RVs – The Basics for a First Timer..

“You've driven one of these before, right?” The rep at El Monte said as we walked towards something I can only explain as the size of a bus.

“One of those?” I said, hesitantly nodding towards the thirty foot beast sat on the far side of the car park.

Truth is, when I imagined we'd be renting an RV or motorhome whilst in the USA, I thought more Sooty and Sweep rather than a medium sized apartment on wheels.

The guy showed me around and pointed out a few things that I'd need to know in order to keep this ship sailing for the four or five days we had to get it from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Height and Length

Double check the length and height of the vehicle – Thankfully, the Hurricane had a sticker in the cab with the height on, which was 13'6″, which came in very handy when we got to this tunnel in San Francisco, which was also 13'6″. We got to the tunnel and had no way of turning around. We drove through at about 4 mph. My cheeks were clenched the whole way through.

Our second RV did not have a sticker with the height on it and I didn't realise until after we had left the pick up site. That meant a pricey mobile phone call to the hire company the following day to find out. The guy on the phone said 'I think it's 12 foot' Brilliant. 'I think' isn't good enough. We treated it as if it was the same height as the first one. The insurance on the RVs doesn't cover anything on the underside or on top of the vehicle. The air con unit sits a couple of feet above the roof, so make sure that's included in the height. They're expensive to replace, especially when it's out of your own pocket. We met someone who had hit the aircon unit on a relocation special, ripping the roof up. Their world travel came to an abrupt end with an expensive bill to pay.

Check for Damage

When the rep checks the vehicle over at the rental station, walk around the vehicle with them. Point out every little scratch and dent and make sure it's on the check out sheet. Any 'new' damage when you return the vehicle is on you, and your deposit. I noticed that the rep doesn't check the roof, so climb the ladder and check that everything is in order before you leave. If it's not, go back inside and have the sheet amended. I noticed the the driver's window catch and lock was broken when I got in the RV to leave, so went inside with the foot long catch in my hand and had it added as existing damage. Don't think of it as bothering the staff, think of it as protecting your deposit.

The Waste Tanks

You've got two. Black and Grey. Think Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, both dirty but one is worse than the other.

Black is from the toilet. Nothing in here smells of roses, despite what people might say.

Grey is from the sink and showers. Dirty water but it's not going to do you too much harm.

The best thing is to wear plastic or rubber gloves when handling anything to do with the 'dump', a technical term for emptying the tanks.

Each RV's tanks will be different in size, but the colour coding is the same. You will most likely need to empty these tanks during your journey. I got this job, I wanted to flip a coin but Lois was insistent that I should do it…

We were tricked into buying a 'pre-dump' from El Monte. They charged us $25 and we can return the tanks empty, because apparently we won't find a dump station that charges less than $40 on the road.

This simply isn't true. There are hundreds of low cost and FREE RV dump stations throughout the USA.

We used www.sanidump.com which gives you a whole list of RV dump stations by State, City or Town. It will tell you which ones charge, how much and which ones are FREE. We like FREE. We love FREE. We had this page on our favourites! After that initial sting for $25, we didn't pay for another dump the whole time we were in the USA.

Potable Water

The fresh water that feeds the taps and shower is from a tank. You will probably need to fill it up during your journey, especially if you like to wash your hair as much as Lois does I do. The water has to be 'potable' which is a technical term for fresh or drinking water. Many of the dump stations will supply this for FREE too, but check and double check it is potable. Some RV dump stations will only have water for you to wash the tanks through, which is not suitable for consumption. If they're not sure, don't risk it, go somewhere else.

To Pitch Up or Not?

We didn't stay on a single camp site or RV Park. Not once.

Why would we? We had unlimited use of the generator, which uses a minimal amount of fuel and unlimited use of the LPG gas.

So we didn't have a cable TV hook up, but we're travelling the World! We haven't got time for cable TV!

Some nights we stayed in Shopping Mall Car Parks, some nights we stayed at the side of the road in a quiet residential street. One night we stayed on the side of a hill, and this was the view from the living room window:

When we were travelling across the Country as opposed to staying in a City overnight, we found Flying J's Travel Plazas the best for overnight RV'ing. Most Flying J's have cheap gas, free potable water, a Denny's and FREE wifi. We love FREE. They often have a truck stop on one side, so they're use to and happy for overnight car park guests.

If you google search 'Stealth Camping' there's plenty of suggestions on other places to stay overnight that aren't as obvious; WalMart Car Parks, Camping World Car Parks etc.


It's not gas though is it? It's petrol, yes, unleaded. These beasts drink unleaded, some of the better ones will give you 12mpg. If you travel through a handful of States, you'll notice, like we did, that the price of fuel varies massively. We saw a whole $1 difference per gallon between Michigan and Texas. Be smart and buy fuel when there's an incentive, like when you dine somewhere or spend money in a supermarket. If you're spending the money anyway, then it's win win.

We used WEBSITE to tell us where the cheapest gas was nearby. It saved us a packet in unessecary fuel costs. Some RV's have fuel tanks that can take 60-80 gallons of fuel. At 50 cents difference, that's a saving of $40 on a full tank. You do the maths.

My personal advice if you haven't driven one of these before is to take your time, make slow and deliberate movement, signal your intentions well. If you're unsure, familiarise yourself with the vehicle in a large parking lot or quiet streets. It might be useful to observe the trucks on the roads, they do this everyday, do what they do.

Good luck!




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