This summer (2017), we spent seven weeks on an RV road trip, driving across the country, visiting 15 National Parks sites in eight states. We put more than 10,000 miles on the truck and spent more than 236 hours driving.
This was not our first RV road trip, but it was our longest. We had a lot of fun, saw a lot of great sights, and overcame a few tough situations. In the end, we learned some very valuable RV road trip tips.
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RV Road Trip Tip #1: Plan Rest Days
The most important lesson we learned is to plan rest days (plus days to work on the blog). Let’s talk about our first few days:
In two days of driving, we went from Chattanooga, TN to Albuquerque, NM, a total of more than 1,300 miles. That’s easily the hardest and longest we have ever gone towing the camper… and we boondocked in a Walmart parking lot in Albuquerque (more on that below).
On day three, we drove through Petrified Forest National Park and, after setting up the camper, went into Winslow to “stand on the corner.” We visited three national monuments in the greater Flagstaff area on day four. On day five, we visited Meteor Crater before heading across the Mojave Desert to Barstow, CA.
It was early in the trip and we had lots of energy. It was a mistake.
We should have stayed an extra day (or two) at Meteor Crater and rested. Going forward, we have a new rule: for every four days of driving and sight-seeing, factor three days of rest, especially while towing the camper.
Towing the camper is just harder on us than driving without it. While it is great to have it, it does require significantly more forethought and concentration than just driving the truck. Urban areas are especially hard. The drive from Barstow to Maripsoa up California 99 was not fun.
Later in the trip, we spent about 12 hours driving from Cody, WY to Montrose, CO in one day. As we neared Montrose, we realized neither of us had the energy to drive back north to Colorado National Monument in just another day or two. It was a long, hard drive, but we made it fine. Pushing our driving that hard, however, had consequences in terms of our ability to do everything we wanted to do once we arrived.
By the time we got to Pagosa Springs, CO (a few days later), it was apparent we just did not have the energy to spend a lot of time seeing one of our favorite towns in the two nights we stayed there.
Plain and simple: the long driving days exhausted us.
RV Road Trip Tip #2: Driving Long Distances and Keeping Your Fridge Cold
Another lesson we learned was the effect of driving long distances, especially out West in the summer heat, on the ability to keep food cold.
For those who don’t have RVs, the fridge can run on propane. If you search the forums, RVers are very divided on the safety of using propane while towing the vehicle. Personally, I am in the camp of shutting off the propane. I feel it is just plain safer to leave it off.
Our solution? We bought cooler packs which help keep the fridge cold. They work great as long as they freeze the night before.
We couldn’t keep the fridge cold enough when moving around as much as we did in 100+ temperatures. The freezer packs did not have time to fully refreeze and the heat from outside was just too much for the fridge to really get cold in such a short time.
We didn’t have the same problem when we spent six weeks up in New England, but long distances in the desert really cut into our capability to transport food that required refrigeration.
Again, spending a couple of extra days in one place allows the fridge to catch up, which will solve this problem. Out West, that might mean staying in places which really aren’t great, like the middle of nowhere, Nevada.
Honestly, I think the best solution to this problem is to not buy a lot in the way of food which requires refrigeration and eat out or hit the local grocery store on the days you want to cook. But, if you are somewhere without a lot of options, like Baker, NV, it can make things hard.
RV Road Trip Tip #3: Boondocking is Not Always a Great Idea in the Summer
We store our camper in a facility without hookups. This means we have to spend our first night on the road in a campground so we can fill our fresh water tank with water.
After that first night, we thought why not try boondocking for a couple of nights on the way out? We knew we would be driving long days and getting in after dark… Boondocking would be a way to save a little money.
For those unfamiliar, boondocking is camping without any connections, often not in a formal campsite.
For our first boondocking experience, we found a Walmart near Albuquerque. The store had plenty of reviews as a place we could stop. Many Walmarts, along with other large stores, have no problem with folks staying in their parking lots overnight, as long as you speak to the manager and park out-of-the-way.
When we arrived, there were already several RVs in the parking lot. It took us a while to get a decent level spot that allowed us to leave the camper hitched up.
Overall, it was not the worst night we ever spent, but it certainly wasn’t the best, either. The saving grace? It was relatively cool that night.
When we started looking at other locations to boondock, we started running into one major issue: heat.
