Ready to hit the road and live the RV life full-time? You’d better read this first.
If you’re considering the full-time RV lifestyle, then get ready to bookmark this page.
These are the 155 things we learned about RVing from years of planning and our first 6 months living on the road.
This list covers everything from buying the right RV to travel logistics and a whole lot more.
Let’s dive right in.
- Deciding To RV Full-Time
- RV Shopping
- Things To Buy
- Preparing To Hit The Road
- Driving Your RV
- Parking Overnight
- Living In Your RV
- Planning Amazing Stops
- Routine Maintenance
Deciding To RV Full-Time
Full-time RV living is a major lifestyle change. Why do you want to do it?
1. Why you want to do this: The freedom of full-time RV living is incredible, but it isn’t without its downsides: unpredictability, constant maintenance, confined living spaces, garbage disposal, and much more. Sometimes you’ll need to look back on the reasons you chose this lifestyle as motivation to keep going.
2. What you want to see: Do you prefer National Parks and wide-open spaces or bustling metropolitan downtowns? Will you be hanging out in cold-weather climates or chasing sunshine and warmth? Is the terrain mountainous or mostly flat? All of these questions play a huge role in deciding what type of RV you’ll need.
3. How far you want to travel: Lots of driving means lots of fuel and inflated costs. It’s also harder to get back “home” for important events.
4. How you’ll fund your adventure: Many full-timers we run into are retirees in massive Class A luxury land yachts who are cashing in a lifetime of hard work. Others, like us, are working-age professionals who need to make money while they travel. Make a budget for your expected monthly costs and figure out how you’ll make it work.
5. Plan ahead for weddings, birthdays, and other life events: Weddings are a wonderful occasion, but we have so many to go to! Seriously, we’ve been invited to five weddings in Massachusetts in 2020–one per month from April to August–and the logistics of traveling back to attend them all is mind-numbing (especially because we spend so much time west of the Rockies).
6. Figure out what you’re selling vs keeping: Less is more when you’re on the road. Anything you can either sell or put in storage will make your full-time lifestyle much easier.
7. Figure out your state of residence: There are tax and health insurance advantages to “residing” in certain states. Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming don’t hit you with state income tax. If you’re purchasing health insurance through the marketplace, some states have better coverage than others. It isn’t necessarily easy to declare residency in a new state, but (depending on your situation) it may be prudent.
8. Check your health insurance’s statement of benefits: Diving deeper into the above, make sure out-of-state visits to urgent care and the ER are at least partially covered. I had to get stitches in Utah and only had a $40 copay.
9. Set up a mail scanning and forwarding service: Getting mail on the road can be a pain. Look into services–we use Traveling Mailbox–that receive, scan, and upload PDFs of your mail so you can stay atop of bills, letters from Grandma, and (of course), Save The Dates for more upcoming weddings.
This is kind of an important step in the whole “full-time RV living” thing…
10. Figure out your budget and stick to it: Whether you’re paying in cash or financing your rig, figure out what you can afford and don’t go over. Especially if financing, don’t forget to include the cost of insurance, gas, and campground fees when deciding what you can afford each month.
11. Find an RV show in your area: There are a ton of different RV layouts. Even if you’re looking to buy used (which you should!) attend at least one RV show to walk through all kinds of RVs to get an idea of what you like. We were targeting 25′ or less and unsure whether a fifth wheel or travel trailer was better for us. Once at the RV Expo in Boston, we quickly realized we needed something a little longer and we loved the extra headspace a fifth wheel provides.
12. Visit as many dealerships as you can stomach: My masochistic brother-in-law loves going to car dealerships to battle wits with the salesmen. I hate it. Still, there’s a lot to be gained by walking around lot after lot of new and used RVs.
13. Estimate how much space you’ll need: RVs are mostly intelligently designed to make the most of the limited space, so living in a 250 square foot RV is a little different than living in a 250 square foot studio apartment. At the very least you need to know what kinds of spaces you’ll need, meaning how many workspaces, lounging spaces, shower/bathroom size, etc.
14. Max length: We were pretty adamant about buying something 30′ or less. The benefits of something longer (more living space) just didn’t outweigh the negatives (weight and general mobility). Is 30′ good for you? Maybe 20′ is your max?
15. Must-have features: What features do you absolutely need to have? And be honest about it! We decided that we needed sufficient counter space (we like to cook) and somewhere for both of us to work at the same time.
16. Nice-to-have features: An outdoor kitchen, an outdoor shower, and dining area chairs (instead of benches) were all on our nice-to-have list. We only got the outdoor shower and have been able to live without the others (though the outdoor kitchen would have been sick).
17. Tank size: Our plan was to boondock as much as possible. That means we wanted larger tanks to help sustain us between stops.
18. How you’ll explore new areas: When you get to a new area, you’re going to want to explore it. Unfortunately, pulling your 40′ motorcoach down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan isn’t exactly practical. Many full-timers tow a Jeep, Fiat, or other small car to get around. Some live in 20′ vans that can go anywhere they need. We detach our fifth wheel and take the truck.
19. Three-season or all-seasons: If you plan on spending any time in areas with sub-freezing temps, consider an all-season RV like an Arctic Fox. They have better insulation to help protect your RV (specifically your tanks and plumbing) in cold weather. Our Heartland North Trail is a three-season RV and not equipped for sub-freezing conditions, so we need to head south for the winter.
