Getting ready to go on the road? It doesn’t matter if you are going to be full-time or part-time RV’er or just taking weekend trips, owning an RV is a lot different than owing a house. Every time you take your RV out, you will learn something new. Even if you have been RV’ing for years, there are still days where you learn something new.
Below is a list of what Brad and I have learned while being on the road. As new things are learned, they will be added to the list. It’s not an all inclusion list just tips and tricks we want to be able to share with others to help you get on the road to the RV lifestyle. Hope it helps and keep on traveling!!
Please note that we are not certified RV technicians or RV experts but the owners of a 5th wheel. The following information is based on our experiences and is our own opinion. Contact your RV professional or manufacture manual for specifics regarding your RV and do your research regarding anything RV related.
Deciding on a motor home, a travel trailer (TT), and a 5th wheel:
• Honestly, that all depends on you! Everyone is different with that they like and what they want so the best way to decide while one is best for you is to go and look. Once you walk into a motor home, a TT, and a 5th wheel, you will know which one feels right to you.
• When we first decided to start living full time on the road, we went and checked out different RV’s to see if living in a small space was double. We figured out quickly what size felt comfortable and what type of RV we liked. The same will happen to you.
• Our advice is to just go and check them all out. If there is an RV show in your area, GO! An RV show is a great way to see all the types of RV’s with no pressure from salespeople. All RV’s have their advantages and disadvantages so you just have to go with what is right for you and your family. I’m not going to break down the advantages and disadvantages for each RV but just do your research, go shopping, talk to others, and you will quickly figure out what’s right for you.
• This process can get very overwhelming. Take pictures, make notes, and slowly narrow down what you like that way.
• Why did we choose a 5th wheel? First, we like the layout of the 5th wheels and having the slides makes the space so much bigger. Second, we like the idea of having a separate living space and driving space. We can leave our house at the campground and take the truck on excursions or to run errands. Third, we like the safety and sturdiness of a 5th wheel while driving as it tows nice and easy. We have dually 3500 Ram truck because of its stability and braking performance. It also has lots of towing power and high towing capacity.
Getting ready to go on the road:
• Start early with packing and getting organized. We focused too much on the selling of items and not enough on the organization at the end. We were rushing around to get stuff done and the RV was not as organized like I would have liked. It’s also good to know that it takes time to organize an RV, give it about 2 months.
• When first getting your RV, take it out two times. This is a good way to test out the RV and work out any kinks. If anything needs to be fixed before you head off, you can get it done right away. Even if your RV is brand new and you are the first owners, this is something you still should do. We bought a brand new 5th wheel and when we took it out for the first test run, we had a water issue. We were able to take it back to the dealership right away and get it fixed. It will save lots of hassle in the long run. This is always a good way to get to know your RV and get used to setting up, ect. Try for a trip close to the house and then another a bit farther.
• Place an order for essentials right away- sewer hose kit, power extension cord, adapters (30 amp to 50 amp and 30 amp to 15 amp, etc.), wheel chocks, water hose with water pressure regulator. Go to the hardware store and get wood to put under the wheels and stabilizers.
• If you can, get the truck early if you are getting a 5th wheel or TT. We got a dually truck and drove that around for a week before we got the 5th wheel. Driving the truck first gave us time to get used to driving such a large vehicle and it was also helpful because the width of the truck is the same width as the 5th wheel. Since a dually has an extra 7 inches on each side, one drives differently than a car (the driver feels like they are in the middle of the road). So, when we picked up the 5th wheel we were used to the width of the truck and used to driving it so it one less thing to worry about.
• See Organizing 101
• The start of the trip is chaotic and not organized. It takes at least a month to get into the grove and really start relaxing and enjoying the RV. Give it two months to be organized.
• If you haven’t used the item in a year, you do not need it. Get rid of it.
• Keep everything in the same spot. This will keep you more organized and you will know where everything is and where everything goes once it’s time to pack up.
• Store DVD’s in a DVD book and throw the cases away. That will save on storage.
