(C) 2002-2014 J. Watson All rights reserved
Never been RVing... Here's what to expect
Who are the other RVers? They're just like you and me. They are solid citizens.
The old impression of "trailer trash" and the run down "trailer park" at the edge of town are not
what we're talking about, nor are they listed in the RV park guides so there's no chance of
Are you comfortable driving a RV? Don't expect it to be like driving your car. It is different. You must
consider the additional width and height as well as length. That said, the difference is probably
incremental to the additional measures -- a 25' unit is probably easier than a 35' unit. I have been able
to quickly adapt to the size and have driven in just about all traffic conditions except snow and ice. When
backing up, my wife directs me as I do not have adequate visibility to see a child who might dart in behind
the unit. TV monitors are not designed for this purpose -- they are to keep an eye on your towed vehicle,
etc. I have towed our car and feel that the main problem is that you cannot back-up when towing. That
means you must always anticipate the driving conditions to avoid the problem -- have an exit strategy.
I have known RVers who stayed on the Interstates because they were uncomfortable driving on local
roads. One RVer told us he sold his first 5th wheel because he was afraid to drive it -- hadn't ever taken
it out on the road. He now drives a smaller RV and is thoroughly enjoying it.
At RV parks the one constant is variety. (The terms Campgrounds and RV Parks are used
interchangeably.) That's one of the beauties of the RV lifestyle. You always have the same bed and
don't live out of a suitcase the way you do when you go to motels. You feel at home because you are
No two campgrounds are identical. For this reason it is impossible to characterize them. To illustrate, I
am writing this in a public campground with a capacity of 35 or so RVs and last night there were two
motorhomes and three trailers plus a couple of tenters. Our site overlooks a picturesque bay where we
sometimes go clamming. Some bring kayaks. A lighthouse is on the far side and flashes every five
seconds. Last week we stayed 100 miles away in a private campground with a capacity of 600 units and
it was full. It was also a waterfront location but many could not see the water from their units, as most
sites were surrounded by trees so RVers had a feeling of privacy. There were a variety of planned
activities for children. Both have large uncrowded beaches. Last month we stayed at a campground with
an 18 hole golf course. Each is in the $30-$35 per night range for a site with water and electric. Prices
can vary widely e.g. sites in a busy area may top $100 a night and in a remote area a pleasant site may
be under $250 a month. Good Sam - RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory (formerly:Trailer Life
RV Park & Campground Directory) has daily rate info and many RV parks have weekly, monthly and
seasonal rates. All rates may vary by the time of year.
Public (local, state, or federal) RV parks tend to be more rustic than private campgrounds. Generally
the public campgrounds are off the beaten track and you can count on them being clean. Facilities
range from just a place to park to those that have full water and electric hookups. Most focus on nature
or the historic significance of the area. Many have outstanding recreational opportunities. You might
enjoy hiking to a scenic overlook; visiting a cliff dwelling of an earlier civilization; taking a boat up the river
to see the birds and alligators; walking in a forest of giant redwoods; going over the oceanside dunes to
see the sunset. The US Park Service has interesting, age appropriate, "Junior Ranger" programs
designed to educate children about the environment or significance of the area.
Campsites in remote forest and desert locations with no services (water & electric hookups) are favored
by those who wish to have more of a "camping" experience. RVs have battery power for lights and other
applications and may have a generator to power appliances, etc. Some have solar units to recharge the
batteries and can get along fairly well for prolonged periods. RVers can be both self sufficient and
Private RV parks generally provide suitable hookups, at least water and electric. They usually have
play areas for children. We have experienced the entire spectrum from limited facilities to full service
dining and private bathrooms with an attendant who cleans the shower after every use. Waterfront
campgrounds may have a marina and fish cleaning stations. We are not golfers but have stayed at
campgrounds with 18 hole courses. Locations vary from those you see along the highway to remote
locations where you can see the star constellations after sunset.
As you travel along the Interstates you will see a number of RV parks for transients. These do fit into a
general pattern with a number of drive-through sites but each has a unique appearance. In the east
most are lightly wooded. Most provide a variety of activities. Many have pools. Some have dog parks.
Most have a playground. Some have a social room. Campers often enjoy walking in the campground or
in the nearby area. Some have fishing. Most have a store offering RV supplies, convenience food, and
maybe some souvenirs. The campground directories itemize the facilities and recreational activities.
Before leaving home you'll pack just as you would on any vacation plus you'll pack household items
and food as if you were going to a "second home". You'll probably have already packed the cooking
utensils, bedding, etc.
