11 Tips the New RVer Should Know
Are you new to the RV lifestyle? Then you are probably on information overload trying to figure out what’s up and what’s down.
Or more importantly trying to figure out what you don’t even know yet.
Here are the top 11 tips for the new RVer.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for various products below. You get the same low prices and we earn a small commission.
Tip #1: Safety First
Nothing will ruin an RV road trip or a tailgate quite like something going really wrong that you could have prevented.
Something like death because you didn’t have a carbon monoxide detector and the generator exhaust leaked into the motorhome.
That’s why the first thing on the Must Have RV Safety Gear list is a carbon monoxide detector.
And a Genturi RV Generator Exhaust System is on there too.
But safety first is also about properly handling your tailgate food.
Cooking the meats to their proper temperature.
Keeping potato salads and other refrigerator items at their proper cool temps.
Not cross contaminating foods during prep.
Because no one wants food poisoning either.
Tip #2: Be Very Cautious with Your New RV Awning
RV awnings are great for shading you in the sun or protecting you from a light drizzle.
But they are typically not suitable for keeping out in a heavy downpour. Or high winds.
RV awnings are notorious for coming crashing down, as one of my friends found out several years ago. As we were wrapping up one Friday night tailgate, I went to close my awning.
Of course, he made fun of me. After all, it was a clear night. You could see all the stars, not a cloud in sight. But the forecast called for early morning thunderstorms, which even woke me up later that night/morning.
When I rolled out of bed on Saturday morning, ready to start the tailgate, he was over there just finishing the process of bunging up his awning. It was a temporary fix, enough to get him home so he could later get it replaced.
See, when that storm hit, the sudden downpour took out the awning. His wife said it sounded like a train had hit the side of the RV.
Don’t be that guy. Pull in your awning when the weather turns bad.
Or when you aren’t going to be there. You never know when the weather will suddenly turn bad and possibly destroy your awning.
Bring your RV awning in when it is raining so your awning does not come crashing down. An expensive mistake for any new RVer to make. Unlike this group of experienced RVers on a rainy night in Georgia. RV awnings are all pulled in so no one has to worry about their awning.
Tip #3: Preventative Maintenance is Worth Everything
I’m sure you’ve heard that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
And that applies ten-fold in an RV.
Remember, you are shaking, rattling, and rolling your home down some really poor roads. Everything will break at some point.
So, your job, is to do whatever you can to prevent those problems.
You need to routinely check that everything is still screwed into place (yes, those screws will work themselves out over time). That you have oil in the engine and the generator. That the batteries are watered.
Watch your tires for signs of dry rot. Check the roof for signs of water damage. Drain the water out of your trailer in the winter.
Tip #4: Make Sure There’s Water in the Heater Before You Use It
Before you turn on the water heater, make sure that your tank has water in it.
This is especially true the first time you use the RV after you have drained the tanks. When you fill your fresh water tanks, you often will not fill the water heater at the same time. You need to run the water from one of your hot water faucets first.
It’s going to be all spurty and spitty for a little bit. This is just the air being forced out as the water fills up the lines and the tank.
Once you have run the water and the air is out of the heater tank and the lines, then you can turn on the water heater.
If you don’t have water in the heater, you are going to burn out the heating element in your tank. And then guess what? No hot showers until you get it fixed. And that’s going to cost you $$$.
Tip #5: Keep Your Drains Closed at RV Campgrounds
Most of my RVing is dry camping or boondocking. That means that I’m camping without hookups. (See A Guide to Common RV Abbreviations and Slang for more on different terms commonly used in the RV community.)
So when I am in an RV campground, it sure is a luxury. Electricity without running the generator! Unlimited water! Sewers to empty the tanks without going anywhere.
If you are going to be taking long, luxurious showers and doing laundry and cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, you are going to fill the waste tanks up pretty quickly. When you have sewer hookups, it sure is tempting to leave the drains open so that you don’t have to worry about emptying the black and gray tanks as they fill up.
But that can lead to so many problems!
The biggest issue is that by draining all the liquids out, you are likely leaving behind the heavier solids. Like toilet paper. And food deposits (whether because it’s down the sink or out your body).
When these build up in the waste tanks, you are creating the dreaded Poop Pyramid. Seriously, you don’t want this – you’ll never get the tanks empty and that’s going to reduce how long you can later boondock.
Leaving the tanks open also lets smelly sewer gases up into your trailer. And leaves a way for sewer pests, like gnats or even rodents, to come up into your motorhome. No one wants that either!
So instead, keep your waste tank drains closed for the duration of your stay. Only go out to open the drains when your tanks are full or nearly full. Seriously, you should have at least 2/3 to 3/4 full before you empty.
See RV Waste Tanks Explained for more information on how to properly maintain your RV black and gray tanks.