20. Slides or no slides: The general rule with RVs is that there’s always something to fix. Slide-outs are an incredible way to add extra living space, but they have two major downsides: they make it harder to use the RV when the slides aren’t out and they’re just one more thing that can break, leak, etc.
21. Gas or diesel: Whether we’re talking about a motorcoach or the truck used to pull your trailer, you’ll have to decide which type of engine you want. Diesel engines get better fuel economy, last forever, and have amazing torque, but they’re more expensive (both initial purchase and cost to maintain).
22. Type of RV: There are a lot of different types of RVs, each with their own pros and cons. First are the all-in-one Class A motorcoaches and smaller Class C motorhomes. Then there are the towable travel trailers, fifth wheels, toy haulers, and teardrop campers. Lastly are the Class B motorhomes, converted vans, and even converted school buses!
23. For towable trailers, make sure you have more than enough truck: This is all about safety, and there’s a lot more to know here than can fit in a few sentences. There are a lot of terms to know, but essentially there are two numbers you’ll have to worry about: payload capacity and towing capacity. Payload capacity is how much weight the truck can support, including fuel, passengers, and the trailer tongue weight. Towing capacity is how much weight your truck can pull.
24. For fifth wheels, look for a truck with an 8′ bed: Fifth wheels hitch into the truck bed instead of behind it. An 8′ truck bed will give you enough clearance when turning the vehicle, ensuring your fifth wheel doesn’t hit your truck cab. You can tow a fifth wheel with a shorter truck bed, but you’ll need a sliding hitch. They’re more expensive and require a little more work.
25. New or used: In my opinion, go used. New RVs ensure you get the latest and greatest features, but there’s no guarantee your new RV won’t have issues soon after driving it off the lot. Plus, RVs depreciate like crazy.
26. If new, you can find better deals shopping at the end of the season: If you still want to buy new, go for it! Just look for end-of-model-year sales to find the best deals. It also helps to shop in the late fall and winter when fewer people are purchasing RVs.
27. If used, dealership or private sale: You can probably find a better deal through private sale, but a reputable dealership can help you get attractive financing rates and ensure you don’t buy a lemon. We’ve had our 9-year-old RV for 6 months and have only had one or two small issues crop up. We thank the rigorous inspection process of our dealership for that. They even threw in a brand new set of tires because they knew we were planning to haul our tin can from Massachusetts to Alaska.
28. Expand your search beyond your local area: An RV is a major purchase, especially if you plan to live in it full-time. Increase your chances of finding the right one by expanding your search area.
29. Read user reviews on Internet forums: Even the most reputable dealerships are motivated to sell. Get the straight scoop by reading blogs and forum threads with real owners who know your RV. I knew nothing about Heartland before we bought our camper. Through research, I found that they were a more reputable brand before being acquired by Thor Industries (known for low-quality campers) in September 2010. I felt confident our model year 2011 camper was made before Thor came in and changed everything to increase their profits, so we pulled the trigger and have loved every minute.
30. Quality is hard to come by: Unless you’re buying an Airstream, every RV is somewhere between “total heap of scrap metal” and “made with questionable components.” There’s some hyperbole there but not much. For more information on top RV brands, check out Camp Addict’s resource.
31. Get an independent inspection: Even if you buy from a reputable dealership, it’s still a good idea to get an independent inspection before signing on the dotted line. It costs a few hundred dollars and may seem like an unnecessary expense, but consider it insurance against costly repairs in the future.
32. Check for signs of water damage or a leaky roof: Poor quality manifests itself in many forms, but water damage is the most sinister and costly. Look around baseboards and in compartments for either water stains on the wood or discolored fabric. Look on the roof around skylights, fans, and AC units. If an RV has any signs of water damage, move on.
33. Check the plumbing for leaks: Have the tanks filled and use the plumbing to make sure everything works before signing anything.
34. Examine the furnace system. This tip is from Matt Best at Ditching Suburbia: “Our RV was 4 years old when we bought it and in that time the silver ducting had gotten a huge hole that was just pumping heat wastefully. Also, the setup of our furnace is stupid. We have a bunkhouse and it was months after we had it…before I learned that the furnace highly prioritizes the master bedroom over the bunkhouse…and the master bedroom is higher than the rest and with hot air rising and the priority screw up, we are sweltering while my kids are freezing. I wish I had known this going into it and had started with an auxiliary space heater (which I hate using for safety concerns but I feel I have to) for the kids.”
35. Financing your RV: An RV is viewed as a luxury purchase by lenders, sometimes making it harder to finance one than, say, a car. Dealerships will have relationships with certain lenders, making the process easier, but many banks will also offer RV loans directly to you. Make sure your credit score is as high as possible, aiming for mid-700s, and have at least 20% cash ready to put down. Again, make sure you can afford the monthly payments factoring in costs like fuel, insurance, and maintenance (such as new tires).
36. Get an RV roadside assistance program: Roadside assistance programs are like plungers. You don’t need one until you need one right now! Our RV came with 24-hour roadside assistance from RV Artie, but Good Sam has a great program, too.
37. The extended warranty may be a good idea: Fun fact I learned about RV construction from our dealership: When manufacturers build them, they install the refrigerator first and then build the frame around it. This means that if your refrigerator dies, there’s no good way to get it out of the RV. That means major costs, often in the thousands. Because we bought a 9-year-old camper, we elected to pay the few extra bucks per month for the extended warranty, which covers mechanical defects like a broken fridge. However, these warranties don’t cover plumbing-related issues.
