The Ultimate RV Essentials Guide

Last updated on March 28th, 2022 at 12:01 pm. Originally published on July 17th, 2017

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Headed out on your first-ever RV trip?

It’s an exciting time, that’s for sure. You’re about to take on the road in a brand new way and have an epic adventure!

RVing is a unique way to travel because you get to take your trip at your own pace, customizing your itinerary and even changing it on a dime. You can plan out an amazing route filled with fascinating stops or make a simple beach getaway weekend into your own private island oasis. That’s what draws so many travelers to this unique way to see the country in the first world: It really is all up to you.

But if you’ve never gone on an RV trip before, you could be scratching your head about what essentials you need to bring along for the ride. After all, it’s not as simple as packing a suitcase full of clothes and hopping on an airplane. You’re basically driving a house on wheels, which means your list of travel accessories is totally different in a motorhome!

Depending on your personal situation and camping goals, there are a few other things you might need to pack in a camper trailer. For instance, your essentials list might need to include things like toys for your kids, and any outdoor adventure gear if you’re taking on some epic new hikes, rock climbs, or kayaking stints during your trip.

In this guide, we’re going to give you some great ideas to help you prepare for your RV adventure. Whether you’re wondering what camping gear or supplies you need, how to pack your belongings safely, or what food you should bring, you’ll find it here!

RV Essentials

If you purchased your RV, you may or may not have received a courtesy starter kit. These kits often include items such as a potable water hose, a water pressure regulator and a roll of RV t.p. If you are lucky, you might have scored a sample pack of odor control for your black tank. If you didn’t get a kit, don’t feel left out because aside from these items, you’re gonna need a lot more!

Sure, you need clothing, shoes, and toiletries… but you also need specific toilet paper, not to mention towels, cups, dishes, silverware, sheets, pillows, and more. Fortunately, many rental RVs come equipped with all of these amenities, which can be a pretty huge convenience — even one you might consider paying extra for, which some rental agencies will ask you to do. Just imagine having to drag all of those everyday items into your rig from home before your trip. Not the most relaxing start to a vacation!

RVs also benefit from having some mechanical equipment onboard, since they are such large and fairly complex vehicles. For instance, your RV’s wastewater holding tanks mean you’ll need sewer hoses and connections, and you’ll also need the equipment to connect to your electrical and cable hookups. When connecting to a city water source, always make sure you use a certified potable water hose to avoid imparting any funky odors or flavors to your drinking water — they’re easy to spot because they’re bright white!

So now that you’re thinking more broadly about how much stuff goes into a well-prepared RV trip, let’s get into the nitty gritty. Here’s what you need to make sure you have on board before you set out:

General Essentials to Pack in an RV

  • Electrical hookup cords
  • Sewer hose
  • Auxiliary cable for TV connection
  • Mobile hotspot for reliable WiFi or other signal boost equipment
  • Emergency kit, just in case — better safe than sorry. This might include simple tools to help on the roadside should you suddenly get a flat tire, but also road flares, warning triangles, and first aid supplies.
  • Tool Kit — Even if you don’t consider yourself especially handy, having a few basic tools on board might help you fix small things in a pinch. A pocket knife, hammer, wrench, and pair of screwdrivers are a good starting point. Duct tape and WD-40 may come in handy as well.
  • RVMinders are a simple, affordable slap-bracelet-style accessory that will keep you from ever driving off without pulling up the leveling blocks or sewer hose again. Talk about a life saver!

RV Living Essentials

  • Clothing for every weather condition (bathing suits, shirts/tanks, sweatshirts, cargos, etc.)
  • Running/ hiking shoes, sandals
  • Bedding including sheets, covers, pillows, and blankets. Sleeping bags can also be beneficial to bring.
  • Window coverings, if your rig doesn’t come with them
  • DVDs, books, or other indoor entertainment items
  • Personal electronics, like laptops and cell phones, cameras, and their chargers
  • Cleaning supplies including sponges, trash bags, hand vacuum, wet mop, etc
  • Space heater or fan

RV Kitchen Essentials

  • Dishes
  • Cups
  • Silverware
  • Bottle opener/ Corkscrew
  • Can opener
  • Cooking utensils and vessels — large spoons, pots, roasting pans, cookie sheets, metal skewers for the campfire (this will depend on what you’re planning to prepare; here are some easy RV-friendly recipes)
  • Cutting board and knives
  • Dish Towels
  • Paper towels and napkins
  • Coffee mugs and coffee
  • Reusable water bottles
  • Extra drinking water — even if you’re going to be camping in a site with full hookups, it’s never a bad idea to have extra potable water on board
  • Other food items, although it can be beneficial to wait until you get to your destination to go shopping. We recommend bringing some non-perishables such as cereal, canned goods, breakfast bars, beef jerky, nuts, and instant cook foods (mashed potatoes, oatmeal, etc)

