A Beginner’s Guide to RVing – Absolutely Everything You Need to KnowShare on Facebook
So, you’ve heard the call of the open road, and you’re thinking about answering? Start packing your bags now, because once you get a taste of the freedom RVing gives you, you’ll want to be on the road all the time. Regardless of whether you’re heading out for a week-long vacation or are diving headfirst into the full-time RV life, you’ve come to this site because you’re a beginner with questions. We’ve created this guide to answer (hopefully all) those questions and jumpstart your journey. In this guide, we’ll cover:
- The different types of RVs and how to pick the best one for you.
- Understanding how RV electrical and weight capacities.
- What you need to know about RV insurance.
- The benefits of joining an RV club or forum.
- Tips for packing, mapping your route, and planning your budget.
- How to prepare for the RV lifestyle.
- How to spend less time worrying and more time enjoying freedom.
- A collection of quick tips and resources for saving money and getting ready for RVing.
Getting Started – What to Know Before You Go
Hands down, the number one, most important thing to do first is to decide which RV is right for you. After all, it’s going to be your home on wheels, whether temporarily or permanently. There are five main classes of RVs:
- Class A’s, which are bus-style RVs that run on either gas or diesel. They’re motorized, meaning you don’t have to worry about hitching and unhitching your RV at the campsite. Class A’s range in size from 25 to 40 feet or more.
- Class C’s, which are also motorized. Class C’s are built on van or truck chassis’, so they feel more natural to drive. They usually have a bed in the back and one over the cab (driving area). They can be anywhere from a compact 19 feet long to a 40-foot diesel Super C.
- Class B’s are perfect for the minimalist RVer. They’re essentially converted vans and usually have a sleeping area and small kitchenette. Some Class B RVs have a toilet and shower as well. They range in size from 16 to 20 feet, sometimes more.
- Travel trailers are towable RVs, so you’ll need a truck to pull one of these guys. Since there isn’t a driving area, travel trailers tend to feel a lot roomier than their motorized counterparts. They’re a diverse bunch; you’ll find anything from a small, 11-foot teardrop trailer to a 42-foot monster trailer.
- Fifth Wheels are another style of towable RV. However, these RVs attach in the bed of your truck, right over the axle. This gives them a little more stability than travel trailers. It also creates a multi-level living space, which is unique to this class of RV. Fifth wheels tend to be on the larger side – the most common lengths are between 30 to 40 feet.
- Of course, there are other types of RVs like toy haulers, pop-up campers, bus conversions, specialty motorhomes, and much more.
So why is all this important, you ask? Not only is size a critical component; but so is drivability. If it’s your first time renting or buying an RV, you’ll want something that you’re comfortable driving. Furthermore, choosing an RV also depends on how and where you plan to camp. The best way to decide which RV class and size are right for you is to ask yourself the following questions:
- How much space do you need? If it’s just you and a loved one, you can get away with a small, 20-foot RV. If you have pets or kids, you’ll want at least 25 feet.
- How far do you plan to drive each day? Big RVs can be exhausting to drive, as can travel trailers. You might want to cut down your mileage if you’re driving a big RV.
- How comfortable are you driving an RV with no experience? If you’re worried about it, you might want to consider a Class C. Class C’s are arguably the easiest RV to drive. Towing a trailer takes finesse, and driving a Class A has its challenges as well.
- How will you camp? Are you planning on dry camping a lot? If so, you’ll want a smaller RV – they’re easier to get into tight spots, and they’re less conspicuous.
- How often will you be spending time in the RV? If you’ll be outside all the time, you don’t need as much space and luxury in your RV. If you’ll be hanging around the campsite a lot, you might want more room to stretch out.
Answering these questions will help you decide which class and size of RV suit your family best. Remember it is the most important decision you can make. It’ll dictate how comfortable you are for the entirety of your trip, so choose wisely!
Getting to Know Your RV
Not to anthropomorphize, but it’s important to understand your RV if you want to have a long and healthy relationship. An RV is part automobile, part house – there are a lot of moving parts and systems. First on the list is the electrical system. Without proper knowledge of your electrical capacity, you’ll find yourself blowing breakers left and right. RVs have two systems:
- A 12-volt system, which powers things like your fridge, water heater, lights, and other necessities. This system runs off the batteries in your battery bank.
- A 120-volt system, which powers non-necessity items, like your microwave, TV, and kitchen appliances. This system runs off an electrical hookup or generator.