Things To Buy
Congrats on purchasing your RV! Now get this stuff, too.
38. Tires: Most used RVs will come with used tires. Swap ’em out. Tires are the most important safety feature for your rig, so don’t skimp on low- or mid-quality tires. Get the best ones. Carlisle and Maxxis are brands to look for. Also, know your tires’ speed rating and don’t exceed it! Blowouts can cost thousands in damage.
39. TireMinder TMPS: The TireMinder Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) is awesome. You replace the valve stem caps on the tires (those little plastic things) with Bluetooth-enabled sensors that constantly monitor the pressure and temperature of each tire. You can view the readings in real-time from their phone app, and the system beeps to alert you of troubling increases/decreases. The system alerted us to unusually high pressure on a 100°F day driving through Arizona, so we stopped to let some air out of the tire before it blew out.
40. weBoost 4G: Even Verizon’s best-in-class coverage fails in some of the remote areas we like to visit. With the weBoost 4G cell signal booster we’ve amplified our signal 20x, turning a weak, unusable signal into something strong enough to use for a full day of work.
41. WiFiRanger GoAC: When boondocking in parking lots, sometimes we like to pick up a WiFi network from Walmart, Starbucks, or whatever’s nearby. The WiFiRanger GoAC system boosts surrounding signals, allowing us to get online (for free) without being inside the building.
42. RV GPS: You don’t want to pull your fifth wheel with a 12′ vertical clearance down a small street with a 10′ bridge. An RV GPS system optimizes routes to avoid such disasters. We have the Garmin RV 770 LTM-S. I’d give it an A-. Some of the routes they suggest add over an hour because of one small segment of road they’re not totally sure is RV-friendly. I’m sure this is common among all/most systems, and I do appreciate the peace of mind.
43. Portable compressor: Honestly, I view this as a must-have safety item. We have the Viair 300P portable compressor, which provides up to 150 PSI of pressure. I’ve had to use it on multiple occasions to maintain pressures in hot/cold weather, to set pressures when changing our tires, and to reset our front/rear truck tires after a tire rotation.
44. Generator: A generator is a must-have, even if you have a solar setup with a massive battery bank. Just make sure you have enough running Watts to handle your energy draw. We have the Predator 3500W Super Quiet, and it is super quiet.
45. Ratchet set: Make sure you have a socket for every sized bolt on your rig.
46. Extra fuses: If you blow one, you’ll wish you had another on-hand.
47. Other assorted tools: Don’t go too crazy here–remember, less is more–but make sure you have a hammer, all-in-one screwdriver, power drill, pliers, electrical tape, assorted nails and screws, and whatever else you think you’ll need.
48. ODBII reader and the Torque app: I’m paranoid about something breaking when we’re in the middle of nowhere. To monitor our truck, I have an ODBII reader plugged in, and I monitor it with the Torque app. Every time I start the truck, I run diagnostics on the engine to pull up any fault or warning codes.
49. Backup camera: A nice-to-have feature, especially if you’re a less-than-confident backer-upper, a rear-mounted backup camera can prevent disaster. We got the Garmin BC-30, which syncs with our Garmin GPS.
50. RV surge protector: Protect your electrical system from improperly-maintained campground hookups by connecting to the power grid through a surge protector. We have the Progressive Industries SSP-30XL 30A Smart Surge Protector and love how easy it is to use.
51. 50A to 30A adapter: There are two ways this can go–a 30A male to 50A female and vice versa. We still haven’t run into a campground that only has 50A power, requiring us to have a 50A male to 30A female in order to connect, but there are plenty of campgrounds that only have 30A power. This means 50A rigs need the adapter to connect. If you want to connect to a 15A outlet, like those at your house, you’ll need an adapter for that, too.
52. Sewer hose: We have the 15′ Camco RhinoFLEX sewer hose and let me tell you–I wish it was longer. Look for a 20′ hose or connectable extenders.
53. Two water hoses: You’ll need one hose to connect to potable water supplies, either at campgrounds or just to fill your tank. You’ll need a second hose to connect to nonpotable water, which is used to rinse your black tank.
54. Rubber gloves and hand sanitizer: Because you don’t want sewer stuff on your hands.
55. RV levelers: Most places you park won’t be perfectly level, so you’ll want a way to even things out. We have these Andersen Camper Levelers and they’ve been incredible. Other RVers prefer leveling blocks.
56. Rock Tamers: We installed Rock Tamers behind our truck, right on the hitch, and they’ve saved our fifth wheel from taking a beating when driving on dirt roads.
57. Anti-sway system: An anti-sway system–also called a weight distribution or sway-control system–will make towing your trailer both easier and safer. These are not needed if you get a fifth wheel.
58. Grill, camping chairs, and other things to extend your living space beyond the RV: The best part about living the RV life is enjoying the great outdoors. Don’t buy too much stuff–remember, less is more!–but at least get a grill and a couple of camping chairs. I’m a charcoal grill kind of guy, but sometimes campgrounds and region-wide burn bans prohibit their use.
59. Road atlas: We’re all hooked on technology, but a complete road atlas is an invaluable form of insurance. If you get lost somewhere without a cell signal, you’ll be glad you have one.
