Pursuing RVing as a lifestyle was not something I actively sought out or even considered up until around two years ago. I have always enjoyed traveling, but I could never schedule more than two or three trips a year. Finding accommodation, especially in more remote areas can be expensive and difficult to do.
This is how I found myself in the rabbit hole of the RVing lifestyle. I dived into forums, blogs, YouTube videos to learn as much as I could about this lifestyle–what I would need to do, buy, and prepare to jump onto life on the road.
There is a wealth of information out there. It could be overwhelming to piece together all of these fragmented nuggets of information into something easier to digest as a beginner. Here are the top ten things one should know about and consider as an RVing newbie.
RVs, even the cheaper ones, are still vehicles, and they are an expensive investment. Getting one will need careful planning, especially when you don’t have a lot of disposable income. RVs come in different sizes and varieties, so you need to consider your needs, your preferences, and your lifestyle in choosing a vehicle. Doing this ensures that you are going to get a good experience with your chosen vehicle, and your hard-earned money will not have been wasted.
It’s okay to wait and save up for your preferred RV, if you still do not have the money to get it right now. It is better to wait a little longer than get something still expensive that you don’t really want. Brand new RVs can range from $40,000 upwards to $100,000 and more.
However, you can also buy RVs secondhand. Secondhand RVs can go for any price, some can be a lot cheaper than getting a new one. You should make sure to be careful when buying them especially when the offer seems too good to be true. Ask a lot of questions and make sure there aren’t any major issues that can be expensive to fix.
Other than your budget for your initial vehicle purchase, you will need to look into the insurance, fuel and maintenance costs for your preferred vehicle. These will vary depending on the type of vehicle, but will cost a few thousand dollars at least.
Choose A Vehicle
When choosing what RV to buy, the number one thing you should consider is finding a vehicle that would fit your lifestyle. As we have established, a vehicle is a big investment, and when getting one, you should make sure that you are going to use it, and not just have it sitting in your garage or backyard for several months or years.
Renting An RV
When just entering the RVing lifestyle, you can choose to either rent a vehicle or buy one. If you are a complete beginner, I would suggest looking into renting a few motorhomes first. This gives you some firsthand experience in driving and living in an RV without the lifetime commitment of owning one. This way, you can figure out what you like and what works for you, and take that knowledge when purchasing your own RV.
Buying An RV
If you decide to buy an RV, you can choose from different kinds of setups, depending on your needs. Here are some of the basic types of motorhomes you could get:
Class A RVs
Class A RVs are the largest and most expensive RV types. They definitely are the most “house-like” of the varieties, since it has a lot of space. They are the most equipped variety, often including a kitchen and shower. However, they can be a bit hard to drive because of their size, and can be a bit intimidating for first-time RV drivers. In some states, large Class As may also be required to get a special license to abide by DMV regulations.
Class B RVs
Class B RVs are smaller than Class C RVs, and are a lot easier to drive. They also come with basic amenities like sinks and toilets. However, it can be a bit cramped inside, and can only accommodate at most two people comfortably. They can be a little pricey, but less expensive than the Class A.
Class C RVs
Class C RVs strike the midpoint between the comforts and luxuries of a Class A RV and the lower cost of a Class B RV. They are spacious enough for a small family, and most of the time they already contain basic amenities like showers, sinks, and toilets. However, even though they are smaller than a Class A, they can still be a little difficult to drive.
Travel trailers large containers that have the amenities of home that can be towed by any vehicle. They come in different sizes and price points, so you can choose one with enough space for your needs. There is flexibility in using it, because you can attach and detach it from your vehicle as you please. If you are in a campsite, you can just park your trailer and use your smaller car or truck to go on errands or small trips. However, they can be difficult to drive, especially the bigger ones, and especially in reverse. Larger trailers may also be required to get a special license in some states, according to DMV regulations.