Your RV will either have 30-amp or 50-amp capacity. Basically, this indicates how appliances you can use at once. For example, if you’re on a 30-amp connection and try to blow-dry your hair while someone is microwaving lunch, you can bet you’re going to have a problem. Therefore, it’s important to know which appliances use the most power, so you can avoid using them simultaneously. This video will help you understand your RVs electrical systems and how to use everything correctly.
Know Your Weight Limits, Too!
Your cargo capacity is just as critical as your electrical capacity. Too much weight on your RV will waste gas and ruin the transmission over time. The important acronyms to pay attention to here are the GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) and the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating). The GVW includes everything in your RV – full water tanks, full gas tank, a refrigerator loaded with food and drinks, and everything else in your RV. The GVW should never exceed the GVWR. RVs are heavy as it is – once you start packing, it only gets worse. It’s imperative that you know your RVs Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC), so you don’t add too much weight. Figuring out the CCC involves a little math. This number will vary, so check out this article for a formula to determinine how much stuff you can pack in your RV.
The Ins and Outs of RV Insurance
The next thing most people ask about is RV insurance. You’ll need it no matter if you’re renting, buying, or living in an RV. When you rent an RV, you’ll likely get liability coverage through the company. However, you’ll still need to provide your own auto insurance. You can do this by getting a binder through your insurance carrier. In some cases, you can get auto insurance from the party who is renting the RV to you. If you’re buying an RV, you’ll need insurance too. It’s easy enough to get auto coverage through an insurance provider, but what if you plan to live in your RV? Full-time RV insurance works like a combination of auto and homeowner insurance. You’re protected if you get in an accident, but your possessions are also insured in case of damage or theft. There are several companies that provide full-timer insurance. This guide will help you understand full-time insurance if you’re interested.
For Best Results, Join the RV Community!
The RV community is full of people who love to share knowledge and resources, so why not become a part of it? Whether you’re renting or buying an RV, joining an RV club has its benefits:
- You’ll save on camping fees. Some discount clubs save you up to 50% on campground rates.
- You may also get discounts on RV necessities, like gear and RV parts.
- Some clubs offer coupons for dining and entertainment.
- A few of the big-name clubs offer RV insurance, health insurance, pet benefits, and more.
- You’ll have access to forums where you can connect with like-minded RVers. You’ll also have a plethora of resources at your fingertips, like helpful articles and tutorials.
If you’re interested in learning about the hundreds of RV clubs out there (and which one is the best), we’ve created an extensive guide on the subject. We’ll give you a run-down of the most popular clubs and what they have to offer.
Let’s Get Packing – Tips for Planning Your Trip
Planning is a way of life when it comes to RVing. True, RVing is about embracing freedom, but the structure of having a good plan in place is what allows you to adapt and enjoy that freedom. There are three important components for planning your trip:
- Knowing your budget
- Planning your route
- Packing properly
Of course, this wouldn’t really be a helpful guide if we didn’t include tips for each:
Tips for Your Budget
Your budget will determine everything about your trip – how long it will last, where you’ll stay, how you’ll eat, and more. Start by figuring out how much you can afford before you do anything else:
- Gas is the main expense when you’re traveling in an RV. As such, it should be the main line item on your budget. You should allocate 50% of your budget for gas. You can use an app like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas in any given area.
- You next line item will be campground fees. Campground expenses can add up quickly, especially if you’re paying $30 per night for hookups! Campgrounds costs should be around 25% of your budget. You can cut back on these costs by boondocking or joining a discount RV club.
- Next, you’ll need to put aside some funds for dining and entertainment. You should dedicate 15-20% of your budget to food and activities. You can save a ton of money by stocking up on groceries and cooking instead of going out. Go RVing has a great list of easy-to-cook meals for RVers.
- Whatever remaining funds you have (in this case, 5 to 10%) should be put aside as an emergency fund. It’s always a good idea to have money for a hotel stay, basic maintenance, minor injury, or anything else.
Tips for Planning Your Route
Now that you know your budget, you can start planning your route. It’s critical that you know how to get to your campsites before you set out. Getting lost can be a big headache and an even bigger waste of gas. Keep the following in mind:
- Depending on your destination (and what you can afford), you’ll either want to take the scenic route or the highway. Our advice? Mix it up a bit! Take the highway when you have a longer day of driving, then slow down and explore once in a while.
- Use an app like RoadTrippers to guide you on your way. Not only can you plan your route; but you can also find interesting places to stop.
