Revamp and roll: An LBI staffer gives her tips for a successful RV renovation

The freedom to travel in a compact rolling residence inspired many Louisianans to take to the road during the pandemic, including LBI graphic designer Melinda Gonzalez and her fiancée Jason Galjour. The couple transformed a well-loved 2006 Gulfstream Independence Class A motorhome into an abode that better fit their contemporary style and their desire to see the country with their dog, Charlie, and two cats, Hobbes and Tinkerbell. Below, Gonzalez shares her top tips on taking on an RV renovation from start to hitting-the-road finish.

1. Find the right RV for you.

Walk through and test-drive RVs at dealerships without feeling pressure to purchase. Class A, B, C, travel trailer, 5th wheels, pop ups. Check Facebook Marketplace for independent sellers. There are RVs in every price range, with pros and cons for new and used. Keep in mind the costs of renovating—you could spend anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 on renovations.

2. Look into layout.

Do you need a bunkhouse for kids? Prefer a larger kitchen or bedroom? Explore different models and notice the layouts that work or don’t work for you. We wanted a large kitchen and living space because we love to cook and would be spending the most time in the main living area. We sacrificed a larger bedroom to allow for this. We also love our double opposing slides in the living area, which make it even more open. 

3. Get an outside inspection.

Once you find the perfect RV, spend the extra money for an outside inspector. Serious problems like water damage or a faulty mechanical issue can exist even in new RVs. This could save you thousands down the road, and from missing a full camping season or two worth of time. 

4. Brace yourself.

However long you estimate your renovation will take, triple it. However much you plan to spend on renovations, add extra funds. Though it’s a tiny space, it’s A LOT of work. An RV is a different beast than a “normal” home. It’s built of materials that are hard to work with. There are more corners and nooks to sand, paint and cut around. Prepare to give up many weekends.

5. Make it your own.

Take inspiration from “real homes” you like and figure out how to replicate it in your RV. You can make a huge impact by painting walls and cabinets, updating floors, and adding new hardware and window treatments. Bring in decor that makes you happy. For us, that was splashes of color and my plant collection. My boyfriend and I are both artists, so we enjoy having color in our home. We painted our kitchen cabinets and headboard green to tie in nature, then we added a bold Rifle Paper Co. wallpaper in our bathroom. It may not be for everyone, but we love it!

6. Mind the details. 

Updating hardware is like adding on the perfect earrings to your outfit. It’s also an inexpensive way to update the outdated stock hardware usually found in an RV. We mixed it up by putting some champagne bronze pulls in the kitchen and bathroom, then matte black pulls in our bedroom. On windows, don’t be afraid to remove the hideous, bulky valances. We added blackout shades to keep heat and light out, and we installed curtain rods just like in any home.

7. Downsize and organize.

Weight and space are limited in an RV. Downsizing can be the hardest part of the process. Whether you plan to live in yours full time, take long family vacations, or host short weekend tailgates in LSU’s Touchdown Village, you’ll need to plan where your stuff will go. Make a packing list, and purchase organizer bins for your cabinets (these are our best friends). Everything must have a place. 

8. Keep it simple.

Less is more when going tiny. Think cooking tools, kids’ toys, pet supplies. Make room for what’s important to you! I have room for my wine glasses, skincare and makeup. We even managed to make space for a tiny “man cave” for my boyfriend’s Xbox obsession. For our cats we made a special litter box entrance into a cabinet. Get creative. 

9. Go local for your maiden voyage.

Things go wrong! Take a practice trip locally as a test run. Louisiana is known in the RV community for its beautiful and affordable state parks. There are also some great RV “resorts” for those seeking more amenities. Get comfortable with your rig and learn the ins and outs of your packing and take-off routines. There’s so much to get comfortable with, so make an educational vacation out of it.

10. Join the community.

The online RV community is massive! There are groups and clubs for every interest and concern, and everyone is helpful and welcoming. Search for RV renovation groups on Facebook to get inspired or for instant feedback if you get in a bind. Follow hashtags like #RVrenovation, #fulltimeRV and #tinyliving on Instagram. Check out YouTube for endless RV advice and educational videos. 

Follow this duo’s freewheeling adventures on Instagram @bayoudrifters. 

See more photos from their renovation in our gallery below: