When we decided to try RV living, we knew nothing. Having never even spent a weekend in an RV before deciding to live in one, we may have known slightly less than nothing. Suffice to say we have learned a lot in our 3 years full-time RVing and have stayed committed to safety being our #1 priority.

Let’s face it, one safety mishap and your travels could be over before they begin. That’s why it’s important to keep safety top of mind whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or a long-term adventure. Let’s get to 5 tips that can help keep you safe on the road.

1. Find the Right RV FOR you

Selecting the right RV that suits your needs and preferences is crucial. Consider factors such as size, layout, amenities, and towing capacity. There are thousands of RVs available on the market (they’re often referred to as “rigs”). Take your time, make sure you’re getting the rig that has what’s right for you, and make sure the quality is good – especially if you’ll be RVing full-time.

You may be tempted to get the newest and biggest rig on the market, but make sure you’re selecting an RV that your truck can safely haul, and that you can safely maneuver for your level of experience.

If you’re like us and have zero experience with RVs but want to get started, renting an RV before making a purchase can help you gain valuable insight into what works best for you and your travel style.

2. Understand your towing capacity

Prior to the RV lifestyle, we didn’t know what things like GVWR, GCWR, payload, tow capacity, hitch weight, or trailer brake meant. We certainly didn’t anticipate having to do math or learn jargon but alas, here we are. To safely haul your new home (or your weekend getaway), you’ll need to know your numbers. So let’s start with some definitions.

GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) = the maximum allowable weight that a vehicle is designed to carry, including the vehicle’s own weight, passengers, cargo, and fuel. Both your truck and your rig will have a separate GVWR.

GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating) = the maximum allowable weight of a vehicle and its towed load. It includes the combined weight of the towing vehicle (such as an RV or truck) and any trailers or vehicles being towed (such as a camper, boat, or car). The GCWR takes into account the weight of the vehicle itself, passengers, cargo, fuel, fluids, and the weight of the trailer and its contents.

To understand what factors are included in the above two definitions, here are a couple more definitions.

Dry Weight = the weight of the equipment itself. Both your truck and rig have a dry weight. This simply refers to the weight of the truck or trailer without anything in it – including gas, fluids, passengers, or cargo. This is important because it tells you what your starting point is and how much more weight you can safely add to your setup.

Curb Weight = Curb weight is the total weight of the vehicle including standard equipment and required fluids, like motor oil, transmission oil, coolant, AC refrigerant, and a full tank of gas.

Payload = this is the maximum weight of anything that your truck or rig can safely carry. Passengers, cargo, gas, groceries, clothing – anything that’s in the truck or RV besides the vehicle itself. In the context of RVing, payload is a crucial consideration as it determines how much gear, supplies, and personal belongings you can bring on your trip without exceeding the vehicle’s weight limits.

This may seem excessive to go this far in detail on what seems like obscure acronyms, definitions, and numbers, but these numbers are paramount to your safety on the road and may be one of the most important tips for new RVers.

Marc of Keep Your Daydream does a great job explaining all of this over here in this video 👇 

This doesn’t seem like a “fun” tip and may seem a bit tedious, but it’s incredibly important to get this right before you commit to a vehicle and/or rig. Remember to continuously weigh your truck and trailer throughout your adventures to ensure you don’t exceed the weight your truck can safely haul.

3. always Make Safety Your #1 Priority

Mistakes in the RV life can be costly. You could make one wrong move and end up with thousands of dollars worth of damage…or worse. Keep you and your crew safe by always prioritizing safety. Here are a few tips to help with that:

  1. Work from a checklist so you don’t forget anything. When you’re first starting out, hooking and unhooking your rig won’t be second nature – use a checklist so you don’t miss any crucial steps.
  2. Double check each other’s work – there’s no room for ego in safety. If you have a partner, have them check your work when you first start. This also helps you stay cross trained in each other’s duties in case one of you is sick or injured on a travel day.
  3. Continuously monitor your tires on both your truck and your rig. Make sure you know the cold PSI for your tires and keep them filled.
  4. Never back your rig in if you can’t see your partner. Even if you’re using phones or walkies, we’ve had all of it fail before. Be patient and wait until you can see your partner in your mirrors before backing up.
  5. Avoid socializing while hooking or unhooking your rig. Both are important activities that need your full attention.
  6. Avoid rushing or performing important activities while hungry or tired (see what happened when we didn’t heed our own advice on this in the video below)
  7. Always know your numbers – height of your truck, height and width of your rig. As you make your way on your adventures, you may find that you don’t always fit on all roads.
  8. Always, always, always chock your tires. That gets 3 “always” because we didn’t do this and our trailer rolled at us in our driveway.

4. Practice Driving, Parking, and Maneuvering Your Rv before hitting the road

After the aforementioned trailer incident, a friend’s dad came over and put us through 10 hours of boot camp to prepare us for our first trip.

We drove and parked and drove and parked and parked and parked, and even drove in a circle backwards around a light pole in an empty parking lot. We hooked, we unhooked, we hooked, we unhooked. We learned and repeated so much by repeating .

It’s one thing to watch YouTube videos (which we did), and read articles (which we also did), but practicing in real life is a game changer and absolutely imperative. We also used our first trip to practice on repeat in quick succession. We stayed at 4 campgrounds in 4 nights making sure to unhook and hook up each time for the practice.

5. Use an RV-specific GPS

One thing we didn’t think about on that first maiden voyage mentioned above was RV-specific directions. We thought roads were roads and they’d all get us to where we needed to go 🤷  until we saw the first sign going into a tunnel under a mountain that said we couldn’t have propane on board 😳 we had a million questions – did it mean our kind of propane or like propane trucks? Was it ok if the tanks were closed? What would happen? Did it actually say propane? What were all those other chemicals listed? And we had about 42 seconds to try to Google the answers before realizing we were going in that tunnel whether we liked it or not.

We pulled over at the next Best Buy and bought a Garmin GPS specifically made for RVs. We since discovered that our favorite trip planning tool, RV LIFE Trip Wizard, has GPS built into it and can route you based on your specific measurements as well.

An RV-specific GPS or app will ask you for your vehicle weight, height, width, and whether you’re carrying propane so it can make sure to route you only on roads that are safe for you and avoid things like low clearances, roads where your RV will be too heavy to safely travel, ferries, bridges (if you choose), or any tunnels that wouldn’t be safe for you to pass through with propane on board.

All in all, we’ll never travel in our RV without an RV-specific GPS route again.

Finding Your Way as a New Rver

These tips for new RVers will help you navigate the road ahead with confidence and make your RV trip a resounding success. And speaking of trip, next learn how we plan our RV trips for a stress-free experience.