7 Tips to Make Your First RV Trip Go Smoothly

As an avid camper, I’ve pitched my tent at tons of Hipcamps, state parks, national parks, and backcountry campsites — but until this past Thanksgiving, I’d never camped with an RV. Since Hipcamp has tons of great RV camping options, a friend and I (basically a pair of Canadians trying to navigate our own tradition for this festive American holiday), decided it would be fun to take an RV trip up the California coast. Oh, how wide-eyed we were!

Nine-hundred miles, five camps, and many challenging (but fun) lessons later, we survived our first RV trip. Luckily for you, we experienced these road bumps and can share the learnings here so that you can enjoy a smoother ride. Read on for our top tips on making your first RV camping trip awesome.

1. Rent from an established company

First of all, do yourself a favor and hit up Cruise America for your first RV rental. The booking process was a breeze, and within no time we had a glorious Cruise America Compact gassed up and waiting for us at the San Francisco airport.

2. Every meal is an opportunity to have a scenic view out your kitchen window

Imagine no brunch lines, no overpriced eggs, and no crowded restaurants. Every day, you wake up, pack up, and find an incredible vista or outlook point to park and prepare some breakfast. In addition, we made sure we spent as many sunsets as possible with our RV overlooking the beach. I can’t imagine a better way to experience a road trip.

Quick breakfast outside our RV parked with an ocean view — not too shabby!

…and we parked the RV on a beach in Eureka to enjoy the sunset.

3. When rain hits, savor the view from indoors

During wintertime on the west coast, the days and nights are often rainy. It rained four out of the five days we were on the road, and the nights were below freezing. That being said — life in an RV through these types of conditions was far kinder to us than it would have been camping in our usual tents. In an RV, you can wake up at your leisure, shower and get ready, make breakfast, and drive to your first destination/sight all without leaving the vehicle or getting drenched in the rain! It’s great to have that level of comfort available. Although RV camping seems like it would be great anywhere in any weather conditions, RVs really show their strength in keeping you comfortable and dry experiencing incredible views of the outdoors, even when Mother Nature is in the midst of frequent downpours.

Preparing and enjoying healthy meals and snacks inside our RV was convenient and cost-effective!

4. If the temps get low at night and you are boondocking you can use propane to run the heater (or plan to bring great cold weather sleeping bags!)

One thing we didn’t think about too much was the weather. One would think… or at least we did, that if you are traveling in what is basically a small house, the weather shouldn’t be a big deal. Not entirely true. If it rains while you’re in an RV it’s true that you do have protection — there’s no struggle of trying to keep your tent and great dry while pitching your tent in the rain. What we didn’t anticipate is that it could get really cold, and in spots where you don’t have a hookup for your RV you might think that you can pretty much kiss any heating goodbye. However, you can use the heater and run it off the propane. Keep in mind that you need to pay for any propane you use.

Just because you’re inside an RV, doesn’t mean you don’t need a high quality sleeping bag!

5. Before your trip, watch a few instructional videos for how to navigate your RV

Something you don’t ever think about when you’re backpacking or car camping is the need for hookups and utilities! Electrical hookup, water hookup, sewage hookup, generator, propane tank, auxiliary battery. These are the lifelines enabling an RV to do all the sweet things it does. Understanding how they work is important, as their usage can get somewhat complex and interdependent! For example, the refrigerator runs on electricity, but also propane! In addition, your water pump and heater can run on the auxiliary battery, while the microwave requires the generator running or an electrical hookup.

For first-time RV campers, Cruise America does a great job of walking you through it all. Before picking up our RV we watched a bunch of their videos on YouTube, which ended up being incredibly helpful. Upon arrival, we were given a walk-through of our vehicle, and our questions were answered. There’s also a manual in the RV which is helpful for understanding issues and troubleshooting. In addition, there are stickers well-placed instructional stickers throughout the vehicle. Finally, you can call Cruise America at any time and they’ll answer any questions you have!

This is the shoreline which connects the RV to an electrical outlet plugged into the kitchen!

6. Plan ahead for dump stations along your route

In addition to understanding how the hookups function, working their maintenance into your routine takes a little getting used to. For example, you need to locate the sewage dump stations and scheduling those stop offs into your itinerary. Check out sanidumps.com as a great starting resource.

7. Don’t plan on any technical driving routes on your first trip

We wanted to be as nimble as possible so we ended up booking the smallest RV in the Cruise America fleet, a compact that comes in at only 19-feet long. Being able to take a more compact vehicle eased us through the transition from driving a car to getting behind the wheel of an RV.

Even though ours was the smallest model, it’s essential to remember that this is still a 9-feet wide, 12-feet tall, and 19-feet long vehicle! Some parks, such as the Redwoods State and National Parks, have roads that are restricted or advised against for various RV types due to the quality of the road, the horizontal and vertical clearance, as well as the turnaround space. Other routes such as California’s Highway 1, for example, are okay to drive an RV on. That said, piloting a large RV on the extreme twists and dramatic hairpin turns of the Pacific Coast Highway during your very first RV trip might not be the most relaxing and enjoyable experience.

The drive into Fern Canyon is not recommended for RVs over 24 feet, as it’s narrow, steep, and has two river crossings. We stopped on the side of the road after making it through in our compact RV.

Our very first RV trip turned out to be the ideal way to explore the northern California coast in the rain, and I cannot wait to venture to new places.

Book your next camping, glamping, or RV trip now

Now’s a great time to find the perfect spot for your next camping, glamping or RV adventure. #FindYourselfOutside

Myles Tan is an avid camper and a Software Engineer at Hipcamp.

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