We were full-time RVers for one whole year, and we weren’t great at it. Looking back, there are a bunch of RV camping tips for beginners we wish we had known.
I’ve actually stayed pretty embedded in the RVing community through my friendships and freelance writing/editing work, so I’ve had a lot of time to learn what we should have done differently. I hope this list is helpful in getting you rolling in the right direction when starting your RV journey!
For more insights into our one year of RVing, check out the recap and video at the bottom of this page! We also kept an ongoing list of all the RV camping places we stayed at in North America that you might find useful.
Our 20 Best RV Camping Tips for Beginners
1. Don’t rush when looking at motorhomes, fifth wheels, and travel trailers to potentially travel in.
When you are excited, it is easy to miss some really big issues when out looking for the right RV. We know a lot of RVers who traded in their rig within the first couple of months (at a loss) because they realized it wasn’t the right fit.
There are so many different types of RVs. It is a good idea to take your time to really think through the purchase, especially if you will be RVing for the first time and plan to live in your RV long-term. This article by RV Share brings up some important questions to ask when looking for your first RV.
2. Create a realistic budget for RV parks and campgrounds.
This was a big failure for us. We read a ton about how wonderful and easy it was to boondock for free in open places, but we needed access to more electricity to charge our devices and work from the road. And we hadn’t budgeted for big solar upgrades or how over-priced most RV parks are, unfortunately.
Yes, boondocking can be magical but it is also first-come, first-serve and RVing is getting more and more popular so those amazing spots are getting more competitive each year. And you know what isn’t magical? Parking at Walmart as a last resort. Too many nights of that in a row can really give you a bad taste in your mouth about RVing, in my experience.
Do some research on areas you would like to spend your time when RVing and look up the current prices for camping as well as realistic boondocking options. If you’ll need access to electricity and internet but plan to boondock, you’ll want to budget for that as well. Most full-time workers I know who live in their RV have at least two cell phone providers, a hot spot, and usually StarLink on top of that just to be sure they always have internet access. And even then, there is no plan that’s 100% successful.
3. Go on a test run first camping trip before taking off on the open road.
RV beginners are going to have a huge learning curve. Getting comfortable with the RV basics in a more controlled environment can really help you start off on a positive roll.
Figure out how to fill up your fresh water, use your sewer hose, and successfully dump your black tank and gray tank in a low-stress situation. You can look up videos online, read more RV camping tips for beginners in online communities and forums, but also be sure to ask the seasoned RVers around you for tips if you end up struggling when it is time to put your knowledge to the test. Most RVers are very kind and helpful!
4. Book any camping in national parks and popular places early.
When we were RVing, we had a tendency to forget about holidays like Memorial Day and Fourth of July since we didn’t have any specific plans to celebrate while on the road. We spent many at Walmart parking lots due to not booking ahead since those long summer weekends are very popular for families to go out RVing. We did luck out with some first-come spots, but it was never not stressful to be scrambling.
National Park campgrounds and places like the Florida Keys are notorious for booking out six months or more in advance during peak times. If you have any bucket list campgrounds or locations, be sure to book ahead of time and just keep in mind their cancellation policy if you need to adjust your plans.
I recently learned of a company called Campnab that monitors campgrounds for cancellations to help you get a booking even when the park’s website shows sold out. There is a fee to use it, but it seems worth it if you are in a bind.
5. Read your manual before taking off. Seriously, read your manual.
There are about a dozen ways you could seriously injure or kill yourself while RVing – from major wrecks caused by poor driving or towing an overloaded trailer to propane leaks to fires due to an electrical shortage. You need to take traveling in an RV seriously and follow the guidelines for safe usage.
For those unphased by danger, not taking proper care of your RV could also lead to not being able to use it or having to shell out lots of money to fix it. Proper maintenance and usage is key to maintain your investment as well as keeping your family safe.
6. Strongly consider having a tow vehicle.
We didn’t tow a vehicle behind our motorhome and I think that was a mistake. Our logic was that not having a tow car would make us shorter and more nimble to get into tight camping sites and parking spots. It would also save us some money from not having a car payment or the extra insurance.
