Mistakes Rookies RVers Make

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Disclaimer: BC Ferries and Camping and RV in BC sponsored our travels.

With a week of RV camping behind me, I realize there’s still loads I don’t know about traveling by RV. I had wrongly assumed that because I have been a seasoned camper for many years, I would take to RV life as though it was a natural next step. Not so! It turns out there’s lots to know about camping in the big rigs, practical information that this inherently practical traveler had no idea about. And just so you don’t think I’m beating myself up, my travel companions made some of the same false assumptions too. Our mistakes, your lessons. Here’s what we’ll do next time we find ourselves traveling in a home on wheels:

Get the right rig for the route. At 32 feet, the Winnebago we drove was just too much RV for our destination — the southern Gulf Islands of BC. The narrow roads and tiny villages were difficult to navigate — and if we wanted to stop, it was a challenge to park. Had we been on an open road expedition, the rig would have been great, but in our location, it was a bit of a bull in a china shop.

Have an escape pod. This could be just about any secondary means of transit, a bike, the bus, hitchhiking… but if you’ve got a big rig, you don’t want to use it for buzzing into town from the campsite. Choosing campgrounds that are easy walking distance from a bus stop, shopping, town, etc. is a good idea.

Make reservations: It’s a rare thing for a tent camper to be turned away from a campground — the national parks during high season might be the one exception. But the RV camper? That’s a different story. Your RV neighbors may have booked months in advance and they could be parked for a good long while. Save yourself time, fuel, and difficult turn arounds by calling ahead.

Stock up before camp. We blew by supermarkets with vast parking lots only to end up walking to disappointing minimarts later because we didn’t want to unplug everything just so we could get spaghetti. Parked and docked, we were like suburban teenagers without a car, on the prowl for beer on Friday night. We were resourceful enough in the kitchen to cobble dinner together out of what we had, but we’d have done better with more frequent stops to shop.

Make a budget. Is it possible that our rig got 2 miles to the gallon? Yes, it is! Wow, that’s some expense right there! Throw in 40 dollars a night for camping, the daily rental fee for the RV… I’d assumed that all those retirees were living large on minimal dollars but now that I’ve seen the costs involved, I realize that they’ve either hit it big or are living the dream of carrying around an awful lot of debt. RV travel is just not the same low cost option that tent camping is and as such, requires a different set of expectations when it comes to expenses.

Get the extra insurance. Okay, we did this and it was completely worth it. But consider — does your credit card insurance cover RVs? How about your own personal insurance? Don’t know? Me neither. Normally, I’m okay declining the additional coverage — I have full insurance and a credit card that covers rental cars. But an RV is a special case. You might check in with your insurance company before your trip and find out what’s covered or how much it costs to add coverage for the duration of your trip.

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13 thoughts on “Mistakes Rookies RVers Make

  1. Interesting insights, Pam. Over the past few years, we had looked at renting a motorhome and there was no way it was cheaper than our modest hotels with our decent-mileage minivan, even with restaurant meal costs figured in.

    This summer, we finally found an answer that works for us: a 1989 travel trailer that’s not beautiful but fits us all and is in decent shape. We already have the six-seat pickup truck for towing (our escape pod) AND we can fit the bikes in the back. And I suppose having a farmsite on which to store the thing in the winter helps as well.

    When we run the numbers, we estimate that we save $100/day over staying in hotels and eating out.

    What I didn’t realize, as we’ve never been campers before: the amount of time pre-trip that it takes for me to plan meals and to pack food and everything else we’ll need.

    Still, it’s been a nice compromise for us–enjoying more of the outdoors while keeping some of our creature comforts.

    I enjoyed reading about your trip!

  2. As many RV novices will attest, there’s a downside to taking the helm of a cumbersome, forty foot-long house with wheels. Your average Class A motorhome isn’t easy to drive or park, and with gas prices the way they are, the big guys aren’t much fun to feed, either. It’s almost enough to offset the cool stuff.That’s where the Winnebago View comes in. This modern, compact Class C RV combines a small footprint and good fuel economy with comfortable accommodations for four and reasonably comfortable driving dynamics. Could this be the best of both worlds?

  3. excellent advice, pam. i can’t imagine going somewhere in an RV. for one, the 2 miles/gallon thing. and, since i have disabilities, it is much easier to (at least in the US) know that there is the ada/accessible infrastructures.

    will you go again?

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  5. Good advice! Your post underscores why it is important to give RVing some thought before buying an RV. Renting one will give you some information about what you want and don’t want in an RV. Buying an inexpensive used RV is also a good idea until you know what you really want.

