Misadventures in Being an RV Newbie

It has been just a little over a month that we've owned our new “home.” And a month since we picked up our life and drove to Phoenix and while we are still prepping for our first trip in January there are a few things I've learned, four to be exact!

Your sales guy is probably not a good driving instructor.

We had the world’s best sales guy. I mean the best. He was cool, zen, provided no pressure on the sale, and was way patient. He answered a lot of questions, provided a lot of answers, and gave us lots of good tips – way before we committed to buying. I have never seen someone in the vehicle sales industry like this. He totally rocked.

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As someone who has driven an RV for more than fifteen years, he was a great source of information. So I wasn’t worried when my hubby said that Galen was taking us out on a 3-hour crash (sorry) course on driving before we took possession and headed to Arizona, a 12-hour drive that we would be complete newbies on. We did drive the RV for a test drive, but we had exactly 30 minutes behind the wheel.

I should have been more nervous.

Obviously, we made it. And obviously so did the RV, but let me tell you, it was close.

We headed out to the freeway and out onto Altamont Pass. For folks who have been around the San Francisco Bay Area for a while, you’ll know that this highway between Livermore and Tracy is a major truck route for semis hauling along the West Coast. And it hasn’t been well maintained.

Kissing a truck on Altamont Pass

That was our first 30 minutes. I think I saw my life pass before me at least 10 times in the first 10 minutes as we became super close friends with a bunch of 18-wheelers!

Galen didn’t really have a plan, or at least not one that was super thought out. Mr. Misadventures wanted to see how a gas station worked. Galen had us exit where he thought there was a fuel stop, but it was the wrong exit so we had to get back on the highway and take the next exit. We got to the gas station and Galen had us drive through it just to see how it flowed rather than stop and get gas.

We got back on the highway until we got to Vasco Road, a beautiful back road that cuts between two suburban areas of the Bay Area. I used to love to drive it in my car 20+ years ago, but for someone driving an RV for the first time, not sure tiny two-lane roads made the most sense.

We went through two one-lane bridges, the first one we passed 10 seconds before a huge truck came around the corner on the opposite side. The second we almost didn’t make it into as there was a huge ditch to the right of us and it was only with the momentum of the vehicle itself did the back left tire made it, if we had been towing the jeep, it would have been in the ditch and probably taken the RV with it.

Photo credit: Amy Alphin

But we made it through okay. I know I was white as a ghost at this point and I am pretty sure Galen wished he hadn’t suggested the drive!

Then we got lost.

And then my hubby informed Galen we only had an eighth of a tank of gas.

No Outlet
Photo credit: Carrie Lu

We headed down a road Galen thought led back to Vasco Road (or the freeway, I can’t remember), it clearly had one of those NO OUTLET yellow hazard signs at the entrance. But according to Google Maps, it led to where we needed to be, so onward we pushed. The tiny two-lane road became one.

The one-lane road became dirt. We went up small hills and around curves on this one-lane road until we got to the end. Right into the front yard of a rancher. His house on one side, his barn on the other.

That’s when we tried out our first 3-point turn in an RV.

OK back a bit, back a bit. Stop! Now go forward. Stop! Back a bit,… (Illustration by CARRIE CAMPBELL)

It’s also when we almost killed Galen. He was outside trying to direct Mr. Misadventures when he reversed and provided signals on how close we were to the rancher’s fence. While switching between Drive, Neutral, and Reverse, my hubby took his foot off the gas and nearly squashed our sales guy!

But he didn’t. And we got that baby turned around. And we made it back. We took Galen to lunch, we plied him with beers and we survived.

Photo credit: Patrik Kristian

That night when Mr. Misadventures was asleep, I heard him mumble/sleep talking, “I want my money back…

RV manuals suck

There is a lot to learn when it comes to owning an RV and it’s overwhelming. We had a 4-hour walkthrough with our technicians but they didn’t spend a lot of time on any one thing, and even though I wrote copious notes, not all of it stuck. We have been reading books and forums and my notes making sure we don’t screw up anything in the first month.

What we have come to understand is that RV’ing is basically trial and error. Or trial by fire.

My husband is an engineer and when engineers don’t understand something they read the manual. They may be the only people in the world but god-bless them, they read the manual.

The problem is, RV manuals suck. Bad. So bad.

Photo credit: Powell's Book Store

And analog. Not much is online. We have a pile of papers 2 feet high of manuals, all of which are pretty much useless.

We are forced to seek out info on the internet.

Now, I love the internet just as much as the next person, but you know it's not accurate right? (I hope someone before me told you not to believe everything you read on the internet!)

Yet it is our only recourse. I can tell you, that in seeking out info and videos, I have seen a lot of corny Southern RV salesmen make some bad videos. Makes me love Galen even more, despite what happened in lesson #1!

