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Planning an extended camping trip can take hours. There are several factors to consider when planning a long journey, such as sightseeing, finding the best gas stations and campgrounds, as well as how long you plan to travel each day. Learn our favorite tips on how to plan an RV trip.
Online Trip Planners
A myriad of trip planning apps are available to help map out your vacation. In our opinion, two planners stand out above the rest. The first is the RV Trip Wizard (Check it out) and its companion, RVLife GPS. The second is The Dyrt’s (Check it out) trip planner which is available with their pro-version. I like the trip planning process, so I still do all of our trip planning without the help of an online trip planner. We use blank calendars for our planning (Check out our collection on Etsy). However, reviews on these two planning apps are great.
Even if you do not use the trip planning feature of the RV Trip Wizard, access to their RV GPS is worth the annual fee of $49. Traveling in an RV is very different than traveling in a car, so we recommend that you use a GPS designed specifically for RVs. A good RV GPS takes into account your camper’s dimensions so that you do not find yourself traveling under a low clearance bridge or over a steep mountain pass. Garmin makes a portable RV GPS unit (Check it out). However, our favorite is the RVLife RV Safe GPS (Check it out) that we use on our phones. Some people use a truckers atlas or app such as Truck Path to chart their course.
How Long Should You Drive Each Day?
When planning a trip in your camper, the first thing to consider is how long you have to complete your journey. Next, you will need to decide how long you want to drive each day. We try and plan our trips so that we do not travel more than 300 to 400 miles per day, which will usually take 6 to 7 hours. Often, we travel less than 200 miles a day. By controlling the miles we drive per day, we keep the family happy, move our legs, and relax a little more.
What Do You Want to See?
Where we plan to visit and what we see is at the heart of our trip planning. While we love camping and relaxing, our long trips are more about destination camping. We travel to see the sights and to visit new places. We love to visit National Parks and other locations within the National Park System.
One of the main reasons we purchased a camper was to explore the country. We believe that the best education comes from experiences. Brandi and I value the opportunity for our children to experience what they would ordinarily only read about in textbooks (Read our article on education through experience). Exploring and traveling has provided us the opportunity to learn as we go. We also like to visit amusement parks and participate in other family fun activities as we travel.
In 2012, we purchased a National Parks Passport book (Check it out on Amazon), and we have used it heavily ever since. If you are not familiar with the passport book, it details all national park system locations, including national historic sites, monuments, and seashores. In the passport book, there is a spot to get your book stamped at each location. Collecting cancellation stamps is one of our favorite activities when traveling.
As we select our travel destination, we find a campground within the vicinity of several places that we plan to visit. We use the campground as our home base, and we travel from there. For example, when we traveled to California, we stayed in Temecula, which was about an hour from San Diego, Anaheim, and Los Angeles. It was also close enough to make a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park.
Choosing a Campground
The campgrounds that you choose when you plan an RV trip can make or break the vacation. On long trips, we do not necessarily care about many campground amenities as we might when looking for a weekend getaway. However, we still look for campgrounds with space, shade, and a pool in the summertime (Read our article on campsite selection). For an extended trip, our budgeting goal is to stay for around $30 per night. We take advantage of discount programs when at all possible (Read our article on discount camping programs).
Our family does not boondock, so we want to ensure that the campground has water and electric hook-ups. One of our most used discount programs is Passport America. There are thousands of campgrounds across the nation affiliated with Passport America, which offer half-price camping. The Dyrt and Happy Campers also have good discount programs to save up to 50% on your camping. We take advantage of Good Sam discounts when available. In addition to camping while using discount programs, we also like to stay in state parks and Army Corp of Engineer Campgrounds. Both state parks and Army Corp campgrounds offer a lot of value for your money.
We spend a great deal of time reading reviews to ensure that we find a campground that we will enjoy. The Dyrt and RVLife are our favorite sites to read thousands of reliable reviews. Their companion apps are straightforward to use.
Most truck stops are good locations to purchase gas because they have more room to maneuver large rigs. We use Flying J and Pilot gas stations whenever possible to take advantage of the gas discount that comes with being a Good Sam member (Check out the Good Sam Membership). We love that most of the Flying J’s have RV fuel lanes, making it easier to get in and out of the gas station. Selecting fueling centers is part of our planning process. You do not want to get caught on the road, trying to find a location where you have room to maneuver your camper or miscalculate and end up with an empty tank on the side of the highway.
The Planning Process
To get started, I print blank calendar pages and use them to plan our vacation. I generally print two sets of calendar pages. Then I begin filling in information for each day on the calendar. One set of calendar sheets is used to list the cities where we will be camping, and the other set is used to write down what we plan to do in each location. I would suggest marking everything in pencil because things will change as you continue to adjust your plans.
When planning longer trips, we have discovered that it helps to factor in a relaxation day every third or fourth day to hang around the campground. We did not do that on our first month-long trip. As the trip progressed, we found that a day or two was needed to relax at the campground. We had to make adjustments as we traveled and missed some great activities. Now we plan “do-nothing” days into our trip so that when sightseeing, we are at our best.
Planning an RV Trip
When traveling, we allow extra time to visit local sights that we did not know about before the trip. There are all types of fun to be had once you get to your location. One of our favorite side trips was to a pistachio farm in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Another was visiting a strawberry farm in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire.
Long trips take a lot of planning, but they provide family memories that will last a lifetime. Be diligent in your planning, and factor in time to see your planned sights, rest, as well as to savor the surprises that may come up. There is nothing like a road trip in your camper with the family. Keep a journal (Check it out on Amazon). Look back on the memories and cherish them forever.
Some of our favorite camping memories have been on extended trips. The opportunity to visit different areas of the country has been amazing. Do you have tips for planning a long road trip? We would love to hear from you! Please drop us a line in the comment section below.