I’ve been on the road as a full-time RVer for the better part of a year now. I can’t believe how fast time has flown. I started my RV life as a total newcomer. I had never driven an RV and had never slept in one. I did a lot of research before I jumped into this lifestyle, but there’s nothing like experience to really know what works and what doesn’t. If you are a solo woman and thinking about RVing, or new to the lifestyle, here are some tips that might flatten the bumps on your journey.
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As someone who had never driven an RV before, I began my search by looking for small motorhomes – 26 feet or less. My rationale was that they would be easier to drive and yet small enough to find parking so that I could still run errands. But hello! I was not taking the RV out for a weekend. Nope, this was my new home. It’s where I and my three cats live, and it’s my workplace. It became obvious that the smaller RVs did not have the space that would allow me to work and live comfortably. I had to go bigger.
Now that I’ve been driving a Winnebago Aspect 30C for months, (it’s 32′ long in total), I can say that it is not difficult to drive. I drive with the help of my side view mirrors and once I got used to the length, I felt comfortable behind the wheel. Most importantly, once I’m at a campground I’m usually parked for at least a week, and up to two months. My RV is my home, and that took priority over the convenience of a smaller RV. Besides, look at how tiny it is when parked under a majestic oak!
Don't be afraid to get an RV that best suits your lifestyle, even if it's bigger than you initially wanted.
Once I decided to opt for a bigger RV, I had to come to terms with the fact that I would have to tow a vehicle behind. For a minute, I considered returning to my motorcycle days. But did I mention I am traveling with three cats? How would I get a cat to the vet? And if there was an emergency and I had to flee, I’d be abandoning my kitties and everything inside the RV. There was no way that was going to happen, so I swallowed my nerves and swapped out my Honda for a Jeep, which easily flat-towed.
Remember tip #1 – don’t be afraid of size! Well, now my total rig length reached almost 50 feet! Yikes!!! I had a Blue Ox towing system added to my motorhome and the Jeep was outfitted with a baseplate. The RV technician showed my how to hitch it up, and just like that, I was on the road. Admittedly, I was a bit freaked out by the fact that I could not see the Jeep behind me. Only when I would turn a corner could I see the Jeep tail behind me. Somewhere in my wild imagination, I kept thinking of the Jeep coming unhitched and flying into the ditch while I continued on my route, totally oblivious! I have since learned that I can turn my backup camera while driving and see my Jeep behind me, if I want.
After pulling up camp every week or so, as I did this summer, I became excellent at hitching and unhitching my Jeep. With the help of a checklist I created, I can easily follow the procedure to get the Jeep in an out of towing mode – and double check the parking brake! I learned that I need a level surface to unhitch. Also, I got a few tips from long-time RVers in terms of lining up the Jeep, and now I’m a pro. In fact, I had to chuckle as an older gentleman approached me as I was hitching my vehicle. He said, “you look like you know what you’re doing, can I ask you a question?” Ha! It was only my second month out. But yes, I did know what I was doing and was even able to help him out.
Hitching just takes practice. And a "cheat sheet" doesn't hurt. A few times out and you'll be a pro!
Here’s the kicker – you might not know your camping style until you hit he road. And it’s your camping style that has an influence on the RV you select. Maybe you want to pull a little tear-drop camper, or go the route of van life? Perhaps you see yourself boondocking (without power, water, and sewer hookups), and you’d like a rig with plenty of roof space for solar panels? Or you want to hang out at your favorite lake all summer and stay put? There are so many different ways to RV, and it’s a personal choice. You don’t need to justify your style to anyone. If it works for you, that’s all that matters.
When I was first deciding on RVs, I took into account the fact that I have always loved state and national parks. So I did a lot of research on how that might influence my choice of a rig. It’s one of the reasons why I chose a class C over a class A motorhome. And thankfully, I didn’t go larger as I’m finding some of the parks can’t accommodate larger rigs. Fortunately, my inclination was “spot on” – my favorite campgrounds are state parks and Corps of Engineer sites. My RV is a winner!
Seriously think about how hardcore of a camper you want to be. Are you okay with digging a hole for a toilet? How frequently do you want a shower? Do you need to run an air conditioner? If so, you’ll need a power hookup. I learned very early on that my rig and I suck at boondocking. I don’t have solar and I am averse to running a noisy generator to supply me with power. Without the power hookup, I couldn’t run my A/C and my main WiFi system was down. Nope, boondocking is not for me.
Try different ways of camping and determine which suits you best. Select the rig that best supports that lifestyle.