Checklists are essential 

We’re planners. Love to-do lists. So the fact that we are going to need like ten checklists to make sure we don’t kill ourselves or wreck our RV isn’t the worst thing in the world.

But we could have done with a few BEFORE hitting the road without any fresh water.

Of course, we were only driving between the San Francisco Bay Area and Phoenix, had plenty of water in our refrigerator, and spent the night at a rest stop so it was no big deal.

But still.

There is a lot to check before hitting the road and sitting down. Each. And. Every. Time.



But lordy, there are a million of them out there and none of them seem comprehensive, so we are going to have to make our own!

Truck stops are a world of their own

Okay. So I have only been to four. But they are pretty strange. All I’m saying is that why should truckers and RVs be relegated to a world of bad coffee and fried food? I feel like Jen Lancaster in Bitter is the New Black (if you haven't read this book you need to!), but seriously, would it kill Starbucks to make a drive-thru big enough for an 18-wheeler to go through?!!

An exaggeration sure, but still! Photo credit: Lars Plougmann

I am pretty sure I am going to have lots more to say on this topic as we hit the road!

That is my first month as an RV owner, with a few bumps and bruises, but we are really looking forward to the adventures ahead. And who knows, maybe I’ll get to make a living as an RV manual writer!

Let's discuss! Anything you want to know? Any advice for me?

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  1. Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says:

    I have never gone RVing before, but my husband talk about it sometimes. We would like to go cross country when we retire someday.

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Robin, starting renting them now for shorter trips. By the time you are ready to be a full-timer, you will be a pro!

  2. I am cracking up over here!!! Are you sure Galen didn’t take you on that treacherous test drive to throw the world’s worst at you before sending you off on your own? Maybe it was his master plan!!!

    A tip: There’s a “secret society” of walmart parking lot RVers out there. Seriously — I don’t know how they connect as I’m not in the inner circle, but they have a long list of Walmart lots where you can park free. 🙂

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Karen, that just might have been Galen’s plan all along! There is an app for Walmart’s too, I can’t wait until we need to stay at one overnight to check it out!

  3. Amy @ItsAMindfulLife says:

    Yikes! Sounds like a lot of fun ;). Once you get a hang of it, you will be loving it. I can’t imagine doing a 3-point turn in an RV. Ha! I think that may be on my “do not try” list. 🙂

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Amy, trust me, I do not want to do it again!

  4. Jaime Nicole says:

    Wow, that sounds like a really intense experience. I would love to get an RV at some point, but I think I will definitely need to have some extra driving lessons. I’ve never even really driven a big truck so an RV would be a huge change for me!

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Jaime, they do have classes, I recommend them!

  5. My uncle who is 90 has one and I am afraid to even get in it with him because he drives that thing everywhere. I am like you are a bit older but he loves it slow and all. I went one time with him for a drive for two hours but it actually took 5 lol It was fun though and comfy.

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Kita, I am amazed that people 20 years younger than your uncle can do it, let alone 90! I am in my late 40’s and my hubby in his mid-50’s and we are totally intimidated!

  6. Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate says:

    Did I ever tell you our first time driving the RV/trailer was in mid-May from Sacramento to Tahoe (we planned to get midway through Nevada…oops!) and there was an awful snow/ice storm and semis were spinning out on Donner Pass and Scott and I were terrified and thank GOD in the 11th hour before we left, he got his dad to show him how to use the emergency brake. One of the scariest moments of my life!

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Kristin, yikes! I don’t remember you telling that part of your adventures, probably with time it is easier to tell 😉

  7. My husband and I had a pull-behind camper, and that was still a lot of checklists, and learning to drive. I can’t imagine an RV! My grandparents bought a motorhome when I was little, and I went on a lot of trips with them. They drove it to all of the states except Hawaii, and went back and forth between Idaho, Missouri, and Arizona each year. When I made a trip from Idaho to Missouri, my sweet grandma handed me her Idaho/Missouri notebook, complete with meticulous directions, where to stop, where not to stop, fun things to do along the way, etc. It was such a blessing!

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Jamie, did you ever posts her tips? Will be going through Idaho later next year, would love to know her secrets 😉

  8. We did the same thing with a mobile home a couple years ago! It is quite an adventure driving one of those things and a lot of tense moments as well. Sounds like a great story you’ll be retelling the next couple years.

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Tammilee, did you write about your adventures?

  9. OMG!! I was stressed out and laughing my head off on this post. Poor Galen, but oh my stars, passing on a one lane bridge with only 10 seconds to spare. We can’t lose you, Andi! Have fun with your amazing new adventure. I can’t wait to hear more stories.

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Jen, thanks my friend, and I am coming to visit you if I get anywhere close!

