100+ RV Camping and Towing Tips for Beginners
Here are over 100 of the best RV camping tips that we have used to make our trips safer, and more enjoyable.
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Should I get a membership or join an RV club?
If you are looking for ways to save money when camping a membership camping club might work well for you. If you are new to RVing I suggest taking a year or two before joining a club. That way you can decide what type of camping you like and where you want to stay. Some clubs and seasonal sites only allow you to stay at one campground while others have many locations across the country. A couple places to start are Thousand Trails, Travel Resorts of America, Passport America and Coast to Coast.
What should I do before my camping trip?
Use Checklists, checklists for packing, towing, breaking camp, the trip home and after you return home. Using a checklist will help make sure you have everything you need and ensure you arrive to your destination and back home safely.
If you are preparing for your first RV trip don’t go it alone. Most likely you have a friend of family member who has done it before. Ask them to join you. You will learn a few things, and have more fun knowing you have some help.
For anyone new to RV’ing or if you purchased a new camper. The first thing is would suggest is to take a shake down trip. A Shake down trip is a short trip close to home. Your shake down trip could be as close as camping for a night in your own driveway. This will allow you to find any problems with your RV while you are close to home.
When I make my reservations I always check out google maps satellite view. This allows you to get a much better idea of how the sites look. That way you can check for thinks like backwards sites (picnic table and fire ring on wrong side) or other things not shown on the campground map like a trail or sidewalk the runs thru your site.
Plan your Route. If you are new at driving a motorhome or pulling a travel trailer or 5th wheel you don’t want to be driving downtown in rush hour traffic. Look over your route and consider the time you will be near major cities and where you might need fuel.
What should I pack for my camping trip? RV packing tips beginners
Start packing early and place everything in a corner of a room in your house. As you think of items add them. This way you won’t be trying to remember everything at the last minute. Also, add items to your checklist so you remember them next time.
Pack items in to bins and storage containers. This will make it easier to load and unload for your RV. It will also help to keep items in place while you are traveling. A set or two of plastic drawers will fit in your RV’s closet and provide you with a lot of additional storage.
Pack for the weather. The forecast might say 85 degrees so I’m sure you will remember your shorts and swimsuit, but don’t forget a hoodie or jacket for sitting around the fire at night. On a cool evening some blankets can be enough to keep you warm without turning the furnace on too.
Pack heavy items down low in your RV, not in the upper cabinets. Items tend to shift while traveling and flying pot can do some serious damage.
If you have problems keeping your RV’s cabinet doors and drawers closed while traveling bungee cords can save the day.
If you are taking fishing poles with you PVC pipes make great carrying cases. The PVC pipes can be stored in a pass thru compartment, the bed of your truck, or you can mount them to the ladder on your RV.
Get a small tool kit to leave in your RV. Here are a few items you want to make sure you have. This isn’t a complete list, but it should get you out of most situations.
- A nice hammer you will use it a lot.
- A set of several sizes of Philips and flat screwdrivers
- Plyers, needle nose, channel lock, and vice grips
- Wire stripper/cutter, a few wire connectors
- A small and a large adjustable wrench.
- A socket set (not required, but useful if you have the room)
- A can of WD-40 can come in handy if you need to break loose a rusted bolt under your RV.
- Duct tape and electrical tape
- A can of Flex Seal (perfect for a temporary fix, on any leak)
What do I need to know when towing an RV?
This section highlights many towing tips for new RV owners, always remember that when towing safety should be your highest priority.
Tip to get you your destination safely
Check your tire pressure before every trip. Even better, get a tire pressure monitoring system. The wrong tire pressure can cause a decrease in fuel mileage. More importantly, knowing in advance that you have a problem can help you to prevent a blowout that could end up costing you thousands of dollars in repairs.
If your tires are getting old they should be replaced, dry rot will most likely cause your RV tires to fail well before the tread is gone. Manufacturers recommend replacing your tires every 5 to 7 years. If you want to find out how old your tires are check out this guide from Tire Rack on determining the age of a tire.
Never let your fuel get below ¼ tank. Unexpected traffic jams, rush hour traffic and long stretches between fuel stations can lead to unnecessary anxiety if you are running on fumes. Plus, if you start looking for fuel at ¼ tank you will have more chances to find a large station like a Pilot of Flying J that will be easier to get in and out of.
Make sure your tow vehicle and hitch are rated for the weight of the trailer. The trailer life magazine towing guide is a great resource to look up the limits of your vehicle.