60. LED lightbulbs: LED lights are amazing. They last forever, they don’t get hot, and they have almost negligible power draw. If you plan to boondock, they’re a must-have to cut down on your power usage. We replaced 16 incandescent bulbs–each with a 1.6A draw!–with LED lights that have 0.1A draw. To put that in perspective, our 2000W inverter lets us run up to 16.6A at any given time. Just 11 incandescent bulbs would overload our system! You can get any color you want, but Warm White is the best.
61. TV antenna: I’m a nature guy, but sometimes I like chilling out and watching TV. If you have a TV with a tuner, you can buy a portable TV antenna to pick up local channels within a 120-mile radius.
62. DVDs: We picked up a bunch of used DVDs from our local Goodwill and we’ve watched them all. Thankfully, seasons of Seinfeld can be watched on loop.
63. Kingpin lock: You can’t protect your RV when you’re leaving it behind to explore. If you own a fifth wheel, a kingpin lock is a cheap piece of insurance against would-be thieves making off with your home. There are other types of locks for other tow-behind trailers.
64. Solar-powered, motion-activated security lights: Personal security is an unfortunate necessity of the RV life. In our first 6 months on the road, there have been two murders along our route–Liard Hot Springs in BC, Canada and Corpus Christi, Texas–both of boondockers like us. We have two solar-powered, motion-activated security lights mounted outside our RV, which hopefully is enough to scare off anybody with ill intentions.
65: Refrigerator bars: Things do not stay in place while driving, especially things in the refrigerator. Save yourself the hassle of cleaning up a broken jar of pickles with these refrigerator bars.
66. “Beware of Dog” sign: Even if you don’t have a dog, get one of these and put it on your front door for added security.
Preparing To Hit The Road
There’s a lot to do before your adventure begins.
67. Make sure you have the tools (and know-how) to change a tire: Taking your RV (or even your truck) to a mechanic is a pain in the butt. We drove 20,000 miles in our first 6 months, and that meant a new set of tires along the way. I did it myself and saved some money. Plus, it’s just a useful life skill. Pro Tip: Get a torque wrench and know how many ft-lbs of torque your lug nuts should be at.
68. Know how much a full freshwater tank weighs: Your RV has both a dry weight and a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Subtract the two and that’s how much weight you can carry. That includes your drinking water! For reference, a gallon of water weighs 8.34 lbs, so our 53-gallon tank weighs a whopping 442 lbs. That’s about 10% of our additional carrying capacity.
69. Diversify your cell networks: I’ve had Verizon my whole life, but before hitting the road I added Google Fi to our cell network inventory. Google Fi leverages the Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular networks, so now we have our pick of networks when trying to get online.
70. Estimate your data usage: In today’s world, cell network data is like water–when you run out, you’re screwed. This goes double for people who need to work on the road, so estimate your data needs to make sure you never run out.
71. Estimate your power usage: Grab your computer and open up your spreadsheet program of choice. It’s time to list everything that draws power and estimate (a) how often you use it and (b) how much energy it draws per unit time. Don’t forget to include your interior lights and other RV systems! If you swap out incandescent bulbs for LEDs, all of your lights will be about 2A per hour. Even if you plan to hook up to either 30A/50A shore power or a generator, you still can’t exceed that supply’s max. If you’re planning a solar setup, this will help you size your system.
72. Put mothballs in your exterior refrigerator and AC compartments: Wasps hate mothballs. That means I love them.
73. Make sure your side mirrors give you plenty of visibility: Make sure you can see both the neighboring lanes and your RV/trailer’s rear tires. The latter is important when taking turns so you don’t hit a curb and blow a tire.
74. Check your fire extinguishers. From Matt Best at Ditching Suburbia: “Nearly all older styles were found to be defective and were recalled. Check your fire extinguisher’s manufacture date against a Google search to see if it’s still good. Also, the stuff inside of them can settle and needs to periodically broken up (by banging the bottom), so add that to your monthly to-do list.”
75. Make your RV feel like home: Nearly everything on this list has been about function. This one’s about form. You’ll be living in your RV full-time. Add personal touches–pillows, blankets, pictures, kitchenware–to make it feel like home!
76. But be mindful of your total weight: Less is more. (I think that’s the fourth time I’ve said that so far…) Know your RV’s GVWR and stay below it, including full tanks. Preferably, stay well below it.
77. Make sure not to overload the rear of the trailer: This can cause serious sway issues that can endanger the safety of you and those around you. Just look at this video.
78. Get a gas rewards credit card: The lone upside to driving thousands of miles with inefficient fuel economy is you rack up a lot of gas rewards. The American Express Blue Preferred card offers 3% cash back at gas stations and a whopping 6% cash back at grocery stores. The Bank of America Cash Rewards card offers 3% cash back in the category of your choice, so just choose gas stations.
79: Join camping clubs like Escapees or Xscapers: Life on the road is exciting, but it can be isolating. Clubs like Escapees and Xscapers join like-minded RVers find community on the road, plus a host of other benefits like roadside service.
80. If you’re bringing a pet, make sure you can keep them happy and healthy. This tip comes courtesy of Matt Best from Ditching Suburbia: “Pets will bring a complexity that ought to be included in the planning stages. Things like a hot day and needing to run the AC in an otherwise occupant-less RV so the dog doesn’t die while you are sightseeing.” I’ll also add that National Parks aren’t very dog-friendly. Dawn and I have been dying to get a dog but it added too much complexity and limited us too much. Ultimately, it wouldn’t have been fair to either us or the dog.
