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Advice & Tips for New RV Owners

Our friends Rick & Sue recently took the plunge and bought an RV motorhome. Being new to RV ownership, they asked for some tips on traveling and using their new unit. After writing down some ideas and sending them an e-mail, I realized “Hey, this could be a useful article on ScenicPathways” . . . so here it is.

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New RVers should check out our article on our favorite RVing Books & Guides, go here.

Helpful RV Guides on the Internet

We’ve outlined several of our favorite Internet guides for camping and traveling here These are handy both for pre-trip planning and to check on the road while traveling.

Some General Tips for New RV Motor Home Buyers

Filling your Fresh Water Tank. Tempting to fill it all the way up as you don’t want to run out of water when you need it. However all the extra water you carry around that you won’t use adds lots of extra weight . . . which means less gas mileage. Often when I know I’ll be able to hook up water at a campground I’ll add only enough water to meet our needs while traveling to the campground. Some short trips I know from experience that a half-full fresh water tank will meet all our needs. We often carry an extra gallon jug of potable water so we have a “backup” if ever surprised in running out of water on the road.

Dumping Septic tanks. Teamwork. Usually a two person job when pulling up to the dump station. One person outside by the station to get you as close as possible to the dump station and align with your dump tanks. The shorter the septic hose from RV to dump station the better. Flush black tank first then gray tank. Also usually a two person job to rinse the septic hose once thru dumping. One holds the hose up, the other turns on and directs the flush water hose.

Gloves. Get a pack of disposable gloves for when you empty the septic tanks. Also hand sanitizer if you end up going sans-gloves.

Navigating Gas stations and other tight places. Your unit has a big “rear end” that can smack things if you try to turn too sharply. You will need lots of room to maneuver. Also double check that your gas cap is tightened after your fill.

Leaving Your Campsite. Double-check that you have removed your water hose and electrical (shore power) cord from the campsite utility box. Easy to get wrapped up in all the details of breaking camp and getting ready to go that one of these “little details” gets omitted.

Tree limps and overhead obstructions. Your unit is also a good deal taller than your car or pickup. Know your height and be watchful when driving.

Route Planning. In urban areas plan your route path to favor right turns and avoiding having to cross traffic. Sometimes when you need to go left across traffic, you can’t . . . because traffic too heavy. Then go right and continue until you find a place you can pull into and safety turn around to go the other direction. If you ever have to turn around on a two lane road and only have a driveway to do it, try to back into the driveway so when you pull out on the road you are facing forward (vs having to back out on a road when you have a big rear end making life difficult).

Entrance ramp on I system or 4 lane highway. You are driving a big rig that doesn’t have the acceleration or maneuverability you are used to. So as soon as you enter the entrance ramp watch the highway traffic lane for an empty space you can fit into and build up speed on the ramp so you can “catch” that space when you get on the highway.

Generator. Run your gen set at least once a month for 15 minutes or more. Run the vacuum cleaner or another appliance while doing the gen set exercise. If you don’t do this, old fuel left in the carburetor can varnish up the orfices and create an expensive repair need. 

Supplying Your RV

Over-packing. In the beginning you’ll cram your RV with as many gadgets and stuff as it will hold. Everything you think you might possibly need you bring. Eventually you’ll find lots of things you’ve tagged along are little used. Over time get in habit of downsizing all the stuff you bring with you based on frequency of use. Extra stuff adds extra weight but also adds extra clutter which interferes with you finding stuff you do use.

Weight and Load Limits. Another is related to over-packing is exceeding your overall weight limits. Know what they are. Also how you distribute that extra weight you are carrying can make a difference on safety in driving. You pile a bunch of stuff in the rear and on a rear hitch hauler, steering and braking issues could arise.

Kitchen Ware. Also easy to go overboard on plates, pots, eating utensils, kitchen gadgets. You wash dishes after every meal so you don’t need a big supply. To save space and weight look for some kitchen stuff designed for backpacking. Good choices because they are multi-purpose and take up less space.

