I am a rank amateur when it comes to the recreational vehicle world, but here are a few experiences and observations that might whet the curiosity of those who have no experience at all. If you do have a lot of experience, please write your corrections in the comments.
There is tremendous variation among recreational vehicles: From small trailers with barely enough room to sleep in, to 19 or 20 foot sizes, to bus-sized vehicles. Some RVs are towed, others, even very large ones, are driven independently. And the independent ones sometimes tow a regular automobile, so that the users have a small vehicle available, exclusively for driving use, instead of for habitation. We have even seen a truck towing a “fifth wheeler” RV and a “toy hauler” (a trailer that might contain a racing car, motorcycle(s), dune buggies, or similar items). Many trailers, campers, or large RVs have pop-up roofs and/or “slide-outs” (sections that slide horizontally out of the RV to create more living space). We were totally impressed once at a U.S. Forest Service campground near Oroville, California, as we watched the driver of a 30-to-40 foot RV back his vehicle (with the help of family) into a barely big enough camp site, AND he did it in such a way that the slide-outs were not blocked by the large surrounding pine trees.
The culture of the RV world is fascinating. People come from all walks of life. You can meet many interesting people, once you get them talking. I always want to ask them, “Where are you from?”, and they are literally from all over the world. At our most recent rental experience in California, there were four or five groups from Europe waiting to rent their RV. Apparently they fly to the U.S., have a taxi bring them from the airport or their hotel to the rental location, and go on their vacation! The rental companies charge them an extra fee to stock the RV with bedding, linens, cookware, dishware and utensils. And at a recent campsite, our next-door neighbors spoke Japanese.
Reasons people have RVs: Some rent temporarily for vacations, some buy for the same reason, or to live in continuously as a home. We met a group of six who had flown from upstate New York to Las Vegas, Nevada, rented an RV, then drove up to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, to stay for two nights only. On the other side of us at the same campsite, we met a couple whose RV was their main home. They had sold their house, most of their possessions, and bought a thirty-five to forty-foot RV to use as a home. We have met several couples like this, and they often use one of their children’s addresses as their permanent address. A variation on this theme is people who are campground hosts, living in their RV all or part of the year at a campground at which they provide help and information to visiting campers, in exchange for a rent-free campsite. Other families use RVs for vacations only, whether they rent or own. And, we know of a family of seven who live out of their RV while traveling on their Christian ministry, home-schooling their children. They have a bus-sized RV.
We once spoke briefly with a small family (mom, dad, and two small children) in Winnemucca, Nevada, who had a tear-drop shaped trailer. The tear-drop shape is aerodynamic for towing, with the large side of the tear drop towards the front. But when you park it, some models let you tilt the short side of the tear drop up, stand up inside, and convert the table to a bed for the kids, along with having an adult bed. Some tear-drop trailers have kitchens, either inside or outside. The tear-drops can have a heater and air conditioner, and some even have a shower inside. As with many RV styles, tear-drop trailers vary in size and features.
Problems you may have with an RV: Sensor problems are the most common we’ve encountered. Many RVs have, for example, holding tanks for human waste, and there will be a sensor light inside the RV that will show whether the holding tank is 1/3, 2/3 or near 3/3 full. Soon after the 3/3 light comes on, you will need to “dump” your holding tank. In this case it’s called the “black water” or “dark water” tank. Well, if your sensor isn’t working, you have to guess how full the tank is. If you misguess, you may have a toilet backup. Or the gray water tank (for water contaminated by washing) may have a sensor problem. With our last two rentals, we’ve had problems with the tire pressure sensor, which is supposed to tell you if your tire pressure is off. In both cases, the tire pressure alarm(s) kept indicating low pressure (at almost every gas station), though usually when we checked the tire pressure, it was fine.
Valves for the holding tanks can come loose, and if you forget to check those before dumping, you can have spillage of the gray or black water. Needless to say, that can be nasty. We had a small spillage once, diluted it with water, and the campground host eventually came by and threw kitty litter on it.
Here’s another interesting problem, a minor mystery we had: For background, if your RV is not hooked up to city water, you have to use your vehicle’s stored fresh water and turn on your water pump. At one point, we did have the city water hook-up connected, but from time to time, the water pump seemed to be turning itself on unnecessarily! My husband ingeniously figured out that sometimes when we opened a cabinet near the water pump switch, it would bump the switch and turn it on. That problem is a result of the small interior spaces some RVs have.
If you have a refrigerator in your RV, you will want your RV parked reasonably level, otherwise the refrigerator may not function, since it runs on propane. Also, leveling will probably make life in your RV more comfortable, especially when sleeping. (Many of us may recall that tent camping on a sloped campsite can be uncomfortable.) The bigger RVs sometimes have leveling mechanisms attached to the RV. Others use outside detached blocks for leveling. And we learned that gray water backing up out of the shower drain can be because the RV is not level.
In short, the sizes, shapes, varieties, features and amenities of RVs are seemingly endless. Be sure you learn how all the features work, especially those involved with your safety. Then, enjoy your home away from home, or maybe your permanent home!