You’ve finally done it – you’ve decided to hit the open road in an RV. You researched RVs, making sure you chose the best model for your needs and budget, and you’re ready to get going. However, are you sure you’re really ready?
You’ve outfitted the interior with all the supplies you think you’ll need, you’ve got all the plumbing supplies – hoses, regulators, valves – and you’ve loaded the things you think you won’t need, but you might, such as tools, duck tape, a ladder, extra fuses, and so on. However, if you don’t make a written plan, you will forget something – possibly something really important.
You may think writing out a detailed plan for a vacation is overkill, but if you’ve never gone RVing before, it’s essential. You’ll still make mistakes and learn things the hard way, but you’ll avoid the more costly mistakes other RVers have made. It makes sense to profit from the hardships others have endured and to spare yourself the grief.
Trip planning is a always a good idea, even if you’re not embarking on a new experience like RVing. Knowing where you’ll stay, booking flights and rental cars ahead of time – these help you enjoy your time away. A little planning on the front end definitely makes the vacation a lot easier. Some people feel trip planning takes the spontaneity out of the vacation, but that’s not necessarily the truth. So a general plan of where you’re going and how you’ll get there still allows for the spontaneous side trip along the way. Trip planning your first RV vacation will save you endless heartaches and keep the trip fun. After all, you don’t want to be one of these RV rookies:
There are lots of trip planning websites to help you plan a successful vacation. Roadtrippers.com is a good one to get started with if you’ve never made a vacation plan before. As you work out the details of your trip, include ways to avoid these 10 mistakes newbie RVers make:
1. Driving Your RV Like a Car
If you’ve never driven an RV before, your natural instinct is to drive it like it’s your car. An RV is not a car – it’s bigger, heavier, longer, and bulkier than a passenger car. It’s also not as agile as a passenger car; RVs don’t turn on a dime, nor do they stop as quickly as a car. You may never have taken physics in high school, but the laws of physics don’t care if you know about them or not. And breaking the laws of physics is not like breaking a traffic law. You can get away with speeding, or running a red light, but you will not get away with breaking Newton’s laws of motion.
RVs are heavier than passenger cars, meaning they have more mass. More mass means they are harder to stop, i.e., the braking distance increases when you drive an RV. More mass means they are slower to respond when maneuvering, so changing lanes requires more distance – lane-hopping in an RV is a no-no. More mass also means a larger turning radius – you can’t turn an RV on a dime, so be sure you allow for a larger turning area.
There are several good reasons to not speed in your RV. One main reason is economical – RVs are not fuel-efficient above 60 miles an hour, so faster driving means more fuel stops and a bigger hit to your fuel budget. The other reasons are safety – a faster-moving RV requires more braking distance to stop safely, and a faster-moving RV is also more difficult to maneuver. So, keep your foot out of the fuel tank as you drive – it’s better for your wallet, and it’s better for your stress level too.
3. Not Knowing the RV’s Height
The roadways in America are designed for cars, not big rig semis, and not for RVs. It’s important for you to know the clearance level of your road palace; otherwise, you’re going to find yourself stuck – literally – trying to negotiate underpasses, parking decks, tunnels, and even drive-thrus. Places, where vehicle height is an issue, are clearly marked; it’s up to you, as the driver of a larger-than-normal vehicle, to know if your RV will clear the top of whatever passage you are attempting. Here’s a tip: if you do get stuck, try letting the air out of your tires. You can generally get enough clearance to get through, but you’ll need to drive carefully through the low-height passage and pull over as soon as possible once you’re through to re-inflate the tires.
In Drivers Education – at least when we learned to drive – we were taught to leave one vehicle length per ten miles of speed between our car and the one in front; so, for example, if you are traveling at fifty miles per hour, you need to leave five car lengths between you and the car in front. This was based on physics and the stopping capability of the brake systems at the time. They may still teach this in Drivers Ed today, but drivers who practice it are few and far between. The majority of passenger car drivers today tailgate; they are relying on the advances in brake technology to stop their car in time if the driver ahead of them suddenly stops. Most of the time, it works; however, Newton and those laws of motion pop up and crashes happen.
Tailgating in an RV is a stupid thing to do; even if your brakes are in tip-top condition, the mass of the vehicle requires greater stopping distance – Newton and his laws again. If you don’t leave an appropriate distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, ol’ Newton’s gonna take over, and you’re going to crash.
5. Not Making – and Using – a Checklist
While going on vacation in an RV is not as complicated as flying a plane, it still pays to develop a checklist of things you need to verify before you head out. A checklist keeps you from running out of potable water and ensures you have enough food, clothing, and medical supplies on hand before you hit the back roads. It also means you’ll walk around your RV before you leave and verify all storage bins are closed and locked, all valves are closed, and your steps are folded up and secured.
A checklist makes sure you have the right tools and supplies to connect water and waste valves correctly, and that you don’t leave a site with the regulator valves still attached to the supply lines. A checklist, especially one that evolves as you travel more, is one of the best things you can do to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
6. Verify You Have Your Water Regulator Valve
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but you can become distracted when packing up to leave a site, and if you don’t have a checklist, you can easily drive off with your water valve regulator still attached to the supply line. It’s an expensive mistake, as you’ll have to replace it before you can use a water supply line again.
7. Separate your Fresh Water and Sewer Hoses and Connectors
This one also sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s important. Carelessly laying your fresh water hoses and/or connectors on top of your sewer hoses can lead to cross-contamination, and potential illness. Not something you want to contend with while out in the wilderness.
8. Not Closing the Under-Rig Valve After Dumping Your Waste Water
Failing to close this valve can lead to a disaster when you open the valve on the side to dump your water – as in the water dumps out on the ground under the rig when the system is open. Be sure to check the valves before you leave camp, and before you attempt to dump your water.
9. Not Cleaning Out the Fridge Completely Before Shutting Down the Power
When stopping at a friend’s or relative’s house, you want to shut down the power to the RV, as you’ll be staying inside the house. Before you do so, be sure you’ve cleaned out the fridge and freezer completely, and use something to keep the doors slightly ajar. Not doing this means mold and nasty odors, and a major clean-up job.
10. Unhitching Your Fifth Wheel Before Engaging the Rear Stabilizers
This RV mistake isn’t so obvious, but not doing it means you could blow a fuse in your landing system. As you unhitch the fifth wheel, the front of the unit goes up, putting stress on the back. If you’ve already engaged the rear stabilizers, this forces them into the ground, causing the fuse to blow. While you should carry extra fuses with you, this is an unnecessary reason to use one.
As a new RV user, you’re setting out into uncharted territory. It makes sense for you to profit from the mistakes other newbies have made, to make the process easier on everybody involved. You’ll still make your share of mistakes, and have correspondingly funny stories to tell. However, you can avoid dangerous pitfalls and the expensive errors made by others. Do some research, plan your trip, develop that checklist and use it. Then, your launch into the RVverse will go smoothly. Learn from the goofs you do make and evolve that checklist to avoid the same mistake down the road.
RVing is a fun way to see the country and not just the parts on the main road. Your road palace lets you explore hidden gems of small towns and rural communities, and allows you to find remote lakes on mountains, to enjoy the solitude and share the wilderness with the local flora and fauna. RV responsibly, and drive your unit like an RV, not a passenger car. Keep your campsites clean, disturb the natural habitat as little as possible, and avoid these RV mistakes, and you’ll be fine. Enjoy your time away while sharing in the camaraderie of the RV community. Happy trails!