Above all, please realize that the RV lifestyle is challenging, yet it is the most enriching experience I have encountered. Enriched through new experiences, new people/friends and new places. You are challenged and in solving those challenges you (and your partner) grow together.
In time, we’ve found ways to make the life easier, so I’m sharing those with you. Note that these are great for us, but may not be right for you. We are the cautious sort, so our philosophy is the more you plan and take care of your things the fewer adventures/challenges come your way. Less stress. Nonetheless, being flexible is essential for this lifestyle.
We plan our route because we’ve learned the GPS is programmed with certain logic not necessarily mindful of your RV (clearance, tonnage restrictions) or wishes (fast, simple-fewer intersections mean fewer mistakes-, with rest stops available, scenery, campgrounds). Basically, we prefer freeways and state highways over county roads (2 lanes without shoulders).
Resources: (1) Rand McNally Motor Carriers Atlas (laminated). This shows which roads are truck safe. (2) Campground instructions for approaching (call if you don’t find them written). Often when I call to make reservations I ask for directions too. (3) If I’m concerned about the path (looks like mountains with curves or horrible big city congestion/spaghetti lanes), I’ll ask other campers (locals preferably). If the camper is a former trucker I figure I’ve hit pay dirt!
Travel days/Weather: Life in an RV is certainly more vulnerable to the weather than in a house. Thus, in general, we plan to be where the weather is moderate like North in the summer and South in the winter, using the Spring and Fall to get there. We watch the local TV news for weather reports and use our smart phone apps (Weather Channel and Underground Weather) to see our immediate weather. We also have a weather radio (for tornado alerts and the like) for when we’re in those areas. If heavy winds, rain, or a tornado are predicted for the day we plan to travel, we’ll seriously consider changing our plans/reservations. Driving in the rain takes some more concentration and can create big messes on your rig and toad (towed car).
Travel days/Timing/How far: Generally we like Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to travel. If you need to go through a large city, Sunday mornings are best. Sunday morning in Amish country was another story! Our preferences: under 200 miles a day, with restroom breaks every 1.5 hours. Good time to stretch. Some truckers say stop every 2 hours. We like to arrive around noon (most rigs have left, fewer new ones have arrived), definitely before dark. These are most helpful with TT campgrounds where you need to find your site.
GPS: generally we’ve found it best to run 2 GPS’ at the same time. Since I prefer to plan my route I use Microsoft Streets and Trips, a map program that lets you zoom way out (to the world) and way in (to the tiny city streets-what your atlas doesn’t do). Microsoft no longer supports it, but mine still works, except there are no GPS units that will work with it AND Windows 10. My substitute is an app (works on phones and tablets) called Sygic. You can download the state maps when you have free WiFi, then when you’re traveling you don’t use any Internet data: it combines its maps with your phone’s GPS. Yes, I sit up front in our RV with my laptop computer on a light board (keeping computer and my legs cool) to watch for intersections before we arrive at them. It doesn’t slide off. John has a Rand McNally GPS to help with immediate warnings and views, but we will choose different paths when we’ve chosen them. It’s dying, so we plan to get a Garmin which seems better. In the car I love my Waze smart phone app (free). It’s updated by experienced wazers so you see road conditions/police/accidents ahead. It’ll also help with faster paths. You can zoom in and out to see your other choices when John’s GPS (Garmin) in the car) says otherwise.
We have created a checklist of travel day jobs. I change it as we learn more. Even after 4 years, I still use it to double check what I’ve done. It seems more efficient for John to do the outside jobs while I do the inside jobs. It’s also wise to not let the partner do any of your jobs because there could be a crossing of wires, as in he thought all that was necessary to bringing in the slides was briefly holding the lock toggle. Wrong, it needs a full 6 seconds. OR you may think he did some job and he thinks you did it. It’s not a bad idea to cross train, just be aware that consistency helps determine that all jobs are done well.
Finding campgrounds/places to visit: Lately, once we’ve decided on our general path north (for summer) or south (for winter), we need to find specific campgrounds near the places we want to visit. Many use Trip Wizard (it has an annual fee). We like to use www.rvparkreviews.com. They make it easy to pick a state, then city, then see all the reviews for campgrounds near there. Plus they’ll list nearby cities you can consider if this city’s campgrounds don’t appeal to you. There is also a smart phone app: Allstays Camp and RV (cost: $10). For places to see where you are staying you can Google the city, then look for a “Tripadvisor” entry where you’ll also see reviews of the sites. A favorite source for us that’s not on the Internet is the US map given with the National Park Service “Passport” book, where you also can stamp a record of each park you’ve visited. That map clearly shows all the major National Parks and Monuments, so it’s easy to see how to direct your path to include those parks. Campgrounds in the National Parks are often not reservable and/or too small for big rigs. There are Corps of Engineers campgrounds (federal-go to http://www.recreation .gov) that are very nice, always on rivers or lakes and very reasonably priced. Most don’t have sewer hook ups. Often, though, they can be hard to get into so check early. Many also include “walk up” sites, specifically not reservable, for those who are happy to gamble. There is a Corps of Engineers book, easier to find their campgrounds with than their website, I think. National/Federal and State campgrounds usually have reservation/cancellation fees.
Maintenance: I keep a checklist of these jobs in table format, with boxes for jobs under monthly, quarterly, 6 month, yearly (his/hers/technician). I record when we’ve performed each. It’s amazing how easy it is to lose track. Certain things that the manual suggests, we leave for longer periods based on our experience/judgment. Generators need to be run/exercised monthly, so instead of creating noise and fumes for our campground neighbors, we run it as we go down the road (using our heat pump for the load).