• Know the RV towing weight limit and your truck towing weight.
Keys and Locks:
• It’s easy to accidentally lock yourself out of your RV. You can solve this two ways: always take your keys with you or have a spare hidden ken.
• An RV can come with a lot of different keys: one for the door, another for the under storage doors, truck tool box. We got one key make for all of the above and it’s great! No guessing which key goes to what and it makes the keychain light too. We used: http://www.rvlocksandmore.com.
Trip Planning and being on the road:
• Use Good Sam Club trip planner. You can set up height restrictions so you can be sure you can make it under bridges.
• Get roadside assistance. When you are on the road, you do not have a safety net of calling a friend or family member to help you.
• Stop before it gets dark. It’s not fun to unhitching and set up in the dark.
• The mid-west and East campground start closing down for the winter mid-October.
• The highway/interstate grade will never be more than 7%. Smaller roads can vary in grades so use the Good Sam’s Club trip planner to determine if a smaller road is safe.
• When figuring out how long it will take you to get somewhere, divide the mileage by how fast you go. Our average is 63 mph but we divide the mileage by 60. The few extra miles per hour we go makes up for stop time.
• Listen to books on tape to make the drive go by faster.
• Use truck stops. They have a lot more room to maneuver an RV.
• If your truck uses DEF (diesel exhaust fluid), it gets used up quickly while towing.
• DEF can be brought anywhere. Walmart is the best deal or at a truck stop.
• Stops are not fast. Take your time.
• Know the height of your truck and the height of your RV. Use a label maker and put both heights in your truck/motor home dashboard. Get out a measuring tape as your do not want to guess at these numbers. It could be the difference of fitting under a bridge or tearing off your roof.
• This website is a great resource for finding truck stops and rest stops on the road: findfuelstops.com
• Make frequent stops when it’s hot out as this will prevent the RV tires from overheating.
• It’s fun to be spontaneous on the road but it’s good to have a baseline plan. You need to be aware of where gas stations are, your food supply, budgeting for campground stays and activities, and places to stop along the way. Having a house on wheels gives you flexibility but a baseline plan will help keep you safe.
• When you are driving, the truck is going to make lots of new noises. If you have engine braking on, it’s really loud. You will get used to all the noises the more you drive.
• Any RV takes longer to stop than just driving a little car around. Keep more distance between you and the vehicles around you. And be more aware of vehicles merging on and off.
• If you have the propane tank on to keep the fridge cool, turn OFF the propane before going into a gas station. If there is a spark, a fire can be started. Yikes!
• Getting ready to go back on the road isn’t as quick as just locking the front door to a house and going on with your day. Take your time.
• If you have a 5th wheel, it’s ok to stay attached if you are just stopping for the night. Putting down the jacks is up to you. We have done it both way. Having the jacks down will help the RV be more stable. We wouldn’t recommend putting out the slides if you still hooked up. If you need something and the slide needs to be moved out a little, go for it. Just remember to put it back.
Hooking up 5th wheel to truck:
• Put everything away inside the 5th wheel. Nothing should be out on the counters or dresser.
• Put the antenna down and turn off antenna button.
• Secure bedroom doors.
• Secure bathroom door and shower doors, if applicable.
• Double check that all cabinets and drawers are closed tight.
• Put down glass stove top, if applicable.
• If needed, secure kitchen chairs.
• Make sure all vents are closed and vent fans are off.
• Make sure nothing is in the way for the slides to move in.
• Move in slides. It helps to have someone inside and outside to watch.
• Put awing in.
• Make sure wheels on 5th wheel are clocked.
• Unhook water, electric, and sewer and stow items away in designated area.
• Back up truck to the 5th wheel and lower the truck tailgate.
• Make sure hitch arm/jaws are open.
• Make sure the hitch opening is in line with the king pin.
• Adjust 5th wheel height as needed.
• Back up the truck and resistance will be felted. Keep backing up until the 5th wheel and once the kin pin slides onto the lock jaw, you will most likely feel it and hear a loud clang.
• Lock in king pin.
