First Year Advice

As we passed the 'anniversary' date marking the first year of our on-the-road adventures and the adoption of a full-timing RV lifestyle, we reflected on what we have learned. Here are the main ideas; the things that we would 'have done differently' and other ideas that definitely worked for us.
Photograph (Left) is of one of the many murals found in Twentynine Palms, California.
General Guidelines
Follow your checklist (Some may ask, what's a checklist? Develop one checklist of tasks needed to be completed before you 'break camp' and drive away and another checklist for 'setting up' at the campsite). Revise the checklists as you become more experienced and more confident. We will always need and use the checklists, but we have combined, reorganized, and updated things. The more comfortable we got, the less we relied on the lists for completing routine tasks. Instead, we now use them as a final 'flight check.'
Keep maps and travel guides handy. We first kept our maps and travel guides stored in a bay underneath our RV, but soon found that there were things we enjoyed exploring regularly. Now we have moved some of our lesser used items underneath and made space for the books.
Velcro is your friend! What did we do before Velcro? We hated the idea of moving things every time we headed down the road, so we velcro-ed everything down - - from clocks and knickknacks to baskets and Kleenex dispensers. (And then there's duct tape; you never can have too much duct tape, don't you think?)
Take the time to unhook and explore. As we drove through western Texas, we read about a state historical park called Hueco Tanks. Traveling through a long stretch of road construction, we missed our turnoff and noticed that the road into the park was rough. We considered skipping it; but then reconsidered our mission. We're not in a race -- why not stop, unhook and go back? It was one of our best day-trips of the season.
Get outside every day. RVs get very cozy. Everything you need seems to be at arm's reach. Remember wherever you're at - - to take a walk, see the flowers, and explore your surroundings. In fact that's a habit that we got into even before becoming full-timers; but now it is more important than ever.
Try new hobbies and activities. If a few years back, you would have asked us if we'd be birding or rock hounding - - we would probably have laughed. These seemed like such silly activities. The thought of carrying bird books and binoculars while looking for tiny dots flying high in trees was a little loony. Rock hunting was for 'nerdy' geologists carrying rock hammers who couldn't interact with living things. Now we laugh at ourselves instead of others as Annette smells tree-bark to decide if it's a Ponderosa Pine or a Jeffery Pine (Below left). We consider how silly we look bending over a pile of skat, trying to decide if it's from a wolf, mountain lion, bear, or passing pet dog. Now that we're on the other side of the fence, we almost enjoy watching tourists giggle at us as one or the other hangs out over a cliff-face to get a good photograph of a cactus in bloom. We now take time to explore why so many people do things that others find so silly. As Mikey says: 'Try it, you'll like it.'
Movin' Around
Be careful. If you get into a driving situation that's scary, slow down. If you're unsure, pull off in a safe place and check-it-out before going on. We've had our share of icy roads, highway construction, and traffic jams. People are very understanding.
Avoid the big interstate highways unless you need to move fast. Look for good quality two-lane roads ('blue highways') or four-lane state highways. Ask around for the best routing and enjoy the countryside.
Check your rig at every stop. Whether you pull over for lunch, to get fuel., or just take a break, be sure to do the 'walkabout' and visually check your tires, tow bar, awnings, and tow vehicle. This routine saved our tow vehicle when we found a crack in the hitch receiver during a pit stop in eastern Wyoming.
Use your navigator. Take the time to visually check all corners (top, bottom, and sides) before pulling forward or backing up. Those pesky curbs, poles, and trees seem to appear out of thin air.
Pick the signal system that works for you. We use a combination of hand signals, mirrors, and handheld radios depending on the situation. Develop a communication system that's meaningful to you -- whether it's north, south, east, west, left, right, or passenger-side, driver-side.
If someone honks at you, take it seriously. Are you going too slow, is your tow vehicle's tire low, or are the people in the other vehicle just from Texas like you? It's worth the time to consider the reason. We recently signaled a neighboring driver that his trailer tire was smoking. Without help, he could easily have lost his trailer.
