What I/we learned in our first year of RVing…
An RV Newbies’ Tale
A year ago (February of 2021) we bought an Airstream, sold everything we owned, uprooted and left everything we knew, and hit the road.
Whoa…what a ride.
Why an Airstream?
Quality — If we were going to live in something full-time, then an Airstream’s quality made the most sense. Value — if for some reason this did not work or we decided this was not us, we knew we could get a good return on the sale of the Airstream. Culture — some products in our lives create a culture of like-minded people completely dedicated to them and Airstream is one of them. For my husband, it was also the — COOL factor.
We spent about two years studying and watching YouTube after YouTube video, but nothing prepares you for this lifestyle like just DOING it. There are countless things to learn and you don’t grasp how much until you move in and hit the road. Each day is a new lesson — not just about RVing, or the RV itself, but about yourself and those traveling with you.
One of our greatest worries and fears was towing. The day we brought Betty Jo (the Airstream) home, we were both a bit of a nervous wreck. We had watched so many videos on the subject and practiced WIDE turns in our new-to-us oversized truck, but it was time to “actually” do it. Turned out it wasn’t so bad, even on a rainy Washington day. Luckily we had found Betty Jo close to home, she was about 1 1/2 hrs away, so it wasn’t a long jaunt. As we traveled up I-5, I kept checking my side-view mirror, making sure she was still back there, and because I still could not quite believe what we had just done.
Our original plan was to find a storage place for her while we sold everything we owned and got ready to move out of the house we were renting. We had given the landlord notice and had the whole month of February to take care of business. Turned out that was not our plan. Instead, we found an RV park close to home and just moved in. I am someone who, once I make up my mind jumps in and just gets it done. If we were going to do this, then just move right in and do it. We had to do it sometime.
- Hooking up our utilities and Setting Up Camp. One of our first lessons.
We asked some friends to be there with us on our inaugural trip to our first RV park, for moral support and just in case. I felt like I needed that extra support and an extra boost of confidence. Again, we had watched countless videos. I made a list based on the lists of others, which I proceeded to leave it at home, newbie mistake number one. We managed to hook up step-by-step anyway. When we finished, we stepped back and I did a little mental pat-on-the-back for doing pretty good on our first time…until water started gushing out of the bottom of Betty Jo. Turned out when they winterized her they left the valves to the tanks open and when we turned on the city water…it all came gushing out. Tony (thankfully he is pretty technical) figured out right away what it could be and found the valve to shut it off. Then water gushed out the other side of her, in the winterizing process the dealer didn’t put the water heater plug back in. Luckily it was still there and Tony was able to fix it.
On our first days with Betty Jo, she sprung a few leaks. It was POURING rain and the rain found its way in. I about freaked out and thought, “WTH did we just get ourselves into.” The first leak was the stove exhaust fan vent. Tony did research and found out the gasket wasn’t fully sealed, so he fixed it. The next leak was over the kitchen sink and was just a few drops. It stopped almost as soon as it started. We suspect it was because she was sitting at such a strange angle and the water found a path in. The next leak was after a snowstorm and as the snow on the roof melted some of it seeped in through the air conditioner intakes vent and right over our bed. At that point I just wanted to cry and give up, I was on emotional overload. And, we were just starting.
- Dumping and Tank Management
Not a pretty subject, but a necessary subject. I became obsessed with learning how to dump. We had an FHU site so I carefully monitored our tanks and religiously dumped them. Tony would add Happy Camper to hopefully keep the black tank happy. After I while I learned to relax about the subject and it just became a part of our routine. Since then, we have learned to not only dump but periodically do a deep cleaning on the tanks.
- Using the toilet, showering, dishes, cooking….
You would think these subjects would not be a big deal. It is just like a house, isn’t it? Not really. The toilet scared me at first, my greatest fear was clogging, hence the reason for being a fanatic about cleaning and dumping. I got over it pretty quickly. When we moved into the Airstream, it took me a couple of weeks to get the courage to use the shower — Don’t ask. I watched a couple of videos on doing dishes, I found them helpful. Unlike a house, the plumbing in the Airstream is a bit more sensitive, so much that even the smallest little piece of food particles could cause an issue. I learned secrets from other RVers — I use a collapsible sink, filling it only partially for washing, then rinse (this minimizes the use of water and filling up the grey tank.) I am not a big fan of paper towels and lots of waste, but until I find another secret, I use a paper towel to wipe down dishes before washing them. This keeps food particles and grease from going down the drain. The reality is, you can be careful, but something is always going to slip by. I have learned to be careful but not a fanatic about it. Using a propane oven and stovetop was a new experience for me. I had watched a video by Long Long Honeymoon on not being afraid of your oven, it helped a little with the fears, but only a little. I am okay with the stovetop but the oven still causes a bit of anxiety.
