It’s said that change is hard for everyone. Maybe it has something to do with our brains and biology seeking a state of homeostasis. But you start full-time RV living knowing life will be nothing but constant change. Whether you change locations every few days or every few months, you are dealing with constant change. Grocery stores. Taste of the water. Scenery. The list is long and it includes the process of setting up at a new location.

I find I have a low-level anxiety during this getting to and setting up at a new location process. It’s a combination of the change itself but also about fear of the unknown. It doesn’t matter that the unknown is simply a new town and a new campground, maybe a road I haven’t been on before to get there. And it isn’t until I’m setting up at a new location, then becoming familiar with my surroundings that those feelings subside.

Experience helped lessen the worry. But creating a system where I do the same things in the same order every time has been the biggest help. As a result, I know as long as I follow the process, I’ll get to the other side where I can enjoy my new location and all it has to offer.

Checklist written on graph paper. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash.

Below are the steps I go through, my RV checklist. This is mostly about the process of arriving then getting the trailer unhitching but the total process is broader than just unhitching which is why I didn’t title this “unhitching the trailer.” However, the step-by-step of unhitching is important too. Therefore, next week’s post will be the details of just unhitching.

Keep in mind if you own a Class A or C, or a van (Class B), your steps for setting up at a new location may include different, additional or less steps than what I go through. I’ve tried to add notes about what I know of other RVs but since I have no experience with anything but my trailer, it may be lacking.  

Also keep in mind, this post assumes full hookups. If you are boondocking, the steps are the same except that anything to do with hookup will be skipped.

Before Arriving at a New Campground

This is obvious but I’ll assume you know where you are going and have made reservations (if applicable). Here’s the post on tips on campground reservations. You’ll want to make note of the check-in time as well as office hours. During the trip planning I calculate my stops and try to arrive at a new campground while the office is opened and while it is still light outside. Campgrounds leave instructions generally on the door or near the door for those who arrive after office hours.

In my experience, most campgrounds will also let you check in at any time, including before check-in hours. But you should know that if someone is in your assigned spot, you may end up waiting. When possible, I try to arrive within the two-hour window following the check-in time.


Road in an RV park with a sign that reads, "Please pull forward."
At this campground, the check-in land is against the curb, but they want you to pull all the way forward so there is room for another rig behind you.

As you approach the campground, stay alert for directions on where to go. Often times there will be a check-in lane, meaning you pull up and park. Not every place has a check-in lane but many do. Watch for signage to be painted on the blacktop and/or a standing sign. When I first started RVing, I found it strange to park in the middle of the road I drove in on. I was worried someone would get behind me and I’d be blocking them. Or I worried I wasn’t doing things right. And, sure, both of those things happened. It’s a learning curve. Try not to be too stressed.

But what you particularly want to be cautious of and watch for is that you don’t drive in a situation that you’ll have trouble getting the RV back out again such as pulling in the wrong drive or the wrong lane.

Building front painted pale yellow with a sign that reads, "office."
Every RV park office is different but this is pretty typical with a campground map on the window and a clip board on the door. The clip board holds paperwork for people expected to check in after office hours.

One thing I do is approach very slowly. I want to ensure I won’t have to back up because I continue to struggle with backing up. If you are in a Class A, B or C and are towing a vehicle, as I understand it, you cannot back up, physically cannot back up. So, if you get into a situation where you have to, you’ll be unhooking the tow vehicle (called a toad) from the motorhome.

Smaller campgrounds may not have an office so you check in with a camp host or check yourself in at a little check-in station.

At the office, in addition to your receipt, you’ll get a campground map, an explanation of amenities and they’ll explain the best way to get to your site.

Scope Out the Site

Before I pull in or back in to my site, I examine it to come up with the best parking strategy. You’ll want to note where the hookups are. Then think about how that corresponds to your rig. My sewer hose, for example, comes out of the back of my trailer while many come out from the middle of the rig. That can make a big difference for how I park compared to someone else. The other thing I’m looking at is the evenness (or lack thereof) of the ground. Even though you have tools to help level your rig, the more level you start out with the better.

RV park back-in site of gravel.
This is a back-in site with services all at the rear of the site.

If you have a tow car, you’ll need to unhook that before getting into the site unless the site is a pull-thru.

If you are boondocking and have solar that will also be a factor in deciding the best place to park in the site. In that case, you’ll want to position yourself at the best angle and location to maximize the number of hours the sun will directly hit your solar panels.

After you have a parking strategy, pull in or back in to the space. And don’t be afraid or embarrassed if you have to do it a few times to get yourself in the best possible position. When I started, this was so scary and intimidating to me. And embarrassing. Now, I am used to the fact it can take me a half hour to back in to a site even though if feels like it takes every other RVer less than three minutes.

Unhitching and Hooking Up Services

Before I begin the process of setting up, I test to see if the electric at the site is going to work for me. And, by this, I mean that my surge protector isn’t going to throw a fit because the power isn’t in the ideal range. This problem is more common than you’d think.