81. If you’re bringing kids, plan for things like toy storage and getting some adult alone time. This is another great tip from Matt Best at Ditching Suburbia. Matt goes on to say this: Consider “an actual closing locking door on the master bedroom so kids don’t walk in during ‘adult time.’ (I mention this as some friends of mine didn’t have that and they had to rig up a strange door locking contraption in their class A that wouldn’t have stopped a determined toddler from getting to his mommy.)”
82. Live in your RV for at least one week before hitting the road: There’s no better way to learn about living in your RV than by actually living in your RV. Live in it for a week and get to know the ins and outs of RV life. What’s cooking like? How quickly do you go through propane? Does your plumbing system have any quirks? Where the heck do you put everything?! It’s better to address any issues before you hit the road.
83. Avoid planning paralysis. A great tip from Amanda Watson at Watsons Wander: “While it is important to be prepared, people tend to get hung up on the logistics of going full-time and forget that in some cases the best way to learn is by doing.”
Driving Your RV
Because if it didn’t move, it wouldn’t be a vehicle.
84. For fifth wheels and trailers, fill your truck’s gas tank before hitching up and leaving: Maneuvering an RV through gas station parking lots isn’t hard, but it’s much easier without the trailer in tow. If there’s a gas station nearby, it’s usually a good idea to fill up before hitching up. As a general rule, if there’s something within 5-10 miles, I’ll go out and fill the truck first. Beyond that distance, we’re just wasting fuel.
85. Use Google Maps to preview route elevations: I’m obsessed with route planning, and that includes elevation changes along the way. Ready for a neat trick? Open up your computer and navigate to Google Maps. Enter your starting point and destination to find an approximate route. Click on the “bicycle directions” icon and Google gives you a preview of elevation changes. Note that this only works on your desktop and not your mobile device.
86. Use Google Street View to preview roads and turns: There are two situations where using Google Street View has been especially helpful. First, planning gas station stops. Our truck and trailer are a combined 45′ long. Can I get into the gas station I’m planning to use? At what angle are the pumps? Can I easily get out? Second, surveying boondocking locations. We boondock off dirt roads a ton. Is the road passable? What does the planned pull-out/campsite look like? Is it too tight or can I maneuver to get out?
87. Make sure everything is secure: When you’re driving, it’s like there’s an earthquake ripping through your RV. Make sure all of your furniture is strapped down, that nothing was left on a countertop, that nothing will tip over in a cabinet or refrigerator, and generally that things are secured.
88. Turn your refrigerator, propane, and furnace off: Your refrigerator is insulated enough for things to stay cold/frozen after a day of driving. Make sure all of your systems are turned off, including your propane tanks. Bonus: Put your antenna down!
89. Always drive with your lights on: Better safe than sorry.
90. Know your rig’s dimensions, especially its height: An RV GPS system will assist with this, but you really don’t want to encounter a low clearance sign without knowing exactly how tall your rig is.
91. That includes your tail swing: When turning, the portion of your RV behind the back wheels swings in the opposite direction. Know how severe this swing is to avoid hitting objects, especially cars, poles, and gas station pumps.
92. Before you pull into a parking lot, think about how you’ll get out: You don’t want to pull into a parking lot or down a street only to realize there’s no way out. As a novice trailer-puller, I had more than one avoidable panic attack by cutting things too close.
93. That goes double for gas stations: Gas stations generally have a lot of obstacles to get around. Before you enter a gas station, plan your route into the pump and out of the lot.
94. Sign up for gas rewards for each gas station: Keep the rewards train rolling by signing up for programs at every new gas station (and grocery store) you visit.
95. Keep cash and quarters on hand for tolls, entry fees, and small towns: Most highway toll systems are automated these days, but few things are worse than pulling up to a cash-only tollbooth, gas station, or parking lot attendant without a means of paying. Small towns frequently operate as cash only. We recently visited the Four Corners Monument in the southwest on a whim only to find there was a $5 cash-only entry fee.
96. Stay back from other cars and give yourself plenty of time to brake: You’re probably used to driving a 3,000 lb car. Your RV might be five times that, meaning it won’t come to a stop as quickly. Learn to go slow and enjoy the drive while others cut in front of you. As a New Englander born with severe road rage, this has been a tough–but ultimately calming–change in mentality.
97. Know your tires’ speed rating: This is the maximum speed at which your tires can be driven safely. Anything higher increase your chance of a blowout. My Carlisle trailer tires have a max speed rating of 81 mph, which I rarely get close to. Cruise control is my friend.
98. It’s OK to go slow when going up and down steep hills: If you need to go 35 mph to get up a steep hill, go 35. Stay in the right lane, put your hazard lights on, and cruise until you reach the top. There will be plenty of trucks doing the same thing.
99. Monitor your transmission, engine, and tire temps: My dashboard dials, Torque app, and TireMinder TPMS let me monitor temperatures in real-time. This is especially important when going up hills on hot days. Regarding transmission temps, at 220°F varnish begins to form on metal surfaces, and things only get worse from there.
100. Be aware of the Rule of 2s: Try to avoid driving more than 200 miles per day, arrive at your campsite by 2:00 pm, and stay at least 2 nights. We’ve hauled 400+ miles in single days, but it just isn’t sustainable over the long haul (pun intended). The Rule of 2s is great when planning slow, methodical, long-distance trips.
101. Always give yourself plenty of time to arrive before sunset: I try to arrive at my destination at least 2 hours before sunset, especially if I haven’t been there before. Driving blind with a huge rig in tow is a near-nightmare scenario for me.
