Thursday, September 21, 2023


Around the Campfire: RVers share their funny and ‘yikes’ newbie mistakes

It was a fun night around the campfire as we all shared our personal “newbie misadventures.” The great thing about RVing (and really about much that happens in life) is that the harsh sting of mistakes lessens with the passage of time. Often, even terrible troubles seem much less terrible once some time has elapsed. The ability to laugh at ourselves and humbly admit to our silly RV mistakes made this campfire session really enjoyable.

“We were all newbies once.” Perhaps by sharing our stories of misadventures we’ll help today’s newbies avoid our mistakes.

RV newbie mistakes

Not taking a “shake-down” trip

“How hard can it be?” Gloria remembers asking her husband, Glen. “You drive to the campground, set up, and relax.” Glen and Gloria are not the only RVers who have neglected to take a “shake-down” camping trip. Several others around the campfire nodded as they remembered their own version of this story.

“Not only did we overpack, but we also packed all the wrong things!” Glen admitted. “Remember the patio lights and extra pillows—but no towels? What were you thinking?”

“That’s on me,” Gloria acknowledged. “But who forgot the freshwater hose?”

“Yep, that was me,” Glen said with a smile. “I was trying to organize the RV basement before the trip and accidentally left the water hose behind. By the time we parked and unhitched the trailer, we were hot and sweaty and needed showers.”

Gloria continued, “But without towels and no way to access water, we gave up, packed up, and went home.”

Tank troubles

My husband and I shared our own newbie “oops” next. Arriving at a work camp, other workers advised us to keep our tanks closed so that we’d have water to flush the black tank. We took this good advice but failed to keep an eye on our tank levels.

Yes, the gray tank overflowed, making a huge mess all over the RV bathroom. Thankfully, we realized what was happening and immediately opened the tank and cleaned up the mess.

Now, when we know we’re going to be parked for an extended length of time, we leave the gray tank open. When it nears the time to empty/flush the black tank, we close the gray tank for a day or two. This gives us enough water to fully rinse the black tank while preventing a repeat of our newbie mistake.

Turns out, tank troubles ranked high on the list of RV newbie mistakes. One guy was unable to tell if his black tank had emptied. He removed the sewer hose to check and, well … you can imagine the mess. He said he had to burn his shoes. His wife purchased a clear sewer hose elbow to prevent this mistake from ever, ever happening again. Ever!

Checking clearance

Linda and Dale thought they had the whole RV parking/setup procedure mastered. Then on their third RV trip, they failed to check clearance before extending their slides. The kitchen slide bumped against a tree and caused quite a bit of damage.

“That’s nothing,” Joey commented. “Once I forgot to bring in the slides as I left the campground.” Everyone around the campfire cringed. He continued, “I was almost out to the road before someone finally got my attention.” We all visibly exhaled and relaxed.

Owners of a toy hauler chimed in, “We parked, set up, and the next morning discovered that there wasn’t enough room behind our toy hauler to open our garage door.” A synchronized groan sounded around the campfire.


Judy confessed, “We’ve had to replace two awnings. Two! The first time, we left for the day and the wind ripped the awning and bent the extender rods. The second time, I forgot to bring the awning in before going to bed. An unexpected storm in the night tore the replacement awning and we had to buy another one.” From the number of nods around the fire, other campers had experienced similar awning mishaps.

RV newbie mistakes go on and on and on…

More stories and good-natured laughter followed. The biggest newbie mistake RVers admitted to making? Not asking questions! A newbie needs to ask questions. (Don’t we all!) Ask a neighboring camper, an RV repair guy, the camp hosts, or an RVing buddy. Post your question on an RV blog, Facebook group, or here, on!

Your own newbie misadventures

Do you have newbie stories to share? Come on, we want to hear them! Use the comments below to tell us.

More “Around the Campfire”:


Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.


