Operating Our RV safely

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” -Albert Einstein

We are finally preparing to head out in our RV at last!  Our State parks are about to open for camping and they have started taking reservations so we snapped up some spots for some summer camping.   

In anticipation, we decided to go ahead and hook up and head out this weekend!  Where to?  Promise you won’t laugh!?  We took our new RV out to do some practice driving.  There.  It’s out there!  Commence the giggling!

We are RV Newbies and with this new moniker comes some anxiety.  Our  trepidation is primarily around the chore of backing up our rig.  Having camped as kids we aren’t total newbies to the actual camping and as part of our pre-purchase research, we rented an RV to make sure that this was something we wanted to do. However, as kids, we didn’t drive the RV and our rentals were Class C’s which is a very different driving experience. 

Trying to back up

We bought our new Grand Design Imagine XLS just prior to the start of our 2020 Pandemic quarantine, so we only had time to squeeze in our first ever camping adventure before travel was put on pause across our State and Nationwide.  Right away, we discovered that backing into our driveway was going to be our biggest challenge.  Our driveway is a dog leg shape and not ideal for Newbies trying to back in our 26 feet plus the truck.  When we brought our RV home for the first time to load up, we managed to get it backed in on the first try despite the awkward bend in the driveway and a few obstacles to be mindful of.  We know now, that this was just Newbie luck for sure.  Semi-confident in our new abilities, when we came home, we thought it wouldn’t be a problem.  This time, we got it in on what had to have been the 50th try!  This left us frustrated and with our newfound confidence totally diminished.  Not to mention, we found ourselves trying to figure out how to manage our future camping trips by NOT bringing our rig home from storage at all!

Since we didn’t feel assured in our skills as a team to back up, we went back to our favorite source of anything we want to know, YouTube. After watching “Keep Your Daydream‘s” episode on Sunday, May 10, we thought it was a great idea to take advantage of a bright, sunny day to find a large, unoccupied, unobstructed space in which to practice.  Appropriately, we used a high school parking lot in which to learn.  While our YouTube pros make it look relatively simple, we know that isn’t our reality behind the wheel right now.  So, armed with advice from the more experienced, off we went.

Now for those of you who might be RV veterans, I know you’re probably having a bit of a chuckle and thinking to yourself, “These two!”  However, I’m betting that in some point in your RV career, you might’ve scraped tree branches or come within inches of running over your spotter when going backwards.  Right?  I’m hoping those are the least of your mishaps! As newbies, we are very aware that even in our cars, going backwards is the most dangerous time and with an extra 26 feet to maneuver, we are taking some sage advice and making time to learn how our RV responds when we make the slightest of adjustments at the wheel.  Safety first.  And, with both of us having been musicians early in our lives, we know that “Practice makes perfect!” 

When we were done with our practice session, my Husband asked, “What did we learn?”  I suspect that he might’ve asked because he knows that our hijinks are fair game for my blogs these days but it was also a good question and a time for us to review together what we had learned.   So, what lessons DID we learn?

Getting it between the lines

Backing up is hard

While we really prefer pull through campsites, that is not always going to be an option.  Not to mention, backing into our driveway or our storage space is a necessity.  Going backwards is probably our hardest challenge and we know it will take patience and practice.

The steering wheel

When backing up, it’s best to hold the 6 o’clock station of your steering wheel to turn.  If you want the back end of your RV to go left, point the 6 o’clock position to the driver’s side.  To go right,  point the 6 o’clock position to the passenger side.  I bet it sounds easy and pretty basic. I thought so too but it takes some practice to train your brain to remember this simple maneuver. 

Go slow and make small adjustments

This is our new mantra.  First, this is not a race.  While we might hold up traffic and annoy our fellow campers, and for this we are eternally apologetic, there is no time limit in getting backed in.  Taking our time will prevent mistakes or an accident.  Small adjustments are key.  Whirling the steering wheel too far in one direction or another totally changes the trajectory of the back end of our trailer.  So, small adjustments are the way to go.

As a girl, I need to know who to do it; learning the language of backing up and trusting our spotter

I really admire those of you ladies out there who are full-time all on your own. For me, I am keenly aware that I should know how to manage our truck and trailer, both separately and together. I know of fellow campers who have experienced medical emergencies and the women have not been able to hook up or drive their rig because they have never done it. So, I must learn. I am already a partner in the hook up and unhooking processes but today, I drove and backed up for the first time. These are skills I need to be sure to practice often so I can do it if I ever need to by myself! Come on girls! It’s important for you to know how to do this! And guys, you need to be patient and teach your girl how to take care of your rig, if they need to, by themselves. Empower your girl to take care of business, just in case!

First, I actually drove the truck with the RV in tow for the first time.  Honestly, it’s not as hard as I was anticipating.  Although, I am trying to remind myself that my first attempt to drive was in the empty parking lot of our local high school with no traffic.  In real life, I drive a zippy high performance machine and I have never pulled anything so my goal was to get a feel of the extra weight behind us and to understand where my new back end was and where I needed it to be.  Our truck may be a high performance machine in her own right but she is not zippy with that RV attached and rightly so! My lead foot will need to take a break!  While my plan is to let my husband do most of the driving, in my mind, it’s always a good idea for me to know how to manage our rig by myself in the unlikely event that I have to.  We also plan for me to be the backup driver when he needs a break so, at the minimum, I need to be comfortable in pointing the rig straight and keeping it all safely between the lines.   