Tip #6: Water Conservation is Key
When you are not in an RV campground with hookups, you are going to be limited on your water usage.
Both the water in and the water out.
See, you are limited in how much water you take in by the size of your fresh water tank. And how much you put out by the size of your gray and black tanks.
And if you go over this, there may be limited options to empty out the tanks. If you are in a primitive campground without hookups or out on BLM lands, that can mean pulling up your camp and taking the RV to a dump station to empty tanks. And hoping that they have potable water for your fresh water tank.
If you are at a large tailgate like a NASCAR race or some of the primitive campgrounds, you may have access to a honey wagon. This is typically a large truck that comes around and can pump out your black or gray tanks without you leaving your spot. They may also be able to refill your freshwater tank.
Of course, these come with a price. Often a very hefty price tag. That makes water conservation very important.
There are lots of ways that you can conserve water while you are RVing. Click here for my best tips on conserving water during your tailgate.
A Note About Potable Water
Potable Water is water that is suitable for drinking. Not all water connections are suitable for refilling your freshwater tank. Two main reasons that water is non-potable: the source – being that it has not been treated and may have unwelcome microbes or other impurities in it; and two, the location.
The location is often because the spigot and the hose are subject to contamination. This happens often at a dump site. They have a hose there to facilitate the dumping process. For hooking up to your black water rinse system and for sticking down your sewer hose to clear it out with fresh water before you store it. In either case, the hose and connection are likely to have some nasty things on there that can make you sick if they make their way into your fresh water system.
You never want to use the hose at the dump station to refill your fresh water tank!
Tip #7: Stock Your RV With All The Basics
Want to make it easy to get ready for an RV road trip or a tailgate? Fully stock your RV with a second set of things you use in your home.
That means that you’ll have an RV set of everything you need in the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and living area. I seriously have a fully stocked RV. Sheets and comforter for the bed; pots, pans, and utensils for the kitchen; blankets and living gear for the main area. I even have extra power cords to charge my phone, tablet/iPad, laptop, and a variety of other electronic gadgets.
Yes, I have to add perishables, like food before a trip. But I even keep a lot of the regular food stuff stocked in the RV. You know, stuff like sugar, flour, beer, cake mixes, cereal, can foods, Cokes, etc. Stuff that doesn’t go bad in a week or two.
I also keep stuff like shampoo and other bath and body products in the RV. At least the ones that won’t melt in the summer heat.
My RV is also stocked with a variety of clothes for all weather situations. I’ve got some extra t-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, shorts, jeans, socks, underwear, hiking boots, sandles and flip flops, and even an extra pair of tennis shoes in the RV. While I still pack the “cute clothes” for a tailgate trip, I am prepared with basics in case the weather changes. Or I forget something while packing.
Having a fully stocked RV (or as close to fully stocked as you can get it on the regular) is such a great thing when it comes time to pack up for a trip. It takes so little time – just add some perishable food and some extra clothes and I am ready to go. I don’t have to spend a day or two lugging everything into the RV before I leave and then again when I get home.
And I’m a lot less likely to forget things. And have to buy them on the road.
Controlling the Cost on Stocking Your RV
Yes, stocking an RV or trailer with an extra set of everything you have at home can be pretty pricey. But there are ways to control the cost.
First, shop your own home. You’ll be surprised at home many duplicates you already have.
Second, shop the Dollar Store, discount stores like TJMaxx and Kohls, thrift stores, and watch for deals on Amazon. The Daily Deals feature on Amazon has a lot of things that are great for stocking your RV.
Third, shop the clearance sections at places like Target and Walmart. These are often at the end of aisles. And check for sales, especially the end-of-season sales and certain holidays.
Know when to buy certain things. For example, January and February are often great times to buy sheets, towels, and other linens. Target is known for putting all their linens on sale in February, often at up to a 75% discount. Retailers often have Presidents’ Day sales (February 17, 2020) where a lot of home goods are on sale.
Look for sales on grills in March as people prepare for spring and outdoor seasons. And vacuums are great in April, during spring cleaning promotions. Small kitchen appliances are often on sale in May, leading up to Memorial Day and the summer wedding season.
Amazon has Prime Day in July and often other retailers will follow suit with big sales on a whole variety of items. Follow Amazon’s Prime Day Deals For RVers and Tailgaters to find out what the best deals are for Amazon Prime Day and related summer sales.
As summer comes to an end and kids are heading back to school in August, expect big sales on clothes and apparel and school supplies. And yes, school supplies are often necessary in an RV. In particular, there are a lot of good organizing products for classrooms, desks, and lockers that can be used all over the RV. There are also big end-of-summer sales on outdoor gear. It’s a great time to stock up on the outdoor tailgating gear.
Want to stock your RV toolbox? November is a great time as a lot of tools will go on sale leading up to Black Friday. Which of course is a great time to find sales for the entire RV.
