Three Favorite Beach Get Aways

Editor’s Note: This post is written by a member of LTV’s sponsored content team, the Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

Beaches are some of the most relaxing places we visit. The scene is so familiar that it replays like a movie in my imagination: the road overlooking the bay, and then the four-mile-long bridge comes into view. We turn in East Point onto the bridge. The gulls swoop and dive all around us while oyster boats bob in the shallow bay. Then just ahead, the Gulf comes into view, and I feel myself exhale – all the stress and worries of the year seem to drain away at the beach.

boardwalk with beach beyond

View of Huntington Beach from the State Park walkway

A lot of other people think the same way. So, finding a lovely, quiet beach with an RV campsite within walking distance can be challenging, and though I have found a few on the Gulf coast, my mission was to find a few quiet sandy strands on the Atlantic coast within a short drive from our Atlanta home. After several years of travel, I have found three great beaches, and all of them are nestled in State Parks. Protected from development and offering good RV camping facilities, all three of my favorites are within a six-hour drive from home: Jekyll Island, Edisto Beach, and Huntington Beach. The three have a lot in common and yet are unique in their own right.

I was in Savannah on business and mentioned to a colleague that I wanted to find a nice beach with an RV park nearby. She asked if I had been to Jekyll Island. I knew about the convention center there but hadn’t visited. After doing a little research online, I found Jekyll Island Campground and made a three-day reservation to check it out with my husband the following week, and what I found surprised me.

Jekyll Island Club hotel

Now a hotel, the Jekyll Island Club is still elegant

As a vacation destination, Jekyll Island has a long history. Originally it was purchased by two men who wanted to develop an exclusive hunting club for wealthy gentlemen. The club was a rousing success. So much so that the island was purchased by a group of investors calling themselves the Jekyll Island Club. The group included some of the wealthiest families in the country, like J.P. Morgan, William Vanderbilt, Joseph Pulitzer, and Marshall Field. Together, they numbered over 50 members/investors and built expansive “cottages” around the clubhouse for the members’ families.

Opening in 1888, the luxurious clubhouse played host to many extravagant parties and social events. All that power and prestige in one place made the Jekyll Island Club a hub for important meetings among the powerful members. The foundation for the Federal Reserve – the Aldrich plan, was formulated by members of the Jekyll Island Club.

Mansion across lawns

One of the summer “cottages” from Jekyll’s heyday

As times changed, the Club’s prominence began to wane, and it drifted into obscurity. The State of Georgia purchased the island for a mere $675,000 in 1947 and turned it into a state park. The Jekyll Island Club still stands, now a hotel, and is a part of the Jekyll Island National Historic District. It is surrounded by a group of renovated mansion-museums. These are the “summer cottages” that once were home to the millionaire club members and their families.

Although Jekyll may have been introduced to polite society through its financially wealthy members, today, it’s home to a wealth of a different type. As a rich natural environment, Jekyll introduces visitors to its barrier island beauty and the wildlife that shelters here. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center on the island’s western side is dedicated to research, education, and rescuing injured sea turtles. A valuable resource for the area, the Center takes in injured turtles for rehabilitation and then releases them back into the wild after they’ve healed. The center has a wonderful exhibit and guides visitors through the importance of habitat and conservation.

sign for Jekyll Island Campground

Set among beautiful trees, the campground is convenient to everything by bike path

A haven among the trees, Jekyll Island Campground is large and wooded. It offers all the amenities needed in a more rustic atmosphere – and just about a mile walk, or a quick bike ride, to the beach. The road to the busy fishing pier is opposite the campground, making it an easy trek to get a line in the water.

There are a number of beach areas on Jekyll, but the most memorable is Driftwood Beach. Both spectacular and haunting, the sun-bleached branches and trunks of dead trees litter the sand. Some uprooted and twisted into weird shapes, and some stood straight and tall where they died in the salt water. Hurricanes wash away some of the trees from the beach each year, but the contingent that remains is still quite a spectacle. The sand is firm and makes bike riding on the beach a popular activity, weaving around the trees and splashing in the gentle surf.

Tree on beach killed by salt water

Dramatic and haunting, Driftwood Beach.

