RV Camping 101: A Complete Beginner’s Guide To RV Travel

The idea of RV camping used to be really intimidating to me. I wasn’t sure where to begin, what vehicle to choose, what level of technical knowledge I needed to have, what I would need to take for the trip, or even where to go. Karyn and I spent hours looking up information about traveling in an RV when we took our first trip. That’s why we’ve put together some RV camping tips and a lot of useful information to help you prepare for your next RV camping adventure.

Benefits of RV Camping

There are many great reasons to travel in an RV. You may want to spend some quality time with your family, or have the freedom to take along your beloved pet. An RV can be geared toward your personal comfort, while still allowing you to travel to any location you desire. An RV trip can even be a romantic one, allowing you some much-needed time with a special someone in your life.

RV travel is also an affordable way to travel because transportation, accommodation and meals all roll into one. According to Go Rving, an RV vacation can cost a family of four up to 59% less than other forms of travel. An Rv’s large storage capacity means you can also save money on rentals by bringing your own bikes, kayaks, golf clubs and more. And when you bring and cook your own food, you save big on food expenses.

What are the Types of RVs

RV types vary, ranging from a simpler experience to a more extravagant one.

Travel Trailers

Travel TrailerThe towable RV is one that is attached to a vehicle, and is towed from location to location. There are many styles and sizes. One of the crucial things for this type of RV is to make sure that your vehicle can pull the weight, including the weight of your belongings once packed. Among towable RVs, you will find:

  • Conventional travel trailers
  • Pop up campers
  • Expandable travel trailers
  • Truck campers
  • Fifth-wheel travel trailers

Motorized RVs

RVMotorized RVs are built on top of the chassis, so that you physically drive them, rather than towing them. Some of the largest motorhomes can sleep up to eight people comfortably. This shows it is truly possible to bring your large family along on a memorable vacation. As for the smaller, Class A Motorhome, many of those can still sleep up to six comfortably. Within these motorized RVs are varying degrees of amenities, but each work to maintain a home-like environment for you and your guests.

Motorhome Categories:

Class A This is the largest category of motorhome, with some models measuring up to 45 feet in length. They offer a large amount of space, and often come with a wide range of features such as a large kitchen, comfortable living areas and lots of amenities.

Class B – Class B motorhomes are usually up to 20 feet long. They look like an oversized van and are also commonly known as camper vans. They are tall enough for standing room but are quite small and can only sleep 2-4 people. They feature a kitchenette, dinette which turns into a bed, and a small bathroom with the toilet and shower combined into one space. They may be smaller but they are easier to drive and less expensive than Class A  and C motorhomes.

Class C – A smaller version of Class A motorhomes, class C models are built onto the chassis of existing trucks and feature an overcab sleeping area. They usually measure 20 to 30 feet in length. They come will all basic amenities and provide convenient family friendly floor plans, with enough room for 2-8 people.

Specialty RVs

For those who have disabilities, there are specialty RVs created to aid in a smoother experience. They are modified with the needs of the disabled in mind, and are a wonderful option for those who wish to enjoy an RV vacation with their family and friends. Some of the possible modifications include wheelchair lifts and ramps, roll-in showers, roll-under sinks etc…

RV

Where To Go RV Camping

There are thousands of RV parks and campgrounds that are available for RVs. It is just a matter of determining where you would like to go first!

Campgrounds

RV campgrounds really make an effort to be a community for the visitors that come and stay. Amenities vary from one place to the other. Some campgrounds are geared toward families while others are a little more glamorous. Some even offer special seasonal experiences. You can truly find a campground to fit whatever you and your family is looking for.

Public Lands

When you want to really get away from it all, you may choose to take your RV into public lands. These include National Parks, State Parks, Bureau of Land Management recreation sites, as well as National Wildlife Refuges, and US Army Corps of Engineers projects.

These locations each offer a way to immerse yourself in nature, experience amazing surroundings, as well as spectacular wildlife. For more information and to book a site visit Reserve America or National Park Service websites.

Scenic Byways

There are many historic scenic byways in America. Traveling on one of these byways will allow you to not only see beautiful scenery, but bring history to life.

From the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway in New Mexico to the Gold Belt Tour Scenic and Historic Byway in Colorado, you can follow the paths of others in history. You get to see some of what they saw, and stopping in places that were meaningful. For example, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway in Maryland follows along the secret network of the Underground Railroad, bringing to life the story of slaves finding freedom.

The Death Valley Scenic Byway in California travels 55 miles along one of the most extreme heat conditions in the Western Hemisphere. Choosing one of these byways as a part of your travel journey, will really add to your experience and memories of your vacation. For maps and locations visit the Scenic Byways website.

Need A Little Inspiration?