    If you are a backroads, camp-in-the-woods sort of person, a smaller RV like Nancy mentioned, could be better suited to your lifestyle. And, many RVs get better fuel mileage than 2 mpg!

    RVing can be a great lifestyle. There is a whole subculture on the lifestyle with lots of information for those thinking of venturing down the road in an RV.

    Jaimie Hall Bruzenak
    author of Support Your RV Lifestyle! and RV Traveling Tales: Women’s Journeys on the Open Road

  6. Wow, your insights are really interesting. We have done tent camping and RV camping and prefer the RV hands down. Yes, we get fewer mpg but using a truck and pulling a trailer makes the impact a little less (we get maybe 12-15 mpg as opposed to 22 mpg without the trailer). And I think the cost factor of camping really depends on where you are going. We have frequently paid under $20 for a state park campsite with water and electric. Private campgrounds are definitely a little more, but still come in at half the price of a hotel. So, compared to bare bones tent camping a private campground site will be more, but it’s still cheaper than a hotel.
    I think one area where we save the most is in food. We have the choice to pack food from home (for a weekend), buy local special ingredients (like seafood) at the grocery store and cook it up ourselves or go out to eat.
    It’s definitely a delicate balance and it takes a little practice to make it really cost effective. I think, as Linda pointed out, owning the RV (that you hopefully bought used for cheap) is the way to get the best bang for your buck.
    I hope you give RV camping another try. Maybe with a trailer next time. You might change your mind.

  7. @chris — the idea of pulling a trailer absolutely terrifies me. good lord, you have to back that thing up! yeesh. maybe it’s the way to go, I have no idea. i’m really happy with the small, self contained package and I remain convinced that what I want, more than ever, is a VW camper van with a popup roof.

  8. VW camper vans might be pretty cool. You might also look up Class B motorhomes – self contained but more like a van than a motorhome. Some of them have bathrooms (albeit very small) and queen sized beds. Our 17ft trailer was not so bad to back up. We just got a new one though – 27 feet and it is definitely going to take some practice. We’re planning to go to a big parking lot and set up some orange cones to work on it. Of course, there are also things called “pull-thru” sites in the meantime. We’ll be looking for those on our vacation next week for sure!
    We just love RVing so much, it’s hard to hear from someone who didn’t love it instantly. I want to think of every reason I can why it would be just right if you tried x, y or z.

  9. Hey all, Pam,
    RV’ing is an experience that can complete the soul! We have finally found the unit that fits our needs. It’s taken a few try’s but every one a new adventure in itself. And yes there were times when we asked each other “why are doing this? ” We love the outdoors, nature, wild life etc. yet we don’t want to be “naked and afraid” and we definitely don’t want to be hotelers. So the RV fits everything we need and want in a towable package. We get to see and do lots of things, we get to go places and visit nature, capture moments in time that will forever be a part of our life’s. Endless stories our kids will tell their kids. We’ve met wonderful people from all over the place and made lots of new friends. We’ve heard stories over the camp fires that will be remembered for ever. Like I said, it part of the soul.
    It started with sleeping bags on the dirt, then to an old pop up tent trailer, we jumped into a huge 35″ fifth wheel and over to a class C. Then we tried our share of travel trailers and at this point we decided a tag-a-long trailer is what makes the most sense for us. Of course there are pro’s and cons to a trailer, but definitely more pro’s. Now I can say we are “experienced RV’ers” we have a 30′ trailer with two slides. Big enough for the family to be comfortable yet still small enough to get into most parks. (Yea, some parks do not allow over a certain size, see size does matter) anyways, it takes trial and error to find the right on for you and your situation/s. RV’ing is not for everyone, (although, at times it seems that “everyone” is at the camp we are at) some of our best friends are completely discussed with just the thought of RV’ing and will not even consider 1 night in one.
    Try and try again! Read, scour the Internet for ideas, places to go, things to see. Read what others have found to be bad and good. Huge trip hear: Read the reviews! For goodness sake read the reviews!!! We have made that mistake! Don’t believe what the parks website tells you! Brief descriptions and picture can be way misleading. Pay attention to dates of the reviews. We made reservations at one place… Let’s just say, this place had it day a long time ago. Pond, more like a bird bath. Scenic views, yeah Maybe 30 years ago before the housing tracks went in next door. Lmao, that was a funny one.
    Well, I just wanted to comment and put out my .02$.
    Be safe, have fun, love every moment and make the best of what you’ve got. Oh yeah and make someone smile every chance you get! What go’s around, comes around!


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