Watch out for each other. Most people are very friendly. If you see someone with a low tire, loose awning, or other mechanical problem, don't assume someone else will notify them. You'd want someone to tell you. For example, in Salt Lake City we noticed an RV rig with a cable dragging on the ground. It turned out to be some wiring from the hitch. It wasn't a huge problem, but we helped prevent a rewiring job.
Pick your times to move. On weekdays, the best advice is to get away early in the morning. Stay put in the campground through most weekends, especially during summer vacation times. Arrive at a new location early in the week for your choice of the best campsite. If you must travel with your rig through a large metro area (Atlanta, Los Angeles, Denver and the like), early Sunday morning is the best time. Better yet -- if you must visit the big cities, park 'Harvey' outside of town and drive the 'Toad.'
Pick a schedule that's best for you. On travel days, rising early is a good idea but sometimes unrealistic. Stopping by 2:00 p.m. is also fine unless you have a definite destination. The most important consideration is safety. You need to be well rested. That may mean stopping early, taking a nap in the middle of the day, or retiring early. We prefer to arrive and set up before dark regardless of when we start during the day. We enjoy traveling 2 or 3 days, then staying put in one place for a month or more.
Plan ahead. Reserve the RV campgrounds for long stays (weeks or more). Insure that the phone connection is all set and the mail comes your way. Most campgrounds have improved rates for weeks and month stays. Of course, we don't always follow our own rules. It's often difficult to plan distances when you run into winding roads, bad weather, and road construction. Be flexible. You can always arrive a day late, stay in a travel park, or boondock for the night.
Enjoy 'window' shopping without the need to buy. By this, we question how much more can we carry -- how much do we need? Recently, we did find this neat custom-made couch in Taos, NM for a bargain price of only $5,200 - - and someday we might even go back and buy one like it. But for now if we buy something new, its even better if we can give away or discard something of approximate same size and weight.
Plan what you buy. We changed our buying habits. We used to take expeditions to Sam's Club and purchase everything from toothpaste to bulk rice. Now we have quickly discovered that we don't have or need the storage room for bulk purchases. However; we have three exceptions to that rule. We don't want to run out of deodorizer for our toilet/septic system, so we stock up. We also go through lots of paper towels and drinking water, so we buy those in bulk too. We're also readers, so we still go to Sam's Club for good prices on books. But, we now give them away when we're done reading.
Keep a grocery list. Did we use the last tomato sauce? Do we need more tuna? Are we running low on paper plates? We can never remember the answers to these questions when we enter the grocery store. It's not a problem when you own a home. You just buy the tomato sauce and put it in the pantry with the other dozen cans you already had. In an RV, you don't have that extra space. Create a master list of supplies and check off what you purchase.
Keep cutting back on the wardrobe. During the first year, we weeded our clothing every few months. On-the road, we found our needs were totally different. At our previous home, we each had work clothes, play clothes, and home clothes. We had clothes for every season of the year. Now that we work and live on the road, we still need sets of 'professional' work clothes but not nearly as many as previously. We pick clothes that travel well and that can be mixed and matched. Our main wardrobe now is focused on comfort and service for outdoor and casual activities. For example we do lots of hiking, so which shorts are best? Finally, the home clothes have changed. When you lounge around the RV, you can wear practically anything. Remember that in RV campgrounds, you really want comfortable but presentable clothes. In other words, we don't want to be embarrassed to sit at the picnic table or take a walk. With that in mind, we noticed that during the year our clothing improved. At first we relished wearing T-shirts everyday. Then we recognized that though we wanted to be comfortable, it also felt good to dress just a little nicer. These days we are more often found in casual, sport shirts than T-shirts.
Get rid of duplicates. When we started out, we took all our towels. Fancy ones, everyday, and car washing towels. We've found that we wash clothes regularly, so we don't need many towels. Without a "guest" bath, there's little sense in 'fancy towels.' We're down to indoor and outdoor towels. We each have our favorite two bath towels and a few towels for pool and car washing.
Toss extra appliances. Do you really need a popcorn popper, breadmaker, and salad shooter? Microwave popcorn, locally made bakery bread, and a hand-sliced tomatoes are just fine. We're down to a stove top, microwave/convention oven, and a toaster oven. On the other hand, we found that a couple of new appliances were helpful. A Dirt Devil is the one vacuum that we need. A small portable humidifier is great for dry winters and a small air filter comes in handy if you're prone to allergies (we are -- another reason that we like the west).
