It’s always exhilarating to take your RV out on the open road, whether it’s the first trip or your fifty-first. Here are some of our best tips for preparing for your journey, increasing your gas mileage, and arriving at your destination safely, regardless of whether you’re towing a little trailer or a large RV.
When you’re well-prepared, driving an RV for the first time can be a breeze. Driving an RV is different from driving a car because of the slower acceleration and braking and the larger blind spots. However, after some time and practice, you’ll feel just as at home driving an RV as you do your regular car.
Use rest stops responsibly.
To locate rest stop areas, you may use an app like USA Rest Stops or AllStays Pro. Make sure to give enough space to truckers as unlike us, they have limited parking options at campgrounds.
Get an RV-specific GPS unit.
Invest in a GPS system designed for RVs and set it up with information about your vehicle’s dimensions and fuel capacity. Superior to both Google Maps and Apple Maps in terms of precision and security, this tool is a must-have (both designed for cars). The GPS can help, but you shouldn’t simply rely on it. You should still pay close attention to directional signs.
Use a GPS-compatible online trip planner.
To help you map out RV-friendly routes, locate campgrounds, schedule fuel stops, and keep track of your travel budget, you may use an online tool like RVTrip Wizard.com. Then, once you’re ready to go, pull up your route on your smartphone using the RV LIFE app for RV-friendly GPS directions.
Rest and relax in scenic national parks.
You can stop at a nearby state park, park in their public parking lot, and enjoy a long lunch. Vehicle admission is typically less than $10, and in many cases is free; if you travel through or visit this state frequently, it may be worth it to invest in a state park pass for the year. To know which state parks are RV-friendly, as well as which ones are the most popular, you may check the state park’s website for further information.
Carry essential paper books.
In case you lose service or your phone dies, having printed books on hand is a good backup plan. Highly recommended print resources for excellent guidance when doing RV route planning include the latest version of Road Atlas (by Rand McNally), The Next Exit, Mountain Directory East, and Mountain Directory West.
Find free overnight parking.
Take advantage of free overnight parking spots when traveling long distances. You can track them down with the help of the AllStays app. Use the overnight free parking filter to find Walmart parking lots, truck stops, Cracker Barrel, and Cabela’s that may allow you to stay for free if you upgrade to the paid version.
Read websites and use apps.
To read up highly recommended RV parks and campgrounds, use online tools such as AllStays. Big Rigs Best Bets, Campendium, Campground Reviews.com, Campground
Views.com, RV LIFE, Togo RV, and The Dyrt.
Check weather conditions.
Prior to your trip, use tools like the NOAA Weather Radar Live app and the Weather High-Def Radar app to monitor impending storms and make any necessary adjustments to your itinerary or routes.
Change up your itineraries a little bit.
Stay at farms, wineries, and golf clubs through programs like Harvest Hosts. Visit CasinoCamper.com to look for alternative overnight accommodations inside casinos. You might also enjoy free camping on private host properties at Boondockers Welcome. Hipcamp allows users to locate and reserve one-of-a-kind camping experiences.
Discover interesting attractions.
Find sights and scenic rest stops along the way with the help of apps like Roadtrippers, The Dyrt, and RV LIFE. Relax and take it easy.
Allow more time for your RV road trip days
Don’t rely on Google Maps’ estimated time of arrival. Traveling by RV typically takes longer than traveling by car due to a variety of factors. It requires more concentration and time than driving a car, and it is considerably slower to drive and maneuver. Since you’re taking your vacation home with you, the drive itself is the entertainment. Therefore, when planning an RV road trip, add at least 20 percent more time to your estimated arrival times if you want to stop and see some sights along the way.
Keep in mind that bigger isn’t always better.
Pick the smallest RV that you and your traveling companions will be comfortable in, whether you’re renting or buying. The more space an RV has, the more space it takes up on the road,
the more challenging it will be to find parking for it. This is certainly an option, but it will require more planning and flexibility. Campgrounds within 5–20 miles of most national parks typically accommodate large recreational vehicles, but if you’re set on sleeping in the park itself, you may have trouble finding a site.
Use two GPS devices so you can choose between multiple routes.
It’s a good idea to get a few people’s thoughts on the best route to take before setting out with a big rig. Different GPS devices use different information and software, so their suggestions will vary.
Decide whether to toll, or not to toll.
