an RV means you are a bit more self-sufficient. Boondocking is this practice of camping without hookups.
Unfortunately, that does not mean that you can park and boondock just anywhere. But, there are a lot of places that you can park for free. If you just need a quick overnight on your way somewhere, most (but not all) Wal-Marts allow RVs to park overnight for free. Some public lands, such as those managed by the US Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management allow free camping.
While we have done some boondocking, this is not something that we do a lot of at this point. That is mostly because we do the majority of our camping in the summer and we like our air conditioning. Until we get a generator or solar panels, that means finding a campground with hookups.
We were surprised when camping in Mt. Rainier National Park that our single battery powered the lights and the blower of the furnace for three days. We were able to power the fridge as well as the water heater and furnace with propane.
But, when the weather cooperates and the timing is right, we always love a free night of camping!
Understand it All but Divide and Conquer to Become an Expert
Managing an RV takes a lot. If you have a trailer, fifth-wheel or tow vehicle, you have to know how to get it hooked up. Once you arrive at your campground, you need to be able to secure the RV and hook up your connections. When preparing to move the camper, you need to know how to store everything for safe transport. All these things take practice.
Each person in the family or travel group should have his/her tasks that they are always responsible for. This allows you to become an expert and complete that task correctly and efficiently each time.
For example, Grant is in charge of most everything outside the camper: securing the hitch and setting up the connections, in particular. I am in charge of the inside: moving items into place for use when we arrive and securing them in storage before transport. This allows us to each know what we are responsible for and get it done quickly and smoothly.
At the same time, I think it is important for each of us to know what the other is doing and how to do it in a pinch. A classic example is if it’s getting late or bad weather is coming in and you need to complete the outdoor tasks quickly. If I can get out there and help it will go twice as fast and I won’t just be standing there waiting for Grant to tell me what to do.
And should one of us ever get injured to the point of not being able to help, the other can set everything up even if it takes a bit longer.
Ladies, You Can Drive, Too
One of my biggest frustrations is women who will not help out with the RV driving. I grew up around trucks, trailers and large tractors, so I suppose that the idea of driving a truck and pulling a camper is less stressful for me than most women. But it really is not difficult, at least not until you have to back up!
Seriously, if you can drive a car or SUV, then you can drive an RV. Granted, I have never driven a large Class A motorhome but all the other trucks and vans I’ve driven have been exactly the same as my first car, just a bit bigger.
I will say this, though: driving a medium or large RV can be tiring. Having a second driver will make all the difference in the world. Even if you’re just providing a one hour break, having that mental rest is more important than you realize. If you can truly split the driving 50/50, then you’ll get twice as far and/or be half as tired.
There are plenty of women who are like me and will drive the RV. For those of you who haven’t done it yet: start small. Find a large, empty parking lot or somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of traffic or tight turns and practice. Just get used to the feel of the vehicle and what it takes to start, stop and turn.
Driving a larger vehicle does take some getting used to. You do need to be comfortable with it before driving through a congested area. But, it isn’t something that has to be scary or intimidating.
Expect to Fight When Backing Up an RV
This is the big one. And this is something that really does take two people most of the time. Truly, anyone who can back up a camper, especially a trailer, on their own is a superhero in my book!
So, when you’re backing up, understand that you don’t understand the other person’s point of view (or lack thereof). Still, no matter how many times you back up a trailer, it will be stressful. And you will say something you shouldn’t or won’t say something you should and it will cause a fight. Just expect it.
Once you’re in place, cool off with an adult beverage. And if you do manage to avoid a fight, celebrate with an adult beverage! Yes, we like our adult beverages… in moderation, of course!
Going along with the “I can drive this thing too” thought, we have both been the driver backing into a campsite. But, in terms of “divide and conquer and become an expert” we decided to let Grant be the expert backer-upper. Or at least attempt to become one.
Truly, though, it is something that just takes practice. So, having one person “practice” consistently is better for us. And we learned that I am a bit better at getting the trailer balanced, meaning I have to be the one not driving.
Hopefully, you’ll find a system that works for you. And, if you get a fancy RV with a backup camera, just know we are jealous.
You’re Joining a Great Community
If all this sounds stressful and overwhelming, that’s because sometimes it is. I don’t want to lie to you… managing a house on the road and all that entails can be difficult. But it is definitely worth it.
Taking your house and your stuff with you is comforting. Being surrounded by fresh air and nature is exhilarating. Seeing new places is life changing.
We have met some great people on the road. At campgrounds, you can just about always count on a neighbor to pass along a good tip for a nearby attraction or restaurant. If you’re in a bind, you can often find someone willing to lend a helping hand or offer advice.
Truly, RVing is a lifestyle that comes with its ups and downs, just like everything else in life. But, it is a wonderful lifestyle that, if you enjoy exploring, you will fall in love with!