Just a few weeks ago, I was toying with the idea of renting an RV and taking a summer road trip. Today, I’m the proud owner of a 1990 Winnebago Warrior and more than 1,500 miles into a cross-country journey. Though the decision to buy an RV was admittedly a bit rash, I’m not the only person itching to travel over the summer while limiting exposure to COVID-19 (we are still amid a pandemic, after all).
But choosing an RV and hitting the open road is not a simple task, nor a decision to be made lightly. The first few days of my trip have been a bit stressful, not only because I’ve never actually driven an RV before, but I have to learn how everything works on the road.
So while I highly recommend renting or buying an RV and having the adventure of a lifetime, I urge you also to spend some time evaluating your options and understanding what RV life is really like. Below are 16 essential tips from RV travel experts to help you out.
1. Choose the proper rig for your lifestyle.
One of the most important decisions you need to make is choosing the type of vehicle for your lifestyle and travel plans. Generally, this means choosing between a Class A, Class B, or Class C. Each is different sizes that fit different needs.
For most road trip purposes, you’ll likely want a Class C, said Matt Kirouac, co-founder of Hello Ranger. They’re not as enormous as Class A (luxury buses) and not as rugged as Class B (e.g., van life). “They’re a good, comfortable middle ground, both for families and couples alike,” he said. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew with an oversized RV that’ll give you anxiety when it comes to parking, navigating cities, gas stations, etc. Find an RV that gives you the space you need, without the excess.”
2. Rent an RV before you decide to buy.
Renting an RV for a short trip is a good idea before investing in buying one or renting one for a more extended vacation, according to Lauren Keys, blogger at Trip Of A Lifestyle. “We took the model of the van we purchased on a test drive from the dealership before we decided to buy one, just to get a sense of whether we could both drive it (and if a bed would fit in the back!),” she said.
3. Consider buying used.
RVs depreciate rapidly, so you might want to find an older model if you do plan to buy. “Keep in mind that the more bells and whistles it has, the more can go wrong,” Keys said. She added that most issues RVs face wouldn’t be with the engine or other vehicle components but with the extras that make it more livable.
4. Practice driving and backing up.
Dave Huber, general manager of River Run RV Resort, said the most common argument he witnesses among customers is when attempting to back up their RVs. “Practice and communication are key to avoid this breakdown,” he said. No matter what type of RV you rent or buy, he said, you should practice backing up and understanding your turning radius in an empty parking lot before heading out. A couple of key concepts to learn are off tracking and rear overhang, both of which can cause you to bang into or run over obstacles if you aren’t careful.
Second, if you’ll be traveling with a partner or spouse, Huber said you should also practice your communication. “You don’t want to start your camping experience with a breakdown in communication over backing an RV up,” he said. “Having managed campgrounds for many years, my wife and I made a pact upon our first purchase to work out simple and clear hand signals, specifically to help out backup communication.” If your rig doesn’t have a backup camera, there are great after-market options to fix this problem, and they’re well worth the money.
5. Drive slowly.
When driving, especially on highways, Kirouac recommended staying 5-10 miles under the speed limit. “Wind gusts hit you much harder than you’d expect, and the general ‘feel’ of driving on highways is much different than a car.”