The Gift of Mentorship as an RVer – The Gift that Keeps on Giving!

The Gift of Mentorship as an RVer – The Gift that Keeps on Giving!
Benefits of finding a mentor and offering mentorship to others.
By: Noel Fleming & Chris Miller

Joni showing Noel how to change air filter

Knowledge is power. And boy were we in need of some serious power. The Clark Kent/Bruce Wayne kind of power. 

We had been searching for our first RV, wondering if this style of travel would match our personalities and meet our goals. Our first order of business would be shopping. Not for the rig. Not for the tools to maintain the rig. Not for the grill and accessories to take in the rig. No … in order for us to feel confident and comfortable – as comfortable as possible with such a huge decision – we needed to go shopping for something that no Amazon fulfillment center could provide. We went shopping for mentors.

Part One - Receiving the Gift of Mentorship

Distance Mentoring

The first place we shopped for a mentor was online, and we hit the motherload when we discovered a Facebook group geared specifically to share information regarding the particular RV we had our sights on. Members of this online community (Travato Owners and Wannabes) share with passion and camaraderie all things related to buying, maintaining, and traveling in this specific rig. We couldn’t believe the amount of information available at our disposal about a rig that we had never yet seen in person. 

By the time we actually got to climb into a Travato, we were astonished at our comfort level of most of the systems. All of those buttons didn’t appear too scary because of the online photos and videos that current owners shared. Stalking the group for six months prior to placing an order confirmed our choice of RV and primed us for greater success when we took possession of our van. 

Noel giving two thumbs up after dumping RV for first time

As newbies, we had known nothing of RV life. We learned from their posts and experienced vicariously the ups and downs of RV travel. Belonging to the community taught us realistic expectations and a basic understanding of both how the systems work and how to troubleshoot when something goes awry (often attributed to user error). 

While using this platform, we were impressed with the knowledgeable content and equally awed by the caliber of the users’ character. Kindness and generosity were woven into the posts, comments, and resolutions. The admins prioritized respecting others and wrote it into the bylaws - brilliant! This focus promoted helpful attitudes as well as patience from owner to owner. To this day, we continue to count this community of mentors as one of our most valuable resources for life on the road. It connects us to our RV community and provides ongoing education 24/7. (This article shares more about the benefits of Facebook groups for RVers).

In addition to the Facebook group, we also joined the Winnebago International Travelers (WIT) Club. WIT Club membership provides monthly e-news about Winnebago Industries, chapter activities, club news, outdoor adventure caravans, service tips and more. Through WIT Club, we learned about a variety of clubs, special interest groups, and the premier event: the Grand National Rally (GNR), which is typically held in Forest City, IA, each summer. (Read more about the benefits of rallies in our previous article, here). WIT membership includes discounts on a variety of products and services which we have taken advantage of many times. 

WinnebagoLife is also a spectacular tool for learning about first-hand user experiences ranging from the categories of life, travel, gear, and showroom. I consider “Golife” a guide to meetups, tips, advice, travelogues, and all things Winnebago. And what a great mantra, Go Life!

Group Mentoring

Once on the road, we included meetups and rallies in our itineraries. In addition to enjoying time with like-minded travelers and seeing new places, these events often include seminar-type lessons about specific van topics. Some sessions are led by respected owners who share knowledge and personal experience. The workshops cover a range of topics such as how to winterize, tips about maximizing battery life, how to obtain the best cell service for working on the road, ways to locate boondocking options. Other sessions are led by vendors who manufacture products that enhance RV travel. 

Scott teaching lesson to RV group standing in circle around silver Travato.

A question and answer format is also an effective way for groups to share information. At times, these inquiry sessions are led by owners and at other times the panel consists of designers and engineers. Winnebago often attends events as well as hosts their own, so there are many opportunities to learn from their experts.

One-to-One Mentoring

Of course, when you think mentoring, you know that sometimes one-to-one mentoring is the very best option. The mentee has the full attention of the mentor. Lessons can be catered for the mentee’s pace, their unique inquiries, and one can be coached through the physical steps of a process. 

My first experience with one-to-one mentoring came on my birthday! James Adinaro of The FitRV provided my most memorable gift that year when he took me for my first RV dump. That one still goes down as one of the best presents ever! (And again – not available through Amazon). 

James teaching Noel how to fill fresh water

Being part of an RV community has afforded us countless opportunities to learn from others, and we have taken advantage of many impromptu training sessions from a variety of owners who have graciously extended their time, knowledge, and support. In our day-to-day van life, we often find ourselves quoting another user, recalling sage advice offered to us, and recounting maintenance methods modeled for us. 

Funny how our van was designed for two travelers and yet we seem to carry so many members of our community with us.

Part 2 - Giving the Gift of Mentorship

What goes around, comes around. And we mean that in the most positive way. 

We will never be done learning; our questions simply become more advanced. Yet it doesn’t take long before even a newbie has something to offer in the way of mentorship. Experienced RV owners have an amazing opportunity to demonstrate regifting at its best. 

Never has this been truer than in our current COVID times. The desire to get out and travel safely has boosted RV sales. There are so many new users out there with endless questions – questions that we all had at one time. These may very well be rig specific, or they could be quite general. Regardless, now is the time to pay it forward to grow this RV community that we love so much. 

In these current times and beyond, we look for ways to share our knowledge. Contributing to online forums, assisting via phone-calls or texts, and meeting in person when appropriate.

Greg and Noel mentoring Noel. Both are standing in Travato galley.

Consultant

Sometimes as a mentor your role is that of a consultant who provides a much-needed specific factual answer to a straightforward question. “How do I turn the LP off?” “Where is the filter for the water pump?” “Which fuse controls my 110 outlets?” Access to this knowledge is priceless. By providing facts you save the mentee hours of searching and allow them to spend their energy on bigger things. 

Counselor

At other times, your mentor role may mirror that of a counselor. The mentee's questions are open ended. In this case, a thoughtful informative discussion far outweighs a single answer. “What factors should be considered when deciding if it’s time to winterize?” “What impacts RV travel when taking a pet along?” “What considerations are useful when planning a budget for a cross-country trip?

In both of these roles, consultant and counselor, we have learned from experience the importance of good listening and letting the mentee communicate what is needed. 

Once at a campground, a new RVer wanted to know how to empty the black tank. Here was our chance to pay forward that birthday present from James! We were ready to coach, model, and instruct all things tank related plus more. Our enthusiasm was curbed when after sharing just two steps in the process the mentoring session was brought to an end for a coffee break. The mentee's most burning question had been answered. She knew her learning style; nothing else was going to stick in her brain pre-caffeine. 

Another time we went for a weekend camping trip with someone who was new to RVing. Instead of wanting to learn about the systems in the van, she was curious about how to book campgrounds, choose local hikes, and share meals. 

Establishing the topics to be addressed goes a long way in assuring satisfaction.

Chris and Noel with three others in attendance at Tampa RV show. All sitting on back of Travato

Cheerleader

As a cheerleader, it’s important to provide encouragement when newbies get tripped up and enthusiasm when they succeed. Stefany Adinaro of The FitRV is a master at this cheerleading thing! A mentor is a trusted, knowledgeable ally. Genuine cheerleading, in whatever form is natural to you, goes a long way in establishing the trust and comfort that is fundamental to learning.

During this season of giving thanks and giving gifts, we are reminded again of the many people who have contributed to our enjoyment of van life. They have answered our questions, guided our thinking, and rooted for us along the way. 

What gifts of mentorship could you distribute during this holiday season and beyond?

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