RV camping is an awesome way to enjoy the great outdoors without having to rough it. Even though I’m a big fan of primitive camping, backpacking, and staying in a tent, I’ve spent my fair share of nights and camping trips staying in an RV. And it makes for an amazing camping trip. At times, it can be even better!
But what is RV camping?
Simply put, it’s just camping in a recreational vehicle (RV), which comes in all shapes and sizes. From tow-behind trailers to full-scale motorhomes, RVs include them all. Some people think that an RV only refers to a motorhome that you’d drive into the campground itself, but the term refers to any sort of vehicle, camper, or motorhome you’ll be staying in while you camp.
RV camping is a great option for families, groups of friends, or anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors without having to worry about setting up a tent or dealing with the elements. It’s also a great way to see the country and experience different campsites and RV campgrounds.
This guide is a comprehensive introduction to RV camping for beginners, providing all the necessary knowledge to embark on your RV adventure. We’ll take a look at the different types of RVs, the basics of RV camping, tips for staying comfortably in an RV, safety considerations of RV camping, and much more.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a family looking for a unique vacation, or a retiree ready to hit the road, RV camping has something to offer everyone.
Different Types of RVs
If you’re thinking about getting into RV camping but you’re not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. I was in your shoes not too long ago, so I know first-hand how daunting it can be. But once you get into it, you’ll see that it’s just another fun way to enjoy the beauty of nature and spend time outdoors.
The first place to start is to figure out which type of recreational vehicle is best for you. Here are the most common RV types for you to choose from. I also have a complete RV vs camper guide if you need more help picking the right RV type for you!
Motorhomes, also known as motor coaches, are essentially a home on wheels, built on a motorized chassis. They combine the living quarters and the vehicle into one, and they are an excellent choice for individuals seeking convenience and comfort while on the road. There are three main types of motorhomes:
Class A Motorhomes
These are the largest and most luxurious types of motorhomes, often resembling bus-like structures. They can range from 26 to 45 feet in length and offer a wide range of amenities like full-size kitchens, bathrooms, king-size beds, laundry facilities, and even slide-out sections to increase the interior space.
Class A motorhomes are perfect for long-term travelers or large families, but their size might make them challenging to maneuver in tight spaces and their fuel efficiency is often lower than other classes. This is the type of RV that will typically come to mind when you think about living in an RV full-time, or traveling the country in an RV.
Class B Motorhomes
Often called “camper vans,” Class B motorhomes are the smallest (18 to 24 feet) and easiest to drive, while still combining the living area and vehicle into one. They are built on standard van frames, with raised roofs for extra headroom. Despite their size, they are ingeniously designed to maximize space and often include small kitchens, compact bathrooms, and fold-down beds.
Class B motorhomes are great for solo travelers or couples and offer the best fuel efficiency of the motorhome classes. However, their compact nature means they offer fewer amenities and less living space than Class A or Class C motorhomes.
Class C Motorhomes
Class C motorhomes offer a balance between Class A and Class B. They are built on a truck or van chassis with an attached cab section and usually have an over-cab sleeping area. They can range in length from around 20 to 40 feet and offer more living space than Class B motorhomes while being easier to drive than Class A motorhomes.
Amenities in Class C motorhomes are similar to those in Class A, though typically on a smaller scale. It might seem a bit strange that Class C motorhomes are a middle ground between A and B, rather than B being the middle ground. I was confused at first too, but that’s just the way it is, likely because Classes A and B came along first.
Selecting the right type of motorhome depends on various factors like the size of your family, your budget, how much ease of driving and comfort you require, and the amenities you need for your camping experience.
Unlike motorhomes, towable RVs are separate units that require a vehicle – usually a truck, SUV, or sometimes even a car – to tow them. They come in various sizes and styles, each with their unique advantages. Here are the different types of towable recreational vehicles you might camp in.
Travel trailers are the most common type of towable RVs and come in a wide range of sizes, from tiny teardrop trailers to large multi-room trailers. They are connected to the towing vehicle by a standard ball hitch receiver and can be unhitched at the campsite, freeing up the towing vehicle for regular use when you want to leave the RV campground.
Travel trailers often contain kitchens, bathrooms, and sleeping areas. Coming in different styles and sizes, you could start with a smaller, more affordable travel trailer and work your way up through the years until you land on one that’s just right for you.