We’ve gotten a lot of use out of our compact MSR Alpine Stowaway Pot.

On clothing to pack. You don’t have the closet space like at home. And you are on vacation, so no need to worry about making a fashion statement.

Think layers, double duty on all your choices. You might have a basic set of clothes for warmer weather and then have a fleece or sweatshirt to throw on top if you hit some cold weather. A long-sleeved T-shirt comes in handy to throw over a short-sleeve golf shirt or blouse for a little cooler weather. If the weather gets even colder, I’ll use a fleece plus a light rain jacket to add two more layers. Sweat pants – handy for cool mornings around the campsite or just buzzing around the motorhome. On some trips I’ll add one set of “nice clothes” for the occasion where we might go out to eat at a more trendy place where our casual camping clothing would look out of place.

Also check the long range weather forecast for the duration and location of your trip so you know what to plan for. But even with all the advance planning it is amazing how often my wife and I guess wrong – too many shorts and not enough long pants or visa-versa.

Basic Tools. Set up a basic tool kit for doing emergency repair while on the road: screwdriver with extra bits, adjustable crescent wrench, channel lock wrench, pliers, pair of forecips, small socket set, and a sharp utility knife. We have a nylon fabric zipper bag that we keep most of our basic tools in. Also handy: a roll of Gorilla Tape, a roll of Masking Tape, and a small spray can of WD-40. One would think a hammer would be part of the basic tool set, but in 15 years of RVing, never had occasion to need one while on the road.

Home Office. Set up a small, compact home office in a drawer or box. Pens, pencils, paper, scissors, index cards, clips, scotch tape.

Bath Kit. While you will use your RV bathroom most of the time, there will be times when you’ll use the facilities at a campground. So have a kit you use in your RV bathroom but also can carry to the camp bathroom. 

Buy a few sets of quick dry camp towels & wash cloths (that backpackers use) for whenever you shower. They take up less space trucking to the campground bathroom and dry inside your unit much faster.

camping towels
I have a set of these Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Towel & washcloth that come in a handy carry bag.


Other Kit Items. Buy or create a small first aid kit. Add sunscreen and bug repellent. We occasionally are in remote, wooded campgrounds and have a bear spray deterrent canister with us (that is also a “security” comfort in the event we are ever threatened by a two-legged foe).

Internet Service. While some campgrounds have Internet service, too often their signal is weak. If having Internet is vital, try to locate your site near the office or a relay. If you don’t have Internet service where you are camping and you need or want to use your laptop, you can get a package that allows you tether your laptop to your cell phone, so you use your cell service data plan.

In our case our cell data plan is modest so we can’t afford to do much surfing. So our habit is to scout out the nearest library for whatever town is nearest our campground. Even small town libraries have a decent Internet hookup you can use.

If you find you need to access sensitive material like banking, explore getting a VPN Virtual Private Network application and service. One we’ve used and like is Tunnel Bear. https://www.tunnelbear.com/ You can use it for free for occasional use, which allows you to “try out” their service. If you are going to use it more frequently you sign up for a modest monthly fee.

Drinking Water. We carry a supply of spring water drinking bottles and a gallon jug of drinking water, just to be safe. The fresh water at some campgrounds may not be entirely free from contamination. Some people use a filter to fill their fresh water tank, which is a good insurance step. However the filter doesn’t protect if some crud is already growing in your tank just from sitting and exposure to the air. Unlike your home plumbing system fed from a well, the fresh water system in the RV is not an entirely closed system as it is opened frequently to refill.

We’ll use the fresh water from our tank for making coffee since the process involves boiling so the amount of extra potable water we carry isn’t that much.

More Suggestions. I hope some experienced RVers will chime in below in the comments to add some helpful tips for those new to the RV life and travel.

Happy Trails Roscoe

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