Downsize over and over again. The final word; it takes two or three or more times to downsize. Keep tossing! Keep organizing! Keep improving!
Maintaining the Rig
Be careful with awnings. Do not leave awnings out while you're gone, particularly in the west and southwest U.S. It a shame to watch one swept 'over the top.' Remember, out west it blows all the time, so never leave 'home' without the awnings rolled up. We're not kidding! We've seen at least a half-dozen ripped and torn awnings in dumpsters this year.
Keep it clean. Do routine, scheduled maintenance and rig cleanup. Rather than trying to tackle the entire chore in one day, work in steps. Clean one section of the RV or one bay at a time. Most campground don't permit 'rig washing', but they don't mind a sponge and bucket approach over several days. It's easier to clean the rig when the bugs are fresh. We try to arrive at the campsite early enough to clean the windshield and front end before it gets dark.
Watch your water and sewer lines. Keep your holding tank drains closed and empty them every two or three days. Use your gray water to flush out the line after emptying your sewer. Also, we'd recommend investing in a triple wall drain hose. We went through a couple of cheap ones pretty quickly when they developed pin hole leaks when parked on gravel lots. A 'slunky' (used to keep your hose off the ground) can also save wear on your hose. Some parks even require them. Lastly take care with freshwater versus gray and sewer water drains. We've never had a problem; but keep them separate and your water supply uncontaminated. Maybe we are rabid about water but because of the changing supply sources, we buy our water for drinking.
Keep your LP full. In the winter we like to fill up the LP whenever we get the chance. We don't want to run out, and it's a pain to go out and refill once you have gotten comfortably situated in a park. Especially when it's cold and maybe even snowy! On the other hand, why camp where it's cold? We actually did enjoy a little snow in the winter as long as it was gone by noon (And it was, photos below were in New Mexico).
Visit your manufacturer. During our first year, we scheduled a visit to our RVs manufacturer's Repair Center. With a 'big rig,' we found some things that needed attention. Our manufacturer found and took care of lots of other things while we were there (Some that we were not even aware of) and the RV was still under total warranty. An added plus was that we picked up lots of other good ideas and information from other owners. We're not sure about other manufacturers, but we found Holiday Rambler to be very supportive.
Keep Your Eyes Open 
Reorganize. When we first moved into our RV, we placed things based on our knowledge at that time. Once we gained experience and found out what we used and don't use, we began to rethink our use of storage areas. We questioned what things should be rearranged or moved. Were different storage containers needed? Could a bag be used instead of a paper or plastic box? Could the item be stored in a storage bay rather than in the kitchen?
Do the TP check. We quickly found that the special RV toilet paper was expensive and not always easy-to-find. After doing our own 'closely-controlled scientific study,' we determined that a single-ply toilet paper (we prefer one particular brand - Scott) worked just as well and was much cheaper. Be on the alert for that rare manufacturer's change in the product formula!
Look at other rigs. Learn how other people have setup and 'customized' their RVs. You can pick up some useful ideas from others who have 'been through it.' People are happy to share their ideas and inventions.
Keep your ears open too. We have met some interesting and diverse people out on-the-road. We have met Bob the television weatherman who is camped behind us right now (We will be watching for him on the Weather Channel during hurricane season, I believe that's Bob there on the beach), a full-timing family who are home-schooling their two young children, and the 3-generation Brown family who run one of the finest campgrounds that we have encountered. Each have told us a part of their 'story' and shared part of their lives. Now they are part of our story.
Keeping the Record
Keep a log. The time will go fast and you quickly forget all your interesting experiences. If you don't think of yourself as a writer, start with something simple. Try a campground journal. Record the date of arrival and departure, the campground and specific site, and the things you liked and disliked.
Keep a journal. There are many different kinds of journals. Try a diary, campground, personal, nature, people ... journal. Share your journal on the web through photos, text . . . timelines.
Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 6/00
Updated, 7/00
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