Beginner’s guide to RVing: Everything you need to know
More than 10% of US households own an RV, and that number is growing quickly. In 2020, RV sales hit record highs as people searched for safe ways to travel and explore the great outdoors. 2021 looks poised to be an even bigger year for RVers, as demand always leads to innovation — and as more and more of us realize time in nature is always time well spent.
If you dream of joining this growing community, this lucky 10%, of climbing into a Winnebago and setting off on the great American RV road trip, this guide’s for you. From shopping smart to hitting the road, here’s where to begin.
Before you go
Choose the rig that’s right for you. Because RVs come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, it’s important to consider which type best fits your needs before you go shopping. The two basic categories are motorhomes and towables. A motorhome is its own drivable vehicle, with a cab up front and living quarters in the back. Towables get, well, towed, behind your truck or SUV.
Towables range from small pop-ups and truck campers to full-size travel trailers and fifth wheels, aka large trailers that anchor to a hitch in the bed of a truck. Generally, the larger the trailer, the more amenities it has. Big trailers often come outfitted with large beds, full-size appliances, and sometimes even more than one bathroom.
Motorhomes come in three varieties: Class A, B, and C. Class A motorhomes are big vehicles, built on a commercial bus or truck chassis. They’re roomy, usually include slide-outs for more space, and typically sleep anywhere from 2 to 10 people. A Class A can also tow a second vehicle (think: your car), which many RVers use to get around once their Class A is parked at basecamp.
Class B motorhomes resemble large vans. They often have a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living space that may double as the sleeping area, in a compact, easy-to-drive vehicle. The small footprint doesn’t make it any less comfortable: the top-selling camper van in North America, Winnebago’s Travato, comes standard with high-end fixtures and every accessory you might need in camp or on the road.
Class C motorhomes are the midpoint between Classes A and B. They’re slightly larger than a camper van, sometimes have slide-outs, and are capable of towing a small second vehicle. If all this sounds like a lot, check out Winnebago’s compare tool to see your options and how they differ.
Shop smart. Take your time choosing an RV. It’s a good idea to do some research online, visit dealers in your area, and attend RV shows, where you can get a feel for what’s new and exciting in the industry, plus tour a number of different models in person. You can also consider renting before you take the leap into ownership.
Practice makes perfect. Every RV is different, and there can be a lot of systems to get a handle on. This truth is constant: The campground isn’t the place to learn the ins and outs of your sewer and electric hookups or leveling jacks.
Before you head out on your first trip, practice setting up and breaking down in your driveway. Giving things a thorough once-over should help avoid most issues, but it’s still important to know what might cause problems and have the tools and know-how to fix it. Practice driving your RV, too. Make sure you’re comfortable making turns in all directions and backing up in tight spaces; that’ll be key when you get to the campground.
Planning is everything. Know your route, and make sure it’s safe for your RV. Failing to scope out low overpasses or tunnels ahead of time can be a recipe for disaster. While spontaneity is one of the biggest benefits of RV travel, you should choose a campground ahead of time whenever possible, and make a reservation. That part’s more important than ever, with camper numbers on the rise.
Mishaps happen, but maintenance can help. On any machine – RVs included – you have to expect that things will break. Tires go flat, radiators leak, and air filters get clogged. Make sure you know how to quickly change a tire, on either your RV or tow vehicle, and that you’ve got a reliable spare for both.
If you’re towing your RV, here are some basics: be sure your hitch pin is always in place, your breakaway chains secured and not dragging. It’s also a good idea to grease your axles and have the brakes serviced, especially before a long summer drive when things can really heat up.
Galveston, Texas. Just 90 minutes from downtown Houston, this barrier island city on Texas’s Gulf Coast is lined with RV resorts and state park campgrounds. The RV-friendly destination features countless trails and fishing holes and is one of the few places where you can nab an RV spot right on the beach.
Asheville, North Carolina. You’ll find mountain views and Southern hospitality when you camp in Asheville, a city surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Driving the winding mountain roads with your rig is worth it for all there is to do and see: kayak or raft the nearby rivers, tour the Biltmore Estate (America’s largest home, constructed by the Vanderbilt family in the 1890s), or visit Asheville’s famous breweries and cideries.
Sedona, Arizona. One of the most RV-friendly places in the country, Sedona fills up with campers fleeing colder weather during the winter months. All year long, it’s a city loaded with art, culture, great food, and more incredible hikes than you could possibly explore in a single trip. Plus, Sedona is a walking city, which is great for RVers. Park the rig, head downtown, and make a weekend of it.
Michigan. With more than 1,000 campgrounds statewide, welcoming everything from pop-ups to 50-footers, the entire state of Michigan is an RVer’s paradise. Borders on four of the Great Lakes mean there’s no shortage of boating, fishing, swimming, and waterfront camping. You can’t go wrong at Sleeping Bear Dunes or Pictured Rocks National Lakeshores. Plus, Isle Royale National Park, near the Canadian border, offers some of America’s best wilderness, and the RV campgrounds in nearby Copper Harbor are second to none.
Lake Placid, New York. The six million-acre Adirondack Park and its nearby towns, including Lake Placid, is the East Coast at its very best. There’s a reason it’s wildly popular with RVers: Campgrounds offer a basecamp for adventures that include hiking, skiing, paddling, fishing, or just about anything else you can dream up to do in the mountains.
Tips and tricks
Learn from other RVers. Especially in out-of-the-way spots, it can be hard to know the best places to camp and eat and the can’t-miss things to see — never mind the ins and outs of RVing there. Consider finding an RV mentor, following Facebook RV groups, or joining organizations like Winnebago’s WIT Club. RVers are a tight-knit, shared-interest community, meaning the assistance you need is typically just a forum question away.
Make your RV your “happy place.” Just because you’re on the road doesn’t mean you can’t be comfortable. One of the biggest benefits to traveling in an RV is you can have all the luxuries and amenities that make it feel like home. The more you personalize your RV — either with DIY renovations, décor, or custom fittings and fixtures — the more time you’ll want to spend in it.
Be a good campground neighbor. Keep in mind that RVs don’t have the sound insulation houses do. If you’ve got nearby neighbors, try to limit loud music and television, especially during campground quiet hours. Another neighborly kindness is to make sure outdoor lights, especially bright LEDs, are pointed at the ground or turned off when you go to bed. Campground neighbors can be a major wealth of knowledge, so be friendly!
Know when to embrace the unknown. The real beauty of RV travel is that it gives you the freedom to wander. While planning and preparation are key, it’s just as important to know when to toss the plans out the window and let the adventure unfold. And with an RV, that could be at any moment, because the open road will lead your home-away-from-home just about anywhere.