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Learn From Our Mistakes: 4 Tips for Newbie RVers

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Before purchasing our own RV and becoming full-timers, we had zero experience whatsoever with RVing. Although we did plenty of research, there’s just some things we learned the hard way. We decided to share some of those “rookie mistakes” in hopes of helping others avoid them.

We thought we had researched everything, but still made some pretty dumb mistakes our first year of RVing. I hope that sharing our experience helps you avoid making the same RV mistakes. Whether you are planning to buy an RV or just rent one, use the tips I suggest below and you’ll be a happy camper. You can thank me later!

Here are the RV mistakes we made and how you can avoid them.

Mistake 1: Not choosing the right RV (for us)

We wish we would have been a little more prepared before purchasing our first RV. With our first fifth-wheel, we got so caught up on how the inside looked, that we never stopped to evaluate other features that would impact our life on the road. For example, we neglected to consider the holding tank sizes, which ultimately made it more difficult to dry camp, or “boondock”, which was something we really wanted to do when hitting the road.

Be sure to read our tips for purchasing the right RV and it might be helpful for you to read the story of why we switched from our fifth wheel to a class c motorhome.

Young Couple standing in front of RV
Our first RV
Young couple standing in front of RV at great sand dunes national park
Our second RV

Tip: “Try before you buy”

You really want to be sure that the RV you purchase really fits your lifestyle.  It’s easy to assume you know what you like or get carried away by nice features, but you’ll probably be surprised but what you really need. Truthfully, it’s hard to know exactly what you need in an RV until you’ve spent time living and traveling in it.

Unfortunately, you don’t have this option when purchasing. In some ways, we wish we would have rented a few different RVs before purchasing, just to get a better understanding of our travel style and what features we did/didn’t need or use. There are several companies out there who make renting RV’s really easy, such as Outdoorsy.

Mistake 2: Letting our inexperience get the best of us

Our first time taking our RV out was when we hit the road full-time. We had so many anxieties from being inexperienced that we just weren’t prepared and made careless mistakes. We also had no idea if we packed the right items, had hardly even practiced backing up the trailer, and assumed we would just “learn as we went”, which we did, but in the worst way.

Tip: Take a practice run

We instantly regretted not taking a “trial” run. We probably would have avoided all these mistakes. Even when we bought our new motorhome after 8 months of full-time RVing, we decided to take it out on a practice run. You really need some time focused on learning the unit,  identifying the steps and creating a checklist, and determining roles and practicing communication for parking (if you’re a couple). It’s similar to playing a sport, there’s much less pressure at practice than on game day! So, if you’re a newbie RVer, do yourself a favor and practice to increase your confidence and ease your nerves a bit.

Mistake 3: Making careless errors on travel days

On travel days, we would often feel a little flustered while cleaning up, strapping down, packing up, planning our route, and getting directions, all while keeping an eye on the time in order to make check out time. This led to us making some pretty careless errors on multiple occasions. We’ve forgotten to put the tailgate up, we’ve left leveling blocks behind, we’ve left the stabilizer jacks down and dragged them as we drove away, we’ve left compartments open…the list goes on.

Yes, there’s a story behind this photo! If you want to read about our travel day from hell along with other “hilariously crappy RV stories”, go read our friend Liz’s ebook called “Tales From the Black Tank” by clicking here.

Forgetting these steps, along with many other action items, can be very detrimental to you, your rig, or others on the road if you forget to do them before taking off. These steps may seem like “second nature” and steps that you can’t imagine forgetting, but you might be surprised how often you feel rushed or anxious on travel days.

Tip: Create a travel day checklist

Write all the steps that are required for your RV in the form of a checklist. Then, on travel days, you can go through and ensure you’ve completed everything before taking off.

Examples of steps you should include on your checklist:

  • Close all the windows and vents
  • Turn off the water pump and water heater
  • Put the stabilizer legs up
  • Check the tire pressure
  • Check the brakes and turn signals

You can find these checklists online so you don’t have to create one yourself. After completing all the steps on your checklist, you’ll still want to walk around the RV and double check everything, as well as look around the site to make sure you aren’t leaving anything behind. You may also want to have a checklist for when you arrive at your new destination, too, since there are different steps to remember when setting up at your new site.

Mistake 4: Putting too much trust in Google Maps

We’ve become so accustomed to using our cell phones for directions that we often don’t check the route that it suggests. During our first few weeks on the road, we would simply type in the address and head out. Which is how we learned that you cannot do this with an RV. Google has no idea what kind of vehicle you are driving and that you’ll want to avoid narrow, winding roads, or bridges with weight or height limits!

Here’s how we learned this lesson. While leaving Sedona, AZ, we were routed to Arizona State Route 89A, which went straight through a mountain. Not only were the roads some of the windiest and narrowest we’ve ever been on, but there were also many low hanging trees that were hitting the roof of our fifth wheel. It was a stressful drive, to say the least.

road trip feet out the window looking at map

Tip: Use an RV specific GPS or app to route plan

It’s not uncommon to come across low clearance bridges and tunnels or roads that suddenly have weight limits with very little warning. Therefore, we suggest purchasing an RV specific GPS to avoid getting yourself into a dangerous situation. There are also apps, like All Stays that offer maps with clearly marked areas that have low clearance or weight restrictions. We’ve gotten in the habit of taking the time to really study our route the night before a travel day to ensure we won’t have any issues.

We hope these practice tips help you avoid the same mistakes we did on your own RV travels. There are some things you just have to learn the hard way, but it’s best to try to prepare yourself as much as possible before hitting the road. So, go make that checklist, buy an RV specific GPS, and schedule in some practice before your maiden voyage! We’ll see you…safely…on the road!

Related Posts:

The Most Commonly Asked Questions About Full-Time RVing

The Cost of Full-Time RVing: Affording a Life on the Road

How to Find the Best (and FREE) Spots to Park Your RV


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5 years ago

(Sell it and stay home, maybe in the closet ,,, face it some pp r just too stupid to RV. Maybe move bk in w parent’s closet. It’s a scary
place outside, so better 4 ur type to hide.