In fact, we found biking is the ideal mode of transportation all over the island. The island-wide bike path system leads almost everywhere you might want to go, including the beach, Historic District, shops, and restaurants. We also loved visiting nearby St. Simons Island for the lovely beach, a cute downtown shopping area as well as a lighthouse. If you go, stop at Southern Soul Barbeque – you’ll be glad you did! From Jekyll Island, you can reach St. Simons over the spectacular Sidney Lanier Bridge with its suspension cables resembling unfurled sails as they shimmer in the sunlight. That makes a trip to Jekyll an easy two-for-one kind of vacation destination!

Just a few hours up the coast from Jekyll, we discovered a gem most South Carolinians know well: Edisto Beach State Park. Its natural, undeveloped beach is a shell collector’s treasure trove. There are two campgrounds at Edisto Beach State Park: one in the woods and the other tucked into the sand dunes next to the beach. The site we reserved was in the beach campground next to the dunes. We could hear the surf from our RV – even on the inside. The campground is spacious with a lot of very tall Palmetto Palms, and the wind rustling through them is a lovely sound.

Palmetto Palm trees in campground

So many palms on the campground!

Although none of these beachside sites have a view of the beach, they are all just steps from the beach access – a walkway cut through the dunes. One of our campground neighbors mentioned that they come here frequently, and it is booked almost every weekend. That seems to be true for most beach and lakeside campgrounds. The best time to reserve a site is during the week. We made the trip in late January, and even then, the campground had quite a few bookings!

A quick walk over the dunes, and you’ll be standing on a stretch of narrow beach strewn with shells. Although the beach is narrow right at the entrance, it is very long And, just a bit further from the dune entrance, the beach seems to spread out offering a wider expanse for beach umbrellas and volleyball games.

Driftwood tree branch decorated with shells and feathers

Like a beach Christmas tree!

There are some large driftwood pieces on the beach – even small trees buried in the sand. Unlike Jekyll’s Driftwood beach, these trees have been washed ashore rather than dying in the saltwater where they stood. On our trip there, right after COVID, I gazed down the beach and saw, to my delight, a driftwood branch standing upright in the sand and fully decorated with shells and seagull feathers! The shells clacked together in the breeze while the feathers, held onto the branches with string, danced and twirled.

Sunset on beach

When the sun finally came out, the beach was lovely!

Edisto Beach State Park is more than just a beach, it is part of a buffer zone for the 350,000-acre Ashepoo-Combahee-Edisto Basin System (ACE Basin). The ACE Basin represents one of the largest undeveloped wetland ecosystems on the Atlantic Coast, offering shelter and breeding grounds for wildlife. I wondered how much sanctuary it provides during hurricane season. This coast seems to take a beating during a storm, but I know wetlands absorb a lot of wave energy, so perhaps it also offers some protection for the surrounding area.

During our stay at Edisto Beach, the clouds blocked the sun most of the time, but even under cloud cover, the beach is lovely and a perfect setting for long, casual walks and shell-collecting adventures. The beach took on a different character when the sun peeked from behind the overcast skies. Awash in the sunshine, the sand is brilliant, and the reflection on the water’s surface sparkles. Adding to the idyllic image, a squadron of pelicans fly so close to the water they seem to skim it with their feathers. I take a few photos, stare at the sea for a few moments, and then return to camp. Jim is in the driver’s seat waiting for my return, and with the click of my seat belt, we are on our way.

Another special State Park is one we have visited several times: Huntington Beach State Park near Murrell’s Inlet in South Carolina. On our first visit there, we were fascinated by the ruins of a mansion that was once the winter retreat of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Atalaya Castle, named for the Spanish term for watchtower, was designed in the Moorish style and, indeed, has a 40-foot square tower in the center of the inner courtyard. Originally a 30-room mansion, the castle also served as a studio for Mrs. Huntington’s sculpture work.

Palm trees and brick building courtyard

The watch tower at Atalaya Castle

The studio featured a 25-foot skylight and opened onto a small courtyard where she worked, often using animals as her subjects. Her studios included stables, a kennel, and a bear pen to house the animals she was sculpting. You can still view Mrs. Huntington’s sculptures at Brookgreen Botanical Garden across the road from the State Park, where they display the largest collection of American Figurative sculptures in the country.

