RVing is one of the great ways to travel and relax in the great outdoors. RVs can take you to any destination you can imagine and give you access to many places not accessible by traditional means. No matter where you plan to travel, it is essential for first time RV users to be familiar with the concepts of RVing. By familiarizing yourself with these basics, the new RV user will have fewer issues dealing with the mechanics of RVing and will be able to focus more on the point of taking the trip in the first place. So, how it’s like living in an RV? Here is a complete guide for first time RV users.
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Table of Contents
Top Tips for First Time RV Campers
Make it a Home Away from Home
Traveling by RV (Recreational Vehicle) offers flexibility and the comfort of home. It has everything your home has as far as utilities and the ability to store and prepare food. When you are getting ready for your RV trip, be aware of what included in your RV and what you need to bring. Depending on whether you own your RV or are renting one, you will have different essentials or RV parts & accessories. Check out some of the best RV camping accessories you should have in your RV packing checklist.
For travel resources, apps like Go RVing and Free Campsites are great for finding places to stay or camping destinations. Online RV rental marketplace Outdoorsy offers a wide range of options for renting different types and styles of RVs in many locations worldwide, just search by location or by what you are looking for in an RV (size, number of beds, etc.). There are many resources and groups for RV travelers locally, abroad, for full-time living, families, or even just weekends away. The best recommendation is to personalize your RV travel to fit your interests and lifestyle.
To make the most of your RV experience, think of the more beautiful things in life, the things that make travel enjoyable. Maybe it is coffee and a hot breakfast, or perhaps it is a glass of wine with a meal at the end of the day. After a delicious meal and a campfire under the stars, you can have a hot shower and climb into your comfy bed. Whatever it is that you will appreciate the most, at the end of the travel day, an RV makes it possible.
Choose a Destination
Deciding where to go is the best part about RVing, it is so flexible to fit exactly what you are looking for or want. Short trips like a quick weekend getaway to the lake, are more relaxed because you are all set up as quickly you get there. For longer trips, the comforts of home and ease of stopping when you want to make a road trip in an RV an excellent choice.
Since RVing is becoming so popular worldwide, no matter where you are planning to travel, there will surely be a campsite nearby. Going from one destination to the next is much more comfortable in an RV because there are less stress and hassle. So you can spend some time in the great outdoors and then head to the nearest city to experience the nightlife.
RVing is definitely the most popular in North America. In Canada, the West Coast and the Rocky Mountains are the most popular destinations. In the US there are so many stunning national parks that are perfect for RVing. The Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park are two of the most popular. Florida is one of the top tropical RV destinations, and many people spend the winter in their RV there worldwide, Australia and New Zealand are prime destinations to travel by RV (called a campervan or caravan there), and it is also becoming more popular in Europe and the rest of the world.
Power Up or Go Off-Grid
Once you have decided where you are traveling, you have to consider the necessary utilities. Gas, electric, and water. Gas will be propane, which usually stored in one or more 20 lb. Or larger containers on the RV. The exact location will vary, but the basic operation is relatively standard. This is the one system where there is no difference between operating off-grid or being attached to utilities at an RV park. RV parks do not offer gas, nor is there any way to connect the gas system to a park supply. There is debate however in the RV community about whether or not you should drive with the propane system on.
The benefit of having it on while driving is that RVs equipped with a propane-powered refrigerator can keep the food cold or frozen while you travel. Refrigerators do a pretty good job keeping things cold even for moderate trips so if you plan to go only 8 to 10 hours or less it is safest to turn it off. Turn it back on when you arrive at a stopping point and let the refrigerator cool back down while you rest for the night.
The electrical system is really made up of two systems, a DC system and an AC system, which are bundled together in a power center. The DC system is typically 12V and powers the basic operations of the RV when not connected to AC power. This can include lights, appliances like the refrigerator and water heater when running in propane mode, the furnace, powered awnings, radios, slide motors, and LP/CO detectors. This system will be powered by a battery when not connected to shore power. The current battery level can usually be seen on a display of some type on the main RV control panel. Make sure to monitor this; a dead battery can leave you stranded.
Connecting the RV to shore power at a campground will activate the AC system. The AC system is designed to run all the power of the RV. It will power all the AC appliances including the air conditioner and AC outlets. Also, power the converter located in the power center. The converter converts the AC power back to DC to power the DC circuits directly. It also recharges any attached house batteries. Connecting to the AC power is simple. Your RV should include a cord that will connect the RV to the power pedestal at your campsite. There are generally two types, 30 amp, and 50 amp and the plugs are different so you cannot mistakenly plug into the wrong port. When connecting, turn the breaker off in the power pedestal. Then make all your connection and turn the breaker on.
Food and Water: The Essentials
The freshwater system is also a dual purpose. When operating off-grid, there is a freshwater storage tank that you can fill using a standard garden hose. Once the tank filled, open a faucet in the RV and turn on the water pump (usually controlled by a switch on the RV main control panel). Once water is flowing out of the faucet, close the faucet, and the pump will pressurize the system and automatically shut off. While traveling or parking off-grid you can leave the pump on, or turn it on when you need it. When you arrive at a park and connect up the city water make sure you turn the pump off. The city water is pressurized just like at home, and the pump is not needed.
Do not travel with a full freshwater tank unless there is a specific reason to do so. Carrying a few gallons to flush the toilet while on the road is a good idea, but a full tank can easily add hundreds of pounds to the RV weight. That extra weight will waste fuel and make the RV harder to stop. To drain the fresh tank, there should be a drain spigot under the RV near the freshwater fill or a knob on the utility control panel where the water connections are made.
Switches on the main control panel control the water heater. There may be switches for gas-electric or both. If it has both, they can be on at the same time to get hot water faster. Before turning it on, open a hot water faucet and make sure the water is flowing with no air bubbles. This is to make sure the tank is full of water before the heater is turned on. Electric heating elements can be damaged if they operated in an empty tank.
Last, but not least are the storage tanks/septic system. When off-grid these are to be kept capped and closed. The RV control panel will have level meters to indicate how full these tanks are. Don’t trust these as they are notoriously inaccurate. There should be two tanks, one for greywater and one for black. The black tank only takes waste from the toilet. All other drains go to the grey tank. During off-grid use, minimize the amount of water sent into the grey tank. It can easily fill up quickly doing dishes, showering, or other necessary tasks where you used to leave the water run.
Overfilling the grey tank will cause it back up into the lowest point, which is usually the shower. This can be a real problem and great care should always be taken to avoid it. When your tanks get full, you will need to find a dump station to empty them. Using the dump station is no different from hooking up to the sewer connection at an RV park.
Proper toilet usage is also significant. Use only RV specific toilet paper and never put any other personal hygiene products or other trash into the tank. Toilet flushing should last at least 10 seconds with many suggesting going as long as 30 seconds. This is necessary to make sure everything makes it down to the tank. Most backups will occur in the tube between the toilet and tank and longer flushes at the best way to prevent those clogs.
This guide provides an ultimate overview of the new RV user on how the basic systems of an RV work. With this knowledge, you should have a good understanding of how to operate an RV both on and off the grid.
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Shelley Trupert works for Outdoorsy and has been camping for almost 20 years. She prefers camping in an RV whether it is a teardrop trailer or Class C. After a long day outdoors she enjoys a little comfort with RV. Her ultimate goal is to hike in all of the national parks in North America.
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Last update on 2023-09-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API