This is the first part of a long series of RV life etiquette tips so that you can enjoy your trips, camping stays, get along with your neighbors, and not piss of the campground staff (and everyone around you). We have been RVing full-time since 2018, and we’ve learned so much along the way. And we’ve met a lot of people who simply either don’t follow rules or basic RVing etiquette. Unfortunately, not everyone you encounter will extend the other guests and staff the same courtesies as you will. But just in case you’re not aware, here are some RVing etiquette tips, starting with our first post of the series, RV life reservation etiquette.
Not big on etiquette? That’s ok, but you might want to read through these etiquette tips so you don’t get asked to leave the campground. It’s been known to happen!
When planning a camping trip or your next RV reservation, make sure you plan ahead. Spots fill up quickly, especially on holidays. Some campgrounds book out a full year in advance! Use a little RV life reservation etiquette and book plenty in advance if you’re able.
When we traveled in Utah one year, practically every state park, campground, and national park was reserved in August. Even the local KOAs were filling up. We had to do one night or two in BLM spots (boondocking) while we waited for our next reservation date. All because I didn’t book far enough in advance. You learn your lesson about planning ahead when you are running your generator in the desert for the night!
If you’re able to request certain spots, have them lock in a specific site for you, otherwise you’ll be assigned a random spot at check-in based on your rig’s size and any ‘toads’ (tow-eds) you might be dragging with you.
Most sites have your pull-in driveway and a patio area. Other more luxurious sites like at the Tucson KOA Lazydays in Arizona have a pull-in driveway, an asphalt parking spot in front of the patio, and what is called as a buffer zone, which is anywhere between 8-12 feet of additional space between you and the next electrical panel.
Check Online for Rules and Policies
If the campground or site has an online presence, and most of them do, check online to see their campground policies, rules, regulations, and know everything in advance prior to making a reservation. This helps keep the phone lines more free for the staff, and the information you need to know is probably posted online already. All you have to do is read!
Ask if their website is current with the policies and rules. Many campgrounds have regulations on pets, fires, age requirements, children/no children, number of vehicles, tents allowed / not allowed, additional coverings, awnings, air conditioners, heaters, skirting, septic requirements, etc. It is the responsibility of the business to inform you in full prior to making a reservation. But it is your responsibility to ask if it’s complete and current, because I know things change and evolve year to year, and not every business does a fantastic job of maintaining their website.
If you require clarification, simply ask the staff. “I’m not sure I understand your policy on…” and they’ll be happy to explain. For example, we arrived at a winter location campground one year and were not told that you can’t run space heaters in your camper. You can only use propane. We ended up having to pay more to keep us warm through the winter (an unexpected expense we could have avoided by choosing another campground). This wasn’t stated anywhere on the website or communicated to us prior to reserving or even arriving. We only found out about it a month later when they got the energy bill. Now, while that is mostly the campground’s fault for not stating that ‘rule’, it is something taught us what we have to do – ask if there are any policies they have that are not communicated on their website or on their document. This will help protect you from any additional charges or inconveniences put upon you for the campground’s failure to specify or communicate.
Finally, know the rules, and obey them. Do not expect the site or campground to allow you to break them just for your convenience. For example, if a site’s length is 80 feet, and you don’t fit, you’ll be expected to unhook or modify your towing situation so that you DO fit, or, you’ll have to find another place to stay for the night, and possibly lose your deposit (again, not the business’ fault – it’s yours). If the business requires masks to be worn indoors for COVID, then you must follow those rules. If the campground and city both have a 6 foot leash policy and/or law, then you need to follow it. Do not use the retractable leashes that allow your dogs to go further than 6 feet. Period. If you do not follow rules, you’ll be asked to leave. It’s pretty simple!
Make the Appropriate Deposit and Know the Cancellation Policies
Many campgrounds require a deposit. Like any business, they’re requiring that because you are telling them not to give that spot away to anyone else; it’s yours. However, if you don’t give enough notice and cancel outside of their allowed timeframe, they have a right (and should) charge you for the first night’s stay or lose your deposit because that site could have gone to another paying customer. This is standard business practice, and for small businesses to survive and campgrounds to continue running, they need to keep the sites full.
Deposits need to be made upon making a reservation, so be sure to have your debit or credit card ready so that you don’t hold up the staff on the phone. Typically, Visa, MC, Discover, and AMex are accepted. Ask about discounts at the time of the reservation if you’re a GoodSam, veteran, or a special population designee that is provided a discount. Staff needs to know in advance about your discount so they can bill you properly at check-in, and apply your deposit to your stay.
Don’t Blame the Staff
This should go without saying, but don’t blame the staff for things that are not their fault. For example, power outages. Storms. Bad weather. Mud. Wind. Your awning breaking. Long check-in lines. Having to wait patiently. Site not ready prior to check-in time.
These are all things they have no control over, and believe me, being nice to the front desk staff has its perks. So that when you actually DO have an issue, they’ll take you seriously and not automatically assess you as being a Karen. I’ve worked in customer service and retail through college long enough to know there are people everywhere who think they can belittle service people because of their job or how much they make. Don’t be that person.
Do talk to the staff and assign accountability when it’s appropriate. For example, being billed improperly. Spot not ready within an hour after check-in time. Site not available because they made an ‘oops’ in their reservation system. These are things you CAN be a little upset over because now you’re being inconvenienced.
If they are late getting your site ready, it is reasonable to request a late checkout by however much time you were inconvenienced. This is because you’re paying for site time you’re not receiving, and again, are being inconvenienced.