Fifth wheels are just like travel trailers in a lot of ways, except that it is attached to the tow vehicle through a gooseneck connector. Because of this, you can only use trucks with open or flat beds like pickup trucks, limiting your tow vehicle choices. Like travel trailers, larger fifth wheels may be required to get special licenses in some states to conform with DMV regulations.
Living in vans has become increasingly popular in recent years. There are some places that do customized builds for you, but many people also opt to get a van and turn it into a camper themselves. Vans are probably the cheapest motorhome option, and when you do the customizing work yourself, you can save more money and build something that would align with your needs. They are very easy to drive. However, its most glaring disadvantage is that it leaves you with very little space for amenities.
Know Your Vehicle
Once you get your vehicle, do your best to know everything about it. This will help you plan your trips better, get the right parts, and repair it when it needs work. Know its measurements, its weight, its parts and features, etc. It is best to read the manual that comes with it if available.
You can also ask a friend or someone who knows about RVs, and have them teach you. When buying secondhand or renting, ask the previous owners all about the vehicle. You can never be too thorough with this step.
However, most RVers have shared that there are some features advertised by manufacturers that don’t really work as precisely as expected, like battery and water tank monitors, so you will need to manually check these parts regularly. You can only truly know your vehicle once you actually drive it and spend enough time in it.
Plan Your Storage
If you plan to live in your RV, you will be forced to live a more minimalist lifestyle compared to having a traditional home. You will not have as much space as you did before, and you will need to pick and choose which of your belongings are essential to take with you on your trips.
For people who have lived all of their lives in a spacious and comfortable home, this might be difficult. One of the most important parts of living in an RV is downsizing your needs. This means packing only what is essential. You may not get a lot of room (or any at all) for keepsakes, souvenirs, or decorative pieces. This is just the reality of RV living.
You will then need to be creative with your storage spaces. You can look through social media like vlogs, Pinterest boards, or Instagram and Facebook to look at other people’s RV rigs for inspiration. Look at what materials they used and how they set up their vehicle to maximize their limited storage space.
A common and convenient trend is using strong magnets to keep things like cutlery, drawers, and cupboards in place when the vehicle is moving. You can also use locks for this purpose. Just make sure that your belongings, especially the more fragile ones are packed snugly and securely so they do not move around as much and possibly break.
These days, cellular service and internet connectivity have become essential, especially for people who work online, and/or like to keep in touch with friends and family members. This may pose a problem, since you will not get a consistent connection when constantly being on the move.
Getting cell service and internet connectivity while living in an RV needs a bit of planning. First, know and decide where you plan to travel, then do your research on the networks available to those places. You may need to avail of more than one data plan from different network providers if you plan on traveling around a lot.
A pocket or portable wifi device is a good place to start. Some of these are offered by different network providers with a monthly plan. They are wireless and rechargeable, making them ideal for travel. A signal booster can also be a good investment, in order to strengthen the signal pickup of your cellular devices, especially in more remote places with weaker cell signals.
Essential Tools and Skills
To live a life on the road, especially when you are a solo traveler, you must learn a few skills to help your trips go more smoothly. Some accidents and snags are unavoidable when traveling, and when you know the basic skills in maintaining your vehicle, you will go through these problems quicker, and you won’t need to spend any extra cash to pay someone else to fix these problems.
The most basic thing to learn is how to change your tires. You may go through some rough roads or spiky debris as you travel. Make sure that you always have a spare tire before you start any of your trips in case of emergencies.
Other essential skills you need to learn are those specific to maintaining an RV. This will include maintaining your water tanks (disposing of grey water, cleaning and refilling your water tanks), replacing your propane tank if you have one for cooking, and cleaning your RV’s portable or composting toilet, if you have one.
A toolbox is absolutely essential. You will never know when you will need to fix or adjust something on a trip. A basic RV toolbox will consist of screwdrivers and wrenches of different sizes (make sure you have one for every size of screw or bolt on your vehicle). You will also need a 4-way lug tool to help you change your own tires.
