How to Plan the Best RV Road Trip
So you’ve acquired an RV and you’re ready to plan your best RV road trip yet. Congratulations! Every journey is an opportunity to make lifelong memories. We have a few tips and tricks for how to plan the best RV road trip to ensure that things run smoothly, so you can focus on having wonderful experiences with your travel partners.
PRE-PLANNING FOR YOUR RV ROAD TRIP
What kind of RV do you have?
The first step in planning is to identify any limitations or challenges. Each different type of RV can have its own strengths and ideal circumstances. For instance, while it’s not impossible to take a tiny travel trailer camping in the snow, you’ll likely face more difficulties than you would taking it somewhere more mild. Another example––plenty of people love boondocking in their huge toy haulers, but if you’re new to handling such a big rig (or RVing in general), the stress of figuring out everything you need to know to survive off-grid with alternate power sources might sap the enjoyment out of your RV road trip.
Other things to consider:
How much towing experience do you have?
If you’re towing a travel trailer but feeling nervous about it, look for great RV trips that take you on flat and straight roads. Leave curvy, mountainous terrain for later RV road trips.
What amenities does your RV have?
Bigger RVs like fifth wheels and toy haulers can have residential sized kitchens with full refrigerators. This is perfect for people planning to save money cooking for themselves in their RV kitchen. If you’re in a micro travel trailer, however, you might want to plan on camping in areas where takeout is more easily available or grocery stores are nearby.
How much can your tanks hold?
If you have big tanks for potable water, black water and grey water, camping off the beaten path is a lot easier. If you’d rather be hooked up to water and sewer lines, plan to look for traditional campgrounds.
How do you like to camp?
There are campgrounds and boondocking sites offering all kinds of camping experiences. You can choose a luxe RV resort with a pools, a standard campgrounds with full hook-ups, or hidden boondocking sites with zero amenities but great views. Make sure your expectations are aligned with anyone you’re traveling with. If boondocking sounds heavenly to you but miserable to your travel companions, nobody is going to have a good time. There will be plenty of time in future RV road trips to have different experiences.
Where do you want to go?
Next up, pick a general destination. Have you always wanted to go out west? Or explore the East Coast? Are you committed to visiting every national park or all fifty states? Every region has its own strengths and unique destinations. For instance, the western half of the United States has a lot of wide open spaces. Which means campgrounds can be easier to find and book than more populous areas on the East Coast. But camping near more populous areas can give you better access to cultural opportunities like museums, entertainment, restaurants, etc. So whether you want to see the old-growth redwoods of the Pacific Northwest or go whale watching in Maine, your first step is to pick a direction.
How long will your RV road trip be? How much ground will you cover?
With a wide range of travel preferences, knowing your ideal pace is the key to planning the best RV road trip. Some people are happy to drive across five states in three days, stopping only for high points. Other people prefer heading to an idyllic lake and spending a week in a hammock with a book. Both are valid ways to travel. You may even find you like alternating leisurely trips with more fast-paced ones. Just be sure to plan for the kind of RV road trip you’re hoping to have. (Or the kind of trip your companions are hoping to have, too).
What kind of activities do you want to do?
The range of activities you can pursue on an RV road trip is as broad as life itself. Some people travel to try new foods, visit iconic breweries or see friends. Other people travel to pursue specific sports, camp on the beach or watch for rare birds. No matter your hobbies, there are destinations that are perfect for your goals.
THE PLANNING STAGE
Apps and sites
Once you’re ready to start charting your course, it’s time to pick your tools. There are so many amazing apps and online services that can help you plan your perfect RV road trip. We have a few favorites.
Roadtrippers* is the top road trip planning app available today. It lets you input your starting point and destination and search for attractions along the way. You can filter by helpful categories to find exactly what you want. It offers real time navigation and directions, just like Google or Apple Maps. But unlike Google or Apple Maps, when you need to find a stop while you’re driving, it serves up options in the same direction you’re going. Need a gas station on your route? Roadtrippers has you covered. No need to turn around because the closest match is five miles back. Its listings also offer the best of what makes a road trip a road trip. Even if you’re looking for the world’s biggest ball of twine, a museum all about cowboys or just a local kid-friendly restaurant that isn’t a chain. And the best part is that it has both free and paid options. So start building the RV road trip of your dreams. If you’d like to try Roadtrippers Plus, use code HEART2XRT to get 25% off the first year’s membership here.