Many RVs have more than two axles, which makes them more expensive to use on toll roads than regular cars or trucks. Tolls for recreational vehicles are typically two to four times as expensive as they are for standard vehicles. Predict the toll’s cost and decide if it’s worth it to take it. If you’re willing to take a slightly longer but potentially more scenic route, you can often avoid paying tolls. For a rough estimate of your toll costs, download a dedicated app. Your GPS or navigation app should be able to be programmed to automatically avoid tolls if one is available.
Save money at the pump.
Finding the lowest local fuel prices is easy when you use apps or RV-friendly fuel programs. You can save a lot of money on fuel by using apps like GasBuddy (for all fuel types) or Mudflap and the TSD Logistics fuel program for RVers (for diesel fuel). Verify that your RV will fit through the entrance to the gas station by using Google Street View.
Make sure you’ve got everything you need before hitting the road.
Make sure you’ve thought of everything you need before you put the RV in drive. You may create and follow a pre-trip checklist tailored to your RV’s specifications.
Make a list that can be used again and again by printing it out and laminating it. You could also make a digital checklist with boxes to tick off as you go.
Get around cities quickly by avoiding rush hour.
It’s true that city driving in an RV is difficult due to traffic, but with proper timing, you can avoid any hassles. You should travel through the city’s core between 10 and 2 p.m., with noon being the best time.
Learn to drive an RV with a moving truck:
Before buying, renting, or driving an RV, you should get some experience with a moving truck if you have never operated a vehicle of this size. You can get a better idea of what it’s like to drive, and the car will last longer; just make sure you’re covered by insurance. Before hitting the open road in an RV, it’s a good idea to get some practice behind the wheel of a larger vehicle.
Follow the rule of 3-3-3 to reduce stress and fatigue.
Many seasoned RVers recommend adopting and adhering to the 3-3-3 rule for stress-free travel days and safe arrivals. One should not travel for more than three days straight without taking a break. Also, if possible, keep your daily mileage to less than 300 miles. To avoid missing your flight, you should get there before 3 p.m. Similarly, RVers also prefer a 2-2-2 rule, but either one will do if it better suits your driving style and pace.
Use your regular vehicle to scout potential boondocking spots before you leave.
If you want to go boondocking in an open area without any utilities, you should drive the route ahead of time in your tow vehicle to make sure it will be safe for your RV. Be cautious of the road’s narrowness, deep ruts, low-hanging trees, and low clearance. It’s possible that the weather or ground conditions have changed since your last visit. Check the road’s accessibility before driving an RV on it because tow trucks might not get into inaccessible areas to rescue you.
Understand mile markers and exits.
For the most part, exit numbers on interstates correspond to mile markers, and these numbers usually start over whenever you cross state lines. It’s easy to calculate how far away you are from your destination if you know the exit number. Pay attention to the tabs above the exit signs to determine whether the next exit is on the left or right.
Use your towed vehicle as a trailer.
The towed vehicle can be used as a trailer if the RV’s cargo carrying capacity (CCC) is at capacity and you need to bring along some heavier items. In doing so, you reduce the risk of the RV becoming overweight and better distribute the weight inside.
Improve your vehicle’s fuel efficiency as much as possible.
You can save money on gas by not going any faster than 60 miles per hour. You will actually get much better fuel economy when you drive between 55 and 60 mph. Most RVS (and trucks) are large and will be impacted by frictional and aerodynamic drag, which both affect your fuel economy. If it’s suitable for your RV, you may take back roads and scenic highways rather than interstates and freeways. These roads and speeds are not only less dangerous but also less stressful. In addition to being cheaper, it will be more pleasant and relaxing.
Read all posted road signs.
Do not depend solely on your GPS device. It is also important to pay attention to road signs to stay safe. There can be sudden shifts in traffic and road conditions, and GPS devices aren’t always accurate. Their accuracy is dependent on the timeliness of the information they use, which is not always the case. Make sure you’re using the most up-to-date version of your GPS device’s software and maps. Always be on the lookout for clues like this one.
Keep an eye on truck drivers and take their advice.
Keep an eye on the lanes that professional truck drivers choose and the exits they use. They’ve likely driven those routes countless times and are in constant contact with other professionals on the road, so they’re usually aware of what’s in store. If you’re driving a big RV or pulling one behind you, it might make sense to stick to the lanes that truck drivers pick out.
Turn off propane before driving.
