A Beginner’s Overview Guide to RVing

Table of Contents

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This guide is both an introduction to the wild and wonderful world of RVing, and a helpful resource for navigating this site!

As you read, feel free to click on a link to learn more. And if you have any questions or would like to suggest a reference article, please contact us.

Table of Contents

1. Uh … What’s an RV?

An RV stands for “Recreational Vehicle.” If your house and your car had a fling while you were away, their love-child would be an RV.

RVs are available in many classes, or types:

  • Class A motorhome (or coach)
  • Class B motorhome (or conversion van)
  • Class C motorhome
  • Travel Trailer
  • 5th Wheel
  • Toy Hauler (technically a sub-genre)
  • Slide-In Truck Campers (not legally considered an RV in all states)
  • Teardrop Campers
  • Park Model RVs
  • Pop-Up and Expandable Campers

For a full guide to each of these types of RVs and campers, peruse our Big Book of RV Types.

Or get a quick snapshot of all types at our RV Types Pros and Cons page.

By the way, if you’re confused by a lot of the RVing jargon, a good place to start is our RV glossary. So when someone starts complaining about their “batwing,” you know they’re talking about their roof-mounted antennae, not Comic-Con costume.

2. Am I Cut Out for the RV Lifestyle?

Hey, it’s OK to be nervous! 

If you’re not even sure what RVing looks like, start with this blog post about the different kinds of RV lifestyles. You might be able to see yourself in there!

You can also visit some of the popular forums and social media groups on this page. You can ask questions and get answers straight from real RVers, many with decades of experience!

3. How Do I Get Started?

We recommend you refinance your house, plunk out $120,000 for a brand-new RV, sell all your possessions, and get a trail name for yourself.

Not really. Instead, take it slow! 

Do your research!

RVing isn’t like driving but with style. You might be surprised by some of the rules about driving and camping.

Start with our short FAQ responses. You’ll learn the basics of RV plumbing, towing, fuel and gas, and things you need to watch out for – like condensation! 

If you’ve never driven or towed an RV before, learn how to drive or tow an RV here. No, you don’t normally need a license. But you can’t just drive under every low-overpass bridge and assume things will work out! And if you’re not sure if you need a license – we got you covered.

Of course, the research never really stops. That’s why we write new posts for our blog at Changing Gears.

Also, we invite you to check out our sister sites:

  • For technical information on how RVs work (and sometimes why they don’t), visit AskTheRVEngineer.com
  • For tips and tips about the RV lifestyle and nomadic living, check out the buzz at WayfindingWheels.com

Talk to real RVers

You don’t want all your information to come from your RV dealership, do you?

Again, joining a social media group or a forum is probably the best spot to start. We also keep a list of other helpful sites and resources for RVers of any age or experience level.

Rent an RV!

Seriously – the importance of renting an RV cannot be overstated! You need to experience the lifestyle for a few weekends before making a major financial commitment. Luckily, we wrote the book on how to rent an RV.

By the way, if you’re planning on towing an RV camper yourself, you need to read our guide on How to Choose a Tow Vehicle. You can also find out more about your truck (if you own one) towing capacities here.

Lastly, before you hit the road, you need to check your safety! Our Calculators page is the best in the business. We’ve got calculators to help you calculate safe towing weight, properly size a vehicle for your camper, figure loaded weight, estimate battery life, etc.

4. Ready to Purchase an RV?

So exciting! You’re ready to become an official RVer!

Of course, you want to get the best deal possible. So read our definitive guide to buying an RV, which we update every year.

Don’t drive away from the dealership without conducting a thorough PDI inspection.

Know what you’re looking for in a test drive by using one of our road test checklists.

Make sure you’re getting a fair price by confirming the RV’s fair market value. And we recommend insuring your RV, especially if you’re planning any epic road trips.

If you plan to purchase your RV from a dealership, you need to understand the ins and outs of RV financing. You don’t want to get the wool pulled over your eyes with a “too good to be true” offer.

Don’t even think about buying an RV without visiting our comprehensive list of RV manufacturers! There are some real lemons out there. But there are also some smaller, high-quality manufacturers you may never have heard of!

5. Hit the Road!

So, you’re ready to make your first campground reservation or hit the open road? Where do you begin?

If you’re planning an epic tour of our beautiful National Parks, make sure your RV isn’t too big!

If you feel more comfortable at a developed campground or KOA, no problem! In fact, you can save some money by joining a RV club or membership group.

Download our full suite of RV checklists, including:

  • Setup
  • Departure
  • Camping
  • Amenities

Oh, and as you get more experienced, you’ll start to purchase a lot of RV accessories and maintenance gear. Please, feel free to shop through our Gear Store, or shop through one of our affiliate partners. As all RVers eventually discover, becoming a handyman is inevitable!

Here’s a helpful hint: After using the free WiFi at a few campgrounds, you’ll probably be interested in better service! Here’s a guide for how to get affordable internet service on the road.

You probably won’t be traveling in your RV all the time, though! Here are your options for storing an RV.

6. Expand Your Horizons

As you get more into the RV lifestyle, you might want to try out different types of camping.

Former website owners Charlie and Landra Kerekes detailed their many adventures in their epic travelogue. Learn about cool destinations, RV tips, and lifestyle hacks through their blog!

If you’re interested in camping off-grid, read our 101 Guide to Boondocking and follow up with our master list of boondocking hot spots and resources.

Or maybe you’re curious about cold-weather camping?

If you own dogs or cats, you might be interested in taking them along with you! Read your guide about how to go RVing with your beloved fur friends.

And again, you should really check out the list of RV membership clubs. Many offer huge discounts and savings on campground rates!

7. Go Full-Time?

This step is optional, obviously. But if you’re diggin’ the RV lifestyle, and you want to try it out full-time for a few years, we have some information for you.

  1. Calculate how much your average cost of living is. Or if you prefer doing the math yourself, use our budget checklist as a guide.
  2. Establish a state of residency for your domicile. Otherwise, you’ll find it hard to participate in society (and pay your taxes).
  3. Learn how to receive and send mail and packages.
  4. JOIN A CLUB! You’ll save so much money! Many memberships pay for themselves in 2-3 campground stays, and you’ll meet a new community of people, too.

8. Rinse, Wash, Repeat!

We hope you enjoy the RV lifestyle for many years! 

If you’re thinking of trading in or buying a new rig for your next adventure, read our definitive guide to selling an RV.

RVs do depreciate, though. And if it ever comes time to send beloved Bertha on her way, we maintain a list of RV salvage yards and RV removal services.

No matter where you are on your RVing journey, we hope Changing Gears is your go-to source for RV ownership reference information. We update lists like our helpful RV resources page regularly.

If you have any questions, please contact us. We can’t tell you how we value your readership and support. With you, there would be no Changing Gears!

Andy Herrick is a blogging nerd, #8 Enneagram, wannabe bread baker, INTJ, RV industry professional, and small business entrepreneur. He can be found hanging out with his lovely wife and family, skiing, cycling, climbing, hiking, and convincing anyone who will listen why dogs aren’t really that great of pets. Also, he runs this website.

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