There is a lot to learn if you’re just starting the RV lifestyle.
You want your first RV camping trip to be fun and memorable. So we’ve collected the best RV camping tips for beginners to help new RVers get started based on our experience.
Are you ready to have a great camping trip? Then let’s go!
Table of Contents
- RV Beginner Mindset and Expectations
- Planning your first camping trip
- RV Essentials
- 10. Learn to operate the systems in your RV.
- 11. Understand campground utility hookups.
- 12. Take a practice drive. Or several.
- 13. Practice backing up your travel trailer or 5th wheel.
- 14. Consider having a roadside assistance plan.
- 15. Use checklists.
- 16. Make sure you have essential RV Accessories.
- RV Travel
- At your Campsite
- 24. Know RV campground information and rules when you arrive.
- 25. Check that utility hookups reach your RV connections before you park.
- 26. Level your RV at your campsite.
- 27. Leave your Black Tank valve closed.
- 28. Keep humidity under control.
- 29. Prepare for Bad Weather.
- 30. Turn off your water if you leave for the day.
- 31. Take Lots of Pictures and Videos of Your Camping Trip!
- Frequently Asked Questions
RV Beginner Mindset and Expectations
1. You can learn as you go. Ask for help.
Approach this new experience with an open mind – every RV trip offers opportunities to learn something new and have fun along the way. One of the most important things to keep in mind is don’t be afraid to get out there and ask questions. Fellow campers will likely be more than happy to share RV camping tips or offer up their own experiences with RV life.
2. Go slow and take your time.
Go slow, take your time, and don’t rush yourself. Mistakes happen when you’re in a hurry. Setting up carefully at your RV campsite will ensure your trip goes off without a hitch.
Slowing down while descending hills can help you maintain control and improve safety. And it’s also worth driving at a slower speed to save fuel.
3. Communication and teamwork are essential.
RV camping can seem intimidating, from setting up camp to backing up and maneuvering through tight spaces. Give out jobs and get everyone involved. Check with each other about upcoming plans and what’s supposed to happen.
Expect the unexpected. Have a plan B. The weather, road closures, and delays due to accidents can force a change in plans.
Pausing and taking the time to communicate can make a huge difference when dealing with unexpected situations. Concentrate on solving the problem in front of you and wait to talk about prevention or better choices later. Let the family know that the first few trips will be a learning process.
Planning your first camping trip
4. Consider renting an RV.
If you don’t own an RV yet, consider renting one for your first RV trip. This first step will allow you to test out RV camping without having to invest in a unit of your own.
Renting different types of RVs is a great way to give you a feel for the different styles of RV camping. You can try different kinds of self-contained motorized RVs, from camper vans to bus-like motorhomes. You could try a travel trailer if you already have a suitable tow vehicle.
5. When purchasing an RV, do your homework.
Purchasing a new RV is a huge investment. You want to buy the best RV that you won’t have to trade in too soon because it doesn’t meet your needs.
- Research the various available types (e.g., motorhome, travel trailer, fifth wheel, etc.) and decide on the one that fits your camping style. If you aren’t sure, renting an RV and taking it camping is the best way to find out.
- Determine your budget. And take into account costs associated with owning an RV, including insurance, licensing, registration, storage (if applicable), fuel, and maintenance.
- Walk through RVs at RV shows or visit a dealership to get a feel for the different floorplans of RVs and their features. Bring the whole family and get everyone inside, so you get a feel for how roomy or how cramped the RV is.
- You can watch videos online of walkthroughs of various RVs. Just be aware that you won’t get a true sense of how large or small the interior is until you physically walk through it.
- Visit a campground and ask other RV owners for advice about what they consider important or things to watch for when choosing an RV.
- Test drive several types of motorhomes to become familiar with how they handle and how comfortable they feel on the road.
6. Verify your tow vehicle specifications and equipment.
When towing travel trailers or fifth wheel trailers, ensure your truck has adequate towing capacity and payload. It should have a tow package with a trailer brake controller.
