Candid look at one first-time RV owner’s mistakes

Lindsay McKenzieOctober 30, 2022

Candid look at one first-time RV owner’s mistakes

RVing isn’t always smooth sailing, especially when you are a first-time RV owner, you’re going to make mistakes!

We had zero experience with RVs before purchasing our own and becoming full-timers. We thought we had researched everything, but still made some pretty dumb mistakes as first-time RVers. The good thing is, with a little research and planning ahead of time, you can avoid many of the issues we came across. I hope that sharing our experience helps you think ahead to avoid the bumps we encountered on the road. Whether you are planning to buy an RV or just rent one, follow the advice below and you’ll be a happy camper.

Here are four common RV mistakes to avoid on your road trip. You can thank us later!

Mistake #1: Forgetting Important Things on Travel Days

Checklist for RV travel days

We learned the hard way that we needed to create a checklist of steps that are required for preparing to move locations. There are more steps with a fifth-wheel or travel trailer than with a motorhome. But regardless of what rig you have, there are action items that can be very detrimental to you and your rig if you forget to do them before taking off. These steps may seem like “second nature” and steps that you can’t imagine forgetting, but you might be surprised how often you feel rushed or anxious on travel days.

It’s easy to feel a little flustered when you’re cleaning up, strapping down, packing up, planning your route, and getting directions, all while keeping an eye on the time to ensure you’re done by checkout time. We’ve learned that doing some tasks the night before is helpful. Get your tow vehicle or rig gassed up the night before, so you don’t have to worry about stopping right away. Maybe even clean and stow or strap down items the night before as well. Give yourself plenty of time too.

Your RV checklist should include things like:

  • Turn off the water pump and water heater
  • Put the stabilizer legs up (we’ve forgotten this step before!)
  • Close all the windows and vents
  • Check the brakes and turn signals
  • Check the tire pressure
  • Ensure that the tailgate is up (yep, we forgot this once, too!)

You can find these checklists online or create one yourself. But make sure you actually use it and double-check it. If you’re a couple, each person should ensure that every item is completed and checked off. Then, after you pull away from your spot, one person should walk around the site and ensure you didn’t leave anything behind. There also needs to be a checklist for when you arrive at your new destination. We’ve had our fair share of those RV mistakes as well.

Mistake #2: Not Fully Understanding What You Need in the RV

We don’t necessarily regret purchasing our first RV, but we wish we would have been a little more informed and prepared. It’s so important to understand what needs you have in an RV. Think about your lifestyle and make sure that the RV you purchase fits that. We were limited in our ability to dry camp, or “boondock”, because we didn’t give any thought to certain features of our fifth wheel, such as holding tanks. To read more tips for purchasing the right RV, click here.

Need some help with a checklist?

Here’s what you’ll usually need in your RV from a general safety and preparedness standpoint.

And don’t forget the RV kitchen stuff:

Fifth Wheel

Mistake #3: Trusting Google Maps and Not Validating Your Route

Spoiler alert: All Stays app is the way to go.

Many of us have become accustomed to using our cell phones for directions. And because of that, we often don’t put much thought into the route that it suggests. We’ll simply type in the address and head out, usually without double-checking. You absolutely cannot do this with an RV. Our general thought was, “as long as we’re on highways, we’ll be good…truckers take those roads!”. But that’s not always the case, and it’s the roads leading to and from highways that you need to be extra careful of.

We got ourselves into a pretty stressful situation following Siri’s directions. While leaving Sedona, AZ, we were routed to a highway that went straight through a mountain. The roads were some of the windiest and narrowest that we had ever seen. On top of that, there were many low-hanging trees that were hitting the roof of our fifth wheel. It was in that moment that we realized we need to be more hands-on with our route planning.

Google Map RV navigation mistakes
This was the winding road Google maps led us too!

We’ve come across many low-clearance bridges and tunnels as well as roads that suddenly have weight limits with no warning. To avoid getting yourself into a dangerous situation, we suggest purchasing an RV specific GPS. You can also find apps that offer maps with clearly marked areas that have low clearance or weight restrictions. We’ve gotten in the habit of checking every road we will be taking ahead of time. We mainly use the All Stays app for this.

Mistake #4: Skipping the Practice Run Before Full-Timing

Our first time RVing was the very same day we hit the road full-time. We were fairly nervous and had just planned to “learn as we go”. Needless to say, our first day was memorable… and not in a good way. We made simple, careless RV mistakes just because of our lack of experience and the anxiety that came with that. We regretted not doing a trial run, even just for a quick overnight camping trip not far from home.

Fifth wheel towing practice
The only thing we did was practice backing up in a parking lot one evening!

If we’d gone for a practice run, we truly believe our first-day RV mistakes wouldn’t have happened. We would’ve learned then that we needed a checklist and could’ve avoided careless errors. We also could have practiced our roles and our communication for parking. It’s really no different than playing a sport— there’s way less pressure at practice than on game day! Overall, it would have greatly increased our confidence and eased our nerves a bit. So, if you aren’t an experienced RVer, do yourself a favor and give yourself some practice time.

One of the best ways to do this is by taking a short road trip with a rental RV! Especially if you plan on going long-term RVing, it’s a good idea to use rentals to learn the ropes and what you like and dislike in an RV.

Rear view mirror RV
Despite all these “dumb RV mistakes” we haven’t looked back once! We wouldn’t trade RV life for anything!

Mistake #5: Going Too Far and Too Fast

RVing is not just about the destination. It’s also about enjoying your time on the road. Going too far in one day of driving can not only leave you exhausted, but it’s also dangerous. It’s always better to break your journey down into manageable chunks and rest when you need to. Similarly, don’t try to put the pedal to the metal in your RV. Take it slow and keep it safe. Driving at higher-than-intended speeds trying to race to your destination can cause unsafe conditions like trailer sway.

Plus, you may miss the exit to see the World’s Second Largest Rocking Chair! Taking things slow allow you to enjoy your surroundings and arrive in one piece.

Try It For Yourself

I really hope this post gives you practical tips for avoiding careless and dumb mistakes during your upcoming RV travels. Now go make that checklist, buy an RV-specific GPS, and schedule in some practice before your maiden voyage!  

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Lindsay McKenzie, Outdoorsy Author

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