Many of you are dreaming of, preparing for, or considering making another RV purchase in the future.
There’s nothing worse than buying an RV that doesn’t suit you. With extra planning, you can find an RV that fits who you and feels just right!
Problem is, it takes time, research, and RV walk throughs to learn what’s available and what works for you.
I’ve done all the research and shopped for over a year, visiting private owners and dealerships in many cities. Plus, I’m a full-time RVer, living in my RV selection since November 2015. I like the choice we made and I couldn’t have made the right choice without all the research and visiting RV dealerships–unless someone had given me a list like the one I’m giving you!
I’ll help you get in your own head and determine the RV features that matter most to you.
With my RV Shopping Checklist, you can review it before shopping so you’ll know which features are most important and quickly find an RV you want and need.
Use the RV Shopping Checklist again to help you save money and time, by checking off items on the checklist that are present and working well. I also point out safety features you want to have included with your RV.
You can print out the checklist pages and take them with you while you’re shopping, so you don’t forget important items. There are many things to remember and it’s easier to have a list.
Free Contest: RV by Campfire Giveaway
It’s fun to plan an RV life or how to enjoy RVing more! I’ve taken some items that I enjoy and bought them for my first giveaway.
Whether you hope to RV soon, or are traveling the country in your RV now, you can enter the giveaway free.
To enter, write a question you have about RVs, or if you already are an RVer, give a tip you’d like to share with readers.
The contest ends soon, so sign up now and good luck! ~Christina Goebel
Men often think women can’t do some things, like camping and lighting a campfire. Many times, when people get together in groups, the men and boys light campfires while the women prepare food.
This is how women can grow up feeling helpless in the outdoors, when it just takes a little know how to become a great success!
What if I told you that YOU can build an awesome campfire? No matter your experience, making a campfire and watching it catch fire is exhilarating. Everyone should have an opportunity to do it!
So, we’re camping near Pike’s Peak. If I open the RV door and look to the right, bam! huge mountain. We have a firepit at our campsite. We have firewood. I was excited.
In my experience building fires, which started when I was a Girl Scout, I learned about collecting different types of wood, that fires needed oxygen or they would go out, and of course, putting out a fire with water or dirt until it doesn’t smoke anymore.
But you can say that now I’m unlearning how to build a fire and experimenting.
More recently, I learned that if I add a lot of small and medium sticks, then my fire burns hotter. We collected lot of smaller wood locally and we purchased larger fire wood.
From pinning on Pinterest, I saw a pin where they built and inverted campfire. Yes, they suggested building it upside down!
What’s that? Normally, on the ground you light a bunch of tiny wood, bark, or fire starters to begin your fire. Then, if you build the common tipi fire, you layer sticks around that flame you’ve got going so that it resembles a tipi, or pyramid.
This method allows a lot of oxygen to collect under the pyramid and feed your fire.
Once that’s going, you can layer some larger firewood around the pyramid.
This new method I experimented with involved placing the big firewood on the ground. I crisscrossed it, three logs down, three across, then I did the same with kindling (medium-sized sticks), and finally with tinder, the tiniest sticks and my fire starter, in this case, bark, tiny sticks, and a piece of string.
My husband looked at my structure. “It’s not going to work,” he said, shaking his head. “It can’t work.”
I probably rolled my eyes as I used my windproof lighter to get the tinder to burn. I had to blow on it to keep it hot, spread the heat. Remember, fire likes oxygen.
Suddenly, the fire took off. The flames were gorgeous, one of the prettiest fires I’ve ever seen.The picture on this post is the actual triumphant fire getting started.
Because the big logs were on the bottom, it burned without me having to fuss with the fire and poke firewood around as it fell down.
The night was cold and clear. The fire was hot and gorgeous.
You can be everything you want to be and allow yourself to explore everything. Have fun, experiment, be a kid, light a campfire, enjoy the the feeling of accomplishment!
And of course it feels great when the husband comes up and apologizes for not believing that you could do something he thought was Impossible. Yay!
I do have an experience that tops this one in campfire building. Making a fire on wet ground with probably moist firewood. Learn how to do that here.
The first inconvenience this creates is that you have to move your RV to go get water when you needed. This is the fresh water that you use for showers and washing dishes, but also potentially drink.
When we pulled up to the water hose at this campground, it was a hose hanging in the air, that you pulled down to fill your water tank.
The first thing I thought when I saw it was . . . gee, that looks like something someone might try to flush out their black water tank with if it’s not dumping well. It just looked really convenient for that purpose.
