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21 RV Camping Tips for Beginners

Exploring the country in an RV promises privacy, economy, and freedom – all in degrees that are almost impossible to find in traditional tours or hotel stays. Many of us have watched our experienced friends almost with awe for years before taking the leap ourselves: once you learn the ropes, it all looks straightforward.

Still, that doesn’t mean that there’s no learning curve. To improve your chances of a successful and uneventful first RV trip, check out the tips below.

1.     Get plastic wares

Even if you are a professional limo rider, keeping everything steady on an RV is a different type of challenge. Hitting the brakes too hard or crossing over a speed bump can quickly move everything inside your kitchenette shelves.

The best way to prevent breakage? Invest in plastic wares from the start. This should include glasses, cups, plates, serving bowls, and even most cutlery. As a bonus, food-grade PP plastic won’t produce that odd clinking noise.

2.     Buy some boardgames

During the day, you will likely be too busy exploring and admiring the scenery around you. However, nights in the wilderness can be surprisingly quiet – and if you have no network connection, you may find yourself with a lot of idle time.

Boardgames provide an excellent after-dusk activity for when you are in the middle of nowhere. At campsites, they also offer a great icebreaker.

3.     Get an extra GPS

Nowadays, GPS navigators such as Garmin feel like a thing of the past: after all, pretty much any smartphone will have a map function and GPS connectivity. However, when you are on the road, you won’t always have access to data or the internet, which will force you to pre-download any maps and may not include all the relevant information for you.

At first glance, this is not a significant problem. But as your smartphone is probably doubling as your camera, cam recorder, to-do planner, and radio, it’s best to have as much memory available as you can. Plus, accidents happen: if your smartphone breaks or falls into a pond, you need to have a backup.

4.     Plot your routes

A big part of RVing is exploring locations off the beaten path. However, during your first trip, you may not be able to deal quickly with everything you encounter. As you experience beautiful sites along the way, it will be easy to go on a detour or alter your plans a little.

The downside? Time management can get complicated if you follow every whim. Having every detail of your trip planned out may not sound like a lot of fun – but at least try to reach a specific milestone every two or three days.

5.     Mark the campsites along the route

Sometimes, finding the right place to park your RV for the night is not as easy. While boondocking in the wilderness is a fantastic experience, it is unlikely you will be able to do it quickly during your first trip. As a result, you will likely need to be within a day or two of a well-established campsite throughout your journey.

These campsites work great as milestones, which will keep your overall trip on track. Make sure you add a pin with their location to your GPS devices.

6.     Keep an eye out for dump sites and bathrooms

RV campsites provide three essential services for travelers: access to shore power so you can recharge your batteries, a dumpsite, and a bathroom where you won’t have to keep your showers under 5 minutes.

Dumpsites and bathrooms are critical because a full black water tank is a stinky tank. If you drive by a service station or facility that offers them, make sure to add them to your map. Even if you will be heading to a different camp the next day, it’s best to know!

Reading recommendation: Is Charmin Toilet Paper Safe for RVs

7.     Check in to your campsites on time

Setting camp for the night or the weekend is not a matter of parking by the side of the road and turning on the lights. Depending on where you are staying, you may need to connect to shore power, check your grounding rods, set any side tents, and take a good shower.

None of these activities is easy after dark. Make sure you check in to your campsite at least two hours before sunset.

8.     Get a set of tools

The vibrations of your engine and the bumps on the road will irremediably loose screws, debilitate joinings, and eventually cause things to break down. However, this can all be avoided by ensuring you make regular adjustments around your RV.

Naturally, this means you need to pack a basic set of tools. There’s no need to carry the whole workshop. Just make sure you have a:

  • A multi-bit screwdriver
  • A hammer
  • Duct tape
  • A flashlight
  • A pocket knife or utility knife
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • A set of pliers
  • A pair of work gloves
  • An adjustable wrench
  • A socket and ratchet set
  • A pair of wire cutters
  • Sealing tape or putty
  • Female-to-male electrical adapters

9.     Get extra tape and lights

The tools listed above should be neatly arranged inside a portable toolbox – and for most of them, that will be enough. However, there are two exceptions: flashlights and duct tape.

While RVing, you will quickly notice that extra lights and glue are necessary on every corner of your portable hotel. This is why you should keep a different set of both on your primary towing vehicle and your backpack, in addition to your main toolbox.

10. Write down your activities

One of the realities of modern life is that we are rarely aware of the many items we use daily. This makes it really hard to pack for a long trip, especially if you will be in rural areas and miles away from any convenience store.

How to make sure you are packing everything you need? Write down all the essential activities you will need to perform during your trip. This includes basic hygiene tasks, cooking, emptying your bladder, and any adventurous sports you want to do throughout the journey.

