Travel News

The RV Chronicles: First-Time RVers Hit the Road

Locations in this article:  San Francisco, CA

Country Road RV TravelIt was time for our annual vacation, and my husband and I began talking about potential plans for this year. They had to be easy, affordable, family-friendly and convenient.

We knew we wanted to do some traveling, but the idea of packing up and flying anywhere just wasn’t appealing.

The idea struck us that we should try renting an RV.

I’d always longed to see Northern California’s Russian River valley and after some research we decided that was the place to go. With summer ending and all the kids back in school, it seemed like a great time to get away; the campgrounds should be mostly empty this time of year, and when we called to see about reservations, that theory was confirmed.

I ran my vacation plans by my boss, Peter Greenberg. He’s a big fan of traveling in the “shoulder season,” so he thought the location and time of year were ideal to visit the Sonoma Valley.

The destination was picked, the campsites were researched and my best friend, Erin, was on-board for the trip too. Now all we needed was the RV.

Shortly thereafter I found myself in the very capable hands of Heather Everett from Fleetwood, who graciously arranged for us the use of a 31-foot Fleetwood Jamboree Sport motor home.

Loretta RV travelPeter and Heather were adamant that as first-time drivers of a motor home we needed to have some basic training on operating the vehicle. I happen to own a large Chevy Suburban and wield it like a pro (if I do say so myself) so I sort of scoffed at the idea of taking driving lessons for a motor home.

How hard could it really be, I thought?

I can answer that in two words: Really hard.

Gary Lewis of RV Basic Training, based out of Hemet, California, is an RV driving instructor (motor homes as well as towed RVs), and was our drill sergeant for the day.

On a beautiful Sunday morning he delivered our RV to our door and proceeded to knock my smug self-confidence right away. The Fleetwood was a slide-out, 31-foot C-class type motor home. C-class motor homes have the overhead sleeping compartment above the drivers cab and are, according to Mr. Lewis, the most basic of the RVs to drive.

Gary led my husband, Mark, Erin and me on an abbreviated version of his all-day class that he provides to new RV owners or renters. Gary spent a few hours leading us through every part of the motor home: showing us how to open the hood and making sure we knew where the oil stick was and checking the battery cables; teaching us how to make sure the “gennys” (that’s RV speak for generators) were running properly; checking and identifying all the various pump gauges for your fresh, gray and dark water tanks, unfurling and re-closing the awning; showing us how to use the “on-site” campground utility hook ups, and even testing the keys for the storage bins on the vehicle.

We were now familiar with the inside and out of the vehicle. All set, right? Wrong.

Next up — actually driving it. Before we did anything, Gary took us on a counter-clockwise tour of the RV, showing us the pre-departure exterior checklist procedures.

Check all the storage bins are closed and if necessary, locked. Make sure the utility bins are closed; check the wheels.

Check to see the antenna for the TV is cranked down and that all the vents in the motor home are shut. Once that was complete, it was time to back out of the drive.

Backing up in an RV is an experience in and of itself. You can’t just pull it out of the driveway and be on your way. It takes two people to navigate an RV in the reverse position; the driver and his/her outside spotter, who leads you back via naval jet, military-style hand motions and tells you which direction to turn and makes sure you don’t hit any curbs, trees, poles, cars, houses or anything else that might be in the way of over 30 feet of a moving machine.

In this scenario, yours truly was the driver and Gary, with Mark observing for future reference, was my spotter. It took a little time and a new gray hair or two, but I managed to back the motor home out of our drive, and now everyone was seated inside for Loretta’s crash course (figuratively, not literally) in RV driving.

In no time at all I mastered the art of the right hand turn, driving the freeways, and the dreaded collision course of city streets. We were back to the house and after my much easier second attempt at backing up an RV — this time into our driveway, Gary said we passed his test and that we could show him how great a teacher he was by not bringing the RV back with any crunched up fenders.

Gee, Gary, no pressure.

After our heart-felt thanks to Gary for all his time and a quick, departing pop-quiz on anything he could think of to see if we really knew what we were doing — we fooled him good — he said he was satisfied and bid us farewell.

Time to head out? Not quite.

The thing that we didn’t realize until we were standing in the motor home after Gary had left, was that it is basically a “home” on wheels.

What does this mean?

RV Interior FleetwoodWell, what happens when you move into a new house? That’s right, it’s empty. From the bare cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms, to the linens that need to be stocked and the sheets and pillows that need to be put on the beds.

Our RV was now an empty home that needed to be filled with our things. So, after referring to a very handy campers’ guide checklist and another couple of hours of loading up sheets, pots and pans, the coffee pot, the blender, utensils and all manner of vacation comfort food – it appeared we were finally ready to head out.

With our exterior pre-departure check of the motor home complete and our RV driving test passed, we all piled into our home for the next six days and hit the road!

Next in the RV Chronicles series: National Camp Grounds and how we left a few years of our lives, instead of our hearts, in San Francisco.

By Loretta Copeland for

Read the other entries from the RV Chronicles Series:

Previously By Loretta Copeland on