When you travel with your own hoses on board, I hope you’re planning to have one for clean water and a Different One, preferably in a Different Color, for the dirty water.
Here was this hose that everyone in the campground was using for their RVs. If they didn’t think anyone was looking, who knows what they did with that hose?
Before you think I’m worrying too much, I’ve seen plenty of people handle their black water hose without using any gloves. That’s handling waste water with some of the worst germs you can touch.
I guess then they get back inside and put their hands on the door, the steering wheel, pat the baby’s head…
So, another tip–handling waste water or dirty hoses should be done with disposable gloves. Many people keep those in the same compartment with their hoses, so they’re right there when they need them.
Now that I’ve taught you how to avoid wiping out your entire family with lethal germs, back to wondering what the previous RVer at this this community water hose did right before filling up their tank with hopefully clean water.
This campground wasn’t in West Yellowstone, where finding a dump site is like playing the lotto. In fact, the dump site at this campground was right down the road from . . . the clean water.
Carrying antibacterial wipes and cleaning hoses can assist a bit with safety concerns over water, but I felt uncomfortable because this water hose was under high use.
So I took a turn at being an evil, generator-using troll, ran all over town looking for someone willing to take our poo, worried if someone else’s poo was going in our clean water tank, but you know what? I paid half price.
Will we do this boondocking thing again? Will we even camp in the middle of nowhere with nothing, anywhere? Probably, but with a little more planning.
Consider the savings. If you are so lucky as to camp somewhere that costs $25 a day and you boondock at half prices without electric or a dump site, that could save a lot over time.
Boondocking at Wal-Mart for free saves people hundreds a year. However, not all Wal-Marts permit boondocking because other RVers convinced them it was a good idea.
If you boondock at Wal-Mart or another public parking lot that permits it, observe boondocking ettiquette. Don’t pull out the slides, roll out your outdoor carpet, chairs, and the grill, hang your laundry out to dry, and expect their employees to pick up your trash. Try not to draw attention to the free campsite you’re getting, and thank them by buying something at their store.
Here’s a Wal-Mart locator link to determine if the location you want to camp at permits RV overnight parking.
RVing presents challenges. Adventures aren’t easy and that’s why they’re memorable. If you have a rough time, just think: one day I will laugh over this–or learn from it. And you will have an adventure, no matter what!
Lesson 4: A one-dump station town presents interesting challenges
Traveling to a dump station beyond your campground
After our generator adventures, which I hope you read for the safety information I share for you and your pets, we learned how to not be our own worst enemies by under planning for RV campsites.
Hopefully, you realize that you need to use a dump site to dump your black water, or poo water as I call it, and gray water, which is kitchen sink and shower water.
Since we shower, cook, and wash dishes often in our RV, we needed to dump our gray and black water approximately every three days. The gray water would fill up first and if you don’t want stinky water backing up in your shower . . . dump it when it is full.
Our particular bathroom sink water also is black water, so not wasting much water brushing our teeth helped us not have to change black water so often (wetting brush, turning off water, brushing teeth, turning water back on to rinse).
Let me interject here as I will elsewhere that you need a longer wastewater hose than may come with your RV. Ours has an extension for 20 feet and is most of the time 10 feet. But you never know how far away the dump location will be or even if you need to park in an unusual manner because of the site you have.
Borrowing your neighbor’s longer poo hose may not be fun–who knows how clean or umm, not clean it might be–so best have your own.
West Yellowstone has, at least in 2016, one.dump.site. Yeah. My husband Gerald knew that we were camping without a dump on our campsite, but not that our whole campground didn’t have it, either. Most campgrounds we’ve been to that don’t let you dump at your site have one at least for the campground. Not this one.
What was strange was when Gerald asked someone and received a list of potential dump sites, those potentials didn’t have one.
Finally, we located One. The one. The only one in town.
Never in my wildest dreams, people!
Now that I’ve thought about it, West Yellowstone borders the Madison part of Yellowstone National Park. The area has environmental regulations and you’ll see when you’re there that they take precaution to preserve this great wilderness.
The lesson for you is to learn before you book a campsite is where the dumpsites will be if not at your campsite.
In our case, it was far away and we made this trip every three days, over a hideously crappy road. And it also had no WiFi and I work remotely via computer and need WiFi like water. Of course, I also need a dump site.
Ah, the joy of planning.
Since that experience, my husband has extended his list of questions that he asks every campground before booking so that he doesn’t have to get up extra early to drive down a bumpy road for miles to get his wife’s mobile office into WiFi range.
