Ah, the freedom of the RV life! Go wherever you want, whenever you want. No pricey hotels or restaurants. No reservations or rental cars. And best of all, no dealing with the impossible airline situation.... All this is yours if you have an RV. But -- and you knew there had to be a "but" coming -- driving and learning to live in an RV is not a piece of cake. And it's not a lifestyle for everyone. Whether you're renting an RV just to see what it's like, or setting out in your newly bought RV for the first time, here are the most important things you need to know before getting behind the wheel.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Read the manual that comes with your RV cover to cover. Ask the salesperson (or rental agent) to walk you through every minute aspect of RV operation -- the plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems, how to hook up water, cable, electric and sewer, how to dump waste, etc. -- before you take the keys. And be sure to take a test drive before you leave the dealership. You might also want to read up on what it's like to travel and live in an RV. There are lots of books and Internet sites on the subject. (See "Resources" below.)
STAY CLOSE TO HOME. Your first trip in an RV should not be your two-week summer vacation. Plan to take a shakedown cruise to an RV campground close to home where you can get to know your RV intimately without the pressure of being far from home on a long trip.
PICK THE RIGHT CAMPGROUND. There are basically two kinds of official RV campgrounds: public and private. An example of a public campground would be any state or national park. A private park is any that is privately owned and run for profit. For your first trip, I recommend a private, commercial campground. They tend to have full hookups (water, sewer, electric, cable), flat pull-through spaces so you won't have to level your RV or back into the space, and other amenities that will make it easier for a first-timer.
FOCUS ON THE EXPERIENCE. This is not a party trip. Leave the friends and other unnecessary distractions at home. You're here to focus on how to drive and operate your RV.
WATCH THE WEATHER. Do yourself a favor and go in warm, sunny weather with little or no wind. Rain, wind or cold temperatures will make things unpleasant when you have to hook up or break camp.
DON'T BACK UP! Whatever you do, don't back the RV up without a rear-view camera or someone to guide you. This is a tricky maneuver, especially for the first-timer.
- If the temperature is expected to drop below freezing, be sure to unhook your water hose from the external connection and use the onboard water instead. If you don't, you could wind up wind up with a long, skinny tube of ice!
- When reserving your place at the campground confirm that they have full hookups and that this means you will have electric, water, cable and a sewer hookup at your site. You don't want to have to unhook everything just to dump your sewage at a separate site.
- It will also be easier if you can get a pull-through site instead of one you have to back into.
- Be sure to arrive at the campground long before dark. It may take you an hour or more to get set up the first time.
- And be sure to confirm that the spot you're reserving is flat. Otherwise you'll need special blocks to level the RV, and who needs to mess with that the first time out?
- If the campground advertises "Free Wi-Fi," ask if you can get the signal in your rig or if you have to go to another site to use the Internet. Also be sure to ask for the password when you check in.
- Also, be sure to know how many amps your RV requires for the electrical hookup and ask the campground what kind of hookups they have. Most commercial campgrounds have 30-amp hookups, and many have 50-amp hookups as well.