Since we started traveling by RV, we’ve noticed that in most RVer relationships, there’s a tendency for one person to do most, or even all, of the driving. Now, that’s just an observation on our part and not backed up by any statistics whatsoever. I mean, who really has time for that? We feel pretty confident in our thoroughly unscientific findings, though – which mainly consists of us wandering around campgrounds being nosy while walking our dogs, or trying not to let other drivers notice us sneaking glances at them as they pass us on the road. 🙂
A driving imbalance can happen among friends or family that travel together, too – not just romantic partners. Gender doesn’t always play a part, but we do notice a higher proportion of women versus men who don’t regularly drive their RV. It’s also common for potential solo RVers (especially ladies) to be scared of driving and traveling alone, and letting that fear keep them from taking the plunge into RVing. More on that later!
You don’t have to drive often – but you should at least know how
Now, it’s perfectly fine if someone doesn’t like to drive and prefers to navigate and be the DJ, or is just better at that – especially when it’s for the sake of preserving relationship bliss! Some people love to drive and want to do it all the time, so they become the primary driver by their choice.
There are also cases where health issues or past driving incidents may make it hard for some people to get behind the wheel. Even in those cases, there could be a time when the primary driver becomes sick or is injured, and thus unable to drive. The other person should be comfortable enough with driving their RV to assume the driving in that scenario, at least for a short distance in an emergency.
It’s scary at first – for all of us!
The funny thing about driving an RV is that it often seems like it’s no big deal until you’re the one in the driver’s seat. Getting behind the wheel and firing up a 20,000+ lb motorhome, or a truck plus trailer, is a whole ‘nother experience. But if you’re going to play co-pilot and tell the other person how they should drive, you’d better have at least tried it yourself first!
It can be hard for the other drivers out there like me, who didn’t have much experience with larger vehicles prior to RVing. I was a compact car driver before, so I wondered, “Could I ever really be comfortable driving a 27-foot-long house on wheels down the road at 60 mph…while towing our car?”
The first couple times I drove a class A motorhome, I was ready to give back the keys and camp out of our Jeep with a tent. No way did I trust myself driving something that gargantuan with our family and all our worldly possessions in it – while towing our only car behind it, no less! As with anything, practice is your best friend when learning a new (and scary) skill. Over time it’s gotten a little more comfortable each time I take the wheel. Now I barely even think about it, unless weather or traffic conditions are bad, or we’re on a narrow or low-clearance stretch of road.
I wanted to get opinions, and from other women in particular, who had a variety of backgrounds, types of RVs, and driving experiences. So I nagged..er..polled some friends and fellow RVers about it. We’ll be focusing on the ladies’ perspective here, since we make up a smaller percentage of RV drivers, but this RV driving advice can apply to anyone! Here are some secrets to less stressful RV experiences from the “pros”:
Nikki of Gone With The Wynns –
Nikki says “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous the first time I drove a class A RV. It’s a big, expensive vehicle with little room for error, but I knew that much like taking on any new challenge, it would come with its rewards. The reward in this case is feeling like one bad-ass mamma jamma!
My number one piece of advice: don’t let the fear take over. Take a deep breath and start in a large empty parking lot. Schools are typically empty on weekends and make for a great practice lot. Realize how tall and wide you are, make lots of practice turns to get used to how much room you’ll need, and take the opportunity to practice quick stops.
Oh, and good music is key. If you really want a good girl-power song, go for Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” (note for sensitive ears and people killing time at work: explicit lyrics and the video is very not safe for work 😉)
Jeanette of JenEric Ramblings –
Jeanette says “Try to relaaax. It’s not going to be nearly as bad as you think it is. The tighter you grip the wheel/try to micro-control the vehicle, the more it’s going to shake, wiggle & wobble. A relaxed grip is better.
I too would very strongly recommend finding a large empty parking lot for the first behind-the-wheel experience. School parking lots after-hours or on weekends are usually completely empty of cars. Start slowly and get a feel for how the rig drives & turns. Then you can start practicing things like tight turning and backing up. Use a light pole as the “corner” but remember to take it slowly so you can stop if you’re in danger of bonking the pole. And for Pete’s sake, take a spotter with you who is calm and won’t scream “stop” at the top of their lungs. Calm, zen, & relaxed is what you want.
All couples (regardless of who’s driving) should agree upon and practice terms & hand signals to be used when backing or in tight spots. We’ve all watched those entertaining couples who do NOT do this trying to get their rigs into a camping space. “Get the popcorn & beer, Eric – this will be fun to watch!”