Why not work using McDonald’s WiFi? It’s not the right solution for working nine-hour days. Barnes and Noble is a better option, but everyone else has the same idea and I don’t like fighting for seats.
A mobile office offers the comforts of home—and cushioned seats.
So generators, campers, dogs, and dumps–what’s next? Ha ha. Water problems.
Lesson 3: Doggie parents should probably babysit the generator
While many RVs carry their own electrical system, a generator, there are safety concerns you should know about so you can make the best decision for you and those traveling with you.
Our third lesson also concerned our generator, but not the noise it made. It had to do with our pet. Even if you don’t have a pet, you should read this post because it will teach you about one of the greatest dangers RVers face.
Supervising the generator
A generator is a machine running on gasoline. Like most machines, it can burn up. It can also, as I’d mentioned earlier, put off carbon monoxide, especially if it malfunctions.
While in probability, it won’t catch fire or put off too much carbon monoxide, doggie parents should consider that It Could.
Here we were, in the middle of Paradise—the East Glacier area is one of our favorite U.S. locations—and we couldn’t leave our motorhome with the generator running because it wasn’t safe for our dog.
I guess some people might to do this, but gee whiz, if that generator catches fire and burns up Fido, that isn’t one to get over in a lifetime, so living for no regrets here, we did what we had to do.
We babysat the damn generator.
Well, come on, it’s no fun! Six hours a day, we had to be in the RV, not exploring Paradise. Utter bummer.
The six hours a day were from 8 a.m.-10 a.m., 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
If you’re an avid traveler/adventurer, then you know this is the epic ugh.
Notice there are two hours between 10 a.m. and noon to travel.
Then, you have three hours between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to escape.
Since the drive to where we wanted to hang out in the mountains was an hour-and-a-half away, that meant going nowhere from 8:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., taking a brief excursion between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and then finally escaping with limited travel benefits after 7:00 p.m., right?
Umm, no. Remember my previous entry. We had to go somewhere else to continue to run our generator before bed, so we traveled from 7:00 p.m. to 9 or 10:00 p.m., then had to return, move the motorhome, and continue to babysit the generator.
So…this is why it was impossible not to curse.
Can generators be dangerous for people? Yes. Many RVers don’t go to sleep with their generators running, because if it puts off carbon monoxide, you can’t smell it.
Our motorhome’s Onan generator, supposedly a great brand, is Not Quiet. It operates on gasoline and has a smell, like many things that operate on gasoline, such as your lawnmower, maybe.
Though generators can be quieter when they’re regularly used, I learned that , yeah, it’s never gonna be quiet.
I surmised that tent campers hated the smell and the noise at our campground in St. Mary, Montana, near the east side of Glacier National Park.
After a while, we realized that to cool the RV into the mid 60’s that we like to sleep at, and to charge our batteries sufficiently for the evenings without generator use, we had to leave camp.
I can’t open all the windows in the RV and let in the cooler air because I’m allergic to a lot of trees, grass, and maybe just plain air. That ‘s why I travel with air purifiers, which we only had enough power to run during generator-use time.
Took us a few days to learn we could go to the nearest visitor center parking lot and let our generator run and charge our batteries as long as we needed.
Before we did that, sometimes we’d wake in the morning and the coach batteries were dead. My husband Gerald tried using the battery boost button, but it didn’t work well.
He realized he could use our jumper cables to jump start the coach batteries, which are housed under our steps.
We weren’t doing this from car to car, but from battery to battery, an advantage to having more than one 12-volt battery. Yep, memorable tip.
I now believe that the only people who truly understand RVs from the moment of their first purchase are: mechanics, engineers, truckers, and people who grew up RVing. Engineers practically skip around RV parks, so happy and at ease with all the modifications they can make to their home machine, while watching non-engineers
curse at their RVs at random intervals.
At first, we parked at a hotel parking lot most evenings to run our generator more time. It took until 11 p.m. or midnight to cool the RV like we liked it.
Here we come rolling in to camp at midnight, and tent campers are next to us.
Poor them, but it wasn’t our fault the National Park Service decided they could make more money having all campsites open to whoever books, which results in campers surrounded by RVs running generators. This causes discomfort all the way around.
This isn’t a good idea. Generators can put off carbon monoxide and they make noise. We could start using our generator at 8 a.m., so if they weren’t up already, they would be if they were noise-sensitive.
