Tips for First-Time RVers on The Road

First-time RVer Amy Lundeen took her family on a four-day trip. Here’s what she learned.

Growing up, while peering through the window of the family van, I was always curious about those giant RVs bumbling down the highway. They looked like giant, self-contained traveling homes, able to stake a claim at the next roadside RV park.

This summer, with my husband and 2 boys (9 and 6 years old), I got my turn to see these traveling homes from the inside.

We rented through RVShare, which enables RV owners to connect with curious travelers. After deciding where to start our trip, we searched the site for an RV that could be our home away from home. We found a great little Class C RV named “Dasher”. And by “little” I mean 30 ft – massive for anyone used to driving a sedan, but generally on the small side for these traveling homes.

After a quick message to the owners, Janet and Brian, we were on our way. All communication and payments were done seamlessly through the site and Janet and Brian were incredibly helpful before and during the trip.

Our journey was only 4 nights, but we experienced the highs and lows of RV life, with a sewer dump at the end. We had a blast and survived with a few tips to share.

Pick your RV wisely

Start small. While class-C RVs are some of the smallest RVs, they can feel big on the road. Driving is a bit nerve wracking at first, but after driving a couple hours you start to settle in. Janet’s wise tip was to just slow down. These vehicles are not about rushing. When there is a safe place to pull over and let cars pass, you should let them do so. But in general let the cars worry about how to get around you.

Dasher slept up to 6 people, with beds seemingly folding out of nowhere. My husband and I slept in the full-size bed in the back, while the boys switched between the pull-out sofa bed and the bunk above the driver (which came with a skylight perfect for viewing the stars). We didn’t need to convert the table into another bed (but we could).

Once parked at our camp, extending three “slide outs” or extensions created more space. This gave a remarkable amount of room, making some rainy afternoons really pleasant. The skylights and windows around the table area were my favorite place to sit, whether eating, playing games or relaxing by the window.

Listen to the experts

Before leaving we spent about 90 minutes with Janet in the parking lot of a local elementary school. We were able to practice driving and go through all of the hook ups and details of RV travel. The manual that she had prepared was a useful tool when we were on the road, and we recorded some videos of what she was showing us so we could refer back when we were on our own.

Find the right park: location

Good, wide roads are key in RV travel. You have at least 30ft behind you and the weight of the entire vehicle, plus luggage, people, a water tank and who knows what in the sewage tank. So stick to areas well-connected by interstates and highways and avoid gravel roads.

We made 2 rookie mistakes, or what felt like mistakes to us rookies.

First, we planned our first RV park 3 hours from where we picked up. A 3-hour drive didn’t feel very ambitious from the comfort of our home, but once we were behind the wheel we were ready to stop after an hour. You don’t need to go far to enjoy the RV.

Second, we drove straight into the mountains...in the rain. While Interstate 70 West from Denver is a major US highway, it also has bone-chilling ascents and descents. Once, just outside Breckenridge, we came out of a tunnel and saw warnings of steep roads ahead: truck ramps and down shifting. These didn’t come across as friendly reminders, but more as drastic, life-threatening warnings. Janet’s advice “down shift and don’t ride the breaks” echoed in our heads. While my husband navigated first gear and brought our lumbering home to a controlled pace, I searched for a closer place to stay.

Within 20 minutes we were safely at an RV camp just outside of Breckenridge. The rain was gently ticking on the outside of the RV while we opened the extensions and got ourselves ready to use the camp’s indoor pool.

Find the right park: amenities

Another important part of picking a good place to spend the night: amenities. Once the RV is fully set up you won't want to leave. This means you want a park that has what you need.

Our kids’ first requirement was a place to swim. That narrowed down our options giving us a nice focus. The adults wanted a place to hike and a general store. A bonus at our first stop was the local bus that took us into Breckenridge downtown for free. The second park we were at offered shuttle service for $7/person. This gave us more options on activities and food sources (most of our shopping was done before we left, but for longer trips this is useful).

Arrive early, leave late

Setting up for the night is not hard, but it does take time. We left about 1 hour to set up, 2 hours to break down. Leaving camp takes a bit longer because you have to clean up the inside of the RV so everything is safely put away for driving.

The set-up process is very straight forward. Electricity and water hookups are just plugged in. Leveling the RV takes a bit longer, but it’s worth it in order to keep the tanks working properly and sleeping comfortably. Pro tip: get the kids involved with some of these steps. Keep it light and fun and, as always, don’t rush.

Lastly, there is the dreaded black water. Yes, that’s right, the sewer tank. We went the first two days without thinking about it (more trying to ignore it), but when we were setting up at our second location there was a clear odor and we knew it was time. Like most things RV, after you have done it once, you realize it is not so bad. OK, it is bad, but it really doesn’t take too much to do, it’s just managing the mental aspect and being careful. Just make sure to leave plenty of time and maybe set the kids up with a good book before you start.

Plan your meals

The tanks are not the only odor to worry about. A great tip from our host was to use the BBQ they provided for meals that might leave an odor. We grilled burgers outside and kept the kitchen for eggs, sandwiches and cereal. Check before you leave if the RV comes with a grill. If not, add this to your amenities requirements when looking for the right RV site.

Have fun!

Embrace the slow pace of RV life. That’s really the key to it all. Wether you are on the road with little cars passing, or setting up at a new location, there is no need to rush. This is the kind of vacation where you have to slow down and enjoy the people you are with. Even if they have just emptied out the black water tank.

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