Congratulations! You have decided to join the over 10 million Americans who enjoy the RV lifestyle. Here is a travel trailer camping guide for beginners to get you started on the right foot to make your experience as rewarding as possible.
These 10 tips come from veterans in the camping world who have lived this lifestyle for decades. Many of them are second or third generation RVers. These ideas are practical steps our experts use whenever they buy a new RV, regardless of their experience level.
10 Real World Steps for Beginner RVers That Pros Use Everyday
Here at Camper Smarts, we get the question, What do I need to know about camping in a travel trailer a lot. The simple answer is to learn the basics, ask questions, and not be afraid to talk with fellow RVers. Here are 10 tips to get you started.
1. Orient Yourself With All Functions and Components
Remember when you first started driving? You saw your parents operate the car, but once you sat in the driver’s seat, some of those buttons felt like that big red one that would launch a nuclear weapon forever destroying everything.
You may have that same panicked feeling in your new (or new to you) RV. Here’s the good news: none of these buttons will break your “Big Pretty” (just don’t pull the valves on the sewer tanks system below the coach until you’re ready to empty the tanks).
A great way to start is to grab your mobile device or laptop and go through some articles and videos that walk you through your RV. Many of them may be generic, but it’s easy to find the relevant component.
For example, when the video is walking you through the control panel, every towable and drivable RV has one. The panels give you the same readings on tank levels, propane levels, and house battery levels. Slideouts operate either with a key or a button.
Practice setting up and taking down your RV in your driveway. Don’t race through it, or you’ll forget a step. Make a checklist for yourself. The goal is to get yourself comfortable with all of the operations and functions of your coach.
2. Practice Driving
The best RVers in the world will tell you that driving a coach takes a lifetime to perfect. Those that have 30 plus years of experience get it wrong sometimes. A gust of wind, an uneven piece of ground, or other X-factors can make a perfect plan fall apart.
The best way to prepare yourself is to prepare yourself. Veterans will take their RVs out for practice runs for days or weeks before their first trip. They will work on turning, braking, and backing up. With the invention of back up cameras, positioning a travel trailer has become less of a hassle than it used to be.
One of the vital points you have to learn is how your RV pivots. The wheels turn from the wheels. When you make a 90° turn, you’ll have to compensate by pulling into the intersection more, so the RV won’t hope the curb.
RVs are top-heavy by nature. A gust of wind will make them sway side to side on the road. Using a sway bar will counteract this and give you a more stable drive.
You’ll also find that tractor-trailers will have affect your driving as they pass by. As they sidle up to you, an air vacuum builds up between their trailer and yours. This vacuum pulls you towards them. As they pass, the vacuum breaks, and your pushed away. Being prepared for this air pressure effect will keep you on the road.
Before you bought your RV, the sales representative should have let you test drive a travel trailer to give you an idea of the experience. When you drove it home, we’re sure you found the ordeal quite different. Taking test drives will allow you to sync yourself to the feel of towing like a pro.
3. Gear Up
When you pictured your camping experience in your mind, we’re sure you had images of relaxing in your outdoor chair with your favorite drink, exploring the outdoors with adventure toys, or tanking advantage of other gear. Before you spend all of your money on your wants, there are some essentials you need to have first.
When you buy your RV, they don’t come with all of the hoses, cords, or other needs you must bring with you. Like everything else in life, you must take care of the basics. Here’s a list of items you must have:
- A 30 or 50 amp extension cord (the version that lines up with your particular RV)
- A 30 or 50 amp surge protector
- Gas generator for dry camping (recommended for emergency outages)
- 20-foot sewer hose
- Sewer hose adaptor pieces
- Black tank chemical treatment (bio enzyme is recommended)
- Rubber gloves or disposable latex gloves
- Hand sanitizer
- 20-foot Drinking water hose (garden hoses are not designed to keep water sanitary)
- A single or dual stage water filtration system
- A water pressure regulator (we recommend one with a guage on it)
Wheels and Jacks
- Wheel chocks
- Jack pads
- Carpenters level or level stickers
- A tool kit with screw drivers, wrenches, screws, a variety of different tapes, and other essentials
- A first aid kit with supplies for cuts, burns, and other possible injuries
- A survival kit with dry goods and emergency supplies in case of a breakdown
- All fluids in case you run low on a trip
- Flat tire repair chemical
- A gas can in case you run out of gas (it happens)
Many campers like to have separate cook and dishware specifically for their RV. It makes the packing process more manageable when you don’t have to worry about transferring your kitchen equipment back and forth from your house.