Worse, a generator puts off gas fumes and it depends on the direction it flows as to the effect. RVs should be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors, and ours it, but tents aren’t, so they have no way of knowing if they’re in danger.
While campsites aren’t cramped in the East Glacier area—we stayed around St. Mary’s—there is potential for the fumes to travel.
Best-case scenario is that tent campers have their own area, RVs with electricity another (paying more), and RVs using generators in another.
But, it was not to be, and one evening at 11:30 p.m. or midnight when we drove into our campsite, a tent camper accosted us.
As soon as we parked, Bam! Bam! Bam! Someone pounded on our RV door.
We hadn’t had a chance to level the RV (this is for the refrigerator to function properly, but also can affect your sleeping comfort because jacks stabilize the RV and keep it from swaying while you sleep).
My husband opened the door.
We woke them up, she said, could we turn off the engine?!
She’s so lucky my husband opened the door because I realized we had rights too, and one of those was that—as adults—we could come and go as we please.
Let no adult put another on curfew unless it’s in the event of crisis.
Thus, we became the hated RV motorhome campers that dared enter camp late at night and awaken them.
Do you know what boondocking is? Did you realize you can camp without being connected to electricity? This way of camping could save you money. Learn from my lessons so you get more enjoyment out of boondocking than I did.
While you may be an experienced RVer, boondocking throws us all for a loop now and then, so I hope every RVer can get something out of this.
Lesson 1. Not being allowed to use your generator as long as you need sucks
Limited Generator Use
When you aren’t connected to electricity, your RV uses a combination of its batteries and your generator.
We also have some solar power that trickle charges our batteries with the sun. At first my husband thought the trickle charge solar was crap. Since then, he’s changed his mind. It keeps the coach batteries from draining out completely.
I want to use newbie-friendly language, so the vehicle part of the RV is called the chassis (pronounced chass ee) and uses one battery, like a car.
The back part of our motorhome, called the coach, has two more of these 12-volt batteries that help run some systems. (When you’re looking into buying an RV, having more than one of these batteries in an out-of-the-way space for it would be a good thing. Ours are under our indoor steps, out of the way.)
Your 12-volt batteries power the light systems among other things and have to be recharged by the generator running and maybe a little bit by a solar charger, if you have one (worth having).
12-volt batteries are charged best by electricity. Since we’re talking about boondocking, that means no electricity, and using the generator, 12-volt batteries, and maybe solar.
One campground we were at limited generator use to a few hours, three times a day. This is the height of suckiness.
A generator takes hours, sometimes a whole day to fully charge your batteries, something that was never going to happen at the campground we were at with limited hours.
During the limited hours we could run our generator, we ran it.
Almost every night, at exactly 7:00 p.m., a ranger would knock loudly on our door and tell us generator use time was over. Maybe we were close to their office, but it was irritating.
Having been RVing full-time around the country for around 8 months, we’d had almost no one knock on our door—at least with bad news—so it was something new and yucky.
We ran the generator to the minute because it charged our batteries, which enabled us to have lights at night and watch some TV before bed.
Every morning, because of the various things that draw from the 12-volt batteries, their charge was gone.
My husband adds that since we used the generator to run the air conditioning because even in Montana during the day it was in the 80’s, that took away from the generator’s ability to charge our 12-volt batteries.
We didn’t get to run the generator long enough to give them juice. We knew this in our motorhome because we have a panel that lets us know how charged our batteries are.
The generator powers much more than our batteries, so we ran our air conditioning during the 6 hours a day we were permitted to use it.
In Montana, July days approached 80+ degrees, and sometimes the RV would get as hot or hotter inside than outside. It retained heat well after the evening cooled.
Building a campfire is a challenge that has troubled men and women since the beginning of our relationship with the element that cooks our food and warms us.
In the wilderness, if you can’t build a fire, you can’t sterilize water or cook food. If it gets cold, you can’t stay warm. Fire keeps many animals away, as well as insects. Once we lit our fire, the mosquitoes at the campsite pictured above left us alone.
If you were lucky enough to be a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, you probably received information about different types of wood being necessary for building a fire: tinder, kindling, and fuel. If you need to know more about those, you can read that here.
Even for experienced campers, though, building a fire can be a challenge. Sometimes, we don’t have the materials we need. Strike that. Often, we don’t have the materials we need.
It’s not as easy as throwing a log (fuel) into a pit and lighting it.
Tinder, the tiny, easy to light wood and other materials like moss, is lacking in most sites, particularly if the campground prohibits the use of sticks and wood from their grounds. This is pretty common for us, since we’ve camped at state parks.