If your RV is over 5,000 lbs then you should probably use a weight distributing hitch. Most weight distributing hitches also include sway control to help keep your trailer going straight down the road when you get passed by a semi or hit by a strong cross wind. Click here to learn more about weight distributing hitches.
Learn the features and function of your hitch. Whether you have a 5th wheel hitch or a weight distributing hitch, make sure you understand how it works before towing.
If you tow a 5th wheel, make sure your hitch is locked. Make this your last check every time you get in your truck.
Measure the height of your RV, write it down and keep it in your tow vehicle. Now you will know for sure if you will fit under that gas station canopy or below that low clearance bridge.
Leave more space between you and the next car when traveling down the road. Towing a heavy RV can more increase your stopping distance by 50 percent or more. Be safe and use the 6 second rule, when the vehicle ahead of you crosses an object keep a 6 second delay before you cross the same point.
If your RV has brakes make sure your tow vehicle has a brake controller. Without a brake controller your tow vehicle’s brakes will be doing all the stopping. A brake controller activates the trailer brakes lightening the load on the tow vehicle.
Load your RV evenly the tongue weight of your RV should be 10 to 15 percent of the total weight. Don’t load all you gear right up in the front or back of your RV otherwise you might end up with too much or too little tongue weight.
What equipment should I have for towing an RV?
Keep a 4-in-1 lug nut wrench in your RV. I had a blowout on one of my first trips and didn’t have the correct size wrench or socket to change the tire. I was close to home and was able to make it on 3 trailer tires going 20 mph, but you might have to unhook your RV or call for help if you can’t change the tire on the road.
If you tow vehicle does not have towing mirrors look into purchasing some mirror extensions, being able to see what is going on around you is well worth the small cost.
Know how to read a map. GPS is great, but if your battery dies, or your phone loses its signal an old fashioned map can save the day.
Download the area in google maps so if you lose cell service you won’t lose your map on your phone. If you don’t know how find out here.
Another great tool is the Gas Buddy app. This app will help you locate the lowest fuel prices in the area to save you some money.
Before You Tow Checklist
- Once you are hooked up and think you are ready to leave take one more walk around your rig to double check the following items:
- Hitch latch and secure
- RV lights working
- RV brakes working
- TV antenna and roof vents down
- Are all doors, windows and vents are closed on your RV
- Wheel chocks removed
- RV license plate on with current tags
A few more RV towing tips for new RV owners
Plan on bad gas mileage when towing. If your tow vehicle has a gasoline engine expect about ½ the range you usually get. If you have a diesel your mileage decrease will not be quite as drastic, but on long trips you should still plan more frequent stops for fuel.
Don’t travel with full tanks if possible. A full fresh water, black and gray tank can be several thousand pounds of additional weight on your RV and tow vehicle.
Get connected. If you need Wi-Fi access there are plenty of places to get connected for free. Libraries, travel plazas, McDonalds and Starbucks are a few spots you can get online.
How do you back a travel trailer into a camp site?
One tip to make backing a trailer easier is to place you hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. When backing up the direction you move your hand is the direction the back of the RV will go.
If you aren’t comfortable backing in, find a large empty parking lot and go practice. Don’t feel bad about practicing, it will make parking your rig at the campground a much more enjoyable experience.
Don’t be ashamed to pull forward and try again! Even the most experienced driver sometimes need to pull forward to get a better angle to back in.
Always use a spotter, and work out a system of hand signals to communicate.
Use a set of short range radios so you can easily communicate with your spotter. Trust me, yelling out the window at your wife when trying to back into your site is a perfect way to get your trip off to a bad start. The radios also come in handy for communicating around the campground, especially when you don’t have good cell phone coverage.
Have your spotter stand behind the RV where they can see the back and you can see them in your mirror to watch for hand signals
If you don’t have a spotter (or want to save your marriage) adding a backup camera to your RV makes life much easier. There are wired and wireless backup cameras available in a wide range of prices.
Step by step guide to backing up your RV
Whichever side of the road the spot is on drive along that side of the road as close as possible to the edge.
Once the middle of your RV is in line with the spot turn towards the other side of the road, this will start to angle the RV towards the spot.
When the RV is just past the spot you need to start backing up. When you begin backing up turn the wheel as far as possible toward the side of the road opposite the site.
After the RV is turning start turning the wheel back the other way adjusting to get in line with the site.
Check out this article for more tips and tricks to backing your travel trailer or 5th wheel.
Tips while at camp
What camping gear do I have to have?
A level and leveling blocks. Most of the time your site will not be level. When you back in lay the level across the counter or floor of your RV and check the slope. Then you will have to pull forward setup your leveling blocks and back on to them. Leveling blocks are easier to stack and store than carrying wood.