  1. We were leaving on our very first camping trip. Pulled out driveway and pulled to side to put sway bars on. My husband said someone has knocked our mailbox down. So he set it back up and off we go. We are setting up at park and I notice a small dent and scratch on our new TT. I looked at Rick and said I know who hit our mailbox. He said well how do you know that. I showed him the damage and said it was you. We never felt it hit mailbox. I told him oh well, I am sure there will be more scratches as we travel the country.

  2. I always recommend doing a Camp Driveway weekend before even the shake down trip. Camp in the driveway and you don’t go back in the house unless absolutely needed.

  3. We were on maybe our 2nd or 3rd trip. Getting ready to leave the camp site, I raised the stabilizers, hooked up the truck, and told the wife to bring in the slide. It wouldn’t! Being newbies with a slide, I didn’t realize the trailer should be mostly level when the slide is extended and retracted. No serious damage, mostly a great learning experience.

  4. We bought our first rv, Winnebago Brave, in 1998. We flat towed a 1992 Honda Civc, stick shift. Upon arriving at our camp site the first couple of times out, I unhitched the Honda before getting into the Honda to set the emergency brakes and taking the transmission out of neutral. I had no problems since the ground was flat. Next time out, we stopped in front of our camp site and I went through the same routine to unhitch the Honda. Big problem this time because we were parked on a slight incline. Sure enough, once unhitched, the Honda started rolling backwards. I held onto the tow bar and was able to keep the car from rolling down hill. My wife was still inside the rv and I yelled for her to come help. The doors to the Honda were locked and she had to go back inside to find her purse and fish out her keys. She finally came back with her keys, unlocked the car door, set the brakes and put the transmission in gear. Never, Ever made that mistake again!

  5. Bought new Class A DP in Virginia Feb. 2014. DW excited (perhaps overly) to immediately “go camping” today! “Great idea. We need a shakedown cruise”. Packed up and about to start the engine when she says, “It’s too cold here. Let’s go to Florida” and I did a newbie by repeating myself with another “Great idea!”
    We did make it to Florida, enjoyed our trip, and came back with a list of 42 items for the dealer to fix or replace. We got our RV back 7 months later.

  6. I never had any significant newbie mistakes… I waited 20 years! After having my FMC, a 1976 29’ motorhome, for 20 years and traveling all over the west and to the east coast twice I was headed to Nebraska from the Eugene, Oregon area. I was traveling by myself as I have for the last several years. I planned for a late, relaxed start to the trip so that I wouldn’t forget anything as I would be gone a month. Got to my first stop a few hours later and had a relaxing evening. It was then that I realized that I hadn’t brought any clothes! So by mid afternoon of the next day I made it back to where I was that morning!

  7. We had been traveling all day, showed up after dark with our then new fifth wheel. We parked where the host told us to, unhitched and went to bed. We didn’t put down any blocks under our legs. We were parked on grass, they watered said grass all night. We sank, a little too much, which gave us no room to lift to get hitched back up. We are a few inches too low. Even though the leveling system said out of range, I tried one more time and it moved those 2” we needed. Never again did we not pay attention to those kind of potential problems!

  8. But it doesn’t end there. Remember this was a shake down trip. Next, I could not get any LP gas to the stove. I checked that the valves on the tanks were open, and I left the stove burners open for a long time. Still no gas. What I discovered is there was no gas in the tanks. The dealer had forgotten to fill them, but the trailer was to be delivered with LP gas. The dealer apologized and did fill them for us latter.
    Thank goodness for the shake down trip. Imagine if we had gotten hundreds of miles from home on a first real trip and found out we didn’t have propane.

  9. We were buttoning up our MH for a week long trip and I retracted the kitchen/livingroom slide. BUT…I hadn’t closed a front-facing cabinet door that resulted in MAJOR damage to the wall crushing the cabinet that houses the control panel. Luckily nothing but structural damage was done. It’s still there and a constant reminder to ALWAYS close the cabinet doors and clear everything before moving the slides.