RV Bathroom Essentials

  • Toiletries — (Hair brush/ ties, toothpaste/ toothbrush, shampoo/ conditioner, body wash, lotion, razor)
  • Prescription and preventative medications; facial tissues
  • Bath and hand towels/ wash cloths
  • RV-friendly toilet paper — Regular toilet paper can easily gum up your RV’s delicate sewer system, resulting in a mess you don’t want to have to clean up.
  • RV toilet chemicals

RV Camping/ Outdoor Essentials

  • Outdoor camping furniture like folding chairs
  • Large outdoor ground covering for under the awning
  • Flashlights and headlamps
  • Extra LED lights
  • Citronella candles and/or bug spray
  • Umbrella
  • Outdoor games and activities
  • Portable hammock
  • Binoculars
  • Beach towels
  • Rope
  • Fishing gear
  • Compass and maps

RV Pet Essentials

  • Pet ramp for easy entrance & exit
  • Pet food
  • Doorway screen
  • Portable pet bed/ cot
  • Collapsible bowls
  • Portable fence or tie-out with stake

Essentials for RV Owners

#1: Waste Water Management

Most RVs come with a complimentary sewer hose. Nice right? Except for the fact that it is often way too short.  In fact, it’s usually so short that you have to be a super hero to maneuver your rig that close to the dump site. The first thing you are going to need is a REAL sewer hose. Choose one that has high ratings, a quality feel, and will last for years to come.

You will also need a sewer donut. This rubber seal connects between your sewer hose and the dump outlet so that the odor is kept contained. If you don’t fancy a sewer donut, you can also choose an elbow adapter with multiple seal options. While we are talking about the sewer hoses, be aware that some campgrounds require your hose to be kept off the ground by a sewer hose support (also called a slunky!). This caterpillar type unit lifts your hose a few inches off the ground, and folds up easily when not in use.

Disposable gloves and an extra garden hose are also a good idea. Your white hose is your drinking water hose. Be sure to keep the hoses in separate areas so things stay sanitary. Your extra hose will be used for the occasional flushing out of your black tank.

If you’re planning on boondocking, or otherwise filling your fresh water holding tank to supply your sink faucets and shower, you’ll quickly understand how frustrating the experience can be without a water tank filler valve.

Thanks to the physics of normal filling, trapped air can slow down the process considerably. This valve allows you to fill your water tank in a fraction of the time, which is especially helpful for boondockers who are usually filling their tanks right before arriving at their destinations. (In other words, that moment when even a “reasonable” wait can feel like agony!)

#2: Entertainment Accessories

Depending on how you plan to access TV,  you will need a variety of items. If you want to use the cable in RV parks where they offer it, you will need a long coaxial cable. This will allow you to connect to the outside cable box and bring it into your rig.

If you want to use a traditional RV antenna, make sure your RV has a new HD digital antenna.

Plan on watching movies? You may need a Blu-ray player. A Blu-ray will play both DVD’s and Blu-ray disks. Some units will also stream Netflix and Hulu.

Satellite TV is a great option for those who love certain channels. The Tailgator Satellite Antenna is the most popular set up because it can be moved around the outside of your RV and pointed at the nearest connection. Satellite receivers on the roof can often be blocked by trees. If you plan to stay in an RV park and you have a dish on your roof, be sure to let them know before they assign you a site.

Another item of choice for entertainment is a portable radio. This can be a NOAA weather radio that will give you emergency alerts as well as play music in the background. Satellite radio is also an excellent option, and you may want an indoor and outdoor receiver.

Want to listen to music outside? Consider a portable bluetooth speaker that will wirelessly hook to your music source for hours of relaxing or up beat tunes.

 #3: Cleaning Supplies

Space in an RV is tight, so keeping things clean is important. Keep a carry all of cleaning supplies available at all times. Here are a few items to include in your cleaning arsenal:

  • Anti-bacterial wipes, all-purpose wipe, & auto cleaning wipes
  • All-purpose spray & glass cleaner
  • Paper towels and a duster
  • Moth balls for keeping bugs out of your RV.  Place them in the closet and in jars under the RV.
  • Garbage sacks of various kinds. *Tip: use plastic cereal containers (remove the lids) around your RV for extra garbage cans.  They are narrow and fit perfectly in tight spaces.
  • A folding plastic stool to clean in high places
  • A broom, dustpan and vacuum cleaner.  *Tip: my pick is the battery operated Dyson Animal. It picks up everything!
  • Ladders are also important. Sometimes, you need to get up high. (Like to check and make sure there’s nothing on top of your slide out before you bring it in.) You can hook them on the back of your RV, or use a collapsable ladder which takes up very little of your rig’s precious storage space.

