So, you’ve decided that the Recreational Vehicle (RV) living is for you? That’s great! You must love both freedom and adventure then. But be prepared. Once you have tasted RV life, it’ll be hard to go back. Here are some essential tips to get you started.
1. Chose your RV
- The most important thing is getting the right RV. Are you the caravan or motorhome type? That’s an important choice to make. If it’s essential for you to have your regular car with you, then you need a caravan, but if you prefer to drive, eat and sleep inside your vehicle, you must get a motorhome.
- There are pros and cons to both types of RV’s. Caravans are cheaper to purchase, are often more spacious inside, and can be parked somewhere, while you go sightseeing in your car. But caravans are also difficult to maneuver unless you are really experienced in driving with some sort of trailer. Only a few models are made for off-road trips and often caravans are not allowed at freecamp sites (We’ll get back to that later).
- On the other hand, motorhomes are more expensive to both buy and rent, but you have the freedom to park almost everywhere to rest, eat, and sleep. Motorhomes often lack some of the cupboard space that caravans have, but instead, you can sit at the couch reading, working, or watching a movie, while someone else is driving. That is not allowed in a caravan. Motorhomes are also easier to drive because they react like a regular car when turning the steering wheel or stepping on the brake. Motorhomes can drive off-road too.
- And yes size matters! When it comes to choosing your RV. A good night’s sleep is essential and the size of the bed is something you should really take into consideration. Your sleep will become a nightmare if you are 6 feet tall curled up in a 5.5 feet bed. No matter how nice the rest of the RV is. Make sure you have a little space above your head and at your feet. Also make sure, that there is room for your significant other if needed. Being close is romantic, but it can also get a little cramped at times.
- So how do you find out which RV suits you and your needs? Take a tour on the internet first of course and then go to one or several dealers. Try out the different kinds of caravans or motorhomes. Lay in the bed, sit on the couch, move around, sit on the toilet (with pants on!), and be critical. If something doesn’t seem to work for you, it probably never will.
- Then, you rent the preferred model. Go on vacation or a weekend trip somewhere. Feel the movement of the vehicle and try out how it is to live in the RV. Maybe you find this model perfect and maybe you don’t. If not, you repeat the step above. After that, you can choose to keep on renting or buy your own (customizable) RV.
2. Prepare for simple living
- If you are someone who needs a huge wardrobe, a ton of electrical gadgets, and a big collection of books, RV living will put you to the test. But it can be done. You just have to choose carefully.
- Closet space is very limited in an RV, so what you do is to choose your absolute favorite clothing items and accessories and bring them with you. And no, you don’t have 10 absolute favorite blouses. You have a maximum of 3. The same goes for the rest of your wardrobe. With underwear as an exception. Bring underwear for at least a week. Take into consideration, that clothes you can combine in different ways are a good option. And remember, only people you live with, in the RV, know if you had the same clothes two days ago. The rest of the people you meet, see you for the first time.
- Appliances that use more than 12V are useless in an RV unless you are hooked up to electricity or have a converter (that uses a lot of power from your battery). RV’s have a battery installed only for the household. That one charges while driving and if you are hooked up. This stored power is all you have. Therefore chose USB chargeable appliances whenever you can. Some old RV models don’t even have USB outlets, so either you have to install them or bring a few good power banks. You can buy everything from blow dryers to kettles, that run on 12V, but why not simply skip those luxury items? Let your hair relax and boil your water on the gas stove.
- Obviously book collections, huge amounts of beauty products, kitchen appliances that are rarely used, etc. have nothing to do in an RV. Always chose your absolute favorites and things that can be used for more than one thing. There’s no use for a spaghetti serving spoon when you can use a regular fork. Foldable items are also great. Buckets, sieves, toasters, and even pots and pans, can be found well-stocked camping shops.
3. Decide your RV living style
- Are you a luxury camper or do you prefer free-camping? Meaning, do you need to be at a campsite or are you fine with nature, parking spaces, and free-camping areas? Some people can’t live without their morning shower, washing machine, and steady surroundings and that’s just fine. That luxury can be found at regular campsites. Those places still provide you with the freedom of living in your own home but at various locations. Booking is always safe to do, but most of the time it is also possible to show up unannounced.
