7 Lessons We Learned on Our First Night in Our RV Part 1
Our first night in our RV was a night full of RV lessons. That’s right, that first night was not worthy of sharing on Instagram or YouTube or even by Face Time with parents, as had been the plan. There was no marshmallow roasting, no campfire, no sitting under the stars. What there was, was… well, bugs, high humidity, and a lot of darkness. We learned a lot about RVing (all at once!). And although everything we learned seems fairly obvious now, it certainly wasn’t then, despite all the research we had done. So although we mostly relive this night for a good laugh, we thought it might be fun to share, just in case some of these tips are not yet obvious to anyone hoping to start RVing.
Our RV journey began on a sunny, Monday morning leaving our hometown (Miami, where camping is not a thing) to drive up to Atlanta where we would take possession of our RV, a 28 ft Forest River Grey Wolf Travel Trailer, which was being driven down from Ohio to a local RV Service Center. The Service Center would set us up for the road, and we would be on our way to a magical ride into the RV life. Due to some logistics issues our RV would not actually arrive until Friday of the week we left—most likely Friday afternoon. We thought that sounded great! Though not as early in the week, or day, as we would have liked, we figured it would be ready for us to tow to a nearby campground Friday evening, and enjoy a lovely weekend of camping (whatever it was that camping entailed…). What could be more perfect? Surely, nothing could go wrong, right!?
Lesson 1: If you have never owned (or hardly seen) an RV, take possession at the Dealer.
With all of the belongings we had decided to keep, and our shiny new RV “starter gear” stuffed into our GMC Canyon, we spent the week at a Motel 6 (which was very clean, spacious, and pet friendly!), eagerly awaiting Friday. When Friday afternoon finally rolled around, we were ready to receive our RV at a local RV Service Center where we had an appointment set up. On the way to the service center, however, the RV delivery driver called us from the road saying he was running late. In fact, it was more likely than not, that he would not make it to the service center before close. To remedy that situation we figured we would drive 2 hours north, and meet him at the nearest Walmart.
At this point, the smart thing to do would have been to have the RV dropped off at the service center (they were willing to have someone come back out and open the gate for the driver to drop off our RV). We, however, were still thinking we could get to a campground that night. In addition, knowing that the service center was closed on the weekend created some sort of brain block that made us oblivious to the fact that we could simply extend our hotel stay.
So we went with the Walmart plan because Walmarts are very RV friendly, right? Our driver, Ron, finally arrived at 5 pm. We were so excited to see our RV for the first time! The plan was for Ron to help us set up our hitch assembly since the service center was no longer an option. Ron had plenty of tools in his truck, and he assured us we would be on our way in no time at all. Of course, that’s not what actually happened.
What actually happened:
I sat on the grassy curb, out of earshot, with 2 dogs and a cat watching Jon and Ron repeatedly go back and forth between our truck and Ron’s truck and the RV (enough times to know something wasn't going as planned). With the dogs and cat antsy, I transitioned to walking and running with them in circles. Jon came by with an update: there was something additional needed for the hitch, and he was going next door to Home Depot to purchase it. He would be right back. So back I went to walking the pets in circles. When Jon and Ron finally emerged from Home Depot they walked right past the trucks and RV, and me, and into Walmart—I didn’t take this as a good sign.
They emerged from Walmart empty-handed. In the end we arrived at the conclusion that neither us, nor Ron, had the tools needed to get our hitch assembly set up. We needed a component in a different size, which both Walmart and HD did not have, and Ron needed to start heading back home to Ohio.
We could have very easily found ourselves in a Walmart parking lot with all of our belongings in our truck, 2 dogs and a cat, and a shiny new RV which we had no way of moving out of their parking lot. All of this in a Walmart parking lot with signs clearly stating, “No overnight RV or truck parking”.
Fortunately, Ron was a Road Angel. He offered us his hitch assembly. He set up our truck and RV with his own trusty hitch assembly, and just asked that we mail it back as soon as we got in at a Service Center to have ours set up. This level of generosity is nearly unfathomable when you’re from the “big city”.
And so, thanks to Ron, we were on our way. As a result we would highly recommend that you take possession of your RV at a dealership, or at the Seller’s location, if you’re buying used. This ensures that whether you are driving your RV or towing it, you can actually leave with it. And, if for some reason it’s not possible, the RV has a safe place to wait for you. We would also recommend not making an important service appointment on a Friday, especially Friday afternoon, as it leaves very little room for error.
