One of the questions I get asked a lot about our RV lifestyle is “How do you plan where to go?” This is a multi-faceted question and will be different for everyone.
I recently met another full-timer who told me he and his wife never travel more than 150 miles daily! It took them 2 1/2 years to cross the USA and they prefer to take backroads. They’ve been doing this routine for 15 years and they love it. This is the opposite of our style. We’re more of a “turn and burn” kind of family. We stick to main highways and interstates because of the size of our rig. It’s not unusual for us to have an 8 hour travel day. We want to see “all the things” and start to get antsy if we are in one place too long. Two weeks is usually our limit. Others save a lot of money by getting a monthly rate at campgrounds and saving on fuel prices. So, they don’t move nearly as often as us. There isn’t really a right way of traveling. Try out different styles until you learn what works best for your family.
Know your rig. Some RVs are not made for cooler temperatures at all. So, the first bit of advice I have for new travelers is to consider the weather. North Dakota is obviously not a winter destination for most RV travelers. I’ve spent summers in Arizona and Utah. But, Spring or Autumn is probably a more comfortable time to visit. That being said, RV spots fill up quickly in “snow bird” destinations. So, book early or consider a place with a more temperate climate for more options in the Winter. Planning for the seasons will give you a basic outline for the year of where to travel.
When my family left West Virginia in June, I knew we needed to head North. We had already been to most places we wanted to see on the East Coast, including the New England states. My kids had never seen Niagara Falls. So, we started in New York and worked our way across America by traveling through Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc. until we hit Washington and Oregon. We went through south through California and then went to Vegas for my husband. My brother wanted to visit us in Utah in August so, we braved the desert heat. Then, we headed to Colorado and New Mexico before meeting up with my parents in Texas. The next destination was a work Christmas party in Georgia. So, we spent the fall driving through Louisiana Mississippi, and Alabama. Then, we headed back to West Virginia for Christmas. We ended up staying in West Virginia for 3 months. Then, we headed out again. We covered A LOT of ground in a short period of time. Mostly, because we were so excited and wanted to see as much as possible before our savings was depleted and we had to start working again. Now, we both have jobs and travel is much slower. We mostly chill during the week and sightsee or travel on the weekends.
Another thing to consider with your rig is the size. We haul a 42 ft fifth wheel behind a four-door dually pickup. We would never drive through places like New York City or Los Angeles with it. If you have a Sprinter Van, this would be totally fine. Big rigs allow you to stretch out and have more storage. But, smaller setups are much easier to maneuver on narrow streets, in cities, and there are more camping and parking options as well. I need to plan my route avoiding ferries, dirt roads, low branches, and narrow or short tunnels. If a tractor trailer won’t fit, we probably won’t either. I carry a road atlas too. There are still places in America where there is no Wi-Fi or cell signal available. My road atlas is designed for truck drivers. I would recommend all full-time travelers to carry an old school atlas and know how to use it. This was a life saver for us in Idaho.
Next, you’ll need an idea of where you want to go. This can be overwhelming for people because there are so many options. I find it really helpful to think of a theme or goal for the year. For us, this year’s theme has definitely been National Parks. We are trying to visit all the National parks in America. So, we start with those, and then we find other things to do near the parks. We know another family that is trying to complete all National Park Service sites- this means all the battlefields, monuments, wildlife refuges, etc. in addition to the official parks. I’ve heard about baseball fans visiting all the MLB stadiums in the country. Some people just go along the coast from beach to beach. Obviously, this only works for people who can work from anywhere.
Others pick work-camping jobs and that dictates where they are for the season. Others follow remote work like the sugar beet harvest and other agricultural opportunities or Amazon openings. Of course, some people travel with full-time jobs too, like linemen, insurance adjusters, travel nurses and various vocational jobs.
Some wonderful websites help me plan everything. When planning the travel route, I use Roadtrippers.com. I love this site. It is so helpful for me to figure out how many miles and hours it is from one place to the next. It’s much easier than Map Quest or Google maps because it allows you to put in about 15 stops. I think the max on most sites is 5.
I’ve been recommending Roadtrippers so much that I finally looked to see if they have an affiliate program. Turns out they do. I now officially partner with Roadtrippers. So, if you would like to try it out, please use the link below.Read more: Full-time RVing-How to Plan Your Route
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I also really like to use campendium.com to find campgrounds. There are filters for amperage, big rig-friendly sites, boondocking, etc. This site includes state parks, BLM land, Army Corps of Engineers parks, private parks, and chains like KOA and Thousand Trails. It’s great because I can see all the options in one place. It’s kind of like Kayak.com or Priceline.com but for campgrounds instead of hotels. I also use Harvest Hosts for occasions when we are only stopping somewhere for a night. Harvest Hosts saves money and can be really nice when all the other campgrounds in the area are already booked solid.
A lot of people ask, “How did you find that place, I’ve never heard of it.” This happens multiple ways. First, I always looks at the tourism websites for the towns we are staying in. Often, we are visiting a city for entertainment. But, our rig won’t actually fit in the city. So, we end up in a suburb. Sometimes, we end up enjoying the small towns more than the destination cities.
We also asked locals. “Where should we eat?” “What’s the best place to go on a rainy day?” “What is something we can’t miss while we’re in town.” Pinterest is a treasure trove of travel bloggers. And, I usually Google “Free Things to Do in (Whatever city we’re going to)” This gives me lots of cheap entertainment options.
All Trails app is my source for finding walking paths or hiking trails in any area. Roadside America.com is a fantastic resource for finding weird quirky pitstops along the way. So, if the National Museum of Funeral History or a house entirely made of beer cans sounds interesting, you are going to like this site. I love it! A once-secret underground cold-war bunker for Congress, The World’s Largest Teapot, George Washington’s outdoor bathtub, and a State Penitentiary tour, and a Haunted Lunatic Asylum can all be found in my home state of West Virginia.
We are roadschoolers. This means we homeschool while traveling full-time. So, often we go to places that relate to things we are learning about in Science or History. When learning about the Revolutionary War, we visited Lexington and Concord, Independence Hall, and the Old North Church. Geology lessons were much more interesting at the Grand Canyon. Next week, we’re heading to the Alamo. Last week, we went to an Anne Frank Center in South Carolina.
Sometimes, travel inspiration comes from a TV show, a song, or a book. I learned about some of my favorite towns in South Carolina from an author named Dorthea Benton Frank. For my 30th birthday, I discovered the Fred Roger’s Trail in Pennsylvania and relived my childhood. We ate at a burger joint in North Carolina that was a favorite of Hank Williams (We also visited his grave in Alabama). There’s a Very Hungry Caterpillar scavenger hunt in Bristol, TN. You can actually go to the Cheer’s bar (it’s in Boston.) Data’s house from the Goonies is in Oregon. Did you know there’s a statue on the corner in Winslow Arizona honoring the Eagles’ song, Take it Easy?
My favorite is when we find things by pure chance. The above is part of the set of the movie, Wild Hogs. We just happened to be walking through this little town in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico when we found it the Diner.
This was a road in Colorado that we were not anticipating. We recently heard a song on the radio about this road! It’s called Wolf Creek Pass by C.W. McCall. If you get a chance, find it on Spotify. It’s funny.
There’s so much to see and do in this country. America is a diverse beautiful place with surprises around every bend. Being prepared is important. But, I think it’s equally important to be flexible and open to a change of plans. You never know what you might find.