Five Tips For First Time RVers

RV_ABy Jenn and Brent Nims

It was a beautiful day as we drove north on the 101 freeway towards Santa Barbara. The rugged sandy bluffs rose high along the California coast while the sunshine sparkled across the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Thing 1 and Thing 2, then 8 and 5, were trying to sit patiently in the back seat as we drove towards our campground. This was our first outing in our new-to-us, folding camping trailer.

To say my heart was happy would be an understatement. I was giddy with excitement. I couldn’t wait to start making fun, family camping memories. Brent and I already had so many from when we were kids, and we wanted to give the same thing to our boys. Not only that, we were ready to relax for the weekend after a long week of work. We were ready to kick up our heels, sit by the fire, and maybe go on a few hikes in the Los Padres National Forest.

An hour later we arrived at our campsite, and the boys jumped out of the van. They were busy checking out the campsite when I noticed Thing 2 wasn’t wearing shoes.
“Put on your shoes, honey. There might be something sharp.”

“I don’t have them,” he replied, playing in the dirt.

What? No shoes?

Of course, he has shoes. What sort of parent forgets shoes when they go camping? I started searching the van but no luck. In our excitement to hit the road for our first camping experience, we had let him run out the door happy but barefoot.


Determined not to let this ruin our weekend, we headed up to the camp store. There we bought a pair of flip-flops that he could wear to protect his feet. We may not be going on any long hikes over the weekend, but they would be perfect to wear to the swimming hole on the Santa Ynez River.

Wondering if there are things to do (besides remember your child’s shoes.) to make your first time out in your new RV go more smoothly? Read on.

RV_BMake A List

Making a list is probably your most important step. Make copies and give them to all your readers in the family so they can help pack up. Divide your lists into categories: kitchen, meals, bathroom, outdoor activities (bikes, balls, firewood, etc.), indoor activities (games, movies, etc.), pets, family member A, B, C, etc., and don’t forget to include yourself. Start packing a few days ahead of time to avoid the last minute rush. Cross things off as you pack them and just before you pull out of your driveway, take a quick glance at your list to make sure you have everything.

Test Run

Most RVs are so easy to set up you could do it in your sleep, but it doesn’t hurt to do a little test run. Set up your RV in your driveway before you head out. In fact, you may want to do this a few times if you are feeling nervous. Better to figure out how to work the jacks before getting to a campsite after a long drive when you (and everyone else) may be tired. If your RV has slides, always do a slide check when setting or packing up to make sure nothing gets smashed in the slide. Trust us on this one.

Practice Parking or Driving

If you are worried about backing up or driving the RV around, take it out for some practice without the family. It’s a lot easier to practice without kids playing (or arguing) in the back seat. Choose a Saturday or Sunday morning when the roads are less crowded, and drive around a bit. Find a large parking lot with plenty of empty space and back it up a few times. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it gets with a little practice. It won’t be long until you feel like a pro.


A little research ahead of time goes a long way. We are all for spontaneity, but for your first trip in your RV I suggest you have reservations. Double-check that the campground has the amenities you want. If you want electricity, water and sewer, be sure to ask for a full hookup site. You can even ask for a pull-through site if you are not quite ready for a back-in site. While you are on the Internet, do a quick search for things to do in the area and take a few notes (I take screenshots on my phone and save them to my camera roll). This way if you get to your destination and suddenly realize you don’t have cell phone reception, you’ll still have an idea of what’s in the area. Also don’t forget to double-check your route on the GPS before pulling out of the driveway.

Don’t Forget to Pack Your “Chill Pill”

There is a lot to be said for “Stay Calm and Carry On.” Even with all the preparation, it’s likely that something won’t go as planned on your first RV trip. (Remember we forgot our son’s shoes.) It’s okay. Little mishaps are all a part of the adventure. So here’s a little secret: I’m not the most laid-back person in the world. It’s true. But over the years, with a little practice, I’ve gotten better at handling mishaps and disagreements.

There was a time when Brent and I would have driven around the campground discussing (read arguing) about what site to pick. What we’ve learned is that it doesn’t really matter. Neither do most of those little mishaps like forgetting the toothpaste or setting up the RV a little uneven.

Every time I’ve gotten upset about something not going the way I planned, I learned that it would have worked out without my unnecessary stress. Each time after the fact, I wondered, “Why did I let that upset me?”

Truthfully, most things that go “wrong” are really minor, and there is almost always a painless solution. Over time, I’ve become much more chill about a lot things. Flat tire? No biggie, we’ll change it. We forgot to pack marshmallow roasters? Let’s head to the nearest store or use sticks. So take it from me, if you’re the type who might need them, don’t forget to pack your “chill pill” and you’ll have a lot more fun.

The Newschoolnomads, Jen and Brent Sims, blog for

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In addition to its arts and entertainment publication Long Island Weekly, Anton Media Group publishes 16 community newspapers, several magazines, specialty publications and websites. With brands dating back to 1877, Anton has a commitment to deliver trusted and relevant content to the communities it serves.

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