 #4: Storage Containers

Your closet needs huggable hangers. The kind covered in felt that keep clothes from sliding off while you are driving. Zip lock bags, storage bins, and storage drawers can work wonders in your closet and drawers. Plastic shoe holders work for a variety of things, including a shower caddy. You can put makeup in one and hang it under your sink.

Remember, you will need far less clothes in an RV than you wear in a stick and bricks home. Plan to roll your clothes and place them on end in your drawers. This gives you the ability to see the clothes without them taking up a ton of space.  Personally, I like to separate items with zip lock bags. That way if I need socks, I grab my sock bag. It’s quick and efficient.

#5 Food Storage and Preparation Items

The best items for an RV always multi task appliances. A crock pot is good, but a crockpot/rice cooker/pressure cooker (Instant Pot!) is even better. Choose items that will work inside and outside, but are small and easy to store. Pots and pans should stack easily and have removable handles.

Plastic storage containers are great, but storage containers that collapse down to half size are even better. Ziplocks and food savers are an excellent way to pack your frozen food. Lay the food flat and freeze it. You can stack your items easily on top of each other, though it’s smart not to pack your items too tightly. Keep your heavy items towards the bottom and light items on top.

In order to keep your food fresh, you need to make sure there is air flowing throughout the fridge. That means making sure there is space between the coolings fans and other items in the rig. You will also need inexpensive fridge and freezer temperature gauges and fridge levels — if your fridge isn’t level, it won’t work! Another important item in your fridge and freezer are refrigerator bars, which keep your food from shifting off the shelves while you drive.

And who can live without coffee, even on vacation? (not us!) — Make sure you stock your rig with your favorite brewing method, whether it’s a small drip machine or an electric hot kettle and a pourover station. We like this coffee maker for it’s single-serve feature, along with the reusable filter.

Wanna enjoy making your favorite meals on the road, but don’t wanna deal with spices rolling around your rig? This simple, cabinet-door spice holder idea is perfect for RVers. We also love these adorable magnetic spice jars that can be easily attached to your fridge, wall, or backsplash.

In addition, an RV stove cover can instantly change the game, adding leagues of extra counter space for you to chop, season, and prepare your food. While many RVs these days come with them built in, if not, you can find them available affordably: check out this universal wooden version for under $50 or this foldable, metal one for under $80. (Both are by Camco.)

For more creative storage solutions, check out this article.

#6: Decor

There are two items that every RV owner must have if they plan to customize their rig. The first are Command Strips. These babies come in every shape and size. You can use them to mount hooks for keys, picture frames, or small pieces of art. They are removable and do not damage the walls. In short, they are awesome.

The second item is Quake Hold. This silly putty-like substance has been used in museums for decades. Take a small bit of the putty and place it under decorative items. Now your items will be stay in place while you drive. Quake Hold was designed to hold artifacts still during an earthquake, and since an RV basically has an earthquake every time it drives down the road, this is a must have product!

Read more about decor ideas below!

#7: Power

There are several important power supply items you will need for your RV. First and foremost in an extension cord. Make sure you purchase one that matched to amps of your RV (30 or 50 amps).

If your RV is 50 amps, you will need a way to reduce the power to 30 or even 15 amps in a pinch. This item is called a dog bone adapter and it is important! Don’t leave home without one!

If you plan to RV off grid, you may want to invest in a portable solar kit which would allow you to generate your own electricity for your basic needs.

battery trickle charger is a great item to use when storing your RV.  If you don’t keep those batteries charged you may have trouble come summer.

#8 Leveling Blocks

You will need some form of leveling blocks even if your RV has a built in system. It’s always best to have something to secure your space just in case!

 #9: Sealant

Eventually there will be leaks. They are inevitable.

Keeping dicor, or whatever sealant works with your RV’s roof material, on hand can mean the difference between a miserable, expensive delay and a salvagable weekend. You can quickly patch up whatever’s dripping and finish off your vacation, getting it fully repaired after you get home.

#10 Backup camera and monitor kit

If you’re driving a big rig that didn’t come with a backup camera included — which is an especially prevalent situation with converted vintage busses or fifth wheel trailers — installing an aftermarket backup camera and monitor kit can totally change your camping game. Just imagine how much easier maneuvering will be when you can actually, you know, see where you’re going! What a concept, right?