However, not having a tow vehicle as full-time RVers made us feel trapped – in the RV and with each other. We were together ALL THE TIME during our year in an RV. Aside from some solo walks or bike rides, we were constantly with each other and it wasn’t healthy for us. Some people are fine with it, but we realized we need time on our own for our sanity.
Having a tow car also would have likely saved us money in the long run since our Class C motorhome didn’t have great gas mileage and we could have used the car for exploring. It was also a whole hassle and a half to get to a campground, setup, and then realize we didn’t have anything to make dinner and need to unhook and go back out. It isn’t too bad for a short RV trip, but it gets real old dealing with that weekly or more!
7. The best way to learn as a new RVer is by asking other long-time RVers.
We didn’t ask enough of the right questions when we got going as full-time RVers. I think we were looking for more confirmation as to why it was a good idea rather than trying to find out why it could be a bad idea to have a more accurate understanding of what we were getting into.
There are so many forums, groups, RV rallies, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask the “dumb” questions or the “what ifs.” Get as much information you can – good and bad! Our friend Alyssa Padgett wrote this great book for beginner RVers.
8. Get tire pressure monitoring.
We waited a few months before having a Tire Pressure Monitoring System installed and I was constantly afraid of having a tire blow out on the highway until then. Having a TPMS really helped to give us peace of mind and I wish we had it from day one.
9. Camping on BLM public lands and boondocking is great, but DOES take compromise.
There are some amazing boondocking places in the U.S. and Canada – and around the world, so we’ve heard! However, staying out in nature without any hookups does take planning and compromising. You will either need to have a setup that allows for multiple days off grid – large water and waste tanks, solar power, high-capacity batteries, etc. Or you will need to be very sparse with your water and power usage. I’m sure this had to be included in the RV camping tips for beginners we read, but it just didn’t click then!
For people who never even camped before RVing, having to change our habits so drastically was a huge challenge. It was worth it in some of the more beautiful locations. But, sometimes we were just in a parking lot en route to a destination and it felt like a huge nuisance. Be realistic with how you will handle the challenges before committing to sticking to your RV budget by boondocking.
10. Check Google Maps often during your travels.
This is a huge help for saving on fuel economy, making sure you can park in a parking lot, and avoiding roads that are not RV friendly. We accidentally ended up on a logging road trying to get to Sir Richard Squires Provincial Park near Gros Morne in Newfoundland. It was awful!!! It looked like it connected to the highway, but after hours of bumping down the dirt road, we were told by a nice logger that we were lost. Luckily, he let us follow him out.
11. Be smart when using your storage space.
First of all, did you know your RV has a weight limit? If you read your manual, you would! Going over your RV’s max safe weight can cause tons of issues, but the main concern is safety since it can lead to accidents and major issues with your RV. Read more about safe RV weight here.
Safety aside, you don’t want to be shuffling your RV storage space at every stop to get what you need because you overloaded it. Bring only what you need and make sure to get your RV weighed before you take to the road to make sure you don’t need to downsize further.
12. Get all of your essential items and have basic tools before RVing.
At a minimum, you are going to want a long sewer hose, a filtered freshwater hose, surge protector, an electrical adaptor, and some basic tools in case of an emergency. If towing a travel trailer or traveling with kids or pets, you may want to add some other products to your must-buy list. However, there are a lot of other items and tools that will be a big help. Just don’t over-buy and end up overloading your RV storage, as mentioned above.
13. Learn to laugh at your mishaps!
During our first week of RVing, I managed to spray myself in the face with water because I didn’t realize the shower head had turned when we were driving. I also sent a ball of fire at my face trying to use the propane stove because I let the gas run too long. Buddy also left the vent open all night when it dropped to the 40s in New Mexico and we couldn’t figure out why the heat wasn’t warming us up.
While every mishap usually led to a few choice words initially, we usually could laugh about it later. Those moments also make great campfire stories when you meet other RVers! I edited this hilarious book about some of the mishaps of RVing that I’d recommend!
14. Always check the weather forecast.
Thunderstorms, hurricanes, hail, tornadoes, flooding, blizzards, fires, and the list goes on. With climate change, we are living at a very unpredictable time when it comes to weather. Places known for a certain climate may be having a completely different weather pattern than you expect for that time of year.
