These pro tips will guide your way to make RV life the best it can be
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have the voice of experience guide you through any new endeavor? Think of the trouble you could have saved yourself, for example, if you had only learned how to pack a parachute from a seasoned professional rather than some guy named “Daredevil Dave” on YouTube. Well, learning about the RV lifestyle doesn’t have quite the same dire consequences if you get it wrong, but it would be helpful if you could minimize mistakes and maximize enjoyment right from the get-go. That said, here are some pro tips that will save you both time and trouble when embarking on an RV adventure:
A Long Winter’s Nap
Whether you store your RV at home or off-site, proper preparation ensures a long and happy relationship with your RV. If you’re putting it away for the season (boo!), drain all holding tanks, remove all foodstuff and do a thorough cleaning to reduce the likelihood of vermin infestation. If it freezes for long periods of time in your neck of the woods, make an appointment to have the rig “winterized,” whereby all of the water in the plumbing system is evacuated and replaced with potable RV antifreeze to prevent pipes from splitting. You can do this yourself if you’ve got a simple plumbing system and you understand how winterizing works; otherwise, it’s best to leave it to the pros.
If you’re getting your RV ready for the season (yay!) once again, contact an RV center to have the rig de-winterized (if applicable) and thoroughly inspected to make sure all systems are go. It’s a good idea to make maintenance appointments such as these well ahead of time so you don’t get stuck in a long seasonal backlog; check with your local dealer or RV repair center for the best times.
Stock ’n Roll
Some of the most unpleasant and stressful parts of any trip are the planning and packing. In an RV, however, you can relieve a lot of this stress by leaving your RV stocked with the things you use on your trips. Plates and cups (plastic or otherwise), silverware (same), placemats, blankets and pillows, canned food, bottled water, cleaning supplies, etc. This way, all you have to do is pack some clothes and fresh food, and you’re on your way. Don’t forget the rule of the RV refrigerator: Turn it on at least 12 hours before your trip and fill it with cold goods. This way you can be sure your food won’t perish, and your beverages will be ice cold upon arrival.
The Five P’s (Proper Planning Prevents Pitiful Performance)
Part of the fun of RVing is the unexpected, like discovering new places or making new friends. What’s not so great is expecting a campground or RV site to be available when you get to your destination — and there are none to be had. If you’re the spontaneous type who doesn’t know where you’ll go or how long you’ll take to get there, just do a quick search for campgrounds in areas you might frequent, and make a list so you can check availability, if need be. Alternately, you can find out in which state parks, state forests or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites you can spend the night. If you know where you’re going and don’t like unexpected surprises, make reservations along the way at state parks, private campgrounds and RV parks as needed. After a few trips, you’ll get a feel for how many miles you’d like to drive in a day, and will be able to plan accordingly.
Also among our pro RV tips: reservations become more important when you’re towing a large travel trailer/fifth-wheel or driving a big Class A motorhome with a dinghy vehicle, as not all sites can accommodate them. Also, if you’re not comfortable backing into your site, you’ll want to request a “pull-through” site, which can be a hot commodity during travel season.
Always remember that a tow vehicle and trailer or motorhome and dinghy require more time to accelerate and stop than a passenger car, and it is your responsibility to make sure your rig is in safe working order to avoid an accident that could potentially harm or even kill other drivers. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer (no offense to those who are actually named Debbie), but it’s true. Tire pressure is one of the most important aspects of RV safety, so if you don’t have a tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS) on your motorhome/dinghy or tow vehicle/trailer, there are a number of systems available through the aftermarket. Alternately, you can check and adjust the pressure on all of your tires before each trip and during each fuel stop, but this won’t tell you if you begin to lose pressure in one or more of your tires during travel — so keep that in mind. Conduct a “safety check” of all vehicle lighting (marker lights, headlights/taillights/brakelights and turn signals) before heading out, and make sure that the hitch or tow bar is properly secured. Once underway, maintain a safe following distance and keep your speed at, or below, the limit. This not only gives you a better chance of controlling the rig in the event of an emergency (blowout or wayward wildlife, for example), but reducing speed is one of the most effective ways to improve fuel economy. If you’ve got a diesel with an exhaust brake, turn it on and leave it on (unless the law states otherwise). When driving up a mountain pass, always pull over when five or more vehicles stack up behind you, or whenever someone seems to be in a hurry (within reason — you can’t be expected to pull over every mile or where it’s not safe to do so). Most people hate following RVs, but we can avoid potential road rage by being good stewards of the RV lifestyle and letting the stress monsters drive past.
Are you a list person? If not, another of our great pro RV tips is to become one. It’s the best way to make sure all tasks are completed and that nothing gets left behind or damaged. You can even share some of the tasks with your significant other and/or kids, which makes the job faster and more fun (admittedly, you may have to sell the “fun” part a little). Have a flashlight (or a few), or one of those nerdy (but exceedingly effective) spelunking headlights and a pair of gloves in a dedicated spot within easy reach. Here are some basic examples of a checklist you can assemble:
Arrival: Jacks down, slides out, deploy awning, utility connections, raise antenna, unpack outdoor carpeting, set up chairs/table, etc.
Departure: Dump black-/gray-water tanks, empty trash, disconnect utilities, put bikes on rack, check tire pressure, lower antenna, stow slideouts, raise jacks, check out at office, etc.
Over time, you can expand upon your lists to cover every last detail. Then, you can keep a copy of the list on your laptop/tablet or even a clipboard. There are also a variety of checklist apps available for your smartphone.
Wherever you go, you’ll likely be sharing an outdoor space with other folks. Since fun and relaxation are the goals that all RVers share, another of our pro RV tips is to be a good neighbor by following some simple guidelines.
• Most RV parks and campgrounds have “quiet hours” that are typically from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., but you can check with the campsite host, park ranger, etc., to be sure. Try to arrive by 10 p.m. so you don’t disturb any early sleepers and turn off your headlights if you think you can see well enough without them. If you have a diesel, don’t be that guy who lets it run for 15 minutes before or after a journey — it’s rude and unnecessary. If it’s nighttime, avoid slamming doors, speak quietly when possible and turn off your porch light. Reduce the volume on your mega surround sound system to a low roar if you decide to watch “Rambo III.” You’ll wake up to friendly new neighbors.
• During your stay, remind your children not to play in, or walk through, someone else’s site — they may not like kids as much as you do. If you have a dog, keep it on a leash attached to the rig, or in a portable enclosure of some kind. Always pick up after yourself (and your pets), and keep dirty dishes and other unmentionables out of view.
• When you leave, take out the trash and inspect your site. Let the camp host or front office know if anything is broken or non-functional. You may not come back, but you can make someone else’s stay more enjoyable by leaving your site in better condition than when you found it.
Especially if you’re new to RVing, take time to walk around your campsite or RV park and look at other people’s sites. Beyond the basics, there’s so much you can learn — from setting up your patio (“Where did you get that awesome LPG firepit!?”) to outfitting your utilities (“Wow! I didn’t know there was such a thing as a heated water hose!”) to decorating (“I MUST have those chili pepper string lights and pink flamingos!”) and much, much more. RVers are generally a jolly bunch who love sharing, so never be afraid to ask about something that interests you.
A Little Help From Your Friends
One of the best pro RV tips when you go RVing the first few times, remember that you are likely surrounded by other RVers who have a lot more experience than you, and who are happy to share their knowledge (especially if you tell them you’re brand-new to RVing). So, if your water heater doesn’t, the leveling system won’t or your furnace is on the fritz, ask one or more of your fellow RVers. It takes a village, after all.