Book What RV Sites You Can, When You Can
Can’t get a full week but can get four nights at a place? Book it anyway. Exercising RV life reservation etiquette means that sometimes you have to be flexible and not demanding on what sites you can get and when.
What we’ve learned from our experience is that there are always cancellations, and if you book what you can, you can hope and pray for cancellations or people not showing up, and then the office can usually extend you. If not, oh well, it’s time to pack up and move on. We’ve discovered so many new and interesting destinations on our journeys that sometimes it’s a blessing to be able to stay longer, and other times, it’s a blessing that we had to leave because ‘oh wow check out THIS new place’!
If the universe isn’t allowing you to book more time in a spot, there’s usually a reason. There was a time when we stayed at the Shoshone casino campground in Twin Falls while we had our tires redone on the dually. The WiFI was terrible and could only be accessed in the community picnic table area. The grass was covered in thistle and sand. We had already blown a tire going south from Idaho Falls just north of Blackfoot, and had gotten that repaired using a spare, but the back tire on the trailer was still stripped and suspect. We needed all new tires. <sigh> Prior to leaving Twin Falls, we decided it was probably a good idea to get our truck tires done, too, since they were worn and you need to make sure you have enough grip on your tread while towing (hello, safety issue!).
It was mid-COVID, about September if I remember right. We had to wait for some Kuhmo tires to get shipped in to fit our truck. Our site had already been booked by a fleet of serious gamblers in a group. That was about the time when the wildfires hit Idaho, and there was ash floating in the air. It was time to go. There was a reason our site wasn’t available any longer. After we left, we learned that the air quality conditions had worsened even more so, and we were glad the universe gave us a little push to leave as soon as our tires got put on. (Literally had the trailer and truck getting new tires put on all at the same time in the parking lot across the street from the Discount Tire in Twin Falls!) Hey, just a quick shout-out to the Discount Tire guys, too. You were great, and thanks for getting our tires swapped out so fast. 10 new tires later (dear Lord they are expensive), we were back on the road headed to Provo, Utah.
Make Sure Your Rig Fits – an RV Life Etiquette Must!
If you don’t fit, it don’t sits. (Unlike cats in small spaces). You absolutely need to know the full length of your towing package. Bumper to bumper! Some sites are very tight in locations, and there’s no wiggle room or margin for error. Campgrounds and businesses rely on you to give you exact, accurate information so they can place you in the right spot. Don’t tell them you have a 43′ rig and then show up with a tow-behind as well. There may not be a spot to put your tow-behind (aka ‘toad’). And then they may charge you extra for storage or additional parking.
Hey, it’s only fair, deal with it. RV life reservation etiquette requires you to take measurements so that you don’t overcrowd your neighbors or create traffic & parking hassles for everyone else. Don’t be a dick!
Don’t be the dickhead and let the nose of your fifth wheel or tail end of your trailer stick out on either side. You’re asking for an accident. And guess what! The campground will not be liable. Guests have a reasonable expectation that you will be parked within the confines of your space.
One of our kids (in the dark) accidentally ran into the nose of an A-class because it was sitting out in the street instead of being pulled back into the lot. Don’t be ‘that guy’ who hogs the road with a parked rig. Don’t be ‘that guy’ with a rig sticking out of the back end, begging to be hit by a bike, kid, adult, or car. If you love insurance claims, though, by all means, let your shit hang out.
Check for Waiting Lists and Cancellations
Ask if they have a waiting list if there’s a place you really want to be at for specific dates. We stayed at the KOA in Williams, AZ for a week in the fall and it was probably one of the best week-long stays of my life. Being nestled in pine trees in a unique setting while surrounded by the colors of fall was exactly what our family needed after being cooped up for a while. RV life reservation etiquette dictates that you might need to wait for an opening or cancellation to get your exact dates. If you’re flexible with dates, we’ll give you 10 extra bonus points.
If the campground or business does not have a waiting list, don’t expect them to start one just for you. (Yes, I’ve actually witnessed entitled patrons instruct staff to make new rules to accommodate them). If they don’t have one, they don’t have it. End of story. If they have one, request to be put on it, and ask where you’re at in line. Then you’ll have a better idea of your chances of securing a site for the location requested.
Pull In At Or After Check-In Time
Try not to be the people who pull in at 9 a.m. expecting their site to be ready! (Yes, Virginia, they do exist). Check-in time is almost universally 2 p.m. in any given time zone. That’s the standard. Some campgrounds allow as early as noon, and others allow for check-in at 3 p.m. Know your check-in time and when reserving, and ask if it’s permissible to show up early and the protocols in the event that your site is NOT ready when you arrive before check-in time. Often times businesses do not have an overflow area, so you could be jamming up the flow of check-in or traffic if you show up too early and your site is not ready. (Don’t be ‘that’ guy!)
Expect to patiently wait for your turn at check-in. During COVID times, we’ve noticed many campgrounds have turned to virtual check-ins where they give you instructions and policies over the phone and have touch-less options. Others still operate a fully-functioning front desk. Whatever the case, use good RV life reservation etiquette and wait your turn.
You wouldn’t think that there’s a remote possibility for people to be complete dicks when it comes to making reservations, but having overheard conversations with staff from all over the country, as well as first-hand witnessing of such conversations, you’d be wrong. Listen. We’re all in this RV life thing together, and generally RVers are pretty respectful of each other. But this is more of how RVers treat the staff and the kind of expectations they place on local businesses.
Be reasonable, be flexible, and take a chill pill. You’ll do just fine if you treat people with kindness and don’t expect the moon and the sun when making RV camping reservations. Hope you enjoyed this edition of RV life reservation etiquette; let’s move on to etiquette tips for pulling in and checking in!