Buying an RV For the First Time: A Tale of Mishaps and Adventures


Kat Baranowska

Favorite Trip

Lapland in Sweden

Home Base

Spencer, TN

Favorite RV

Thor Freedom Elite 22FE. This is my dream RV. Perfect for a family traveling with a kid. There’s plenty of space in it. Personally, I prefer a Class C over a trailer because it’s easier to maneuver in hard-to-reach places.

About Contributor

Kat is a travel writer. She can write endlessly about South America and Europe. She gained her commercial experience as a writer and copywriter, working on advertising campaigns for HBO and Mastercard, among others. Currently, she prefers telling stories based on her own experiences or local stories she hears during her travels. She strives to reach places where diving is possible—even under ice. Apart from Australia, she has explored every continent.

Are you on the verge of buying your first RV? If you have the option to purchase a brand-new camper, there’s a lot less to worry about. I had a limited budget and had to find the perfect used RV at a good price. If you’re in a similar situation, I have some RV-buying advice that will save you from some of the mishaps I encountered.

How Did Our RV Buying Journey Begin?

Photo by Kat Baranowska

I’ve always had a thing for globetrotting. I’ve been on the move for eons, and home is becoming more like a rare sighting. There are many travel styles, and everyone does it in their own quirky way. I used to be a die-hard Airbnb and fan. However, after countless adventures (mostly mishaps), I started pondering alternatives. Don’t get me wrong. Airbnb is cool, but when you’re on a perpetual journey, the odds of running into negative experiences can stack up faster than you can say, “Book now.”

In my Airbnb history, I’ve encountered mold and leftover food on dirty utensils, hosts insisting on a $500 refund for a minor wall speck, and walls vibrating from the merry dance of little feet on the floor above. Not to forget sluggish Wi-Fi speeds below 0.97 Mbps, accommodations deviating significantly from their descriptions, and walls so thin that the noise level barely differs from the bustling street.

A little while back, on our escapades in the Dominican Republic, my wife came up with the wild idea of getting a camper. I must confess that I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the notion. I love having ample living space, a spacious kitchen, and a comfortable bathroom. After countless debates, I reluctantly decided to give it a shot. The camper van was immediately out of the question—it’s just too tiny. On the flip side, the Class A felt colossal. It turned out that our sweet spot was a Class C RV.

Where Things Went Wrong With Our First RV

Photo by Kat Baranowska

The plan was straightforward: scour the US for a used RV on an $8,000 budget, buy plane tickets, and jet off to claim our brand-new tiny abode. It sounds like a cakewalk, right? Well, hurdles began popping up before we left the Dominican Republic. Ready for a plot twist? If you’re contemplating buying a used RV as your first purchase, this tale might help you sidestep a few blunders.

The first thing we learned is that either no one wanted to wait for us to fly into the US or nobody wanted to sell to non-US citizens. Eventually, we persuaded a couple from Orlando, who agreed to hold off until our arrival. We were thrilled to snag a 1998 Ford Phoenix Flyer, which we affectionately dubbed Miss Chanel. We knew the electrical system wasn’t working, but we still considered it a great deal at that price. We’d deal with the repairs later. As you probably guessed, our “shakedown cruise” wasn’t exactly going to be smooth sailing.

When the rain started in Georgia, we discovered that the roof was leaking more than we’d like. A lot more, actually. We resorted to meticulously checking the weather, playing cat and mouse with the rain. 

That’s how we ended up in Mississippi. Prioritizing campsites with a steady power supply, we decided to tackle the roof repair first. We watched YouTube videos and, of course, thought we were experts. I don’t need to tell you what a colossal mistake that was.

Eventually, we headed to a local RV service looking for a budget-friendly solution to seal our leaky roof joints. During the first rain, it became clear that our budget-friendly solution didn’t fix the problem. To this day, we also regret buying that portable generator from the local RV service, which was supposed to solve our electrical problems. They assured us it was quiet, and if you don’t mind feeling like you’re in the middle of a construction site, it did provide reliable electricity.

We eventually reached Texas, evading the rain at every turn. We even exchanged the portable generator for a quieter model, so that was one less problem. But for every solved problem, two new ones seemed to pop up. Thanks to the leaking roof, the walls started rotting, and mold made an appearance. 

So we had to tear everything apart and dry it out. Perhaps resulting from that rot, our shelves detached from the wall. To top things off, a short circuit in our RV thermostat led to a fire inside Miss Chanel. After all these misadventures, we were pleasantly surprised that we still had a fully functioning fire extinguisher.

While in Austin, we retreated to an Airbnb to ponder our next steps. Feeling drained and directionless, we parked our RV at the Houston airport and left the US. 

