There are few things more freeing and exciting than hitting the open road. My husband, Brian, and I had always dreamed of going on a weeks long road trip around the United States to visit some of our country’s beautiful national parks. In October 2019, we were finally able to make that dream a reality. I would consider Brian and I fortunate enough to be very well traveled, both domestically and internationally. But, we both agree that our RV road trip is among our top three favorite trips we’ve ever taken. The entire experience was so unique and gave me such a deeper appreciation for the breathtaking beauty we have right in our own backyard. I feel even deeper in love with nature and realized how much more I want to plan trips that involve exploring the U.S.
But, if you’re new to RV living, it can feel simultaneously daunting and exciting. There’s so much to plan for and think about, but once you’ve got it down, you’ll see how liberating it feels to be untethered. Need to leave? Just close the door and drive off!
Here are some tips to help you RV life like a pro.
Rent A Class C or B RV
Unless you’re very experienced with driving oversized vehicles, I would strongly recommend you don’t book a Class A RV. Class B RVs are essentially sleeper vans or camper vans. Class B RVs will likely feel the most similar and comfortable to driving a regular car. Class C motorhomes are built on a truck or van chassis so they are bit larger, but still won’t feel so far from driving a car. Class C RVs range in length from 23ft-36ft which is plenty of space for up to four adults. Class A RVs are the big bus style RVs and while it may be tempting to book a Class A since it’ll come with much more space and amenities, it’s MUCH more difficult and daunting to drive.
You’ll also want to keep in mind the maximum vehicle length when it comes to booking campgrounds at state or national parks. Most campgrounds inside the parks only allow vehicles up to 28ft or so. So if you want to camp in the park, you’ll definitely want to book a Class C or smaller.
This RV Share blog post does a good job explaining the different types of RV classes.
Buy RV Insurance
Most RV rental companies won’t let you make a reservation unless your auto insurance covers RVs. However, most regular insurance companies DON’T cover RVs, so you’ll likely need to take our a second policy to cover your trip. Brian and I bought AAA RV insurance for the month prior and during our trip and cancelled it as soon as our RV trip was over. Beyond the rental requirements, we also felt good knowing that in case anything were to happen while on the road, we could receive roadside assistance or were covered. RV insurance is an especially good idea if you’re inexperienced with driving oversized vehicles. Unfortunately, RV accidents and mishaps by inexperienced RVers are all too common.
Create A Detailed Packing List
One thing I underestimated was how extensive the packing process would need to be for our RV trip. You’ll not only need to plan to pack clothing for varying climates (depending on your route/time of year), you also need to plan for the fact that you’re basically going to be living out of your RV for weeks on end. There are a lot of things that are easy to overlook, such as a trash can, paper towels, cleaning supplies, etc. Our RV came completely empty so we had to equip the RV from scratch.
To help you out, I created this easy to follow RV packing list.
Plan & Prep for Easy RV Meals
With a little thought and preparation you can eat healthy and well while on the road. I did things like batch make green smoothies and overnight oats in mason jars, so when it came time to eat breakfast, all I had to do was grab a jar and go versus going through the time and effort of blending a smoothie (a blender might drain your electricity anyways). For lunch and dinner, we would make veggie wraps, soups, grain bowls, and the like. Also, don’t forget to take lots of healthy snacks, dips, fruits, etc. You can also take travel-sized versions of your favorite collagen, greens or protein powders, but honestly, we had the space, so I took my full containers.
Book Campgrounds In Advance
This tip is a bit more based on your travel style, but I prefer to book campgrounds in advance. There are a few reasons for this. First, I wanted to make sure we could stay inside all of the national parks versus in RV parks located outside the entrances to the park. It made getting around MUCH easier, especially in a large vehicle and it meant we could spend more time enjoying the outdoors versus commuting in and out of the park. And depending on the time of year you will be road tripping, park campgrounds may be fully booked out unless you planned in advance. Second, depending on the size of your RV there may be limited campground sites you can actually fit in. Third, I wanted to make sure we weren’t super close to our neighbors and would have some space around our site for Brady to play fetch.
Download Offline Maps
As you travel from park to park or through random stretches of America, you will notice that your cell service completely drops out for some time. If you’re relying on Google Maps to navigate you, this can be problematic. Before you start your trip, make sure you download offline maps from Google Maps so regardless of reception, you can be navigated to your destination.
Consider A Cell Booster If You’re Working On The Road
WiFi and strong cell reception was a huge struggle while on the road. I wanted to challenge myself to experience what a truly on the road lifestyle might look like, and wow did getting on the internet really challenge me. Your phone may say you have LTE, but all LTE connections are not created equal. If you really need to get some work done while on the road a cell booster might save you a ton of headache. There were so many times when the connection would be fine if it just had a littleeeee more juice behind it.
Consider Buying An American The Beautiful Pass
If you’re planning on hitting up some national parks, you’ll save a ton of money on entrance fees by purchasing the America The Beautiful Pass. It costs $80 and gives you unlimited entry to all the listed parks for one year after you purchase it. You can also buy it online or in-store at REI. Plus, most of the time, park pass holders were able to enter the park through expedited lines.
