Welcome to “Ask an RV Expert,” the advice column where RVillage experts answer your questions about the RVing lifestyle and common maintenance problems.
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Dear RVillage Expert: We’re newbie RVers looking for camping tips and resources. What information do we need to know to get started? —Casey V.
Are you a noob, newbie, first-time RVer, or rookie rig owner looking for a few tips before setting out on your maiden shakedown voyage? Your first trip can be intimidating, nerve-racking, and maybe even a little embarrassing at times—but it will also be extremely rewarding as it’s your first step toward learning the ins and outs of the RVing lifestyle first-hand.
While preparation is key—and equipping yourself with the right information and gear can help alleviate some unwanted RVing scenarios—you should also embrace the fact that the unexpected is inevitable, and will occur, no matter your level of preparedness. So instead of getting frustrated with yourself (or your rig) as a new RVer, remember to think of every mishap as another story you can add to the long list of memories you’re bound to make out on the road.
Although real-life experience is the best way to learn, here are a few things to consider before embarking on your first shakedown trip.
Set up your insurance. Hopefully, you checked this task off your list before driving your RV off the lot, but if you haven’t, insure your rig immediately, even if it’s just sitting in your driveway. Insurance will protect your investment—and you—in the event of damage to others’ property on the road or at the campground. There are plenty of RV insurance policy options available, making it easy to find one that meets your specific travel and coverage needs.
Practice driving. Once you have your RV insured, find an open parking lot where you can practice driving or towing your rig. This will help you become more familiar with and confident in hauling or driving your RV. You can even set up cones or other obstacles to practice backing up and turning.
Don’t pack everything. Owning a spacious home on wheels allows you to bring more items than you could pack into a tent, but you should refrain from bringing all of your belongings along for the ride. Pack essential items you’ll need daily for cooking, eating, sleeping, working (if necessary), and enough food and clothing to get you started on your first journey. You should also have a toolbox equipped with the basics to fix minor repairs. Otherwise, you can figure out what else you need (or don’t need) as you go. The more trips you take, the better you’ll understand what your must-have items are.
Campground etiquette. Before arriving at the campground, have a basic understanding of proper camping etiquette. From adhering to noise levels and dump station preparedness to knowing where to park your tow vehicle and slide-out spacing, there are several unwritten campground rules that others will likely expect you to follow. Make a good first camping impression by familiarizing yourself with some of these common etiquette guidelines.
Internet expectations. If you plan to work from your RV, or simply want strong WiFi connectivity at the campground, then make a plan for connecting to the internet before beginning your trip. Campground WiFi can be unreliable, even with a signal booster. You’ll likely need a cellular-based internet plan or satellite service to achieve a stable, reliable connection while camping.
Membership programs. The RVing community has numerous membership programs and clubs that can give you discounts on things like campgrounds, camping gear, emergency roadside services, fuel, and more. Kampgrounds of America, Good Sam, Harvest Hosts, and Thousand Trails are a few of the most popular membership franchises. Each membership comes with its own benefits and cost-saving perks, but before choosing which program you want to join (if any), be sure to understand your camping style and the type of campground you prefer, as these desires will help you determine which club might be right for you.
Fuel discounts. Research fuel cards and apps. Some gas stations and gas apps offer loyalty programs to give you discounts on fuel and other goods and services. Pilot Flying J, Love’s Travel Stops, TSD Logistics (diesel fuel only), and GasBuddy are some of the top fuel rewards programs. Depending on the number of participating stations in your area, or the area you plan to travel to the most in your RV, these memberships can potentially save you money at the pump.
Book campsites. Don’t take off in your RV on a whim and expect to find an open site waiting for you when you arrive at the campground. With the growing popularity of RVing, campground availability is more limited, so you need to book in advance if you want a spot, especially at popular national parks and during peak travel season. Set yourself up for success by reserving your campsite ahead of time. This will save you the hassle and headache of scrambling for a place to park your rig during your travels.
Shakedown trip. Even though social media might have you itching to book an adventure of epic proportions as soon as you get your RV, take a step back and plan a shakedown trip that’s short, sweet, and close to home. This trip isn’t the time to challenge yourself to the brink; rather, it’s meant to get you, and your travel companions, more comfortable with your RV, setting up and tearing down camp, driving, and figuring out what needs to be adjusted before setting out on a big excursion.
Welcome the unexpected. Things will go wrong, whether you’re new to RVing or a seasoned camper. Don’t panic and don’t be afraid to ask other RVers for help. The RVing community is filled with people willing to lend a helping hand. Welcome the challenges that come your way and remember to have fun.