• Attach emergency brake away cable to hitch.
• Plug in power umbilical cord for brakes.
• Visually check that the jaws of the hitch are around the king pin.
• Close tailgate.
• Raise the front jacks. It can make creaky noise which is normal.
• Check to make sure the brakes work by flashing them. Check the 5th wheel brakes as they should be flashing also.
• Raise the back jacks.
• Take away wheel clocks.
• If you used wood or lego blocks for leveling, move the truck forward a little bit to remove items.
• Put away lego blocks and wood.
• Inside the truck, press button to indicate you are towing and if you have a backup camera, turn that off.
• Do a final walk through around the 5th wheel: doors and compartments are locked, jacks are up, slides are in, antenna is down, door handle is in, stairs are folded, ect.
• You are ready to go!
• Give yourself time. You will get faster and more efficient with time.
• Set up the same way every time. That way a step will not be missed.
• If there are two or more people helping with set-up, have set jobs. It helps to keep it efficient and helps so nothing gets missed.
• Use walkie talkies. Talking loud and yelling is not an effective way to communicate. Plus, it’s a bother to other campers.
• Lego leveling blocks work best when they are set up as a step instead of using just one. The weight of the RV can crush the Lego.
• Or use wood instead of Lego blocks.
• Have a checklist of setting up that way a step doesn’t get missed. This is really important if you are new or if you haven’t had to set-up in a while.
Basic 5th wheel set-up:
• Before pulling into a campground spot, look for low hanging branches or obstacles on the ground. It’s always a good idea to get out of the RV to assess the campground spot before attempting to pull in.
• Locate the electrical, water, and sewage hookups before pulling in as you want to be as close as you can to the hookups.
• Pull RV in, close to hookups.
• Check the level of your RV. You may need to place wood or lego blocks under the wheels to level out the RV. Use the fridge as your guide to see if you are level or not. You can be a ½ bubble off and still be considered level.
• If you have slides, make sure you have room to put them out and same with the awing.
• Secure your RV by chocking the wheels.
• Place lego blocks or wood under jacks to prevent sinking and help with leveling.
• Place wood or lego blocks under the wheels if not leveled side by side.
• Disconnect from truck by putting down the front stabilizing jacks until they support the weight of the RV. These jacks stop your 5th wheel from rolling and moving forward. You will hear a “pop” like noise when the king pin is no longer attached to the hitch.
• Disconnect RV breakaway switch from truck.
• Store brake cord in RV compartment, if available.
• Slowly pull truck forward to get it out of the way and put up tailgate.
• Connect to hookups and turn on fridge (instead of battery or propane).
• When hooking up to the electricity, make sure the breaker if turned off before plugging in. Once the electrical cord is connected to the RV and breaker, turn on.
• Always use a water pressure regulator when connecting to water.
• Put down back jack stabilizers. These jacks are only meant to be stabilizers and help decrease the bouncing feeling when you are in the 5th wheel.
• Check level from to back and adjust using front and back stabilizers.
• Before putting out slides, check inside to make sure nothing is in the way of the slide and do the same outside. Put out slides. It helps if one person is outside and one person is inside.
• Put out awning and set up campsite.
• Recheck to make sure RV is level.
• Raise roof-mounted TV antenna/satellite dish.
• Inside, unpack and put all items in their normal locations.
• Lock up external RV panels.
• Relax and enjoy!
• Not every campground has the hookups that are close to the RV. Get an extension for the electrical cord for 30 and 50 amp. It’s better to have it than need it and not be able to get it right away.
• When connected to 15 amp (a regular household plug), you can have the fridge on and one appliance (toaster, microwave, air conditioner, hair dryer, toaster oven).
• When connected to 30 amp, you can have the fridge on and use two other devices with heating elements.
• When connected to 50 amp, you can turn on everything.
• The longer the hoses, the better. Not every campground has the hookups that are close to the RV. Get an extension for the water and electric.