Lesson 2: Campgrounds are busiest Friday-Sunday, it’s best to make a reservation—and not arrive at 10pm.
Ah but what fun would it have been if the adventure stopped there? For the next bit of fun we began the two hour drive back in the direction of where the campgrounds were. Some people (smart people) are able to practice driving or towing their RV before they actually set out on their first trip. Not us! Jon basically white knuckled our Travel Trailer the entire way back. I remember looking over at him out of the corner of my eye every few minutes: White knuckles on 10 and 2, steely-eyed concentration, tight jaw…OMG he’s nervous…We don’t know what we are doing exactly… The rest of the ride consisted of me discreetly, I hope, glancing from Jon, to the road ahead, to the clock, and wondering if we would make it before the campground closed.
It was such an immense relief to pull up to the gate at the campground! We barely made it before close, but we made it! Of course, we didn’t realize that Friday is pretty much the worst day to arrive at a campground without reservations. We had a choice of two spots, the only two left. The first was a site with 2 big oak trees flanking the asphalt pad, which, according to the attendant, made it nearly impossible for most campers to back into even in full daylight. Instead, he highly recommended we take the second site. In the first logical move of the day, we took his advice, and opted for the second site, a site not without its own defect.
For your first time out, we highly recommend making a reservation and arriving early. Without a reservation, depending on the campground, it is possible to arrive late as some will have self-pay stations. Also, bear in mind that some campgrounds literally close the gate at closing time, so even if you have a reservation, if you’re late, there is no getting in. Even to this day we find it best to arrive early, and avoid arriving on a Friday without a reservation.
Lesson 3: For best results, arrive to your campsite with at least an hour of daylight left. (It is difficult to see what you are doing in the dark, especially if you don’t know what campgrounds look like.)
As it turns out, it is quite difficult to navigate campgrounds in the dark during quiet hours. So we very slowly, and very carefully made our way to our site, site 5. This was literally the first time we had ever (as in ever in our entire lives, not just ever with our RV) been in a campground, so pitch black aside, we had no reference point for what we might be driving through. We eventually found site 5, but it became evident that we had zero clue which way we should be facing, whether or not we needed to turn around, or if that was even possible, and it was difficult to tell if we were in the middle of the road or not.
But we hadn’t left Miami with no plan at all. Remember, we did do research, and had packed our shiny new RV “must-haves” in our truck. This handy kit contained walkie-talkies and LED lanterns. The plan was we would use the walkie talkies so that I could step outside and direct Jon into campsites while he, of course, would listen and drive. But of course, that’s not what actually happened.
What actually happened:
So at this point one thing I should disclose is that I am a terrible driver. I am definitely not the candidate of choice for directing a roughly 45 ft vehicle (28 ft trailer + our truck) in the dark. Poor Jon! This walkie-talkie idea did not go as planned, and he ended up having to jump out of the truck and drive, and jump out of the truck and maneuver some more, and jump out of the truck and park. (Of course it was actually more than 3 times that he hopped out.) When we were finally parked, I think there was a part of us, but definitely a part of me, that figured, okay, we made it; now we just pull out the keys, open the RV door, and done!
Well we pulled out those keys, there were three, a small purple one, a black one, and a silver one. We had no way of knowing which opened what, and the door to the RV had two locks so it was not as simple as trying one and then the other. Also, Jon needed to figure out how to hook up to the water and electric connections. By now it was late, I REALLY needed to use the restroom, I was hungry, and worst of all I was TIRED. Jon assessed the situation and seemed to come to the conclusion that he could best figure everything out if I, along with the dogs, went back into the truck, and tried to take a nap. And sure, you may think that sounds like it wouldn’t be so bad, but it was a hot and humid night in Georgia, and with the windows down, all the bugs come nap with you too, except they don’t nap, they buzz and bite.
So this part of the night taught us, as it should you, that RV life is much, much easier if you plan (and actually) arrive at your campsite during daylight hours when you can actually, you know, see what it is you are doing. Arriving at your spot for the night with an hour’s worth of daylight left is a great rule of thumb for any RV trip, but ESPECIALLY your first one.
Read part 2 of this post, where we discover the unexpected "defect" our campsite had, and how we were able to overcome the challenge it presented us.