But the real legacy of the Huntington’s is the gift of their beach estate to the State of South Carolina to be used as a park and preserve. The 2,500-acre estate includes a beach, salt marsh, backwater ponds, and maritime forests. The park ranger pointed out that there are over 300 bird species in the area, including double-crested cormorants, brown pelicans, ruddy turnstones, and purple sandpipers. In fact, we watched cormorants diving in the salt marsh and saw them stand on pilings with wings outspread to dry.

Cormorant with outspread wings drying in the sun

After diving for fish, Cormorants spread their wings to dry.

The campground is divided into two segments, and we chose the one to the left of the entrance. The sites are large, with grass, sand, and trees. The path to the beach from the campground leads through a maritime forest and is about a two-minute walk on a path that is sometimes sandy and sometimes a boardwalk. The beach is lovely, with wide stretches that invite a leisurely stroll. The dunes protecting the campground are topped with grasses, waving in the Atlantic breeze. In late spring, you might find sea turtle nests burrowed into the dunes, or, later in the summer, you could be one of the very lucky few to see a nest of turtles hatch. Yes, it looks as inviting as it sounds. The history and wildlife make this a great destination, and the beach is a keeper too!

gentle surf washing up the beach

Gentle surf washing over the beach at Huntington.

These three beach state parks are within easy reach of home for us, and though we love other beaches from the Gulf coast to the Keys to the coast of Maine, these are familiar and often our default for a quick getaway. For those who are further from the Atlantic coast, these three State Parks are good stops as you work your way up the coast from Florida. You’ll find good RV camping facilities, lovely beaches, and something interesting to explore beyond the beach!

From Beach to Beach

Editor’s Note: This post is written by a member of LTV’s sponsored content team, the Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

Sitting in the RV at the end of the driveway, Jim asked, “Where to?” This has been a dream come true. For so many years, we longed for a way to travel comfortably and at our own pace. An RV was the perfect choice to make that happen, and when we retired, time became an ally instead of an enemy! Over the past six years, we have covered a lot of asphalt between Maine, the Keys, and west to Idaho. We have experienced remarkable landscapes from prairies and mountains to coastal cities, and though there is so much more to see, the seaside always beckons us home.

Raised on the Jersey Shore, Jim and I have great affection for the coast. So, when we purchased our Unity, our plan was to enjoy beach after beach along the Eastern and Gulf coasts. It is a continuing quest in our RV travel. So when Jim asks, “Where to?” I inevitably answer – “The coast.” Now, you may think that is rather mundane or unimaginative, but if you are a beach person, you are already picturing the sea, sand, and the sunny breeze of a summer’s day. While beaches all seem the same to some, we have found that each sandy stretch has something unique to offer. After sampling dozens of beaches, we have a few favorites, so buckle up and join us on a winter trip to explore some of our favorite beaches.

Winter is cold in Atlanta, where we call home these days. Not “northern cold” like in our original home of New Jersey, but cold nonetheless. Natives tell us that our blood has thinned after 35 years in the South, so we feel the cold more intensely than we once did. I don’t know if there is any truth, but a cold rainy day in January is not pleasant, no matter how thick or thin your blood is. We needed some warmer weather, so we planned a trip to the Keys.

The Keys are a pretty fair distance from Atlanta, so we needed to find a few coastal stops along the way. That meant this would be a beach trip! The only “hiccup” is that it is snowbird season in Florida, and every RV campground is packed with folks fleeing the cold. We’ll have to rely on cancellations and good luck in finding campsites. To ensure better luck, we started on the Florida Panhandle. February and March have “iffy” weather on the Gulf. It can be freezing and windy or absolutely balmy. It’s a roll of the dice we were willing to risk, so we pointed the RV southwest to Pensacola.

Bay at Navarre Florida at sunrise

View of the bay from our campsite at Emerald Beach in Navarre

I scored a campground in Navarre, just about an hour from Pensacola, that served as home base for this western-most part of the trip. Emerald Beach is a small private campground that sits on the bay. It has a small beach, a fishing pier, and wonderful sites overlooking the water – they even have decks! Navarre Beach and the Gulf Islands National Seashore were situated near the bridge to the barrier island. We were just a short drive away from these beautiful white sands, and this was our primary destination for this stop.

