I wasn’t terrified of towing and operating our first RV, but I was extremely NERVOUS. If you are a new RV owner you probably know exactly what I mean.
Our dealer was almost two hours away, and the walk through was scheduled for two hours on a late Friday afternoon. Stephanie and I decided that bringing our one year old twins, Max and Theo, would be a big mistake. We tried to find a babysitter so we could avoid multiple potty breaks and potential toddler tantrums. But no babysitter was available. It looked like I would be towing the camper home alone.
Cue the new RV owner towing anxiety.
Then I got the bright idea to call my best buddy Will up and see if he would come along with me. He must have owed me a favor–because surprisingly enough–he said yes. Or maybe I just promised him pizza. I wanted Will along for the ride just in case I crashed the pop up camper. Seriously. That was my bizarre rationale. Because who wants to crash a brand new camper without having your best buddy there to pull you out of the flaming wreckage?
The walk through went incredibly well and I began to feel like a future king of the campground. Yes—I can light the hot water heater! Yes—I can dump the portable black tank! Yes—I can fully raise the (automatic) roof lifter system and attach the canvas!
But when it came time to pull out of the parking lot with my 17 ft. pop up camper hitched up to my SUV–I was still NERVOUS. Will was all like–“let’s go get pizza.” “PIZZA!!” I responded, “how the heck am I going to park this thing so we can get PIZZA?”
About twenty minutes later all of my anxiety had melted away. I was TOWING! I was making turns. Stopping at red lights. Changing lanes. Changing the radio station. Chatting with Will. I was looking for a place to get pizza. Will spotted a strip mall with a tight little parking lot. I saw a row of empty spots in the back–and I was all like “I GOT THIS!”
I felt like a conquering hero when I backed the pop up camper into our driveway–on my fourth or fifth try.
But the towing anxiety returned when we left a few weeks later for our first camping trip. When we arrived I had a difficult time backing into our (gigantic) site–and I forget many of the pointers from the walk through. Like many new RV owners, I felt totally clueless on that first trip. I think I spent that entire weekend setting up and breaking down the camper–and trying to get the hot water heater to stay lit.
But by our second trip all of the anxiety had melted away–and all of the fun was just beginning.
Now I look back and laugh at my pop up camper towing and operation anxiety. We currently own a 34 ft., 8,000 lb. Toy Hauler–and I tow it with relative ease (though there was a learning curve). That pop up camper seems so tiny to me now. I could see over the back of it for goodness sake!
But by our second trip most of the anxiety had melted away–and the real fun started. It hasn’t stopped for the last 8 years, and frankly, I can’t imagine life without an RV in the driveway and a campground reservation on the horizon.
Are you feeling anxiety about becoming a new RV owner? Or about taking your first trip to the campground? If you are I really, truly get it. Because I was you.
Here are some quick and easy tips for gaining confidence as a new RV owner. They are not about the accessories you need, or safety and maintenance tips. These are tips about the camping decisions that you make during those first few months of RV ownership–when you might be feeling overwhelmed instead of overjoyed.
The greatest adventure of your life is just around the corner–and we want to help you get to the fun part faster.
1. Record Your Walk Through on a Smart Phone
We did not record our first walk through for the pop up camper. That was a mistake. Luckily it was fairly simple to operate and we figured it out. Our second RV was a travel trailer and it was significantly more complicated. We recorded the walk through on my iPhone and we refereed to it again and again until we had all of the systems down pat.
2. Camp Close to Home for Your First Few Trips
Should your first trip be to some epic location on your bucket list, or should you stay closer to home? We vote for close to home. There will be time for epic RV trips later. Now its time to gain confidence towing and learning how to operate your new rig. You also need to figure out what to pack and how to pack it. If you forget something or have an issue or problem you are on familiar turf and can get home fast.
3. Reserve at a Private Campground For Your First Trip
You may envision yourself as a state and national park camper, roughing it without hookups, and enjoying remote locations under the stars–but you might not want to book one of those campgrounds for your first trip. Why not? Because a good private campground often has a helpful owner and staff onsite. State and NPS campgrounds are often woefully understaffed–and they are usually staffed by rangers that are not RV owners. If you have problems backing into a tight site at a private campground, someone will probably be right there to help. Sometimes, at those gorgeous and remote state and NPS campgrounds you are alone in more ways than one.
