As we prepare for our next travel adventure, I’d like to share some of that with you. We’ve learned a lot along the way, but one thing we can be certain of, good planning has culminated into fantastic RV trips over the years. My advice is based on personal experience from towing a 33-ft fifth wheel with a full ton diesel truck for 4 to 7 months at a time. You may be planning to travel in something very different than ours, but I am sure you can glean some useful information here.
When planning an RV trip you start with the big picture and frame it with these two things – the size of your rig and how long you intend to travel in it. Next, you have priorities – where you want to travel and places you want to visit. This is step one, now let the excitement of traveling in an RV and the planning begin.
STEP 1. figure out where to go and how long to travel. This is a road trip, hopefully one of many. And you have your priority destinations and when to begin and end the trip.
- Start with the top destinations and use them as ‘anchor points’ from which to build an itinerary. Remember, you’re taking a road trip which means it’s about the journey, not the destination.
- Keep an open mind, you’ll be amazed at how many interesting places there are to visit when you do a little research and talk to other RVers.
- Check out RV blogs and videos for travel itinerary ideas. These have proved to be invaluable when trip planning.
STEP 2. Estimate overall towing/driving mileage. This will help you budget the trip. Once you figure out the general route, you can fill in the details later.
- Use Google Maps to create a rough draft route.
- When planning a long route, consider seasonal weather patterns (i.e., spring tornadoes) and temperatures, and be open to alternative routes.
STEP 3. Create a budget. Once towing/driving route and approximate days on the road are estimated, you can come up with a budget.
- Especially for those top destination places, do your research. Park fees, guided tours, shuttles, restaurants, museums, fishing licenses, etc should all be considered within the budget.
- Get an estimate of driving mileage for site-seeing at the locations you plan to visit.
- The price of fuel can be a wild card, so budget at the highest reasonable price you can estimate. Make an educated guess by keeping your ears perked for price predictions.
- Download an app such as Gas Buddy to get fuel price information in areas you will travel to.
- Research various campground websites to get an estimate of campground costs.
- While traveling, keep records of your fuel stops, miles per gallon, campground costs, and all other expenditures whether planned or unplanned. These records will prove valuable for your next trip.
STEP 4. Plan an itinerary. Mostly, you’ll figure out how many days it will take to get to a destination and how long you want to stay in one place. But you also don’t want to miss something, so consider the possibilities along the way and give yourself ample time.
- Travel blogs and videos are fun and can be very informative. One I recommend is Traveling Robert, check out his videos, the man has been everywhere!
- Check out the Atlas Obscura to find some quirky, fun places to visit. Especially as you drive through the Great Plain states!
- Along your route, search Google satellite images that mark interesting sites along the way.
- Some campgrounds offer discounted weekly rates. Take advantage of this when in locations where you can fill your days exploring or maybe include some down time to rest at the campground, visit the nearby town, do laundry, take advantage of wifi, etc.
STEP 5. Choose the campgrounds. Depending on your rig size, securing reservations may or may not be as important to you as they are to us. But if they are, using apps or websites like Allstays, Passport America, and Google Map searches will help you find a campground that meets one of two purposes – 1) overnight between destinations, and 2) basecamp for exploring the area over multiple days.
- Read campground reviews from such sources as Google Maps, Campendium, RV Life and various other websites. In addition to rates, look for amenities such as laundry and wifi.
- Where you choose to camp will largely be determined by the length of your RV. For example, if your rig is 32 feet, you can fit into 80% of national park campgrounds, whereas a 19-ft RV will fit into 98%.
- Use Google Map satellite aerial and road view images to help you choose a campground. Google Earth will allow you to measure distance in feet, useful for examining campsite length and road width.
- If the campground you want to stay in does not offer sewer connection, make sure it has a dump station. If it does not offer water connection, make sure potable water is available to add to your fresh water tank.
- Know your comfort limits. Can you stay overnight without hook-ups? How long can you stay at a campground without full hook-ups? These are questions you’ll need to address at some point!