  10. Shake down trip to try out our new 24 ft Coachman trailer.
    We spend many years tent camping as a family. We were empty nesters now looking to travel south during the winter for short trips initially exploring for where we might go when we retired. We planning a shake down trip to make sure everything was working, and we knew how to use everything. I had been a Boy Scout, so camping was in my blood and the motto “Be Prepared” was part of my behavior. We made a reservation at a campground just 40 miles away. Getting there and setting up there were no problems. Finally, it was time to make supper. First thing I discovered was we had no matches. I couldn’t believe it. Some Boy Scout I was. No matches. So, I went up to the office to see if their store had matches. To my chagrin, they didn’t have any and the person in the store added to it by commenting what kind of camper was I not having any.

  11. We stopped to get a bite to eat at a restaurant. I unplugged the seven pin cord. We ate then jumped back in the truck. We went from Denver all the way to Glenwood Springs. Across the continental divide. No lights, turn signals, or brakes. Fortunately I drove a big truck for a living. So I knew to downgear on hills etc. But we got to the campground, I got out to unhitch and there was the seven pin ground down to a mass of jumbled wires, oops! I won’t do that again.

  12. Whenever running meetings or training seminars my go to line was “I will answer any question and the only bad question is one that is not asked”. That said be ready for the answer and know when it stays in the room.

  13. We learned that Rv tires have to be replaced after a few years. Not miles, years. We had 2 blowouts with the factory installed tires, replaced all tires after 3 years.
    Blown tires are scary. Btw, we have a Class C.

  14. When we bought our first trailer, the dealer gave us a pass to a local county park. We went home, filled the fresh tank, loaded some stuff, and headed off on our first adventure. We stayed two nights. We ran out of water, almost drained the batteries, and when we went back to look at our site months later, were aghast at where we had parked and how we didn’t roll downhill! We hadn’t chocked our wheels – because we didn’t have any. Whew!

    • Ditto! Made same mistake in Colorado mountains…won’t repeat that mistake. Thank goodness the campground folks were smart enought to put a log at the end of the spot or our trailer would have been done for on the first trip!

  15. Once, in a hurry to get on the road, I drove off while still connected to shore power. No damages, but still.
    Walk around the RV and look at everything.

    • Ditto but ripped off my shore power connector. Lucky I didn’t damage the pedestal or it would have been out of my pocket too! After that I learned to use a “shorty” extender cable, better to lose that than to have bigger problems.

  16. Started camping in 1955 with my parents when I was 5 so when I started camping on my own my wife and I had an easy transition with no issues. So thankful I got to start out so young. Now I am just waiting for a Senior moment to kick in and cause a newbie mistake.

  17. On a trip camping, some 3 hours from home, my wife tells me she forgot to pack pillows. We were camping near a small town so we decided to go to town and buy new pillows. Not many stores in this town. A library, police station, gas, boat rental, liquor store and a grocery store. A few restaurants . That was pretty much it. We stopped into the grocery store. it was called Your Daily Bread! I talked to the owner and said you must be a Christian with a store name like that. She said yes she was. I told her our dilemma . She said I think I may have some pillows in the back. She sent a worker to the back and she came out with 4 pillows (brand new). wrapped in plastic. There was no price tag so she said , how about $10.00. I thought, $10 was not a bad price for each but she said 10 for two. I didn’t have $10.00 on me at the time. Just some change in my pocket. She asked me how much I had. $8.25. Good enough she said. . Wow. What a deal. I came back later that day and gave her another $5.00.

  18. Our first outing our daughter and her cousin went inside to use the bathroom. Being 5 yrs old they found the toilet flushing pedal fascinating and preceded to fill the black tank with fresh water. We were camped in a state park that had electricity on each site but not sewer or water. I had to hook up and take the trailer to the dump station and then to the water fill station. They didn’t do that again. Lol


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