Turning off the propane at the tank will keep you safe and prevent equipment damage while driving your RV. Visiting an av fuel station while the propane is running is dangerous because it is an open flame. However, you should not use your RV’s propane refrigerator while on the move, especially when traversing rough terrain (use ice to keep food cold while the propane is off). Over time, using a refrigerator in a recreational vehicle (RV) that isn’t level can damage the unit, leading to malfunctions or even fires. More and more modern RVs are installing residential-style fridges.
Display your RV’s height and weight clearly.
Make sure you have the RV’s dimensions and weight posted somewhere visible like the windshield or dashboard. This will help you determine whether or not your RV is suitable for crossing bridges, tunnels, and narrower roads, saving you time and energy as you travel.
Get on the road during normal business hours if you need mechanical help.
Schedule your RV travel for non-peak times when you can. You can often get the help you need to get back on the road quickly by calling a repair shop, your RV dealer, or your RV manufacturer during regular business hours. Access to roadside assistance is a must; however, depending on the problem, you may not always receive the level of help you require outside of normal business hours.
Keep yourself in the middle of the lane for optimal safety.
Maintaining your lane position while driving a large vehicle or RV is more challenging than it is when driving a smaller vehicle. Your passenger can help you determine when you are in the center of your lane by placing a dot sticker or a piece of blue tape on the windshield at a stop sign. By keeping the dot aligned with a lane divider or the roadside, you’ll have a reliable visual reference until the alignment becomes automatic.
Practice towing with a U-Haul trailer.
Before renting or purchasing a recreational vehicle, it is highly recommended that you rent a trailer from a moving company like U-Haul and practice towing and backing up in a parking lot. An inexpensive and low-risk way to hone your RVing chops before hitting the open road! Don’t risk wrecking your own RV if the rental trailer is insured (it should be).
Weigh and balance your RV.
Keeping your RV’s weight capacity will not only make it safer, but it will also improve your gas mileage and decrease the amount of damage that might occur which allows you to save your money. Weigh your RV and tow vehicle axle by axle at a truck stop with CAT Scales. In fact, you should go the extra mile and have your RV weighed at a specialized weighing station that provides this service.
Learn the ins and outs of the US road and interstate numbering system.
Interstates running north to south always have an odd number (|-25, for example) while those running east to west always have an even number (€.g.a. |-70). When counting north-south interstates, the lowest numbers begin on the west (e.g., |-5), and the highest numbers begin on the east (eg, I-95). Highways and beltways that go around a city have three numbers instead of two, and interstates that run east-west across the country begin with the lowest number (such as I-10) in the southernmost part of the United States and end with the highest number (such as I-90) in the far north (eg. I-25)
Determine your maximum safe carrying weight.
Weight is an important consideration for recreational vehicles, and not all RVs of the same size can tow the same amount of cargo. Check the yellow sticker near the RV’s entry door or driver area to see how much weight you can safely carry. Subtract the weight of the water in your tanks (8.3 Pounds per gallon) and the weight of your clothing, food, and other supplies to arrive at the maximum weight your vehicle can carry in cargo.
Make fuel filling a breeze.
You should always fill up your tow vehicle with gas before hooking up your trailer for a trip. You also need to fuel up at truck stops if you’re driving a big RV or motorhome. You can fill up your tank at some gas stations or you can dump your gray and black water tanks. Fill up your fresh water supply too, and pump air into your tires.
Turn at intersections from the outside lane to facilitate an easier turn.
If there is more than one lane for a turn and you aren’t in a hurry to make a left or right, take the one on the outside. Large RVs will appreciate the extra space, turning radius, and gentler angle that this provides.
Manage your water weight effectively
The weight of one gallon of water is 83 pounds which can quickly exceed the maximum load your RV was designed to carry. As an alternative to bringing along a full fresh water tank, just bring along enough water for a travel day (5-10 gallons should be enough for basic use) and fill up once you get to, or near, your camping destination. To avoid unnecessary weight, empty your holding tanks as soon as you get home from your camping trip. This will improve your RV’s safety and fuel economy as well as keep your tanks smell free.
Avoid driving on windy days.
If you can, plan your trips so that you are not driving when winds are particularly high, and keep an eye on weather apps before and during your travels.
Winds coming out of nowhere and start tossing you around in your car are a good excuse to pull over and rest or take a break.
Choose local rides of low prices and ease of use.
Spending money on an expensive towing setup and car is not necessary if you just need something with more range and capability than a regular bicycle once you get to your destination. It’s recommended that you rent a car or take a local rideshare service like Uber or Lyft instead. Fun and economical local transportation can be had by purchasing an electric bicycle, mounting a small scooter or moped on a rack behind your motorhome, or transporting one in a truck or toy hauler.