Comfortable chairs for around the camp fire, you will probably be in them a lot. If you have children get them a nice chair too, otherwise you will be fighting for the good ones. I love my Eureka Curvy chairs because they have side table for your food or drink, but find one that fits you.
Get a nice hatchet for splitting wood for your camp fire.
A couple of foldable tables are perfect around the campfire and for outdoor cooking.
Line your shelves and drawers with a non-slip shelf liner, this will help keep everything in place.
Tension curtain rods work great in the refrigerator and cupboards to hold things in place.
Spice racks can be used in the kitchen and bathroom to keep things organized and in place.
Small baskets also help keep things in place while traveling.
Use a filtering water pitcher like the Brita Slim Water Pitcher, campgrounds don’t always have the best water so for drinking or coffee you might want filtered water. The slim design fits in most RV refrigerator doors.
Don’t forget a bottle opener and cork screw for those adult beverages.
Pack a large flash light or battery powered lantern. If you are camping in a remote area you will appreciate having a powerful light at night.
Take a small first aid kit and a backpack. You never know when you might need a band-aid or some motrin and the backpack is great for taking so first aid supplies and water bottles when going on a hike.
What is the best non-essential camping gear?
If you want to make leveling even easier install stick on levels on the front and side of your RV. I had a set of the Hopkins Graduated Levels on my hybrid and it made leveling a breeze. They tell you exactly how much height is needed so you only need to set up your blocks once.
You might not think of packing a ladder, but a telescoping ladder can come in handy. After lifting my wife up on my shoulders to hang lights from the awning I decided we needed a ladder. A ladder will help at the end of your trip if you want to clean leaves and branches off the awning and slide toppers before closing everything up.
Slide toppers keep your slides clean and help keep debris from damaging your seals. If your RV didn’t come with slide toppers you might want to get some. If you are handy you can install them yourself over a weekend, or have your local RV dealer install them.
The crank that came with your RVs stabilizer jacks works great, but sockets are available that will fit your cordless drill and make raising and lowering the jacks a snap.
An oscillating fan. On a hot day, a fan setup next to your picnic table can make it much more enjoyable. Running the fan on low will also help keep mosquitos away.
If you want to enjoy the outdoors, but don’t enjoy mosquito bites a screened room is exactly what you need. Set it up over the picnic table and you have a great place for meals or sitting around playing cards in the evening. The room will also give you somewhere to get a break for the sun on a hot summer day.
Tips for setting up you camp site
Plan to get to your site well before sunset. Backing in your site and setting up can be difficult even in daylight, doing it at night is much harder. During business hours, many campground will show you to your site and help you. If you arrive late you might be on your own.
If you didn’t pick your site out ask what sites are available when you arrive and see if you can check them out. You might find that perfect site overlooking the lake is open.
When you park make sure your RV door is facing the picnic table.
When you park your RV check the location of the water, electric and sewer hookups. This way you can position your RV where all the lines will reach.
Before opening any slide-outs make sure all cabinet and room doors around the slide are closed. An open door can get caught by the moving slide and get ripped right off the hinges. I know one person who had this happen in their brand new 5th wheel.
Make your outdoor space work for you. You don’t what to spend your trip cleaning dirt and mud out of your RV, so setup a large RV patio mat near your door (some campgrounds no longer allow outdoor carpet because it will kill the grass, but many breathable options are available).
Pack a make-ahead or frozen meal for your first and last meals at camp. This way you can still enjoy a nice meal and not be too rushed. If you have a lot of activities planned, take a few more make-ahead meals for those busy days.
Pack decent quality utensils, but nothing too expensive. After a few trips things will come up missing. Also, don’t over pack, here is a list of the items you should have for each person.
Fork, spoon, knife, plate, bowl, cup and mug
You should also have a set of pots and pans and a basic set of cooking and serving utensils.
If you enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning a coffee pot is something you don’t want to forget. Depending on the type of camping you like to do, there are several different options.
Stock up on paper plates and disposable utensils. Not only will it help you to conserve water, but it will also make cleanup from meals quicker.
Speaking of trash, don’t forget plenty of trash bags.
Aluminum foil has many uses. You can wrap foods for cooking over the camp fire, or use it to store leftovers.
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There’s nothing like cooking over a campfire, some campgrounds have a grill grate built into the fire ring, others don’t. I like having my own, I love my Perfect Campfire Grill.
Don’t forget a set of hotdog / marshmallow forks.
Another campfire cooking necessity is a pie iron. I would suggest 1 per person. Here are a few of my favorite mountain pie recipes.