Fifth-wheel Travel Trailers
These are the largest type of towable RVs, providing a high level of amenities and living space. They are designed to be towed by a pickup truck using a special hitch in the truck bed, giving them added stability while driving.
The distinctive bi-level design provides a separate sleeping or living area in the raised section, and they often include multiple slide-outs for additional space. These are the other common way that people will live in an RV or go on extended trips around the country due to the added space and comfort. It’s like a small house on wheels.
Also known as folding trailers, pop-up campers are lightweight recreational vehicles that can be collapsed for easy towing and storage. Their small size makes pop-up campers easy to store in the garage, under a carport, or even just in your driveway.
When fully expanded, they offer sleeping space for several people and often include a small kitchenette and dining area. While they don’t usually have the full amenities of larger RVs, they offer a more comfortable and secure sleeping environment than traditional tent camping.
These RVs are designed for adventurers who want to bring along their “toys” – such as ATVs, motorcycles, or bicycles. They are essentially travel trailers or fifth-wheel trailers with a built-in garage area, typically at the rear. This flexible space can also be used for extra sleeping or living areas when not used for storage.
Choosing the right towable RV depends on the towing capacity of your vehicle, the level of comfort you want, the number of people you’ll be camping with, and whether you’ll be bringing along any large sports equipment or toys.
Essentials of RV Camping
Successful RV camping involves understanding and managing several important systems and components of your RV and how to effectively get around in it. While you don’t have to be an expert, knowing the basics of them make RV camping easier and more fun.
The most important RV systems and aspects to understand include power, water/sewage, navigation, and maintenance.
In terms of power, most RVs have a combination of 12-volt DC power (from batteries) and 110-volt AC power (from shore power hookups or generators). Understanding your RV’s electrical system and how to manage power consumption is essential for an enjoyable camping experience.
Water management in RV camping includes both freshwater and wastewater. The freshwater system supplies clean water for drinking, cooking, and bathing, which is typically stored in an onboard tank. This can often be supplemented with the campsite’s potable water supply.
Wastewater, on the other hand, is split into greywater (from sinks and showers) and black water (from toilets), both of which need to be safely and responsibly disposed of at a dedicated dump station.
Power, water, and sewage are all things you should keep in mind when you’re looking at what hookups are available at the RV camp you’re visiting. Some RV campgrounds offer everything you need, including electric hookups, water, and integrated dump stations. Others might provide partial hookups or nothing at all.
Learning how to navigate an RV campground and campsites is another critical aspect of RV camping. Campgrounds can range from primitive campsites in national parks to private resorts with a wide range of amenities. It’s important to research and reserve your campgrounds ahead of time, especially during peak travel seasons.
Lastly, understanding RV maintenance is crucial for both the longevity of your RV and your safety on the road. This includes regular checks and upkeep of the engine, tires, brakes, roof seals, and appliances, among other things. It’s also a good idea to have a basic tool kit on hand for minor repairs.
By mastering these aspects, you can ensure a smoother and more enjoyable RV camping experience.
Essential Tips for Staying Comfortably in an RV
Embracing the RV lifestyle means adjusting to a new way of living. It’s crucial to create a comfortable environment that makes your RV feel like a home away from home. I actually have a complete article dedicated to teaching you how to live in an RV full-time, so make sure you check that out if you’re considering this lifestyle.
But for anyone just wanting to learn about RV camping in general, here’s a quick overview of how to do it.
Comfort starts with the basics, especially your sleeping arrangements. Invest in a good quality mattress and bedding. Even if your RV comes with a mattress, it might not be as comfortable as you’d like. Memory foam mattress toppers can add a layer of comfort, or you might consider replacing the entire mattress with one more suited to your preferences.
Space is often limited in an RV, so organization is key. Use storage solutions to maximize your space, such as hanging organizers, under-bed storage bins, and stackable kitchenware. Keeping your RV tidy will not only make it feel more spacious, but it will also make living in it more enjoyable.
Cooking in an RV can be a unique challenge due to the limited space. Try to plan simple meals that require a few pots and pans. When possible, take advantage of the opportunity to grill outdoors. Check out my guide on how to cook while camping for even more tips and tricks for cooking on the go.
