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10 Tips for Easing into RV Driving

10 Tips for Easing into RV Driving
How to transition from co-pilot to driver.
By: Nadia & Jon Bajuelo

Trend driving down road in Nevada

Is it easy to drive an RV? This is one of the most common questions for a new RVer. I am not fond of driving in general and had little intention of finding the answer to that question. My plan? For the hubby to drive our RV for as long as we full-timed, and by the time we would go part-time, surely self-driving cars would be a thing.

Of course, things rarely go to plan. And as fellow GoLifers Eric and Brittany told us, it’s important for anyone (of legal driving age) riding in the RV to know how to drive it because things happen.

Over the course of 2019, we went from our dogs hanging out in the driver’s seat more often than me, to me driving cross country and navigating 8% mountain grades. For me, this is quite an accomplishment. And maybe, it would be for you, too.

We’ve taken what we learned about easing me into driving the RV as well as what we would have done differently and put together 10 tips to help you go from co-pilot to driver.

1. Start Learning to Drive Your RV Now

It’s easy to let someone else handle the driving. But what if there’s an emergency? What if you want to take awesome road trips without company?

Our Experience

This past March, we found ourselves on our way to the RV Entrepreneur Summit with Salt Lake City as our starting point and a handful of days to make it to Alabama. Things were going well, until Oklahoma. Jon came down with a fever and wasn’t well enough to drive. I could either take over driving duties or have us miss our event.

Trend driving through red colored rocks in Valley of Fire

What We Recommend

The first thing we would do differently is have the co-pilot start learning before a situation arises. It’s important to at least know the basics of driving the RV, including where the windshield wiper and light controls are, what the warning lights on the dash mean, and the RV’s height.

If you start now, you’ll have full control of your learning environment. Maybe you’ll get to learn somewhere as calm and serene as an empty parking lot. I found myself learning as we were fast approaching downtown Tulsa.

2. Start Driving the RV with a Co-Pilot & Caravan

Lots of things are easier with a village. Driving an RV, it turns out, is no exception.

Our Experience

I’m sure Jon would’ve loved nothing more than to sleep off the bug that had gotten a hold of him, but this wasn’t the time for that. Jon assumed the role of co-pilot as I hopped into the driver’s seat. Luckily, we were caravanning with fellow GoLifers Kenny and Sabrina. So, while white-knuckling our modestly sized Trend onto the Interstate for the very first time, Kenny had my back in his much more imposing Vista. As I tried to keep it together en route to an Oklahoma casino, Kenny would clear the way for me any time a lane change was needed.

Vista parked behind Trend on road

What We Recommend

If you’re learning as a solo traveler, I’d recommend buying a friend some coffee and having them be your co-pilot. If you have a significant other, nicely drag them into the passenger seat for support.

Caravanning was a huge help as well. We started with me following Kenny, but he quickly learned that it would work better if I set the pace and he followed. One thing that proved to be especially useful was walkie-talkies. I was able to communicate with Kenny without messing around with a phone.

3. Practice Driving the RV to Gain Confidence

When we arrived at an Oklahoma casino the first night, I would have been very happy to never drive the RV again. Of course, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed when trying something new, but if you do things just a little differently, you probably won’t have such a negative initial experience.

Our Experience

It wasn’t in the cards for it to be a relaxed day of learning for me. While I didn’t enjoy it that first day, it was continuing to drive the motorhome that gave me confidence and comfort behind the wheel.

Nadia driving Trend with mountains and desert out the windows

What We Recommend

I ended up practicing well beyond the trek from Oklahoma to Alabama to be better prepared behind the wheel. If you need a little push, make sure to have an accountability buddy. If you don’t practice, driving the RV will remain a foreign feeling.

4. Plan Where to Practice

If you start today, you can plan. And planning where you practice will set you up for success.

Our Experience

Where did I begin to practice my RV driving? On I-40, less than an hour from the heart of Tulsa, with construction - and some wind.

Trend and Vista parked in gravel lot

What We Recommend

My experience didn’t make for a beginner-friendly environment. I was overwhelmed with an Interstate, a busy downtown, construction, wind, and driving at night all at once. Each of those could be one successful day each instead! When learning, check the weather and don’t go out if it’s too windy. Avoid the Northeast if you can, too.