The next morning we set out for Navarre Beach. The road along the beach is flanked by hotels, condos, and beach house rentals for several miles, but as you come to the end of Navarre Beach, all the development disappears. The road is narrowed by sand, and a sign announces the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Beyond is nothing but sand dunes spiked with beach grass and beautiful turquoise waters. The sand is fine and white – “sugar sand,” as our host put it, and indeed it has that same texture. The waters are clean and clear turquoise in color when the sun is bright and seem to hold their color even as the clouds move in.

Beach and ocean at Gulf Island National Seashore Santa Rosa Day Use Area

Beautiful white sand beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore at the Santa Rosa Day Use Area 

After a night of storms, mobs of jellyfish are washed up on the beach. They were quite large – about the size of a grapefruit, with multi-colored sails and tentacles. A few young seabirds picked at smaller jellies but stepped gingerly around the larger specimens – as did we! Quite an unusual “litter” problem. At this time of year, the National Seashore is deserted. We found a parking lot next to the beach with views of the water and set out our camp chairs to enjoy the winter sun – alternating between long walks collecting shells and reading in our chairs.

Conveniently, Pensacola Beach is just on the other end of the road that runs through the National Seashore; after deciding we wanted an early dinner, we headed to a popular restaurant there. I made a mental note to ensure we returned before sundown since that marks the National Seashore’s gates closing. Otherwise, we would have to take the longer route over a bridge and through town to reach our RV campground.

After exploring the National Seashore and visiting the Pensacola area for a week or so, we headed east about 130 miles to Cape San Blas. Our camping destination was T.H Stone Memorial State Park, situated at the end of the Cape. The far-reaching tip of the peninsula hosts a nature reserve, and the RV campgrounds are nestled nearby between the Gulf and the Bay. We reserved a site on the beach side near a wooden boardwalk that crosses the dunes to the beach. As you reach the top of the dunes, what greets your eye is a wide expanse of white sand and blue water – and nothing else. It is devoid of development. No buildings, no lifeguard towers, no people. It is a rare gift to find a beach of such beauty where you can walk until you drop and hardly meet another soul!

dune walk over at cape san blas

Walking over the dunes and seeing the Gulf is a breathtaking experience.

But there is wildlife everywhere. The marsh cozies up to the campground, so you’ll see cotton rats scurrying around the edges of the marsh, as well as herons and seagulls. As deserted as the beach was, the campground was full. This is a popular spot for both travelers and locals. Cape San Blas is beautiful; the weather was spectacular with blue skies, sea breezes, and warm sunshine. The whole area is quite laid back – not a lot of development, just lots of beach houses to rent. Situated on a peninsula that curves close to the mainland, the water is lovely, and the surf is quite gentle. You’ll enjoy white sand similar to Gulf Islands National Seashore, but the dunes are bordered by a maritime forest that threads from the mainland to the tip of the peninsula.

St George dunes with grasses and water beyond

St George island is fringed with grasses and small palmettos, protecting the dunes from erosion.

After a lingering stay enjoying this beautiful beach, we headed about 35 miles to St. George Island, just east of Apalachicola. St. George is almost like home to us and has been our favorite family vacation destination for the past twenty years. The barrier island is reached by a four-mile bridge that makes a wide arc as it crosses the bay dotted with oyster boats which is why St. George is unique. As a barrier island, it sits out in the Gulf. The water surrounding it is active with marine life like dolphins, sharks, fish, crabs, and rays. Sea birds such as terns, gulls, sandpipers, pelicans, and herons are evident across the island, and it is common to see squadrons of pelicans skim the Gulf waters while pods of dolphin romp up and down the island’s shoreline. It also is fringed on the bay side with maritime forest while the Gulf side has stunningly beautiful beaches. The old lighthouse, a distinguishing feature of this barrier island, now stands as a visitor center where the bridge meets the island.

St George Lighthouse

Now welcoming visitors, the St. George light once warned ships to avoid this barrier island.