#11 Home security camera setup

Camped in a less-than-populated area? Worried about losing your generator or other valuables while you’re away?

If you’ve got a smartphone, you’ve already got the makings of a great security system — just purchase the affordable Blink home security camera setup, which you can mount and move with ease to adjust to whatever you’re most concerned about in a given campsite. Every time it detects motion, the camera will send a short video clip to your phone, so you can rest assured that all your stuff stays safe while you’re out exploring!

#12 Foam mattress topper (or a new mattress)

RVs are many things, but they’re not (usually) bastions of somnambulant luxury.

Especially if you’re in a mid-range or lower-end RV or travel trailer, it’s likely the mattress that comes with your RV isn’t going to be the most comfortable thing you’ve ever slept on. If sleeping well is important to you, it’s likely going to be worth the investment to at least get a foam mattress topper… or possibly to replace the mattress altogether.

Travel Trailer and Motorhome Must Haves

Although it may seem extensive, this list just scratches the surface of all the things you may think of to bring on your next RV camping trip. Aside from the essentials, there are also lots of “must-have” accessories that can make your vacation a little bit more fun, unique, or convenient— most of which are RV-themed, making cute additions to your interior.

Here are a few of our favorite RV camper interior accessories, which are sure to help you make every camping trip just a little bit more memorable.

1. RV-Themed Dinnerware

If you own an RV, you already know you absolutely need to invest in a set of RV-specific dishware. Nobody wants to have to clean out their kitchen cabinets every time you’re getting ready to take a vacation.

And since motion is the name of the game when it comes to RV camping, you ideally want a set that’s pretty much unbreakable — and ideally dishwasher safe, to boot. BPA-free Melamine is the just such a magical compound, and what’s more, it’s pretty darn cheap. You can get a whole 12-piece set for less than $50, and that includes dinner plates, salad plates, and bowls for four people.

We especially love this camping-themed version, with images of RVs, maps, and wildernesses adorning each dish. After all, what else are mealtimes but fueling sessions for more exploration? Might as well keep it on theme!

2. Camping Coasters

You paid good money for your rig (or your rental), and you want to keep those finished surfaces shiny and glass-ring-free. So coasters are non-negotiable… but what is negotiable is which set you decide to settle on.

We love this set of four RV-themed coasters, each featuring an image of a travel trailer in a different scenic camping location: tucked by the beach with a parasol set out and a surfboard ready to go, enjoying a sleepy night by the side of the campfire, taking in the mountain views, or camped out in a cactus-strewn desert — they’re all trips we want to take, like, yesterday. (Who knew the same stuff that protects your countertops could also be used to help you brainstorm your next RV adventure — and all for less than $20?)

3. RV-Themed Cocktail Napkins

You know how it is: when you’re the master of the grill, everyone in the campground wants a bite. Who could blame them? But lots of guests usually mean at least a little bit of a mess, which means you’re going to need some napkins.

So why not make the event a little bit cheerier with these “happy camper” cocktail napkins? Yes, they’re a bit more expensive than plain, white fare… but we all know your amazing barbecue dishes are totally worth it. (Psst: still working on that whole “grillmaster” thing? Check out this guide, filled with tips, tricks, and delicious recipes to try next time you fire ‘er up!)

4. Shatterproof Wine Glasses & Charms

Hey, we all need a tipple now and then. Why not have your daily serving of wine in a glass that matches the mood?

These RV-themed stemless glasses feature a slightly-snarky double entendre, and their restaurant-quality construction means that all you’ll taste in your wine… is wine. Which is exactly how it’s supposed to be. Or check out these shatter-proof wine glasses – they don’t compromise elegance for convenience, and they make your RV safer for everybody. Plus, both are dishwasher safe, because nothing ruins a vacation faster than having to polish wine glass with a sackcloth.

Oh, and remember the last time you went to a dinner party — and about an hour in, promptly stopped being able to tell whose glass was whose? Keeping a good set of wine charms on hand stops you from ever having to deal with that problem again. Plus, they’re just plain-old cute. These RV-themed wine charms add a touch of class to any glass, and brighten up the gathering.

5. RV-Themed Dish Towels

While actually doing those dishes probably isn’t the top of anyone’s fun vacation activities list, having the right towels on hand can make drying ’em a breeze. And if you’re looking for towel sets that are perfectly suited to your travel style, you’re in luck, because there are tons of RV-specific versions available on the cheap.

For instance, check out these adorable chambrays with a rustic-chic burlap finish. They’re 100% cotton, so they’re perfect for all your kitchen needs, and we couldn’t agree more strongly with their statements: We’re always down for an adventure, and we certainly are happy campers!