Everyone worries about not turning too tightly because you can hit the pole/curb/gas tank on the inside of the turn, but don’t forget that on most Class A’s & C’s the butt end will also swing out to the outside more than it does in a car.
Learn how to properly adjust your side mirrors to help eliminate your blind spots! Here’s a helpful video. Adding a towed car adds almost zero difficulty to driving the rig: just remember to leave more room when pulling back in from passing, etc.
Don’t be afraid to assert your right to drive. Ask to drive early in the day when you’re fresh, and don’t wait months between turns at the wheel. Eric used to drive me crazy by driving until he was exhausted & then asking me to take over, but by that time I was also tired & groggy from being in the passenger’s seat all day. Now if we’re doing a long driving day we switch drivers every 2 hours. Period.
And stay within your comfort zone when you’re starting out (ie: if you know you’ll hit Chicago at rush hour and it’s your second time behind the wheel, pull over & switch drivers). Having said that, I’d also remind women not to use that as a crutch – sooner than later you should starting pushing your comfort boundaries because those formerly scary situations will be easier to handle than you think.
If you know your partner is not a patient teacher then you should try to find someone else to help you learn to drive. Whether that’s another friend with an RV, or whether you pay to attend a driving school/boot camp, you might be better off. I used to teach scuba diving, and when learning new things women are usually more relaxed & confident when they are NOT paired with a significant other. One partner is always more assertive/aggressive and the less aggressive partner will refrain from asking questions and pushing boundaries.
Check out the RV 101 Driving Skills Video Series and the Lazy Days New RV Drivers Confidence Course. You can also take the course in person at a Lazy Days location in Tampa or Tucson“
Kait of We’re the Russos –
Kait says “My tip is to find a familiar road on a clear day when there aren’t many cars out and go for a drive. Bring a seasoned RV driver that you feel comfortable with. Make sure to scope out height clearance ahead of time so you have one less thing to worry about.
Drive around on these familiar roads until you feel comfortable enough to change lanes, make left turns and maybe even a few u-turns. Just remember to take it slow and go at a comfortable pace for you. Don’t rush it or do something that doesn’t feel right to you. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become, and before you know it you’ll be driving over the Rockies like a seasoned trucker! Can’t wait to see more ladies in the captain’s seat – waving at dudes gets old after a while. ;-)”
Nancy and Betsy of RV-A-GOGO –
Nancy says “I was so intimidated to drive our 40′ RV that I didn’t even test drive it before we bought it (Betsy was more bold and took it for a short spin). When we were newbies, we kept to interstates and major roads. With confidence and smart planning, we are quite comfortable in towns, on side roads, and in the country. Over five years our confidence has grown and now we are about to pick up a 45′ rig – which seems to put us on the opposite of the spectrum in RV size preference of most adventurers, who prefer smaller rigs for boondocking and access to public parks.
Before we took delivery of our first coach, we bought a DVD on how to drive a motorhome and planned on watching it at the dealership. Turns out our DVD player was not hooked up properly, so no DVD for nightly entertainment in our new – and intimidating – house! Luckily the player was fixed the night before we left, so we watched the video and decided we were ready to drive it home. The trip home was 9 hours in rain, sleet, rush hour New Orleans traffic, and backing into a long, winding driveway lined with bushes. Since we survived that, we felt pretty good about anything else to come.
The how-to DVD was helpful, as was the driving course at Lazy Days. We also took a test drive with the service manager from our dealer who instructed us on how things work (exhaust brake, camera, ICC switch, etc.). Over the years, we have taken many free courses at rallies and from Lazy Days that have been extremely valuable.
One of the best videos to watch is a safety video regarding what to do in a tire blow-out situation: How to Handle a Blowout.
It helps to start on major roads with wide shoulders and no sharp turns or tight intersections. We always tell fearful women that they should let their partner drive it to an interstate rest area where they can take over until the next rest area. Just like sixteen-year-olds, we took our RV to large church or shopping mall parking lots to get a feel for our turn radius, tail swing, and using the cameras. And we plan on doing that with our new coach.
