What do I do now? by Peggi McDonald
Congratulations! You did it! You finally bought your dream machine. You
realize this a new lifestyle for you but you just had to have that special
RV; it had your name on it. The thought of overlooking a quiet lake
where the fish are begging to be caught or to be nestled in a picture perfect
hideaway in your mobile ‘cottage’ was just too much to pass up. A trip
across North America or becoming a snowbird for a winter or two was
always part of your long term planning, wasn’t it? Well now these dreams can
become a reality. But wait, the panic is beginning to set in---you’re newbies,
you’ve never camped or traveled in an RV. What do you do now? Well don’t
despair, in the next page or two I’ll walk you through the basics. For
seasoned RVers the following can serve as a refresher to increase your
anticipation as to what’s ahead for the upcoming season.
Many dealers will allow new owners to spend the night on site so you can
try out every amenity while tech support is nearby. To build your
driving confidence, find a shopping mall during quiet times to practice
maneuvers, parking, backing-up and hand signals. Yes this is also a good time to
set up some personalized signals between driver and co-pilot. John and I
prefer hand signals, but some RVing friends feel more comfortable explaining
directions with the use of walkie-talkies. It makes no difference which
directional form you use so long as you both understand each other. By
the way it is impossible to stop an RV by pushing on the back of it and
yelling. For info, the driver can’t generally hear voice signals over the sound
of the engine. Plus if you can’t see the side mirror, the driver can’t see
you. In our case I only provide signals for where I want John to put the rear
of our unit---not how he has to turn the wheel. I usually stand on the
driver’s side but depending on the angle the driver is backing into the site you
may have to switch from the passenger to the driver side to see the mirror.
When setting up hand signals you need commands to spell out ‘come straight
back’, ‘turn the rear to the left’ or ‘turn the rear to the right’, ‘ change
the direction your unit is moving’, ‘hold hands up wide to indicate distance
between a post or obstacle behind the unit’, ‘move forward’, ‘stop for
a minute’ while you check the other side of the unit for trees, patio,
table, hook-ups etc. and last sign is ‘STOP’ immediately. There are no correct
signals, just those that work for you. If someone offers to help, thank
him or her graciously but for routine parking explain the “driver only has
eyes for you”---he/she can only follow signals from one person.
Now that you have gained confidence to handle parking, take a drive on a
quiet secondary road, in no time you will feel comfortable handling your
unit. Then change drivers so the co-pilot can sit behind the wheel. Both
of you should be self-assured you can drive your RV. In our case John
prefers to do most of the driving but I have enough experience that in
an emergency I can easily take over. I make it a point to rebuild my
confidence behind the wheel every few months.
Next step is to find a place to go for your shakedown weekend.
Campgrounds are listed in many publications such as the large International
campground directories of Trailer Life and Woodalls, available from bookstores and
dealers. A call to your local tourist bureau to request provincial travel guides along with camping info provides
additional in-depth info. It may
be wise to enjoy an extended stay in campsite near home to become
familiar with your unit before you venture across country, expect it to take time
to understand how everything works. Surprisingly this same advice applies
even if you are just ‘trading-up’. We too with our many years of on road
travel felt like Newbies each time we traded RV’s. All manufacturers and
various models promote diverse designs and every ‘bell and whistle’ operates
differently. The day you drive that new rolling home off the lot you
will feel like it is your first time behind the wheel.
Now the stage has been set to enjoy the great outdoors in your new
‘rolling home’. First stop is to find a campground near home. Learning
RV living skills should be your main priority; perfecting long distance
driving skills can come later. RVing won’t be much fun if every aspect is
foreign to you. When your getaway takes place over a long weekend or during a peak
travel time be sure to make reservations. However be aware a fee is
occasionally charged to reserve a site, especially in the public lands
at Conservation Areas and provincial/state or National Parks. On the
other hand those who belong to clubs such as the Escapees, Good Sam, FMCA, KOA
Canada’s Explorer RV Club etc can benefit from 10% discounts off the
regular rate for cash payment.
During park check-in you’ll generally be assigned a particular campsite.
Follow the park map to your spot and BOTH of you get out to look things
over. Observe where the hook-ups are, the patio, trees and hidden
obstacles such as an obscure stump, a low hanging branch, a pothole etc. You may
be lucky and be assigned a pull-through but more likely it will be a
back-in space. What a perfect opportunity to practice your ‘new’ parking
signals. Discuss your plan of action. Others may be watching but don’t worry they
too were all beginners at one point. Remember what I said about
help---if you don’t request assistance be nice and say “No thanks---but can we
call you if we need too?”
Motorized units pulling a tow car should always disconnect the ‘toad’ on
flat land, if your RV is a towable simply back up as you did at the
mall; although this campsite area may be more confined; the procedure is no
different. The driver will have more control if he/she takes it slow ---
feel free to use as many temporary stops as needed. Don’t worry if you
must drive forward several times and try again---many of us make several
attempts before settling in a spot where we’re happy, even experienced RVers.
When you are satisfied with your location, setting-up procedures follow.
If the site is not level (or soft) it’s wise to add boards (8x2x18 is a
good size to start with) under the low (maybe all) tire areas before
using your jacks for final stabilization. Units with dual tires ALWAYS need
board(s) under EACH tire, plus the complete tire ‘footprint’ should sit
completely on the board(s). Adding another board under EACH jack is also a good idea.
Although the ground frequently looks solid, jacks can easily sink under
the weight of the RV.
Get out and enjoy this great lifestyle. Catching the RV Spirit is such