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Road Trip Blunders: Avoid These Common Mistakes as a Newbie RVer

The Road Less Troubled and How To Dodge RV Pitfalls

Common mistakes as a newbie RVer are familiar to us all because even veterans of the RV lifestyle were there at some point or another. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and the incredible prospects of adventure on the open road. 

However, while all of that creates a haze of excitement, adventurous spirit, and tickles the exploration funny bone, it also conceals the more mundane but necessary responsibilities RVers have to accept as a natural trade-off. 

9 Common Mistakes of a Newbie RVer

In other words, novice RVers often get too caught up in the moment and tend to make mistakes early in their adventures. So, before you overload your new travel trailer, run out of gas on the highway, or back your motorhome into an oak tree, skim through our listicle of common mistakes beginner RVers make and better prepare for your first outing!

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1. Lack of Proper Trip Planning

There’s nothing worse than hauling a 30’ + travel trailer and ending up in the downtown area of a major city. If you’ve ever been through downtown Birmingham in anything larger than a Prius, you know what we’re talking about. 

Even worse, that’s the least you have to worry about. There are some routes you just can’t go. If you’re hauling a teardrop, it’s not such a big deal. Unfortunately, some roads will take you through tunnels or under bridges where your height is a problem. 

When you’re sitting on the side of the road, and the roof of your brand-new RV looks like a glittering metal accordion, the next thing you have to worry about is getting a ticket, followed by the headache of insurance payouts and increased rates. 

Research and Plan Your Route

One of the simplest things new RV owners fail to do is take advantage of GPS apps specifically designed for RVers. 

  • RV LIFE
  • TripIt
  • Allstays
  • inRoute
  • CoPilot GPS

Depending on the app, you’ll get GPS live navigation, gas station locations, campground locations, real-time traffic, lane guidance, offline use, tips, campground research, and more. Some, such as RV LIFE, let you input the dimensions of your RV and plot your journey accordingly. 

Small details matter, such as knowing whether or not you can slide your travel trailer or motorhome beneath a gas station overhead or how narrow a lane is before turning into a campground. These apps have features that will help you prepare for things you haven’t thought of yet. 

2. Choosing the Wrong RV for Your Needs

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype, and, next thing you know, an RV salesperson has you signing the paperwork and dropping the first payment. A common mistake with newbie RVers is not realizing the vast number of floorplans out there. 

There are so many floorplans with so many different brands that you can break down floorplan choices based on your or your family’s specific and personal habits. There’s absolutely no reason under the sun to show up at an RV dealership and drive off with an RV that day. 

These babies aren’t cheap, and there is very little in this world that’s worse than making a massive investment in something you end up hating. For some of you, this will be your new home. For others, it’s too big an investment to blow it out of haste. 

Also, RV beginners often fail to realize the level of customization options some of these RVs have or how many packages and floorplans there are within a series. If you don’t need a bunkhouse, there’s no reason to go look at that RV model that ends with the letters ‘BH.’

When you finally step into the RV of your dreams, don’t get the purchase rolling just yet. First, you need to go through a checklist, inspecting the RV from front to back, side to side. 

3. Overpacking and Poor Organization

Speaking of checklists, organization is everything. Newbie RVers often get caught up in the minutiae of packing for fun rather than packing for management and organization. Also, the organizing part doesn’t start and end with packing either. 

Any veteran RVer will tell you they have their own system when it comes to unpacking and setting up for camp. Until you find your own groove, a checklist of things to bring along for the ride and the order of operations when you reach your destination is essential.

Forget to level your RV, and you’ll spend half the night wondering why your fridge won’t work and your faucets are acting funny. A checklist for hauling up stakes and leaving is a good idea as well. Are the stairs up? Are all the exterior doors/panels securely closed? A simple mistake can be costly. 

Know the CCC (cargo carrying capacity) of your RV and the hitch weight as well. Some RVs have a massive CCC of over 3,000 lbs, and some will have roughly 1,000. You’ll think to yourself, “I’ll never load more than 3,000 lbs on this thing.” 

You probably won’t when it comes to TVs, clothes, groceries, random devices, and most of your personal belongings. However, RV beginners often fail to consider the weight of water when the tanks are full. A single, 30-gallon fresh water tank is 250.4 lbs, and that’s not calculated in the weight when you purchase the RV.

Pay attention to the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Ratio) to ensure your vehicle can tow it. You can’t safely exceed the GVWR when packing your RV, so that’s the number you need to match with your towing vehicle’s tow rating. If you’re rocking a motorhome, you still have to worry about GVWR, so you’re not off the hook. 