Confidence will also come with proper pre-trip planning so you don’t find yourself on RV-unfriendly roads, bridges with weight limits, in heavy traffic, or faced with low clearance. We drive with the attitude that slower is better. If we “lead a parade” through downtown at rush hour with blaring horns and erect middle fingers, so be it. If we miss a turn, we patiently wait until there is a large, safe area to turn around. If there is a narrow winding road with no shoulder and limited sight, we will unhitch the tow car and one of us will lead the way in the car with a walkie-talkie, so the RV driver can prepare for oncoming traffic. There is a lot of pre-planning that can avoid the bad situations that make drivers nervous and shaky.
With the size of our rig, we try to do a lot of accommodation research beforehand too. We’ll check out RV park reviews and mapping software to get a feel of how accessible a park or overnight spot are and what to expect.”
Robin of Live, Breathe, Move –
In an excerpt from a blog she wrote about driving their truck and fifth wheel trailer, Robin says “I am lucky to have a very good mentor in my husband. Not only has he let me ease into it by doing only what I am comfortable with, he has given me all kinds of tips and advice, and most important, when I am behind the wheel he trusts me completely. More than I trust myself!
In my mind, I was letting the physical difference in size between me and this giant rig get the best of me. He reminded me that it’s no different than conquering anything: let go of the fear. I had to approach it the same way that I approach anything that is scary (skydiving, scuba diving, public speaking, etc.). I had to convince myself that it is really no big deal and that as long as I believe that I can do it, breathe deeply, and most of all, allow myself to be a novice, everything will be just fine.
I found myself many times in those first seven hours having to loosen my grip on the wheel (my knuckles were turning white), slow down, and take three very deep breaths. That always did the trick to help me stay centered and stop freaking out because that semi came too close, or there is a super skinny construction zone for the next five miles. The more uptight I got, the more the trailer would sway; as I loosened up (both mentally and physically) it would settle back down.
Tight but loose. The tight part is about paying attention – to the many gauges which tell me if my engine is doing okay, to what’s going on in the lanes around me, to the directions that I need to be following, to the clearance marked on bridges and overpasses – some things do need to be monitored tightly.
The loose needs to be my state of mind, specifically my anxiety. If all of the evidence that I am monitoring says everything is okay, then I need to trust in that and relax. I might go slightly over the line on the shoulder, but I’m noticing everyone else does occasionally too. I might be driving too slowly for some, but maybe I’m giving them a chance to practice their patience (ha)!”
Nina of Wheelingit –
“If you need a bit of motivation here’s my own little message to get you started, once again proving that girl power is the way to go”:
Nina also wrote an article here about her love of driving their motorhome, with great tips. She says “There were a few first-time nerves, a bit of practice getting used to turns, and some freaky initial moments on the freeway, but after a while I got into the groove and started enjoying the road just as much as Paul.
I started on BLM land in AZ, progressed onto deserted and low-traffic roads, and then finally took the wheel for a freeway. Going slow and taking your time is my driving motto, and I still drive that way today.”
Kerensa of Drive Dive Devour –
Kerensa says “I was able to practice in a fairly empty RV park, which helped me get comfortable, as it wasn’t out on the roads. There was plenty of space and I could even park it. The idea of waiting to start a turn until your wheels are at the turn point is what gets me. It’s so unnatural to have your nose out that far.
Brandon almost hit the eaves on a building soon after we got the beast. He remembered to look at all his corners and sides, but forgot about the height. Know your height and remember to look for trees and overhangs on buildings, etc.”
Marie of Ardent Camper –
Marie says “Before we started our RVing journey a year ago, we traded in our normal-sized cars for a giant dual-rear-wheel pickup. I don’t scare easily, but I was really intimidated by the prospect of driving a vehicle almost as wide as a lane and so high up I had to use running boards to clamber into my seat. And I hadn’t even hitched up the fifth wheel yet.
But as with anything, just a little bit of practice gave me the confidence I needed to drive like a pro. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was literally my only vehicle at that point, so I had no choice but to learn!
I’ll pass along the best driving advice I got as we prepared to launch into RVing: “Don’t drive from behind.” In other words, don’t let other drivers’ aggravation bother you. If you’re below the speed limit on a curvy road and a line of cars is starting to build up behind you, don’t sweat it. Just let them pass when it’s safe and keep your cool. You’ll never see them again, and they’ll have forgotten all about you in a couple of minutes.
Keep the good vibes going strong by planning your route and travel stops ahead of time. I usually start with Google Maps, and then double check Allstays Camp & RV to make sure there are no low clearance issues and that there are large enough gas stations along my way. Don’t forget about Google’s satellite view, which I’ve found super helpful for planning how to get in and out of fuel stations.