Don’t forget the S’mores ingredients.
Not every meal will be cooked over the camp fire, a propane grill, stove or combo unit will come in handy. Some RV’s are equipped with a port to connect a grill to your rigs propane tank(s). If you plan to go this route just make sure you choose a grill like the RV Sidekick that is designed to work with the low-pressure system on you RV.
A few more first time RV camping tips
If you run into a problem you can’t solve while camping try asking the people next to you. Campers are usually happy to lend a hand if they are able.
Unless it means to difference between keeping and losing your job, keep work at home. Keep the laptop off and let the emails wait until you are back in the office.
Remember to pack some games and other activities. Here are a few ideas to get you started
- Cornhole (bean bag toss)
- Football, or soccer ball
- Volleyball or basketball (most campgrounds have courts for both)
- Bicycle, skates or skateboard
- Squirt guns for hot days
- Rafts and beach blanket or towels
Avoid eating at restaurants. For short trips pack enough food for your stay. For longer trips pack enough for the first few days, and have a grocery list ready to use at a local grocery store or market.
On your way in to camp look for local farmer’s markets or roadside stands to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables later.
Pack a laundry bag or 2 for all your dirty clothes and use it. This way when you get home instead of searching for all your dirty laundry you can just take the bag into the laundry room and empty it out.
If you camp with your dog keep it on a leash any time it is outside your RV. Take them for walks every day and clean up after them. If you will be leaving your pet for the day make sure they have water and on hot days run the AC in your RV to keep them cool.
RV camping tips for wet weather conditions
Leave a deck of cards or a board game in the RV.
If you have small children their favorite movie can pass some time on a rainy day. Just remember you are camping to get out in nature so don’t spend too much time watching TV.
A couple tarps or a roll of painters plastic sheeting are great for covering your gear.
Keep a couple cheap ponchos in your RV in case you are setting up or taking down camp in the rain.
RV water hookup tips
Run some water out of the water hookup before connecting you drinking water hose. This way if the line hasn’t been used in a while any rust or sediment ends up on the ground instead of coming out our faucet.
Keep a spray bottle with a mixture of water and a cap full of bleach in your RV. Give the faucet a couple shots before connecting your hose, you never know someone could have just used that faucet to give their dog a drink.
Use an inline water regulator. The regulator will prevent your RV lines for being over pressurized causing damage to the lines and fixtures.
Many campgrounds have poor water quality as well. Using an inline filter will keep your water clean and safe. If you use a filter like the Camco PUR inline filter your water will be safe to drink and when it gets old you just throw it away and get a new one. Make sure to use a 90 degree elbow so the filter isn’t sticking straight out and putting extra stress on the RV connector.
Get a Water Bandit. The Water Bandit is a hose coupler that attaches to your hose and uses a rubber boot to connect hose bibs that have damaged threads.
Always have a 2-way water valve and second hose that is not white. You can connect the 2-way valve to campground water spigot and have one side for your fresh water hose and a second hose for flushing your black water tank or other uses. Having the second hose in another color makes it easy to avoid connecting your black water flush hose to your city water connection. I use a Pocket Hose, when it’s not in use it stores in ½ the space of a standard hose. The 2-way valve can also come in handy if you need to share a spigot with the site next to you.
RV electric hookup tips
Get an RV surge protector, power at campgrounds and RV parks can change quite a bit and could damage the electrical systems in your RV. Although they aren’t cheap they are worth the protection they provide.
Keep a set of fuses in your RV a blown fuse might take out your lights or furnace and ruin your trip. Make sure to check the type of fuses your RV uses, not all fuse boxes are the same.
RV sewer hookup tips
Make sure you have a sewer hose. I like the Rhino Flex lines, they stay collapsed when the full length isn’t needed and come with a built-in elbow and universal adapter that connects to most drains.
Get a sewer hose support, this will slope your sewer line to allow your hose to drain completely.
Don’t waste your money on expensive RV toilet paper. Scott 1000 single ply is cheaper and still safe for your holding tanks.
Double check the connection of your sewer hose before dumping the tanks. If not secured the hose could come loose and dump sewage in you compartment of all over your camp site.
Don’t leave your black and gray drain valves open all the time. This is most important for the black tank, you want the tank over ½ full before you dump so there is enough water to flush any solids out of the tank. You also want water in your gray tank to flush the sewer hose after dumping the black tank. Keep a pack of disposable rubber gloves and hand sanitizer in your RV. Use the gloves when at the dump station and then toss them out.