• We do not leave our water heater on all the time as that helps save the life of the water heater. We turn on the water heater before we take showers and do the dishes. The water heater takes longer to heat up with colder weather. Give the water heater 30 minutes to heat up if you are in cold weather.
• The water heater will heat up quicker with propane than electricity. Note: if you turn on both, it will not make the water hotter for longer. It will just heat up the water quicker.
• Women: long twenty minutes showers are in the past. While using the shower, do not wash your hair or shave at the same time unless you want a cold shower at the end. It’s it hot out, having a cooler shower might not be a bad thing.
• Use the white water hose as it is lead free. Regular outdoor water hoses contain lead and other toxins.
• Use a pressure regulator. This will help prevent the water pressure from getting too high causing pipe damage.
• When connecting to the water hose, turn the water faucet up high. That way you will get a good shower flow.
• Cannot use propane exchange due to the large size of the RV propane tanks.
• When a propane tank is first filled, it makes a scary clicking noise. That will stop quickly.
• Keep one propane tank open at a time. If not done this way, they both will empty and it will be the one night it’s going to be cold out and there is no heat.
• Always have one propane tank full at all times.
• To check the level of the propane in the tank, here is an easy test. Get about a quart of hot water and run it down the side of the propane tank. Run your hand down the tank to check the level. If will feel cooler where the propane is and stay warm where there’s no propane.
• Use a label maker on the inside panel board to label which tanks are for which rooms.
• Keep the gray tanks open. That way you are not running out of the shower with soap in your hair to go outside to open the shower tank because it’s overflowing into the shower.
• They can smell bad just like the black tank. When traveling, empty out the gray tanks and put Dawn soap down the sink. Run the water for a few minutes. As you drive, the water and soap will swoosh around cleaning the tank. Once you get to the campground, empty the gray tanks. It will smell nice! Dawn soap is the only one that works. Don’t know why but it does.
• If you are at campground for a bit, try this instead: vinegar and baking soda. Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain and then add 1/2 cup of vinegar, allowing it to foam up. Cover with a wet paper towel or cloth for 5-10 minutes. Flush with hot water.
• Turn off the air conditioning when emptying out they gray tanks. Otherwise, the outside air will be sucked into the RV and it will not smell so nice.
• It depends on how many people live in the RV as to how often you need to empty it.
• Turn off the air conditioning when emptying out the black tank. Otherwise, the outside air will be sucked into the RV and it will not smell so nice.
• When emptying out the black tank, empty out one gray tank, than the black, and then the other gray tank. That way the sewer hose is flushed after emptying the black tank.
• Toilet paper can clog the tank and throw off the sensor. To help with this, after emptying out the black tank, connect a water hose (not the white drinking water hose but a regular garden hose) to the sewer tank flusher in the docking station. Turn on water and keep the water running until the water runs clearish. Turn of water hose and continue to flush.
• Keep a little water in the toilet to help prevent smell.
• Turn on the bathroom fan after using the toilet. If you turn it on during, the vapors from the black tank will just be sucked up into the bathroom. Not pleasant.
• After cleaning out the black tank or anytime you are on the road, use toilet chemicals. Put the chemicals in, flush, than fill the bowl with water. Drain. And repeat. Use the same toilet chemicals every time so there will not be a weird reaction. Only use RV approved toilet chemicals. Others brands can cause seals to leak and cause damage to the toilet. • Use only RV approved toilet paper. • Women: do NOT put any feminine products down the black tank. No tampons, no wraps, nothing. Those products are not to degrade and will just remain in the tank. Yuck.
• If you are stationary for over a month, bring in slides and then put them back in. This keeps the parts moving nicely.
• Use silicon spray on the slides and anything that moves or pivots every 6 months
• The rubber in the slides if very important because it helps prevent water from getting into the RV. Use a rubber treatment to keep them from cracking.
• Every 90 days, check the roof. Once a year clean and condition the roof. These are both so important because it there is any damage to the roof, there will be leaks.
• Use WD40 on bedroom slide every 6 months.
• Wheel bearing should be replaced once a year.
• Check out fridge and furnace once a year.