4. Inefficient Fuel and Budget Management

One of the most common mistakes newbie RVers make is failing to manage fuel and budget. Filling up a motorhome is not like filling up an Altima. It’s far more costly, especially if you’re in a diesel pusher. Running out of fuel on the interstate could quickly turn into a nightmare. 

A gas-can run to the local convenience store simply won’t do it for most Class Cs and all Class A motorhomes. A gallon may get you a few miles down the road in Class B, but not too far. 

  • Map out all of your fuel stops.
  • Try to keep the tank over halfway full
  • Follow the 3 or 3 rule (300 miles or 3 o’clock).
  • Carry a 5-gallon gas can (mounted, not inside an enclosed space).
  • Know your mileage whether you’re hauling or driving a motorhome.

Also, even if you work from home, most of us still make money when we’re working, not when we’re driving. Keep in mind that when you’re on the road, you’re not making money (unless you’re lucky and have a sizeable passive income). 

Budget things out and know the price of a full tank and how far half a tank will get you. Food, fuel for the generators, and other necessities will eat at your budget far quicker than you think. If you have the rig and gear for boondocking, you can save yourself some money that way as well. 

Typical Expenses on the Road

Some of your budget is based on a ‘learn as you go’ model. It doesn’t matter what the user manual or the internet tells you about the mileage of your towing vehicle or motorhome; it’s always a little different in action. The following are all of the things you need to put in your budget, not including personal expenses you may need to add in as well:

  • RV payments
  • Campground fees 
  • Fuel expenses
  • RV insurance (more on that one below)
  • Propane costs
  • Food (groceries or dining out)
  • Health and dental insurance 
  • An emergency fund
  • Vet costs (if you have animals along for the ride)
  • Education costs if you’re homeschooling your kids
  • Registration
  • Maintenance and upkeep costs
  • Entertainment
  • Internet (most likely satellite)

Is the list more extensive than you thought? There are some things you can minimize, like cutting cable and sticking with something like Starlink, which will cover your entertainment (streaming) and internet in one payment. Boondocking will stave off those campground and RV fees as well. 

5. Lack of Confidence in Driving and Parking

If you don’t have any experience driving anything larger than an SUV or if you’ve never hauled anything before, your first trip out will seem a bit intimidating. The first chance you get, find an empty parking lot somewhere and drive around on it. Get a feel for the RV you’re towing or driving. 

If you can throw some cones down and practice turning without knocking them over, who cares how silly it looks to passers-by? One of the most common accidents newbie RVers get into is scraping against poles, buildings, and other cars because they didn’t know how far to move forward before cutting the wheel left or right. 

On your first trip out, try to stay off of narrow lanes and heavy city traffic. Plot yourself an easy route that’s mostly wide-open highway. Do this even if the route takes a little longer. You’ll get the hang of driving a monster motorhome or hauling a lengthy trailer, but it will take a little experience first. 

6. Failure to Understand RV Systems and Utilities

Not everybody likes to read and not everybody who likes to read wants to spend time pouring over boring, information-heavy RV manuals. The thing is, it’s a good idea to do so. Furthermore, RV E-books are available everywhere. 

Another good idea is to check out YouTube videos on the RV aspects you don’t understand. You’ll have to learn the ins and outs of your batteries, inverters, converters, generators, 50-amp versus 30-amp RVs, etc. 

Basic, working knowledge of mechanical and electrical systems is highly encouraged. Know and understand a 12-volt DC electrical system, a 120-volt AC system, and a 240-volt system, the latter of which is just two, 120-volt systems, with two circuits at the breaker. 

Does that last bit sound like a bit of jargon? It shouldn’t because it’s important for you to understand it. How your stabilization system works, jack stands, manual and automatic leveling systems, and more. Don’t worry, it’s really not as bad as it sounds. 

You don’t have to be a certified, 1st-Class Journeyman Electrician to be an RVer. All you need to do is familiarize yourself with how things function on an RV. At home, the water heater is what it is; it works pretty much day and night without your input. 

On an RV, however, you need to know how to winterize it, which means understanding single-valve, dual-valve, and three-valve systems and how to bypass your water heater. That kind of knowledge will save you a lot of money in potential repairs and make your preventative maintenance a whole lot easier. 

