FAQ – Life on the Road in an RV

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How do I prepare an RV for departure?

It is crucial to use a departure checklist to make sure all steps have been completed before the RV is moved. Start with the RV Departure Checklist: Motor Homes or RV Departure Checklist: Trailers and customize it with specific steps applicable to your RV, as described in the owner’s manual. Get in the habit of always using the checklist to avoid damaging your expensive RV and other property.

How do I set up an RV at a campsite?

Though not as crucial as before departure, it is a good idea to use a checklist for setting up an RV. Start with the RV Arrival & Setup Checklist: Motor Homes or RV Arrival & Setup Checklist: Trailers and customize it with specific steps applicable to your RV, as described in the owner’s manual.

Use two-way radios when backing up

Invest in a pair of handheld two-way radios so that you can communicate with your co-pilot while backing up the RV or maneuvering in tight spots. Without radios, you will have to resort to yelling and hand gestures, both of which are prone to miscommunication due to engine noise and unobserved hand gestures.

Keep the radios in the cab while traveling. If you unexpectedly turn into a spot that requires backing out, the radios can be quickly turned on, the co-pilot hops out, and guides you out of the tough spot.

Do I need a special license to drive an RV?

A great majority of RV’s can be driven with a regular driver’s license. However, some states require a special license for large RV’s. In rare cases a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is required—if you are told that you need a CDL, be sure to do more research because very few non-commercial RV’s fall into this category. If your RV meets one of the following criteria, check with your state for special driver’s license requirements:

  • Single vehicle or towable combination having a weight rating of 26,001 lbs. or more
  • Towing a trailer with a weight rating of 10,001 lbs. or more
  • Is longer than 45 feet
  • Towing two units (for example, towing a boat behind a trailer)

See RV Driver’s License Requirements for a summary of the fifty states.

Is there free overnight parking available for RV’s?

Several options are available for free overnight parking when you do not require any services:

  1. Wal-Mart and other major retailer parking lots. Be aware that some cities do not allow overnight parking outside licensed campgrounds.
  2. Rest areas along interstates and highways. Check for signs prohibiting overnight stays.
  3. Truck stops, where permitted by management.

Use common sense when parking at public places like retailer parking lots and rest areas. Depending on the area, these may not be the safest options.

Stay only one night in retailer parking lots

When spending the night in a retailer’s parking lot (commonly known as boondocking), be sure to stay only one night.

Generous retailers, such as Wal-Mart, welcome RVers to spend the night on their property at no cost. At the same time, they do not want their parking lots to look like makeshift settlements. Be courteous—stay only one night and keep your belongings in the RV.

For more on this topic, please see Boondocking Etiquette.

How much does it cost to stay in an RV park or campground?

The cost of an RV site varies by location and available facilities. From least to most expensive, the following site types are available:

  • Primitive camping: No hookups available in the site. Park usually has central facilities such as bathrooms, showers, and an RV dump station. Typical daily rates: $3-$10
  • Water and electric: Contains city water and an electric outlet ranging from 15 to 50 amps. Typical daily rates: $10-$30
  • Full hookup: All hookups needed for an RV—water, electric, and sewage. Typical daily rates: $15-$50

When paying daily, many parks offer discounts of 10%-15% to RV club members and seniors (see RV Clubs). When paying weekly, the 10%-15% discount is given to everyone and club discounts no longer apply. For the greatest savings pay monthly. Monthly rates are usually the same as 2 to 3 weekly rates.

Road condition information

Before heading out on the road, it is always a good idea to check road conditions. Construction, weather, and heavy traffic can all cause delays and aggravation.

The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has compiled all available reasources by state on their National Traffic and Road Closure Information page. Click the map of the state for a list of road condition resources.

Some states have more resources than others. In addition to construction and weather road condition information, some states make available traffic cameras that can be viewed over the Internet.

The I-5 highway cameras in Oregon and California made our recent winter tarvel through the West Coast mountains a bit easier. Before heading out for the high passes, we used the following web sites to take a peek at the roads:

Are wide-body RV’s legal on all roads?

Though rarely enforced, a vehicle wider than 96″ is not legal on all U.S. public roads. Interstates are regulated by the federal government and allow vehicles up to 102″ wide. The 102″ maximum is often exceeded by awning mechanisms attached to the side of wide-body RV’s, making them illegal in most jurisdictions.

We have noticed a recent trend by some states to allow awning mechanisms to exceed the maximum width. One such state is Maryland. See the following excerpt from page 77 of the Maryland Motor Carrier Handbook, dated 10/1/2005:

MAXIMUM VEHICLE WIDTH – HEIGHT – LENGTH – COVERING LOADS The width of a motor home or travel trailer shall be exclusive of retractable awnings installed by the vehicle manufacturer or dealer provided that the awnings do no extend more than six inches from each side of the vehicle.

The above is an illustration of a recent trend by a small number of states—we are by no means implying that legalization of over-the-limit awnings are imminent on all roads. You, as the operator of a wide-body RV, are taking a risk of being ticketed when driving a recreational vehicle wider than 96″.

Open all doors after travel

After traveling with the RV, make it a point to carefully open all cabinet, storage, and closet doors. Open doors slowly and listen for falling objects.

Doing this as part of the RV setup will save you aggravation later. We found that when we skip this step, days or weeks later we may open a new door and shifted items will unexpectedly fall; this is much more irritating later than right after a move.

Put plants in shower while traveling

Avoid messy spills by putting potted plants into the shower while traveling. After arriving at the campsite, simply rinse the spilled water and dirt down the drain. This also works for other messy items that fall over easily while the RV is moving.

Personal battery-operated fans

Consider buying a small, battery-operated fan for each individual traveling in the RV. These fans will come in handy on warm nights when the RV is not connected to facilities and air conditioning is not available.

Even if your RV has a generator, some parks have strict rules about shutting them down after sunset. The fans can make the difference between a good night’s rest or waiting until the night cools down enough to be able to sleep.

Where do I look up telephone area codes?

The first place to look is in your road atlas. Better atlases and maps usually contain a reference section in the front or back, listing telephone area codes for major cities in each state.

If you have access to the Internet, you can use the free Phone Number Lookup service by Melissa Data. This service allows you to enter a complete phone number, an area code, or city name, and provides the relevant information based on your entry.

Where do I look up ZIP codes?

Depending on your needs, you can look up U.S. ZIP codes at the following sources:

City statistics

Have you ever wanted to look up basic statistics for a city you are visiting? We have found a very helpful site on the Internet that provides information such as the following, for many U.S. cities:

  • Population, broken down by several factors such as gender and ethnicity
  • Elevation, land area, and zip codes
  • Household income averages
  • Crime statistics
  • Temperature and other climate statistics
  • And so much more

The web site is City-Data.com

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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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