Be sure to check the weather before driving to a new area and while camping in general. Many RVers keep an emergency alert radio on hand as well, which is not a bad idea! You DO NOT want to be in an RV during a big storm. Always go to a safe place!
15. Figure out your finances and have a budget.
We spent SO MUCH more than we expected RVing. Some of that was because we sold our RV at a loss at the end of the year. But mostly it was from unrealistic planning and very poor budgeting. We discuss that more in this guest post for MakingSenseofCents.
My best advice is to NOT be optimistic when making your RV life budget. Plan for chaos and hope for the best. If you are super lucky, everything will go perfectly as planned. But, realistically, some of your plans are going to go right out the window and having some emergency funds to handle that will really help your stress levels.
16. Don’t move to your next destination too fast.
EVERYONE says this and most beginner RVers ignore it – us included.
It makes sense because you are so dang excited to just go and see all the places you’ve been dreaming of. But most people end up burnt out, off-budget, and regretting not taking the advice to go slow. If you are feeling too itchy to go slow initially, maybe plan one month of fast-paced RVing then two of slow-paced and see how that goes for a while.
17. Check for upcoming holidays.
Holidays mean packed campgrounds and increased traffic. Prices of campgrounds will also likely spike, especially for major summer holidays. I’d recommend putting alerts on your calendar months ahead of time to lock in a plan for where to be for major holidays.
18. Be careful what roads you go down, or go scope it out first.
We tried to drive the RV to see Brasstown Falls on a basically one-lane, dirt road in South Carolina. We hit a ton of tree branches on our way and had to 10-point turn out of there. Thank God Buddy is a very skilled driver.
There were probably a dozen times we ended up on roads we shouldn’t have been on, and we did make it out okay. But I think that was sheer good fortune and our constant prayers. Luckily, we never had any highway mishaps, but there are some places that have low bridges or tunnels RVs won’t fit in and people have definitely ripped off the top of their RV by trying to go in anyway.
Most RV GPS systems will allow you to put in your rig’s height and weight to avoid major issues, but it never hurts to take a look at Google Maps satellite view to scope out roads or parking lots you are unsure of. If you have a tow car, using it to go check out an area or road is a great way to avoid issues also.
19. Check for if you will have Wifi for work and have back-up plans.
I got my first big freelance gig just before heading to RV in Newfoundland for six weeks and hadn’t even considered that Wifi would be limited out in the middle of nowhere where we planned to camp. We definitely had to get creative a few times and it definitely added some unneeded stress.
Now there are tons of great options available for internet on the road. Many RVers have multiple cell plans to use as hot spots and even portable Satellite internet. However, there are still some areas where you will get bad connections. If you have an important project or call, you should definitely get to your destination early to make sure you have a good plan for good Wifi.
20. The RV lifestyle just isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay!
We tried out RVing for a year and I knew it didn’t feel right early on. I kept trying to force myself to adjust and get used to the challenges, but it just wasn’t for me and Buddy (while initially more hopeful) felt the same way in the end. No matter how badly we wanted to make it work, we were not good at RVing and just didn’t like a lot of the aspects of it. We didn’t feel free, we felt trapped.
However, we did pretty dang great as nomadic backpackers and traveling pet sitters for the three years after and RVing really helped us hone in what kind of travel lifestyle choices fit us best! Plus, we did have some amazing memories in gorgeous places, and we made long-lasting friendships and work relationships thanks to our year in an RV.
So it really did have some good perks, despite not being our favorite way to travel. We hope if you are going to give it a try that you are better prepared and have more realistic expectations that RV life can live up to for you!
Our One Year of Full-Time RV Life Recap
Spoiler: We quit RVing after only one year. If you are interested in what that year looked like for us, here is a high-level recap:
Our First Introduction to RVing: Thrown in the Deep End
In our first three months of RVing full-time, we drove across almost the entire lower half of the country, visited pretty much all of our immediate family members, and made some beautiful, unexpected memories – as well as some we’d rather forget.
Our first month of full-time RVing was an emotional roller coaster. Unlike many other RVers, we didn’t have any big issues with our rig – just a few minor things to be expected with a new home. However, it felt like the rest of the world was crashing down on us.
