2020 has been declared the year of the RV. People are getting restless and want/need a vacation. And RVs offer a comfortable way to travel while enabling the safety of distancing from high traffic areas like hotels or airplanes. Travellers are realizing we have a lot of beauty right here in the US, often in their own backyard, so why not take the staycation a step further and make home mobile. As the ads now say, it’s Your House, Your Rules! It is certainly the ideal solution and those of us who travel and live in RVs agree.
If you are new to RVing, we welcome you and have a few things to offer from our experiences. Whether you are renting or purchasing a RV, there are many things to take into consideration.
Rent vs Purchase
RV rentals are up 650% this month and purchases are also climbing with manufacturers trying to increase their output to keep up with demand. Before you buy, we highly recommend you rent first. Even if you have gone tent camping before, testing out whether a RV makes sense for you is important. RVs are expensive investments and require significant care to keep them in running order. Just like a car, they depreciate the minute you take them off the lot and unlike a car, they do not usually fit in your driveway, so you will also have to pay for storage.
In order to make sure you have the best experience, we recommend the following:
- Pull a rental: If you have a truck or car that can pull a trailer, this is a great first option. You already know how to drive your vehicle so you don’t have that learning curve and there is less to break down since a trailer does not have an engine. It also allows you to easily park the trailer and use your truck to explore. If you decide to rent a motorhome, you will likely have to also rent or buy a towing apparatus to take your car…or, go without a car.
- Go small: If a drivable motorhome makes the most sense for you, keep it as small as possible. The smaller vehicles give you more flexibility. You will have more options to park it, allowing you to even boondock more easily. (Boondocking – parking your camper, usually for free on government land or in state parks but with no hookups.) You will also have a quicker learning curve on turning and backing up. Plus, if you are like my husband and trying to convince a spouse to purchase an RV, going small first means that a larger RV will feel luxurious in comparison! It will also teach you quickly what is important to have in the RV that you end up purchasing later.
- Rent from reputable sources: There are many sites offering rentals including some individuals who use their RV like an AirBnB. We like Outdoorsy and RVShare which offer a variety. Make sure the rental agency will back up their rental and that you understand what their policies are for potential service needs. Look into the roadside support and insurance options from the rental company. You should check with your insurance company to make sure you’re covered one way or the other. Even small dings in an RV can be very expensive to fix.
- Test drive and practice: Make sure you test drive the vehicle to ensure you are comfortable. And, before hitting the road on that first long drive, practice driving it. Pretend you are in high school again and find a large parking lot to practice turning, backing up and braking – especially braking. Get a feel for how long it takes to stop the vehicle before you HAVE to. We had an auxiliary brake system installed on our Jeep that activated the brakes on the trailer giving us more help in the event we had to stop quickly. Regardless, if you’re towing, give yourself plenty of room from the vehicle in front of you. And, if you’re driving in the rain, give yourself even more room. That trailer you’re pulling will make stopping distances much longer than you expect. Especially when going downhill.
- Test for at least a week: If you are considering buying, rent for more than one weekend and go to more than one spot. This gives you a greater understanding of what is is like to travel in a camper and to truly experience some of the fun, and trials, of RVing before you decide. You haven’t truly tested your relationship with your spouse, significant other or a friend until you have had to back up the RV into a small spot in the rain!
What to bring:
So now you have a RV, maybe you bought it or maybe you are renting, what should you bring along? Less than you are thinking. Remember, this is a small space with minimal storage. And if you are truly exploring or vacationing, you will not be in the RV during the day much. Put what you think you need to take and put it in one room, then cut it by at least a third! Now, try to fit it in the rig. And don’t think if you have room left over that you can take that extra set of dishes or a project that you just know you can finish on the trip. You will quickly learn once you get out on the road that nothing stays where you put it and it only takes a couple things out of place to junk up your living space quickly so keep it to a minimum. Plus you will acquire new things on your travels and need room for those too. Here, though, are some helpful things to make sure you do have:
- Quarters: Nearly all campgrounds have laundry areas and while some take credit cards, most still take quarters which are surprisingly hard to find when you need more than $5 to do a load of laundry. Don’t count on the campground office having them! Also bring your own laundry detergent. Part of the magic of RVing is having your own bed sheets and comforts from home, including the fragrances that you are used to, like that certain brand of detergent you use. Also, if traveling for more than one cycle of laundry, get a laundry carrier like ours that makes it easier to collect and carry dirty clothes the laundry and your clean, folded clothes back to your rig.