You may find dishware made out of melamine that’s advertised as camping-friendly. This plastic-type material is excellent since it doesn’t break and stores well. Be aware that it isn’t microwave-safe. Heating cold pizza will require using something else to avoid melting the plate.
As you continue your camping adventures, you’ll find other essential gear you may find necessary. Using utility safety equipment like surge protectors, water regulators, and water filters protect your RV from getting contaminated from less than optimal campground hookups.
4. Enroll with Camping Membership Programs
The RV lifestyle comes with its own costs. Depending on whether you want to glamp, get down to simple living, or anything in between, it can be cost-effective. You’ll find that your highest costs come from fuel outside of your RV payment.
Average campground rates range from $40 to over $100 a night. A campsite at a high-end resort with a cement pad with full hookups located next to a highly trafficked tourist destination is going to get a top-dollar rate. A campground in a remote area where you park on dirt and doesn’t have hookups (known as a primitive site) will have the lowest rate.
You can sign up programs that will reduce those nightly fees even at those high valued campgrounds. Some give you straight discounts at participating campgrounds throughout the country. Others give you free camping at their member campsites.
If you’re the type who enjoys boondocking, you can dry camp at host family locations. Many of these host families run farms, wineries, and other businesses that give you exclusive deals by merely being there. Here are some favorites:
Camper Smarts Tip: Don’t be afraid to join more than one club. Many veteran RVers will join many of these membership programs to get the best deals on campground rates. Each one has their unique advantage, so make those advantages work for you.
5. Use RV-Friendly Online Tools
Google Maps, Waze, and Mapquest are great GPS apps for getting around town when you need to find a new address. Many travel trailer camping for dummies books won’t tell you how inadequate these websites are for RVing. We need to be aware of many other pieces of information when we’re traveling the roadways to our final destination.
When an RVer went on a multiday road trip before the internet, they were essentially driving blind. They knew their route and their final destination, but that’s about it. They didn’t know the best places to fill up on gas, the right locations to camp overnight, or what they might find on the way that’s worth exploring.
Apps like RV Trip Wizard or The Dyrt Pro help you design your route in an RV-friendly way. They show you the gas stations that have wide lanes that are easy to maneuver. You can also find campgrounds and boondocking areas on your route that have peer reviews. Websites like this also have offline modes, so you still have your map if you hit a dead data zone.
It’s still a good idea to keep a hard copy atlas with you. Paper doesn’t lose power or suffer from the various other issues that electronic devices are subject too. Hard copy atlas’ are updated each year from government and other reliable sources.
6. Reserve Campsites Early
2020 has surprised everyone in the RV industry. RV manufacturers, RV dealers, campground owners, and many others thought the pandemic would ruin the entire camping season. Yet after a few media reports, the year has already beaten expectations across the board.
Campgrounds are filling up very fast. A great RV camping tip for beginners is to reserve your campsite as early as you can. The U.S. national parks will take reservations up to six months in advance. Other public parks and private locations will extend out to eleven months.
If you want to beat the odds, you can call the RV park of your choice directly or walk-in. They may have a cancelation that you could grab up. Trying your luck like this, you should have a plan B ready. You could end up boondocking for the weekend if you’re not having a lucky day.
7. RV Camping With Kids
Even if you’re camping at a family-friendly RV park, your kids will eventually become bored with the playground or the campground’s events. These campgrounds have high school and college-age kids, leading games and events that appeal to the broadest audience possible. They can’t cater to individual interests.
A trip to the local 99 cent store can save you a lot of grief. Your children get new toys to play with, and if they lose the toys, you didn’t spend a lot of money on it. It’s also a great time to learn about the outdoors in a fun way. There are thousands of ideas scattered across the internet about how you can make your RV trip fun for kids.
Making your RV safe for your children is a simple task. You can find bed gates for overhead lofts and other child-safe equipment through various online venders as well. As your kids make friends around the campground, talk with their parents, and ask them what they use to make their RVs safe (especially the full-timers).