Bonnie had originally planned for us to boondock somewhere near Baker, CA… you know, between the Mojave Desert and Death Valley… in June. After looking at the forecast and realizing the outside air temperatures were not going to drop below 90 until around 2 a.m., we quickly nixed that plan.
That’s not to say we aren’t looking forward to boondocking in the future, just when the weather is cooler.
We did pick up a cool Ryobi battery-operated fan for the next time we go boondocking.
RV Road Trip Tip #4: RV Repairs on the Road Can Be Really Hard to Schedule
I won’t rehash our amazingly awful RV repair saga too much right now (you can read the full story here), but I will say it wasn’t fun.
The biggest obstacle was how many of the RV shops had weeks to month-long waits to get service. We ran into a similar problem at home with our camper when we wanted to get some upgrades put on before the trip.
My biggest piece of advice is to get your camper checked out well in advance and be prepared to stay somewhere quite a while if you must have service.
This can be frustrating if you are traveling with a pet, especially a cat. Even at hotels where dogs are welcome, cats often aren’t.
We did discover La Quinta Inns and Suites do allow pets without any additional fees. Even though we didn’t end up needing the hotel, it was great to know it was an option.
Still, having to relocate Alee from the camper, where she is comfortable, to a hotel for several nights did not appeal to us at all.
We were also really happy to learn Camping World of Idaho Falls was more than happy to let Alee hang out in the lobby with us as long as she was on a leash.
RV Road Trip Tip #5: Always Ask a Local Before You Drive a Pass with Your Camper
To those who live out West, this will be a no-brainer. But, to those of us who don’t live with high altitude passes on a daily basis, it bears saying: ask a local before you take your camper over it.
We ran into this a couple of times during out trip. The first time was in California. Initially, we had planned on driving the Tioga Pass to Lee Vining. I knew this pass was a tough drive, but I was confident, based upon my research, we could handle it, if slowly.
Unfortunately, snow closed Tioga Pass, as well as Sonora Pass. That pushed us further north to either Ebbetts Pass or Carson Pass. Ebbetts Pass actually opened the day we were driving but, boy, are we glad we didn’t take it.
When we spoke to the folks in Lee Vining, they told us Ebbetts Pass was crazy difficult to drive, especially with a camper. Carson Pass, on the other hand, was relatively easy with no issues.
They were also able to tell us, despite the road signs headed east, the drive to Tonapah, NV was pretty easy.
Later in the trip, the lovely folks at our campground in Montrose warned us driving the Million Dollar Highway was not the best option for towing the camper.
After researching it online, I found folks in both camps about taking an RV over the Red Mountain Pass. Some said RVs did it all the time, so why not? Some said it was not for the faint of heart since the drop-offs on the passenger side were a bit terrifying.
We decided to err on the side of caution and took a longer, but very pretty drive further west.
Going Forward: Our Next RV Road Trip
Traveling with an RV is always a learning experience. After a little more than a year, we know we are still pretty new to the game. If we can help folks not make the same mistakes we made, the teachers in us are pretty happy.
I also know some veteran RV campers out there will look at my aversion to running propane while towing the camper or driving crazy mountain passes as unnecessary caution. They might be right. Honestly, we travel the way we are most comfortable with. After all, it’s our vacation.
What are some of your RV road trip tips?
We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.
We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.
If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.
We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.
As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.
We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.
We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.
We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
Click here to book a tour.
We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.
15 thoughts on “Five Tips for a Better RV Road Trip”
i think that u could easily run the fridge while driving
Thanks for the comment. I know a lot of folks do… I am just not comfortable doing it.
Thanks for sharing this. Your tips are very helpful. I am a travel freak and travel a lot. Next year Alaska is on my card.Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness., and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Next year I definitely want to explore Albany.
People often have a theme that they base their worldly travels on, but how about a mental mantra for your travel? Out of a cheerleading event that consisted of our family shouting supportive words at our daughter who was attempting to kill a rather monstrous spider that the rest of us were too chicken to get close to, came this great quote, “If you don’t think, and you just do….then it’s done!”