With so many people taking trips in RVs, some notable destinations have been mentioned by many travelers as places to not miss. The Glacier National Park for its breathtaking views and amazing wild nature. The Black Hills with its beautiful mountains and views of Mount Rushmore. Orcas Island in Washington state where you can experience the peace of an island right off of the state.

Rv Camping

Planning Your RV Adventure

Rent vs. Buy

This is a big consideration, especially if you’re new to the RV experience. You may find that it is more feasible for you to rent a vehicle. This way you can see how well you handle an RV, if things are going well, and if the size of the RV that you selected works for your family. This may be a better decision than it is to purchase something, only to determine that it is not the right fit for your family.

On the other hand, if you are an experienced RV traveler, or have the ability to purchase an RV without too much concern, you may want to do so. Once you own an RV, you can focus on setting up the interior to feel like a second home, without the concern of dismantling upon the return of a rental.

Cost is always going to be a consideration, but knowing what you can afford to spend, the type of experience you’re after, how much traveling you think you might like to do, and the family that you expect to travel can all be factors on whether you choose to rent or buy.

Vehicle

We recommend that you begin with a smaller vehicle that would fit your family, and that is not with a great amount of additional space. This is a safe bet because it will keep you from overspending before you really get to become an experienced RV traveler. Once you have been a part of the RV world for a while, it may be worth it to you to purchase a vehicle with more amenities and more options. You will also be aware of what amenities and options are meaningful and helpful to you and the ones you don’t need. This will prevent you from wasting any of your funds on options that you would never use.

Budgeting

It is important to remember that the cost of an RV is not just found in the RV alone. On top of the purchase of an RV, it must be licensed and insured, maintenance must be taken care of, and then, of course, there are charges for gas, as well. It is important that you take all of these additional, but necessary charges into account when determining a true budget for the RV.

Laws and Regulations

As you travel around to different locations, parks, and campgrounds, you will encounter fees, as well as charges for some services. It is a good idea to call ahead or check online to find out exactly what you can expect to spend at each of the locations where you plan to stay. That way you will not have too great of a surprise when the charges are presented to you.

Memberships

Various campgrounds and parks offer memberships that provide discounts and other benefits. For those who travel in their RV on a regular basis, these memberships may be very wise to purchase, as they may end up saving you a good deal of money. You should find out what memberships are available in the area or campsite where you are going prior to your departure. This way, you will arrive at your destination knowing if you would like to make a membership purchase, and what the benefits are.

Membership clubs worth checking out:

Route

Planning out your route is not just deciding where you would like to go. It is also considering how long it will take, what you might incur weather-wise and what the traffic conditions will be. You also want to find out if the route is a viable one, meaning that there is not a large construction delay, or such. The more planning you can do ahead of time will hopefully mean less unexpected events later.

Roadside Assistance

If you’re not already on a roadside assistance plan, you should definitely consider getting a package that covers your RV. I mean, what would you do if your RV breaks down in the middle of nowhere or one of your tires blows out? You will find out real quick how much of a godsend a good policy is when you’re stranded on the side of the road. Some of the benefits you should look for are – unlimited distance towing, lockout service, tire change, fuel delivery and battery boost.

Roadside assistance plans for RVs:

RV Travel

What To Bring

In addition to the typical packing that you would need to do for a vacation, such as clothes and personal belongings, there are other essentials that you will need to pack. Each of these things will make your trip a smoother one, as well as increase your safety.

Vehicle Essentials

It is smart to bring along gear to help maintain and secure the safety of your RV. Items such as wheel blocks, leveling blocks, and a tire pressure gauge will be peace of mind. These will allow you to secure and properly level your vehicle, as well as ensure that the tires are in proper condition.

Tool Kit

Being able to handle some repairs on the road is another area that will give you peace of mind. Bringing along a well-stocked toolkit is an essential. Your toolkit should contain items such as spare fuses, a tire repair kit, an air compressor and flares. You should have a variety of screwdrivers, ratchets, sockets, and wrenches, and any other tools you deem necessary.

Generator

Although you may have electricity hookups at many of the locations where you choose to stay, that will not always be the case. It is also possible that electricity hookups might fail in adverse weather conditions, or some unforeseen event. For all of these reasons, having a generator with you on your RV vacation is an important addition. Even if you only use it sparingly, the generator will enable you and your family to have a little more flexibility, even if electricity is not immediately available.

Solar Panels

Solar panels are a wonderful addition to any RV. They allow the sun to give power to your RV, offering an alternative from the generator. They also free you even more from the great need for an electrical hookup. There are many types of solar panel setups, so you must determine what your energy needs might be. You may want to be able to provide complete electricity, or just use it as a means of backup. Read our solar panel guide to find our more about solar power.

