Are you planning to buy or rent a motorhome for your next trip? Perhaps you plan on making this your new living situtation to save money and/or have more freedom than renting an apartment…
Let’s confess something: when we bought our “house on wheels” we didn’t have the slightest idea of what we were doing. But not the slightest idea.
Just to tell you that the morning we went to do the transfer papers we had not even driven it, nor did we know how the tanks worked, the extra battery, the electrical system?
We only knew that the seller was a reliable Canadian gentleman (which was true, since we never had a problem with the vehicle) and that, according to him, “travelling by motorhome was very easy”.
Of course, to be able to say this in a country like Canada or the US where there is a huge culture of motorhome travel, camping and any kind of motor home is one thing. This is why the advice in this article is more geared towards North America, where logistics on the road is more viable.
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1. Master Driving Before Leaving
Well, we wouldn’t be leading by example at this point.
The only practice we had was a short walk around the block from the parking lot where the motorhome was stored. That’s it.
Needless to say, then, that getting out of there and driving down the winding roads in the Canadian Rockies was not the easiest rite of passage.
Not to mention when we wanted to park it for the first time: at the campsite where we slept the first night we spent about 20 minutes trying to put it straight and level (we’re sorry to say that that time never got much better).
There is a truth: driving a motorhome is not easy.
These vehicles are heavy, wide and high. The side view mirrors don’t have the best range, and the middle one is aimed at your kitchen!
That’s why practicing how to drive it before you get out is one of the best tips we can give you.
Take your time, get used to its dimensions, practice parking it, going under trees and leaving it level (essential if you have a refrigerator to work properly, as well as sleeping comfortably).
You’ll feel like you’re learning to drive again!
FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH ITS OPERATION
Now we move on to the “house” part of this vehicle.
We just asked a couple of questions to the previous owners and a cursory review of everything, and we left feeling confident. How naive, please.
Luckily, on one of the pieces of furniture there was a super complete manual on how to operate almost everything. A manual that was our reading at every stop for the next week.
A motorhome has so many parts to function as it should and provide you with all the necessary conveniences.
And being of the millennial generation (hey, we’re not that old!) dealing with some somewhat “analogical” issues is something that takes time.
Basically, most motorhomes should have them:
One for fresh water (clean water for hand washing, showering, washing dishes), one for grey water (waste from the shower and kitchen sink) and black water (waste from the toilet).
They are emptied underneath through a drain and with the help of a special hose.
If there is no black water tank, the toilet is usually a cassette toilet, which means that it is portable and must be taken out to empty.
The toilet never carries normal toilet paper, as it clogs up the pipes. You must use a special one that dissolves.
Sometimes manual, sometimes automatic. It usually runs on propane or diesel and heats the water in a separate tank.
Supplies water from the hot and fresh water tank to the pipes. Runs on 12V thanks to the extra battery.
DIRECT WATER CONNECTION
As an alternative to the pump, there is usually an inlet on the outside of the motorhome to connect a hose and have direct water from the mains (in a campsite, for example).
Apart from the car battery, the motorhome usually has an extra battery that runs the “house” electrical system at 12V (pump, lights, extractor, heating, refrigerator etc.).
It is usually connected to the car’s alternator for charging and, if they come, to the solar panel system.
Sometimes integrated, sometimes in the form of a separate carafe. It is used for the stove, the water heater, the heating and sometimes the refrigerator.
EXTERNAL ELECTRICAL CONNECTION
It is an external plug that allows you to connect the motorhome to the mains. It is 110V or 220V depending on the country of origin (it is important to know this to know where to plug it in and where not).
Most have heating, which is usually electrically powered and runs on propane or diesel.
They are usually 12V and 110 or 220, or 3 systems, which is these two plus a propane system.
It is important to always park them level so that they work properly and increase their life span.
As you can see, they are not few components, and understanding how they work is going to be key to your trip. That’s why we recommend that, before you leave, you familiarize yourself with everything and ask all the questions you can think of to the owner or rental company.
CHECK FLUIDS REGULARLY
This is just like any other vehicle. In order for it to work properly, you must, from time to time, check the engine fluids and make sure they are at the right levels.
Look if we weren’t beginners when we bought it we didn’t even know how to check the oil! In the third campsite we stopped at in Canada we had to ask the owner to help us measure it.
Today we are already experts on the subject (not that it was so difficult) and we make sure to check it every 2 or 3 days of the trip, especially if we are going to do steep or mountainous routes.
In addition to the oil, it’s important to check the brake fluid, coolant and transmission fluid if you have an automatic transmission. Wow! I bet you didn’t expect that much mechanical expertise.
For the rest of the fluids and more specific issues, we can’t help but tell you that our advice is to go with a real mechanic.
Which brings us to the next point:
MAINTAIN IT REGULARLY
Like every vehicle (and thing in life) the better you maintain your motorhome, the better it will work.
Our golden advice, and what served us 100% during the trip, is to have your motorhome checked periodically.
Obviously, it’s just another expense, but taking it to a mechanic once in a while or as soon as you feel something is wrong will save you a lot of money and time in the long run.
Following this rule, we can proudly say that we never had to resort to an emergency mechanic.
That’s right: a 1986 vehicle that for more than 25,000 kilometers didn’t have a single problem. It is good that the Toyotita is a pipe, but we want to believe that our preventive policy had something to do with that.
And what maintenance did we do to it?
Nothing much, really. Checking the tyres, fluids, battery and alternator; making oil and filter changes; checking fuses, brakes, hoses and belts… That was basically our list of important points.
If you know about mechanics, you’re saved (and you can save a lot). But, for those who have no idea (like us) doing this is a good investment to have a better trip.
