Things I Wish I Knew Before I Took My First RV Trip

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A pandemic vacation story: My family decided to try a trip in an RV. I wish I'd read this story about how to prepare for an RV trip before we left.

Because the pandemic negated our typical vacation ideas, my family needed a new way to get away. GoRVing.com reached out and offered to loan us a 25-foot travel trailer, and I borrowed a 2021 Ram 1500 pickup truck from Ram Trucks to tow it. We headed south to St. Augustine, Florida over the winter holidays, hoping to soak up some sun before settling into a dreary Ohio winter.

I’d never spent any real time in an RV before this trip, so to say we learned a few things about ourselves and the RV lifestyle is an understatement.

Give Yourself Time to Learn the RV and Be Comfortable at the Wheel

The loaner RV arrived the morning we were set to leave Ohio, so we hurriedly packed everything we thought we needed into every hidden RV cabinet for the trip. Clothes for an entire week, food, paper plates, cookware, towels and toiletries all wedged into closets tucked throughout. We rushed so we could hop in the truck and go when my oldest finished her last Zoom class before the semester break.

Don’t Overpack

In hindsight, I should have spent an extra day packing the RV instead of rushing. We’re so used to suitcases for travel that without constraints, we tossed too much extra clothing into disorganized closets. Also, we overpacked food and snacks, forgetting we’d be stopping frequently for fuel at truck stops that had plenty of great snacks. That’s part of the joy of travel — trying new things! Who can pass up boiled peanuts?

The extra food we’d packed took up the small RV kitchen counter space, making life throughout the rest of the week a game of Tetris as we moved stuff around to work.

Further, an extra day before leaving would have made me much more comfortable managing the travel trailer and truck combo. Instead, I got my first taste of maneuvering the trailer as I headed south onto the interstate. I didn’t quite feel comfortable behind the wheel until about a hundred miles into the trip, and never truly got the hang of reversing into a parking space or into our campsite.

Check Your Safety Equipment Regularly

One of the quickest ways to ruin a vacation is to never get there. RVs, by their nature, tend to sit around much more than the family car, so things like tires don’t accrue a lot of mileage. However, tires tend to lose air over time due to temperature fluctuations, so checking the tire pressure regularly is critical to ensure you and your family reach your campsite safely. It’s probably a good idea to check the pressures in your RV tires at every fuel stop.

Also, if you’re towing a travel trailer, inspect your hitch, check your trailer wiring for the lights and brakes, and check your safety chains to ensure you don’t lose the trailer while going down the road.

Don’t worry — I didn’t run into safety problems on my trip. I checked the tires and hitch at every fuel stop.

Allow Extra Time to Get There

When you’re towing a travel trailer with your personal vehicle, you’re adding thousands of pounds of extra weight. This, combined with the aerodynamic drag of the trailer itself, requires a lot more fuel. Keep in mind you’ll be stopping for fuel much more frequently than you would if you didn’t have a trailer.

In our case, the Ram 1500 truck would normally average close to 20 miles per gallon (MPG) while driving around the speed limit on the interstate. For our drive to and from Florida, the fuel economy ended up right around 9.8 MPG. That doubled the number of fuel stops we needed to make.

Emptying the Tanks Is No Big Deal

It happens. Don’t let the thought of dealing with sewage deter you from using the onboard plumbing. It smells a bit, of course, but it’s part of living on the road.

The campsite we stayed at had waste hookups at each parking space, alongside hookups for fresh water, electrical supply and cable television. A heavy pair of elbow-length rubber gloves made the waste dump simple. Just connect the included hose to the drain on the left side of the RV, connect the other side to the pipe in the ground, and pull the levers releasing the drains. In five minutes or so, close everything up and go wash your hands.

Expect to Perform Some Maintenance

Remember that any RV is a much more complex machine than a typical car. After all, it’s got the systems of a car and a home in one package. Bring a few tools with you to handle basic RV maintenance chores. I packed a hammer, a large pocketknife, a multitool and a large pair of pliers. I figured I’d need pliers if the large nut on the trailer hitch ball loosened.

We had a situation where the fresh water supply line feeding the back side of the toilet somehow worked loose over the drive. When we arrived in Florida we noticed water on the floor. When we hooked up the fresh water, it started spraying everywhere. No big deal — I grabbed the pliers, reconnected the water, then grabbed some towels.

Relax and Enjoy the Trip!

It’s a vacation! Enjoy yourself. Stop worrying about what you’ve packed and relax. Rather than spending every evening hunched over my laptop or staring at Netflix, I found myself sitting in a camp chair next to a fire, reading a book I’d wanted to finish for years. Each day, we found something new to do in our rolling home.

Chris Tonn
A lifelong Ohioan, Chris grew up around classic rusty sports cars from Japan and England. He's been covering the automotive industry for nearly 10 years, and is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). A family man, Chris drives a Chrysler minivan, and uses his rusty old Miata as a shelf, until the day it is uncovered as a priceless barn find.