On the island’s east end, you will find RV accommodations at the Dr. Julian G. Bruce State Park, which offers RV campsites in the maritime forest. The state park end of the island is beautiful, wild, and vast, with wide, shell-strewn beaches. Like Cape San Blas, it is quiet, but the east end of St. George beyond the State Park gate feels wilder. It is subject to more wave action and wind as a barrier island. Indeed, the memory of our walks along the beach floods my mind with the sound of wind and surf. We could stay here for a year, but it is time to move on too soon – there are more beaches to visit!

Driving east, we reach the big bend area where beaches are overtaken by salt marsh. There is a long stretch where there is no apparent beach at all but dozens of more remote vacation spots like Alligator Point and Cedar Key. The first inkling you are returning to beach life is almost 300 miles away, just north of St. Petersburg.

The St. Pete Beach area is quite different from the Panhandle. Although this was not on our list of destinations, it is hard to overlook the beach here. It is wide and lovely with beautiful Gulf views, but the area is far more developed. Boardwalks are lined with shops, hotels, and restaurants. The hum of the area is a pure vacation vibe. There are a lot of places to have fun, eat, drink, and be merry. Nearby Tampa hosts several RV parks for accommodations, perfect for an overnight stop or to act as a home base for a busy vacation.

But we don’t stop for long in St. Pete, as our next destination is 130 miles south, where we find ourselves in Fort Meyers. The city wraps around you with tall buildings and the “hurry” of a thriving metropolis. Then you come to a bridge that transports you with a more tranquil view. Boats bobbing in the bay, seagulls soaring on the wind and that beautiful blue water. Our destination (one recommended by friends) was Sanibel Island. Sanibel is a lovely respite from city life with remarkably turquoise waters, soft sand beaches, sun, and still lots to do. Many little village areas populate the main thoroughfare, each with a selection of shops and restaurants. This is a walkable/bikeable island with paved bike paths along every major street and lots of places to rent bikes. The RV park where we had reservations, Periwinkle Park and Campground, was the perfect setting for biking to the beach or into the nearby villages. Leave your car parked, hop on your bike and spend your vacation peddling around the island; there is a lot of peddling to do! The lighthouse is on one end of the island, and the nature preserve is on the other. In between, there are dozens of beach access points to sample the sand, sea, and sky.

Pastel colors at a Sanibel Island sundown

Amazing pastel-colored sky on Sanibel Island – every sundown looks like this!

As we walked around the campground on our first evening, we thought we could hear the sounds of macaws and monkeys. Turns out, the campground owner rescues parrots and has expanded his menagerie to include a number of other species. Very interesting walking down a dark, sandy road, palm trees waving in the breeze, stars twinkling brightly in the night sky, and hearing the sounds of the jungle coming from the end of the street! Just one more reason to enjoy Sanibel Island.

Sanible island beach littered with seashells

Shelling is taken seriously on Sanibel Island, where the shell collectors’ pose is dubbed the “Sanibel Stoop.”

Our final five-hour push for this trip would take us down the coast, across the Everglades, and onto the Overseas Highway to reach Key West. This was one place we had to make campground reservations well in advance of our arrival. Like everyone else, we were looking for a great RV site with a water view and convenient access to downtown Key West. But Key West is not well suited for RV traffic. Narrow streets and minimal parking can create a gauntlet for even our small RV. But the weather, the entertainment value, the history, and the sheer romance of Key West made it an irresistible destination.

All that said, the area does provide accommodation for RV life. There are at least two good-sized campgrounds on Stock Island just before crossing over U.S.1 to Key West, and there are many others scattered throughout the upper and middle keys. Most provide access to water activities, and some offer remarkable water views from your RV campsite. But don’t get the image in your head of RV solitude on a palm-strewn beach.

Campsite on seawall near Key West

A tight fit at the campsite near Key West but wonderful views of the bay and harbor

When we arrived at Boyd’s Key West RV Campground, we were shocked at just how close the sites were to one another. Mere feet separated RVs, with little more than a picket fence to delineate one site from the next. That said, Boyd’s is a really great campground with excellent facilities, a pool, a boat ramp, and great water views. We found our campsite next to all the tent sites at the end of a peninsula overlooking the bay and harbor. A hard coral surface made leveling the unit easy. The rear of the site had a picnic table that kept us from backing into the water (we actually had about six feet from the back of the unit to the seawall’s edge.) We set up the camp chairs and table at the back of the unit, grabbed a bottle of wine, some cheese, and crackers, and sat down to watch the sunset and plan our day in downtown Key West.