STEP 6. Work out details of the routes between campgrounds. This can be done later or as you go, but for remote areas that fall off the Interstate, it is best to figure out ahead of time the most suitable route regarding road conditions, fuel and rest stops, and distance. You will find that the shortest route is not always the best. Rely heavily on Interstate and 4-lane highways if you are pulling/driving a big RV. I prefer the extra out-of-the-way miles over driving a narrow road that lacks a shoulder or any opportunity to pull-off.
- If you are driving a motorhome or pulling a trailer/fifth wheel for the first time, estimate your miles to the gallon so you can determine distance between fuel stops.
- Consult a Truckers’ map (link in caption below) if you are pulling/driving a big RV on non-interstate roads. If a big hauler can be on a road, so can you!
- RV trip planning apps (e.g., RV Trip Wizard) and websites. Helpful to avoid non-trucker roads, and to locate fuel and rest stops. We plan a stop every 50-75 miles. This could be a roadside pull-off or an easy access shopping plaza parking lot.
- Google maps and street view. Street view is especially helpful to locate safe pull-offs and easy access fuel stops.
- Timing is everything. If you know you are passing through a major city (such as Atlanta or Houston), try to time it so you go through or around it on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
- Many RVers use the ‘Rule of 3” to guide their travel itinerary – travel no more than 300 miles in a day, arrive at the campground by 3 pm and stay at your destination at least 3 days. Adhere to the third rule loosely as many locations are worth fewer or more than 3 days. In addition, if you do adhere to the 300-mile and 3 pm rules, you’ll need an overnight stop somewhere along the way if you are driving great distances.
STEP 7. Campground reservations. Private campgrounds that stay open year-round don’t have a reservation window, but the seasonal ones typically do, and they fill fast. Some of these cater to long-term campers and may or may not offer short stay sites, but I would say most do. The most popular campgrounds are destinations, such as national and state parks, and they fill fast especially on weekends.
- Before reserving, read the campground’s cancellation policy. And if you can’t find it on their website, call them! Most will give you up to a day or week before arrival to cancel with no more than a small fee. Beware of those that do not offer refunds if you cancel!
- The less money you dole out at the beginning, the better! If a private campground has online reservations that require you to pay up front, try calling them first. I find that some campgrounds will not take a deposit over the phone but will take the credit card info to hold the reservation. And if you are using Passport America or other discounts, calling is often the only way to apply them.
- For popular state and national parks, you may need to reserve at the beginning of the reservation window. Here in Florida that’s 11 months!
- Keep electronic copies of receipts and confirmations and have them accessible when you arrive. Have your membership cards available as well.
- If you are 62 or older, purchase a Lifetime Senior Pass for National Parks. Not only will it get you into the national parks but you’ll get ½ price campsites at all Army Corp of Engineer campgrounds and discounts at national forest service campgrounds.
- Consider joining one or more RV clubs for campground discounts. There are so many of them, but our memberships include Good Sam, Passport America, FMCA, KOA, and Harvest Host.
- The bigger your rig, the fewer options you have; therefore, advance reservations are often necessary to keep you out of trouble.
And the BEST TIP I can give you at this point – plans will most likely change somewhere along the way, so be prepared and be open to the challenges. Your traveling in an RV – something will come up. It’s not all bad and mostly ‘all’s well that ends well” situations.
I write this with mine and Vivian’s 2023 travel plans in mind. We leave Chokoloskee Island on May 7 and return in mid to late October. Do you want to know where we are going? I’m not going to tell you because it may not happen as planned. But I will tell you this – we’re planning to tow the fifth wheel over 9000 miles and there will be a lot of ‘firsts’ on this trip. Stay tuned because it’s going to be a joyous bumpy ride full of grand adventures!
4 thoughts on “Fulltime RVing – Trip Planning 101”
Wow, what a post! Wonderful information. Thanks!
P.S. – Looking forward to following those 9,000 miles of 2023 adventures!
I found myself nodding my head in agree with all of your “tips”. For us, the Motor Carriers Road Atlas has been a life saver. As for Gas Buddy, its let me down too many times (prices weren’t as reported on the app) to be truly helpful. And joining RV clubs is a must. We have saved a small fortune by being members of Good Sams and Passport America. See you on down the road!!
I should have typed “nodding my head in agreement”.
I should have typed “nodding my head in agreement”