- Instapot: Never leave home without it. This tool is a lifesaver when you want to cook without heating up the house and when you forget to start dinner or take out frozen chicken before leaving for the day. Quick and easy meals, often with just one dirty dish.
- Pillows and foam cushions: RVs are notorious for having bad beds. While renting, consider adding a foam cushion to make it more comfortable. Even putting a sleeping bag on top of the mattress may help. And once you buy, check out the bed before buying a new one. Some RVs have “Sleep Number” type beds and are fairly comfortable.
- Chairs: Stop! Before you buy those fancy chairs that you see in the camping pictures, get out there and use one of the many camp or folding chairs that we know you already own. While camping, walk around the campground and see what others are using. Then once you have camped a few times, if your chair isn’t working, find the chair of your dreams. There are many options and everyone has an opinion. Just remember to consider whether you like to lounge in them, work from them, or just sit around the campfire with a beverage (thus a cupholder is essential!). And don’t forget they have to be stored so make sure they fit in the storage. We bought these and enjoy them since we work outdoors often, but they are heavy and not easily taken to other sites when we want to hang out with friends at their campground. For those occasions, we have lighter chairs like these.
- Walkie Talkies: While you can probably use your cell phone most of the time, walkie talkies can come in handy if there is not cell service and you need to talk to one another (plus, they are more fun!). For instance, they are useful for when one of you is making sure the other doesn’t drive into a ditch while doing a 52 point turn because you went down a one-way, one-lane road. Not that it ever happened, of course! Seriously, we’ve seen lots of couples with one trying to back into a camping spot and the other outside yelling directions to “turn right, turn left, STOP!” Walkie Talkies just simplify things.
- Bug spray and sun lotion: Well, of course, you will be outside! Also, consider getting citronella candles or burning citronella sticks. We also have a Thermacell Mosquito Repeller that works really well (See “Nice to haves” section below.) Nothing ruins a fun night around the campfire more than getting eaten up by mosquitos.
- Minimal pans and dishes: You are probably not going to have a big party or do lots of entertaining so go with the least that you need. Remember storage is key and everything you bring should have a dual use. For instance, we left behind the smaller fry pans and just use the larger one. And word of advice – the thinner the plates the better. I was so sad that we couldn’t bring my pottery plates from our house, but they took up far too much room and were very heavy. Since storage was above my head, the odds of breaking them were much higher. Avoid glassware, especially in the refrigerator. We’ve broken more than our share of glass storage containers and beer bottles after a long drive when opening the fridge. Things rarely stay in the same place while driving around.
- Small Travel Grill and/or Griddle: RVing and outdoor cooking go hand-in-hand. There’s something special about cooking outside with the campfire going and friends or family around. If you enjoy grilling, you’ll want to bring a small, portable grill that’s easy to transport. Plus, in my house, the griller is Barry so it means I get out of cooking!
- Fire poker: Easily overlooked, but hey, aren’t campfires one of the reasons that you want to travel in a RV? Sure they are. So bring a fire poker to more easily deal with the burning logs. Your hands will be happy you did. We have a $5 poker from Home Depot but a friend uses this one which is handy since it also works as a blower. Alternatively, a small folding shovel will suffice to move logs and coals around in the fire and could come in handy for other uses.
My best advice is not to buy anything special for the RV. If it is a necessity and for some reason, you don’t have it in your home then make a purchase. Hold off, though, on all the cool gadgets or items you think you might need. Live in your rig for a while, take a couple trips then start making purchases that make your life easier or more comfortable. We purchased several items that a year later, we haven’t used or used once. Items such as an electric heated blower to help start campfires, a portable picnic table (nearly every campground supplies you with one), and a portable hammock (really not comfortable for the effort and weight). Besides, part of the adventure and a way to create memories is buying useful souvenirs on the road. Then it has more of a story and you will not want to buy a lot of souvenirs that fill up the rig.