Use Tow/Haul mode for better driving mechanics.
Selecting Tow/Haul mode is a common transmission feature on pickup trucks and motorhomes. This mode helps improve towing capacity by keeping gears engaged for longer and aids braking by downshifting the transmission when the brake pedal is depressed. Transmissions vary slightly from vehicle to vehicle, so it’s possible that you’ll need to consult your owner’s manual to fully grasp how yours operates. Using this function can improve both your security and your time spent behind the wheel. You should probably only use your truck and trailer combination when they are joined together.
Put emergency supplies in a secure but easy-to-reach location.
Keep your emergency supplies in a safe, convenient spot.
Store your emergency equipment (flashlight, reflective vest, traffic cones, tools, etc.) inside of your vehicle or RV. If your car breaks down on the side of the road, you need quick and easy access, but you don’t want to have to risk doing so in the middle of traffic.
Plan your RV’s tail swing accordingly to avoid any accident.
Did you know that recreational vehicles have a tail that can swing outward by about 1 foot for every 3 feet of length behind the rear axle?
Your RV can be easily damaged when turning at a gas station or campground if you’re not careful. To determine your RV’s tail swing, measure the distance from its rear axle to its rear bumper and divide that number by 3. If you need that much space to turn safely, you should keep that much space between you and whatever is in your path. Keep at least three times the distance from the RV’s middle axle to its back as your minimum safe stopping distance.
Get roadside assistance with RV towing.
The cost of towing an RV is not covered by all roadside assistance plans. A towing plan for a recreational vehicle can be costly, so it’s important to have roadside assistance that covers RVs.
Avoid overheating your brakes.
Press the brake pedal firmly for 5-10 seconds (or longer) instead of “riding” the brakes to slow down. Never ride around with your foot barely touching the brake for extended periods of time. as this will lead to constant friction, which in turn can cause your brakes to overheat and become soft, rendering them useless when you really need them.
Ensure a clear view behind you by adjusting your mirrors.
You can see vehicles in your blind spot in the next lane more easily by angling your curved secondary mirror outward. The horizon should fill the upper two-fifths of your view in the primary mirror.
Get your RV some new tires and suspension.
Tires on many pre-owned RVs are either old or in poor condition, and many new RVs are sold with tires and suspension components that are currently in the midst of their safe limit.
Improving your safety and reducing the likelihood of breakdowns and/or damage to your RV is the primary motivation for upgrading these parts.
Reduce your speed and save money.
Take your time, have fun and save some cash. Traveling at a more leisurely pace can help you save money in a number of different ways: you’ll use less gas because you’ll be going slower, you’ll spend less time in the car because you’ll be covering fewer miles, you’ll spend less on campsite fees because you won’t have to break down and pack up your tent every day, and you’ll have more time to chat up locals about the best hidden gems. Less popular tourist destinations have lower prices and fewer people.
Keep an answer to the age-old “Are we there yet?” question.
Assuming you’re driving on a divided highway, 60 miles per hour equates to about one mile per minute. The remaining miles can be converted into minutes so you will most probably ask how long it will take to arrive at your destination.
Mark the routes you took in an atlas with a highlighter pen so you won’t forget where you went.
Use a different colored highlighter for each year’s travels so you can look back on your RV’s itinerary and see where you’ve been. Whether you want to go back to those streets or try a new route is something you can keep in mind this way.
Unhook the tow vehicle when traveling up steep inclines for you to keep safe.
If you’re driving a motorhome with a towed vehicle and you’re worried about the RV’s brakes, you might want to pull over and disconnect the tow vehicle so that your copilot (if you have one) can navigate the pass on their own. You’ll gain more driving time, be safer, and have less stress while saving your brakes if you unhook and reconnect your trailer hitch after each trip.
Downshift gears before tackling steep grades.
Don’t wait until you’re halfway down the hill to shift down; do it beforehand. You should bring the same equipment you would use to scale that hill. Because of this, if you’re using first or second gear to ascend a hill, you should also use this gear to descend a hill of a similar steepness.
Select the safest lane to drive in.
In urban areas with three lanes, the middle one is usually the safest choice. There will be less traffic overall, fewer vehicles entering and exiting lanes (which can act like low-hanging tree branches), and fewer obstacles (such as those). Most RV tires are designed for high speeds, so you should drive safely in the slow lane on smaller highways.
Slightly increase the pressure in the front curb-side tire in order to decrease tire wear.