Togo RV* or CoPilot GPS Navigation are two apps that come in handy for RV road trips. They both let you input the length, height and weight of the RV you’re driving. That lets you plan an RV route that bypasses short overpasses or roads with weight limits. CoPilot offers offline map navigation, perfect for when your cell signal drops out. And Togo RV offers discounts on partners like KOA and Harvest Hosts. Plus it has educational content that can help you navigate any RV “first” you have. It even has an option to connect you to a mobile mechanic if you’re stranded and need repairs. Both these apps work on yearly subscription models for full capability. ($29.99 for CoPilot and $39.99 for Togo RV.) But they’re well worth it by saving you from countless logistical headaches. The Togo RV Premium subscription also includes access to Roadtrippers Plus. Try Togo RV Premium with code HEART2XRT to get 25% off the first year’s membership here.
Campspot makes the perfect camping companion on the road. Search for campsites from coast to coast, and narrow down the results with filters. Looking for a 4-plus star campground with a dog park and laundry facilities? Campspot knows where to go. Looking for a specific campground amenity, like an ice cream shop, an arcade or a water park? You’ll find results easier than ever and can narrow them down by distance or price. You can even book reservations with campgrounds directly through Campspot’s site. How convenient is that?
Gas Buddy is a free mobile app that displays gas prices for wherever you go. Driving or towing an RV can easily rack up hefty gas bills. Finding discounted gas can make a big difference, especially on longer trips. Gas Buddy identifies cheap gas along your route and lets you plan for future gas stops. It even has filters to help you find gas stations by brand or that include restrooms.
Sani Dumps: Descriptive name aside, this app is super straightforward. It helps you find places to dump your grey and black water tanks. Enough said.
Okay, so you’ve picked a destination, you’ve got your RV, you’ve requested time off work. Now it’s time to start building a route.
Plot your main destinations. If you’re headed straight to the nearby beach, it may be an easy road trip to plan. But if you’re crossing a few states, start planning which towns or campgrounds will be your stops for overnight stays. A big consideration in plotting your destinations is how much you’re able to safely drive each day. If you’re going from Denver to Detroit over three days, you would need to spend six hours a day driving. And that’s not including meals or breaks. Driving an RV can be mentally and physically taxing. So always plan on arriving at your next stop while you still have energy, it’s light out and you have plenty of time to set up safely. If you need to cover long distances, travel with another adult. If they’re comfortable driving and towing, you can take turns.
Book your campgrounds. Once you have your overnight destinations set, reserve a campsite right away. Particularly in-demand campgrounds can fill up months in advance. Some campgrounds may hold a few spots open for drive-up bookings. But during the busy travel season, there’s no guarantee you’ll find a spot where you want without a reservation. Which is why we recommend…
Keep a list of plan B options. Let’s say on your way to your reserved campsite, everything goes wrong. You get a flat tire and realize you didn’t pack a spare. It takes hours to get someone out to deliver a new tire. By that time, you’re exhausted and know you won’t make it to your reserved campsite. There are lots of alternative options that can come in handy here. Like identifying a few less populated campgrounds on your route. Or keeping a list of businesses or city parks that let RVers camp overnight in their parking lots for free.
Fill in each day’s stops. This is where an app like Roadtrippers comes in handy. Between point A and point B, it can find anything you might want. Like Mexican restaurants to kids museums to haunted attractions and more. Depending on how much ground you’re hoping to cover, you might choose one main stop a day, like Mt. Rushmore. Or you might choose several, like a lunch spot, a scenic overlook, a bike trail, etc.
If you’re traveling with kids or pets, plan for frequent breaks to keep everyone happy. Even if it’s just to get out, stretch your legs and eat a snack. Planning ahead for frequent stops will help keep morale high on longer trips.
Plan for spontaneity. It sounds like an oxymoron, but sometimes when you get into planning mode, it’s easy to overlook the best part. And that’s living in the moment. Like when you find a corner of the world that’s so beautiful, you just want to stay all day. The wonderful thing about road trips is that plans can change as you go. If you linger a while at one stop along the way, it’s easy to make up time on the road. As a full-time RVer, you’re literally in the driver’s seat. And the journey is the destination, after all.
HITTING THE ROAD
I’ve planned, I’ve routed, I’ve gassed up and I’m ready to go. Now what?
Just kidding, we know you know what to do now. After all, this is why you bought an RV in the first place. Spend your down time making incredible memories, being with people you love and seeing all that our beautiful world has to offer. So make tracks, and savor every crazy, gorgeous, precious moment of life on the road. Bon voyage!
Disclaimer: Roadtrippers and Togo RV are part of a joint venture, partially owned by THOR Industries, Inc., of which Heartland RV is a subsidiary ––but we wouldn’t recommend them if we didn’t use them ourselves.