9 Essential Tips to Know Before Hitting the Road in Your RV

There are an estimated 56 million people planning to take an RV trip this summer and even more looking into the fall and winter for road travel. Many of them are new to RVing. "We've seen so many first-timers come into the market in the last year and a half," says Monika Geraci, spokesperson for the RV Industry Association. But the key to a successful start to RVing is preparation, including both practice and planning. No matter the model, driving an RV is different from a regular vehicle. And unlike pulling up to a hotel, there's more than unpacking that has to be done before settling in for the night. Avoid a frustrating experience and cruise the open road with confidence with these RV insights from the pros.

Courtesy of RVshare

1. Get Insurance

"Make sure you have insurance," says Maddi Bourgerie, spokesperson for RVshare. And it's not a suggestion. Insurance is required for RV usage, and traditional insurance doesn't cover it. Every state and insurance provider is different, and RV rentals have fine print to understand as well. Liability? Collision? Roadside assistance? Theft? Investigate the options and know what you're signing up for. "In case an accident happens, it's important that you're covered," Bourgerie says.

2. Practice Driving

If you're wondering about an RV license, don't worry—in almost every case, a special license or endorsement is not required. But just because you don't have to take a driving test, doesn't mean you shouldn't test yourself, says Paige Bouma, EVP at RV Trader. Whether it's your first time RVing or just your first time driving a particular model, she advises practicing before hitting the road so you are comfortable with key basics like stopping, parking, reversing, turning, and entering/exiting expressways. "It is very, very different from driving a car. I cannot stress this enough," Bouma says. The first day on the road should be short and close to home. If you're renting, consider getting the RV a day early to practice—Bouma doesn't recommend starting a trip the same day as it's picked up.

3. Understand the Equipment

"Familiarize yourself with the various options available when booking spots, as well as the terminology associated with RVing," says Bourgerie. "The difference between full hookups, partial hookups, and dry camping is essential!" Geraci recommends sites like Go RVing that offer videos, articles, and tool kits specifically for beginners to get acclimated and learn the lingo.

In addition to hookups, it's imperative to know the specs of the specific RV. For example, can your vehicle haul the weight of a trailer? Details like height, weight, and dimensions will be essential to know for scenarios like crossing bridges, fitting under overpasses, and finding parking—just ask Bouma, who tore off an air conditioner in a drive-thru on one of her first RV outings.

4. Plan Your Route

Weather conditions, terrain, road construction, and accidents can make RV travel more difficult, especially for a newbie. The best thing you can do is research the route ahead of time. Look for things like bridges, overpasses, and steep roads that the RV can't accommodate or that you are not comfortable driving. Geraci recommends checking out apps like TOGO RV, which can take into account your specific RV's characteristics to offer appropriate real-time navigation.

Bouma says it's equally important to identify good places to stop along the route. Rest stops often have RV parking, and Google Earth lets you look around restaurants, stores, and other attractions to help determine if you feel confident navigating the area. "I tell first-timers to watch truckers. Where are they parked? Where are they eating?" Bouma says. They're often a comfortable indicator that your RV can stop there, too.

5. Arrive Before Dark

Situating and hooking up your RV the first few times can be a challenge—and it's even harder if you're doing it in the dark. But you shouldn't rush to get somewhere during daylight, either. Bouma suggests what she calls the "rule of three": Do not travel more than about 300 miles each day and aim to arrive at your destination by 3 p.m. This allows you to stop and relax throughout the day but still get situated at camp in the daylight.

6. Prepare Your Pets

While taking time to familiarize yourself with the RV, do the same for your pets. "Know that this is going to be different for them, especially if you're going to be in an A-class and driving," says Bouma. Some RV parks do not allow pets, so be sure to confirm when booking. Bouma suggests packing copies of vaccination and health records, as some campgrounds require documentation. She also recommends a collar with a phone number to ensure you can be easily reached if your pet slips away.

7. Don't Overpack

With all the kitchen supplies, clothes, and gear, it's easy to overpack. "The less you have in the RV, the better," says Bouma. Packing fewer items not only prevents clutter in a small space, but a lighter unit also gets better gas mileage. However, don't forget the essentials. Whether traveling with kids, aging adults, or those with allergies, be sure to pack items you might need in a hurry, like thermometers, medications, bandages—even toilet paper! It can be more difficult to get to a store quickly when RVing.

8. Plan for Wi-Fi

If internet or cellular connections are important, make sure you'll be covered on the road and at camp. For starters, check your cell phone provider for coverage, especially if you'll be navigating unfamiliar areas. Campsites usually advertise if they offer Wi-Fi, but consider calling to find out which spots have better connectivity before booking. Geraci recommends checking online reviews, too, like you would a hotel. When going farther off the beaten path, or if you're working remotely and access is critical, think about purchasing Wi-Fi boosters or aftermarket products for your RV, says Geraci.

9. Be Flexible

It's generally recommended to book a trip in advance. In fact, you almost have to because both RV rentals and camping spots are in short supply thanks to increased popularity due to COVID-19. But part of the appeal of RVing is hitting the road when the travel bug bites. To accommodate that, Geraci recommends being flexible with your timing and overnight locales. "Weekends in the summer are peak times," says Geraci. "Going midweek there may be more options, and with remote work, we're seeing more travel flexibility."

Geraci says cancellations are common right now, so keep an eye out for openings at places that were previously booked. Also, look outside traditional campgrounds. Members of Harvest Hosts, for example, can stay at wineries, open-air museums, and other memorable locales, provided they stay without water, sewer, and electricity hook-ups.