Nice to haves:
I also understand that it is really hard not to buy a few new things especially since you will be excited for your adventure. Here are a few that we have been glad to have:
- Reusable tablecloth: the picnic tables are often not in great shape so it is nice to put a tablecloth down. I like the kind you can wash instead of plastic. Get some clamps or picnic table clips to hold it in place. Bungee cords can work too.
- Portable mosquito/Bug zappers: As mentioned, these can go a long way in making you more comfortable. Sunsets are some of the best times to be sitting outside; sadly, the mosquitos like that time as well. We have a Thermacell portable repellent that uses small butane cartridges to heat up repellent disks that slide into it. It works pretty well and one disk will last an evening. We also use citronella sticks from time to time.
- Extension cord: There are many uses for this so definitely good to have on hand. We use it for our laptops so we can work outside or for portable heaters when needed.
- Small (200 watt) personal heaters: If you’re planning on occasionally camping in very cold weather, you might consider picking up a couple of these. We keep one in the bathroom just to provide a bit of heat in the morning and we keep a few extra to put in our wet bays underneath. If it gets below freezing, you’ll want to make sure your wet bay areas aren’t getting too cold which could cause damage if the water freezes. A heavy duty extension cord comes in handy if you need to use them under the rig. Most campground electrical pedestals have a common household outlet that you can use to plug in the heaters.
Since I like you and want you to be a great camper from the beginning, I will share a few rules that we campers like to keep. You won’t find them written on the campground rules list (though definitely review that since each campground has their own set of rules and quiet times.) These are things that you learn along the way that make sure you and your neighbors get along.
- Don’t walk through another person’s campsite – it is just bad form. While renting out a space, you own the entire space including the living area on the passenger side. Many people use it as a spare room and often decorate it with personal items so it is important not to get close to their property. But even if they don’t, it is just not cool to shortcut from your spot to the laundry by walking through their camp site.
- Don’t use the driver side of your rig to hang clothes or store a lot of junk: Your driver side is your neighbor’s living area, so it isn’t nice to junk up their view. Plus a lot of campgrounds have rules against laundry hanging outside. While you certainly have space on that side that is yours, it is mainly for your hookups so it is already not pretty! Be nice and neighborly, keep the area neat and no strange smells.
- Arrive to your camping space and be hooked up before 10 p.m. or don’t: If you plan to arrive after the office is closed, be sure to call ahead and find out their process to find your campsite. And if your plans mean that you won’t arrive until after ten o’clock, then it might make more sense to stop along the way and boondock at Cracker Barrel. If absolutely necessary, then pull in to your spot and park it for the night & don’t hook up. Most campgrounds have the camp spots fairly close together and don’t work to space folks out. The hookups are in the back area of the spot so when you arrive, you are usually hooking up close to someone’s bedroom. Be courteous and easy on yourself. Pull in and park for the night then set up camp when there is daylight It is much better than arguing with your travel companions on how to back into the site in the dark and not hit the poles.
- Park in back spots of lots: Most folks don’t think of this, but there are times when you will take your rig to a grocery or other store, park in the farthest spots along the back. It is not only courteous, you will appreciate the space when you go to leave. Most car drivers do not pay attention to how much room you will need to turn or pull out of a spot. We once parked along the back of a Cracker Barrel to come out and have a car parked in a spot just in front of our front end. Luckily we had just enough room to make it without having to remove our tow vehicle to back up.
- Keep the music and outdoor tvs on low: Most people are camping to get away from technology and enjoy the outdoors. If your football team is playing or the kids want to play video game on the outdoor television, be kind and keep the noise low. This applies to voices as well. Most camps have quiet hours, abide by them and your neighbors will be much nicer!
- Turn the outside lights off at night: Some rigs will have decorative lights (often bright LEDs) or patio lights. When you turn in for the evening, make sure your outside lights are off or not shining directly into your neighbor’s bedroom. Many folks use lights under their rigs to keep out the critters. These are fine, just not the patio twinkle lights that light up your outdoor living room.
RV Life is a wonderful way to travel. You have most of the luxuries of home with the mobility of changing your view daily. The rewards are worth the little inconveniences. It is truly amazing when you wake up and walk outside with your first cup of coffee and you see the beach or mountains right outside your door. And if you don’t see the perfect view, then you can get back in the house and go down the road in search of your perfect view.
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