7. Lack of Flexibility and Adaptability

One of the great Marine Corps mottos is, “Adapt, overcome, and improvise.” That’s life in an RV. It’s not like living in a residential home where the mail comes on time, the power is always on, and the showers are always warm and abundant. When things go right, living in an RV is a blast. When they go wrong, it gets complicated in a hurry. Common mistakes as a newbie RVer can make the experience even more challenging, but the key is to adapt, overcome, and improvise.

Challenges on the Road

  • The fridge isn’t cooling properly.
  • Setup takes forever, every time.
  • Tire blowouts.
  • Appliances aren’t working right.
  • You need a tow.
  • You lock yourself out.
  • Air conditioner quits—in August.
  • Weather is always unpredictable on the road.

That’s just a few. While you can do everything by the book and prepare with precision and efficiency, it’s simply not possible to account for everything all of the time. You need to have backup plans. Instead of sinking into a mire of frustration, think outside the box.

The wonderful thing about living in an RV, or even going on a long trip with one, is the level of flexibility you have at any given moment. Plan ahead, all of the time, every time. You don’t have to be obsessive-compulsive about it, but you should have an alternative for any given situation. 

One of the best things you can do is slowly but surely, add things to your RV that make it more compatible with boondocking or off-grid living. Bring in solar panels and upgrade your inverter and batteries. Lithium is expensive but it’s so much better than AGM or lead-acid. 

Simplify everything, including clothing organization, food, accessories in the galley, space maximization, and entertainment. Make sure you and yours are covered with adequate health and dental insurance, along with RV and car insurance.

Find and follow as many RVers as you can handle, whether it’s subscribing to YouTube videos or connecting on social media. They have a lot to teach you and you would do well to soak everything up like a sponge. 

8. Not Engaging in Memberships

A common mistake of newbie RVers is thinking it’s best to go it alone, whether as a family, a couple, or an individual. The fact is, the RV community is massive. It has its bad elements to it and it’s also full of great people and fantastic ideas—just like everything else in life. 

There are several memberships worth investing in, depending on your rig and what you want to do. Some of the memberships will help you out with some of the issues previously covered. 

  • Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome: Unlimited single-night camping at thousands of locations
  • Thousand Trails: Camping opportunities all over the country
  • National Parks Pass: $80/yr for unlimited access to any of the over 2,000 National Parks 
  • Escapees RV Club: Excellent for novice RVers and includes mail forwarding, access to an excellent network of RVers, RV educational materials, discount parking, and a directory of low-cost camping options to name a few
  • FMCA: Access to an incredible online education portal, RV WiFi discounts, a mobile app, discounts on new tires, roadside assistance discounts, and access to FMCA chapters across the US
  • RV Life Pro: Free, limited membership, 7-day free trial for Pro, and $59/yr or $19.99/mo gets you the RV Life app, planning Trip Wizard, campground reviews, an RV maintenance tracker, the RV Life Masterclass educational portal, and access to a massive RV community

It’s a good idea to embrace multiple memberships, for educational, money-saving, and practical reasons. There are a ton of educational content and money-saving opportunities for RVers out there and memberships are a fantastic tool for beginner RVers. 

9. Over or Under-Insuring Your RV

There are coverages for financed RVs and better coverages for owned RVs. Novice RVers need to come to grips with the complexities of RV insurance from the get-go. When it comes to insurance, it’s all about the fine print. 

Insurance companies made a name for themselves early in the 2000s, by turning down insurance claims for non-flooded Florida homes after a hurricane. According to the insurance companies, these residents lacked flood insurance. 

The thing is, the homes weren’t flooded. The roofs were rolled up in 100+ mph winds, allowing rain into the house. Don’t think for a second that an insurance company won’t use the fine print to deny coverage. That means you need to be mindful of everything you sign up for. 

If it doesn’t apply to your RV, don’t include the coverage. Policy shop and have in-depth conversations with insurance agents so you can perfectly match your RV with the best coverage. Remember, they want your business so don’t be afraid to walk away if the coverage just doesn’t feel right to you. 

Conclusion

The common mistakes of a newbie RVer sound pretty extensive after all, huh? Well, there’s even more than this, but we could write a novel if we wanted to delve into the number of potential mistakes that are in store for novice RVers. 

Fortunately, we covered some of the most common ones. RVing is not the life of instantaneous luxury, accommodation, and convenience it sounds like in practice. The reality is a bit tougher. 

Follow the above advice and you’ll find that it’s immensely helpful and you’ll be ahead of the game before you know it. For everything else, ‘overcome, adapt, and improvise.’ As always, safe travels and Semper Fi.

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