How We Resparked Our Desire for RV Adventure

We roamed through the Caribbean and South America, making our way down to Patagonia. In a small, cramped Renault Kwid rental car, we reached places where whales swam six feet from shore and you could lounge on the beach with sea lions and penguins. But at that moment, it hit us: if we still had our RV, we could be falling asleep and waking up in such incredible places.

We returned to Houston to retrieve Miss Chanel from her airport parking spot. We recommitted to our RV renovation and were pleased to find numerous DIY RV repair spots in the US and various maker spaces that are exceptionally well-equipped. 

Currently, we’re using Wanderlust Waypoints in Tennessee to give Miss Chanel a second lease on life. It’s like a regular campsite, but with access to a workshop where you can tackle noisy projects. The great thing is that every RV owner here is dealing with similar issues, and everyone is more than willing to lend a helping hand.

After all our troubles, do I still recommend buying a used RV? Yes, but everyone should know it can be a challenge and an adventure. Recognizing what to look for and how to check your systems is really important, especially if buying from a private seller. 

Knowing how to do an RV walkaround is a great first step, but dealerships like Camping World are a great resource because they perform many essential repairs when they acquire used RVs from previous owners. Learn more about everything to look for when buying a pre-owned RV

And, of course, our experience tells us that buying a new RV will likely have fewer obstacles if you can afford it. With all the work we’ve put in, here’s a preview of how our renovated Miss Chanel looks now: 

How To Avoid Mishaps When Buying an RV For the First Time

Photo by Kat Baranowska

So what did we learn from our adventure of buying an RV for the first time? Here are a few tips to help you avoid the mistakes we made: 

  • Think about your space needs and choose the right RV model. We’re traveling with a 10-year-old boy who needs his own space. The option to set up a bedroom above the driver’s seat made the Class C the perfect solution for us.
  • Don’t buy an RV remotely if you have the chance to see it in person.
  • If it’s your first RV and you lack experience, take a test drive with someone knowledgeable. Buying an RV is not the same as buying a regular car.
  • If you have a tight budget, you’ll likely end up with an RV that’s about as old as you are. Let’s be honest: you’ll need an extra budget for various repairs to avoid ending up in the same boat as us.
  • If an ad mentions that the RV needs a “little love,” don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s a perfect match, like on Tinder. “A little love” means that a lot of work awaits you.
  • While YouTube videos about RVs are okay, consider reading a few books. To effectively organize your RV space, I recommend delving into books on how to design and furnish a tiny house.
  • Join relevant Facebook groups. You’ll connect with numerous individuals who are more than willing to assist you, as they’ve been in the same boat as you before.
  • Buy special RV toilet paper that dissolves quickly. I didn’t know it existed either. You can likely guess the outcome when I used regular toilet paper, right?

Why We Believe RV Travel Is Worth It

Photo by Kat Baranowska

You might wonder why we returned to the RV lifestyle after such a rough introduction. Here’s why this lifestyle remains so attractive to us: 

  • Campers provide that coveted sense of freedom and independence you’ve always dreamed of. You chart your own loose travel itinerary, with the option to linger longer in a chosen spot. There is no need to fret about accommodations. No host is trying to pull a fast one on you. And you continue your journey when the mood strikes. In a nutshell, you travel on your own terms, basking in the joy of spontaneity and the exhilarating feeling that the road is truly yours to conquer.
  • You drift off to sleep and wake up in stunning locations where hotels and crowds of tourists are nowhere in sight. It’s not easy to find a room with a view of nature just a few feet away. You’re simply uncovering places off the beaten path, forging a deeper connection with the raw beauty of nature, and embracing a unique kind of travel that’s all your own.
  • RV travel can be more budget-friendly than renting an Airbnb, especially for longer trips.
  • An RV is essentially a home on wheels, offering a comfortable and familiar living space wherever you go. You have your kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping quarters with you at all times.
  • If you have pets, RV travel can be more accommodating. Also, many RV parks are pet-friendly, and your furry companions can join you on your road trip without the hassle of finding pet-friendly Airbnb accommodations.

How To Make RV Life More Comfortable

From our experience, these tips will help you improve your quality of life when living or traveling in an RV:

  • If you work remotely, consider investing in Starlink. I needlessly spent a lot on a super mobile modem. Already in Mississippi, it turned out I had no signal anywhere.
  • Life on the road often means a less-than-ideal diet. Stock up on high-quality, non-perishable food that doesn’t require refrigeration. During the first month of my journey, I somehow managed to gain 11 pounds. I don’t know why I thought that dining daily at iHop, Subway, or Taco Bell would have no consequences.

Explore Camping World’s recipe collection if you need camp cooking inspiration.

We know first-hand why overcoming first-time RV buyer intimidation can be challenging. We wish we had taken advantage of resources like these when we began shopping for your first RV. So here are a few that you might find useful: 

Do you have any questions about our RV buying journey or travel experience? Let us know in the comments below. 

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