Repairs: Generally, small family run businesses are better than dealerships because the people working for the family care about your satisfaction whereas those working at dealerships are working for their pay per hour. It also seems that those that have to advertise a lot don’t do as well for you as those whom others have recommended. Realize that, with an RV, “There’s always something” that needs fixing-even when your RV is brand new.
Outside tips: Very helpful things to have: Water pressure regulator (your water pump is set for 60 psi), “Y” connector (2), short hose to water filter, different size water hoses for city water. Quick connects for water hoses. Different lengths (short/long) sewer hoses. We needed a sewer adapter once (connecting hose and hole), but I’d wait until the situation required it. Extra electrical extension 50 amp cord (30′), for when “mooch” docking at peoples’ homes and for pedestals at the back of your rig or on the other side. Ladder to reach windshield (can clean with poles, but it’s harder). Wooden/plastic jack pads (16”X16”X1.5”), under the jacks to spread their weight. Wooden/plastic blocks (when site is pretty unlevel). Poles with screw in end for squeegee, pad or pipe insulation attachments, for cleaning your windshield when you arrive at a campground. They’re also great for cleaning your RV as a whole. Pipe insulation lengths to cover/protect windshield wipers when parked. Tire covers (not tight, because that holds in heat) MAY help protect from ultraviolet light. Outside door mat (scrape shoes). Large mat if you want.
Entryway Helps–Carpet pieces on steps (inside and outside) to catch all the “forest/desert” that you can. A good rubber backed (thin so you’re not making the thickness between steps when they are pulled in too great) carpet can be Velcroed onto the steps. That way you can wash the carpet every 6 months. Also carpet at your entry, right after those steps. Small whisk broom (Dollar Store) near door to clean steps and pick up what you’ve swept inside. We have hard vinyl tile floor squares throughout the coach and love them. I have a pure rubber mat (Lowe’s) under the driver’s feet Velcroed to the vinyl. “Goo Gone” easily will remove the Velcro glue when you are selling your rig. We keep our shoes on a shoe tray near the driver’s seat, others keep them outside.
“Silly putty” (usually white and called something else, found near hooks/attaching helps), for sticking small items to your buffet/counters. Easily removable.
Kitchen-Induction hot plate. This is the MOST helpful item I have. Using magnets and electricity, it heats your food very quickly, to sear temperatures. It has a simple smooth top, so it’s a swipe to clean (compared to your propane stove!). You use the campground’s electricity, not your propane that can be a pain (for a motorhome) to find. Using the microwave/convection oven, we rarely need more than that one cooking source. Note: your pans need to have iron in the bottom (use a magnet to check them out) for it to work. Old iron skillets work great, naturally. Of all my suggestions, only buying this will make a huge difference in your experience of RV life.
Cabinets-I like to put shelving on the bottom (not the kind that glues down) to help with things sliding. You can also put aluminum bubble sheeting along the walls and ceilings of your slide cabinets to help insulate them. This may hide a water leak, so beware. It truly helps insulate though. Speaking of insulation, you can use these for your windshield and windows if you don’t have help from your window coverings. Small containers (straight sides) can help organize/contain your items in your cabinets.
Bathroom-to help with all sinks (plumbing) I pour a dishpan full of the hottest water down each sink drain each time I clean house (bi-weekly), to help loosen sludge. RV pipes are smaller than those in your house. To lessen how often I need to tackle buildup in the shower I wipe it dry (including the floor) with a large microfiber cloth after my shower which is usually right after John takes his. If you’re fastidious about the toilet, you can use the toilet brush WAY down into the pipe below your toilet opening to clean dark stuff. A safely feature, so your toilet brush doesn’t fall into that hole while you are pushing/pulling it, is to put a couple tie downs at the handle and put your hand through one.
Things to keep track of for safest use of your utilities.
Electrical: Take note how many amps your power cord is plugged into. WATCH/keep in mind how many AMPS you are using during the day, especially large amp items (around 15 amp users) like coffee pot, induction hot plate, toaster, heat pump/air conditioner, heater/fire place and hair dryer. My thumbnail rule: you can use 2 high amp items with 30 amps, 3 high amp items with 50 amps. If you go over your amp limit your breaker will “pop”. After happening several times on a pedestal, it’s likely not able to work. Also watch your VOLTS: too low voltage can destroy your electrical items. Examples: refrigerator needs a minimum of 108 volts, A/C needs 110 volts. If your appliance has to struggle to get the volts it needs it “pulls harder” (my terminology) and will burn up it’s connections. When lots of people are pulling power in the campground, the voltage may go down. There are also campgrounds with “weak” (low voltage) power just because.
Water/Sewer: Watch how full/empty your tanks are getting, so you won’t have the joy of an overfull (or empty for fresh water) tank experience. Since you should replace your fresh water tank monthly, rather than dumping the extra into our campsite (waste and lake creation), we use our water pump to use up the extra in the rig. The most discouraging element with black/gray tanks is their sensors usually don’t work. That’s often because of “gunk” that has settled on them. Even the tanks with external sensors (except See Level after market sensors) will have bad readings because the “gunk” settles on the sides of the tank, next to the sensor. We’ve found a probiotic (enzymes) that has actually cleaned up the gunk in our gray tank and almost in the black tank. TankTech ( ). Many campers get a gist of how long it takes to fill their tanks, so they live without good sensors and that’s fine too.