Should you make reservations? Use your judgement...you can never be wrong to make reservations,
however, we seldom do and almost never find that a campground is full. (My recollection is that we've
only encountered a problem about six times in our 20+ years and hundreds of campsites.) In general the
larger your unit and the greater your requirements (50 amp, cable, wi-fi, etc.) the more apt you are to
need reservations. Public campgrounds in some areas like the Florida Keys might be booked up 12
months in advance. First time RVers might feel more comfortable by doing so. Like a motel, most RV
parks have cancellation policies that you should be aware of before reserving. You might call a few days
in advance to find out if you should reserve. First time RVers should determine the hours the office is
open so they don't have the confusion of arriving in the dark and using late registration. Almost all
campgrounds, public & private, accept credit cards.
You can get comprehensive information of RV parks by referring to directories like the Good Sam -
RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory (formerly:Trailer Life RV Park and Campground Directory).
We prefer directories with ratings. Information includes excellent directions to the location; facilities;
recreation; price range; credit cards accepted, etc.
When you arrive at a RV park or campground you'll register at the office, just like a motel. You'll be
asked the type of site you want. This usually means the type of hookups you need. Many campgrounds
provide several levels of service: 2 way (water and electric); 3 way (water, electric, and sewer); or no
services for the tent campers. The electric service is usually 30 amp and some campgrounds now offer
50 amp. Private RV parks often provide cable TV and WiFi, sometimes with a minor surcharge. You may
be offered your choice of a "pull through" site or "back-in". The pull through site is usually easy to enter
and you simply go forward when you leave -- no backing up is required. In some RV parks the "back-in"
sites are along the edge of the property and may offer a bit more privacy or be more wooded.
After checking in you will locate your site. Some campgrounds provide an escort who will guide you to
your site. (No gratuity is offered for this service.) This is welcomed by drivers of larger units as many RV
parks are not as big-rig friendly as they lead you to believe. You will park and the utilities will almost
always be on the driver's side of the unit. (Occasionally, when there are "shared" utilities the electric and
water will be on the passenger side, close enough to the unit that a single 25' electric cable and water
hose will suffice. We do carry an extra 25' water hose and 25' 30 amp cable, just in case). At this time
you hook up to the electric and TV. We seldom hook up the water or sewer unless we need to load water
or discharge the sewer. To settle in we will, depending upon the weather, extend the awning and get the
outside furniture from the lower compartment (basement) of the motorhome. This is certainly easier than
lugging the suitcases and other items into a motel for the night.
IMPORTANT. All campers can remember the first time they went camping. They do not want to
risk embarrassing a camper who is obviously trying to work out a problem. Feel free to ask others
for their advice -- the price you'll pay is that you'll probably hear the story of their first time out. As
a bonus you may make a new friend who will give you some good tips.
Upon arrival you will be given a list of regulations -- all common sense stuff. No loud radios, quiet hours,
6' dog leashes required, keep an eye on your children, etc. Generally unstated are some etiquette
items: do not walk through occupied campsites to take shortcuts to other locations, clean up after dogs,
use of generators not permitted in RV parks that provide electric service, etc.
Are there security concerns? I try to be security conscious at all times no matter where I am. At
home I always keep the doors locked and the car too. I don't consider RV parks and campgrounds to be
different from any other place.
There are two types of concerns: humans and animals. Just use your normal level of alertness when
traveling. Don't display items that might be of interest to thieves. Most of us carry computers and other
electronic equipment so we always lock our motorhome when we are not on our site. Most communities,
even suburbs, have wild animals ranging from squirrels, deer, and raccoons to an increasing concern of
foxes and bears. Out in the less populated areas the concern is greater. So, like at home, do not have
food or remains outdoors in an unprotected condition. The concern is not just the four legged varieties --
crows can make a mess of a garbage bag. Tent campers are well aware of the need to keep food and
garbage out of the reach of animals in tight containers or in the trunk of their cars. Same goes for RVers
-- no garbage outdoors overnight. Campground operators will usually caution you of the local animal
population if it is a menace and advise you of procedures to follow to avoid an encounter with a bear,
etc. I can remember only a half dozen places where this was a concern. One was in Stewart, British
Columbia, where they advised RVers to be alert for bears during dark -- there were 20 hours of daylight
when we were there, so it was not a problem. Regardless, we do try to be alert.
Are the RV parks/campgrounds clean? How about the rest rooms? Most RV Parks pride
themselves on the cleanliness of their facilities. Most are clean. We are strongly guided by the standard
ratings that appear in the Good Sam - RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory (formerly:Trailer Life
Directory). Ratings are in 3 parts: completeness of campground facilities; cleanliness and physical
characteristics of rest rooms and showers; and the visual appearance and environmental quality of the
campground. For the middle rating of rest rooms we consider an 8 of a possible 10 to be very
acceptable. Like any standard rating system there are flaws and we've been in lower rated campgrounds
that we were very pleased with and some with higher ratings that met the criteria but were poorly
designed. Many RVers use the campground's showers even though they have showers in their RV. The
reason is that it is faster as we only have one shower aboard so we can each shower at the same time
and quickly return to our RV.
Since you bring your own accommodations you can be assured that they are clean. Because of this the
amenities of a RV park are often of secondary concern.