You've lined up your very first RV rental and you're excited to get out there and go camping. Not quite so fast! With the help of many experienced RVers on RVillage, here's a list of 21 things to be aware of before accepting those keys—plus ESSENTIAL GEAR, and helpful RVing tips!

To help understand what's being talked out in this post, learn the RV lingo here.

NOTE: Much of the information below can also serve as a guide for when purchasing an RVbefore driving it off the lot, and before taking your maiden voyage!

Questions to ask when picking up your rental

Important: when picking up the RV, you should get a walk-through with the owner or rental agency for all of the following. If it's from a private owner, ask if they have camped in this RV. Some have purchased RVs solely to rent out, and may not even be familiar with all of the following.

  1. Unless it's a Class B (van) or very small trailer, ask for the height and weight of the RV. You'll need to know this so you can watch heights on overpasses, and weight limits on back-road bridges. Write this down and tape it to the dashboard for quick reference!
  2. Ask how many miles per gallon it gets (on average, or in the kind of conditions you may encounter) so you can avoid running out of fuel
  3. Learn where the valves are for dumping the black and gray tanks (and which is which—always dump black first, and wear disposable gloves when doing this task)
    • Check the holding tank levels panel and make sure BOTH of those tanks are EMPTY before accepting the camper, or you'll end up needing to use this site to find a dump station, or this site. (Do you really want that to be your first experience with the RV?)
  4. Fresh water tank should be at least half full, (or completely full if you're going boondocking, which is "dry camping" without hookups)
  5. Learn where and how to fill the fresh water tank
  6. Learn where to hook up to "city" water (not necessary for boondocking)
  7. Learn where the main power cord is to plug in to electricity (even if you'll be boondocking—see first bullet in the "RVing tips" section below)
  8. Learn how to deploy and retract the auto-levelers (if applicable). Ask if and how this can be done manually if necessary
  9. Learn how to open and close any slide-outs (if applicable). Ask if and how this can be done manually if necessary
  10. Also learn how to:
    • Turn on the water pump* (test all faucets while on, and notice if any strong odors)
    • Flush the toilet (RV heads are different from household toilets, similar to a boat)
    • Turn on the water heater*
    • *Always turn these off when not in use use—especially the water, when away from the RV—so you don't come back to a flood!
  11. Learn how to turn on the propane furnace (if there is one)
    • Make sure nothing is obstructing any of the output vents, usually near the floor
    • Note: the furnace will always blow cold air for a minute or two before the heat kicks on, this is normal
  12. Check the propane level. You don't want to run out on a cold night, or in the middle of cooking a meal. Learn where to shut off the propane at the tank (on a motorhome it will be in an outside bay that should not be locked)
  13. Learn how to start the generator (if there is one)
    • Hold the button down until it gets going, then release. When powering off, turn off any loads first, such as the air conditioner
  14. Set refrigerator to "auto" if it is a 2-way or 3-way fridge (propane/electric/12v)
    • Note: Many newer RVs may have electric fridges only, and will require camping with hookups, or running a generator all the time. If you are wanting to boondock/dry camp (without hookups), a propane refrigerator is preferable
  15. Check the "house" battery's charge level (house batteries are distinct from the engine battery, often two, always in an outside bay)
  16. Safety devices that must be on-board (and functional—ask for location, and test):
    • Fire extinguisher
    • Smoke detector
    • CO detector
    • Propane detector
  17. Learn you how to open and close the awning (if there is one)
    • Note: do not leave it open at night while sleeping, or if going away for the day—high winds may come up unexpectedly
  18. Learn who the insurer is, as well as the roadside service plan provider—and keep those phone numbers handy
  19. If it's a motorhome: ask when the last time the engine was serviced—oil and fluid levels checked, etc.
  20. Check all the tires for their condition, and if aired up adequately (ideally, with a tire-pressure gauge). Ask if there is a there a spare tire and where it's located
  21. If you don't do a test drive with the owner, while (excitedly) driving off, listen and feel for anything like steering issues (in a motorhome), clunking sounds underneath, etc. Ignoring anything unusual now could lead to problems further down the road

Essential gear that should come with the RV

Essential Safety gear for an RV

Ask to be shown where all these items are stored!

  1. Sewer hose (that doesn't leak), with clear elbow and other connection fittings
  2. Fresh water hose, usually white or blue
  3. Leveling blocks (if no auto-levelers); or if it's a trailer: wheel chocks and possibly jack pads
  4. 50 amp to 30amp "dogbone" power adapter and/or 30 amp to 110 power adapter (see first bullet below, even if planning to boondock/dry camp)
  5. RV-friendly toilet paper (Tip: don't flush anything else down there, it's not a city sewer system!) Some RV owners will add toilet chemicals, but this is not absolutely necessary for a properly working system
  6. Owner's discretion (recommended): Water pressure regulator for hooking up to city water (at an RV park)
  7. Owner's discretion (recommended): Surge protector for plugging into an electrical pedestal at a campground or RV park. (Use when plugging in at your home, too)
  8. Roadside emergency kit with safety triangles or flares