RVs aren’t much different from a home – things break. The challenge is that if you are on the move, it can be difficult to find the help you need. You’ll need some basic tools and know-how. When I started out, I scoured through lists of tools I might expect to use in an RV. And as you can see from my garage, I have a pretty good stash.
When I think about the things I have fixed on the RV, I’ve really only needed three tools:
Clearly, I have a lot more tools and supplies tucked away in the garage. I want to be ready for almost anything. I also have extra fuses and bulbs. If you expand your notion of tools, there are three pieces of equipment that I have found essential for my travels.
Buy some basic tools and supplies. Don't forget to include items you may need rarely or in emergencies. They can be equally important.
I do not know where I would be without YouTube. I changed the oil in my motorhome, thanks to YouTube. I added a water filtration system to my rig, thanks to YouTube. I reattached an exhaust pipe to a generator, thanks to YouTube. And I learned how to plan trips, how to remodel my RV, and got ideas on how to keep my cats safe and happy. YouTube has gotten me out of more than one jam!
In addition to YouTube, the other major source of help for my RV is the Winnebago Aspect owners Facebook group. You should be able to find a similar Facebook group for owners of your make and model of your rig. Many of the issues you’ll encounter are specific to your rig, and these groups are filled with people who own the same rig and have likely experienced similar problems. I received lots of technical guidance and advice from this group.
You can find the answers to most of your RV troubles through YouTube videos and Facebook groups.
Safety is a huge concern for women who are just starting out, or still toying with the idea. I like to think about safety in broad terms. For that reason, I am going to suggest an item that may seem off topic – a tire monitoring system! Yep, I’m back to tires and their importance for our safety on the road. The last thing you need is a blowout that swerves you off of the road or sidelines you on the shoulder for hours.
Tire monitoring systems are expensive, but I swear by them! When my tire monitoring system alarm went off while driving, it scared the heck out of me and I anxiously watched the tire pressure drop in one of my inside rear tires. Surprisingly, I didn’t notice a change in the way it drove and I quickly pulled off the freeway, parked in a safe place, and called roadside assistance. The tire valve had failed in the tire and once it was replaced, I was safely back on the road. But it could have been a disaster if it had not been detected as it happened. So think of safety in terms of equipment you can get for your rig that will keep you safer on the road.
Now let’s get to your personal safety. Be conscious about your surroundings. If it doesn’t feel right, leave. Don’t keep your head down in a cell phone while you are walking around. Instead, observe the people around you. Lock your things up at night and anytime you break camp. If you are RVing alone, make it look like you have company. Put out two lawn chairs, and maybe place a pair of men’s boots by the door. While I’m a cat lover, I’ll concede that dog owners tend to have an advantage in this department.
Owning and traveling with a firearm is a very personal decision. If you do opt for a firearm, make sure you are professionally trained in how to use it. And that you are willing to use it if needed. If you are crossing state lines, be aware of firearm laws, which vary greatly from one state to the next. If you do carry – do not advertise! Definitely, do not put a sticker on the rig – it’s an invitation for someone to break into your rig and steal your firearm. That being said, from my personal experience, I see no need to own a firearm. Then again, I’m not boondocking in the middle of wilderness.
My two primary safety accessories are a Ring camera and pepper spray.
Ring Stick-up Camera – I have a Ring camera mounted by the door of my rig, and I remove it when I travel. This little camera provides a pretty good image, even in the dead of night. The only downside is that it requires WiFi, so if that’s an issue, you might check other options.
During my travels, I had one encounter that warranted the Ring alarm to go off in the middle of the night. I was able to download the video, so you can see the actual footage. I was at a campground that had a bike path along the canal, and I was alerted when two guys carrying bikes walked by my rig. I watched them as they moved on. No threat, but if they had been a threat, I could have spoken to them through the Ring camera and called 9-1-1. I checked with the campground later to see if anyone had reported stolen bicycles – no reports.
Pepper spray – I have a couple of different versions of pepper spray. One I keep in the RV by my bedside. The other travels with me if I am walking in the evening or hiking. I’ve carried pepper spray for years, and I never had the need to use it – but you just never know. By the way, I also have a whistle in my hiking pouch, in hopes it will bring attention to me if I am lost or someone is threatening me. And a Zoleo satellite communicator that can bring me help in places where there is no cell phone reception.
Your best friends are going to be heightened awareness, basic safety training, and being fit. For a couple of years, I took karate lessons. But I’m not that same fit person. So think about how your good health and athleticism could improve your safety.
