Sage Advice for New RVers

Year 1 lessons from Keystone Ambassador Andrea Updyke of "Just is a Four Letter Word"
August 18, 2021
By: Andrea Updyke, JUST is a Four Letter Word

It has officially been one year since we bought our RV and you might be wondering what we think after all this time. There are more than a few RV lessons learned than I can share but I'll do my best!

Is it what we thought it would be? Is RV life difficult? Are we glad we took the plunge? Are there things we would do differently? 

In this post, I am going to answer those questions and share a few other things we have learned along the way. 

This RV life, whether you are part time or full time, really takes a lot of research, reading, trial and error. And yes spoiler alert, it's totally worth it!

When we bought our RV last summer, we had already been researching for nearly a year. 

In fact, our original plan was to buy it this year. But when my husband was hospitalized due to an MS attack in January 2020 and then the pandemic hit, we realized more than ever that time is never promised to us. 

We decided it was time to go for it. 

Even though we had researched for a while there was still so much to learn and in many ways even after a year, we know there is still so much we don't know.

RV Expectation vs. Reality

We have all seen the amazing RV photos on Instagram and travel websites where the setting is perfect, the lighting is perfect and everyone looks relaxed and happy. 

Is that reality though? 

Well, yes and no. Like pretty much everything on the internet, it's a combination of both. 

We have had many picture perfect moments in our travels, especially out west. But for every beautiful photo there are hours of driving, setting up, packing and un-packing. 

That's not to say those things are bad, I actually enjoy that part of the process too! But there is definitely work involved. 

We've found that being prepared for emergencies like flat tires, bad weather, mechanical failure and more will save hours of time and energy if it is ever needed.

Is Buying an RV Hard? 

When we were doing our homework before making this purchase, I read that buying an RV is like buying a house and a car at the same time. It is so true! 

There is SO much to know and do. In that sense, yes it's hard. 

Towing an RV

We tow our trailer behind our truck so we had to learn all kinds of terms like payload and GVWR and weight distribution hitch among many others. 

There's a lot of math that needs to happen before you can even start looking at floor plans and it's essential that you don't skip this part. 

RV Financing

Financing is another hurdle you need to be ready for if you aren't buying with cash. There are different rules for recreational vehicle purchases and it may seem foreign if you have never done it before. 

A good rule of thumb is to do your homework well before you ever set foot in a dealership and never take the salesperson's word for anything until you can verify it. 

Lifetime Warranty 

Also, if your deal comes with any kind of lifetime warranty (not something you add on which I don't recommend), be sure to read the fine print. Ours requires an annual inspection. Without it, no more warranty. 

Buyer beware and book in advance to stay in compliance.

Is RVing Worth it?

It's been a full year since we took the plunge and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat! 

Yes, there is a huge learning curve if you are starting from zero like we were. But it felt great to learn something new and have an adventure. 

Plus, we never would have had such an amazing year (during a pandemic no less) without our travel trailer. 

RVing is not camping. But it can be as rugged or fancy as you want to make it. 

We have stayed off the grid and in fancy RV resorts and loved the diversity of options nationwide. 

Not having to pack and unpack to move to a new location helps me as the primary planner/packer actually relax on vacation, even with the extra work of setting up and breaking down our site. 

What Would We Change about Our RV Experience? 

This year really has been about 90% awesome when it comes to using our new RV. 

We are very fortunate to have done a lot of research ahead of time and we can park our trailer at home because we don't have a neighborhood HOA. 

In terms of our actual trailer, it has been nearly perfect for us and there is really only one thing I might change.

We were really concerned about length so we decided to purchase a trailer with bunks in the main living area. 

Now that we (ie my husband) have towed all over the country, we know we could have handled a longer rig with a separate bunk room for the kids. 

We are not full-timers so this is a minor issue. We still have more than enough space. 

But I wouldn't mind letting them have a door to close and a little more clothing storage. 

Hubs has mentally upgraded his truck and is eyeing fifth wheels already so I wouldn't be surprised if we traded up in a few years. But that's all part of the fun right?

Always Be Learning

I was recently selected as a 2021 Keystone RV Ambassador so we've been learning all about different RV models. There are some gorgeous rigs out there!

We still love our Hideout but you can bet we're already dreaming. 

We are also trying to learn more about making minor repairs whenever needed. 

We have insurance and our trailer is covered under warranty. But when a simple repair is needed, it's much quicker to fix it yourself to avoid leaving your RV at the dealership for days to weeks. 

