10 RV Camping Tips for Beginners

Spring is here and many of us are gearing up for another beautiful RV camping season! With somewhere around 355,000 new RVs being sold each year, many RVers hitting the road this season are total newbies – and we were all there once.

RV camping is one of the most fun, rewarding and relaxing things you’ll ever do in your life – once you get the hang of it. Since getting yourself and your RV ready for your first adventures may feel a little overwhelming, we’ve put together this post just for you!

1. Checklists:

RV camping checklist

As a newbie RV camper, checklists can be a lifesaver! It is a good idea to make a few checklists and keep them with you for reference until you really get the hang of things.

To make sure you don’t miss any essential items, make a packing checklist. This checklist will change as you take more trips and learn what you need and didn’t bring and what you brought that you never touched.

Create a pre-trip checklist to help you remember all the things you need to do prior to taking off… this could include packing, making sure your home or apartment is vacation-ready and all appliances are off and other things such as:

  • Checking the RV tires
  • Making sure the awning is pulled in (you’d be surprised how many people miss this and lose their awning)
  • Making sure the RV Jacks are pulled up
  • Everything is latched and secured
  • All passengers are accounted for, etc.

Once you’ve arrived at camp, a setup checklist will help you avoid things like a shower drain backup because you forgot to connect the sewer hose… That’s a mistake I made after RVing full-time for a year! A camp setup checklist should include:

  • Leveling the RV
  • Securing Wheels
  • Hooking up Water
  • Hooking up Sewer
  • Setting up Pop-Ups or Opening Slides
  • Setting up lawn chairs/outside area

2. Walkaround:

No matter what age or condition your RV or travel trailer is in, it is a good idea to get in the habit of doing a walkaround every time you stop. At every gas station, grocery store, and campground, walk around your RV looking for any obvious issues. Traveling down the road produces a lot of vibration and will inevitably rattle things loose. Make sure your tires look okay, storage bins are latched and that there are no obvious signs of trouble. A walkaround is a quick and easy preventative measure that could save you a headache down the road… literally.

3. Practice Trip:

RV camping trip

As an RV Camping beginner, taking a practice trip is a great way to get a feel for what camping in your new RV will be like and gives you a chance to diagnose potential issues while still being close to home. Take a maiden voyage to a campground near you. This is a good time to learn how to use all of your RV’s systems – they’re a lot different than in a house or apartment. Before taking a big trip: be sure that you understand your RV’s holding tanks and how to dump them, stove, refrigerator, water heater, leveling jacks, slide-outs, propane system and any other features you are unsure about. There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it it’ll be second nature to you.

4. Driving Tips:

RV driving tips

Whether you’re driving a motorhome or towing a trailer, driving is going to be a lot different than when you’re just in your normal everyday vehicle.

An RV is long and wide and so is a trailer – your mirrors are going to be your best friend. Learn how to use your mirrors and ensure they’re in the proper position for driving. Typically, one mirror helps you see traffic behind you, and the other helps you see where your RV or trailer tires are and a bit of your blind spots. Knowing where your RV or trailer tires are in relation to you as the driver and in relation to curbs is going to help you make turns properly. These mirrors will also help you ensure that you are staying within your lane – your rig is much wider than a regular vehicle.

Drive slowly and remember that you need to start braking earlier than you would in a car – an RV or travel trailer weighs more and requires more stopping distance. Protect your brakes while going downhill by downshifting and letting your engine do most of the work, never ride the brakes. Tap the brakes for a few seconds at a time on downgrades to keep them from overheating.

When RVing… Don’t trust Google Maps! Unless you’re using an RV or Semi-Truck specific GPS, be vigilant when planning your route. Google Maps will always take you the fastest way, and the fastest route isn’t always going to be RV friendly. In particular, you will need to know the height of your RV or trailer to make sure you avoid low bridges and overpasses. In addition to knowing your height, it’s also good to know your weight because some bridges have weight limits. Awareness is key! Keep your rig height in mind for gas stations, too.

If you’re still feeling unsure, consider taking RV driver training.

5. Choosing Campsites:

Choosing your RV campsite
Photo Credit: Steve Corey on Flickr

First and foremost, if you’re going to a popular location… Make a reservation! This cannot be stressed enough. Popular destinations can be booked up for up to a year in advance, so call before you go. There are few things more stressful than driving all day and arriving at your campground only to find out it’s full.

In addition to making reservations, here are a few helpful tips to finding a good campground:

  • Check reviews. Use Google, Allstays.com and Campendium.com to check reviews from previous campers. You’ll get the inside scoop on the park and location, the management and the condition of the facilities.
  • Use Google Maps Satellite View. Using satellite view of your chosen destination will help you get a feel for what navigating in the campground will be like, where to turn in at, the spacing between the campsites and more. I like to use satellite view to choose which campsite I want before making my reservation.
  • Most campgrounds charge a lot more for nightly than they do for weekly or monthly reservations. If you have time and are looking to save some money, be sure to check their weekly or monthly rates before making your reservation.