- There are several kinds of bonus cards available, that can give you discounts for staying at campsites (and other benefits too). The ADAC card is one of them. Check it out for more info. When staying at a campsite, you are sure to meet a lot of people, so if you are really social, but still want to be able to close the door and spend some time alone, campsites are perfect for that. Campsites are also great for staying just one night if you are otherwise a free-camper. To get a real shower, wash your bed linen, or charge your batteries.
- If you are more of a free-camping type, you are in for a treat. First of all, you can choose to stay, where you are 100% alone and enjoy the solitude and peace. You can also choose to meet up with a few others that are free spirits like yourself. Make a campfire, have a glass of wine, and share some good stories. Obviously free-camping leaves you with limited resources such as water and electricity, but if you are fine with mostly bathing in a lake and saving on indoor lighting, this is the right choice for you.
- There are some limitations though. First of all, always respect the no-camping signs. There’s no need for campers to get into any bad standing with the locals. Also, different countries, provinces, and cities have different laws about free-camping. Always check the area that you are in, on the internet, or ask at the local police station. Some countries don’t allow free-camping at the beach or near regular campsites and others don’t allow it at all. There’s no need to get a fine or be asked to leave in the middle of the night.
- Several apps show you, where it’s okay to freecamp, with exact locations and often also reviews from other users. Because we are traveling in Europe, we use the one called Camper Contact. It’s essential for our everyday life and it allows us to filter our needs. If we e.g. need a place where we can empty the grey water (used water), we can search for places with that kind of facility. As I mentioned earlier, those free-camping spots are almost always for motorhomes only. So not really usable for caravans. Often they are also situated in remote and somewhat rough areas, where it can be difficult to drive with a caravan.
- Always use your common sense, when you are free-camping. And follow your gut feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, drive on. Unfortunately, criminals are everywhere and if the area looks a little shady, don’t take the risk. Also, beware of wild animals. Bears, wild boars, and wildcats can ruin the peace. And never, ever throw trash in nature. You are a guest. Act like one.
4. The boring stuff
- Always check your insurance while traveling in an RV. As a minimum, you should have a property damage liability insurance, that covers if you do damage to others. But a full coverage and also roadside assistance would be optimal.
- You also need to check the traffic rules in each country you enter. Right of way and the way you enter a highway is absolutely not the same everywhere.
- Talking about traffic, the content of the first aid kit also varies. Some countries demand vests in special colors, other flashing lights, and some even rubber gloves and alcohol tests. Be sure to have those things in order, so you don’t get in trouble with the police and lose stupid money because of a fine.
- It’s also a good idea to get yourself a GPS made especially for campers (We have a TomTom Camper). On those, you can enter the width, height, and weight of your vehicle. That way you will not be stuck in a narrow street or have to turn around, because a bridge can’t handle the weight of your caravan or motorhome.
- Besides that, a screwdriver, a wrench, and a few other tools are also nice to have in the trunk and if you are driving in areas with snow you must not forget a foldable shovel. A set of leveling blocks and a small spirit level will prevent you from falling out of the bed at night if you park in an uneven place. As I said earlier, sleep is important.
5. Route or no route?
- Some people feel most comfortable with a scheduled route. Especially if children are involved in the trip. And it sure is practical, if you have certain places you want to see or someone has recommended a restaurant, that you want to try out too. That way, you always know what tomorrow brings and you are able to keep track of your finances when it comes to road tolls, the amount of fuel you use, and other expenses. If you drive with children, it can also be fun to talk about the wildlife park or the beach you will be visiting tomorrow.
- If you are more into the free life, you can go without a route. A direction would be great though. The most amazing adventures often occur when you don’t plan them. You might see a beautiful tower in the distance and decide to check it out. Only to find yourself in a tiny town, with friendly locals and homemade specialties on the menu, at a small restaurant. You can’t plan that sort of experience. It might be more costly in fuel to drive without a route, but on the other hand, you will most likely end up in amazing places, that you want to stay in for several days. All in all its all about personality and temper, when choosing a route or no route.
Now go out and find that RV! Use all the great tips you have just read and find the perfect camper for you. Enjoy your new freedom and plan something out of the ordinary. You will love it for sure.
E & M
-Writing: Eva. Photo editing: Eva.