We discovered a more laid-back experience at Bahia Honda State Park several days into our trip. Located on Big Pine Key, the state park turned out to be a terrific place to kayak and camp. Its name is Spanish for “Deep Bay,” and that depth provides fuel for its swift currents during tidal changes in the channel at the end of the island. Surprisingly, the waters off the state park beach were tranquil and shallow on the Atlantic side. The beaches, though narrow and lined with yellow flowering shrubs, were wide enough to sit and enjoy the sunshine – even if we had to clear a spot of dried seaweed. It was easy to launch the kayak, and the protected lagoon made for an enjoyable paddle. I think the real surprise was the RV campground. Located on the water, larger sites faced the U.S. 1 Bridge, but smaller, less equipped sites on the opposite side faced the peaceful Atlantic. A much less crowded and laid-back way to enjoy the Keys!

Beach at Bahia Honda with seaweed

Yes, lots of seaweed, but the kayak paddling is wonderful at Bahia Honda.

In all, we truly enjoyed every beach we visited on this trip. From the Gulf Islands National Seashore to the exciting whirlwind of activity in Key West, this adventure of exploring a variety of great beaches felt successful. We found quiet beaches like Cape San Blas, Navarre, and St. George and beaches surrounded by activity on Sanibel Island, St. Pete Beach, and Key West. Sampling so many beaches in one go helped us to see how each one is unique.

A final sunset over the harbor on Stock Island signaled the end of this beach hunt and inspired another journey to find more lovely beaches going north, up the East Coast – But that is a story for another day.

Sunset at Key West

At the end of our trip to Key West, looking over the harbor at sunset.

What If Something Goes Wrong?

Editor’s Note: Robin North is a member of LTV’s sponsored content team, The Leisure Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

A new RV is a marvelous thing and we have thoroughly enjoyed our Unity MB. It is our roving hotel, taking us to the beach, mountains, desert, and all points in between. But, RVing is a lot like regular life – things can and do go wrong. The longer you have your unit, the more likely you’ll notice items that need attention which is why regular maintenance is such a key factor in keeping your RV in good condition. We make a point of looking after the RV. Jim’s dad was a mechanic so he is pretty familiar with handling the basic maintenance and doing small repairs. But in an LTV,  maintenance goes beyond the just engine. The appliances also require regular inspection and cleaning as do the locks, hinges, slide mechanism, and automatic steps. In all reality, if it moves or has to do with water or electricity, it needs some sort of regular maintenance!

Everything Requires Maintenance

We never considered any type of maintenance on a door lock, but learned with all of the vibrations from driving and the constant slamming of the door, it can come loose. Our unit has a simple, mechanical lock and over the course of a long trip, we noticed it started to become more difficult to close then almost at the same time, the automatic steps stopped retracting.

Thinking we needed to replace the parts for both the lock and the stairs, we bought both. It turns out that there was nothing actually wrong with the lock or the step motor because a simple tightening of the screws on the door lock resolved both issues. Once Jim closed the door to test the lock, the steps came to life! It turns out these two parts are linked by a sensor in the door jam which alerts the steps to retract when the door is closed. With the door latch being loose, the door couldn’t close properly which was causing the sensors to not line up and that’s why the stairs wouldn’t retract. Needless to say, we added checking the door lock screws to our monthly maintenance checklist!

Some things, like the door lock, are easy to fix. But some require the help of a professional. Like on one trip when the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree. There was nothing apparently wrong, the vehicle seemed fine, but we couldn’t ignore those warning lights! It took a few phone calls to find a Mercedes dealer who could take a look at it. Turns out it was a bad wheel sensor. They made the replacement (covered under warranty) and we were back on the road within a couple of hours.

Operator Errors and Faulty Installs

Operator error haunted us for several trips as we learned about the RV. From figuring out why our electricity wouldn’t work (a tripped breaker on the inverter), to remembering to uncap the macerator hose when dumping the tanks, the RV learning curve was steep for us. After-market equipment can be the source of problems too. When we replaced our Becker navigation system with an upgraded system, the local installer didn’t properly secure the wires so we ended up with a gear shift that wouldn’t shift because it was bound up in the stereo wire!