RV packing: comfort and necessity items

Assuming that you've done some type of camping, you probably already have a list of things to pack, such as: towels, bedding, cooking and eating utensils (don't forget that bottle opener and can opener!), first aid kit, flashlights, small toolbox, shovel, outdoor chairs, lanterns and grill, toys for the kids and pets, outdoor adventure gear, etc. Additionally, here are some other things to bring along for comfort and safety in an RV:

  • Bottled drinking water—don't drink from the faucets/the "fresh" water tank when in a rental (it may not have been sanitized recently)
  • Disposable gloves for emptying the waste tanks
  • Bicycle cables and locks for bicycles (and the portable generator, if applicable)
  • Long-handled lighter to light the burners on the cook stove (if it's propane, which most RVs have)
  • An outdoor rug (if you have space to carry it), to create a "patio" area when a cement RV pad is not available at your campsite
  • Broom for sweeping up (inside)
  • Long charging cables for your devices to charge them from the 12volt (or USB) sockets (in the cab, if it's a motorhome)
  • If you drink coffee and will be boondocking without hookups, think about bringing a stove-top percolator, or tea kettle and coffee press or drip cones/filters. A standard electric drip coffee-maker will require having to run the generator (Think "cowboy coffee" while camping!)
  • Bringing a pet? Are they comfortable with traveling?
    • You may need a pet crate to keep them contained while driving down the road, especially if you are traveling solo in a motorhome
    • Bring a leash for when you arrive—even for a cat, and even in the boonies—or the local wildlife may eye your furry family member as a snack
    • Also bring their certificates for rabies shots, etc. Many RV parks will require that paperwork

RVing tips

If you've never traveled in an RV before, some of this may be all new to you. Helpful RVillagers offer the following tips:

  • When you bring the rental RV home before leaving on your trip: plug it in and turn the fridge on for 24 hours, and don't put any food in it until it's cold. (Note: it's OK to plug into 110 with adapter(s) and use a 110 extension cord for this purpose—as long as you don't run the air conditioner or microwave—which will overload the circuits)
  • If boondocking/dry camping, you will need to conserve water by taking "navy showers" and using minimal water out of the faucets for any other reason (No letting the water run while you shave or brush your teeth!)
  • You can't use the microwave or any of the OUTLETS unless the generator is running (outlets may work if the unit has a solar system with an inverter)
  • All lights, fans, water pump and furnace will run on "house" battery power, but the furnace fan will run the batteries low very quickly (The stereo may run on battery power, but probably not the TV)
  • If the RV has a propane stove, always turn on the fan in the range hood while cooking, and open two windows at least an inch to allow for ventilation
  • Tip: wet towels should be hung outside to dry, so as not to overwhelm the interior of camper with moisture (which can make the RV feel a lot colder inside at night in cooler climates)
  • Pack the refrigerator in such a way that items don't fly around and break or spill while rolling down the road (long-term RVers use small spring-loaded bars)
  • Move everything loose off the counter tops into the sinks and/or onto the bed before driving, to prevent dangerous projectiles!
  • When you get out there on the road, watch your mileage and fuel gauge. Stop and top off at 1/2 tank whenever you can. In remote areas, fuel stations can be very far apart. The GasBuddy app has a map that can help you find fuel (and best prices) along your route
  • Always add at least one hour to any time estimates on GPS or map apps
  • RVillagers recommend that you don't try to squeeze too many destinations into your first trip (It's so exciting to be out there—but don't wear yourself out!)
  • RVillagers also recommend that you don't drive more than 200 miles on your first day, if possible—and no more than 300 miles on any travel day. Plan to get to your campsite well before dark, so you have time to get parked and setup in daylight
  • Do not drive off the road in unknown areas, or you may find yourself stuck in sand or mud!
    • When boondocking, drive where previous tracks can be clearly seen, and get out and test any parking area that looks questionable
    • Also, please use previously-made campsites with existing fire rings—don't create new campsites in the wild. Learn about boondocking etiquette.
  • If staying overnight at a Walmart parking lot, restaurant or other business, please refer to the RVers Good Neighbors Policy, overnight parking etiquette widely adopted by many RVers
  • Always check the weather before heading out each day. Also check for new wildfires in the summer & autumn out West

Pre-trip learning and planning

Helpful trip planning apps

  • Sign up for Togo RV Plus for route-planning, GPS navigation specific to your RV, helpful checklists for campsite setup/departure, and more!
  • Use Roadtrippers for trip planning, and finding interesting & fun attractions along your route.

Have fun and don't be afraid to ask for help—and make friends—along the way!

There's a lot to know when traveling by RV, but you will find that it all falls into place (really, it does!) as you start using your borrowed camper. You can refer back to this article as needed, and also ask others around you where you are camped. You'll soon find out that RVers are some of the most friendly, happy and helpful people. (Probably because they are having so much fun!) When you know all the essentials are handled, you can just relax and enjoy your trip.

Disclaimer: The information gathered here is compiled from the posts and opinions of RVillagers, and not of RVillage itself. RVillage assumes no responsibility for any inaccuracies or omissions.

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