If the coronavirus has you going stir-crazy, there’s a good chance you’ve thought about renting or buying an RV and taking a road trip. After all, an RV allows you to travel without exposing yourself to germy airports and hotels.
But if you’re a first-time RV driver, there can be a steep learning curve to overcome. Before hitting the open road, make sure you don’t make one of these major first-timer mistakes.
1. Believing bigger is better
Considering that you’ll be spending a reasonable amount of time in your RV, you want to be comfortable. Choosing something too small will make traveling feel claustrophobic. But that doesn’t mean you should buy the giant RV you can.
“The mistake I made was thinking I needed more space than we needed,” said Angela M. DiLoreto, who travels nearly full time in her travel trailer and blogs with her husband at Fitting in Adventure. “People compare the space to their houses; we spend a lot of time in the four walls of our home but little time inside the walls of an RV.” However, she said, the RV experience is about what happens outside those walls.
A smaller vehicle will be easier to drive and park and faster to set up and tear down. Plus, many national parks have length restrictions for camping, so keep this in mind when choosing the size of your RV.
2. Buying brand spanking new
If you’re buying your RV, it might be tempting to lean toward the security of purchasing brand new. After all, new cars are in great shape and ready to roll, so you might presume RVs are, too.
“This isn’t true in RVing, unfortunately,” said Georgianne Austin, communications director for Escapees RV Club. Common advice shared in RVing circles, she said, is that it’s best to buy an RV that’s at least two years old. “The idea behind this is to let someone else deal with the fresh-off-the-lot issues, such as interior construction problems, chassis problems, etc., which surface during the first real ride with the RV.” This is often referred to as the “shakedown” trip.
By purchasing a used RV, someone else has already dealt with those issues that arise with the first few trips and has hopefully had them fixed by the time you take over.
3. Failing to check the carrying capacity
Because RVs are big, you might think that they can easily haul whatever you can fit inside. And you might believe that the bigger the RV, the more it can tow. Those are misconceptions that can cost you, said Kimberly Button, co-editor of Couch Potato Camping. “All RVs are different, based on their designs, but they are only designed to safely carry a certain amount of weight, which is known as gross cargo carrying capacity.”
Cargo carrying capacities can range from just a few hundred pounds to several thousand pounds. Either way, that limit includes personal items (shoes, clothing, sports gear, etc.), food, water (including fresh, gray, and black tanks), updates or additions to the RV (solar panels, TVs, etc.), and passengers.
Button warned that carrying more than that capacity could damage your RV or trailer, tow vehicle, or both. “It is essential for RV buyers to consider how they are going to camp and how many people they will be bringing.”
4. Not considering what your tow vehicle can handle
Another mistake, specifically for those looking at travel trailers, is purchasing a camper too heavy for the towing capacity of their vehicle, according to Rosanna T. Mitchell, founder of outdoor family adventure site A Pragmatic Lens. “Horror stories abound of RV dealers and sales associates assuring customers that their vehicle can tow a camper weighing thousands of pounds only to realize later they need a new towing vehicle, or worse, get in an accident,” she said.
If you plan to buy a trailer, ensure that your existing vehicle is equipped to tow the weight. If not, you may need to budget for a new towing vehicle or consider a different type of RV.
5. Traveling with too many aftermarket modifications
Especially with the explosion of the “van life” movement, many RV owners are making aftermarket modifications to their vehicles to make them more livable and aesthetically pleasing.
However, it would be best if you were wary of purchasing an RV with modifications such as high roofs or different passenger and driver seats, said Tina Willis, a personal injury attorney in Orlando, Florida, who’s owned an RV for about five years.
“The reason is that these aftermarket changes very often aren’t nearly as safe as those tested and engineered by the original vehicle manufacturer,” she said. For example, removing the original roof from a van and adding a new high top eliminates the metal support beams that surround the occupants. Plus, many extended vans already have a higher rollover risk, and making them taller adds to that risk. It can be tempting to buy something that looks like it drove right off an influencer’s Instagram feed, but safety should be the priority when choosing a vehicle.