Be Mindful Of Managing Your Resources
If you’re doing RV life for the first time, one of the most overwhelming things to learn is how to manage your resources and to understand what power sources equip the items inside your RV. Each RV may be slightly different, but essentially, you’ll want to pay attention to your water, propane and gas levels.
Your water tank will be used for things like showering, sinks and flushing the toilet. Dirty water from the shower and sinks goes into what’s called a gray tank. Dirty water and waste from your toilet goes into a black tank. As your clean water tank empties, your gray and black water tanks will proportionately fill up. You’ll want to keep an eye on these tanks so you don’t run out of water and so you don’t accidentally overfill your dirty water tanks, which can result in used water coming back up through the shower or sink.
Your propane will likely be used for powering your fridge (which should stay on full time) and heat inside the cabin. It’s a bit more difficult to run through propane, but if you’re in a cold climate and running the heat a lot, you’ll want to keep an eye on your RV’s propane levels.
Lastly, your gas will power your vehicle, your stove and your RV’s generator. Your generator is what provides your RV with electricity, so you can do things like use the microwave, charge devices, blow dry your hair, etc. Most campgrounds have specific generator hours, so if you need to charge your phone or laptop, you’ll want to plan to do so within the set hours.
While on the road, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can drain your resources if you aren’t mindful about conserving water and power. Make sure not to leave the water running and turn off lights that aren’t needed. We even brought a high-quality flashlight, lantern, or floodlight so when we were running low on gas for the generator or were outside generator hours, we could still have light.
Plan For Days Off Hook-Ups
In a similar stroke to managing your resources, you’ll want to make sure you plan ahead for the days where you will be off hook-ups, which will likely be a lot of days if you plan to camp inside the national parks. Unless you’re going to a full RV park, most campgrounds won’t have full hook-ups. You may be wondering what does a hook-up even mean? Well, hook-ups are hoses that allow you to basically have unlimited water, electricity and waste removal. When you go from a site without hook-ups to one with hook-ups, life can feel pretty luxurious. But, most park campgrounds will only have dump and fill sites. Meaning, that by driving up to the dump/fill site, you can fill your RV with potable water and dump gray and black water. But, while at your campsite you won’t have a direct line into these resources.
Bring A Scented Candle
This may seem like a random tip, but we ended up being SO thankful we brought a scented candle. Beyond creating a vibe and providing additional light, the scented candle helped eliminate or combat any “food” smells that lingered inside the RV. It’s tight quarters inside an RV and your living, sleeping and cooking space are all on top of each other. So, it can be a bit unpleasant to go to bed if your bedroom smells like your kitchen. I like my home to smell fresh and bright, so we took a “fluffy towels” scented candle.
Use A Blanket To Divide The Cab + Living Space
If your RV is updated, it may come with a curtain that divides the front cab (where you drive) from the living space inside the RV. Our RV did not have a curtain, so we made sure to take a fleece blanket to create this divide. The blanket helped to provide additional privacy, barring people from looking inside our RV from the front windows. But, it also helped us have better climate control. While the living space inside the RV will likely be insulated, the cab is not at all. Even if we didn’t require the privacy, we’d still drape the blanket between the cab and living space to either keep the living space cooler or warmer. The difference this simple hack made was pretty astounding. Not to mention, it will help you converse resources.
Boil A Pot Of Water To Humidify The Air
Many of the destinations you may travel to on your trip may be dry due to climate or elevation. We have a small, digital battery powered thermometer that we took with us and throughout a good portion of our trip, the indoor humidity would read in the 30s! By simply boiling a pot of water on the stove you can easily add some moisture back into the air. This trick works pretty well especially since the square footage inside an RV is so small. Raising the indoor humidity levels will make living inside your RV much more comfortable.
Don’t Forget A Broom & Swiffer
If you’ve opted in to RV life, chances are you’re a huge fan of the outdoors and will be spending lots of time outside on dusty, sandy trails. You’ll be shocked at how quickly the floor of your RV can get dirty. I was SO thankful we had a broom and swiffer with us so every day or so I could quickly sweep up the floor. This is a personal opinion, but since you’ll be living in such a small space, keeping that space clean and organized becomes even more imperative to living comfortably and happily.
Pack RV Slippers
Similarly to the above tip, having a pair of indoor shoes or RV slippers will not only help you feel more settled into your space, it will also help reduce dirt and debris from littering the inside of your RV since you won’t be stomping your hiking boots all over the place. Plus, it felt really cozy most mornings to roll out of bed, slide on my slippers, make a coffee and watch the sunrise over whatever magnificent park we were at that day.
Add A Touch Of Home
The last and final tip: add touches of home to your space. When we first picked up our RV rental, we were pretty upset with how barren and cold it felt. But, after packing it up with our things and adding a few touches from home, it transformed into OUR space. In reality, a rental RV won’t be as nice or luxurious as all the trendy tiny homes you see online, but you can help it feel more like your space and not a boring, lifeless rental with some small additions. I took our entire bedding set, including throw pillows, some small plants and some wall decorations like a dreamcatcher to add some charm to our space.
Take a tour of our RV and videos from RV living on my Instagram stories.