KEEP TRACK OF WHAT YOU SPEND ON FUEL
We already know that making a long trip, and especially in a vehicle like this one, is not very pocket-friendly as far as fuel is concerned.
That’s why it’s always important to keep track of what you’re spending on fuel.
Not only because it will allow you to keep track of your expenses and be able to calculate your budget, but also as a preventive measure.
An engine that spends more fuel than normal may be showing signs of malfunctioning, which is reason enough to follow our advice above and take it to a mechanic.
Obviously, keep in mind that in mountainous areas or when you carry more weight the motorhome is going to spend more than usual, so you do not need to worry in that case.
As an extra tip in relation to this point, always try to take the tank half full: you never know where the next service station is.
Also, we suggest you to have an extra can, which you can keep stored, with some extra liters in case of an emergency.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE EXTRA STORAGE SPACE
And to carry the drum and everything needed for the normal repairs and maintenance of the motorhome, it is best to have some storage space to spare.
By this, we mean a trunk or a rear box, or a luggage rack that goes on the roof of the vehicle.
The idea is that here you can carry all those things that are needed for the day to day and to keep your motorhome in good condition. Here are some suggestions:
- camping table and chairs
- water and gasoline cans
- oil and brake fluid
- blocks or ramps to level the vehicle
- kitchen appliances
- basic tools
I have included everything you think you can use (without going to the point of unnecessary accumulation) and specific items you need for your vehicle: they may come to save your potatoes at some point!
We also recommend that you bring a fire extinguisher, beacons and a first aid kit, but keep them handy in a space inside the motorhome.
If you are renting a motorhome, make sure you check with the company that everything is in place to drive safely and that the vehicle has all the pertinent items in case of an emergency.
LOOK AT THE LEVELS EVERY DAY
Once you learn how the “house” of your motorhome works, all you have to do is pay attention to “the levels”.
By this we mean the levels of the water tanks (fresh, grey and black), propane and battery.
Luckily, most motorhomes have a button or digital display that shows you all this.
This way, you can keep track of what you have or need, and plan your stops for the day accordingly: Do you need to charge more water? Or drain the tanks? Do you need to charge propane? How’s the battery?
Checking the levels of your motorhome avoids mishaps and allows you to better organize your trip.
ORDER AND CLEANLINESS
As you will discover along the way, life in a motorhome is in many ways similar to having a “normal” house.
You have to clean as in any house, and that is why we give you some tips that we have learned on the road about this:
For us the most practical way to keep the interior of the motorhome clean is to always take off our shoes/eyes/sandals before entering.
We believe that this is the easiest way to keep clean inside and avoid having to sweep so often.
In addition, we have a net next to the entrance of the motorhome where you can put your shoes for this purpose and not leave everything lying around.
We also have two brushes: a harder one to brush the carpet on the stairs and the entrance, and a softer one to brush our feet if we go in barefoot with sand, for example, and sweep the floors.
Does that sound like an obsessive touch? We promise you that the first day you have 20 kilos of beach sand, you’ll remember us…
To clean the floors of the motorhome the most practical thing is to sweep everything into a corner with a brush or small broom and then put it together with a vacuum cleaner.
We have a 12V portable vacuum cleaner that charges up quickly, stores easily, and we love it!
To wash them, the easiest thing to do is to wipe them with a quick dry disinfectant wipe, or simply use a rag with disinfectant or cleaner.
You probably won’t get a mop or a floor dryer in, but the floor space is usually not much, so get down on your knees and scrub away!
KITCHEN AND BATHROOM
The bathroom and kitchen are cleaned with some degreaser and disinfectant, with the help of some napkins, or directly with disinfectant wipes.
The most difficult part of these two spaces is keeping humidity away (especially in the tropical areas of Central America), especially inside the bathroom and some corners of the kitchen.
For this we have a moisture absorber that can be filled as it is used. In addition, we try to keep the windows and hatches open as much as possible to ventilate.
There are several ways to do your laundry when you travel in a motorhome.
Many travelers have a kind of folding bag that is filled with soap and water, or simply travel with a mini bowl and ropes. However, this only serves to wash a few clothes and is not a solution for bedding or towels.
For that, we always go to a laundry, which is fast and cheap in most countries.
Please note that the dryers used tend to ruin the clothes quite a lot, so we advise you not to dry delicate clothes or clothes that you think might shrink. However, for sheets, blankets, towels and armchair covers there is usually no problem.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Don’t they get dizzy when they are given a menu with hundreds of options in a restaurant, as if there were such a range of possibilities, the decision becomes more difficult than if there were only 2 or 3 alternatives?
Well, traveling in a motorhome is a bit like that.
When you travel in the “conventional” way you probably already have everything more or less defined. Starting with the destinations, you have probably already booked a hotel, transportation to get there and some excursions to do.
Travelling by motorhome is like having a blank slate. Where you sleep tonight, what time you leave and what time you arrive will depend entirely on you.
And while the fun of the trip is in that, it is also advisable to at least plan a little.
Not in a super-anticipated way (you’ll find that the best recommendations are those of locals or last-minute travelers) but if you plan to travel that day.
For example, once you decide in the morning (or the night before) where to go, we recommend you look for routes, see alternative roads, check for cuts or delays, calculate arrival times and look for 2 or 3 safe options to sleep when you arrive.
Also take into account the time it will take you to make stops to go to the bathroom, get water or gas, go to the supermarket or anything else you have to do that day.
This way, you avoid things that are not advisable such as driving at night, arriving late to an unknown place and running out of options to spend the night.
As you can see, travelling in a motorhome is not something you learn overnight: it took us weeks (and for some things even months) to get used to it!
However, once you master it, you’ll realize that you won’t want to travel any other way!