Tips for Planning Big RV Trips

Wise planning decisions can have you hitting the open road like a boss!
Are you dreaming about new places and locations to explore?  Don't put off those bucket list trips.  There is no time like the present.  Planning ahead and being organized can help you get there and feeling like your own personal travel agent!  A successful trip can make anyone feel like a total boss.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by the long haul, you can do it. 

Before you start planning anything, consider three key factors - time, budget and location.
  1. How much actual vacation time do you have to get there and back?
  2. Plan a budget that is reasonable and won't break the bank.
  3. The location could limit your plans or just open up the possibilities for new ways to get there.  Be creative to achieve your goals!
Your overall vacation time will determine if it is feasible to drive to your vacation spot.  Some trips may require that you fly to a location and camp in a cabin or rented RV.  Ask yourself if you are going to blow your entire budget on towing and gas to get there.  This is a real consideration.  You don't always have to take your RV to camp.  Look for alternative ways to do what you love without towing a camper all the way across the country if you need to.  

Gas Buddy's Trip Calculator can help you with determining fuel costs for your next trip.  It will give you a number to apply to your overall budget.  RV Trip Wizard is another planning tool that you can use to help with budgets and planning.  It is a paid membership.  But, you can try it for free first.  If you are easily overwhelmed, this tool may be worth the money.  It includes maps, campgrounds and other tools as well.

Take your travel time and budget and apply those numbers toward your overall plan.  Depending on the distance, you could compare towing versus a rental when you arrive.  No matter what, I recommend starting a spreadsheet to keep up with everything while you are planning for a big trip.  It's an easy way to see the big picture.  I have a Big Trip Planning Template that you can use.  Select File and Make a Copy to add this to your Google Drive.  My planning spreadsheet keeps up with each night and how long you will stay there, the campground, miles each day, costs and more.

There is no better feeling than the one you get from breathing fresh air and exploring new places.

Plan Your Route

Using your budget and allocated time, plan the route for your trip.  Remember that your route may not always be the most direct route to get to your location.  Be willing to take detours if there is another attraction nearby or a more scenic route to take.

I don't personally want to tow our RV through Dallas.  We are traveling to Texas next spring.  The most direct or quickest route would take us through Dallas, but we are opting to take a state highway that will bypass a large metropolitan area.

Determine How Far You Will Travel Each Day

One thing that I hated as a child was always "having to make good time".  Being crammed into a car and running a marathon from place to place every day is not fun nor a vacation.  Plan a reasonable amount of miles to travel each day.  Take into account stops for bathroom breaks, gas, and meals.  Also, if you are towing your RV, you will have set up and take down times each day.  Allow for some fun each day as you travel.

If you plan to have some downtime each day, everyone can relax and enjoy the journey.  On those travel days, you might want to consider finding a place where you can swim.  Or, maybe you want to end the day with a quiet spot for a campfire.  As you plan these days, think about the end of your day and how you want to spend it.  Maybe you will be stopping where there is a great burger joint.  Make each travel day memorable by allowing for little things along the way.  Each day should be special even if it is a meal or quick activity before bed to unwind.

Go One Way and Come Home Another

If time and budget allow, travel to your location one way and return another.  You will be able to see more things and make the most of your time on the road.  This is where you want to grab a map and see how you can create a loop as you travel home.  Or, if you travel the same way home, make different stops on the way back.

On our Texas Trip this spring, we plan to travel to Fredricksburg through one route, but we are going to return home through Waco.  I want to go to the Magnolia Market and see some different scenery.  This plan allows us to pack a lot into one trip.

Look for the unique and different places to stay along the way to make the journey so much more memorable than that of hotels and typical travel!

Plan Your Overnight Stops

When you are planning a big trip, make the most of every day.  Try to plan for the unique things or experiences that are important to you and your family.  If you belong to Harvest Hosts or another similar group, look for Harvest Host locations that allow you to take advantage of different experiences.  You could visit a new state park that will save you money.  Or, use Good Sam Memberships that will save on overnight fees with discounts.

Ask for recommendations in camping groups you belong to online.  If you don't participate in online camping groups through social media, this is the time to start.  There is a wealth of knowledge out there to be had.  So may campers are willing to recommend campgrounds that they have loved and enjoyed.

Finally, look for opportunities to mix it up.  Maybe you will stay at a resort-style location with nicer amenities on the days that you are planning to be somewhere longer.  Stay at places with lower costs on the days that you are just stopping for the night.  Choose where to spend your money wisely.  Good planning will ensure that overnight stops are as memorable based on your choices and not the amount of money to spent.

How Long Will You Stay at Each Location

You may need a couple of nights or more to explore a larger area.  Some nights you are going to just be passing through.  Pace yourself along the way to make your trip more about the journey as a whole than how far you can travel.

This is where the planning spreadsheet comes in handy.  I outline my nightly stays and how we plan to allocate our time.  We have travel days combined with longer sightseeing days at our main destination.

Don't Be Afraid or Disappointed If You Need to Regroup

Once you start to plan, you may find out that you are well over budget or the amount of time for travel.  It's okay to hold off on that really long trip and regroup.  Maybe you don't have the vacation time to go all the way to the Grand Canyon.  But, you could travel to somewhere fun in Texas that would be an excellent trip at this time.  Or maybe, you have started to plan and discover there is no way to take this trip without flying and renting a cabin or RV when you get there.  Don't be so married to an idea that it keeps you from being able to achieve your goal.  The best part about travel is that you are in charge and can change and alter these plans as you need to.  There is no test at the end to see if you were able to go to exactly where you had originally planned.  You want your trip to be fun and reasonable!  

I really want to go to Marfa, Texas.  But, I also know that it is a long trip, and it isn't the right time for us now.  But, we are going to do it but in a way that makes sense for us.  So, for now, we are going to travel to Fredericksburg, Texas and do a long trip that is a shorter distance from Marfa.  I'm okay with this.  Its all about reasonable goals in this season of our life.

For most of us, it may be difficult to do more than one big trip a year.  We typically do trips that are relatively close to home.  But, having a big trip to look forward to is a fun way to enjoy your RV to the fullest.  Reach out and do something new and exciting.

Research Your Location

Finally, do some research on your main destination and stops along the way.  Use your skills on the "interwebs" to pinpoint fun places to eat or places to explore.  I don't like to travel with a strict itinerary.  But, it is helpful to have some places or things in mind as you travel.  

This past spring, I read about a James Beard-winning barbeque joint in Marianna, Arkansas.  I also knew that kayaking was an activity that we wanted to do when we were camping on that trip.  So, we planned to make those things happen.  While you may know about a certain location, doing some research may reveal a hike not to be missed or an activity that would be fun.

Don't forget to get the kids involved.  Prep them for where you are going.  Get them a book from the library about the geographic region, the wildlife or other facts.  Get everyone on board before you go so that it is a true group activity where everyone is engaged.  It gives everyone in your party something to look forward to.

Have you planned a big RV trip for your family?  What made your trip successful or a disappointment?  If you have had a great long trip in your RV, I'd love to hear about it.  And, if you feel like your planning resulted in a flop, don't give up.  Every trip can have some hiccups, but that is part of the charm too!

Until next time...

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