LAUGHTER IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL but dang! it often comes at a cost. Truth be told, there are some lessons that we learn the hard way—and remember forever. Smashing your air conditioner under an overpass. That’s a memory. But the flip side of the coin is that disaster is often the mother of sweet RV innovation—a tonic that makes us feel good about us. See both sides of the tragicomic coin as we share 13 common RV mistakes. (Whether it happened to us, we’ll take that to our graves.)
I wanna make this clear. I’m not saying I’ve made all these mistakes
(Or that I haven’t.) I just know someone … you know … who did.
MURPHY’S LAW SAYS THAT WHAT CAN HAPPEN WILL. Now, while I don’t know Murphy, I get the feeling he was a camper. Just ask Tom Burick. Years back, in the middle of nowhere Texas, part of Tom’s cargo trailer broke off. He zip-tied it. Just enough to roll into a one-red-light town with a Dollar Tree. He bought two spatulas, beat the heads off with a rock, slid them into place, and secured them with epoxy. The trailer made it the rest of the trip. Fortunately, you don’t have to be half mad scientist, half Boy Scout like Tom to survive every mishap. Because these 13 mistakes are far more common.
Mistake No. 1: Winging it
Winging it. If you’re new to the RV life and think that you’re on the verge of living wild and free, you’re right. Going wild (whether full-time or for a weekend) means stripping life down to essentials. Which means you need to figure those out—and never, ever forget them. For most of us, that means having a checklist for clothes, gas, gadgets, toys, and FOOD—all marinated, chopped, washed, stored, stacked, and any other tidbit Marc Acton. Doing so prevents a worst-case scenario. Like forgetting your wallet. Once, when I was heading up to Lake Superior, a fellow traveler had some last-minute repairs—his differential exploded—so he was going to be a day behind me. I wanted to get out of town, so I went ahead a full 250 miles. When I got to the hotel we’d booked, I had no ID. No cash. No credit card. No nothing. The night manager was kind enough to let me check in based on proof of insurance in my truck, and my buddy showed up the next day with my wallet. Whew!
Mistake No. 2: Backing that thang up … without help
It’s been said that 99 percent of accidents happen when you’re backing up. At least half of the time. The reality is those campgrounds can be a bit of an obstacle course with picnic tables, trees, and folks on vacation. I’ve seen someone set up a camp chair in the middle of a road totally oblivious to a truck barreling his way. Totally zoned out. Get a ground guide to help you safely back up. Or better yet: Get a backup for when you’re backing up, like the ASA Voyager wireless rear camera system.
Mistake No. 3: Thinking “I can reach that!”
You’re gonna grow in a lot of ways while camping. Height isn’t one of them. I have famously been told that my chassis is two inches too short. To set up tents and enclosures—often up to 8 feet high—I’ve had to resort to standing on top of a YETI. I know better now, and you likely do too. Step stools fold and store easily. Add one to that checklist.
Mistake No. 4: Having your extension cord come up short
It’s embarrassing. You pull into the campground and realize your hookup is farther than expected. And your cable can’t go the distance. Because no one wants to be OTF—out there flapping—get a 50-foot extension cord (and a backup). And make sure it matches the kind of power the campground offers.
Mistake No. 5: Becoming a fire hazard
Propane is a real fire hazard. Like rocket fuel-style, if you do it right. One time I got a new camp grill but didn’t have the canister connected as tightly to the regulator as I should have. The grill sounded louder than it should, and when I checked it out, the regulator and the bottle were both frozen. Turning off the regulator resulted in nothing. The grill kept burning! I had to get the bottle off of there, so I set up a little face shield with a 5-gallon water jerry can, put on some gloves, and twisted the bottle. POP! Flames shot out of the end while I was holding the bottle! Thankfully it stopped after a couple of seconds. Just a little terrifying.
Mistake No. 6: Flushing a troublesome tissue
From top to bare bottom, one of the most important things you need to do (and tell your kids you’ll disown them if they don’t): Always use RV toilet paper if you’re putting it in the can. It’s made to break down nicely and basically disintegrate, which means your pipes flow … after your pipes, you know … flow. Are you going to need to use more of it? Probably. Could an
occasional tear mean that you’ll need to wash your hands really well? You bet. Either way, Campa-Soft Toilet Tissue can save your butt.
Mistake No. 7: Improvising your midnight pee plan
You feel pretty cool in your new Lance Enduro, huh? Well, you should. It’s irresistibly cool with its rooftop tent. Just have a plan for 12 a.m., when you have to make your move. Plan in daylight, so you’re not falling down or flailing around in the darkness. Everyone camping will thank you. Even you.
Mistake No. 8: Relying on a single light source
Nights get longer in the fall and winter seasons. And the military has a saying that fits perfectly for your night light: “Two is one, and one is none.” Do you have backup bulbs for your RV exterior light? How about batteries for your headlamp? Is your fancy rechargeable flashlight actually charged? Light makes emergency situations less of an emergency, so always have a backup. Need I mention my nocturnal urinalysis notes again?
Mistake No. 9: Wearing sandals religiously
Remember, when you camp: As your feet go, so goes the trip. In Wilderness First Responder Training, I learned that the big things to be proactive with are food and water, sleep, hygiene, and feet. If any of those go bad, even for a short time, your good time can go downhill fast. Save the sandals for when all your activities are complete. A badly stubbed toe or twisted ankle could take three to five days to heal. Play it safe and swap for safer footwear when you’re not stationary.
Mistake No. 10: Getting locked out of the RV
So, this really did happen to a friend, but we’re not gonna say who it is—or that her name rhymes with Laurie Zak. (Wink!) She confesses that her family once got to their campsite and realized they’d left the keys to their travel trailer behind. And then things got wild, as fellow campers—lots of them—offered their best break-in ideas. Ultimately, Laurie’s 9-year-old daughter crept into storage and then squeezed up into the belly of the converter couch (with the slide-outs still in). After sending in yet another daughter (and using an ample amount of brute force), they got the
entire door off. The whole incident sure made Laurie wish they’d had a keyless door handle, like the Bauer NE Bluetooth.
Mistake No. 11: Ignoring inflation
Your tires are the feet of your vehicle—recreational or otherwise. And you can do more than monitor them with your TPMS system (although you need to do that too). If you’re taking the trailer off-road, opt for a slightly lower pressure to give yourself a better grip—and a better defense against the dreaded blowout. Then, when you’re returning to an improved road, pump those puppies back up to their recommended level. In any eventuality, having an air compressor—like TireMinder’s—is absolutely indispensable.
Mistake No. 12: Outdistancing cell coverage
OK! OK! OK! I hear you already: “Whoa! I got the RV to cut the cord with civilization.” And I totally agree in every way. But there’s nothing more frustrating than needing to make or receive a call and being in the land of no signal. Ever hear of emergencies? Get weather alerts on your phone? Yeah. Communication can save, and cell boosters like the Smoothtalker Mobile X6 gives you the option to better connect with the world outside your campsite.
Mistake No. 13: Not asking for help
The sense of community is real—just ask Laurie Zak. While locked out of her RV, she got plenty of free advice and free tools from fellow campers. Even after the trauma, some neighbor campers made her entire family dinner. The RV life can be humbling at times, but it also puts you at the center of a community that is always ready to help. Don’t be afraid to put your pride aside, laugh at yourself, and ask a neighbor for help. They will.