I’d only been a full-time RVer for six months when I wrote the post about the most surprising things about RV life. In it, I said that despite years—yes years—of research before I left my sticks-and-bricks life for RV life, there were some things I still wasn’t prepared for. One of those things was the physicality of RV life. I hadn’t read a single blog post or watched a single YouTube video that addressed the topic. Hence, the unexpected surprise.

It was just a couple paragraphs in one post. But in the two years since I wrote it, I’ve had several people reach out and ask me about it. Particularly (though not exclusively), solo females who dream of the full-time RV life. Learning that RV life is more physical than you’d think gave them cause to pause. It made them question whether RV life would be a good fit for them. So, today I want to address the topic in more detail.

In General

Nearly everything about RV life takes more physical energy than in sticks-and-bricks. Once I really thought about this, it made perfect sense. But until I thought about it, I found it weird and confusing. Do you know the why? Because when your RV home regularly experiences earthquake-like conditions, accommodations must be made to prevent things from breaking, falling, opening. That means tight clasps, locks, etc.

Man in shorts flexing his big muscles. Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash.
You don’t have to look like this to own an RV.

This absolutely is not to say that opening an RV drawer takes a body builder. In fact, most everything is easy once you get used to the additional force needed.

But it does take some getting used to. At least it did for me. I was so worried that I would exert too much pressure and break something. You know, the pickle jar won’t open so you really bear down on it and the next thing you know, you are wearing pickle juice and reeking of vinegar? Now, imagine the equivalent of that when it comes to opening a drawer in your RV. Or removing the table top to convert your dining room table into a bed. Or dumping a black tank. Only instead of smelling like vinegar, you end up with a costly repair. That was my fear.

So, the thing you have to learn is where the “give” line is. How much pressure is the right amount to get the job done without crossing into the breaking things territory. Now that I’ve been doing this a while, it isn’t so bad. But when you are new, it really hard. It takes a while for the feelings to subside.

Some Examples

Every rig is going to be different. So, the places where I need extra muscle may not be the same places you need muscle. Yes, I had the experience with the drawers. Sometimes, even now, I feel as if I’m pulling much too hard to get them opened. Drawers, I suspect, are universal because all RVs have drawers and they have to stay closed during travel.

Because I’ve written in detail about the trials and tribulations of unhitching at a new campsite and hooking up when leaving a campsite, I won’t talk about those here. Both require effort, muscle and a good hammer.

But let me share other examples.


White shades closed in RV with a black tv folded under a cabinet. Cabinet has shiny black door.
Television up.

I wrote about those very hard first 72 hours of full-time RV life where, at the end of those painfully emotional hours, I watched a Disney movie and the odd comfort it brought me. What I didn’t say in that post was I wanted to try out the television the night before but couldn’t get it down. In my trailer, the television folds up flat against the ceiling. I probably tried for 30 minutes, trying to figure out how to get it down. I pushed, pulled, poked and maybe I yelled at it to see if that might make it submit. Nothing worked.

Same image as above except the tv is now down.
Television down.

The next day, I called the Oliver factory and told them my television was broken. They said try pushing the television up hard. Then pull down. Yep, that worked. Yep, super easy when you know the trick.

Turns out it takes some muscle to get it pushed closed as well. And if you don’t push hard enough, the television won’t snap in the clip. And, like I said, the first few times you do it can be unnerving. You are pushing hard against a plastic clip. Plastic. And it feels like any moment it might snap in half.

The Awning

In that same post about my first 72 hours as a full-time RVer, I told you how the folks at Oliver helped me get set up at a nearby campground following my orientation. The one thing I wasn’t shown during orientation was how to use the awning. So, at the campground, they showed me. And left it out

That night and the next day, it was windy. And I could not get the awning back in. It’s not rocket science. It’s a hand crank where you put a rod with a hook on the end into the loop at the side of the awning and turn. That winds the awning both in and out. I tried five or six times, each time with more determination than the time before. But I would twist and the give on the awning just felt like it was on the verge of snapping. I’d go back in my rig. Think about it. Decide I hadn’t turned it hard enough. Then go back out and try again.

Small white Oliver travel trailer with the awning out.
Hour one of RV life. Once the awning was out, I couldn’t get it back in.

I never did get the awning in myself. After that, once it was back in again, I was too afraid of it to try it again, afraid of a repeat performance. A year later, I still hadn’t taken it out again. My fear was that I’d get it out but then I might never get it back in. I’d end up as one of those cautionary photos you see on RV websites because I’d have to drive down the road with my awning fully extended.