When it’s time to go, sit down in the driver’s seat and make sure your mirrors are adjusted, your distractions are minimized and your snacks are close at hand. That last one is especially important. 😉
Hit the road at non-peak drive times like mid-morning, and don’t be shy about asking a traveling companion to help you navigate.
Keep your tire pressure high and cargo load low, and in the unlikely event of a tire blowout, remember to accelerate to regain control of the vehicle before slowing down to a safe stop. It sounds unintuitive, but look it up. It’ll take you right back to high school physics.
Above all, remember that you already moved from your house or apartment into a tiny box. You’ve already said “yes!” to a life of travel and adventure. That makes you brave and awesome and totally capable of driving an RV. You’ve got this. Now go hit the road!”
Solo RVers on facing their travel fears head-on
Sue says “One of my favorite quotes is ‘Fear is essential to survival, but detrimental to living.’
The road has always beckoned. But like many people, finding time with my husband, friends and family, home, yard work, and hobbies – while tethered to a job with a healthy commute – meant I indulged in vacation-sized road trips only as time and finances allowed. And it was good.
But life throws curve balls, sometimes fast and hard. Finding myself widowed and parentless, I went through a period of going-through-the-motions, commuting to work to pay for a home that no longer fit my life and was using much of my energy, time, and money to maintain.
It gave me time to see what I didn’t want. I had just digested a huge plate of “Life is Short”. I was staring down the second half of my life. Play it safe, or take a leap of faith? I leapt.
I love my nomad life. It has grown me. Self-reliance, self-confidence and a kind of fearlessness. And other gifts. A whole community of nomads like me! I meet so many lovely people with interesting stories of their own.
I thought of what tips I might give to a newbie. Like not bringing too much stuff into your rig (true), or purchasing a less costly, slightly-used rig (true) because your first rig won’t be your last (true). And new does not mean problem-free (true)!
I’m still new to this adventure myself with lots to learn. I think the best I can offer is: relax and slow down. Allow your pace of travel to let you explore and get a flavor of a place that you’ll miss if you’re blasting through a checklist of to-do’s. I want to see everywhere, so I was impatient at first. But I’m learning to let the road lead me, and that’s where you find the unexpected.”
Jill of Vespa and a Laptop –
A solo traveler who doesn’t think of herself as traveling alone.
Jill says “Wonder what’s down that way? This is pretty much the thought that provides my greatest adventures – and my scariest moments. I’m not one for planning and I’m big on taking things as they come, so I often don’t know what direction I’m heading hour to hour, no less weeks or months in advance. I drive a vintage Travco RV that is fairly light and extremely well built. But alas, not a Unimog, like I sometimes think it is! Yet, I am a careful driver who has honed her skills, taking my time and care in maneuvering all sorts of roads – and not-quite-roads, as the case may be.
One rather fearless woman, two tiny dogs and a vintage motorhome often driven on dirt roads. What could go wrong?
Just some of the situations in which I’ve found myself:
- Trapped in a wash at an angle for 2 days after my Vespa rack caught on the back edge…
- Stuck in mud with spinning tires 2 miles down a forest road…
- Engine cut out mysteriously while at a dump station on the busiest time of the week…
- Shredded a tire after crossing a cattle guard that sent the RV into a ditch.
How did I get out of each and every “worst nightmare” situation? My network. I may be the only one driving my RV and the only human in the rig most times, but I am never alone. I’ve built a circle of friends and other RVers that is a wealth of knowledge, supportive and willing. Facebook has been the means for my rescue countless times. I’m just not afraid to ask.
Problems solved when:
- Another solo woman RVer (Sue, from the interview above this one!) drove 2 1/2 hours to pull me out with her big girl truck.
- A member of a Facebook group talked me through building a ramp with spare wood and using a jack to rock the RV out of the mud.
- The guy who was ahead of me in line towed the RV into a safe space and then gave me a ride to town for parts.
- A friend got on the phone with me to calm me down and researched nearest tire places. We then did a virtual toast when I was all set and safe.
So along with the cliched “feel the fear and do it anyway” attitude you must develop to drive your rig, make connections. Ask for help. Receive it with graciousness and gratitude. And pay it forward whenever you get the chance.
Looking forward to crossing paths someday- and if you need anything at all, please just ask me!”
We hope all these amazing perspectives were helpful, and please feel free to share it with anyone who might benefit from the resources here. As always, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below, whether you’re a driver with more tips to share, or you hope to be!