6. Protect Your RV:

RV surge protector
RV surge protector plugged into campsite pedestal

An RV is an investment – one that you’ll want to protect and enjoy for years to come. In addition to insurance and preventative maintenance, there are a few devices most serious RVers use to give themselves added protection and peace of mind.

  • Surge Protector: A surge protector is plugged in between your rig and an external power source. It monitors the quality of the power source, protects your rig from ungrounded connections and will protect your rigs electrical system from getting fried in the event of a power surge from lightning or bad campground wiring. It is a small investment that can save your entire electrical system! You can even purchase a lock to ensure it doesn’t get stolen.
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System: A tire pressure monitoring system, or TPMS, can alert you to potential tire hazards that you would otherwise be unaware of. They can be used for RVs and travel trailers alike and alert you to changes in tire pressure or temperature. This can be helpful in preventing blowouts and rig damage.

7. How to Pack:

When packing your RV or travel trailer, it is important to keep in mind the weight of the items that you are packing. Your rig should generally be able to handle the weight of your personal belongings and full holding tanks, but you need to be mindful about packing it. The more weight you have, the more gas you’ll use. Also, you may need more air in your tires if you are going to really load down your rig. When packing cabinets, put the heaviest items down low. Loads tend to shift while traveling and the last thing you want is to clean up a mess when you stop, or open a door and have all your canned goods flying at your face! If your drawers and cabinets won’t stay closed when driving, consider using latches or bungee cords to keep them secure. Another tip when loading your RV or trailer is weight distribution. If you plan on bringing heavy items, try to distribute the weight evenly from side to side. If it’s a trailer, the majority of the weight needs to go in the end closest to your vehicle.

8. Tire Safety: 

RV tire safety

In addition to using a TPMS to monitor your tire pressure and temperature while you are driving, there are a few other things to be sure that your tires are safe and cared for. As your contact with the road, you want to be vigilant about keeping your tires in good condition.

Many RVers won’t drive on tires older than 5 years, no matter what the visual condition looks like. This is personal preference, but no matter the age, it’s important to know how old your tires are. With most RV and travel trailer tires, you can’t assess their age or condition based on the tread. Tread will remain for years on these bigger tires, the real issues are UV damage and dry rot – both hard to see with the naked eye. If you have older tires, have them inspected.

To determine the age of your tires, look for a code on the sidewall that starts with “DOT” followed by 10-14 characters. Typically, your tire’s age will be the last 4 numbers. Of these last 4 numbers, the first 2 will be the week and the last 2 will be the year. For example, if your tire has a code 5214, your tires were made in the last week of the year 2014.

Always check your tire pressure at each stop and before traveling when they are cold to be sure they are at the proper pressure. This number will fluctuate based on temperature and altitude. It is a wise idea to add an air compressor to your packing list that is rated for up to 120 PSI – because it’s hard to find air compressors that are suited for RV tires! Most gas station air pumps are also hard to maneuver an RV into.

Last but not least for tire safety, pick up some tire covers. Tire covers are a relatively cheap investment that protect your exterior tires from the damaging effects of UV rays.

So to summarize tire safety: check the age, monitor the pressure, keep them inflated to proper pressure to avoid blowouts or other tire damage, and keep them covered from the sun.

9. How to Save on Gas:

One of the first things you’ll notice when driving an RV for any amount of time is how much more gas you’re going through. Driving an RV or pulling a trailer is much more expensive at the pump, but there are some ways you can combat the gas guzzle!

  1. Drive Slow! While you are probably already driving slow for safety reasons, driving slowly can help you save immensely on gas. Gas mileage begins to drop significantly after speeds of 60 miles per hour or more, especially on larger vehicles! It will take you a bit longer to get to your destination, but your wallet will thank you.
  2. Empty Tanks. Be sure your water holding tanks are empty – you can fill your fresh water when you get to your camping location. Aside from keeping enough fresh water for your toilet or water needs while traveling, keep the tank as empty as possible. 1 gallon of water weighs more than 8lbs… All that weight has a huge impact on your gas consumption!
  3. Don’t Overpack. Speaking of the weight of water, the weight of everything you pack also has an impact on your gas consumption. Only bring what you need and keep your loaded weight down to save on gas.
  4. Avoid Windy Day Driving. Driving on windy days with an RV or travel trailer can be downright terrifying – a high profile vehicle and gusts of wind can make for an exhausting drive! If you hate windy day driving, you have another reason to avoid doing it: gas consumption. All the extra resistance causes your engine to work harder, guzzling more of those precious gallons of fuel. If you can avoid it, great!

10. How to Find Dump Stations

RV dump stations
Photo credit by Tim on Flickr

If you are camping off the grid or at primitive campsites, you may find yourself wondering where you can go to dump your tanks and fill with fresh water. A great app for this is Allstays RV Dump Stations App. This app will tell you where the dump stations are located and what type of amenities and fees you can expect at each stop.

With some strategic planning and preparation, your first RV camping trip will go off without a hitch! (pun intended) Make the most of this spring, summer and fall by RV camping with your friends and family – and keep your peace of mind with these 10 RV camping tips for beginners. 

Still searching for the perfect RV? We can help! Click here. 

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