Tips to conserve propane
Conserve propane by switching on your electric water heater instead of propane. Just make sure to turn it off before you leave. If you plug your RV in with the tank empty and the electric heater on you will fry the element in a matter of seconds. If you need hot water quickly turn the propane and electric on for a faster recovery time. Another way to conserve propane is to limit the use of your furnace. Pack extra blankets at night, and if you have electric hookups use an electric space heater instead of the furnace to stay warm.
Getting ready to leave
Double check the connection of your sewer hose before opening the tank valve. I have a friend who filled the bottom of his motorhome compartment with sewage because the hose flew off when the valve was opened.
Make sure your awning is rolled up and secured. If your awning opens while traveling down the highway it will not only cause serious damage to your RV, but you might be the start of a multi-vehicle accident.
Use a checklist to do a final walk around the RV and campsite before you leave.
Boondocking (camping without water, electric and sewer hookups)
Here are a few camping tips to conserve water, electric. Look above for tips on conserving propane.
If you plan to do any boondocking you will want an inverter. The inverter will convert your 12V battery power to 120V AC power for your electronics. Many low-cost inverters are modified sine wave, they work fine for things like lights, hair dryers and microwaves, but for powering electronics you need a pure sine wave inverter.
Another tip for boondocking is to install a solar system and additional batteries. This will allow you to have power without needing to run a generator.
Depending on the size of your RV your onboard water tank may not hold enough for your entire stay. Taking a few fresh water containers and a small 12 volt pump will allow you to refill your tank when it gets low. I added an Andersen RV valve to my 5th wheel that allows me to fill my tank using the built in water pump and a hose connected to my city water port.
When camping without water and sewer conserving water is very important. Taking “Navy Showers” conserves a lot of water. Get wet then use that valve in your shower head to turn the water off, after you soap up turn the water on and rinse off. You might want to check out the shower house at the campground the facilities might be nicer than you think.
Another water conservation tip for washing dishes is to save them until you have a full load. Scrape as much as possible into the trash first, then fill a dish part way and put the dishes in with some soapy water and wipe them all. Then drain the dish pan outside and add some fresh water to rinse the dishes. Again, drain the rinse water outside. This will save fresh water and space in your gray water tank.
If you are taking a shower use a dish pan to catch the water while the shower is warming up, then you can use that water later to wash you dishes. This will not only conserve fresh water, but it will also save room in your gray tank. (this tip is courtesy of Nathan and Marissa at lessjunkmorejourney.com)
What should you do after you get back home for camping?
Once you get back home there are some simple things you can do to be ready for your next trip.
If you got caught in in rain while closing up camp open everything up to dry out as soon as possible. Bunks on a pop-up or hybrid and awnings will grow mold and mildew quickly if left wet. You should open up your slides or at least open some windows to get that moisture out of your RV. Remember to dry out your screen room or patio rug as well.
Take any bedding, dish rags and towels, or dirty dishes in as soon as you get home. Wash them and put them back in your RV so they are ready to go.
If you run out of any food or spices that you leave in your RV replace them on your next trip to the grocery store. Otherwise you might forget until you need it on your next trip.
After every trip give you RV a quick wash with an RV wash & wax cleaner. Make sure to spend some time cleaning all the bugs off the front, this will keep your front cap looking great for a long time.
Clean your roof at least a couple times a year. Use a cleaner made specifically for RV rubber roofs. This will help reduce streaking on your RV and you will see problems sooner.
Check you RV often for water leaks. Get up on the roof at least 4 times a year and check for any seals or caulk that looks cracked. You should keep a tube of Dicor handy to touch up these areas before they turn into a much larger problem. Water in the walls of your RV can cause the sides to delaminate or the floor or ceiling to rot. Stopping the water early can save thousands of dollars in repairs.
If you have a roof leak, but aren’t sure where it is coming from check around the air conditioner first. AC units on RVs are a common place for leaks to start.
Before winterizing your RV and putting it in storage give it a good cleaning. Wash and wax the outside. Inside sweep the carpets, mop the floors, wipe down all the countertops, cabinets and drawers. Take all your sheets, towels and laundry items out wash them and store them in space saver bags. A deep cleaning will not only leave your RV ready for next spring, but it should help keep rodents and insects out over the winter.
What is the most important thing to remember when camping?
Leave a bad attitude at home. We have all been there running around to get camp setup before the sun goes down. Rushing from place to place because we planned too many activities for our trip. Remember this is your time to relax and enjoy some time with your family. Don’t over book your activities and don’t get worked up over the little things. Make sure that when you look back you will remember the great times you had.
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