When towing travel trailers, invest in a quality weight distribution hitch with sway control to distribute the load properly across your tow vehicle’s axles and reduce trailer sway.
For towing fifth wheel trailers, decide which hitch mounting system you will use, depending on how your truck is equipped.
7. Consider a practice RV trip in your driveway.
You can avoid crowded campgrounds on your first trip by camping in your driveway. This lets you practice with less pressure. You can always pop back home to get any missing items or go to the local store.
Camping in your driveway means there will be good wifi or cell reception for when you need to look things up. It’s common to lose service at RV campgrounds.
If you decide on camping in a campground for the first time, reserve a site with full hookups. This makes camping much easier because you won’t need to learn to manage water conservation, sewer holding capacity, and electricity consumption. (See tip #12 about understanding campground utilities.)
8. Make reservations far in advance.
Plan ahead. Camping is growing in popularity, so getting an RV campsite on short notice can be almost impossible. One of the best RV campground tips is to make reservations far in advance. You’ll be able to stay where you want and not have to spend hours searching for an available RV campsite.
9. Use an App or Website to find a great campground.
Pictures and reviews of campgrounds can help you find the perfect RV campsite. Reading about other people’s experiences enables you to make an informed decision. Campground amenities are listed, as well as the types of hookups that are available.
It’s also worth checking out RV park chains, such as KOA or state park websites, to see if they have any camping spots near where you intend to travel.
10. Learn to operate the systems in your RV.
Become familiar with the systems in your RV. Know how to get water, hook up electrical power, and dump your holding tanks. Flushing an RV toilet is slightly different than one in a house. Learn where the circuit breakers and fuses are and how to reset or replace them.
11. Understand campground utility hookups.
- Full hookups – The RV campsite has all the utilities you need; water, sewer, and electricity.
- Partial hookups – Usually have water and electricity, with no sewer. You will need to dump your tanks occasionally and when you leave.
- Electric only – No water or sewer is provided, which means you will fill your fresh water tank when you start and will have to dump your tanks occasionally and when you leave.
- No hookups – Commonly called Dry Camping or Boondocking, you depend entirely on the self-contained capabilities of your RV, possibly with the aid of solar panels or a gas generator.
12. Take a practice drive. Or several.
Before starting your RV road trip, it’s a good idea to get comfortable with taking turns, braking distance, and parking in tighter spots that are common at campgrounds or rest stops.
Find an area free from distractions and traffic so you can concentrate on getting used to how the vehicle handles. Start by driving slowly in empty parking lots or quiet residential streets until you feel comfortable. Then start practicing more difficult maneuvers like backing up or slowly taking sharp turns. This will familiarize you with the length and size of the vehicle, giving you more confidence while on the road.
13. Practice backing up your travel trailer or 5th wheel.
You can reserve a pull-through camping site to avoid having to back into your campsite. However, there may be situations where you will need to back up, such as correcting for a tight turn or realigning your trailer at the campsite. The more you practice, the less stressful backing up will become.
14. Consider having a roadside assistance plan.
If a breakdown occurs in an unfamiliar area or on the highway, it can be difficult and dangerous to make repairs without assistance. A roadside assistance plan can provide access to RV mobile mechanics who can help with repairs or tire blowouts.
A good roadside assistance plan can provide towing, lockout service, tire service, battery service, fuel service, winching, and technical assistance. Read about what to look for in a roadside assistance plan.
Most rentals come with a roadside assistance plan, so remember to get emergency contact information when you pick up your RV.
15. Use checklists.
Your RV checklist should be your best friend for any camping trip, regardless of your experience. Take the guesswork out of setting up your RV at the campsite or when packing up to ensure nothing is left behind.
Checklists are an essential part of ensuring everything goes smoothly during your journey. It eliminates the stress associated with worrying about possibly missing something before leaving or having to turn around mid-trip.
You can find arrival and departure checklists here from Campendium.
And it’s always helpful to have an RV Packing List.
16. Make sure you have essential RV Accessories.
There are a few essential accessories you need to get set up at an RV Park.