As a camper, you will also need RV stabilizers if you do not have one built in your vehicle, especially when camping in soft or uneven campgrounds. If you own a fifth wheel, you may already have a kingpin tripod for stabilization. If you want additional stability, or if a kingpin tripod does not work for you, you can use wheel x-chocks, stabilizing jacks, or stabilizing pads. You can use one or a combination of devices to get your desired level of stability.
Take Practice Trips
In your early days, take some shorter, practice trips before you go into week-long or even month-long trips far from home. This is especially important when you are an absolute beginner. Pick camping spots closer to home (you can even just spend the night at a parking lot) just to build a familiarity with your vehicle and everything you have packed so far.
Packing closer to home also has the advantage of being able to fix possible mistakes or being able to address emergencies much quicker and easier. This way, you will be better able to anticipate anything you might face farther from home and prepare accordingly. If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, you can just easily go home.
Take as much time as you need practicing and getting accustomed to living in your RV, and as you build experience, you will become more confident in planning and going on longer trips farther from your home base.
Research Potential Campsites
It can be tempting to be completely spontaneous when deciding where to go, and if you want to do that right away, go for it! However, as a beginner, especially if you don’t have a lot of money to throw away, it would be wiser to plan your trips first.
Research potential campsites and what amenities they have or are close to. Not every campsite has free showers and toilets, or has nearby convenience stores or gas stations. Especially in your earlier trips, plan where you are going to get food, water, and supplies for the duration of your trip. If you are going to go somewhere more remote and secluded, be sure that you have stocked up enough of your basic needs like food and water, fuel, and personal hygiene supplies.
Document Your Trips
There is a reason why science experiments require detailed records of every factor and every experiment performed, and it is the same reason why you should do the same thing with your RV trips. Documenting or recording your trips allows you to collect a wealth of knowledge about your RV life and experiences. Nowadays, you have a lot of tools to choose from. You could use your phone, a camera, or if you’re traditional, some pen and paper. Make a blog, a vlog, or a traditional diary or photo album.
You could document the places you visited or people you met, the things you learned, or places you want to go to. However, the most important and practical things you need to record are any snags you hit along the way–your vehicle might have broken down, you may have run out of supplies, you may have encountered some not-so-friendly people, etc. Write down as much as you can, including the weather conditions, an account of the events and circumstances, and what you did to address the problem.
What documenting does is it allows you to go back to any of your past trips and experiences, helping you to hopefully make the right decisions and possibly fix any problems you encounter along the way.
Ask For Help When You Need It
When you really need some help, do not hesitate to ask for it! The RVing community is very close-knit, according to long-time travelers. Just approach any RVer or camper close by and ask them for help. Most of the time, they will be happy to assist you and show you what needs to be done.
It also helps to prepare a list of emergency numbers you could call when you are in a bind. This way, when you are far from a campsite with no fellow travelers nearby, you could still call for help. When all else fails, go to the nearest establishment or ask any passing strangers for help or recommendations. You will definitely face a few problems occasionally here and there as you keep traveling. Some of these will be things you cannot face completely alone. Developing at least some basic social skills is a must. Being naturally friendly and outgoing can be a great advantage.
However, make sure you do not become too dependent on asking other people for help. Make sure that every time someone helps you out, you take notes, ask questions, and learn from them. You can add this new knowledge to your travel journal, and would be better equipped to handle problems the next time they arise.
RVing, with all its aspects and particularities, can seem like a massive venture. There is nothing wrong with doing thorough research and skills-building before you step into your vehicle, but for some people, too much of this can be overwhelming. Preparation is definitely a must, but if you spend all of your time preparing and overthinking each aspect, you might never go on an actual trip. The most important part of RVing as a beginner is going for what you want, wisely. Prepare, but be sure to keep your fire and sense of adventure burning. Go for it, and good luck!