Spend enough time on the road and you’ll park in some weird places.
102. Save money and enjoy unique experiences by boondocking: Boondocking, or dispersed camping, is the act of finding a place to park overnight for free. Freecampsites.net is an amazing resource that has saved us hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars. Campendium is another great option. Even Googling “boondocking near [location]” will help you find great free campsites, too.
103. Be a good boondocker: A good boondocker is someone who’s quiet, respectful, cleans up after themselves, and doesn’t litter the site with excessive chairs, tables, entertainment equipment, etc. Don’t run your generator at night, keep your exterior lights off/low, don’t make a ton of noise, dispose of your garbage properly, and don’t overstay your welcome. I’d even encourage you to take it a step further by cleaning up after those who came before you. Bad boondockers are the ones causing Walmarts to ban overnight parking, ruining things for the rest of us.
104. Some companies offer free overnight parking: Walmart, Sam’s Club, Cabelas, Cracker Barrell, Camping World, Flying J, and many casinos allow overnight parking. I wouldn’t want to stay there for long–we lived at a Walmart RV shanty town in Fairbanks, Alaska for two weeks out of necessity and ughhh–but they’re great ways to stay for free along your route.
105. Look at cell service coverage maps: In my experience, these maps are more accurate than you’d expect. It’s always good to know if you’ll have cell service before you get there. Both FreeCampsites.net and Campendium have crowdsourced cell signal reviews to give you a better idea of what to expect.
106. Download the FreeRoam and ParkAdvisor apps: There are a bunch of apps that help you find places to camp, especially for free, but these are my favorites. FreeRoam overlays cell coverage maps with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service (USFS) maps to help us find boondocking sites with a cell signal on public land. ParkAdvisor has a great inventory of companies who let you park overnight with user reviews at each location, in case that specific location doesn’t allow overnight parking.
107. Subscribe to Harvest Hosts: The only thing I love more than either boondocking or beer is my wife. Harvest Hosts allows me to have all three! For $80 you get access to a nation-wide registry of breweries, wineries, farms, and museums that let you park overnight for free. (There’s a premium version that adds golf courses, too.) The catch is that you’re supposed to buy something from your host–wine, beer, or produce–so it isn’t truly free, but let’s be honest: You were going to buy that beer anyway.
108. Subscribe to Boondockers Welcome: Similar to Harvest Hosts, Boondockers Welcome offers access to a directory of hosts who welcome boondockers. It’s only $30 per year and has nearly 2,000 hosts in the US alone.
109. When backing up, it’s great to have a spotter for the blind spots. Another great tip from Matt Best at Ditching Suburbia: “Backup cameras are great, but nothing beats having a set of eyes on the ground guiding you. Use your phone or walkie talkies and develop a parking communication language. Everyone involved has their job and it doesn’t help to get angry with each other when it takes a bit longer.”
110. Slides out and jacks down is OK: I’ve heard RVers say you should never put your slides out or jacks down in parking lots. I don’t think you have to go this far. I mean, if your rig is in the lot at 2:00 am, everyone knows you’re sleeping there. Just try to put your slides on the side facing away from the store and (for trailers) maybe only put your front jacks down to help stabilize your rig.
111. Make sure your RV is level before turning on your refrigerator: Refrigerators keep things cold with magic coils somewhere in the back, and bad things happen if those coils aren’t level. That’s about all I know about them. I’ve read you should avoid running your refrigerator if it’s more than 3° out of level, which somehow is both more unlevel than you’d think and also not very much.
112. Orient your RV for the best views: Besides being free, boondocking is awesome because it gets you right in nature. I like orienting our slideout to be facing the mountains or water so I can work with a view.
113. If you have solar panels, aim for the southern sky: Of course, Priority No. 1 for us is maximizing our solar output. With our panels affixed to the back half of our fifth wheel’s roof, I try to park with the back end facing the southern sky.
114. Always check your slides: If you’re parking under/near a tree, grab a broom and brush off the top of your slide before pulling it in. You don’t want that stuff on the inside of your RV, and you really don’t want a stick gumming up the works. If you’re one of the lucky ones with an awning above your slide to prevent debris from falling on it, then disregard.
115: Never trust a “Campground Full” sign: It never hurts to walk into the registration office to see if there have been any cancellations or no-shows, or whether the campground has unadvertised dry camping or back-in sites. David Zimmerman from the Adventures of Dave and Ann told us they’ve unexpectedly landed campsites at seemingly full campgrounds by always asking.
Planning Amazing Stops
After all, you’re out here to see awesome stuff.
116. Make a list of places you want to visit and when: I’d estimate 80% of our trip is spontaneous, but it’s all arranged around the 20% that’s planned. That includes spending the summer in Alaska, making it out to Salt Lake City for a September 1 wedding, and venturing down to Albuquerque for the October 5 International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Everything in the middle was a happy accident.
117. When possible, book campgrounds well in advance: For the can’t-miss stops, it’s best to figure out where you’ll be staying well in advance. That’s especially true for major events that may attract a lot of people.
118. Otherwise, learn to be flexible: The fun is in the journey. We boondock about 85% of the time, and that means we have to be flexible with where we stay. Looking back on our first 6 months of full-time RV living, we have so many amazing memories about places we’ve unexpectedly stayed. The Susitna River in Talkeetna, Alaska, the base of Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, a small winery in Vermillion, South Dakota…the list goes on, and all of them were planned over a cup of coffee that morning.
