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Author Topic: Renting an RV for our first trip - would you mind answering some questions?  (Read 3838 times)


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My family is renting an RV this summer and taking our first RV trip. It will be a rather long trip - both by time and mileage. I have spent many years thinking about this trip - the route we would take, the sites we want to see, etc. Now that the trip is imminent, we have realized that there is one part of the trip that concerns us - the RV! We've never spent the night in one. Every time I turn around, I think of more questions and seem to have fewer answers. I found this site last summer and I have learned so much from it. Now, I'm hoping maybe you guys would be willing to help out some complete newbies. Thank you very much in advance.

First, here is what I know. We are renting a 30' class C from Cruise America. According to the details they list online, it has a 55-gallon fuel tank, 9.5-gallon LP gas tank, 37-gallon fresh water tank, 6-gallon water heater tank, 24-gallon sewage tank, and 20-gallon grey water tank. We are a family of five - two adults and three children (13,9,5). The rental agreement has a daily rate plus mileage and it costs $3.50 per hour to use the generator. My biggest questions are simply technical.

1. Do I understand correctly that an RV is basically divided in two when it comes to power - the front is powered by the engine like an automobile but the back is powered differently? So, the outlets in the back, the microwave, and the roof air conditioner will not work unless I run the generator or am hooked up to an external power source? My first concern is being able to keep electronics like our phones and cameras charged.

2. Speaking of the generator, how often do you tend to run it? I was hoping to run it very sparingly, but now I'm concerned about little things. Will the temperature be comfortable? I had assumed everything in the RV worked anytime the engine was running so we thought we could use the outlets and the microwave and the AC while driving. If that were the case, I thought maybe we wouldn't need hook ups every night because we could do without those things overnight. Now, I'm not sure.

3. Speaking of hook ups, we are not going to be staying in the same place for more than one night for most of our trip. Does this change what we should be looking for in a camp site? It would seem that we wouldn't need sewage hook ups - just someplace to dump.

4. When will the refrigerator run? Again, only when connected to power or other times? My wife is very concerned about keeping food cold and we have been confused by much of what we've read about the fridge.

5. Is there anything else you can think of that maybe I haven't?

Again, thank you so much for taking the time to help!!


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  • Posts: 1432
  • Cedar Falls, Iowa
Welcome! Answers to your questions in order.
1. Yes, the RV is powered separately from the engine. The big stuff will need electrical hookups or generator. For phones, just go buy a 12v (cigarette lighter style) USB connection. There should be a 12v spot up front some where.
2. Depends on where and when you are traveling. There is dash cooling like a car up front. If you are camping without hookups in Alabama in late July, you will need RV AC at least at night. Colorado mountains same time of year, no AC needed.
3. You don't want to dump unless your tanks are 2/3 to 3/4 full, so you won't want to do it every day. Full hook up sites (with sewer at the campsite) are an overkill. With a 6 gallon hot water heater you won't each be taking 10 minutes showers anyway <grin>. If your 13 year old is like mine were, send him/her to the campground showers for those long showers. Bring flip flops to wear in the public showers; I do not recommend bare feet!
4. The refrigerator will run on propane when you are not hooked up to electrical power. The hot water heater also uses propane. I would recommend keeping an eye on the refrigerator temperature with a simple thermometer because parking in full sun can make it warm up some. Try to keep some shade on the side with the refrigerator vents.
5. My recommendations would also include bring balls and frisbees, stopping at rest areas frequently to let the kids get some of their energy out. Also look for places with pools. Nothing like a pool to use up excess energy.

Have fun! Where are you going and when?
Pam and Kevin plus Lily the cat
2018 Tiffin 37PA
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  • Western KY for now.
Welcome to the Forum!

1.  You are basically correct.  There is a battery or two supplying limited power to the coach.  This will power lights and 12V outlets.  Not sure how many you will have.

2.  Depending on where you travel it is probable the cab A/C will NOT keep the coach cool.  You will need to run the generator while driving to keep the rig comfortable.  When the genny runs, all 120V should work.

