So you just got a new RV. Congratulations and welcome to the open road and endless sunsets. I'm sure one of the first questions is, "Where should we go and what do we need?" Just pack a bag, some snacks and throw on a seatbelt, you are now a RV'er.....er...well, there's just a few more tiny details and that's not even figuring out the RV!
It's just like a camping trip right? Leave after work, drive a few hours and sweet, you have a spot to cook some dogs before bed. Repeat for tomorrow but this time with beer and a campfire. Here's the thing. Rv'ing is not camping and we're here to help you understand the difference.
First, how do you plan an extended RV Road Trip?
Lesson One: Do it your way!
Be a Rv'er your way!
Rv'ing is all about hitting the road for extended periods which can be exciting and scary at the same time. We’ve been camping for years and when we bought our 32ft Jayco trailer two years ago, it was strictly to transition from “camping” to RV’ing, two very different animals as we'll explain. To start off, you might want to plan a few longer weekend or week trips in the start, get your tires wet on the pavement. Maybe you bought your RV with the intent to go full time. There are brave souls out there that jump right into RV’ing, selling the house, everything in it and hitting the road full time, never looking back. I envy them and their bravery. We aren’t those people but that’s ok! The beauty of RV’ing is it fits everyone, every timeline and as the boss of your road dream, you get to make the rules.
Ridgway State Park-Elk Ridge Loop
Our first official RV trip with our Jayco trailer started with an early spring two-week stay within our home state of Colorado. I highly recommend staying close to home for that first trip. We learned A LOT and it's a great way to test the RV'ing waters while learning the ins and outs of your new rig.
For our RV maiden voyage, we chose Ridgway State Park, a beautiful reservoir outside of Ouray Colorado. It was 5 hours from our house and perfect as a 'shake down' for a two week road trip. The park has 81 full hookups in the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk loop but we chose the Elk Ridge Loop for the great cell service. Elk Ridge has 98 sites, most with electric and water shared. We chose this state park because first, it is gorgeous and second, Walmart is only 30 mins away in Montrose CO. Good thing too because a new RV need things, things you only find out by living in an RV. Did you forget that leveling tool or cooking pan and why did you bring 6 pairs of jeans but not a rain jacket? This is why the first RV trip of the season or first road trip is called a shake down. Shake downs are all about the oopsies, broken RV parts, and the missing salt shaker. Honestly, I don't know where it goes each winter. As it turned out, we needed a full set of tires for our truck but that’s another story. I'm just glad we weren't halfway to Las Vegas on a Boondocking trip. All and all, we made the right decision by sticking close to humanity and had an outstanding first trip, including the hiccup with truck tires.
Having a successful RV trip left us craving more AND longer trips. So we planned our first out of state three week long trip to AZ for the winter of 2020. We planned a year in advance for this trip. There are states and seasons where you have to make camping reservations a year in advance. AZ in winter is definitely one of those states. Visions of hiking Saguaro National Park, boating at Lake Havasu State Park and Rv'ing at Tucson's Catalina State Park quickly were added as must dos for this trip.
However, in the middle of planning this trip, all hell broke loose.
BAM, COVID hit. Everything left went right and white became black. As a boomer, our life has been very steady and predictably safe. However, in simple terms, this was a major unknown and every day brought more questions, more confusion and to be honest, more fear.
Should we go RV'ing during COVID?
Lesson Two: Just do it!
Catalina State Park - Tucson AZ
You can get overwhelmed pretty fast with "should we or shouldn’t we" and let the big ball of fear start to overtake you but having such a great trip the first time kept coming back to us. So we weighed the pros and cons and in the end, moved forward with our plans. We had all the reservations done and just couldn’t let those coveted sites go. Plus, we really really wanted to avoid a cold snowy winter so taking a deep breath, we forged ahead, regardless of the headlines. We stocked the RV with the necessary precautions, ie, masks, thermometers and hand sanitizers, locked our Colorado home and drove away. Were we nervous? 100% yes but the road and warmth of the desert sun were calling. Plus, isn't camping nature's way of social distancing? We thought so.
Hiking with Sheldon at Catalina State Park - AZ
Our winter trip to AZ was AMAZING. It was way too short and when we started heading home, we knew we were hooked to RV’ing and road trips. Because we still work full time, staying on the road was a major concern. We must be hooked up 100% of the time for our clients and customers. Working remotely has come a long way and is much easier to do with cell equipment and RV advancements. Now if only the campgrounds and national parks would get up to speed with technology, again another story. Still, this can be overcome as well. After our spring trip, we did a longer fall trip to Utah. Canyonlands, Deadhorse, Moab and back. I was very nervous about cell service. Every camping app and campsite review stated little to no cell service available in most of these areas. However, using multiple cell service setups, we were connected 100%, even at Deadhorse. There are many blogs and resources which go into all the ways to stay connected so take some time and do your research. I highly recommend Technomedia as a reliable blog. Our best tip was by a young camp host when we did our first trip. You can learn so much with a few questions and a few good beers!