- Don’t overdo it! Driving an RV can be exhausting. Limit your driving times to about 4-6 hours per day.
- Travel outside of peak hours, so you don’t waste gas sitting in traffic.
- Plan which campgrounds you’ll stay at ahead of time. That way, you can check for deals. Plus, if you don’t make a reservation, you risk being turned away from a full campground.
Tips for Packing Your Rig
Packing your RV for a trip is quite literally a balancing act. You want to make sure you pack everything you’ll need, but you also have to keep your weight limits in mind. Don’t be surprised if you have a few tough moments deciding what to pack and what to toss. Here are a few tips to help you through these trying times:
- Start a packing list ahead of time. Like, two weeks ahead of time. You need plenty of time to digest your list and make changes.
- You should also make a food menu for your vacation. It’ll help keep you on-task at the grocery store and on-budget during the trip. Limit your meals to ones that are simple to cook and don’t use a lot of dishes.
- Use small boxes to keep miscellaneous items contained within cabinets. Food, toiletries, toys – these are all loose items that can shift during travel.
- It’s easy to overpack clothing, so be extra mindful here. You’ll want to bring along a few layers – a sweater, a jacket, and a raincoat. Try to stick to neutrals so that you can mix and match everything.
- Pack a box of random maintenance items like batteries, light bulbs, a screwdriver, tape, scissors, etc.
- You should also bring along some cleaning supplies since RVs get dirty quickly. You’ll need trash bags, a broom and dustpan, paper towels, cleaning solution or white vinegar, dish soap, and a few rags.
- Once you think your list is complete, check again because it probably isn’t! Compare it to these lists and see if you’ve missed any critical items.
- When packing the RV, pack all the essentials first. That way, when the RV starts to get too cluttered, it’ll be easier to eliminate the things you don’t really need.
How to Enjoy Your Trip – Practical Tips to Keep You Sane
The RV lifestyle is one full of wonder and awe, but it can also be riddled with bumps – and not just in the road! You’ll encounter a number of challenges on any given day. Whether it’s a need to upsize your budget or downsize your space, you’ll have to learn to adapt if you want to spend a length of time in an RV. Here are some of the common pitfalls and how to avoid them:
- Staying on budget is a tricky task at home, and it’s even harder on the road. Whether you’re RVing for a month or a year, we strongly advise creating a weekly budget sheet. It should include rental fees/RV payments, campground fees, food, and more. Technomadia has an excellent example of their monthly full-time budget.
- In the vein of staying on budget – cut costs everywhere you can. There are plenty of opportunities to save on your biggest budget-usurping culprits: gas, camping, and food. We’ve created a list of money-saving tips you’ll find later on in this guide.
- If you’ll be traveling for a long time, you might want to think about Workamping. The Workamper website is an excellent resource to find temporary jobs all over the United States. Many of the jobs are specifically for RVers. For example, you may find a three-month position at a campground, where they’ll compensate you with free hookups, food, and daily pay. When the job is over, just pack up and head to the next destination!
- One of the biggest challenges to RVing is downsizing your entire life. How are you supposed to pack everything you need into such a small space?! Whether you’re going to live in your RV or are just renting one for a few months, you’ll have to downsize – there’s just no way around it. Truthfully, purging clutter that you don’t need is freeing. This article from The Fun Times Guide has some insightful information to help you get started.
- When you’re living in a small space, organization is everything. There’s no other time when it’s as critical that every single object has its own place. The fun thing about getting organized is getting creative with your storage – you’ll start to see your RV from a whole new perspective. This article has some tips for organizing every room in your RV.
Slow Down and Smell the Roses – Learning How to Enjoy the Moment
With all this talk of planning, budgeting, and downsizing, you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed. Don’t worry! The reason we’re telling you all of this is to prepare you for everything so that you can enjoy your trip! When you have a plan set in place, it gives you the freedom to be spontaneous. For example, wouldn’t it be nice to know you can stay an extra night at a campground because you came in under budget last week? Planning sets the foundation of your trip and gives you the tools to get creative with how you build it. Since you’ve already created a budget and travel plan, what’s next? It’s time to create a safety plan (this is the last plan, we promise!). It should cover a number of situations, such as:
- What to do if you have an accident or mechanical breakdown. Hint: this is where understanding your RV insurance comes in.
- Your campground plan in case of an emergency evacuation or severe weather. Take That Exit has an excellent blog post on this subject. Make sure your whole family understands your campground plan, so no one gets lost or panicked.