5. Avoid Construction Zones

You’ll want to continue practicing beyond the empty parking lot and back road. But while starting out, we recommend that you remember to avoid construction zones.

Our Experience

A construction zone was part of my first day driving. This Oklahoma construction consisted of cement barricades on both sides of a single lane, butted right up against where the dotted lines would be on either side. This is a situation that would make most experienced RV drivers nervous, so not ideal for a newbie.

What We Recommend

In the beginning, it’s normal to wonder if you’re keeping your RV in your lane. While that wears off, there’s probably nothing worse than going through construction zones. As you wean yourself off the urge to check the side mirrors every three seconds, avoid the confusing markers and barricades that litter construction zones.

6. Try County Roads vs. Interstates

I started on the interstate, but that’s not what I would’ve chosen. Country roads offer a much less anxiety-inducing drive.

Our Experience

With our village, we made it to our event on time. With my new driving ability, we decided to add a tow car to our set up without towing it behind our RV. For my first time driving without a caravan and co-pilot, we chose a county road and it was a much better experience.

Jon and Nadia sitting in front of Trend smiling

What We Recommend

The minimal traffic and slower posted speed limits make county roads ideal as you’re building confidence. However, if you’re in a Class A, do check for low clearances on that road before jumping on it.

7. Avoid the City at First

Cities are great, but not for learning since they can be congested and filled with overwhelming information.

Our Experience

I have come to really enjoy driving my Trend on the open road. But I still occasionally cringe when we come upon large cities. Though nothing seems as bad as Tulsa did that first day!

What We Recommend

Eventually, you’ll need to hit the interstate. As you approach it, you’ll have quick lane changes, on and off-ramps, people cutting you off to make their exit, and overpasses with clearance info to read. It’s a lot to keep track of. When you feel confident, add in the city.

8. Move Up to Mountain Passes When You’re Ready

The one thing we got to do right during my RV driving lessons was gently progress to mountain passes.

Our Experience

Thankfully, there are no mountains between Oklahoma and Alabama. I grew up in Florida where the land is completely flat, so mountain driving is intimidating. But now I have driven in the mountains, with the most challenging route being from Telluride to Gunnison in Colorado. However, I started with a small pass in Arizona, with Jon leading in our tow car.

Trend, Vista and tow car driving down dirt road with snow capped mountains in front of them

What We Recommend

Those of you from the west or mountain towns in the east may have an easier time with this. For those of you that hail from flat lands, ease into this. It helps to have someone to follow and remember not to sit on your brakes or you’ll fry them. Make sure you’re comfortable managing your RV’s speed without automatically using the brakes as well.

9. Mind Your Pace

Driving is tiring. While you’re learning, you’ll be mentally tired too. Keep this in mind as you plan out your route.

Our Experience

We just did a six-day drive from Las Vegas to Miami, with me driving the Trend and Jon driving our tow car. This is a pace I could have never kept up at the beginning.

What We Recommend

Our advice is to drive between one to three hours at a time when first starting out driving the RV. More than that is very taxing.

10. Know Your Limits, But Keep on Keeping on

Canada is one of our favorite places. We started making our way with the tow car and at the last minute (in Wyoming), I decided I didn’t want to drive.

Our Experience

I knew the pace we needed to keep was too much and decided this was beyond my limits. However, I haven’t stopped driving, I just chose not to in Canada.

What We Recommend

Just don’t push too hard. Challenging yourself to do something out of your comfort zone is great. But, it’s just as important to know your limits and stay safe.

Trend parked in parking lot with red mountains in background

If you’re on the fence about driving, we encourage you to go for it. While driving the RV initially began as a necessity, it has become something I enjoy. Over the course of the year, I have driven across the country and through mountains. I’ve enjoyed winding through the desert roads I love so much, with the music pumping, sunglasses on, and wind in my hair. I’ve come to the conclusion I could probably even drive a Class A!

Are you a co-pilot turned driver? What are your best tips?