- Freshwater hose (specifically rated for drinking)
- Water pressure regulator
- Sewer hose
You may also need an electrical cable, although these usually come with your RV.
A few accessories come highly recommended and are almost considered essential, such as an electrical surge protector. And you need to remember to include kitchen cookware and linens for the beds.
In this article on the best accessories for RV Camping, you will find:
- Essential RV Accessories
- RV Kitchen Essentials
- Basic RV tool kit
- Additional RV Accessories
17. Travel during off-peak hours.
Avoid driving during rush hour. Leave after 9:00 AM to skip the morning rush hour. Stop and have lunch during the noon rush. And plan to arrive at your destination by 4:00 PM to avoid the evening rush hour. This strategy gives you about 6 hours of travel time per day, which is a reasonable amount of time on the road to avoid fatigue. (See tip #23)
18. Know the proper pressure for your Tires.
Learn tire safety and how to avoid blowouts by maintaining correct tire pressure. Check each of your tires before departure. You can fill up at a truck stop or tire center. Gas stations often do not have adequate pressure to fill travel trailer, fifth wheel, or large motorhome tires.
19. Know the Height of your RV.
Put the height on a note and have it visible on your dash for when you encounter low bridges. It is also helpful to program the height of your RV into your RV GPS for route planning.
20. While packing a travel trailer, keep weight distributed properly.
Load heavier items toward the front of the trailer. A good rule of thumb for the distribution of cargo:
- 60% in front of the trailer axles
- 40% to the rear of the trailer axles.
The goal is for the tongue weight to be between 10% and 15% of the trailer’s total weight when fully loaded. This improves towabilty and reduces the chance of dangerous trailer sway.
21. Reduce weight by emptying your tanks.
Don’t travel with full tanks. You can keep a few gallons in your freshwater tank for flushing the toilet during your journey. Most RVs are not designed to travel with full holding tanks. Check your owner’s manual.
The exception is when no fresh water hookup is available at your campsite. There will be a freshwater fill station at the entrance of most RV Parks, where you can fill your water tank. Traveling the short distance from the fill station to your campsite with a full tank is OK. You usually don’t exceed five or ten mph while traveling through the campground.
Likewise, if you don’t have a sewer connection at your campsite, you will want to empty your tanks before heading out onto the open road. You can make the short trip from your campsite to the dump station, which will be near the RV Park exit.
22. Tow with Safety in Mind.
- Extend tow mirrors
- Take extra care with lane changes
- Signal in advance and change lanes slowly
- Learn to use your trailer brake controller
- Use Tow/Haul mode – the engine brake helps with hill descents.
23. Never travel tired.
Plan for plenty of time to travel to leave room for any travel delays. This leaves enough time to spare to avoid pushing yourself to drive tired.
A driver’s reaction times, awareness of hazards, and ability to sustain attention are reduced when the driver is tired. An accident is three times more likely if driving fatigued. Reference https://www.nsc.org/road/safety-topics/fatigued-driver
At your Campsite
24. Know RV campground information and rules when you arrive.
When you check in to the campground, the office staff can direct you to your campsite. And make sure you read the handout. It will have office hours and contact information.
One of the most important things to know for a new RVer is how to contact someone in case of a problem.
Find the bathhouse and dumpster locations and the location of the dump station if you need it.
25. Check that utility hookups reach your RV connections before you park.
Most campsites have the utilities conventionally located together to make it easy to hook everything up. Sometimes that’s not the case.
When you pull into your campsite before you shut down and begin setting up, briefly get out and check to make sure all your utility connections are within reach of the RV.
26. Level your RV at your campsite.
Many RVs have an automatic leveling system that works at the touch of a button. For the RVs that don’t, or if your travel trailer uses stabilizing jacks (which aren’t used for leveling), you need to manually level the trailer.
A properly level RV will allow the absorption refrigerator to operate correctly. When cooking, if the RV is not level, the oil in the pans will pool to one side. The shower won’t drain if it’s leaning to one side. And the slides are designed to work when everything is level.
