The Top 15 Things We Learned Renting An RV

by Jill Ginsberg
Originally Published: 
A family of four sitting on folding chairs in front of an RV they rented for a week for their trip

I love how our family camping trips compel the kids to trade in their light sabers for sticks, their electronics for a simple old-fashioned game of tag, and their own room for a cozy shared blow-up bed under the stars. Absolutely nothing’s better than seeing those happy little faces smudged with marshmallows and those hands caked in dirt, especially when they’re nowhere near my nice, clean house.

But, boy, am I ever tired of overhearing everyone else’s campfire conversations all night long only to “wake up” stiff with back pain. I’m done freezing my butt and both boobs off only to have to insert a quarter when I want to warm up in the shower. And I’m through trying to pitch that supposed “one-minute pop-up tent” in a reasonable amount of time only to end up pitching a fit instead.

So this summer, we decided to lose the tent and instead rent a 25-foot house on wheels (otherwise known as an RV) for an eight-day adventure through the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s a rundown of the top 15 things we learned renting an RV for a week:

1. Starting up the RV with all of your stuff in it and driving for the first time will scare the crap out of you.

All our dishes, pots, pans, and canned goods started colliding around in the cupboards the moment we stepped on the gas. The noise was initially so unsettling; I didn’t know how I was going to survive 192 hours and 1,000 miles surrounded by that racket. Luckily we got used to it within just a couple of hours. And even though I lived in a constant state of fear that all of those dishes were going to come careening down on us, for the most part everything stayed put. Sure, there was the time the fridge opened up on a hairpin right turn causing most of the contents to come crashing out onto the floor, but thankfully the bottle of wine was unharmed.

2. Having the crap scared out of you is a good thing … because you won’t want to go #2 in the bathroom.

In anticipation of our trip, we were happy to know that a bathroom would be following us around, catering to our every bodily whim. But that was before we realized that we have to then dump all of the accumulated bodily waste out of the RV so that the tanks don’t overflow. And that was before we realized that pooping in your RV bathroom is like pooping in your kitchen. Because they are right on top of one another. I am proud to say we never let anyone drop a deuce in our RV toilet. Instead, we scattered our feces all across the great state of Oregon at whatever filthy bathroom we could find. When the boys said they needed to poop, we would throw open the RV door and start yelling “Go to that bathroom. Hurry up! Run! RUN!! RUUNNNN!!!” A dog doesn’t shit where it sleeps and neither does this family.

3. Speaking of dumping…it takes on new meaning in an RV.

You have several tanks in your standard RV. One for gas, one for fresh water, one for grey water and one for black water. Grey water is the waste water that comes from your sinks and shower. Black water comes from the toilet. Both are disgusting, but the black water is the reason they give you a pair of plastic gloves. All the signs you see for “Dumping Stations” are not crude places you go to leave a turd. It’s where you go to empty your grey and black water tanks and refill your fresh water. Needless to say, we felt like total freaking superheroes the first time we emptied our tanks.

4. We never truly felt clean after showering.

Sure, the water was warm and the pressure was good, but something about showering in a tiny box less than 6 inches from the toilet led to a not-so-fresh feeling. It was still nice to have our own clean shower instead of having to brave the public campground showers, usually far worse and full of athlete’s foot (or other communicable diseases) which I have no interest in catching.

5. Even when I wasn’t building campfires I still seemed to set crap on fire.

The RV was equipped with a full kitchen, including a refrigerator, freezer, 4-burner stove, oven and microwave, so we could pretty much make anything we would make at home (although roasting a 20 lb turkey ain’t happening in that tiny oven). Cooking all those meals inside the RV helped me discover the importance of the hood fan. Apparently you want to turn that on every time you use the stove or oven, otherwise the smoke detector will go off … repeatedly … and everyone in the RV park will know that you are a total newbie. In addition, you’re working with only about a foot of counter space. So it gets really crowded, especially when you’re prepping and cooking meals for an entire family. Suffice it to say that several paper towels, one dish rag, and even an oven mitt went up in smoke. But that was just all part of the show, folks!

6. A malfunctioning TV is not necessarily an emergency.

Before we left the rental location, the staff told us how to operate the TV and DVD player: “Just turn it on and follow the prompts on the screen. It’s totally idiot proof. You really can’t screw it up!” The next day when we turned it on, we couldn’t get any stations to pop up. We figured there was just poor reception in the region. Two days later, when it still wasn’t working, we decided that being stuck in an RV for a week with 3 kids and no TV qualified as an emergency. So… we called the 1-800 Roadside Assistance number. The lady on the other line responded “I can never get the darn TV in my RV to work either. Besides, they don’t instruct us on how to troubleshoot them” before (presumably) moving on to an actual real life emergency. The good news is that the kids lasted an entire week without watching TV and they hardly whined about it.The bad news is that my partner and I (and the roadside assistance lady) are apparently dumber than a box of rocks.

