You might feel swept away by the idea of hitting the open road as soon as possible, and enjoying your free lifestyle. Well, hold on just a moment. RV life is actually a skill, and when you’re a newbie, there might be a lot of things you’re not so skilled at to boot, and you’ll have to learn by trial and error.
Driving Your RV
Let’s be clear, driving an RV is a skill! First, understand that RV trailers may be the hardest to drive. So, if you’re a beginner, don’t bother making your RV lifestyle out of a camper trailer attached to your truck or you might be in for a nightmare.
As for driving a fifth wheel, Class A or any other kind of motorhome, it won’t be such a big deal at first—until you have to make any kind of turn, or park in a tiny space in a crowded RV campsite.
Your first challenge will be just leaving the place you bought it from. If you’re driving a Class A (or various other varieties), you’ll find two big distinctions: the first is that your front wheels are actually behind the front of your vehicle, behind where you sit. So you can no longer rely on your normal instincts for making turns. The second is that there is a lot of space behind your RV, meaning you must give more clearance than you ordinarily would before making a turn.
The wrong way to drive is to use your front-bumper as your indicator to turn, as you would a normal car. Instead, you need to pull in far enough before making the turn. In other words, don’t immediately turn when your bumper clears the intersection. You’ll need to extend forward several feet.
In addition, you have to take into account the length. Which means you will be correcting slightly into the left lane before you turn into the right lane. Swing your wheel left, pulling into oncoming traffic (joking, don’t go all the way)—and then swing it right and you’ll have provided enough space to complete the turn.
For all city driving, you will need to be extra diligent about checking the mirrors. There is another common problem where aggressive drivers might see you drifting to the left, they think you’re going to turn right, and they squeeze next to you, just in time for you to drift back and squash them. So, be very careful.
For parking, I suggest to create for yourself an “RV driving school” by putting some old cone pylons out in an unused parking lot, Line them up and practice sliding between them without knocking any over. Make it as tight as you can, and call yourself a pro when you can do it. Now you’re ready for an RV parking site!
You always want to be more than well-prepared before you set off. This includes:
- One or even two spare tires.
- Road hazards / cones
- An automotive toolkit
- Jumper cables
- Heavy duty electrical gloves
- A spare battery
- A first-aid kit.
- Some form of satellite telephone for emergency communication.
- A few gallons of distilled water
You might be wondering about what to do when it’s your time to go. When I was a solo RV traveler, I have a confession—I rarely used my RV’s holding tank. Why? Because it’s a hassle to drain it and I’m lazy. If I were camping, the woods was where I’d get back in touch with nature. If I was living in the city, I’d go to Starbucks, my gym (for showering), or other locations that I liked to frequent.
However, this is not for everyone, not doable if you have a family, and overall inconvenient if you suddenly need to use the bathroom. So, I’d recommend to use it and get used to the process because you have to learn eventually.
What you’ll have to do is go to an RV station and use their disposal unit. If your RV is sophisticated, it will alert you when it’s time to change the holding tank.
Now for the fun part: emptying it. You’ll need to hook up your RV’s sewer hose, while wearing proper sanitary equipment like latex gloves and I’d suggest a face-mask. You want to go to your dump station, and if it’s your first time, do it when it’s late at night or early in the morning so you can learn the process without angering people who are waiting in line for you.
As for the process itself, it take about 15 steps. The following link is where you should study it on how to empty your tanks. It also includes important information about using dump-sites and how to keep them from getting closed down as a result of irresponsible RV habits. Without dump sites, U.S. RV travelers might be in big trouble, and reckless use of these facilities has endangered their existence.
Some people don’t want to leave behind the comforts of electricity, and the nice thing about RVs is that you can enjoy the comforts of home through specialized technology. However, sometimes it may cost you.
First is your refrigerator. Assuming you purchased a somewhat modern RV, you will have a gas absorption powered fridge. While normal fridges are powered by an electric pump, your RV requires a fridge that can sustain itself portably without draining your RV battery.
Gas absorption technology works by using a propane burner to heat a supply of ammonia, which when boiled (it boils at a lower point than water) it creates a gas that enters into the refrigerator’s condenser. From there, the ammonia enters a hydrogen-filled chamber called the evaporator. Inside the evaporator, the ammonia rapidly cools.