Prioritize your own safety. If it doesn't feel right, leave. Get the safety gear and training that fits your comfort level.
Just when I was feeling cocky about driving my rig, I found myself almost trapped in a gas station. I couldn’t make the turn into the pumps and for a minute, I thought I would have to unhitch my Jeep so that I could get out of my jam. Fortunately, a nice man at the pump told me I could loop around the back of the station – disaster averted. I filled the tank and looked across the street to find a gas station much friendlier to RVs. Bad choice!
It takes some time to adjust to the size of whatever you may be driving. Whenever possible, I use truck stops along the freeway. But they aren’t always around when I need them. I like to fill up my tank when it reaches about 1/4 full. You just don’t know what lies ahead, and the low gas mileage means a tank of gas never lasts as long as you hope.
Don't underestimate the amount of space you need to maneuver your rig. Carefully select your gas stations.
The “old-timers” grow nostalgic when they talk about RVing as a carefree activity, where you simply moved on when you got tired of a place. That’s not the RV world as I know it. Just this week, I was online at the second that a state park opened its reservations for a date six months in advance. There were two spots available. I got neither. I’m typing this in mid-December, and I’ve already booked sites into next October. If you want to stay at national and state parks – and you want electricity – you have to start planning at least nine months out.
For national parks, you can reserve a campsite six months in advance. But for state parks, it’s a mixed bag. Florida state parks are very popular and allow you to make a reservation 11 months in advance. Even then, you have to be very lucky – I tried to reserve campsites in the Florida Keys the second the reservation system was open, and still no luck. Washington State opens their reservation system nine months in advance (and caps the number of nights at ten). In California, it’s a six month reservation window. Use your calendar on the phone to set up notifications of when your desired campground is open for reservations.
Most national and state parks cap the number of nights you can stay at 14. So you’ll have to be on the move every two weeks (or less). While the national and state parks tend to fill up quickly, there are some lesser-known options. For example, some counties have RV campgrounds with hookups, and one of my favorite options is Corps of Engineer campgrounds. Also, have your credit card ready – you’ll have to pay the full amount of the reservation at national and state parks at the time you book a campsite.
The tool I use to plan my trips is RV TripWizard. I would be lost without it. I use two main reservations systems that include national campgrounds and some state parks.
In terms of reserving private resorts and campgrounds – it all depends. If you plan to visit a popular tourist area in high season, make your reservations well in advance. If there’s an event in the area when you plan to visit, don’t wait a minute longer.
Plan ahead. Prioritize your most desirable destinations and reserve them the minute the system opens. Plan the rest of your itinerary around those locations and dates.
Some women are totally happy being on their own all of the time. They don’t feel a need for the company of others. That’s not me! True, I like my alone time, and I get plenty of it. But on occasion, I’d love to connect with others, especially solo women RVers who are experiencing the same things. I found some wonderful women RVer Facebook groups and made some new friends.
Finding my flock became critical this fall, as the Presidential election approached. I found myself caught in a part of Texas that was contrarian to my values. Unfortunately, I experienced some rather negative encounters with other RVers, and the lax adherence to the statewide mask policy at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic threatened not just my happiness, but my health.
I reached out to my new RV friends on Facebook, and found a local group of women who shared my political affiliation. They invited me to an outdoor event, one that included wearing masks and maintaining social distance. I was delighted to find my flock of friends and share positive energy with one another. No doubt, the social element enriches the RV experience.
Make friends. Find a group of people whom you feel comfortable with and connect with them virtually and in-person.
So I just mentioned the Pandemic and now I am jumping to the concept of FUN. Many things remain closed this winter and large social gatherings are not happening. But that doesn’t mean the fun has to end. In the last few weeks, I have witnessed the launch and crash landing of SpaceX’s Starship SN8 (a success even with the crash), a lighted boat parade, and fireworks. Part of the fun factor is being at the right location at the right time. But it’s also about finding a setting that brings you joy. For me, that means warm temperatures, water, and tons of walking and hiking opportunities.
Nature is my primary source of fun. I’m parked facing a pier that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico. And from here I capture the moments when the sun dips into the horizon – fun, joy, and contentment all wrapped into a single moment.
Seek opportunities for fun in the places where you are camping. Nature can be a great source of entertainment.
Dr. Brenda is a financial coach and full-time RVer. In addition to coaching, she creates and leads online courses at the Dream Big Money Academy and is the founder of the Gutsy Women Club. She blogs at The Five Journeys.