I mentioned it to my cousin when we were in Dubuque. She sent her husband over to give me a lesson. I did learn that you have to keep the rod used to twist it opened or closed close to the rig otherwise the angle can prevent the thing from turning. So, now I knew the trick.

And, still, I was scared.

It took another six months (and for those keeping track that would be a full year and a half after my Oliver orientation) before I put the awning out myself.

Battery Bank

Bay area of an RV filled with four black batteries though only two are visible.
The batteries are on a sliding tray. This was the first time I opened the compartment and I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried get the clip to disengage, get them to slide out.

In the very long post where I introduced my Oliver, chock full of photos, I described the battery bank with its AGM batteries. Why? Because no matter how much I pulled on the tray that houses them, I couldn’t get it to slide out.

And just like the television and the awning before, it took more pressure, more muscle to get the job done than I was initially using. Now, I don’t often open the outside drawer where those are kept because there is no need. But when I do (usually to wipe away dust build-up), I just remind myself to not be scared of how much exertion it takes to get it opened.

But Things Got Figured Out

Okay, you might be thinking that the drawers, the television, the awning and the battery bank all got figured out. The key was to acquaint myself with the amount of effort each task took.

True. Even though they take more muscle than I ever expected pre-RV life, I have figured out how to manage the physicality of these things. So much so, I don’t give them much thought anymore.

It’s More than Muscles or Come on Baby, Let’s Do the Twist

There is another part of RV life that was surprising. It’s still related to the physical nature of the lifestyle but doesn’t have to do with the extra muscle for things.

I’m talking about the physicality of the ways you have to manipulate your body at times to accommodate the small space. This will play itself out in different places for each rig. In my Oliver Trailer, this is particularly the case with the closet.

The closet is decent size considering the tininess of the rig. It’s deep. However, the closet door is relatively short. It doesn’t open at the floor like a traditional closet door. Rather the bottom of the closet door is about 12 inches off the ground. The floor of the closet, though, is on the ground.

So, between the small door and the closet depth, I find it impossible to reach all areas of the closet by just sticking my arm in. I actually have to twist my torso to lean in up to my shoulder. It’s awkward.

As a brief aside, I will say that once I got my shoes off the floor in front of the closet, it was a tad easier.

If you look on the positive side, I’ve increased my twisting range of motion to the point now where owls have nothing on me. Yep, I can practically do a full 360 torso twist. Chubby Checker would be so proud.

The Physicality of RV Life: Changing the Sheets

I saw a recent post on one of the RV Facebook groups where a woman asked if there was a trick to changing RV bed sheets without working up a sweat. Can I tell you how much that one made me laugh? It made me laugh because I was shaking my head and saying out loud, “No, lady, there is no way. There is no trick. You just beat those sheets and mattress into submission and work up a big sweat doing so. It’s unavoidable. There simply is no hack for that one.”

Bed sheets and dresses on a clothes line in front of trees. Photo by Dmitry Arslanov on Unsplash

However, the good news is that this may not apply to everyone. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones. But I know it’s true for many of us. And not just people with tiny rigs like mine. There are many bigger rigs where the bed butts against multiple walls. In Class C rigs, one of the beds is above the driving area plus it is surrounded on three sides.

It takes lots of manipulating, crawling and straining to get a bed made. When I first started traveling, I tried making my bed each day. You know, the same way I did my bed in my house. It didn’t take me long to realize that, for me, it’s so much less headache to lay everything neatly on the bed rather than trying to tuck things in.

Now I fold the sheet in half the long way each morning and lay it on the bed. Then I do the exact same for whatever blanket or quilt I’m using (depending on the season and the temperature). It’s not as pretty but it works without me cursing at it.

Physicality of RV Life: Tips and Tricks

First, expect bruising. You’ll get used to it. For me, that has not gone away with experience.

Second, know that with time and getting acquainted with your rig, you’ll acclimate to the physicality of RV life. It doesn’t lessen but you get to a place where it no longer intimidates you.

Third, wherever you can, utilize tools to lessen the burden on your body: step stools, grabber things, rubber mallet, thick utility gloves, etc.

Feature Photo

In case you are wondering what the feature photo has to do with the topic, the short answer is absolutely nothing. But I thought you might enjoy it. I don’t like always using photos of my own trailer because this blog is intended to help all RVers, not just Oliver owners.

In case you are interested, it’s a 1954 Vakashunette and a 1950 Hudson Commodore. I found this duo at an RV park in Albuquerque along old Route 66. They have five vintage pairs that are now used as Air B&Bs.

I hope this article helps. Especially, I hope it eases the worry of any newbie or newbie-soon-to-be readers. If you already have an RV, did you find the physicality of RV life surprising? On your rig, what requires muscles or bending and twisting in an awkward way?

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