RV Camping Tips for Beginners: Essential Advice for a Great Trip

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There is a lot to learn if you’re just starting the RV lifestyle. To help make your first RV camping trip fun and memorable, I’ve gathered some of the best RV camping tips for beginners.

Are you ready to have a great camping trip?  Then let’s go!

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.

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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.  Drive at or below the speed limit, ideally 65 mph or slower. This will help you maintain control, improve safety, and 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.

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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.  

Renting an RV can also help you determine what size and features are important for your needs before taking the plunge and becoming an RV owner.  RVShare and Outdoorsy are two great options.

5. When Purchasing an RV, Do Your Homework

Buying a new RV is a big 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 different types: Look into the available types such as motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheels. Decide which fits your camping style. Renting an RV and taking it camping is the best way to find out.
  • Determine your budget: Consider costs associated with owning an RV, including insurance, licensing, registration, storage (if applicable), fuel, and maintenance.
  • Visit RV shows or dealerships: Walk through different RVs to get a feel for their floorplans and features. Bring the whole family to see how roomy or cramped the RV is.
  • Watch videos online: View walkthroughs of various RVs. But remember, you won’t get a true sense of size until you physically walk through it.
  • Ask for advice: Visit a campground and talk to other RV owners. They can offer valuable advice about important features and things to watch for when choosing an RV.
  • Test drive: Try out several types of motorhomes. This will help you 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. 

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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 #11 about understanding campground utilities.) 

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8. Make Reservations in Advance

Plan ahead. Camping is growing in popularity, so getting a site on short notice can be almost impossible. Making reservations in advance lets you stay where you want and saves you from spending hours searching. 

9. Use an App or Website to Find a Great Campground

Campendium and AllStays are two popular options offering campground listings across the United States. You can use interactive maps to find RV campgrounds near your desired destination. 

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Pictures and reviews of campgrounds can help you find the perfect destination. Reading about other people’s experiences enables you to make an informed decision. Campground amenities are listed, as well as the types of utilities 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.

You can use Google Maps or Roadtrippers.com to plan the best route to your RV campground.

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RV Essentials 

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

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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 – Also known as 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. Then practice more difficult maneuvers like backing up and taking sharp turns. 

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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 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

An RV Packing List is also helpful.  

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.  

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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

RV Travel

17. Travel During Off-Peak Hours

I always try to avoid driving during rush hour. Leaving after 9:00 AM helps me skip the morning rush. I also like to stop and have lunch during the noon rush. Planning to arrive at my destination by 4:00 PM avoids the evening rush hour, giving me about 6 hours of travel time each day. This helps prevent fatigue.  (See tip #23)

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18. Know the Proper Pressure for Your Tires

It’s important to learn tire safety and maintain the correct tire pressure. I always check my tires before departure. Truck stops or tire centers usually have the pressure I need for my travel trailer. Gas stations often don’t have enough pressure for these larger tires.

19. Know the Height of Your RV

I keep the height of my RV written on a note and visible on my dash. This is helpful when I encounter low bridges. I also program my RV’s height into my GPS for better route planning. 

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20. While Packing a Travel Trailer, Keep Weight Distributed Properly

When packing my travel trailer, I load heavier items toward the front. A good rule for cargo distribution is:

  • 60% in front of the trailer axles
  • 40% to the rear of the trailer axles.

The tongue weight should be between 10% and 15% of the trailer’s total weight when fully loaded. This helps with towability and reduces dangerous trailer sway.

21. Reduce Weight by Emptying Your Tanks

I never travel with full tanks. Keeping a few gallons in the freshwater tank for flushing the toilet during the journey is usually enough.  Most RVs are not designed to travel with full holding tanks.  Check your owner’s manual. 

The exception is when no fresh water faucet is available. 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 fine. You usually don’t exceed five or ten mph while traveling through the campground.

Likewise, if you don’t have a sewer connection, 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.

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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, as 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.  

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A driver’s reaction times, hazard awareness, and attention span are all reduced when tired. Accidents are three times more likely when driving fatigued. More information can be found on the National Safety Council website.

At Your Campsite

24. Know RV Campground Information and Rules When You Arrive

When I arrive at the campground, one of the first things I do is check in at the office. The staff there usually provides a handout with important information such as office hours and contact details. Knowing how to reach someone if there’s an issue is vital.

I also find out where key amenities are located, including the bathhouse, dumpster, and the dump station.

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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.  This check avoids any need to move the RV after setting up.

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26. Level Your RV Correctly

Many RVs have an automatic leveling system that works at the touch of a button.  For those that don’t, or if your trailer has stabilizing jacks (which aren’t used for leveling), you need to manually level the trailer.  

A level RV ensures that the refrigerator works properly, cooking is even, the shower drains correctly, and the slides operate smoothly.

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

I always connect the sewer hose if there’s a sewer connection at my site, but I keep the black tank valve closed. This prevents fluids from draining while solids accumulate, avoiding a dreaded poo pyramid.

Closing the black tank valve will also prevent sewer gasses from venting back into the RV.

28. Keep Humidity Under Control

Humidity can build up inside the RV from activities like cooking and showering. To manage this, I open windows and run exhaust fans. Cooking with propane particularly creates moisture, so I always use the vent fan over the stove. 

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Opening a window slightly to allow air to circulate can make a big difference.   

29. Prepare for Bad Weather

High winds can damage your awning.  I retract the awning to prevent wind damage and ensure roof vents are closed if there’s a chance of rain, especially when I’m away or at night. Some RVs have automatic features for these, but I prefer to manually check just to be sure. 

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30. Turn off Your Water if You Leave for the Day

To prevent any mishap that could cause water damage, I turn off the water supply at the water hookup if I plan to be away for the day. This simple step can save me from returning to an RV filled with water due to a leak.  

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31. Take Lots of Pictures and Videos! 

I love capturing moments during my camping trips. Taking photos and videos helps preserve memories, whether it’s a stunning sunset or fun times around the campfire.

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Looking back at these snapshots brings me right back to those special places. 

And keep a journal.  Take notes on what went well and what can be improved for next time. 


6 Quick Tips for RV Beginners

Four Things That Every RV Beginner Should Know

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have to use RV toilet paper in your RV?

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.” Use plenty of water when flushing. And remember to use RV black tank treatment regularly.

What is the number one rule of camping?

Put out your campfire and make sure it’s out. Before leaving, 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.

What is the golden rule of camping etiquette?

Keep it clean. Leave everything in better condition than you found it. Packing out what you bring in helps reduce litter and waste, preserving the environment and setting a good example for other campers.

How far should you drive an RV in one day?

Most RVers agree that driving should be limited to about 6 hours or 300 miles (800km) per day.  This pace allows for breaks and accounts for possible delays like construction or traffic. For full-timers with a more relaxed schedule, fewer hours on the road is common. If you have multiple drivers, you can extend your travel time by alternating driving duties. 

How long does a typical RV last?

With regular care and maintenance, most motorhomes can last 20 years or 200,000 miles. Some may even reach 30 years. Travel trailers and fifth wheels typically last around 10 years but can extend to 12-15 years with good upkeep. Exceptions, such as Airstreams and fiberglass trailers, often last even longer.

What is the RV 10 year rule?

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 campground’s image. Also, safety issues due to outdated electrical and propane systems are minimized.

As long as your RV is well maintained with a nice clean exterior, it should be possible to request an exception.  


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