• Check the tire pressure of your RV every time you go on a trip.
• Once you are all packed up and organized, weigh your RV. This is so important, no matter what type of RV you have.
Inside the house:
• Fruit flies: take a small glass, fill it with ½ inch apple cider vinegar and 2 drops of dish washing soap, mix well. The pesky fruit files will be drawn to the mix.
• Not all updates and decorating can be done at once. Do a little at a time.
• A RV can be decorated just like a house with area rugs, knickknacks, photos, pillows, curtains, table runner, real plates, mugs, ect.
• Laundry, this is a biggie. We do not know about having a washer drying in the RV because we do not have one. Everyone is different with what they want so not having a w/d or having one is a personally choice. Laundromats are often at campgrounds, are reasonably, and laundry gets down in a couple of hours.
• An RV oven is not going to work like a house oven. When using the oven, use two air bakes at all times and turn the pan halfway through cooking. This will help your dish not burn and makes the dish bake more evenly.
• Do not put food down the sink. It will smell if you do.
• The most important appliances in your RV is the fridge. The fridge needs to be level in order for it to work so it’s very important to make sure the RV is level when you are setting up camp. To explain it simply (as I’m not an engineer), the fridge cools by having tubes filled with an ammonia-base liquid. If the fridge is not level, that liquid will not flow well and it will break the fridge, which is not cheap to replace.
• An RV fridge is not meant to be running 24/7 so if you are full timing, you need to know a fridge trick. An RV fridge is cooled by using an ammonia based liquid. When are you driving, the ammonia based liquid is moving around, circulating, getting rid of air bubbles, which is great. When you are at a campsite for a few months, air like bubbles can develop because the fridge is running all the time and it’s not being bounced around like when you drive. Outside, open the fridge compartment and with a mallet, bang on the pipes (not super hard but lightly). This will loosen up the chemicals and get rid of any air bubbles. This will save you from waking up one morning and your fridge being warm.
• The fridge can be off and then remain cold for 4-6 hours.
• You can actually have real glassesware! There is need to ditch all your glassware, you just need to know the right way to keep it from breaking. See page post Organizing 101 for more details.
Hot and Humid weather:
• Condensation is your enemy. There are two was to deal with condensation on the windows: get double panned windows or get a dehumidier.
• The condensation will cause mold and mildew in an RV and the same with humidity. It might feel nice to have the windows open but keep them closed and turn on the air along with the dehumidifier.
• We keep the dehumidifier setting at 40%
• If it’s really hot out, like you are in Arizona in the middle of the summer where it’s over 105 every day, your black tank is going to smell. If you can, try not to use the toilet, especially for going number two. Just think about it. After you flush, all that just sits in a tank under your house baking in the hot sun all day long. Of course it’s going to smell and be nasty.
• Even if you RV is considered a 4 season recreation vehicle, you still have to do a few things to keep it safe during the winter. Make sure with your 4 season RV, that the underbelly is covered and heated, that the dump values are enclosed and heated, the roof is double insulated, and the frame and subfloor are thermofoil wrapped.
• Even if you have a 4 season RV, you have to be careful of your water supply.
• Since the water line is connected outside to a water hose that water hose can freeze, causing plumbing issues and burst pipes. To prevent any issues, the water hose needs to be wrapped with an insulated hose. This can be bought at any home improvement store.
• Put a bucket over the waterline to keep the heat in.
• If it heats up during the day and doesn’t get below freezing for more than a day or two, you are good with the above tips.
• If it’s really cold, below freezing for days on end, than you have to: cover the windows and door, get a skirt to go around the outside of the RV, use additional heaters, insulate the sewer hose, wrapping the water hose with an electric heat wrap or using a water heater. Some RV’ers even winterize the RV while living in it in the cold.
Keeping the RV cool:
• The air conditioner will bring down the temperature in the RV down 20 degrees from the outside temperature.
• Keep blinds and window curtains closed.
• Buy Refleix coverings for the windows. This can be bought at any home improvement store.