- Backing up
Oh, the anxiety. Our first RV park was the Swinomish Casino and Lodge in Anacortes, WA. We ended up spending a total of almost two months there. Next to the RV park is a really large gravel lot they use for overflow, the perfect spot for practicing and we utilized it every chance we got. After watching videos by Long Long Honeymoon, Keep Your Daydream, and a few others we took that information and used it when practicing. Marc Leach, from KYD, instructed to learn to back up in a straight line first, so we did. It is not as easy as it sounds. Betty Jo was quite stubborn at first (it’s easier to blame her… LOL.) Most of our sites were pull-throughs when we started, but eventually, we had to just bite the bullet and do it. The practice helped give us a bit of confidence when we did.
- Route Planning
Still a work in progress.
- Travel Days and being comfortable with our SIZE
Still stressful, even after a year. My greatest fear is our size. Will we fit? What if we get stuck and can’t turn around? Pulling off somewhere due to our size, can we get out? I see people do it all the time, pull off into a parking lot, pull off on the side of the road, just swing into an area like it is no big deal, but I still cannot find my comfort zone for this. But each little journey teaches us how and our confidence inches up just a little more.
- RV Parks
Due to our size, I have learned what to look for in an RV park. Some RVers may be comfortable rolling into a park that has small narrow roads, tight spaces, and tight turn, sites too close to the neighbors and lined with obstacles like trees — we are not there yet. As we become more seasoned at this, then we may, till then we want a park with a little bit more room to it and wider roads that are easy to navigate. Due to the crowdedness of RV parks, someone suggested booking during the week. I took that theory and apply it. I try to get us into a park during the week and leave a park after a weekend. This accomplished a few things: 1. Less crowded. 2. Shorter lines to deal with. I also learned that if we can enter a park between 2–4, fewer RVs are coming in around that time and this allows us more time to get into our site without interfering with others. 3. Because of being less crowded during the week, it often makes it easier to get and out of sites. 4. Getting out of sites — I used to think I wanted a pull-through on the end, turns out that is incorrect. End pull-throughs could often be harder to get into, especially if it is the first one or two in the row, that tight turn is hard for us with our 50’ of length. And getting out of a pull-through sites can often be harder than getting in, especially if the roads are narrow and there is someone parked in front of you. Calling instead of reserving online — I learned this early on because online is not always accurate and usually the staff knows more about the park than online does.
- Relaxing, going with the flow, just LETTING GO
When you enter this life after years of go-go-go, it can take a while to give yourself permission to just let go, to relax, to not be in a rush.
Most of us start this journey all gung-ho and ready to cram in as much as we can. The reality is we need Balance. Too much, go-go-go leads to travel fatigue and loss of enjoyment. You need to balance the go-go-go with some downtime. Stay longer in some locations, savor the moments, and extend the experience. SLOW DOWN!!! We learned this lesson rather quickly. A Balance of partnership — whether alone or traveling with others, you need to find balance. A balance of personal space, working as a team, even a balance of giving and take. A Balance from within — most of us have been structured since birth to push ourselves, to achieve some sort of success. We do this with little thought of balancing that with relaxation. Life on the road still happens, it is not all adventures and just hanging out, but there can be a balance where we can enjoy the moments and balance them with life/work.
What have I learned in this last year of RVing?
1. I have learned I am a bit braver than I realized.
2. There are moments of pure peace when you slow down.
3. I am constantly reminded about the joy in the little things.
4. That it is okay to permit yourself to slow down, to just stand on the beach and listen to the waves.
5. That each day is a day of Gratitude.
6. Each day is an affirmation of WHY we started this journey.
7. That we have a BUCKET LIST!
That it is OKAY!
What I have yet to learn:
- Driving and Towing
Currently Tony does all the driving and towing. I have practiced in parking lots but have yet to find the willingness to be in traffic to achieve this monumental task.
This was an intention when when we started, but with the HOT weather last year, I found I was not quite ready to give up all my creature comforts — especially air conditioning. We have done it a few times, mostly at Harvest Host locations, but not BLM type land.
- I (personally) am still a bit uncomfortable with our size when towing, especially when we need to pull off on a road.
- Managing Expenses (Budgeting)
We have spent a bit more than I wanted when we started this journey. Some of that is from poor planning, from the increase of RV sites (including state parks), and FOOD.
- Cooking Outdoors
We are just starting to figure this out, so it is a work-in-progress.