Tips for Planning a Longer RV Trip

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My desk is littered with notes, maps, travel brochures, and printouts. Over the next few months they will have to be transformed into an organized agenda and itinerary for a glorious trip across the country. 

We're going west this year. We have been talking about it ever since we bought our RV and, after traveling up and down the east coast, we're ready for a change of scenery!

But planning an itinerary that will encompass so many miles and so many potential stops can be a bit overwhelming. How do you choose what to see and what to leave for the "next trip"? That is our conundrum this month as we begin our planning. 

List Attractions You Want to See on Your Trip

I'll begin with a list of the top 5 attractions in each state we might traverse. Almost every state has a tourism website that highlights all there is to see and do in their state. Often, they will suggest several themed itineraries to showcase the best they have to offer. 

While I'm there, I also check out their state park campgrounds and get a list going of private RV campgrounds in the area (After I get the route settled, I'll check reviews and recommendations for campgrounds from friends, my LTV Facebook group, and Pinterest).

Then, I like to test out ideas to "theme" a trip. It doesn't always work out, but deciding to choose a theme can make planning the route a little easier. For instance, if we make this trip all about seeing National Parks, then our route will be decided by how many parks we can include in our travel time frame. 

The "big list" becomes a resource of things to do along the way to the "next" national park. Having a theme isn't necessary but it does make it a bit more fun.  

Although I don't expect we'll have time to see everything on the "big list", it's nice to look through attractions, festivals, events, and natural wonders for each state. Then it comes down to choosing which will fit our theme, route, or time frame. When you start with a big list, every state becomes an adventure instead of just another mile-marker. 

Choosing a Trip Route

Our timing of summer travel makes our route easier to choose. We will divert from the notoriously hot southwest corridor and push our route across the northern tier of states. For a winter trip west, we would flip the route to the southwest to avoid northern snow. 

Beginning with a general route like this is a good start. Then comes the actual road selection and which destinations to visit along the way. As you try out different routes, your "big list" will be a great resource to help you choose which roads offer the best options for attractions, campgrounds, and sightseeing. 

Of course, we can always divert from the route to accommodate serendipity! For instance, our travels may take us close to the Canadian boarder, so we will probably venture into Canada to see the areas close to our route. Travel is all about discovery, so don't hesitate to temporarily "ditch" the itinerary to take advantage of what you find along the way. 

How Long Do You Want to Travel?

That said, you can't do everything on one trip. A vacation for most people lasts two weeks. For those who have a more flexible schedule, you might allocate a month or two away from home. Whatever your time available for travel, use it wisely to get relaxed, and revitalized. When you return, you'll be more engaged in your work after a trip that has refreshed your perspective. 

Set a primary goal for your vacation. Do you want to just kick back and rest? Maybe you want to explore a particular area or pursue a specific hobby. Activities and destinations you choose should help you accomplish that goal as well as add some variety to your trip.

For us, the trip west will be focused on small towns across the country, so we will slow down the pace to learn more about the communities along our route. We might not go as far, but we're sure to enjoy the journey!

Setting a primary goal and enjoying that accomplishment will make the trip both purposeful and memorable. And, it willprevent the exhausting "express tour" syndrome.

Find Historic Stops

History looms large on many travel itineraries and it's pretty easy to include historic sites no matter where you travel. If you're a history buff, you can find a directory of historic sites on most state tourism websites. Be sure to consider sites that mark iconic events like the Lewis and Clark expedition, or monuments like Mount Rushmore, Mesa Verde, or the archaeological digs in the Badlands of South Dakota. Sites like these can add gravity to your trip and are a fascinating journey through history. 

Plan Outdoor Actvities

An activity like fly-fishing, hiking, or kayaking all provide a great reason to stop, relax and enjoy the outdoors along the route. After hours of driving, getting outdoors on foot is a good break from the asphalt ribbon. 

One of the simplest outdoor activities is star gazing. Camping often puts you in areas with low light pollution that allow you to see more stars and constellations. 

Of course, if you plan to fish, check out the license requirements in advance. In unfamiliar areas, we tend to keep our hiking and kayaking to well-marked trails and waterways. We want to enjoy a little time outdoors - not get lost in the wilderness! 

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Timing Your RV Trip

I suppose the real trick to planning a good itinerary is narrowing down the options to keep the 'fun trip' from becoming the 'exhausting trip'. Express touring in an RV may cover the miles, but can leave you physically and mentally spent. All the destinations kind of run together in your memory! We've learned its better to take our time to enjoy fewer places with more vivid memories. That in mind, we'll follow a "four-hour-rule". 

Once we plan a general route, we mark places to stop about every four hours. That's where we will explore the area, spend the night, and perhaps stay a day or two. 

I'll do some research to find campgrounds, activities, and attractions at each four-hour increment of the drive. We may have to stretch that four-hours to six as we cross more open spaces, but taking the time to plan those longer drives makes them easier to tolerate. 

We will also "bookend" those longer drives with longer stays on either end to make sure we are rested before continuing our journey. The idea is to enjoy the journey as much as the destination, and our four-hour rule allows us the right pace. 

Now, you may prefer a longer stretch of driving each day. By all means, find the pace that works for you! Sometimes your allocated vacation time requires you to drive longer periods and cover more miles. Just enjoy the drive with frequent stops to stretch and relax every couple of hours and you'll arrive at your destination less fatigued and enjoy the trip much more.  


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RV Trip Planning Tools

Planning a longer trip and its itinerary takes time. We start several months in advance so that we have the time to research the sights and activities in each area as well as potential routes. 

We use a map, our trip planning notebook, and an online route planner. The map give us the "big picture" of the trip, while the notebook allow us to list all the options for things to do and see. 

Using an online route planner helps us to get a good idea of the types of roads on the route as well as find campgrounds, gas stations, and restaurants along the way. 

Once we have a pretty good route and stops planned, we load them into our GPS. The one we use is specific to RVs and alerts us to routes that might not be suitable for larger vehicles. 

We also compare the GPS route to Google Maps to see where they differ. Sometimes the distance difference is significant and that prompts some investigation to find the best route.

Getting all of this sorted ahead of time makes departure day far more exciting and a lot less stressful!

A Quick Summary for Planning a Long RV Trip:

  1. Make a Big List - all the potential things to do and see along the way.

  2. Choose a Timely Route - consider weather, traffic, and anything that will impact your driving. Can you avoid it by changing the route? If not, what can you do to prepare for the inevitable?

  3. Define the Time Available - how much time can you spend traveling? What do you want to make sure you accomplish in that time?

  4. Find the History - look for historic sites along your route and learn about each area. It will make your trip more memorable!

  5. Get Outdoors - RVing is about the freedom to travel and stay in the outdoors. Take advantage of hiking trails, lakes to kayak, wildlife to observe and dark places to view the night sky. 

  6. Be Realistic in Your Timing - follow a reasonable driving schedule with frequent stops to prevent fatigue. And, don't schedule your trip with too many things to do and see. Take time to enjoy each stop and leave a few things to see for "next time". 

  7. Use All The Tools - for a longer trip you need perspective of the whole as well as all the little pieces. Use maps, brochures, planning notebooks, and online route planners. 

Jump in and get planning that next big trip and we will see you on the road!