11. Pack everything by activity

And how do we turn these activity lists into packing lists?

Write each activity identified above on a flashcard. Then, imagine yourself as you perform each one. Walk yourself through each step and identify each object you would need during it. As you do this, write each thing on its corresponding flashcard.

Finally, it’s time to trim down the lists and prevent repeats. Arrange all flashcards side by side and look for repeated objects. Check for similar objects required for different activities, and determine whether you can use them again.

12. Labels are your friend

One of the keys to remaining organized is to avoid unpacking everything and opening every drawer whenever you need something. As you already have most of your gear classified by activity, now you just need to assign one action to each drawer, case, or toolbox inside your RV.

Finally, label every drawer and cabinet with its activity.

13. Pre-mix your food or seasonings

Even if you have a fully equipped kitchenette, cooking in an RV can be a tedious process – mainly because it is getting in the way of enjoying the scenery. So how can you cut down the time required for everyday cooking?

One of the best ways is to prep ahead as much as you can for each meal. Think of the base stews, soup, chili, and BBQ marinade that you want to cook more often. Keep the basic vegetables and spice mixes for each pre-mixed and on separate labeled containers.

Pro-tip for soups or stews: dehydrate the veggies ahead of time to save some fridge space.

14. Pack some vitamins

Healthy eating is difficult on the road. Fridge space is limited, so you will have to be smart with your fresh fruits and vegetable supply. Yet, few things can damp your holidays as much as unexpected flu.

Prevent this by topping up your immune system with some vitamins. These will prevent you from feeling sluggish or missing your holidays due to physical fatigue.

If you take any medication, make sure you carry enough medicine to cover the trip, plus a spare prescription. Keep the prescription in a waterproof folder alongside your other valuable paperwork. You will most likely not need the extra prescription – but it’s worst to look for a doctor at the last minute to write you a new one.

15. Make a realistic budget

There are countless RV blogs out there, and most of them address the issue of budgeting at some point. While RVing is much cheaper than other types of traveling, it is still not free – and you should budget accordingly.

Be honest with yourself, the route you plan to be taking, and the type of facilities you want to have on the road. How often will you want to stop by a McDonald’s instead of cooking? How frequently will you want to stop at a local strip mall?

16. Research your campsites

A commonly overlooked part of budgeting is the money you will owe each campsite you visit. The cost of camping per night varies wildly according to the region. Plus, some grounds offer all services under a “flat fee,” while others prefer a menu-like model that allows you to pay only for the facilities you need.

Make sure to account for these differences as you plan the trip. Keep an eye out for competing campsites close to one another, as well as for off-season or mid-week discounts.

17. Practice your back-in parking

Something that rarely shows up in online reviews is the rules for actual parking inside a camping site. In truth, most campsites only allow you to “back in” to your reserved spot, not to pull through. Back-in parking is usually a breeze if you have a sedan in a mall parking lot. However, the long body, heavyweight, and rough terrain can turn back in parking into a complicated operation.

Don’t add to your repairs bill and practice ahead of time.

18. Bring colored trash bags

For many, RV road trips are supposed to provide a more sustainable alternative to flying. In keeping with this environmental consciousness (and any local regulations you may encounter on the road), it’s best to separate your trash and your recycling throughout the trip.

If your plan includes driving long distances, you may not always be within reach of a recycling facility – but it’s best to be prepared when you do pass near one. Use colorful trash bags to separate your organics, plastic, paper, and glass.

19. Color-code your hoses

The benefits of color-coding are not limited to your refuse but also your water management. If your RV has a toilet and a sink, then you will have at least three water tanks on your RV: a clean water tank, a “grey” water one (with the soapy water from the sink or shower), and a “black” water tank (with sewage).

Each tank should have its own draining hose. Plus, the clean one should have an intake hose too. Do not confuse them!

20. Schedule your RV’s health check-ups

Ideally, you should have a mechanic check your engine, your electrical set up, and all your pumping systems before you set off. Yet something may still jiggle out of place while you are on the road – or even out of network coverage.

Even if your insurance covers road assistance (and it should!), you should still do periodic check-ups during any long trip. At the very least, check the oil and alignment once a week. Also, check the towing chains connecting your primary vehicle with your travel trailer. Also, check your RV battery’s capacity every three days at the most, and ensure you never go below 80%.

21. Spread the weight

If you are used to driving an SUV or a small van, you can easily underestimate the impact of an unbalanced heavy tow. However, overloading one side of your RV can quickly damage your tires and even cause an accident.

Make sure you always pack everything in a balanced way. After using any of your larger toys, remember to store them on the same side of your RV.