119. Know the laws of the states you’ll be visiting: We’ve visited 23 states and 4 Canadian provinces in our first 6 months on the road. For the most part, things work the same no matter where you are. But there are some unique laws to many states. My advice above about putting your hazard lights on when going uphill slowly? That’s illegal in 6 states. Alaska requires you to pull over to let traffic pass if there are 5 or more cars behind you. The State Lines app is worth a download. If you carry a firearm, be very aware of laws by state.
120. Get the America The Beautiful National Parks Pass: If you’re RVing full-time, you probably want to visit a ton of National Parks. But at $30 per vehicle each time, the costs add up quickly. Enter the America The Beautiful Pass. For $80 annually you get unlimited visits to 2,000 of America’s National Parks, National Monuments, and National Recreation Sites. It’s saved us hundreds already and continues to pay dividends.
121. Also, get a National Parks Passport: Souvenirs of your trip get expensive and take up a lot of space (remember, less is more!). Recount your awesome experiences by getting National Parks cancellations in your Passport.
122. Visit at the beginning or end of busy tourist seasons: I hate touristy locations, which is ironic because we’re tourists everywhere we go, but there’s no doubt that huge crowds detract from the experience. Sometimes that’s unavoidable, but sometimes you can plan to visit during slower seasons. We did that at Yellowstone and it made the experience more enjoyable.
123. Check weather reports: We spent the last 5 years living in Hawaii where we never needed to check weather reports. Now I check them daily. Your biggest concerns will be torrential rain, sub-freezing cold, or blistering heat waves. We tried to take our fifth wheel to Lake Tahoe for Halloween only to hit a mini blizzard on I-80 West heading up a mountainside. We were slipping everywhere, which is terrifying in a 16,000-lb, 45′ rig, and had to turn back. We should have checked the weather!
124. Talk to the locals: A friendly smile will go a long way. We’ve learned about incredible locals-only restaurants and other hidden gems by talking to gas station attendants, campground hosts, and drunken patrons at the local watering hole.
125. Document your adventures! This tip comes from Amanda Watson at Watsons Wander: “Whether it’s a blog, spreadsheet, or a simple file of photos, recording those memories is really going to mean a lot someday. After 7.5 years we would never remember all the places we have visited it we didn’t have a record!”
Living In Your RV
Make the most of your tiny space.
126. Be social with your temporary neighbors: The locals aren’t the only people with good info. Your RV neighbors likely have been to some awesome places, too. They also might be retired mechanics who can help repair your front jacks after a sudden Alaskan downpour shorts them out.
127. Keep an eye on your propane usage: Always know approximately how much propane you have left. It’s seriously inconvenient to run out when you really need a hot shower or a cup of coffee, and it can get dangerous if you need that propane to power your furnace on cold nights. When we need to run our furnace on truly frigid nights, I find that we burn through a 30 lb propane tank in about 4 days. If we only use our propane for cooking and the water heater, I can stretch a single tank out 2 weeks.
128. Don’t run the heat at night: A follow-up to the above, running your furnace at night will decimate your propane tanks. And, honestly, it probably just isn’t necessary unless you have people everywhere or are trying to prevent your plumbing from freezing. We burn through a 30 lb propane tank in 3-4 days if we run the heat all night in our 30′ fifth wheel. Instead, we bought an electric blanket that we put on high for just an hour under our comforter to get the bed nice and toasty. This method saves our propane and actually draws fewer total amps than running the furnace all night
129. Trash the mattress your RV came with: If it’s anything like ours, it’s total garbage. We trashed it and bought a Zinus 8″ memory foam mattress off Amazon. It only weighs 60 lbs and is life-changingly comfortable.
130. Make time for yourself: Traveling the country with someone and living in close confines 24/7 makes it hard to get your me-time. Dawn and I love each other, but we both need alone time. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that jazz.)
131. Make your workspace your own: If you’re working while traveling, your workspace will be either your most or least favorite place in your RV. Invest some time and forethought into making it ergonomically designed and maximized for your productivity.
132. Trash is always a pain: Boondocking is amazing, but trash disposal is easily the worst consequence of it. You aren’t supposed to throw your trash away in gas station or shopping plaza dumpsters, and we try our best to respect that. However, at one point we boondocked for 3 weeks straight and had 10 small garbage bags piled up in the back of our truck. It was a hazard driving 70 mph on the highway, so we had to get a campsite for a night to throw everything away…and also relax in the comfort of full hookups. (I may have turned on all the lights just because we could.)
33. Monitor your water usage: Water is a precious resource, especially for boondockers. Our 53-gallon freshwater tank lasts about 7 days when we really watch our usage. That means 30-second military showers–most RV showers use about 2.5 gallons per minute–and using paper plates to avoid dirtying dishes. Figure out how quickly you use water so you can plan fill-ups.
134. Dump your tanks whenever possible: Finding dump stations is easier than you’d expect–RV Dump Stations and Sanidumps are great resources–but it’s always a good idea to dump your tanks and refill fresh water whenever you get the chance to do it for free.
135. Treat your black tank to minimize odors: Your black tank holds some smelly stuff. Treat it with pods or powders like those by RV Digest-It. These additives are concentrated bacteria and enzyme formulas that go to work on your waste, reducing the odor and making it easier to keep your tank clean.