What apps should I use to plan our RV Road Trip?
Lesson Three: Research!
After three major RV trips under our belt, we felt confident we could do a month long adventure. I’m sure many Rv’ers are laughing at our slow progress but again, go at your speed and comfort level. This past fall we hooked up the RV at the start of Oct and came back in early Nov. We have family in MN and it had been some time since we were able to visit. You know, COVID and all. I started planning this trip in mid summer and felt less concerned about having reservations at each point of the trip. Oct is the perfect time for Rv’ing. Schools are back in session so most of the state parks become walk up only or have lots of sites available online for last min bookings.
Going on a longer road trip meant more Google searches and more apps for research. Since we were also heading into areas we’ve never explored, I bounced around A LOT between what we wanted to see and where we should stay. My go to apps are Roadtrippers, Google Maps, AllStays and Campendium. I also used each state’s state park websites and the website Campground Photos. Google Earth is great for views into the campgrounds so you can view just how close your neighbor will be or that smelly bathroom.
Roadtrippers is great for distancing out the trip. We like the 2 and 3 rule for Rv’ing. 200 or 300 miles a day, stopping every 2 or 3 hours and then do a stay for 2 or 3 days. This makes sense for longer trips but also can lengthen the trip so flexibility was key in planning. Because it was Oct, I had the flexibility. We booked reservations in areas that were in high season. For example, we planned to be in Door County WI during the height of leaf peeping. The tree colors were outstanding by the way although the locals said the lack of rain this year made the trees colors dull in vibrancy. Have to roll my eyes on this. Colorado has gorgeous Aspen gold but we miss in maple reds and oranges. I was in heaven with a kaleidoscope of shades of colors, dull or not.
Here’s the thing on reservations. Make them and make them MONTHS in advance! You can always cancel and change dates and usually for a small fee or 1 night deposit. For trips to AZ, parts of TX and FL, you need to book a year or more for future trips. Better to have reservations early than not. To ensure staying at some of the top winter destinations in your preferred area or on the water campgrounds and RV resorts, plan early and reserve. As I write this, we already have most of our summer trips booked in CO and are in the thick of planning our next winter trip to Florida.
What is the most important part about planning an RV Roadtrip?
Lesson Four: Flexibility!
Tahquamenon Falls State Park, UP Michigan
On our trip back from our month long trip to the upper Midwest, we had a chance to meet up with a major client of ours. We were in WI, their headquarters are in IL. Within a few hours, we changed our trip to include 400 more miles and 5 more days and we added two more states to our itinerary. I happily added two more stickers to our RV state map too! Such a little thing that brings so much joy to a RV’er. By adding the additional time and miles, we ended up at a few campgrounds not on our radar, including a beautiful US Army Corps of Engineer Campground at Smithville Lake. Crow’s Creek campground was stunning next to the lake. The sites are nicely spaced for privacy and everything was sparkling clean. I highly recommend Corps of Engineer campgrounds. There are 644 campgrounds around the US but are mainly found in the Mid-West and Eastern part of the US. We also stayed at a fantastic campground in Kansas we would not have found unless we hadn’t been flexible with our trip. Going off plan is fun and should be an exciting part for your adventure.
What makes RV Road Trips successful?
Lesson Five: Enjoy the journey!
The thing, I think, that makes road trips so addictive and enticing is the exploration of the unknown. That can be scary or exciting based on your outlook. Adding an RV to the road does make it slightly scarier at first, not going to lie. As you get your backup parking practice in and learn the ins and outs to black and grey systems while figuring out how to fix the water pump, the scary will turn to excitement I promise. I look forward to the planning and the research and spend hours saving websites, blogs on where to eat and hike in each state. RV blogs are a goldmine for finding the best campgrounds to reserve and the hidden gems to explore as a local. My Pinterest account is overflowing for future trips.
One of the biggest advantages to RV’ing is the cost and time it gives you to truly explore an area. Instead of dropping in on a part of the country for a long weekend or short vacation, you can spend weeks in one section of the state once your there. So instead of viewing the land from an airplane window, you experience that small city sitting in a bar while buying a local a drink. There you'll get their recommendation for the best cherry pie in Door County or where to hike to find that hidden waterfall in Michigan. We meet so many great people around the campfires and learn so much about Rv’ing, places to go, how to do, tricks on setups and the adventures people have experiences.
As we move closer to full time RV'ing, many lessons will continue. That's just part of life and the RV lifestyle. Each trip brings growth and a few challenges but we're excited to follow our dreams and uncover hidden gems which is what living and adventures are all about! So follow your sunsets at your speed and take in the joy of your journey. We wish you lots of exciting road trips and hope we helped a little in making those dreams come true.
Munising Tourist Park Campground, Munising MI
Happy RV Trails!