"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Jul 9, 2017

RV'ing for Dummies

I’ve been living in an RV full time since 2010 (for economy, at first), and while I don’t claim to be an expert in this wide-open field, I would like to offer a few tips which may not have been covered in other’s pieces.  So here are my Top Ten Tips for First Time RV'ers, in no particular order, except for the first:

1.  DON”T BE SCARED. You’re bigger than most vehicles on the road; and while your driving skills may not be great at first, just remember:  no one wants a run-in between their shiny Beemer and 30 feet of rolling vacation with Scooby Doo at the wheel. Let them honk; just look out for the semis.

2. GET BIGGER SIDE MIRRORS on your towing vehicle if you need. I suspect most motor homes come equipped, but still I added an additional slip-on mirror on the passenger side, pointing it down to where I can see my right rear tire, more or less.

3. WALK AROUND YOUR RIG before you take off, from anywhere. A cabinet door may have come loose or you forgot to lock it,  or if you’re like me you lay a tool on the bumper, forget to pick up the step or chocks, or almost take off with the gasoline hose still attached.  Happens all the time, which is why you’ll see reminders as you leave many RV parks. Oh, I don’t use it, but TV antennas are another biggie to forget. Take a quick peek underneath, too, so you don’t run over someone’s cat, or worse.

4. TIE DOWN YOUR AWNING!  They’re a small fortune to replace. A sudden gust of wind can strip it right off the track, along with the arms and maybe damage the rig itself. I used those red straps with the big black hooks at the ends, which are adjustable with a metal thingy. Sure, it’s called something, but not everyone knows that word (rachet tie-down straps). In between the arm and the awning is a small gap where I usually hooked mine, and I’d anchor it by using those dog tie-things which screw into the ground, or anything within reach which won’t easily move. That’s where the adjustable part comes in handy.

5. STORAGE space is at a premium, and I’ve found wonderful solutions while scrounging at various Goodwills. Any second-hand shop should do; I’m just a Goodwill gal. I stuff extra comforters and such into king-size shams and use them as bolsters. Silverware drawers are notoriously awful in size, so mine hangs in a wire planter (with something solid on the bottom, of course). I hang things all over (look for baskets and macramé hangers), using oversized cup hooks. Ahhh…over-the-door hangers are excellent solutions for coats, towels and purses. Think outside the box.

6. INSULATION.  Heat and cold are real problems, since RVs are not known for their insulation. I’m currently watching my neighbors struggling with keeping their RVs cool inside during this Austin hundred-and-upwards weather, so I’m telling everyone about the fabulous insulating fabric I found at JoAnn’s called Warm Windows. It is available elsewhere online. It has two layers of batting with a silver sheet between and a lining fabric on one side, all quilted together. Attach your fabric to the other side and voila. It’s spendy…about $30 a yard, so wait until they have their 50% or more coupons (it happens to be onsale now). I picked up a couple of yards at a time and used every scrap:not only for insulating the windows, but I’ve take my staple gun and tacked it inside my cabinets, closets, even on my ceiling. Reduces the temperature at least 10%, no kidding.  You don’t need to know how to sew; just cut off what you need and get it up any way you can.

Before I discovered the fabric I was snatching all the thickly-padded crib bumpers I could find from GW and using the perfectly-sized pieces everywhere, even on the walls, which I then covered with discount decorator fabric. Again, using the staple gun.  I use them still, as inside this bath cabinet. Start working little by little if necessary…remember, this will all help in the wintertime.

7.  DON’T FORCE THE ISSUE.  This sounds dumb perhaps, but be aware of the height of your rig and try to stay away from the sides of tunnels and fast food drive-thrus. If you suddenly stop moving while parking, do not go for the little UMPFs like you would in your car. Stop, get out and LOOK.  That’s when you’ll discover you’ve driven up onto a stump (read more in STUMPED.) My back wall has separated a bit as a result, which I’ve fixed with little clamps and Duck Tape. Never forget the Duck Tape.

8. TIE THINGS DOWN! Bungee cords keep my cabinets closed, my TV from flying around, and the ice chest from tipping over. The last thing you want to hear (or imagine) traveling a hairpin curve are all your belongings being tossed about.  Not pleasant to see after a long day’s drive.

9. EMPTYING THE TANKS.  I know, I know, the thought makes you want to vomit, like I did the other day while discovering one of BC’s poo bags wasn’t really sealed at the bottom. If you’re heading out and have not yet experimented with this process, I highly recommend you practice out of sight of other RV’ers, who enjoy nothing more than watching newbies arrive and set up during Happy Hour.

Let’s see…when you’ve got full hookups, keep your black water (toilet) valve closed until it’s time to empty, but you can keep your grey (shower, sinks) valve open if you want. When it’s time to empty the black tank close the grey valve, run the water to fill that tank, and then it’s time for the part we ALL hate, dumping. But like anything else it gets easier the more you do it. Get yourself a box of cheap disposable gloves.

