RV Camping Tips for Beginners

RV Camping Tips for Beginners

By Samantha Brown, AAA Member and host of Samantha Brown’s Places to Love

Be sure to continue to observe social distancing, and check with the campsites, parks and local government about COVID-19 policies.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot more travelers are looking into exploring the USA by RV. It’s a safer way to travel, while embodying that sense of freedom you can only get from hitting the open road. I think that is a win.

So many people dream of taking an epic RV trip, but few do. As a newbie RVer, I’ll admit it’s a little intimidating at first. However, once my family and I hit the road, we instantly fell in love with the flexibility, spontaneity and community that comes along with an RV camping trip.

My husband and I rented an RV a few summers ago. And boy oh boy, did we learn a lot. If you’re considering RV travel, I highly recommend renting first. It’ll give you a better idea of what works for your particular needs. GoRVing.com* is a great resource for finding the perfect rig in the USA.

While this is not an exhaustive list of things to consider, I feel this list is the most helpful for those of us who are just starting out. There’s no reason to be embarrassed if you do make any of the below mistakes. They are shared by literally EVERY seasoned RVer out there. The good news? This community is more than happy to help out the “new kids on the block.”

Mistake #1: Skipping a test drive

It’s a great idea to get the feel for driving your ship on wheels. Unless you’re, say, a bus driver in real life, maneuvering an RV presents its own set of challenges. On our maiden voyage, my husband and I headed to the nearest big parking lot (at a shopping center) and drove around to literally get a feel for how it moved.

Pay attention to the turn radius and overhead clearance. Practice backing into a spot for those RV parks that don’t have what’s called pull-through sites. Trust me, it’s good to have done this at least once in a stress-free setting before parking your rig for the first time at a packed campground … though I am sure your audience of seasoned RV veterans will find it quite amusing!

I should mention that you’ll start to get confident driving your RV … and then you’ll take a turn too fast. Remember, you always have to drive slower and brake sooner.

Mistake #2: Not watching the gas gauge

Running out of gas in the middle of the wilderness is literally something out of a horror movie. It’s so important to get acquainted with your vehicle’s capabilities, and pay attention to the proximity of the nearest gas station. This is especially important if you’re hauling a camper with your regular vehicle. You may be used to getting a lot more mileage from a tank of gas, but your load could drop efficiency to less than 10 miles a gallon. One other tip here, with an RV you might be driving through more remote places than you are used to and the next gas station might be much farther away than you think.

Mistake #3: Forgetting paper maps

Our smartphones sure make navigation easy … that is, until you find yourself without service and in the middle of nowhere. (Also see “Not watching the gas gauge”). It’s important to have a good old fashioned paper map at the ready.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to do a walk-around before leaving an RV site

We’re all anxious to get on the road, but before you do, walk around the RV. Check the tire pressure. Make sure all the slide-outs are back in. Ensure the outside storage cabinets are closed and locked. Double-check that you didn’t leave your empty luggage next to the RV—you know, that kind of thing.

There are also things you need to do inside, like place the coffee maker and toaster in the sink so they don’t slide around. The one thing my husband and I just COULD NOT remember was making sure the refrigerator door was shut tight. We’d make a turn and, to our children’s total delight, the door would fling open and 10 apples would come flying out. If you are renting an RV, ask for a checklist.

Mistake #5: Over-packing

It’s so enticing to over-pack when you have all this space! However, an RV starts feeling pretty cramped when things aren’t neatly stored away. You really don’t need every kitchen gadget in the world. One set of plates, bowls and silverware will do. Remember, you have a sink and can wash things! Though it may not feel like it, you are camping. Even if it is fancy camping.

Mistake #6: Not making reservations

Part of the fun of RV travel is spontaneity. However, if you’re touring in the states, Memorial Day through Labor Day is busy, busy, busy—especially on holidays and weekends. Many great sites fill up early, and if they’re first-come, first-served, you best be at the campground when it opens. It’s always a good idea to book ahead of time or call and find out the best way to ensure your spot in the RV park you want.

Mistake #7: Not being level

Not only does this mean you’ll be uncomfortable as you sleep, a wonky RV set up means the fridge doesn’t work properly and you run the risk of your food going bad. Most RVs have some sort of leveling system, so find out where it is and how it works. Also, a small level is a handy-dandy item to have in your tool box.

Mistake #8: Forgetting Tetris-able storage

Organization and storage are important elements of RV travel. Square containers will just about always fit better than round ones. Ziplock bags pack small and have myriad uses.

Mistake #9: Skimping on essential tools

You don’t need every tool known to man, but a few items will make your trip so much easier.

  • Duct tape is a must—this is true in almost every life situation!
  • A small level is helpful for ensuring you’re not parked at a slope
  • A multi-bit ratcheting screwdriver set
  • 1/2-inch, 3/8-inch, and 1/4-inch socket set including adapters and extensions
  • A Leatherman multi-tool
  • Bungee cords with hooks
  • Hatchet/hammer combo
  • Headlamp with extra batteries
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Rubber gloves
  • First aid kit

* Go RVing is a proud sponsor of my show but all opinions are my own.

AAA Travel has teamed up with Samantha Brown and is a sponsor of Season 3 of Samantha Brown’s Places to Love on PBS. The series takes viewers on a discovery of the emotional heart of travel by highlighting the people who are changing, challenging and strengthening a destination to deliver a decidedly refreshing and enriching travel experience. Learn more at AAA.com/SamanthaBrown.

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RV Camping Tips for Beginners