Our RV Route & Travel Planning Tips
We don’t like planning…seriously we try to do as little of it as possible. It’s the freedom of not having to plan that we love most about the RV lifestyle. In fact, we both tend to break out in a rash anytime we hear the words reservation or schedule. I know it sounds crazy but it’s worked for us over the years and there are definitely some methods to our madness.
I did warn you it was casual didn’t I? Maybe I should have used the words unorganized or scatterbrained? Either way you now truly understand just how un-planned everything we do is.
Any who, let’s get down to the art of un-planning (all resources are listed at the bottom of this post).
It all starts with an idea.
About twice a year (winter and summer) we find ourselves not sure of which direction we want to head next. So, we sit down, pull up a map (digitally because we don’t carry paper maps) and look for destinations or events we haven’t yet explored. These are typically bigger bucket list style events, adventures or destinations.
Rather than speak hypothetically about a route, we’re going to use our 2014 travels as a “real-life” example.
When we were planning our 2014 spring/summer travel plans we picked The Kentucky Derby and Lollapalooza as our two big scheduled events that would require advanced ticket purchases and planning. These two events will work as our “base” for selecting our travel route and time frame.
Once we have our big ideas pegged on the map (and tickets purchased) we start looking for what’s in between. Cities, attractions, other events, national or state parks, roadside attractions and most importantly, people to visit along the way. Sometimes we visit people we don’t know (yet), those we’ve met on the road or lifelong friends. One things for sure, the social aspect of this lifestyle and the community that makes it up is just as interesting as the beautiful places.
What needs to be avoided (or prepared for)?
Taking note of the big holidays that affect the overall availability of a place is important to consider. Things like Memorial Day, spring break and 4th of July that cause campgrounds to fill up (sometimes wild camping too) and cities to be over run with people. Also, BIG mainstream events such as the super bowl, NASCAR or major festivals like South by Southwest not only bring a major influx of people but they can alter the vibe of a city. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be if big crowds and the party mentality are not what you were expecting.
Where To Stay?
We usually avoid most RV Parks but every once in a while it’s a necessary evil or just plain convenience that pushes us to forgo our wild camping ways. In general, we first look for a Harvest Hosts, then we look for Public Lands and check sites like UltimateCampgrounds, Campendium and Passport America. Sometimes we’ll even stay in a “parking lot” if it means we’ll be right by our destination.
For our 2014 travels we stayed at a not-so-glamorous but incredibly convenient (and affordable) parking lots for both The Kentucky Derby and Lollapalooza. The rest of our travels were split between Harvest Hosts, state forests/parks, friend’s driveways, and only a couple of the typical campgrounds.
Here’s a fun interactive map with our Summer 2014 route along with some of our stops:
Leave Lots of Wiggle Room
There are all kinds of towns and fun stops that need to be discovered along the way. For us it’s all about the journey, and not always the destination. This is where rest stops, truck stops, Harvest Hosts, Walmart, Cabela’s, etc. prove to be invaluable, we’ll spend a day in a town then stay overnight somewhere transient. If the town inspires us to stay longer we’ll start the online search for county parks or anything else nearby so we can stick around and play.
Our (Un)Planning Travel Resources
- Goggle Maps – For general searching and comparing routes.
- Mapify Pro / Pretty Routes – For creating WordPress maps with routes like the one in this post. (Use this discount code for 15% off: mapwiththewynns)
- Harvest Hosts – A program that allows RV’ers to stay a farms and wineries.
- Locating Campgrounds – Campendium, Passport America, UltimateCampgrounds
- State Lines App – This app has basic information on rest areas, taxes, laws and such things that change as you cross state lines. It’s a good thing to check before you assume you can sleep overnight at a rest area…granted another line of thought is “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” so we’ll leave the decision up to you.
- Visitors Center – Before we arrive in a new town one of our first stops or calls is to the Visitor Center for information on RV parking. Sometimes we’ll even ask about safe overnight parking spots.
- The Police – Want to know if it’s legal to park somewhere? The easiest way to find out is to call the local non emergency police department. If you are doing something illegal either the local police department or the sheriff’s department is going to be the one to write you a ticket…so we call them if the visitor center wasn’t helpful or is closed. Numerous times we’ve had a sheriff say something like “you can park at (insert parking lot) no problem and stay for a couple nights”.
- More Travel Apps – We have an entire post about our favorite travel apps simply called: Must Have Travel Apps
- Free Camping – If you want more info on how to find free camping (national forests, national grasslands, BLM…) we have an article on that too: How To Find Free Camping
- All RV Resources – All of our favorite RV resources in one location.
If you want more on route planning from another full timer RVer, who is totally the opposite of us (someone who actually plans)? Check out this series…yes I said series: Wheeling It – Planning RV Travels Part I
How do you plan? We realize our style of unplanning would drive some to the loony bin, or at least towards a stiff cocktail! Share your tips, favorite travel apps and travel style in the comments below, we love hearing from all of you.
Disclaimer – Our recommendations are based on our opinions and experience, they are not endorsements and cannot guarantee you a happy travel experience.