- Your plan for safe traveling, including how to do a safety check before you hit the road.
- Lastly, what to put in your RV emergency kit. Here’s a handy checklist that you can print.
That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now that you have all these plans in place, you can sit back and relax. You’ll feel better knowing that you’ll be able to adapt to any situation RV life throws at you. And when you’re adaptable, you have more freedom to go out, be spontaneous, and have fun!
A Crash-Course in RVing – Quick Tips to Save Money
Earlier we mentioned that there are plenty of ways to cut costs when you’re RVing. In fact, that’s what RVing is about – saving money while traveling the country! Whether you’re full-timing or vacationing in an RV, it’s one of the most affordable and comfortable ways to travel. These tips will help you save even more money, so you can spend it on fun stuff instead:
Saving on RV Rentals
- Most RV rental sites offer discounts for longer trips and off-season vacations. Book your trip months in advance (if possible) to get the best possible rates.
- Know which RV you want. The bigger the RV, the more it’s going to cost. Try to find a balance between RV size, comfort, and budget. Additionally, a brand-new RV is going to be more expensive than one that’s just a few years older, so keep that in mind.
- If you’re planning a one-way trip, look for factory delivery specials from big-name RV rental services. They’ll give you a huge discount to pick up their RV and deliver it to a specific location.
- If you’re renting through a peer-to-peer network like RVshare, take advantage of the messaging feature. You can directly message owners to negotiate pricing and rental terms.
Saving on Travel and Camping
- Make campground reservations ahead of time – You may be able to find special discounts, and you’ll ensure that there’s a spot open for you.
- Dry camping will save you a ton of money since you won’t be paying to camp with hookups. Become a master of dry camping and do it as much as possible. Allstays is a handy app that shows your thousands of places to camp. You can search for free and cheap places to park.
- Join an RV discount camping club like Passport America or Good Sam Club. They offer discounts on camping, in addition to access a wealth of resources.
- Take it slow. Try to stay around 55mph or so – it’s safer and saves on gas.
- Bring a bike with you so you can use it to get into town for shopping trips.
- Download the GasBuddy app to find the cheapest gas near you.
- Get a gas station rewards card for your favorite chain. You’ll get gas points whenever you shop or dine at a partner location!
Tips for Saving on Food
- Shop for ingredients, not meals. If you stock up on basic ingredients, you can cook and freeze meals ahead of time, saving you a ton of cash.
- Keep a rotating supply of dry food, like pasta and rice. Then, buy fresh ingredients at farmer’s markets as needed. Don’t waste money on food that will go bad before you have a chance to eat it!
- Bring along homemade snacks and trail mix. This will help you avoid buying them at convenience stores and campground markets, which can be expensive.
- Make campfire meals whenever possible. You’ll be able to camp without hookups more often. It also helps you conserve water since you’ll have fewer dishes to clean.
Resources for First-Time RVers
This is your first time RVing; of course you’re going to have tons of questions! Hopefully, this guide has helped quell some of your worries. We have just one last aspect to cover – how to actually drive and use your RV! Since we can’t physically show you how to use an RV, (though we wish we could) we’ve compiled a list of tutorial videos to watch at your convenience:
- Here’s an online driving course for Class A RVs.
- Here’s a video covering the differences between travel trailers and fifth wheels.
- Tips for backing up a fifth wheel trailer.
- A video outlining the pros and cons of diesel versus gas RVs.
- A basic walkthrough of RV systems and features for all types of RVs.
- A tutorial for dumping and cleaning your holding tanks.
- A video list of the top mistakes that new RVers make. Here’s another video of five mistakes that can damage your RV. Make sure you watch these two videos to avoid these mistakes!
- A collection of safety tips for winter RVing.
- Another safety video for RV travel.
- A video of boondocking tips for new RVers.
- A walkthrough of how to set up your RV when you get to the campsite.
- A video of essential RV gear you should pack and tips for packing effectively.
- A video of handy tips from a seasoned RVer.
- Here’s an interview with a couple who has been full-timing for 11 years! Perfect for anyone interested in full-time RVing.
- Jessica with Exploring the Local Life describes ways to make money on the road.
Congratulations, You’re Ready for the Road!
Now that you’ve read this extensive guide on RVing, you’re ready to get out there and enjoy yourself. Go with the confidence that you can handle anything the nomad life throws your way! The most important thing to keep in mind is to enjoy yourself and be adaptable. Safe travels and happy RVing!
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