This quote came back to haunt me when on vacation in Seattle. I thought it would be a great idea to take the kids on the Seattle Great Wheel, the ferris wheel overlooking the ocean, but as we approached it, I realized how high it went and immediately panicked! Just as I had decided to put the kids on it on their own, my daughter says, “Come on dad…If you don’t think, and you just do….then it’s done!” What could I do at that point?! She was telling me to stop thinking and creating more fear about the situation and just get on the thing!
“If you don’t think, and you just do, then it’s done!” We all now keep this quote in our back pocket, ready to whip out at any time to push one of us forward into an adventure we know they won’t regret. No hesitations, don’t allow any time for fear to set in, and be prepared for your kids to turn your life advice back on you
Great advice! Great stories. Thanks so much for sharing! We are headed to Alaska this summer (cruise with my folks), but we really want to take the camper all the way there.
Knowing absolutely nothing about campers or RVs, I agree with the propane being shut off. It just seems very unsafe to have it on while in motion.
Boondocking does not sound like what I thought it was either. I knew it was camping away from an actual site without hookups, but I thought they had generators so you could have power and AC when you’re in the desert. Can’t wait to read more!
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We are from GA as well. We have 4 families traveling out west in June/July. We are headed to Mt Rushmore- ( my husband insists we see it just once) Glacier then back to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons. I already know we are traveling way too much but hey, there’s only so much time most of the crew can take off work. We have it mapped out and most of our reservations are KAOs . We are veteran campers but only local states . What suggestions could you give us about gear? We plan to hike the semi easier trails. Anything you can suggest will be appreciated. My biggest concern is that the four families will still be friends at the end! LOL!
Thanks for the comment!
That sounds like an epic trip! Mt. Rushmore is actually really cool but the real gem is the Black Hills. We love them and we might be up there this summer as well!
Here’s our itinerary for a summer road trip that hits a lot of where you are headed. Hopefully, you can use this to hit some of the out-of-the-way spots along the trip, like Grant-Kohrs NHS or Cody, WY. https://www.wanderfilledlife.com/western-national-parks-summer-road-trip/
Be sure to check the status of the Montana Quarantine before you head to Glacier!
In terms of gear for the trip, I am going to link our hiking 10 essentials. These are recommendations for hiking gear we use: https://www.wanderfilledlife.com/essential-hiking-gear/
In terms of clothes, the weather should be amazing but be prepared for colder weather than you are used to in the summer. Take a couple of fleeces for cool mornings/evenings.
Two last pieces of advice on saving some money on this trip: since you are staying at a lot of KOAs, get the membership if you do not already have one. Also, get a Good Sam membership as well. You will save enough to pay for the $25 fee in gas alone on the trip, not to mention any other campgrounds you are staying at are likely to have a Good Sam discount.
Please let us know if you have any other questions and tell us how the trip went!
Found your blog info from a youtube video… subscribed. My husband and I are planning to take early retirement for 1 yr when he turns 62 (I will still be in my late 50’s) and travel the US for 9 months and come home for the winter. We had thought about using a RV membership to stay at and alternate with boondocking and US Forest land camping… Do yall have any recommendations for RV memberships?
Also- yall must be from the East (we are from AZ -blah!) What are the must see rural/forest areas of the south east?
I told my husband I want to do this even if it means him quitting his govt contracting job … he can always find another one or something else less stressful… I dont want to wait till we are too old and tired to FEEL well enough to do all the hiking and exploring that I want to do. Any suggestions or pointers?
We are so glad you found us! We totally endorse the idea of retiring early to road trip the country! Please let us know if we can help in any way!
In terms of RV memberships, the only one we use is Good Sam (well, that and AAA).
In terms of rural areas in the Southeast, we recommend taking a good look at the various National Forests, like the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The biggest difficulty will be finding good places to boondock east of the Mississippi. There just aren’t as many wide-open spaces to enjoy.
Our biggest tip starting out is to make sure you start small in terms of your trips. Take the camper out to a nearby campground to work out all the bugs where you can easily hit the local Wal-Mart or RV store.
Also, don’t be afraid to buy a used RV! You can save a lot of money that way! Just make sure you have someone good check it out for you.
Thanks for explaining that you should avoid boondocking in the summer because they’re not official campsites. I’m taking my two kids on an RV road trip to see my parents this summer. I’m hoping that we can rent an RV with enough space for us all to be able to relax.
Thanks for the comment! We hope you have a great trip.