When leveling, set the leveling blocks on the low side of the trailer. Then put the wheel chocks on the opposite side.
27. Leave your Black Tank valve closed.
If you have a sewer connection at your campsite, connect your hose, but leave the black tank valve closed. Leaving the black tank valve open allows fluids to drain, and solids will accumulate at the bottom of the tank. This situation, often called a poo pyramid, can be challenging to correct.
Closing the black tank valve will also prevent sewer gasses from venting back into the RV when you flush the toilet.
You can also keep your gray tank valve closed, which allows you to flush the sewer hose after emptying the black tank. First, open your black tank valve and let it drain. Then open your gray tank valve to flush the hose clean.
28. Keep humidity under control.
Showering, cooking, and even breathing while you sleep can increase moisture inside your RV. If not kept under control, this can lead to the small space becoming damp.
Opening a window slightly to allow air to circulate can make a big difference. Open roof vents and run the exhaust fans when cooking or taking a shower.
Cooking with propane causes a lot of moisture; use the vent fan over the stove to exhaust damp air and cooking odors outside.
29. Prepare for Bad Weather.
Bad weather happens and can be unexpected.
High winds can damage your awning. Retract it before you leave for the day and at night. Some awnings have an automatic retraction feature, but it’s still best to manually retract it just in case.
Rain can enter through the roof vents of your RV if they are left open during a storm. Unless you have vent covers, keep the vents closed when away or at night in case it rains.
30. Turn off your water if you leave for the day.
Sometimes a mishap or malfunction can result in water from your water system leaking into your RV. If this happens while you are away, massive amounts of water can accumulate in your RV and cause extensive damage. That would be bad.
To prevent leaks from flooding your RV, turn off your water supply at the utility hookup faucet or turn off your water pump if you are dry camping.
31. Take Lots of Pictures and Videos of Your Camping Trip!
Taking pictures while camping is a vital part of the experience – it’s a way to capture the moments, whether big or small, that will bring back memories for years to come.
Whether taking a picture of the beautiful sunset or capturing a candid moment with family and friends around the campfire, having photos to share can be particularly meaningful. Snapshots taken from your RV travels will bring you back to those places time and time again.
And keep a journal. Take notes on what went well and what can be improved for next time.
Frequently Asked Questions
The consensus among experienced RVers is that you don’t need to use RV-specific toilet paper as long as you use toilet paper that is “septic safe.” Common sense applies here. Of course you shouldn’t stuff wads of it down the toilet. Use plenty of water when flushing. And remember to use RV black tank treatment regularly.
Put out your campfire and make sure it’s out. Before leaving a campsite, make sure all fires are completely extinguished with no hot coals left behind that may reignite later. This means drowning the campfire with water and covering it with soil.
Keep it clean. Leave the campsite in better condition than you found it. Packing out what you bring in reduces littering and waste accumulation that can affect surrounding ecosystems.
Cleaning up your campsite sets an example for other campers that helps foster an atmosphere of respect for nature so everyone can continue to have access to the great outdoors.
Opinions vary from person to person, but most RVers agree that limiting drive time to 6 hours per day, or 300 miles (800km), works best. This assumes an average travel pace of 50 miles per hour, which includes travel breaks and possible delays due to construction or traffic.
Full-timers generally drive fewer hours because their travel pace is more relaxed. On the other hand, you can extend your travel time and distance if you have multiple drivers and can alternate driving duties.
Most motorhomes will last 20 years or 200,000 miles with regular care and maintenance. Some rare examples may last up to 30 years. In general, travel trailers and fifth wheel trailers last about 10 years. With good maintenance, they can last up to 12 to 15 years. And there are exceptions, such as Airstreams and some fiberglass trailers that can last even longer.
Some RV parks may only accept your reservation if your RV is less than 10 years old. The idea is that older RVs are too weathered and worn and can affect the “image” of the campground. Older RVs might have safety issues related to old electrical and propane systems.
As long as your RV is well maintained with a nice clean exterior, it should be possible to request an exception.