• Buy black temporary blinds. Good for the door window.
• Put towels or a covering over the vent openings to help block the sun. Just remember to remove when you are going to turn on the fan.
• Again, turn off the air when emptying out the tanks. Otherwise, the outside air will be sucked inside and it will not smell very good.
• There is a difference between wi-fi connection and wi-fi speed.
• Get used to going to local coffee shops to get wi-fi. Other great free wi-fi spots are: Panera, Walmart, Lowes, and the mall. • After being on the road for one and a half years, we got a cell phone that is just used as a hot spot. There are people who sell grandfathered Verizon unlimited date plans but we ended up going with T-mobile. We got a free phone and decreased our data plan with Verizon for our two main phones and the cost is the same as what we were paying before getting the T-mobile phone.
Mail and Taxes:
• Once you live on the road, you need to decide how to receive mail and what to call “home” for your taxes.
• If you still own property in the state you were living, than keep that address as your full time residence.
• How do you get mail on the road?! This is one of the biggest questions we get asked. There are many mail forwarding companies where you can get your mail delivered to them. You get an address and once they receive your mail, they will than scan it and e-mail you what you received. If you want, they will open it, and then sent it to you (additional cost for opening and mailing). What about deliveries, like from Amazon? Just use the campgrounds address. Some campground will give you an address so you can use that. If you are using the campground address, just let someone know at the front office that you are expecting a package.
Wind and Storms:
• Be prepared and as best as you can, know when bad weather is going to hit. There are many phone apps out there that will alert to you dangerous weather.
• It can be scary if you are stuck in a storm in your RV. The biggest thing is to keep calm. Take a deep breath so you can clear your head and deal with the situation calmly.
• If you need to evacuate your RV, if you have time, grab valuables, like your wallet.
If you are at a campground:
• Placing wood under your stabilizers will help prevent an electric shortage to your RV if the campground is stuck by lightening.
• It may be a good idea to unplug your RV before a bad lighting storm.
• You are safer in your car or a campground club house than your RV during a bad lighting storm. This is because most RV’s don’t have much metal in them, which doesn’t allow the lighting to pass around you and easily reach the ground if struck.
• Winds above 60 mph can cause damage to your RV.
• If you have time, put your slides and awing in.
• If you can, it’s best to have the truck/RV with the front or back facing the wind.
• If it starts to hail, stay inside.
• If there is a tornado, evacuate your RV and seek shelter in the closest secure structure.
If on the road:
• When a bad storm hits while you are driving, safely pull over. Keep your seatbelt on and lower your head below the level of the window. If you can, cover your head with a blanket or hands.
• If it starts hailing and the hail is bigger than a dime, try to pull over under a bridge or canopy to prevent windshield breakage and damage to your truck and RV.
• The opposite is true if it’s really windy out. You do not want to be parked under a bridge because the bridge creates a wind tunnel effect. Pull over the side of the road and if you can, have the front or back facing on your vehicle facing the wind.
• Flash floods do happen and do not attempt to cross a flooded road. Your vehicle can be sweep away and stall out.
• Be patient. With everything: driving, pulling into campsites, setting up, getting ready to leave, ect.
• One day something might not work and then the rest of the time it does. So just take it one day at a time and no getting frustrated. That will just make it worse.
• Get use to wearing comfy clothes
• Get a ladder and lock it up with a bike lock.
• Some days you will wake up and really have to think about what state you are in.
• Get used to being in different time zones and having family and friends always asking what time zone you are in.
• Enjoy the days of not doing yardwork and housework being quick!
• Get an air purifier. If you have a campfire or grill going or your neighbors do, this will eliminate the smell in your RV.
• Have a bike. It will come in handy for short errands and some campgrounds are that big where you want to be able to ride your bike to get to certain areas.
• Get an e-reader. There are no mobile libraries but you can download books from your library onto your e-reader.
• You will become social. Other RV’ers love talking to newbies or just talking to others about RV’ing. RV’ers love to swap stories, offer a helpful hand, and give tips. The RV life is its own little community!