Do yourself a favor and first quickly open and close the grey valve, just to make certain you’ve got a good seal between the sewar hose and your rig. If it leaks, it’s better to find out with grey water than black. Sometimes you just need a quick re-twist, since those plastic parts can be tough to turn.

Pick up some RV toilet treatment (they also have grey water treatments). It comes in a liquid form or little packets like laundry detergent. Pour some in with water after you’ve emptied the tanks, so any leftover (and future) crud in the tank doesn’t permanently stick, ugh. It’s biodegradable, helps break down waste and keeps the odor down, although in really warm weather you might need to add more. A 32 oz container costs about 5 bucks, which you can find at Walmart, along with other RV supplies. 

Walmarts allow overnight parking in many locations, hoping you'll spend some money. I gave them loads of business when I drove across the country last year, but I got lazy in asking for permission and was asked to leave at 8:30 pm at one location in Pennsylvania. The security guard was very apologetic, but it was my fault for not asking first and it was the last time I did that. It’s a privilege, not a right.

To Flush or not to Flush.  Not a pleasant topic, but must be addressed. Many countries, many boaters and many RV’ers do not throw their paper down the toilet but use plastic bags in a separate, sealed container. In other countries it is because of the old plumbing, but in RVs and boats it’s a pain in the como-se-llama when you’ve got things clogged up with paper, and some folks use gobs. Sure there are specialty toilet papers, but just keep this tip in the back of your mind. There are more non-flusher's out there than you might think. When you've got all the conveniences of home it's one thing, but when you're boondocking or have a bunch of kids visiting, be forewarned.

Even if you SWEAR you won’t be using the onboard potty, unless you’re also not using any sink you will HAVE to hook up the sewar line to a disposal station to empty your grey water tank. Might as well go ahead and take care of business in the privacy of your home and enjoy life a bit more.  Besides, if you’ve got a husband or lover, he’s likely the one who’ll be doing the work while you FIND OTHER THINGS TO DO!!!

Dump Stations (charming term) can be found in more places than you think. Search online, no joke. Campgrounds usually have one in addition to individual spaces, since not everyone pays for full hookups. RV parks will usually let you use theirs for a fee, which can be anywhere from $10 to $20,which I paid at a fairgrounds in San Jose. Depending on what part of the country you’re in, some Interstate rest areas have dump stations, usually on the way out. Keep an eye out for little highway signs picturing a travel trailer icon with a solid line pointing downwards. Some gas stations have them; Flying J and other truck stops often have something, again for a fee.  But when ya gotta dump, ya  gotta dump.

Again, take my advice and before you hit the road practice at least one time yanking the hose out of the bumper, hooking it up to your rig, and then putting it back into the bumper. I usually put the end with the ground connector in first, and slowly but surely push the hose inside. The large part with the big plastic end may have to be twisted sligtly in order for it to fit inside the square opening. It'll work; don't get angry. Make sure you own the separate part which connects to the ground end of the hose.  It looks like a large, grey plastic funnel, and it provides a better seal (not every 'dump hole' is equal).  It’s not expensive and you might need to buy it in a kit, but you should be able to find that in Walmart, too. I’m not getting anything from Walmart…I just have found them to be often the cheapest and most convenient store on the road.

10. DON’T RUN ON EMPTY!  Imagine my heart when I looked down at my gauge. When traveling I try to fill up at half a tank, because if you pass up one place looking for cheaper prices or you're "Not in the mood now,", you might not get another chance. It may look like you've got over a quarter tank, but one steep hill and you're running on fumes. Of course, if you’re used to using your phone for information none of this may be an issue. But computers aren't always right, and when you’re driving something difficult to turn around, you don’t really want to take chances. I’ve heard many stories of RV'ers being sent down dirt roads by their GPS. That's how I crunched my back into a Taco Bell sign, trying to turn around after relying on false, electronic information.

11. BONUS TIP:  MAKE SURE YOUR FAUCETS ARE TURNED OFF before you turn on city water.  Did that, too. It’s embarrassing to throw wet rugs and towels out the door when you first arrive.  And speaking of H2O, check the local water (taste it) before filling your tank, especially if you're just passing through. Some places are really awful but fine for washing dishes. I was really glad I did in Wyoming. You might wait and fill up elsewhere, which is why I never leave without at least several gallons of decent water in the tank. I’ll pick up a couple of gallon jugs for drinking and keep them in the shower, secured. But my shower is usually full of stuff anyway.

I’m sure there’s more, so I’ll start another list.  Finally, a co-pilot with hands, capable of speech, might be handy.

Happy Trails to You!!

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