Motorhome Tips for Beginners
The first time driving and using a motorhome can be a little unnerving if you aren’t sure of the ropes. We’ve included some essential motorhome tips for beginners that may just make the start of your very first motorhome trip a whole lot less stressful.
Whether you are looking for motorhome basics, campervan tips for beginners, are hiring or you own a new motorhome, these motorhome travel tips will make your first trip a whole lot less stressful.
Why You Need a Few Motorhome Tips Before Your RV/ Motorhome Trip
Knowing a few tips and tricks before you embark on your motorhome journey might just save you from a few calamities. This scene from Robin Williams film, ‘RV’, comes to mind;)
From Robin Williams-still-lives-in-my heart YouTube Channel
We had just arrived in Germany, travelling from Australia, and were feeling slightly jet-lagged, to say the least.
We had about a ten-minute induction to our motorhome that we were hiring, were given no motorhome tips from the provider, and then we set off on our new adventure.
Our new Europe adventure, in a nearly 8-metre long beast, driving on the wrong side of the road (for us), not understanding any of the German road signs and feeling like we hadn’t slept for a week, had finally begun. Learning to drive a motorhome was going to be done on the fly.
But we were excited. We were pumped. Until our first wrong turn…
Our Motorhome parked up high in the mountains of Austria – bliss!
We learnt many things in that year to follow. This motorhome advice includes driving and motorhome tips and tricks that fall into the ‘that would have been good to know‘ category. It will be a great help to those of you embarking on your first RV, campervan or motorhome road trip.
Top Motorhome Tips for Beginners
1. Use a GPS Navigator
Using a GPS Navigator saves a lot of hassle, but remember to pre-load your device with the countries you intend to visit.
Also, make sure that it is up to date. New roads are being built all the time, and it doesn’t help if your navigator is trying to take you along roads that no longer exist.
Our TomTom allowed us to enter the type of vehicle that we were driving, a motorhome and not a car, and also the van’s physical dimensions. This can prevent you from being directed under bridges that you won’t fit under and roads that are too narrow. This helped keep us out of harm’s way most of the time!
One of the top motorhome tips: You can also set up the Navigator to avoid toll roads which can save you a heap of money and take you on a more scenic route. Win, win!
2. MAPS.ME App
To plan our journey and log points of interest along the way we used a free map app – MAPS.ME, which is simple to download and run on an iPad, iPhone or Android device. More importantly, the app can be used offline (without an active internet connection).
Once the app is downloaded, you then need to download the area and/or country of the maps you intend to use. This is done within the software settings. You can download as many areas or countries as you want with the only limitation being the available memory on your device. It’s all free!
We generally used the GPS Navigator and MAPS.ME in tandem so we could check one against the other.
While we’re talking apps, the Campercontact app is one that most motorhomers swear by, as it provides comprehensive information on campervan parking locations.
It gives information on customer rating, cost, availability, facilities and reviews of particular sites. We give it a 10 out of 10.
It can also be used offline which is super handy. An annual subscription is only €5.99 for the full version. See for yourself, Campercontact hosts over 30,000 campsites globally and offer a free trial version of the app.
It was money well spent and made the experience of finding spots so much easier. A bonus is that you can find free campsites to park at and some of these have power and other facilities meaning you don’t have to get your wallet out again. Within the app is a part where previous visitors of a campsite can add a customer review and rating which was particularly useful in the decision-making process when choosing a site.
4. Driving on the Right Side of the Road?
Driving on the right-hand side of the road certainly presented an initial challenge for us.
Not only must you think in opposite terms with regards to road direction but if you’ve only driven a car before, then it’s a huge jump to now navigate a long and wide vehicle on the road.
Our very first drive of 2.5 kilometres, after leaving the campervan depot, took us 40 minutes, (and it was nothing to do with being stuck in traffic). However, it taught us that we needed a plan; Plan A, and backup Plan B.
One of the essential and obvious motorhome tips: Always plan your driving route and any alternatives before setting off. It saves major headaches and less to worry about later on.
If this is your first time to drive on the opposite side of the road then it will take time to adjust. Constantly thinking about which side of the road and which lane you need to be driving in is so important because your default or normal reaction will be to drift back to what feels normal and that could mean crossing onto the wrong side of the road. We did it a few times but luckily came out unscathed.
5. Motorhome Manuals
Over the year, we had two different motorhomes, both hired from Germany. We found that some of the equipment instruction manuals did not come in English.