3.For short stays, you will not need 5 star accommodations, just a place to park with power, water and clean showers.  Dump the GRAY tank daily, but do not dump the black tank until it is full.

4.  An RV fridge is an adsorption fridge.  It needs 12V power for the control circuits and PROPANE for cooling.  Trust me, it works.  The fridge can remain on while traveling as well as when camping.  This type of fridge takes a long time (24 hours) to get cool if empty, so plan to fill it with COLD food.  Note they are also affected by outside temps, so if it is really hot outside and sun is shining on the fridge side of the camper, it may be a little warmer than you like.
« Last Edit: April 09, 2016, 05:04:03 PM by grashley »
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I see others have replied while I was typing, and I suspect more will jump in.

Do I understand correctly that an RV is basically divided in two when it comes to power - the front is powered by the engine like an automobile but the back is powered differently?

Essentially, yes.

So, the outlets in the back, the microwave, and the roof air conditioner will not work unless I run the generator or am hooked up to an external power source?


My first concern is being able to keep electronics like our phones and cameras charged.

Buy a small portable inverter that you can plug into the cigarette light/12V receptacle on the dash. You can get inexpensive ones at Walmart. Something that produces 150 to 300 watts will do fine.

Speaking of the generator, how often do you tend to run it? I thought maybe we wouldn't need hook ups every night

You can certainly use the generator driving down the road. Most private campgrounds prohibit the use of generators, and those that don't may have 'quiet hours'. You could get away without electrical hookup. But, depending on weather, you might be more comfortable running air conditioning at night if it's hot/humid.

Speaking of hook ups, we are not going to be staying in the same place for more than one night for most of our trip. It would seem that we wouldn't need sewage hook ups - just someplace to dump.

Many, but not all, campgrounds have a dump station. Usually, if they don't have sewer hookups, they'll likely have a dump station.

When will the refrigerator run?

Going down the road, or in a campground without electrical hookups, the refrigerator will run off propane. Some folks don't worry about running the refrigerator while on the road; If the door is only occasionally opened, the inside will keep cold long enough between stops.

Is there anything else you can think of that maybe I haven't?

Probably lots, but don't sweat it. Get yourself a campgrounds directory so you can check out what facilities they have before you get there.
Tom.  Need help? Click the Help button in the toolbar above.


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  • Posts: 39
Looks like your questions are answered, but heres a few more tips if you don't mind!

I did a rental on our first trip also and learned a lot.  Most places will provide an overview of the systems of the RV before you leave. 

Check out Youtube for videos on Driving an RV. Not sure what size or stye you are getting but watching a video will give you some tips on judging distances, using your mirrors, turning etc if you have not driven a large vehicle before.

Instead of relying on the 12 volt cigarette outlet or buying an inverter, you might want to consider a battery back up device like this one.  You charge it with a wall outlet and then it will recharge your phone, GPS or tablet.  One this big will charge 3 or 4 usb devices before it needs to be recharged.  The reason I mention this is the 12 Volt outlet in our rental didn't work!   http://www.amazon.com/Anker-20000mAh-Portable-Charger-PowerCore/dp/B00X5RV14Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1460244586&sr=8-1&keywords=anker+battery

Another thing to consider is what is in the rental RV?  if you are picking it up and taking it home before you leave, you can outfit the beds and kitchen from your house.  If you are picking it up on the way out of town plan to take everything.  Kitchen utensils and pans, food, paper towels, dishes, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and linens/bedding.  Some will come with a basic kitchen pack or bedding pack, but they never include must haves like a decent knife or corkscrew.  When we went our first walmart stop was expensive.   :D

Riding in the back of the RV is not the same as the back seat of a car.  Again, depending on what style of RV you are renting, the rear seats may not have a forward view.  You might want to have some motion sickness medicine on hand.  On the other hand, having a table in the back opens up a number of activities for kiddos and adults while traveling that you can't do in a car seat. 