7. God bless heat and A/C.

We’re used to shivering all night long when camping in the Pacific Northwest. So it felt luxurious to be able to leave the wool hats and gloves at home, put on a normal pair of pajamas, and click on the heat to warm up the RV. In fact, the first couple of nights it was so warm outside we actually needed the A/C on. The vent blew right on the boys all night long as they slept in the double bed above the cab.

8. We never loved Benadryl more.

Thanks to the A/C blowing on him all night, my son woke up with a full blown cold our second day of the trip. That night when we went to bed, he was up half the night blowing his nose. Loudly. Which meant that we were all up half the night hearing him blow his nose. The next day everyone was exhausted, so that night we came to our senses and gave him a dose of Benadryl. Same with the next night, and the next night, and the…. you get the idea.

9. The only thing we loved more then Benadryl was the slow lane.

I finally get why the slow lane exists! 70 miles per hour seems outrageously fast when all of your worldly goods are clanging and banging around you. Not to mention it’s just nice to stay put since it can be challenging merging into other lanes. It’s like East Coast in the left lane and the West coast in the right lane. Two totally different worlds!

10. We didn’t move around the RV while driving as much as we thought we would.

We envisioned maneuvering around the RV at our leisure, cooking lunch while cruising down the highway, dancing around to the tunes on the radio. But every time one of us got up we’d sort of flop around the RV, at the mercy of the many windy roads we traveled. I’d get up intending to get something out of the pantry for the kids and end up being tossed onto the rear bed instead. Moving around didn’t seem as important as surviving. So… mostly we just sat.

11. My heart actually stopped the first time we filled our gas tank.

In Oregon, they only have full service gas stations because that’s the law. When the gas station attendant returned to take our payment I actually screamed out in horror when he told us we owed $170. My brain started immediately tabulating how much money we were going to spend on gas during the trip, and how one of the kids was going to have to settle for community college now. (Later, when I realized that my SUV costs about $70 to fill up, it helped put things in perspective a little.) In the end we used less than 4 tanks of gas – not as much as I thought we were going to need. Still, we do have a really nice community college right down the road…

12. I finally understand why they have designated RV parking spots.

I’m not even sure why they bother putting rearview mirrors in RV’s because you have to be insane to even try to use it. No matter what you do or how you maneuver yourself, you won’t be able to see a single inch of what’s behind you. You either need to just completely trust in the universe or you better have someone outside directing you, which can be treacherous for that person depending on the setting. So it’s just far better to not put yourself in a situation where you have to reverse. Ever. Hence the reason why those extra long RV parking spaces at rest areas and pull through campsites exist.

13. It turns out U-turns are not for u if u are in an RV.

Occasionally, however, we found ourselves in a situation that required some backward maneuvering of the vehicle. Like the time we were lost on a very curvy road heading in the wrong direction (fuck you, Siri). We realized that if we didn’t turn around immediately, we might not be able to turn around for another twenty miles or more (which meant we’d have to back track the whole way and that’s oodles of time and, like, a car payments worth of gas $ right there). So I did what any sane person would do – prayed to God that none of the 530 residents of the town were coming around the bend and then flipped a u-turn before reciting another prayer asking God to please not let us slide off the road into the ravine that lay behind me.

14. Having shelter is undeniably beautiful.

When a wicked thunderstorm barreled through Crater Lake National Park and a hailstorm quickly followed, we were safely stashed inside the RV with warm teacups and books in hand. In the Pacific Northwest, with such unpredictable weather, it’s nice not having to rely only on your tent for shelter. We hoped for great weather during the day, but never gave a second thought to what Mother Nature was doing at night. That little hussy.

15. We can’t wait to do it again!

I was sure something awful was going to happen. But it never did. We didn’t accidentally leave the side mirror defroster on and run our battery out. We didn’t accidentally pull away with the water and electricity still hooked up. We didn’t accidentally forget to put the slide-out back in before getting on the road. We didn’t accidentally reverse into anything. We didn’t accidentally damage the RV. We didn’t accidentally leave one of our children at the gift shop. Okay, I admit we did do that but it only took us a few (ahem, 20) minutes to realize it.

I can only imagine what the next trip will bring.

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