I'm thankful we read about pipes freezing when we traveled out west in December. Because of that, I was sure to have a hair dryer on hand. 

I'm glad we did because we needed it in Colorado! No more slushy pipes. 

Our Favorite RV Resources in Year One

We have tried many websites and apps to help with our travels and after a year, only a few remain as must-haves for me. 

I will list my favorites here and update if I find anything new that I love. 


The Roadtrippers app was recommended to me by my old boss a few years ago. It's not RV specific, but when we planned our trip from NC to AZ and back, it was essential for me! 

I planned the whole trip in this app, which gives drive times, fun stops to make, restaurants, and pretty much anything else you can think of. 

Plus, it's pretty and you can use it on desktop or in the app. 

We paid for the Plus version so we can add as many stops as we want. For $30/year this has been worth it over and over again. And you can use promo code BTR5QTP to get $5 off!


Allstays is another mapping app with many of the same features above. I didn't love it or find it super easy to use with one exception. 

It's a great way to be sure you don't have any clearance issues. 

Most highways are fine for our height (under 13ft), but if we were heading off the beaten path, I would check in Allstays for any low bridges or tunnels, which gave me peace of mind! 

Harvest Hosts

We signed up for Harvest Hosts last fall for quick overnight stops when we didn't need a full setup at a campground. 

This program is fantastic for road trips where you keep moving and just want to stop for one night at a time. 

The way it works is you pay an annual membership fee and that gives you access to park at farms, vineyards, breweries, local attractions and golf courses (with the golf upgrade). 

You don't pay anything for your overnight stay, but are asked to support the host business with a purchase of some kind. It's such a great way to see new places and discover things you might not see on the interstate. 

We love it!

Reserve America

The Reserve America app is a great resource for finding and booking State Park and other campsites focused on the outdoors. I book all of our NC lake trips through this app and have found some great parks to stay at in other states as well. 

In fact, I never would have known about Virginia's Natural Tunnel State Park if I hadn't found a site through this app. 

It was such a cool stop and we would love to go back and stay longer. 

KOA (Kampgrounds of America)

Let's face it, sometimes a commercial campground with all the amenities is exactly what you need. 

We have been staying in KOA cabins since before we had an RV so we were already familiar with the brand. For the most part, we have been very happy with them. 

Of course you'll see all kinds of opinions because KOAs are franchised and not always consistent. You may strike gold or get a real dud depending on the owners. 

What I love about KOA for our trips is reliable laundry facilities, clean bathrooms and a pool for the kids. 

They are also typically close to main highways and are easy to get in and out of. 

Sites can be pricy depending on location and time of year but we have had some great trips so far. Some favorite stops have been Louisville South KOA in Kentucky, New Bern KOA in NC, and Abilene KOA in Texas. 

And be sure to sign up for the value program. The cost is minimal and you earn it back in no time with discounts. Plus, when you have the membership they waive the $10 cancellation fee if you can't make your trip. 

RV Facebook Groups

Believe it or not, there is an enormous RV community on Facebook! Like anything else, there are snarky commenters from time to time. But if you can roll and scroll (roll your eyes and keep going - yes I just made that up) you will find a wealth of information in the groups. 

Read and follow the group rules and it's all good. 

I recommend a general RV group for your type of rig (Class A, C, travel trailer, 5th wheel, pop-up etc), one for accessories ideas when you are starting out, a campground reviews group and most importantly, a group for the make and model of your RV. 

That way if you ever find yourself in a trailer with frozen pipes, help isn't far away. This group is a great place for troubleshooting issues specific to your brand. 

I find that I am in these groups less and less as time goes on, but I practically LIVED there last summer and they were so helpful! 

And now when we go somewhere new, I go straight to the review group to search for campgrounds in the area.

Our Favorite RV Gear

Aside from the RV essentials just about everyone needs to buy, we have had fun trying different things to make our experience more fun. I mean, that's the whole point right? 

I have been adding things to my RV Amazon store over time so check out some of our favorites over there! 

There is so much more I could say! The bottom line is, we love having our travel trailer and have zero regrets! 

If you have any specific questions that I haven't addressed, please leave a comment and I will do my best to answer. 

What else do you want to know?

Andrea Updyke is a writer, wife, mother and the creative force behind the blog "JUST is a Four Letter Word." She's also a Keystone Ambassador and Hideout travel trailer owner.