Happy travels!  If you are like me, the RV'n bug bit hard and you will be shopping for your own on the way home! 
2008 Winnebago Journey 39z
2005 Honda CRV Toad

2004 Winnebago Minnie 32G


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Lot's of good advise. I would recomend you don't try to drive to far your first day. Driving a RV isn't like driving a car. I would plan on a short day the first day so you arn't exausted when you are trying to get set up for the first time. This is supose to be fun not an indurance contest.
Take brakes about every two houers get out walk around. Stop for lunch let the kids run around.
Have fun
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With five people the waste tanks might fill up pretty fast and the fresh water might go down pretty fast.  All of you will have to learn new conservation techniques such as not running water continuously when brushing teeth, not washing all the dishes with the water running (fill one sink with soapy water and rinse water in the second sink), and not flushing every time.  The kids in California drought areas learn "When it's yellow, let it mellow.  When it's brown, flush it down."  It works well in RVs too.

The Good Sam RV Travel & Savings Guide has listings for thousands of public and private campgrounds, including length of sites, type of hookups, shade vs. sunny, and amenities like playgrounds and pools.  If you'll be traveling a lot on interstate highways the Next Exit is very useful for finding restaurants, fuel, shopping, rest areas, medical care and sometimes campgrounds.  Most will be within a half mile of the exit.

Don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it.  RVers tend to be very helpful and will often show you how to do something or tell you what you need that's missing.  We were all newbies at one time and appreciate what you're going through.

« Last Edit: April 09, 2016, 10:28:51 PM by ArdraF »
:D :D


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Also...keep in mind, the RV will probably get less than 8 MPG while driving. Running the generator while driving is a good way to keep things cool...running the roof air conditioner. The dash air won't do much for keeping the entire thing cooled if it's warm outside...but, running the generator will also use gasoline...about 1/2 gallon per hour...and if you let the gas tank drop below about 1/4 tank, (I DO NOT recommend letting that happen) your generator probably won't run. It's a built-in "fail safe" to keep you from running out of gasoline while running the generator.
Don't get in a hurry...drive 55-65 and your gas mileage will be quite a bit better than if you push it hard.

Otherwise, most of your questions have already been answered.

Oh yeah...practice safe and clean holding tank procedures.  ALWAYS run the campground water for a few minutes to clear out any potential nastiness in the lines...rust, sediment, etc....then rinse off the fresh water connection BEFORE you hook your hose up to it. (cleans off any accumulated dust, dirt, or???)
NEVER let the ends of your drinking water hose get too close to the sewer connections...EVER.

Oh...and don't forget to do a walk-around before pulling out of the campground to make sure EVERYTHING is disconnected and stowed correctly. DO NOT leave your kids behind in the campground, no matter how big of a pain in the butt they've been... :D The folks in the campground won't appreciate that very much... 8)

Most of all, have fun. Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination.
Current coach: 2004 Winnebago Sightseer 30B, P32 chassis, Workhorse.


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I'm not a seasoned RVer like most folks on here, but we are also going to rent a class c for a summer vacation and to get some experience before we buy anything.  I found Cruise America to be a little pricey and found some nice coaches for quite a bit less at RVshare.com  We live in the Tucson area, but I think they're nation wide.  The cost per night varies on who's renting it, but it looks like it's pretty standard 150 mile allowance per day (.20 mile for extra mileage), 4 hours generator run time per night (extra after that)  Maybe you can get a better deal.
Have fun no matter what you do and good luck!

Greg and Cheryl, Tucson, AZ
Greg and Cheryl Bolte,
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Ernie n Tara

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Just a caution. You mentioned that you plan to drive most/every day. Motor homes are not automobiles. We plan to cover 50 miles in an hour (interstates) and find more than six hours to be tiring. e g  300 miles per day is comfortable and 400 doable. Driving every day kind of defeats the point of rving so I'd recommend you plan to take time to "smell the roses".

Havea great time!

Ernie 'n Tara

2011 Winn Journey 34y
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I'll disagree on waiting to empty the black and gray water tanks. If you have a sewer connection or there is a dump station where you are camping, empty the tanks before you leave! There might not be facilities available at your next stop, and with 5 people on board you'll fill up pretty quickly.