But if burlap isn’t your style, there are still plenty of other RV-appropriate towels to choose from. We also adore this simple white set of three, which are also made entirely of high-quality cotton and are machine washable.

6. RV Throw Pillows

Throw pillows can transform even a drab living room into a cozy-looking nook, promising abundant, plush softness.

Now, you can find throw pillows for $5 a piece at Walmart, no problem. But without spending a whole lot more, you can upgrade the deal to a more thematic set. For instance, here’s one of our favorite decorative RV pillows on the market: a simple burlap design that sums up the lifestyle pretty darn well, we think!

If you’ve already got the pillows themselves, you can also invest in cool new covers, an easy, affordable way to take humdrum bedding and make it pop. Check out these travel-centric throw pillow cases, which feature arrows, feathers, and the promise of adventure.

7. RV Sticker Travel Map

If there’s one thing every single RV needs, it’s a travel map. Just like a ship’s log or a road trip diary, a travel map is a great way to keep track of the adventures you’ve already had — after all, half the point of this style of travel is building those amazing memories. You want to make sure you actually remember them!

There are many different types of travel maps to choose from, like pinboard-style frames and kitchen magnets. But for RVers, we highly recommend this sticker map set, which is affordable, easy-to-use, and simple to install anywhere on your RV you desire, whether on the interior or exterior. (And since there are no sharp pins involved, the kids can help fill it in… which they absolutely love doing!)

8. RV Throw Blankets

A throw blanket can turn any couch or bed from a simple piece of furniture to the kind of cozy nook you want to curl up on and get lost in forever.

And some of the softest, coziest blankets on the market are available surprisingly cheaply: take, for instance, this cozy sherpa from Amazon, made entirely of easy-to-clean polyester and absolutely soft as can be. It comes in nine different colors and is available in standard bed sizes from full to king, as well as a convenient “throw” size. Whether you just use it to drape over the couch or add it on top of your quilt for cold winter nights, it’s sure to turn the “cozy” dial in your rig up to 11!

9. RV Sheets

Psst: did you know that “queen”-sized bed in your RV isn’t exactly the same as the queen-sized bed you’re used to at home? Thanks to their smaller footprints, in most cases, RV manufacturers have to downgrade mattress sizes to a shorter version, which means the sheets you use at home probably won’t fit right.

That’s why we recommend all RVers invest in a set of sheets specifically for their rig. That way, you’ll ensure a nice, tight fit (with none of those annoying midnight pull-aways)… and besides, you won’t have to worry about stripping the bed at home and schlepping a set of sheets on board every time you’re ready to take a trip. Trust us, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it gets old.

This set of short queen sheets is made out of luxurious Egyptian cotton and has a 400 thread count, making them supple and soft enough for even the pickiest sleepers. They come in dozens of colors, from demure neutrals to wild animal prints, so you’re sure to find one that fits your personal style!

How to Safely Pack an RV for Travel

It’s important to note that besides packing all the right items for your trip, you also need to pack the unit in a way for optimal safety. Because of the awesome homelike features RVs are equipped with, it’s easy to forget that an RV is just a vehicle.

Make sure you don’t pack your rig up lopsided, as that could make it easier to flip and all around more dangerous on the road. You want to keep your rig bottom heavy (just like the fridge) and distribute your items evenly throughout your rig. Of course, everything should be in a place that makes sense.

You can check your manual to make sure exactly how much weight each axle can carry, as a reference.

Keeping your rig organized is very important. An RV that has random items all over the place is not only annoying when you need to find something, but dangerous. Even though you want to make sure to pack everything you need as to be ready for any emergency, you also don’t want it to be too full. Try to find the perfect balance between being well packed and minimalism.

Final Thoughts

No matter what you’re planning to bring, beware of overpacking! RVs are already very limited in living space, and bringing too much stuff along for the ride can quickly transform your home away from home into a claustrophobic mess.

When it comes down to it, the only person who really knows everything you need to bring along for the best possible vacation is you — but hopefully, this list will help you avoid forgetting something essential!

Just as important as packing all of the essentials is for your travels, is finding the right RV for your family. RVshare is the world’s largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace and we’ve got thousands of options of some of the most unique and high-quality rigs on the market.

Explore our site and find a comfortable rig with plenty of storage space for everything you need along to have an amazing trip.

And make sure to also check out our complete RV Preparation Checklist before you hit the road this season!

What else do you think every RV needs? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below. We love hearing your ideas!

This post contains affiliate links. RVshare may receive compensation if you make a purchase after clicking on a product link.

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