Before you pick up the motorhome, ask the supplier to check and to order the English copies if they are available or have the English versions mailed to you as an e-book. Otherwise, expect that you’ll need to decipher what Google Translate gives you, pay close attention to the manual’s pictures and introduce some lateral thinking!
6. Be Prepared
Always plan for ‘what to do’ in an emergency. Make sure you have a few copies of the European Accident Statement Form ( Motorhome supplier should give you a copy) on hand, with the accompanying English translation. Here you can download multi-language copies of the European Accident Statement Form.
If your motorhome is a hire vehicle, then there will be certain protocols for the timeframe in which to report an incident back to the campervan depot. It’s best to confirm this with the depot before you depart.
Keep all your insurance documents handy, and any emergency numbers to hand. In an accident, the last thing you need is to be rummaging around for numbers and forms.
♥ You can download a FREE 23-page Motorhome Travel Planner here – which includes pages to record important information to have on hand. It also includes destination planners, itinerary planners and journal pages to record your van life memories.
7. Save that Battery Power
The Auxiliary 12V battery is the ‘secondary heart’ of the motorhome for those accessories that need to operate when mains power is not available.
If you intend to ‘wild camp’ or stay away from official camper stops for a few days, then you will probably have no access to electricity to charge the auxiliary battery. This could become an issue when the auxiliary battery starts to lose charge. You’ll need to start the engine and idle it for a while to build up the charge.
A depleted battery is not what you want and you’ll need to find ways to conserve that auxiliary 12V battery charge.
Some tricks that we recommend are:
- Turn the water pump off when it’s not in use so it doesn’t auto cycle through the night
- Operate just two LED lights of a night-time
- When showering – get yourself wet, turn off the shower, soap up and then turn on the shower to rinse.
- Use a pre-filled plastic water bottle to pour around the toilet for the rinse cycle instead of activating the toilet pump.
If you plan to do a lot of wild camping and are planning to go off-grid, you may want to consider getting a camping generator – check out the recommendations of this full-time motorhome family for the best generator for camping and RVing.
8. Inverter to the Rescue
We invested in a 12V to 240V inverter to charge our laptop, both whilst driving and with the engine stopped. It’s great because when you stay at a campsite without access to electricity, you are able to charge the re-chargeable 240V devices.
If you intend to use the inverter with the dashboard 12V socket whilst the engine is off but ignition on, then be aware not to run the starting battery dry. This is not an issue if you have an isolator on the starting battery which will prevent the starting battery from discharging completely as it has an automatic cut-off when the battery reaches a minimum voltage.
9. Checks Before Hitting the Road
There were a few motorhome tasks that needed to be addressed prior to hitting the road each day. We nailed them from memory most of the time, but to be sure we didn’t miss any, we drew up a motorhome tips/hit list:
1) Turn off LPG gas (our first vehicle needed us to physically open/close the gas bottle valves)
2) Check all drawers and cupboards are closed and secured
3) Ensure paper towels are between plates etc. to prevent those annoying rattles
4) Check the external footstep outside the door is retracted
5) Ensure the day’s GPS waypoints are entered into the GPS device and MAPS.ME app
6) Check that window and roof vents are all shut and secured
7) Confirm all shower and sink drain plugs are fitted to prevent the grey water tank smells from drifting up the drains and into the van (we also drizzled disinfectant gel down the drains every few days to coat the inside of the pipes which really helped).
8) Have adequate snack-type refreshments at hand for both navigator and driver
Our 23-page FREE Motorhome Travel Planner has checklists designed especially for this.
10. Water and LPG Gas Adaptors
We bought two different sizes (21mm and 26mm outer diameter) of threaded plastic water tap fittings which were all we needed when connecting our water hose to an external water tap. Additionally, we bought two sets of gas adaptors for re-filling our German LPG bottles in different European countries. One adaptor set fitted the gas bottle and the other set was the fitting for the autogas nozzle on the filling hose (we only needed to use them on our Albania road trip and as we motorhomed through Italy).
Multiple sized gas fittings for re-filling portable LPG bottles in different countries
Two different sized plastic click-on water tap adaptors
11. Gas Bottles
It is best to travel with two gas bottles so that once one bottle empties, you use the spare and then find somewhere to refill the empty gas bottle. I would say that it was a challenge finding countries that would re-fill our 11kg German LPG bottles as many countries would refuse on the grounds that the bottles weren’t manufactured from their own country. I did explain that I had the adaptors for the gas fittings and only a few times would they agree. Here is a link to LPG stations in Europe which is a good starting point.