If necessary, fill the black tank to 3/4 full with water by holding the toilet valve open, then dump. BTW, dump the black tank first then dump the gray tank. The gray water will flush out the sewer hose.

As a general rule, try to travel with your fresh water tank full and your black & gray tanks empty. You'll be prepared to stay anywhere, whether there are hookups or not.
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Gary RV_Wizard

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With those small waste tanks and 5 people in the coach, waiting to dump the tanks will not be an option. They will fill up quickly! While it is generally better to wait until the tanks are at least half full before dumping, I think the combination of a large family and small tanks outweighs that consideration. Dump whenever you have the opportunity. And use campground bathrooms as much as you can.
Gary Brinck
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Keen Family

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In terms of the trip, moving campsites every day can get tiring.  You might enjoy the trip more of you plan a few nights at each spot.
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Thank you so much for all of your responses! We greatly appreciate the help. Several of you mentioned the fact that we would be driving almost every day. Here's the plan. We have always wanted to see the country and we have traveled extensively by car for years. We make a 650 mile trip to visit family a few times per year and have taken the kids from the Chicago area to Walt Disney World several times. Last summer, we went from the Chicago area to Maryland to New York City to western New York to Niagra Falls and back home in one trip. We have taken other trips like that also. This trip, we are heading west and want to see places we have never seen before but, to be honest, we're not sure what we want to see. That's one of the big reasons for this trip - to see a little of everything and decide where we want to go back to spend more time in the future. We are renting an RV for the trip for two big reasons - first, I love the idea of RV traveling. I think the kids will be much more comfortable traveling in the RV each day as opposed to our minivan and I don't want to lug a suitcase into a different hotel each night and spend our trip eating out. Second, I hope to use this trip to see whether buying an RV is an investment that we should make. My parents took a similar trip a number of years ago in their van and loved it. They made almost the same trip I'm taking in two weeks but we are taking three. Other than the first couple and last couple of days (when we are within a relatively short trip from home), most individual drives will be less than 200 miles at a time. We also have quite a bit of flexibility. As of yet, we don't have anyplace we need to be at any specific time and we can add days places or completely skip places if we choose.

All in all, I do think we taking on a large load with this trip and we may get into it and decide to scale it back, but who knows if we'll get this chance again and I love to make these kind of memories with the kids.  Thanks again for all of the help!!

Larry N.

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  • Posts: 5202
  • Westminster, CO
For things to see, so much depends on your interests, but the Badlands in South Dakota, the Black Hills area (much to see) near and west of Rapid City (with Mt. Rushmore nearby), Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons are good targets for your trip. If you get past that, Coeur D' Alene, Idaho, or perhaps go south through Colorado (Denver, Colorado Springs, much more) or perhaps Salt Lake City? Of course the Devil's Tower in northern Wyoming, etc.

Those are just a very few suggestions for some major things to look at, but you'll have plenty of reason to go back to those another time, since you could (depending on your interest) spend the entire time in Yellowstone and/or the Grand Tetons.

I'm sure there will be more folks with their own ideas, too, since you could spend months and still be just scratching the surface for "west."

Larry and Mary Ann N.
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For things to see, so much depends on your interests, but the Badlands in South Dakota, the Black Hills area (much to see) near and west of Rapid City (with Mt. Rushmore nearby), Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons are good targets for your trip.

You've basically summed up the beginning of our trip.


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The northern U.S. has the route covered by the Lewis & Clark expedition and there's much to see such as some of the Army forts, native settlements, battlefields, and territorial prisons.  Then there are things like dinosaurs depending on where you go.  Both North and South Dakota have badlands that are quite different with fun hiking trails in both.  If you're on I-80 near Kearney, Nebraska the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument is a wonderful museum about the area and it's really geared to teach kids about the Platte River area.  It's unique because it's built across I-80.  Neat!  South of it about 10-15 miles is Minden which has the Pioneer Museum containing everything related to living in the developing great plains, including a section on toys, and things found in homes back then.