Staying connected to the internet can be another challenge while RV camping, but it’s essential for remote workers and digital nomads. While some RV campgrounds offer WiFi, it can be unreliable or slow. Consider investing in a cellular data plan or a portable hotspot to ensure you can stay connected, whether for work, keeping in touch with family, or for entertainment on rainy days.
Climate control is another factor that can greatly impact your comfort. Most RVs come equipped with heating and air conditioning, but depending on your camping location and the season, you might need to take additional steps to stay comfortable. In the summer, park your RV in shaded areas and use window coverings to keep the sun out. In the winter, use draft blockers and consider a small space heater for added warmth.
Lastly, remember to personalize your space. Bring along some small decorative items that make you feel at home. This could be as simple as a favorite blanket or some family photos.
Safety Considerations While RV Camping
Ensuring safety while RV camping is paramount, as it not only affects you but also those around you on the road and in campgrounds. While you’ll mostly be following many of the same camping safety tips you’d use when staying in a tent, there are a few extra things to keep in mind when staying in an RV.
Here’s how to stay safe while RV camping.
Firstly, become familiar with your RV’s operations and maintenance requirements. Regularly check your RV’s engine, brakes, tires, and other critical systems to prevent potential issues on the road. Also, familiarize yourself with your RV’s electrical and propane systems to safely manage your utilities.
Driving an RV is quite different from driving a regular vehicle. The size and weight of an RV require more careful navigation and longer stopping distances. Be mindful of your RV’s height to avoid collisions with overpasses and tree branches. It’s a good idea to take an RV driving course or practice in an open space before setting off on your journey.
When you’re setting up at your campsite, make sure your RV is level before extending slide-outs or using appliances that require a level surface. Always chock your wheels to prevent your RV from moving unexpectedly. An out-of-control RV is dangerous for you and anyone else in the campground or RV park!
Fire safety is also crucial in RVs. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand and ensure all travelers know how to use it. Be careful while cooking both inside and outside the RV, and never leave cooking food unattended. Make sure your RV’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working correctly, and don’t start a campfire too close to your RV!
When you’re enjoying the great outdoors, take precautions to stay safe from wildlife and practice Leave No Trace principles. Keep your campsite clean and free of food items that can attract animals. When hiking, wear appropriate footwear, stay hydrated, and be aware of your surroundings.
What is RV Camping? Embracing the Lifestyle
Despite the challenges, RV camping remains one of the most rewarding ways to travel, offering unparalleled freedom and a unique way to connect with the natural world. Whether you’re planning weekend trips or considering full-time RVing, this lifestyle can provide unforgettable adventures and lasting memories.
As we’ve outlined in this guide, successful RV camping requires a combination of careful preparation, practical knowledge, and a willingness to adapt to new experiences. It’s a journey of continual learning—from mastering how to handle your RV on the road to becoming a pro at setting up camp.
While it may seem overwhelming at first, the RV community is renowned for its friendliness and willingness to help newcomers. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or seek advice from more experienced RVers, whether online or at your campground.
Remember, every RVer was a beginner once, and every experienced camper has their share of stories about things that went wrong. And most RV owners are even willing to help! Before I ever even used an RV myself, I used to talk to all the owners at the campgrounds a pick their brains for more info.
So, don’t be discouraged by initial difficulties or setbacks; they’re just part of the journey. What is RV camping? It’s just another way to enjoy the great outdoors and spend time in nature. I’ll see you out there!
- Understanding Your RV: Knowing the ins and outs of your RV, from the mechanical aspects to the living space, is essential. This knowledge ensures you can properly maintain your vehicle and resolve any issues that may arise during your travels.
- Planning is Crucial: Successful RV camping requires thorough planning – from selecting the right RV and campgrounds to understanding the rules of the road and campground etiquette. Careful preparation will make your RV camping experience more enjoyable and less stressful.
- Embrace the Lifestyle: RV camping is more than just a mode of travel – it’s a lifestyle. This lifestyle may come with challenges like limited space and connectivity, but the experiences, freedom, and close connection to nature often far outweigh these difficulties.
- Safety First: Prioritizing safety is vital when RV camping. This involves ensuring your RV is well-maintained, taking precautions while driving, keeping a well-stocked first aid kit on hand, and respecting wildlife, the environment, and other campers.