As part of the whole lesson, I also practiced backing up.  THIS was where we both started to learn.  With my husband out of the truck and acting as my spotter for his first time, we learned how to speak the language of “backing up the RV.”  We learned that what the driver can see and what the spotter can see are two very different perspectives and for us, that included different focuses.  The driver and spotter need to be able to clearly communicate when in reverse and apparently, when I was the spotter, I was not giving the best of direction.  I was focused on where the trailer was and where it needed to be while Roger was focused on the truck.  We agreed that this approach would not work. 

When I was behind the wheel, he could see what I had been seeing and why I gave the directions that I did.  He now also understood how the truck needs to be maneuvered to get the trailer to be where we want it to be.  Now, as husband and wife, we also started to understand that there have got to be spouses or travel buddies out there who have had a few shouting matches over this particular part of their RV experience.  While we did not have said shouting match, we can totally see how that could happen.  The key for us was not to get frustrated with each other, listen, and talk to each other.  This meant learning to speak trailer.  A new language for us, for sure!  Now that both of us understand how to communicate left and right to each other, we have probably, saved our marriage and will likely enjoy our camping adventures for years to come!  Saying, “go left” or “go right,” for us, is no longer providing accurate direction.  Instead, we use, “driver’s side,” or “passenger side.”

After learning this, when we were done for the day, I was able to almost expertly get our rig backed into it’s storage space with the superb direction of my spotter. This last and final lesson of the day left us feeling like our time of practice was time well spent.  I know to trust Roger’s direction and carefully listening, along with going slow and making small adjustments got the job done. 

I can’t believe that I did it! (With my expert spotter)

“G.O.A.L.” and the multiple point turn

From our YouTube friends we learned “G.O.A.L.; Get Out And Look.”  When we get to a campground this will be our go to maneuver before we ever put the rig in reverse and anytime we feel we need to assess the situation during the positioning process.  This practice starts as soon as you get to your campsite.  Every campsite is different so it’s wise advice for the driver and the spotter to get out and look together at the layout of the site before pulling in.  The purpose here is to scope out the campsite so you know where the hook ups are, where you might want to have your RV positioned to accommodate slides or for the optimal enjoyment, and to be on the lookout for obstacles like tree branches, picnic tables, or uneven ground.  G.O.A.L is also a highly recommended pause at any point in the back up process if the driver needs a first hand look at where he/she might be.  I think Roger would agree that he understands the premise even better after getting out of the truck while I drove.    

The first try might not be perfect

I mentioned before that as the spotter, I was focused on the rear end of the trailer in hopes of getting it to where “X marks the spot.”  However, Roger needs the truck to be straight and lined up with the trailer to easily unhitch.  To achieve this, we learned that backing up our RV will not be perfect on the first try.  In fact, this means that pulling forward and backing up several times will eventually get us where we want to be, along with the small adjustments noted above.  We had to make peace with this new understanding.  Our favorite YouTubers even mentioned this in their recommendations as well so we feel like we came to understand that lesson clearly during out training session. 

We think we learn something new every time we hook up.   We try to move slowly, methodically, and check behind each other so we are sure that we don’t forget any piece of hooking up before moving our rig.  We are confident that we will get better with more practice.  Practice does indeed make perfect. 

We are counting down the days to be on the road again!  We wish you safety and pleasant travels.

**Note: For those of you who are avid fans of all things RV, these are some of our favorite families on YouTube that we follow and watch religiously.  We look to them for tips, tricks, ideas for places to add to the bucket list, and the reality of RV’ing: Keep Your Daydream, Less Junk More Journey, Finding Our Someday, Eat See RV, Embracing Detours, The Chick’s Life, Traveling Robert, and RV Lifestyle with Mike and Jenn.  There are a lot of others as well so check out YouTube for some great resources. 

6 thoughts on “Operating Our RV safely

    1. HI Pedro.

      Before we bought our RV, we rented Class C motor homes on two occasions. When you start to plan, look into Cruise America. They have motor homes of varying sizes in various parts of the US. We had good experiences with them in Key West, Florida and the Northeastern part of the US. The come very minimally outfitted so you would need to consider renting convenience packages like towels, sheets, cookware. OR, I know of people who have traveled from the US to New Zealand and rented RVs there who bought what they needed when they got where they were going and donated their equipment at the end of the trip.

      I hope that helps. Have fun planning and I can’t wait to hear how your trip goes!
      I hope you are well.
      Thanks.
      Christina

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      1. Dear Christina, thank you for all the tips, that’s truly kind 🙂 I really must start with a plan and your insights are great for the starting point, thanks 🙂

        Stay safe,
        PedroL

        Liked by 1 person

  1. We’ve had our trailer since October 2018. I can totally identify with this article! Good for you for all the practicing and wanting to learn how to drive and backup yourself! We are in Missouri and made some reservations this morning for a couple of our state parks. The reservations just opened back up today. Doesn’t it feel great to have a trip on the books? Enjoy your coming travels!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the encouragement! We are always excited for a coming trip, but after this Covid-19 thing, we are so, so happy! I look forward to reading about your adventures, too!

        Liked by 1 person

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