A fan system then pushes this very cold air into the fridge, while water from the absorber re-enters the evaporator, sending dissolved ammonia back to the generator. You’ll find warm air blowing from behind the fridge (the heat that’s dispelled from the inside), which is often found on the outside of the RV (check it periodically for nests or residue). So really, your refrigeration system is powered by an ammonia gas absorption process.
First things first, when you buy your RV, you need to follow any directions present about activating your fridge (such as lighting the propane flue), and then wait 4-6 hours before you add any food to it. By then, it will be properly cooled down. You may even need to wait longer depending on your make and model (we don’t want spoilage to occur, nothing like being sick in an RV.)
Check to make sure it’s working properly by keeping a thermostat inside of it. If the temperature goes above 40 Fahrenheit, you might have a problem, as it will mean eventual food spoilage. However, most of the time, RV fridges work fine. Just remember, if you are not using your RV, turn the fridge off and close the propane valves. You will also want to open the fridge and freezer doors when it’s not in use, or else mold could spread throughout—causing sickness when you return food to it later.
Next is electricity. Generally speaking, RVs are powered by either generators, your battery, or your RV campsite’s 120 volt electrical hookup. For generators or hookups, your RV will have a heavy-duty power cord that will attach to either of these options.
First, your RV’s coach battery is going to be pretty powerful, and it will last for a while, however it will also need to be recharged from time to time. Your RV should come with an external charger unit. If you’re not familiar with handling heavy duty batteries, I suggest to look at the instructions carefully to avoid injury to yourself (or to the battery).
The coach battery sometimes requires maintenance, so look for any signs of erosion. You can clean it carefully with a mix of baking soda and water, and use petroleum jelly to minimize further erosion. You will also need to add distilled water to your battery to balance electrolyte levels from time to time. You’ll need to tunnel it in where the directions say.
Next are generators. In general, a motor home these days will have a built-in generator that actually uses your fuel supply. It will turn off when the fuel supply gets too low so it doesn’t accidentally strand you. It’s pretty efficient, but it can still eat gas (money) if you allow it to, so maybe don’t engage in a Sopranos DVD marathon with your on-board generator running.
Another option are external generators. In the old days, these were loud and clunky. Today, they are much more efficient. There are also cool solar options available and if you have the money, this is a great option for eco self-sufficiency.
Finally, I suggest to use a voltmeter at campgrounds. Some of these outlets run low, or run hot, and it can then damage your RV’s appliances! Below 105 voltage or above 135 voltage are both bad. So, check before plugging in and if it’s not running right, don’t risk it.
Most likely your cooking appliances (stove and oven) run separately on propane. When you are first buying your RV, if it’s used then check to see how much propane is in this tank and if it should be replaced or not. It’s fairly straightforward, if your RV is even fairly modern it will have an automatic lighter that you can turn on and off. Otherwise, you will need to light it manually every time. This is done by finding the pilot control, turning it on and placing a long-nozzle lighter into the opening (or follow your RV’s directions).
Bath / toilet water
This will all come from your RV’s water holding tank. This tank should be inspected and cleaned from time to time to ensure there is no mold growth. It will also need to be refilled when it runs low. Growing up, my parents had an RV camped in a remote wilderness acreage near a stream. They siphoned water directly from the stream to the RV to keep us with a permanent supply.
Finally, we need to talk about staying connected, which is a big part of the 21st century (and maybe wasn’t such a big deal in the 1990s). Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for internet access. Here’s what you have at your disposal:
Most parks have big WiFi networks. This doesn’t mean your WiFi connection is going to be that great, though. You might even find yourself lugging your laptop into your park’s reception area just to get a good signal.
MiFi / Mobile Carriers
Major cellular companies provide internet access on their phones and tablets. In the USA this means Verizon, Sprint, etc. Quality depends on cellular strength. If you’re going out to the woods, good luck! Otherwise, in many urban areas you should get a pretty good connection with a major cellular data plan.
For the hardcore enthusiast who also needs to stay connected for work purposes, even in the remote wilderness, this is the way to go. A potentially expensive option, there are two possibilities: the first is a portable mounted dish. This is ideal if you plan to camp in one location for a while.
Set it up outside, position it correctly, connect it to your computer, and presto! High speed internet even in the remotest park (price point: a few hundred dollars). The other option is an automatic, roof-mounted satellite dish by a company like Datastorm. This could be priced in the mid-thousands. However, it’s a convenient way to always stay connected anywhere you go with the push of a button.