More motorhome tips: if renting, ask at the depot if it is possible to loan a third gas bottle. The extra gas bottle will need to be stored safely in an upright position in the motorhome. Although it’s not normal practice to be allowed to do so; we asked and received.
12. Know the Country’s Road Rules
- Does it have tolls?
- Do you need to register for electronic tolls? (Eg, some tolls in Portugal are electronic only)
- Do you need a vignette?
- Where can you purchase a vignette?
- What are the Speed Regulations?
- What documents are you required to have in the vehicle?
- What other equipment should you have?
We hadn’t paid much thought to road rules other than the speeds we should be travelling at, but it’s important to know what you are required to have in the vehicle and also details about the country’s toll system.
Another of our top motorhome tips: Check out the EU requirements here before you arrive.
There is a wide variety of tolls and vignettes required throughout Europe. Find the various prices and rules here.
Some country vignettes can be bought close by toll gates (road signs will indicate where the place is) otherwise, you may need to buy in a gas station shop, and some countries require you to register online.
(Pay careful attention to this – we had to do a detour which took us very briefly into Austria (10 minutes) and we were stopped by the police and issued a 120 euro fine for not having a vignette. Similarly, in Hungary, we hadn’t realised we needed a vignette and faced another 120 euro fine waiting for us when we dropped the motorhome back to the rental depot in Germany. This is one of those motorhome driving tips I would have loved to know about beforehand.)
13. Have Important Documents at Hand
Have all your motorhome papers at hand, such as insurance, emergency contact details and Green Card (a green piece of paper showing registration details).
The last thing you need in case of an accident is to be searching high and low to find the numbers/papers that you need. One to add to the motorhome tips list is to take photocopies of these documents and keep them in an accessible location.
14. Encrypt your Internet Connections
Consider installing a VPN on your internet devices to encrypt your Internet connection which ensures the connection is secure and your privacy guaranteed. This is especially important if you use online banking and if you like to piggy-back off free wifi in public places such as cafe’s or libraries.
There are many VPN providers with different options to choose from. Something to look for is how many portable devices your choice of membership will cover. We are signed up with NordVPN, a reputable company and we’ve never had any security issues whilst using them.
15. Grey Water Smells
The greywater is the wastewater from the shower and sinks. Pour a nice smelling detergent into your greywater tank via the sink plug holes just before driving off.
This will pretty much eliminate any bad odours caused by the movement of water in the greywater tank when you are driving which tend to rise up the wastewater pipes and into the van.
16. Black Water (Pee and Poop)
Many motorhomers we came across didn’t use their toilet for ‘number twos’ as they didn’t want to have to clean the waste cassette but we weren’t bothered – that’s why it’s there!
Make sure to use portable toilet disinfecting sachets to both reduce smell and at the same time disinfect the cassette.
Toilet Emptying Process:
- Remove toilet canister from the campervan (Make sure no one uses the toilet during this process!!).
- Pour out the poop and pee into the designated black water drain that you’ll find at the campsites. (We sometimes had to resort to emptying the cassette in a public toilet if there were no proper facilities available).
- Rinse #1: rinse out the toilet cassette with just water (There is normally a hose for this purpose on a site or have a few bottles of water set aside for this purpose).
- Rinse #2: Half-fill the cassette with water and add a capful of disinfectant. Shake vigorously and discharge the contents.
- Add a little water to the cassette then drop in the disinfecting sachet.
- Replace cassette and make sure it is locked into place properly.
17. Consider Parking up on the Outskirts of Cities
Driving the motorhome for the first time can be a bit stressful, but driving in busy foreign cities is definitely not something we’d call fun.
Consider finding camper stops on the outskirts of the city or in smaller towns that have transport options to the city. We often used trains, buses or rode our bikes into the central parts of the larger cities. Another helpful tip is to buy heavy-duty bike locks that can’t be easily cut when thieves are intending on stealing your wheels.
We have first-hand knowledge: our bikes were stolen in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, even though we had locked them to a bike rack and both together. We had to report the theft to the police so we could claim the cost of the bikes back from our travel insurance. When we bought our next bikes, we also bought two heavy linked security chains and locks and fortunately, that kept them safe.