136. Use as little RV-friendly toilet paper as possible. Another great tip from Matt Best at Ditching Suburbia: “Don’t clog your black tank with too much toilet paper. If it happens at a National Park far away from civilization, it might be tough to fix. Plan ahead and have one of those spray tools from Camping World that seem like they are overkill. Believe me, when you need it, you need it.”
137. Practice Leave No Trace: A corollary to “Be a good boondocker” is to practice the 7 Leave No Trace principles. Whether you’re sharing public lands or enjoying private campgrounds, we all have a duty to make it seem like we were never there.
138. Be responsible with campfires: I love campfires, but I respect their power after watching Alaska burn all summer. If you see the fire risk at moderate or high, be extra careful. Only burn in fire pits, have an extinguisher or water nearby, never leave a fire unattended, and make sure it’s completely out and cool to the touch before walking away.
139. Observe burn bans: It sucks when you pull up to a campground and want to start a campfire only to see there’s a burn ban, but make sure you observe it. Just because you’re out living your adventure doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.
Because the last thing you need is for something catastrophic to happen.
140. Make “RV maintenance” an item on your budget: There’s a reason the IRS mileage reimbursement rate is $0.58 per mile when gas costs around $0.15 per mile. (And, sadly, much more for us full-time RVers.) That other $0.43 is for wear and tear you don’t have to shell out for right now. But make no mistake–you will pay for that wear and tear. Between oil changes, air filter replacements, new tires, tire rotations, general depreciation, and more, driving thousands of miles every month isn’t cheap. And that’s even further compounded by the whole “RVs are generally low quality” thing discussed above.
141. Check your engine’s fluid levels weekly: Engine oil, transmission fluid, radiator coolant, power steering fluid, and brake fluid should all be checked regularly.
142. Learn how to change your motor oil and air filters: I put Castrol Edge Full Synthetic oil in our truck and change it every 4,000 miles (yes, that’s more frequently than the 6,000+ mile mark for synthetic oils). It’s expensive and inconvenient to take it to a mechanic for something I can do myself. Just make sure to responsibly dispose of used oil. Most auto parts stores will recycle it for you.
143. Only use premium fuel in your generator: Generators are small combustion engines that are very susceptible to breaking down. Keep them clean and in proper working condition by using 91 octane premium gasoline, preferably with 0% ethanol. I ran my Predator 3500W generator on 85 octane regular gasoline at first and had nothing but problems until I cleaned it out and switched to the good stuff.
144. Check your smoke detectors, LP alarms, and carbon monoxide alarms monthly: On Dawn’s 31st birthday, I ran our generator too close to our RV and set off the carbon monoxide alarm. Holy smokes, I’m glad it was working. Happy birthday, honey!
145. Check your tires every few weeks: It’s good practice to re-torque your lug nuts to manufacturer specifications (ours are 120 ft-lbs) and test pressures before long trips. You should also check for signs of uneven wear every few weeks. Your tires are the only thing separating you from the highway and are a major safety feature.
146. Replace your water heater’s anode rod every 6-12 months: Suburban hot water heaters come with an anode rod that takes the beating from hard water to preserve the tank itself. I’ve read that you only need to change your anode rod every 12 months, but I just pulled ours out at the 6-month mark and it was almost completely corroded. Anode rods come in either aluminum or magnesium. The magnesium ones last longer.
147. Always rinse your black water tank: Black tank treatments help keep your holding tank clean, but it’s always good practice to rinse it out until the water coming out your tank is mostly clear. This prevents any clogs/backups and ensures your sensors are in proper working order.
148. Wash your RV: Washing your RV frequently not only keeps your home looking its best, but it’s an important way to prevent corrosion and maintain value.
149. Inspect your roof every few months: You’re looking for holes, cracks, tears, or major discoloration. Take a close look at seams and seals–places where water can get in. If you see anything that needs sealing, Dicor is the self-leveling sealant of choice.
150. Treat your rubber roof annually: Rubber roofs need more maintenance than either fiberglass or aluminum roofs. You should clean it annually–something you can do yourself–and consider getting it resealed every few years or if you see it degrading.
151. Lubricate your slides and fifth wheel hitch with white lithium grease: We move around a ton and pull our slide in and out every few days. Every month I spray some white lithium grease on the tracks to lubricate it. The same goes for our fifth wheel hitch.
152. Test brake lights every few weeks or before every long trip: If you’re like me, you don’t notice a brake light is out until a trucker honks at you and points at your camper’s rear end while doing 70 on the highway. Save everyone the hassle and make sure they’re all working.
153. When winterizing, use non-toxic RV antifreeze: I had to winterize our RV for just 4 days while visiting Lake Tahoe at the end of October. While researching how to do that, I learned that there’s a special, non-toxic RV antifreeze that, you know, won’t kill you.
154. Take care of your batteries: Flooded lead-acid batteries, like those in your car, shouldn’t be discharged below 50%. Absorbent glass mat (AGM) and lithium-ion batteries shouldn’t be discharged below 20%. While you can go lower on either, these recommended depths of discharge help prolong your battery’s life. Also, take care not to leave your batteries unused, especially in cold weather. A trickle charger can be used to keep your batteries topped off and in good working order when left unused for a few weeks or more.
155. Cover your tires: The sun’s UV rays are damaging to your rubber tires. If you’re either set up at a campground for an extended period of time or leaving your RV for long-term storage, cover your tires to keep them in good condition.
And there you have it! Everything you need to know before deciding to live in an RV full-time.
Think something’s missing from the list? Comment below!