We had a loved one lose their significant other the night we took ownership of the RV and did our best to help them navigate. Buddy was still working full-time remotely for his corporate job and I was scrambling to find freelance income. All this on top of learning how to RV for the first time led to a lot of overwhelm.
Then there was the insane Texas weather. Hail, tornado warnings, and a flash-freaking-flood! It was like a test to see if we would snap – and, although Buddy is ever the calm one, I can’t say I passed that one.
When a small river started flowing through Pecan Park RV Park while we were there (a place that lost some rigs to a flash flood two years prior), I lost my damn mind. But afterward, when the water had gone down and no damage had occurred, I felt much better. Sometimes you just have to ugly cry while screaming about how unfair life is to shake off the bad vibes and move forward.
Getting the RV Vacation We Needed
Things seemed to turn around for a while after that. I started my first freelance writing gig, sharing our beginner RVer stories on Winnebago’s blog, and it made me feel very hopeful. Taking off for a month in New Mexico our second month as RVers was also a much-needed escape.
We needed to quiet our minds and the desert was the perfect place for that. We looked at it like a vacation – it was our chance to just have some fun and relax after a whole lot of stress.
Our time in New Mexico felt like how we dreamed RV life would be. Maybe it was because Buddy finally cut ties with his soul-sucking job and sent off his laptop when we got there! Or maybe it was how each day led to a new adventure or a beautiful view. Either way, we cherished every moment and did a ton of hiking and exploring.
On that trip, we realized that we enjoyed boondocking if it was in a scenic, not scary place and definitely NOT in parking lots. Harvest Hosts winery and farm boondocking locations were especially cool! But, we liked the lower stress of being at a nice campground if it had hookups and reliable wifi, plus the great people we met. The cost just wasn’t in our budget – womp womp.
For our third month, we returned to Texas (where we had bought our RV and had been staying with Buddy’s sister during the transition). It was just a short visit for our nephew’s high school graduation, and we were happy to support him, but decided once and for all that we really hated Texas while there.
On our first hot and humid day back, Buddy had two spiders try to jump on him, he almost stepped on a snake laying under our RV steps, then a bee swarm chased us inside. Oh, and a bird flew into our roof and died! I jokingly started calling Texas plagueland after day one.
Finding the Pace We Wanted in Atlantic Canada
After the graduation celebrations, we headed east to see more family in Florida and the Carolinas before heading up to Canada for the summer to beat the rising temps. As soon as we got our motorhome, I was determined to get to the most scenic place we could and Newfoundland in Canada seemed pretty dang scenic. And gloriously remote! We couldn’t wait to get up there (after some explorations in Maine and Nova Scotia, as well as a very long ferry ride!)
Our first months of RVing were very hectic and didn’t even come close to going as planned. But Newfoundland was a dream and we met so many amazingly kind people there. That place will always be one of the great loves of our life. It was just everything we needed and hoped for.
Although RVing wasn’t for us in the long run, our three months in Atlantic Canada (especially the six weeks in Newfie) was exactly what we hoped RVing would be. If we could have somehow sustained that vibe, we’d probably have lasted way longer.
A Rough End to a Challenging Year
But we didn’t have anything planned after that trip. We were just driving around aimlessly which meant wayyy too much driving and uncertainty and sleeping in Walmart parking lots. We also were having to tighten our budget and get really serious about finding income as our savings was quickly getting eaten away. It was high-stress every day.
The next six months were just an absolute blur as we tried to piece together a plan. We just weren’t in a good mental place and so many things kept going wrong. There were a lot of tough conversations and fights and eventually, after a really rough month, we just called it. RVing wasn’t for us.
I’m glad we tried out RVing full-time though. It was brave and I’m proud of us for that. But, I’m also proud that we had enough humility to realize it wasn’t what we were looking for as a long-term lifestyle. I’m happy to be able to honestly share that it wasn’t enjoyable for us – since I know we won’t be the only ones. But if you are taking on RV life, I wish you the absolute best and hope our lessons can help you! We know tons of people who seem to genuinely love it!
Check out our RV Camping Reviews page for a list of all the places we stayed during our year of RVing. To learn more about how we traveled as full-time nomadic pet sitters, check out our house sitting resource page!
Want to see what we are up to these days? Read our latest blog posts for our most-recent travel stories, tips, and Hawaii life insights!