Add two to three extra pounds of air pressure to the front curbside tire of a motorhome with large high-pressure tires compared to the front street-side tire. A slight increase in tire pressure can help your RV keep its line on the road and reduce tire wear on the road’s slanted pavement, which is common on highways and roadways. This is standard procedure for many commercial truck drivers and is also applicable to those driving large recreational vehicles.
Anticipate handling a motorhome before you actually drive it.
Simply by calculating the wheelbase of a motorhome, you can get a good idea of how it rides without ever having to get behind the wheel. How far apart the axles of the front and rear wheels are from one another is known as the wheelbase. The longer the wheelbase of a recreational vehicle, the better it will handle and ride. Motorhomes equipped with a tag axle (three wheels) will experience less of an impact because of the third wheel’s ability to provide greater stability.
Get traction in the snow and ice by using kitty litter.
The majority of RVers would rather travel when the weather is nice, but if you ever find yourself stuck in snow or ice, a little kitty litter can go a long way toward helping you get unstuck.
Maximize your vertical space in tunnels by sticking close to the tunnel’s center.
When passing through a tunnel, it is best to stay as close to the center of the road as possible, as the ceiling is typically higher there than on the sides (while staying in your lane, of course). Pick the middle lane if there are multiple lanes available on your side of the road through the tunnel.
Find out how much you think your hitch or tongue weighs.
Your vehicle’s or RV’s tongue/hitch weight capacity should be roughly 10% of its rated towing capacity. As an illustration, if your vehicle has a towing capacity of 4,000 pounds, the tongue/hitch weight is probably around 400 pounds. It’s important to remember that the tongue/hitch weight capacity of your towing vehicle will be reduced by any items stored inside the vehicle, especially in the back.
Avoid entering a parking lot if you are unsure of exit.
Never pull into a parking lot unless you can clearly make out an exit route.
In proportion to the size of the RV, this becomes more important. Be sure the parking lot you enter has an exit that is suitable for your RV, both for your own safety and the safety of other drivers.
Get a set of walkie-talkies if you need to coordinate short-distance plans.
If you want to avoid the hassle of using cell phones while parking your RV or switching drivers while on the road, bring a set of walkie-talkies with you. This advice guarantees reliable communication even in areas with poor cell service.
Find a campsite with a pull-through for quick and easy access.
To avoid the hassle of backing your RV into a campsite, especially if you have a large vehicle, reserve a pull-through site. Your vehicle will be able to drive straight in and out from here. Perhaps you won’t even need to disconnect your towing truck.
Learn the RV sign language to simplify the parking process when driving a recreational vehicle.
To improve your ability to communicate with your copilot while parking your RV at a campsite, it is a good idea to work together to develop a standard set of hand and arm signals. Don’t yell. the use of dramatic gestures that are easily visible to the driver, which leads to confusion and a disruption of the flow of the conversation. For example, raising your arms into an X above your head is a universal sign for “Stop.” and so on. You’ll save your relationship and possibly save yourself some embarrassment if you don’t get into a shouting match while setting up your RV.
Approach from the viewpoint of the driver.
To maximize your visibility, pull into a campsite from the driver’s side of your RV. The passenger side is known as the “blind side.”
It is recommended that you plan your route through the campground so that you can pull into your site from the driver’s side.
Use cords, ties, and bands to secure cabinets.
Use bungee cords, hair ties, or strong rubber bands to secure cabinet handles and knobs on travel days. This is especially important if any of your cabinets are concealed behind closed slide outs. Even if the cabinet’s contents temporarily push it open, the rubber band or bungee cord should re-close it. If cabinets behind a slide out are open during travel, the cabinet door may jam or be broken right off its bracket when the slide out is extended.
Break up long drive days for free.
In many cities, large stores such as Walmart, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, and Cracker Barrel, as well as some shopping centers and casinos, permit overnight RV parking in their parking lots for free. However, not all locations or city ordinances permit it, so always call ahead or check with the manager or security to obtain permission; otherwise, you may receive a ticket or be asked to leave in the middle of the night.
Remember that these are not campgrounds; therefore, observe their property and rules. Park as far away as possible from the entrance. Do not set up camp, which includes no camp chairs, grills, or awnings. Keep your slide outs kept in, if possible. Do not place your leveling jacks on the asphalt surface, as they can cause damage. You may express gratitude by simply purchasing from them. If you eat or drink at the establishment, certain bars and restaurants in smaller towns may let you park there for the night.