:D :D

Lou Schneider

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Also on I-80 in North Platte is the Union Pacific Bailey classification yard, the largest railroad switching yard in the world.  3,000 rail cars per day are sorted one by one by pushing a row of them them up a hill and letting them roll down the other side one at a time.  Computers guide them to one of the yard's 114 tracks to be combined into new trains headed to the 4 corners of the country.   There's a tall observation tower that lets you see the entire yard and volunteer docents are eager to explain everything that's going on.


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If you happen to make it down to CA be aware the 5yo needs a booster seat minimum. You don't want that ticket.
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Arch Hoagland

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  • Clovis CA
If you will be traveling over the 4th of July you will need reservations no matter where you go.

It's a good idea to get to your campground at least an hour before dark.

Out west you can encounter high winds which will blow you around...slow down. Usually the wind doesn't come up until around noon.

You can run your generator and the big air conditioner while driving down the road. When it's a hundred degrees in the west you will need to run it.

Keep an eye on your tire pressures and your oil level, check them in the morning after sitting all night.

If you forget to take something remember there are 10 hundred thousand Walmarts wherever you go.

Make sure you ask the rental company what to do in case of a breakdown.

When your fuel tank gets down to below a half tank start looking for a gas station.

If you cross I90 you have to stop at Wall Drug and get an ice cream. You'll see a sign or two for it.
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Larry N.

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  • Westminster, CO
When your fuel tank gets down to below a half tank start looking for a gas station.

Amen. And keep in mind that in some areas of the west the distance between gas stations is quite far, sometimes over 100 miles. And I agree that Wall Drug (signs everywhere) is worth a stop, if you're in the area.

You've basically summed up the beginning of our trip.

That's likely to be, even just skimming it, at least half, maybe two thirds of the trip, time-wise. And, if the kids want to spend extra time seeing something, you might consider letting them do so, since you certainly want them to have good memories of this traveling that's so boring enroute (for them).

And once you're out on the "Great Plains" you'll want to be sure they notice the long distances you can see, the occasional windmill and/or water tank, perhaps watching for antelope (they often look like large rocks, unless they're moving), sometimes mixed in with the cattle you'll often see out there. And although it often isn't apparent to the casual eye, the rolling hills can hide some things that are surprisingly nearby, yet you can still be seeing other things at great distances. After all, though Montana has claimed the "Big Sky" moniker, it's just as big in many other parts of the west. For example, when I lived in Joliet (many years ago) I met a guy who refused to believe that in Albuquerque a person could see Mount Taylor (over 80 miles away) from their house. And here in the north Denver area, I can often see Pikes Peak (over 80 miles south). This is pervasive throughout the mountain west.

When the air is very clear (clear of haze, not just clear of clouds) distances can be very deceptive. This isn't quite as frequent as it used to be, though. In some areas you'll see the large electricity-generating windmills in "farms" spread over several miles, in addition to the occasional lone windmill for water that I reference above, usually old-style, similar to those of more than 100 years ago, with their folding wind vanes.

One more comment: Water. In the dry air of much of the western U.S. it is easy to become dehydrated, and that can lead to discomfort or worse, so be sure to drink plenty of water along the way. In similar fashion, be careful of the altitude (over 5200 feet here in Denver, up to 14,000 in the mountains), since over-exertion at altitude (at 10,000 plus that might be a short walk), especially if you're dehydrated, can cause altitude sickness, though that's usually at altitudes over 8,000 feet or so. Be aware...
Larry and Mary Ann N.
2016 Newmar Ventana 3709 -ISB6.7 XT 360HP
2015 Wrangler Sahara Unlimited toad
Formerly: Trailmanor 2720SL, Bounder, Beaver
  de N8GGG


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  • Posts: 42
I'm sure someone , hope, will explain some of the expected about the rv you will rent but hope you don't mind me mentioning something else to be aware of. When on the busy hiways, those pesky semi' can rock you pretty good when they pass you! keep a good grip on the wheel. When following one, expect some turbulance. Also, i'm sure someone has or will mention this but when finding a site to camp at, level is important. the frig works better. your indicators will show proper levels. your coffe cup won't slide off the table! You get my meaning. But the most important part of your trip is to.."ENJOY"!