Storage Boxes

Figuring out exactly what is stored in your RV may sometimes be difficult. Place items in a labeled storage boxes makes them easy to identify. You can use storage boxes for holiday decorations, dry food or for extra coats, blankets, or any other items that you think you may need. 

See our RV checklists for the full list of items to bring.

Things To Leave Behind

When you pack your RV for your very first trip, it’s really easy to get carried away and overpack. It’s important to not overload your RV. Evaluate the importance of each item you bring and determine whether or not it’s something you can do without.

Kitchen-wise

For example, bringing along too many gourmet items, even with the best of intentions, may end up with you bringing more than what you really need. In the camping and RV world, a simple cooking plan may be best. Not packing all your meals ahead of time, and bringing a large variety of canned goods to be used as a “just in case” adds greatly to the weight of your packed RV. Not to mention that it also takes up valuable space. Truly here, a little planning can make for a more efficient use of space.

Weight Concerns

It is also noted to think a lot about the weight of items as you choose them. So, for example, if you are bringing a book along you may try to look for the paperback, instead of a hardbound. In the kitchen, you may look at reusable plastic plates or paper plates instead of traditional dishes. Whenever possible, remove items out of packaging and store them in Ziploc bags or other smaller containers. Anything that you can do to lighten the weight of your items truly does add up.

Firewood

Some RVers think that it might be a good idea to bring along their own firewood. Experienced RV travelers note that traveling with wood can be messy, including leaving a lot of splinters, and that the price charged of firewood at the campground may be pricier. However, it may be worth it for the convenience and the saving of space.

Vehicle Check

Before you head out on the road, whether you rent or buy, it is important for you to become familiar with the RV. This way you will be able to provide maintenance to the vehicle and handle any issues that may come up.

Batteries

Make sure when you start the vehicle that the battery seems to be working and properly charged.

Everything you need to know about RV batteries

Tire Pressure

You need to find out what the proper tire pressure is for your RV’s tires, and make sure that all of your tires meet that standard. Checking the tire pressure a couple times during your trip may also be a good idea. You can find the tire and loading information on the federal certification label on your RV. You can also find the max inflation pressure listed on the tires.

How to check your tire pressure

Ventilation, Air Conditioning, Heating

Take a little time to run each of these systems to make sure that they seem to be operating efficiently and properly. It would not be a good time to find out that the air-conditioning was not working when you and your family are in a campground in the heat of the summer. Running checks like this before you leave adds to a carefree adventure.

Awning

If your RV comes with an awning, make sure that it properly unfolds itself, and is in good condition. Once you have completed that check, make sure that the awning is rolled back up correctly and that it is tightly secured to the RV.

Appliances

In most RVs there are several appliances that need to be checked. This includes the grey water tank for wastewater. This tank works in conjunction with your sink, your shower or dishwasher if you have one. Make sure that the appliances work and that the water drains as it should before you leave on your trip. Going from item to item of appliances, making sure that everything works as you expect, is a great use of time before you depart.

RV on the road

On The Road

As you get out on the open road for your RV vacation, you need to know not only how to handle your rig, but also how to properly set up your camp once you arrive. You can practice and explore some of these things before you leave, but you might experience some of them only once you get to the campsite. However, having a good knowledge of your RV, and where things are located, will make set up easier.

Navigation

Navigation has become pretty commonplace in many regular passenger vehicles. It can be very handy for an RV, as well, but a standard car GPS may not be sufficient. Luckily, there are great RV GPS systems that you can purchase. These are set up with routes in mind that are friendlier to RVs, as well as a larger screen so that it can be viewed easily by the driver or passengers.

Electricity

Knowing how to hook up your RV is something you will want to have determined before you depart on your trip. Bringing along a 30A RV extension cord, for example, is a great idea in case a power outlet is a little farther than expected from your RV. You may also research adapters, as there is a difference between 30A to 50A, or 30A to 15A. Being safe with electricity is very smart, so having some additional gadgets to aid in that is a good idea.

If you will be off the grid, you should know well the operation of your generator and/or solar panel kit. Knowing not only how each of these produces energy, but how you can tap into and use that energy will be helpful, especially after a long day of traveling.

How to hook up power to your RV

Connectivity

If you want to make sure that you stay connected to the world, such as with phone or Internet service, you should ensure your phone plan accommodates your needs while traveling. Note that even though many RV parks state that they do provide Wi-Fi, as well as public locations, they often are weak or very slow, so not reliable overall.

Water Supply and Storage

Many RV parks will provide some water hookups. In case they do not, you need to prepare for the storage of drinking water, as well as understanding how to store it in the fresh water tank. Knowing the hookup situation at the park, as well as how many days you will be traveling will help you determine just how much water you need to store.

