Living in an RV or any small space can have its challenges. The first year of full time RV life flew by in the blink of an eye. As we make our way toward the three year mark, I want to share some tips that helped us survive the transition to RV living. Whether you’re a solo RVer, family of five or a couple with a dog, I hope you find these tips helpful.
12 Tips to Survive RV Living
The key to our survival is good communication. There is limited room in an RV and it will start to feel small fast. If you’re frustrated or angry with each other, that space will feel even smaller. Sure you can take a walk, sit outside for a while or jump in the car (if you tow one) and go for a drive, but temporary distance won’t solve the issues.
A lack of communication in the first month of transitioning to RV living put stress on our relationship. Once we figured out the communication breakdown and addressed it, life was much more enjoyable. Good communication is something we continue to work on everyday especially living full time in a camper van. Watch our full time van life chat where we talk about communication.
2. Have the Right Gear
Having the right gear will help prevent many headaches down the road. The best thing we did before transitioning to RV living was doing extensive research on the best gear. Having an electrical management system (EMS) and essential RVing apps made RV living a breeze.
For a list of our favorite gear, check out these posts or head to our store:
3. Know Your RV
When we took delivery of our first RV, it came with a suitcase full of user manuals. It contained a manual for every component in the RV. There was even a manual on Michelin RV tires. We read through every manual and downloaded the online versions as a backup. Having a PDF version will make searching for a specific topic faster and easier.
There were also build sheets, diagrams for each fuse box and information on roadside assistance. We referenced all the information many times throughout our first year of RV living. When a fuse goes out at 1a.m., you’ll want to know which fuse box to check. Our first RV had four fuse/breaker boxes and two of them were outside. When it’s pouring rain outside, it’s not fun to run around wondering which breaker box to check.
And if you happen to be handy like Joe, then you can also perform the oil change on the RV.
4. Spring Cleaning
It can be a challenge to figure out what to bring for full time RV living. “Is one pair of sandals enough or do I need a second pair for campground showers?” We ended up having way too much stuff. After a month of RV living we decided to sell the bicycles because we never used them. A few months later, we performed a spring cleaning by re-evaluating everything in the RV. Many articles of clothing ended up in the donation pile because neither of us had touched them since we moved in.
“I’ve been looking for this!” The spring cleaning also reminded us of things we’d brought that we forgot about. Items like AA batteries that were stored inside a box in the corner of a storage bay got moved inside the the RV for easy access. This is also a great time to reorganize and optimize storage. After the initial cleaning, most of our bays, cupboards and drawers ended up half empty. That’s also about the time we realized a small Class A motorhome was too much space for us. Now we will be traveling full time in a Class B camper van.
5. Share the Drive
Looking back on the 12,000+ miles we drove in the first year, neither of us can imagine doing it by ourselves. Unless you don’t have plans to move very often or for long distances at a time, it’s good to share the drive. Whenever I pull up to a campground, the neighbors always stop by and say to Joe “I wish my wife drove.”
If you’re not comfortable driving an RV, there are driving classes available. The more you drive, the more confidence you will have. Before you know it, you’ll be thinking to yourself “this is a piece of cake”. You might even start looking forward to taking your turn behind the wheel.
6. Develop a Checklist
After too many items flying off the counter and drawers coming unlatched around a corner, we knew it was time to have a checklist. Just like pilots have a pre-flight checklist, it’s important to have a pre-departure checklist for your RV.
Every checklist will be different depending on the type of RV and the gear. In the Class A RV, we checked to make sure the antenna was down, the jack pads were picked up, all the cords and hoses were property stowed. The important thing is to make a comprehensive list and check it EVERY time you leave. We got complacent a few times and inevitably we would forget something. Head over to our Pre-Departure Checklist for a list of all the items or watch the video.
7. Everything Has A Place
Just like the cupboards in your house, everything has a place in an RV. The difference is, when the RV is going down a bumpy road and that bottle of vinegar gets loose because it was put back in the wrong place, you might end up with a mess on your hands. It also makes packing up a much faster process because you know where all the pieces of the puzzle go.
8. One In, One Out
This rule applies to anyone looking to prevent a build up of “stuff” in the RV. The “one in, one out” mentality changed the way we shopped. A trip to Costco meant we bought what we needed at the time, not what we think we might need in six months. Just because there’s storage space doesn’t mean it needs to be filled.
A minimalist approach to RV living worked the best for us. Once we got the hang of it, life became much more enjoyable. We no longer had an “explosion” of stuff when we camped somewhere for a week or longer. It ended up becoming a “one in, two out” policy naturally and the bonus for us was saving money.
9. Expect the Unexpected
Whether it’s severe weather, a flat tire or a windshield repair. Be ready for the unexpected. Have an RV repair fund to pay for that unexpected problem. Carry a spare in case there’s a flat tire. Develop an emergency plan for those unexpected situations.
If you have to evacuate the RV, do you have your essentials in one place with easy access? What’s your plan if there’s a flash flood and the river you’re camped next to is flooding? What happens if there’s a medical emergency and no cell phone signal?
This video shows a glimpse of the severe thunderstorm tornado warning we experienced in Florida.
10. Be Flexible
It’s good to have an idea of where to go, what to do and how long to stay but don’t have a rigid plan. Be flexible enough to have the option to stay a few extra nights or leave early. Every town we drive into is a new experience. Sometimes we love the town and sometimes it’s just not our cup of tea. Having a flexible schedule means we can stay longer in places we enjoy and take off early if we’re not feeling it.
11. Fun Fund
Have a “fun fund” for those spur of the moment adventures. If you decide that today is the day you want to go for that hot air ballon ride, do it! Having money set aside for these experiences will make that transition to RV living more enjoyable and fun. We always seek out free and cheap things to do in our travels, but there are some experiences that are worth the splurge.
For us, our big splurge was RV camping at Fort Wilderness and going to Walt Disney World.
12. Enjoy the Journey
Most importantly, enjoy the journey. There are headaches associated with RV living, but there are many more pleasures.