18. Know your Motorhome Dimensions
Know the height, width and length of your motorhome. You don’t want to get stuck under any bridges and you’ll need to know your length because some campsites can only take certain length vans. In some European countries, when road works are carried out and temporary lanes are used, the width of the lanes is displayed on signs beside the road.
Another of our handy motorhome tips: The slow lane is normally wider, as it has to accommodate wide trucks/lorries. This is a good lane for motorhomes given the extra width you have to contend with. Additionally, if you take a ferry, you will need to state the length of your motorhome when applying for a ticket.
19. Motorhome Weight Limits
If your motorhome is under 3.5 tonnes gross weight then normal motorhome highway tolls apply and can be paid by cash and/or card at toll booths. Alternatively, the country may require you to purchase a vignette which is a sticker placed on the windscreen. The vignette will be valid for a certain period of time which you decide when making the purchase. It’s easy to forget the expiry date so set a reminder on your phone as we did.
If your motorhome is over 3.5 tonnes (this weight limit applies to most of the EU countries), then you expect to sign up for an electronic tag or box which is kept in the vehicle. For specific country toll information check out this link.
20. Travel Insurance and Securing Your Valuables
We always have travel insurance. Choosing the right travel insurer isn’t a quick process and the guidelines are strict as to what the insurer will accept as adequate security for your personal items. In our case, personal items had to be under lock and key whilst being locked in the vehicle. Not an easy thing to achieve when you may be renting a motorhome or reluctant to modify your vehicle.
We packed up our computer laptops and iPads, Satnav and stored them in an anti-theft Pacsafe backpack. This backpack has an integrated steel lanyard and lock, which we secured to the seat brackets in the motorhome. Also, the Pacsafe bag comes with an integrated slash-proof mesh. Our motorhome wasn’t broken into so the solution was only tested in theory, but we felt that this was a practical solution to ensure our valuables remained safe and insured whilst stored in the motorhome.
21. What? There’s No Spare Tyre?
In new vehicles, it was usual to find a proper full-sized spare tyre. Then, to save weight and cost, this idea was ditched, and the ‘space saver’ wheel introduced – a smaller and lighter ‘limp home’ tyre that you could fit yourself. Nowadays, don’t be surprised to find that there is no spare tyre whatsoever.
What you do sometimes get is a hand-held can of ‘tyre repair kit’. If you have a flat tyre then you just squirt the repair solution into the tyre via the normal tyre valve and re-inflate the tyre using whatever equipment is supplied by the manufacturer, (normally a compressor). After this is completed, the vehicle is driven at a decent speed to allow the distribution of foam inside the tyre which acts as a sealant to plug the hole. If you have sidewall tears or rips then this won’t help you out, you need a new tyre. Also, follow the specific instructions that come with the tyre repair kit.
This repair is a temporary fix, so you’ll need to get a replacement tyre sorted. Here’s a Youtube video by Toyota Uk, that explains everything in simple terms.
22. When your Yawning Check Your Awning
When you are shutting up camp for the night and getting ready to sleep, most of the time it’s a good idea to check the weather forecast for wind or rain. Both can damage your awning.
If we know it may rain we lower the angle of the awning so the rain drips off rather than pooling on top and weighing the awning down. If strong winds are forecast retract it. If in doubt always retract – better to be safe than sorry.
23. Motorhome Reverse Parking Tips
If your passenger is helping you reverse into a motorhome parking spot, it is sometimes difficult to see them or hear them. If you both have phones – put yours on load speaker while they guide you in. You could also use walkie talkies. It saves a lot of shouting and banging on the campervan!
24. Enjoy Your Road Trip
Finally, enjoy your trip. Don’t plan too much or you risk becoming frazzled and everywhere that you visit becomes a blur. Take your time and soak in the fabulous freedom van life offers.
Our start-up would have been just that much easier if we knew about these motorhome tips beforehand. But hey, that’s also the fun part of learning and overcoming the challenges of a road trip adventure.
I hope this ‘Motorhome tips for Beginners’ article provided you with some handy advice. Let me know if you have any other motorhome tips or handy workarounds that we can all learn from by leaving a comment below.
Happy travels and safe driving!
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You may also be interested in reading:
- Here is a link to all of the road trips we’ve written about so far: Road Tripping the World
- Complete Guide to Hiring a Motohome
- All you need to know about Campervanning in Europe
- Campervanning in Portugal
- Albania Road Trip – A country of Surprises
- Croatia Road Trip – The Perfect 10 Day Plan
- Best Gifts for Campervan and RV Owners
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