Surge protector plugged into a power power at an RV park. It's one of many steps when Setting Up at a New Location
Testing the power before setting up at a new location.

If you don’t have a surge protector, get one. And get a good one. A good one will run you about $250. I should mention that, while I refer to this as a surge protector, mine is actually called an electric management system which offers more than just power surge protection. Hence, the price.

The product description says it protects, “against voltage fluctuations, power surges and incorrectly wired shore power.”

It will be hard to take that financial hit but I promise it’s easier to pay for that than it will be if you blow the electrical system in your rig and have to pay to get that fixed. Plus, how inconvenient would that be?

Make sure the switch at the pole is off. Plug in the surge protector and flip the power switch. The surge protector will flash some numbers. Mine shows the amps, volts and then it flashes the letter E plus a number. E stands for error. And if everything is okey-dokey, the E will be followed by a zero. Zero errors. E0 means I can feel confident to plug my trailer up to the power pole.

A Note on Surge Protectors

Dark photo, seeing the tubes and wires and equipment of an RV.
It’s hard to see because it’s dark under the trailer’s dining seat. You are looking down in it. At the bottom of the photo, see the E0? That’s the built-in surge protector.

Let me pause here to tell you another thing about these hefty surge protectors. As I understand it, they are a common theft item at campgrounds (as are portable generators, bikes and coolers). Therefore, it is advisable to find a way to secure your surge protector. I’m thinking maybe with a bike chain or similar.

When I customized the build for my Oliver Travel Trailer, I added on a built-in surge protector. I didn’t understand enough at the time to know that meant I really didn’t need to buy an additional external one for the power pole. But since I did, I use the portable one to test the power pole as described above, but I don’t keep it plugged into the pole once I set up because of the theft risk.

Close up of two power switches, another thing to test when Setting Up at a New Location in RV life.
30 amp and 20 amp power switches on the power pole. Unless they’ve wired it funny, down is off while up is the on position.

Yes, it turned out to be a waste of $250 for me but if I look on the positive side, it is more convenient to test the power pole with my portable surge protector than to plug in the trailer then run inside, get under the dining seat to see what my built-in surge protector is reading. Both surge protectors are the same brand (Progressive) so the coding and readouts are the same. I don’t know if the readouts are universal across all brands.

Once I test the power pole and get E0, I flip the power switch off, unplug and store the surge protector then plug my trailer directly into the power pole.

Back to Unhitching or Unhooking

So, the big picture of unhooking is in three steps:

  1. Detach the van from the trailer.
  2. Level the trailer.
  3. Hook up to services—water, power, sewer.

Steps one and two may have to intermingle depending on the levelness of the site. If I’m going to use blocks to help me get level, I drive onto those. So, obviously, I have to do that before I detach from the van. If the site it mostly level, then I detach and let the jacks make the minor leveling adjustments.

Next week, as I said, I’ll go into the step-by-step small picture details of this process, complete with photos.

After I’ve hooked up to services and tested everything, I set up the outside. That means putting out the camp mat, chairs, side table, portable desk and my solar lantern (decoration). When I had my dog Solstice, I also put out a bowl of water because she liked drinking outside.

At this point, I may have to move the van depending on the length of the site. If I’m poking out into the road it needs moved out of the way.

Pull-thru site an RV park, on gravel.
Pull-thru site. The services are not in the center of the site so you’d have to keep that in mind when deciding where to park the RV in the long site.

Then I move the pets from the van into the trailer, along with all the items I have in the van for travel days including my computer bag, my traveling notebook (where I’ve recorded the places I want to stop for gas, overnight and other notes), purse, snack bag, etc.

Next, I put the trailer in order, removing items from the bathroom, microwave and kitchen sink, spaces I use to store loose items on travel days. I set up the water and food bowls for the pets.

Then, once things feel like home again, I go for a walk. Of course, when I had my pup this was a necessity after the day’s drive. But walking the campground, for me, is the final step of setting up. It allows me to familiarize myself with the place and the amenities. Plus, after a day’s drive, it’s a necessity for my bones and muscles too, gets the sludge and stiffness out.

On the walk, I peek into the restroom, bathhouse and laundry room. Are the restrooms clean? How many quarters does it take to do laundry? I look for walking trails (this is where the campground map comes in handy). I make note of where the trash cans are located and whether or not they have recycling.

In the first few days, I’ll make my way back to the office to peruse the brochure rack, ask for recommendations and check out what, if anything, they offer in their store. At that time, I get clarification on any questions I might have about the campground or the amenities.

Lastly, we come to the best step. Go back to rig and enjoy your new location.

Finally, I want to end by saying that the low-level of anxiety has definitely lessened as I’ve gained experience. For me, that meant setting up at a new location 15 or 20 times. It’s taken a year and half, but that’s because of my slow pace with infrequent moving days. If your style is faster, you could feel comfortable and confident in just a few months.

How long did it take for you to get comfortable with your arrival process? Anything on your list that isn’t on mine? Next we’ll go into the detailed step-by-step of the unhitching process.

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