Cruising down the highway on a road trip is one of the great American experiences, and an RV is the ultimate road trip vehicle. Everyone remembers their favorite road trip: the scenic overlooks, the good times, and even the mishaps. There’s another important ingredient to a great road trip, though: planning.
Hitting the road at the spur of the moment can be fun, but planning ahead never hurts, and makes it easier to include family and friends. It also helps travelers budget to get the most for their time and effort.
The prospect of planning an RV trip can be daunting. The dates, distances, and the sheer number of possibilities can feel like forbidding barriers. With a few tips, however, it’s easy to become a professional trip planner and build your dream vacation. Follow these steps for a smooth ride along the way.
PICK A DESTINATION
The journey is important, but for most the destination is the big payoff. With the freedom an RV brings, the options can be overwhelming, making it tough to settle on where to go. To pick a place, try starting with one of these:
- An event
- A bucket-list destination
- A recommendation
The perfect combination of time and place, some experiences make memories that last a lifetime. Many travelers first think of natural attractions, like the February Firefall in Yosemite or a winter wolf watch in Yellowstone National Park, but state fairs and festivals can be just an enjoyable. Many festivals, like the International Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta or Burning Man, have RV parks on location.
Choosing an event as a destination simplifies the when and where. From there, reserve a campsite near your destination. Since events draw crowds, you’ll want to make reservations early—campgrounds near popular attractions sometimes fill up months in advance.
Life is for living, so if there’s a place you’ve always wanted to go, GO! Keep in mind that campgrounds at popular destinations like national parks often fill up ahead of time, so it helps to make a reservations.
If the park’s reservations are booked, though, it doesn’t mean you can’t go. Many national parks have campgrounds that operate on a first come, first served policy. Popular parks like the Grand Canyon National Park are surrounded by public and private campgrounds.
Some people have a hard time making up their mind—that’s why pizzas come with toppings half-and-half toppings. A quick internet search for RV trip destinations results in plenty of resources to guide undecided travelers to their dream vacation (here’s an example).
There are plenty of books about road trips, such as the National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways and Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen. From Pacific Northwest to the Gulf coast, these guides lead you to beautiful views and breathtaking scenes of nature.
PLAN YOUR ROUTE
RV owners want to enjoy their time on the road. It’s part of the adventure. Researching the route in advance makes roadtrippers aware of opportunities and hazards alike.
Resources like Google Maps can plot a course from point A to point B and offer information about traffic delays and mileage, but researching the specific routes in a search engine usually yields a wealth of advice from other travelers. Apps like the RV Trip Wizard cost money, but can simplify the route planning process.
When deciding how to get where you’re going, keep the following in mind:
- Cities and metropolitan areas can cause delays from traffic congestion, especially during rush hour.
- A scenic route might take longer, but might be more enjoyable for drivers and passengers.
- Be aware of any tolls the route requires. Tolls for a motorhome can be expensive.
- Research attractions along the route—they’re might be something really fun to do on the way.
- Check for narrow roads and steep grades, which can be difficult to navigate.
- Smaller gas stations are harder to use when you have a large RV or a trailer. Truck stops offer room to turn around and back up.
When you’re on the road, apps like Waze can alert you, and newer motorhomes often come with navigation packages that can optimize the route. Other apps can help you navigate more easily and save money on fuel.
Leave Room in Your Schedule
When building an itinerary, add time to account for things that may come up unexpectedly. Construction and accidents cause traffic delays, and you may have to make unintended stops. You might also find a sudden opportunity, to visit a museum or enjoy a picnic lunch, for instance, and having room in your schedule to do so takes the stress out of spontaneity.
Where to Stay
Not all campsites are created equal. Consider these factors when choosing campgrounds and campsites:
- Check-in and checkout times
- Campsite size
- Does the site has RV hook-ups?
- Does the RV pull through the site, or does it back in?
- Campground amenities
Setting up camp
For first-time RVers this step can be the most intimidating, but this process is straightforward. If it is your first time, let them know when you check-in, and they may be able to send someone to assist you.
- Find your site and locate the hookups. Park so that the hookups on the RV are on the same side as the campsite hookups and are close enough for easy connection. Chock the tires. If your RV is a trailer, unhitch it.
- Next, level the trailer by lowering the tongue hitch or using blocks or stabilizing jacks. You can check your work with a carpenter’s level. Pull out and/or secure the steps so that they remain in place.
If your RV has slideouts, remove locks or brace bars. When the slideouts are in motion, check to make sure they have clearance.
- Once you’ve leveled the RV, hook up the trailer. For safety, turn the circuit breaker off, connect the power cord, then turn the break back on. Switch the AC to electrical instead of propane if needed.
Attach the white potable water supply line to your drinking water tank, then to the connection at the site. Check for leaks. You won’t need the 12-volt water pump when hooked to a water supply.
For sewage lines, attach the sewer hose to the drain outlet on the RV (wear gloves!). Make sure the tabs lock in place. Place the seal on the campsite connection and attach the other end of the hose. Use a sewer hose support so the line slopes downward from the RV to the campsite connection.
- Turn the main LP supply valve on and switch the fridge to AC power if it has been running on the battery. If you have an awning and want to extend it, now’s the time. Unpack and set up your campsite.
When it’s time to break camp, just reverse the order of the steps above.
When the trip is over, revisit the experience. Go over the highlights and best moments. Which parts of the trip would you recommend to others?
Ask which aspects of the trip could have been better, and what were some problems you faced? What could be done in the future to prevent these problems? Ask the other members of the group, and write down the most important points—this information can make your next trip even better.