Bonus Tip on Kitchen Pantry Storage
Get airtight storage containers.
The airtight containers, like the Sistema Bake It collection, help to keep the contents from spilling out. And they keep the contents fresher.
So no stale cereal or chips.
Or sugar spilled every.where. when you forget to secure a cabinet before leaving.
The clear containers also make it easy to see what is inside the container and how much you have left. So much easier to restock the pantry.
The Sistema Bake It collection also has easy grip sides and are compact for small space storage.
Tip #8: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
The RV community is awesome. Seriously, these are some of the best, most helpful people you have ever met.
And we were all newbies at one point or another. We all needed some help.
So while YouTube and blogs like this one are awesome and a great place to search for help, don’t be afraid to ask others. There are lots of Facebook communities out there where people will always be around, pretty much at any hour day or night, and willing to help you if you have questions.
And when you are in a campground or near other RVers, most will be willing to lend a hand or a tool. Just ask.
RVers are usually willing to help a fellow RVer out. Here, a bunch of RVers try to help out when one of our own was having generator problems.
While not everyone will be able or willing to help, many or most will. At least to help you troubleshoot the problems and maybe even help you fix them. Or at least provide a cold adult beverage when you are done.
I know that I’ve helped several people with electrical and slide problems, and even helped replace a water pump in the tailgate lot.
I’ve also gotten help with my generator and electrical system. Oh, and back on Starter RV (that was my first RV, a 1990 Winnebago Chieftan) when I couldn’t get the manual awning up, I got help from some friends.
Tip #9: Don’t Always Trust Your GPS
GPS systems are awesome. I love the step-by-step directions as you go along. The newest versions also have things like lane assistance so you know exactly which lane to be in as you approach an exit or turn.
My GPS recommendation right now is the Garmin 785. The Garmin 785 also has some cool features like trip planing assistance where you can input the length, height, and weight of your RV to direct you on routes where your RV will fit.
But as awesome as GPS systems are, they aren’t perfect. You always need to be aware of what is going on and pay attention to signs.
GPS systems aren’t going to always be up-to-date with the latest road closures, construction, and changes. There is always a lag time. And GPS systems won’t know about how trees have overgrown a road and will take out the top of your AC.
And some times, they will try to send you down places where an RV just shouldn’t go.
Like when I went up and down Cold Mountain in North Carolina during my trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway. No reason that a 37 foot long RV should be on that winding, curvy mountain road with hairpin turns.
Or on that same road trip, it took me down a gravel road with low hanging trees when a mile up the Parkway, there was a perfectly suitable paved road with shoulders and no overhanging tree limbs.
In other words, don’t be afraid to tell your GPS to shut up and take a different route. Trust your gut when you don’t think your RV will fit.
Oh, and make sure you know the height of your motorhome or trailer before you set off on any trip.
Tip #10: Learn About Walk-Arounds
Have you ever seen a pilot walk around her airplane before taking off? They call this process a walk-around.
Some things to check during an RV walk-around pre-departure:
- Tires: Are they in good condition? Properly inflated?
- Basement Doors: Are they closed and locked?
- Satellite Antennas: Are they properly stored?
- RV Awning: Is it closed and in the locked position?
- Windshield: Is it clean and the wipers working in case of water?
- Lights: Are they working? Don’t forget to check the brake lights and blinkers.
- Slides: Are they all in?
- Interior: Is everything off the counters? Cabinets, drawers, and fridge all secured? Is the shower door locked? Vents closed? Lights off?
- Pets: All accounted for? Secured? Water dishes empty?
- Doors: Are they closed and locked?
- Dash Cam: Is it on and recording?
- GPS Navigation: Preset your destination and review your route before you leave.
The more you travel, the more routine this process gets. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. Every time, you should do a walk-around. Make sure everything is ready to go before you take off and you are a lot less likely to have problems while you are on the road.
Tip #11: Don’t Rush Your Travels
I know that many of us have jobs to get back to after the RV road trip. It means we have to rush home after, often when we are tired from a long weekend of tailgating.
Or we rush out late in the evening after work, also when we are tired.
But when you are tired and rushed, you are likely to make more mistakes. You get out of your routine of checking to make sure you picked everything up from the tailgate, that you stored and secured everything inside the RV, and unplugged all the cords and hoses.
Also, when you are driving, you are likely to take unnecessary risks. Like speeding, driving too long and getting sleepy behind the wheel, and weaving in and out of traffic.
So take your time. Slow down. Stop overnight at a Walmart if you need to.
Tips for the New RVer
While this is in no way a comprehensive list of tips for RVers, this should give you a good basis to start.
Here are some more articles that might help you go from newbie to expert in no time:
How to Poop in an RV (aka How to Use the RV Toilet)
Tips for Solo Women RVers to Hit the Road
RV Campground Etiquette: 10 Things to Never Do
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