After almost seven years on the road, we continue to have our share of mishaps. Some, like the wheel sensor, are caused by a faulty part while other problems are caused by operator error, lack of proper maintenance, or the carelessness of after-market installers and repair technicians. Troubleshooting on the road isn’t much fun, but you’ll experience less downtime if you can figure out if the problem is a simple fix or if you’ll need to call for professional help. I often had to resolve software and computer issues in my work, so I followed an escalating scale of problem-solving starting with the most simplistic fix and then, step-by-step, escalating to more involved tinkering. This kind of process also works with the RV. The first step is to get familiar with your RV, read the owner’s manual, investigate how the systems work, and make a maintenance checklist to stay on top of service. Be sure to do all of this at home and not when you are traveling in the midst of a problem!

Unity Owner's manuals

Owner’s manuals can be your best troubleshooting resource.

Start By Thinking About The Problem

Sometimes there are noises or operational issues before the warning lights come on. Be sure to take note of those noises or operational issues so you can re-create the situation with your technician. You may also notice problems with adjoining systems or parts at the same time you discover a problem – as we did with the door lock and step. Make sure to give these some thought as to how they may be related. When you are working with the electrical or plumbing system, review the function of each component in the chain of parts sometimes that review can narrow down the problem and help identify a loose, clogged, or broken part. Has an appliance been causing problems? Look up the appliance manufacturer’s website and check the documentation and support line to ask questions about a troubleshooting process. If you are working with the engine, follow a similar component review if your expertise allows. But, if you are not experienced with mechanics; then give your technician all the information you can about what happened and when it happened.

  1. What happened just before you noticed the problem?
  2. Has any work been done on that part or system?
  3. Is there any maintenance due on that part or system?
  4. Has the operation been normal up until now or has it been declining?

Is This A Problem You Are Comfortable/Qualified To Repair?

If you are handy with mechanical things you almost expect to be able to fix anything. However, an RV is quite a complex mix of parts and systems that run the gamut including a diesel engine to plumbing. None of us are good at everything so don’t be embarrassed to call for help if the repair is not in your normal “wheelhouse”.

Sometimes you just have to hand over the keys to the professionals. Image source:

Use A Consistent Troubleshooting Process

Take the time to review any documentation you have on the part or system that is malfunctioning. If none is available, check online for documentation and check for user forums to see if others have encountered similar problems and what they discovered in their troubleshooting process.
Use what you find from the manuals, other users’ suggestions, and your own technical experience to outline a troubleshooting process. Begin with the simple fixes:

  1. Check maintenance tasks
  2. Check basic functions
  3. Check the connections
  4. Reset breakers (this is the first thing computer technicians tell me to do when working on an ailing computer – hit the restart button!)

You’d be surprised at how some of the most seemingly inconsequential things can lead to the solution. After you go through the troubleshooting steps, you’ll eventually either fix the problem or come to the end of your expertise.

Know When To Call For Help

If you have experience in the area of mechanics, plumbing, and electricity, most problems you run into with an RV can be resolved without outside help. Other RVers in forums can also offer some support by sharing their own repair experiences and may be able to provide additional information. But, if you don’t have any repair experience, then a good RV mechanic can be a valuable partner. Give your mechanic all the information you can about the circumstances around the problem and any related issues you have discovered. This information can help them troubleshoot more effectively, reducing the time the RV has to be in the shop.

The engine and chassis are the most specialized parts of the RV and as long as your unit is under warranty, you can take it to a reputable dealer for repairs. Even when your unit is out of warranty, it makes sense to use the chassis brand manufacturer as your preferred repair shop. Though it may seem more expensive up front, their familiarity with their own product can make them more effective at troubleshooting and repairs. Plus, if there are any recalls or service alerts, they can attend to those issues right away.

For appliances, you may find the manufacturer has a support line or documentation on their website. It is worth checking there before contacting an appliance repair technician.

Here’s hoping your travels are unencumbered by problems but if you encounter them, take heart in that there is always help available. You can find it through your roadside assistance program, the RV’s manuals, user forums online, the RV manufacturer, a good RV mechanic, or just maybe, at the end of your own arm!