How to fill up your tank and to drain it once you return from your trip

Waste

RVs contain three holding tanks. In addition to the freshwater tank, Rvs are equipped with a grey water tank which contains dirty water from your sink and shower. Waste from the bathroom goes into the black tank. As you travel, you need to know how to empty those tanks properly so that you are following any regulations and can be more efficient at what can be a dirty job. Being prepared by having reviewed and worked with your RV earlier will help to make this job a lot easier.

How to properly use and maintain your RV’s holding tanks

Camp Set Up

Once you arrive at your campsite, you will need to be able to properly park your RV. Do note that someone at the facility may be able to assist you, if you ask them. Make sure that you walk through the campsite to ensure that there are no branches or items in the way, as well as the location of any hookups. Once you have settled the RV, you will need to level it and make sure that it is stable.

Be familiar with where your connections hook up to the RV. You will need those for electricity, water, and possible sewer service. Once everything is hooked up, make sure that everything is stowed carefully and that there are no tripping hazards. You can then pull out your awning, kickback, and relax.

Sanitation

To keep things sanitary, it is very important that you know where the proper areas are to empty your tanks. Make sure that you are clear on where that is to be done so that you do not violate any rules. If you are not sure, make sure to ask, as this is a mistake that you do not want to make.

How to empty your Rv’s waste tanks at a dump station

8 Essential Tips For Beginners - Do Not Overlook These!

If you are completely new to RV traveling, we highly recommend you do the following things before your trip to help make your journey easier and stress-free.

1. Get to Know Your RV

Whether you rent or buy, make sure that you have time to spend time getting familiar with the RV, how it operates, and where everything is located. It is worth the extra time to go over everything in the RV, especially if something were to break or malfunction while you are traveling. If something was to go wrong, you may be able to help to pinpoint what occurred. Even better, you may actually be able to handle something on your own because you have become familiar with the vehicle.

2. Take a Practice Drive

Before you commit to your actual drive on the road, take your RV out on some roads that would offer a similar driving experience, but closer to home. Go around curves, switch lanes, go up hills, park, or just determine how much of a lane you take up. Having spent some time to figure this out before you leave will add to your safety.

3. Always Check Your Tires Before You Leave

Take the time to check the pressure and make sure the tires are not damaged. One nail in a tire can quickly turn into a flat tire and put you behind schedule.

4. Weigh Your RV

When you go on your first RV trip, it is SO easy to overload it. If you are pulling your RV, you will need to check the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) and GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating) in your tow vehicle manual. This will help you determine the maximum weight your vehicle can handle, including passengers.

You also need to check your RV manuals for the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) to find out how much weight you can carry. Then, you should weigh your rig on a certified scale (CAT Scale) at a truck stop, and then pack. You should balance the load by making sure the items you pack are accurately distributed over your Rv’s axles and that the heavier items are stored low. Once you’re done packing, weigh your rig again and make adjustments if you need to.

How to weigh your RV the easy way

5. Measure The  Height of Your RV

Take the time to measure the height of your rig, don’t guess it. You WILL get into situations where a building canopy is too low for you to fit under. Also remember when parking on the street that the top of your RV could touch or break low-hanging tree branches or even street lights so be careful!

6. Secure Your Awning

Awnings are great but you need to make sure that the awning is rolled up correctly and that it is tightly secured to the RV before hitting the road. Once you stop to set up camp it is also a good idea to secure it with straps when you pull it out to avoid any damage should the wind suddenly pick up.

How to secure your RV awning

7. Consider Joining an RV Club

RV clubs are a great way to meet other RVers and discover new places to go RV camping. There are clubs based on geographical location, vehicle type and lifestyle. You can find a list of RV clubs here.

8. Create a Ground Set-Up Checklist

As noted above, there are numerous things that you will need to do once you arrive at your campsite. Taking the time to create a checklist will ensure that you do not forget anything. Traveling can be exhausting, and so allowing yourself not to try to hold all of that information in your head is freeing and safer. Here’s a complete checklist we’ve created for you to refer to.

Summary

Traveling in an RV can be a wonderful and exciting experience for you, as well as your family and friends. You can travel more frequently, conveniently and more economically. You can be spontaneous and go on a spur-of-the-moment weekend getaway whenever you feel the need to escape the daily grind. You can see beautiful sites, spend quality time, and make great memories.

Taking a little time to plan beforehand can mean the difference between a trip that is laid-back, and one that is stressful. You deserve to have a vacation of complete relaxation, so take some time to prepare and ensure that it is one.

We hope these tips will help you make your next adventure a complete success. Please let us know in the comments if you think we should add something to this article. We’re happy to take your suggestions on board to make this resource one that provides all the information RVers need to have the best time RV camping!

 

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