4. Reserve a Pull Thru Site at Your First Campground
Showing up at your first campground and discovering that you have been assigned a tight back in site can cause a whole lot of stress to the new RV owner. Eventually you will become a star at backing into tight spots along gorgeous rivers. But if you are a newbie you have a whole list of other things to worry about on that first trip. So we recommend booking a pull through site for trip #1. What is a pull through site? It is a site situated in-between two roads. So no backing up is needed. You pull in from one side of the site and then pull out onto the other side. Easy peasy.
5. Divide and Conquer During Set Up
Setting up your rig and your campsite gets easier with each trip–and can actually become part of the fun. But it can be stressful at first. If you have younger kids we recommend dividing and conquering. Stephanie used to take the boys off to the playground while I unhitched and set up the pop up camper. If you have older kids everyone should be helping and have preassigned jobs. Now we get set up in a jiffy and are relaxing and having fun in about 20 stress free minutes.
6. Find Great Camping Buddies and Share the Journey
We were lucky to find another newbie family to camp with by our second trip. We learned together. We shared meals together. We watched each other’s kids so we could go on vigorous hikes or moonlit kayak trips. It made entering the world of RVing and campground culture less intimidating. Each family empowered the other and we made great memories. 8 years later and we are still planning trips together.
7. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help at the Campground
On our third or fourth trip I couldn’t get the furnace going–and the overnight temperatures were plunging into the 30’s. I fumbled around for an hour until a kindly older gentleman walked over and asked if he could help. He got the furnace cranking in less than ten minutes–and he taught me a trick or two. RV owners are notoriously kind and helpful people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help like I was. Ask and you shall recieve.
8. Don’t be Afraid to Say No to Help When Backing In
Did I mention that veteran RV owners are notoriously friendly and helpful people to the new RV owner? The only time that this is actually annoying is when you are backing into a challenging site and half of the campground either pulls up a chair and cracks open a beer or runs up to you and your spouse offering “help.” This only served to get me more flustered back in my rookie days. Stephanie and I needed to figure out our own process for backing up the rig together–and so does every new RV owner. Kindly explain that you really want to learn on your own–even if it takes a few hundred tries!
9. Avoid Driving at Night If Possible
I know this one is hard. But if you can do all of your towing during the daylight hours–then do it. If you break down at night it can be really hard to find help. Even if you have roadside assistance, most garages and RV dealers are going to be closed. If you need parts you may be out of luck until morning. A Friday night breakdown could end up blowing a hole right into the heart of your quick weekend trip.
10. Stuff Happens and Things Will Break (and that’s okay)
This may be the most important piece of advice I have for a new RV owner. We often become depressed and outraged when things break in our brand new rigs. Some people (like me) even let it ruin a few trips. I remember spending hours being outraged over a broken stereo–while we were camping at a gorgeous spot just a few feet away from the beach. What a waste of precious vacation time. Things are going to break on just about every new RV. Unless its something absolutely egregious–let it go. Go play catch with your kids. Go light the campfire. You can bring the rig back to the dealer later. You’ll never get that wasted vacation time back again.
11. Batch Service and Warranty Work (Do What You Can Do On Your Own)
By the way, you will need to bring your RV back for some warranty service. Stuff happens no matter what brand you buy. I recommend batching the warranty work and bringing the rig in at the end of the season if possible. Multiple trips back and forth to the dealer can really put a damper on your camping season. Be willing to camp with a few things broken and get them fixed all at once. I once spent a month with a broken kitchen sink–because I wanted to be camping instead of having my camper stuck at the dealer. I didn’t regret that decision one bit. Then or now. And by the way, if you can fix it yourself, then do it. Even if you shouldn’t have to.
12. Join a Few Great Forums and Ask Questions
RV forums and Facebook groups are incredible sources of support and information for a new RV owner. I would recommend joining a few, but just be prepared for the cranks who like to get into fights over tow capacities and rope lights at the campground. Or you could just join RVFTA: The Group on Facebook–where no cranks are allowed. Our group is filled with kind and helpful people. Everyone else gets the boot!
13. Breath. Relax. Have Fun.
And get ready for the greatest adventure of your life.