8. Pets In Travel Trailers
Over 60% of all RVers travel with their pets. More than 90% of them are dog owners. You’ll also learn that the number one noise complaint from campground guests come from overly vocal dogs. The best way to make sure your dog doesn’t cut your vacation short is to know the campgrounds’ dog etiquette rules.
First and foremost, every guest should be familiar with the individual campground’s general rules. Many of the rules are shared, but each one has unique guidelines you need to know.
When it comes to dogs, some adhere to certain breed-specific restrictions while others may not. Check the campground’s website before you make your reservation to avoid miscommunications when it comes to breed and number of dogs.
General etiquette guidelines start with keeping your dog on a 6-foot leash when walking them. Clean up after them, even when you’re in the designated dog park. Keep them occupied to prevent them from barking. Watch what they put in their mouth to avoid them eating dangerous plants.
Never leave them alone in the RV. The camping season is primarily during the summer. If the campground has a power outage, your dog or cat can become dangerously overheated. If you have to leave, make sure you have someone to check on them. It’s also a good idea to know where the closest veterinarian is in case you need them.
Make sure you bring a copy of your pet’s license and shots paperwork with them. Most campgrounds will want proof that your pet is up to date with everything. It’s a good idea to bring a good picture of them if they get loose.
9. Plan Your Packing
Do you remember when vacuum seal bags first came out? They were a nice convenience for homeowners, but in general, they didn’t fly off the shelves from those who owned homes. For RVers, vacuum seal bags were the greatest invention since the sway bar (we exaggerate, but not by much).
Storage space is priceless to those that live the RV lifestyle. You can’t buy it, sell it, or make more of it without sacrificing something else. There are creative ways to store some things, but in general, whatever the RV designers give you, that’s all you have.
Making the most of your interior storage cabinets and exterior storage bays takes planning. You don’t necessarily need to have an engineering or physics degree to accomplish this, but you have to prioritize your essentials from your wants.
Using RV specialized kitchen equipment is always recommended. Pots and pans fit into each other to take up the least amount of space possible. Food shopping should be for a week at the most. Be realistic with your storage by keeping rarely used items out of the way of regularly used things. Spring clean every few months to avoid losing valuable space.
Choosing clothes that match up well with many different other pieces, like blue jeans, will keep your storage space down. Besides, camping chic fashion is a comfortable and relaxed look. You won’t find any articles on the latest camping fashions in Vogue magazine.
There are some great mods and hacks you can use to gain storage space on smaller items. Using cloth or plastic shoe trees against shower walls are great toiletry holders. Stuffed animal cargo nets are perfect for clothes or other soft items. Paper towel holders are useful for other roled things like trash bags. The internet is full of different creative ideas.
10. Be Apart of the Community
The RV lifestyle isn’t just about adventure; it’s also about the people you meet. Full-timers have Rolodexes and address books of friends they’ve made sorted by state, where they met them, and other sorting criteria. Boondockers Welcome started because a mother and daughter built up a big enough camping friends network that they decided to create a business out of it.
Campfires Are Icebreakers
Campfires have been the catalyst for many new friendships, sharing ideas, and generally having a good time with each other. Most campers appreciate sharing their campfire with others. Campgrounds will have a community campfire to allow their guests to meet each other.
Camping Clubs and Groups
If you’re looking for a regular group to join, look for RV clubs or groups to join. Many of them focus on demographics such as age, family-friendly, religious affiliation, LGBTQ, and other commonalities. This way, you’ll have a group of friends you can regularly camp with to develop a real connection.
One of our avid followers grew up in a camping club. As a child, his family would camp one weekend a month during the camping season, and one week during the summer months. The adults became so significant to him that he considers them his aunts and uncles.
As an adult, he’s now a full-time RVer that works from his class A motorhome. When he shares his experiences with others for him, he gains personal satisfaction when sharing the lessons he learned from his camping family to continue the legacy.
Social Media and Camper Smarts
Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest have connected the RV community throughout the world. Campers meet each other, learn from each other, and find great camping destinations.
Get involved with the many social media opportunities out there. While you’re doing that, stay active with the Camper Smarts website to learn more about the RV lifestyle. There is so much to know about the RVing; you’ll never know enough.
Continue to ask questions. If you know something that someone doesn’t, maintain the RV community reputation by being there to help that person out. While you’re camping, remember, your actions and behaviors reflect on the next person that uses your campsite. Be responsible, courteous, and friendly. Happy Trails!