  10. Oh man, I would be so terrified driving a motorhome at all. At least you have a funny story to tell, right?

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Angie, exactly, great blog fodder!

  11. Wow, wow, wow. That was one bumpy beginning to your RV adventures. I think I would run away from home at that point. You described it hilariously though. All I can say now is good luck!

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Liz, thanks, hopefully I will be able to laugh at all the inevitable mishaps!

  12. Christina @ Christina's Cucina says:

    That first RV driving lesson sounds like it’s straight out of a comedy! So glad there was a good outcome in the end! Whew! Hopefully everything will be smooth from this point forward! We took a Suburban with a super long camper out east once (D.C. to Boston) which was the WORST decision EVER! Roads are much too small for that length of vehicle! 🙁 We had to use THREE parking meters in Philadelphia! Good luck to you!

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Christina, I keep hearing that about the East Coast. I would love to do New England, but it sounds like it is not as RV friendly and it is expensive on the road!

  13. Miranda (Myrabev) says:

    I am sure it is an exciting adventure though scary and sometimes worrisome. I have never been in a mobile RV before, the closet I came is to sleeping a very confortable but decommissioned RV. Good luck on your adventures.

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Miranda, thanks for the warm wishes!

  14. saegan anderson says:

    i’ve never been in an RV before, but this is making me want to!

  15. Katie @ Domestiphobia says:

    Oh, my. I used to think I wanted to do this, but wow — sounds like so much work! I’m sure once you get the hang of everything it will get easier? I hope!!

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Katie, I hope so too. There is way more to it than I thought as well, but I know it will get better.

  16. Sandy Cain says:

    This sounds SO much like something I’d like to do – an adventure is an adventure! But I’ve never even been in an RV…..and none of us even know how to drive. (Stop laughing!). So I’ll go along on your adventures via the blog, and enjoy myself that way!

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Sandy, me either! But you can take classes at RV school and practice in big parking lots. My hubby already mostly has the hang of it, just a few tricky things liking backing-up we need more practice!

  17. Lyndsey R. says:

    It’s my lifelong dream to own an RV one day. I never even thought about having to drive it! Haha

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Lyndsey, it is quite intimidating!

  18. I also wish to have an RV to make road trips easier. Is it truly comfortable to sleep in an RV? Isn’t air ventilation bad? I do not want to sleep with opening windows.

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Mai, I have a full king size bed in mine! I am going to be doing a post with pictures soon, you’ll be able to see. Because of that, it’s QUITE comfortable!

  19. Linda Manns Linneman says:

    It sounds like you had quite an adventure. I would love to own an RV and do some traveling. It would make for some great adventures. I am glad you made it to Phoenix fine. Enjoy your trip. God Bless

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Linda, thanks so much for your kind wishes.

  20. This is hysterical. I don’t have an RV, but we have a big truck and have towed a 40 foot trailer behind it. It is a really scary experience. I can barely handle driving my little Honda Civic. However, I have an amazing husband that has proven time and time again how great of a driver he is.

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Kelly, he is brave! I am supposed to eventually drive the RV, I drove it on the test drive, but not since!

  21. Mary Anne LaRocque-Ouamar says:

    I think my husband and I will.try.this next.time in Morocco, his country!

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @MaryAnne, I bet it would be interesting to do in the desert as long as the RV is well-equipped for sand.

  22. Ana Adams says:

    I am loving your blog. My husband and I have thought about this exact move. He’s in his second full time career having fully retired from the military and we don’t know where we want to settle and we don’t want to but I Las Vegas….. Waiting, watching and taking notes.

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Ana, hope you continue to follow along and that my adventures and misadventures will guide you! One thing for sure, we have met very nice people so far.

  23. Kelli Conley says:

    I was laughing and crying with your blog entry! Welcome to the world on the road…someday I’ll tell you my stories but yours are more fun to read. Words to remember, you are bigger than cars so don’t worry about them. You have so much metal around you most everything will bounce off. If you get tired eat shelled sunflower seeds and only watch the Long Long Trailer if you are highly intoxicated. Oh, don’t worry the food gets worse outside of the coastal states–you will pray for Subway sandwiches and fresh Iceberg before this all over my favorite foodie. Last, once you hit the southern states there are only four kinds of beer- Bud, Bud Light, Coors, and Coors Light. Laugh now but someone will say it!

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Kelli, thanks for all the WONDERFUL tips. Now I have to worry about packing beer!

  24. alicia szemon says:

    we have been wanting an rv. we want to be able to travel around(:

  25. I have to say I’m laughing, too, reading about it, but in real life I would have been so scared so many times, I would have quit cold turkey! Now I know why you call it ‘misadventures’ !!!!!