Gerald and I like to watch survival shows and one of our favorite parts is learning where they will find water, what kind of shelter they will make, and if they will be successful building a fire.
Our favorite was Cody Lundin from the series Dual Survival, because Cody liked to go everywhere barefoot–even in the snow!–and because he could light a fire in the most difficult of situations.
If you want to learn from Cody himself how to build fires, you can join him for $395. Sound like too much? He can make fire from poo, Fritos, toothpaste, duct tape, etc. He also makes a mean bow drill.
Cody can build fires in the rain. Oh yeah.
Gerald and I had trouble doing that when we were camping at Fort Pickens Campground, part of Gulf Shores National Seashore on the island of Santa Rosa in Florida. We had a fire ring, a place to light the fire. We collected tinder, kindling, and had a cord of firewood for fuel. But, it had rained for a few days prior. The ground was soaking wet.
No problem, we thought. If we had a lot of tinder and kindling, by the time that burned up a bit, the ground would be dry.
Yes, and no. It took a long time and Gerald deserted the fire pit, thinking we had failed to maintain the fire and had lost it.He came in and told me it wouldn’t stay lit.
Aww, Cody would have been ashamed of us.
Strangely, it fired back up and was almost completely burned out by the time we noticed it.
What happened and how to light a fire on wet ground?
Next time, I will try this fire building formation to dry out the ground beneath it. Just lay some branches across the ground like a wooden float. Then, layer your tinder (pencil-sized wood) and kindling (thumb-sized wood) over that. When the fire gets going, you can slowly add some fuel (logs).
In the Spring, the sun shines on Corpus Christi’s bay with white light. I thought that was special. Then, I saw the beach at Destin, Florida. The sun lights it up most of the day in January.
The best part is the seafoam green, or green, glass-like water. What a gorgeous color! It’s brrr cold here right now, but many days, it’s been in the 60’s and we’ve walked in the waves along the beach.
We have been staying at Henderson Beach State Park. We wanted two weeks, they had one available that we booked weeks in advance.
For RVing, the park has pros and cons. Big con is no WiFi, and I work from the RV, so I’ve had to tether to my Verizon phone. Since I have some Skype meetings, that’s cost me extra.
A pro is the sites are large, gravel, with shrubs and maintained trees. Our site has a picnic table and fire ring. Last night, they had a bad wind storm and the tree maintenance paid off, no damage to our RV, but there was to Margaritaville here in Destin.
If you must have TV, you would need satellite to get reception in the park, but really, you’re going to the beach to watch TV?
Our site is close to the boardwalk over the times to the beach. The boardwalk is 1/4 mile long. Very pretty. They have bathrooms, including accessible family bathrooms, and showers, two washing machines and dryers.
The beach has been our focus and we have shared it with a few couples.
Today, one man, one woman who is a lifeguard (not working) and two surfers. It was 50 degrees on the beach. The lifeguard was shadowing the surfers and it was wonderful because they had no idea they
had no idea they had an angel watching out for them 🙂
The site has water and electric, but you must dump black and gray water at the front of the park, so plan to empty those tanks before setting up camp.
All in all, I’m enjoying it and work with curtains open because privacy and view are good.
Finding a good RV campground involves quite a few factors. RVers post reviews of campgrounds online and when you locate one, there are some places that have that special touch. This involves asking about having a good site and doing it early!
We’re in Florida right now and some campgrounds here are reserved a year in advance, particularly in the Florida Keys (they aren’t cheap, either). RV campground reviews generally give you a heads up about discounts, WiFi problems, if they accept dogs or what sizes of dog, type of neighbors you’ll have, etc.
For Branson, Missouri, reviews didn’t offer much help. I wanted my first long-term site to be beautiful. I wanted to have a gorgeous view when I looked out the window, because I work from the RV. Pictures helped me narrow down the campground, and then I had to call ahead.
I started planning a few weeks before and though I didn’t have a date because we were selling our house, I sent an email, asked about monthly rates–most campgrounds offer better prices for week-long or monthly stays versus nightly ones–and informed them of my intention to visit.
Then I told them I loved the view their campground offered and was there anyway I could get a good view?
I think we had the best view there!
While I worked, I looked down the mountain at Branson. I watched November’s yellow and orange leaves fall.
Park environment was another thing and something I’m still learning. But wow, that view!
Want a great spot?
Call as soon as you know you’d like to go. Tell them why you like their campground. Wish you the best luck!