Planning for a Long RV Trip - 7 Tips to Get You There

How you plan your long RV trip can make a big impact on the overall outcome.

When we first bought our travel trailer, we talked about how this opened the door for us to take longer trips and do more RV travel. However, we slowed our RV travel plans down in 2020 due to COVID.  As the year wore on, we decided to just go for it and take that long trip to Far West Texas that we had been dreaming of.  If you are considering a long RV trip but don't know where to start, I have a few pointers to get you on your way.

We had a great time on our last time of 2020!  Planning was a huge part of this success.

Planning for a Long RV Trip

First, let me start out by telling you that I'm a spreadsheet kind of girl.  I'm nerdy that way.  It's an easy way for me to organize my planning and keep up with everything.  Plus, I like to keep everything electronic so that I can access it from my phone on the go.  But, that is just me.  I typically organize everything by having a few worksheets within my overall spreadsheet to help me with all of the details.  I include:
  • Campground reservations
  • Meals
  • Shopping
  • Fuel Costs
I use the first three categories for when we are planning the trip.  I use the fuel costs worksheet to help me keep up with what all we spent on a trip.  This is an easy way for me to look back and budget for other trips.  If you would like a planning worksheet for a long trip, I have created a template that you can use in Google Sheets.  You can select File and Make a Copy to add this to your Google Drive.  After this, you can rename it, edit it, and put in all of your details for your next road trip!  I have added the formulas to this to help with budgeting and getting an overall total for your trip once you plug in all of your numbers.  

Plan Your Route

Planning your route for travel is where I always start when planning a trip.  Sometimes I take the most direct and quickest route.  There are other times that we may detour to miss a large city or to see something along the way.  If you take your time and thoughtfully plan your trip, you will have an easier time overall.

By starting here, you can determine how you want to slice up your trip along the way if it will take more than one night to get to where you are going.  And we found this to be a tricky part of a long journey.  It is hard to anticipate how long it will actually take to get there because fuel stops, meals, and taking care of animals can really add to your travel time.  So remember that your time that you find in terms of calculated travel time is only part of the actual time to get to your destination.

Take turns driving each time you fuel up to break up the drive and make sure the driver behind the wheel is alert!

Determine Driving Time For Each Day

This is where we made a good decision going to Texas but, we also adjusted going home because it is hard to anticipate what this is like until you have actually done it.  I calculated an initial driving time of 17 total hours to get to Terlingua, Texas.  This is only driving time and didn't include stops.  I split this time in two for two days of driving time.  While this worked on our way going, it was just too much going home and we extended our travel time.

If you are going somewhere that requires more than one day to get there, I wouldn't go more than 6 hours of actual drive time per day.  The reason I suggest this is because you can easily tack on an additional 2 hours each day for fuel stops, bathroom breaks, meals, and anything else you might have to do.  For us, this included walking dogs as well.  You may think two hours is a lot to allocate for stops, but you don't want to be rushing around like your hair is on fire for your travel days.  It makes driving days less fun, stressful, and just overall terrible.  Give yourself time to get to where you are going.  There is nothing worse than traveling and driving so hard that you are absolutely exhausted from it when you reach your destination.

Another thing that I suggest is starting out early.  Since we had never taken a really long trip like this before, we decided that we would get up at 5 in the morning on our first day to hitch up and go.  We were on the road by 6 both days that we traveled on our way to Texas.  Because we were traveling in the winter, we wanted to make sure that we arrived at our unfamiliar destinations during the daylight.  Both my husband and I agree that this was a wise choice to make.  An early start will give you some cushion time for extra stops or unanticipated problems along the way.  We are morning people and used to getting up early so this was not a stretch for us.  

We enjoyed staying at Oak Creek RV Resort on our way to Terlingua.  It was easy to get to from the Interstate and had all of the amenities we needed.

Locate Campgrounds

After you have determined how much time you will travel each day, you can use this to gauge locations for campgrounds and stays as you go.  While we prefer state parks and other low key locations, staying at a campground that was near the Interstate with easy on and off access was the best choice for us.  We have experienced good luck using campgrounds like Good Sam Campgrounds.  These are typically well managed and maintained.  Plus, many times these types of campground offer amenities that make a difference when traveling for a long distance.  

Once I had determined a stopping point based on our travel route, I searched online for campgrounds and read reviews.  I looked at photographs online and felt like I was able to make an educated guess from these things.  We wanted simple, clean, with easy access to and from the Interstate.  

I do think that staying near a city or town on long trips can have big advantages.  If you have problems or need mechanical help along the way, you will be near a place with access to those services.  We needed a new tire on our way home.  We were close to Fort Worth, and we were able to locate a place that helped us replace our tire and get back on the road without losing too much time the next day.  If you are in a remote location, your options will be limited.  Plus, we were able to refill our propane tanks at the campground while the tire was being replaced.  All of this helped to make good use of our time.  It is hard to anticipate your needs on a long trip, but having access to services is really half of the battle in these cases.

If your camping spot is level, you could consider staying hitched to your tow vehicle overnight.  We did this on our trip to and from Texas.

Overnight Stays

Depending on where you stay and the campsite itself, you can pull into a campground and hook up without having to unhitch.  I know that RV'ers like to debate this, but I think that if you are on a paved, level spot that you can easily stay hitched to your tow vehicle.  This does mean that you are at the campground and won't have access to your tow vehicle to do other things like dining out if you want.  However, keep reading for some tips about this.

We lowered the tongue jack and stabilizer jacks to take some pressure off of the hitch and give us some stability.  But, we had good success with level spots and felt like we were safe doing this.  We did engage our parking brake and chock our wheels.  

We did use our water and bathroom in our RV during these quick overnight stays.  In the morning, we quickly drained our tanks and did a minimal flush because of the short term use of our tanks.  But these things took very little time and could be done while we were walking our dogs and getting ready to go.  If you didn't want to use your facilities to save time, staying at a nice RV park with good facilities would allow you to use their showers and bathrooms as opposed to using yours.  We didn't want to do this because of COVID, but I would consider doing this in the future once things have gone back to a more "normal state" (whatever that is at this point).

I packed single-serving oatmeal cups that we could prepare with hot water from my electric kettle.  This was a simple way to have breakfast before leaving the campground as we traveled.

Meals and Dining While Getting There

I don't mind cooking.  So, we did a mixture of dining out and eating in on our trip.  Make mornings easy with something you can eat before you go.  Think frozen sandwiches that you can heat in the microwave at the campground.   I have also packed single-serving oatmeal cups.  When I am heating my water to make coffee.  I heat up enough for the oatmeal.  Yogurt smoothies or just simple yogurt cups could be great.  I just don't want to make an extra stop for breakfast, so a meal at the campground on the way out is better for us.

Another thing that we did was call restaurants in an upcoming town that we wanted to visit to ask if there was somewhere to park with an RV.  Prior to this trip we would eat at Cracker Barrell because of RV parking or eat at truck stops where we were getting gas.  I hated being so limited.  

I called one restaurant n in a small Texas town.  They said that we could park across the street and walk over.  Another restaurant had a gentleman that worked there that specifically helped in the parking lot.  He directed me into the adjacent parking lot so we could get out.  Both times, calling ahead paid off and allowed us to eat out while still towing our RV.

Sure, there are still times that we are going to grab a sandwich or something easy wherever we are getting gas, but don't limit yourself because you are afraid of parking.  If you call ahead, you can learn about parking options and maybe try something new along the way.  And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in your RV wouldn't be so bad as a picnic either.

RV Lanes at Pilot and Flying J Locations make fueling up easy.  Use the app to locate stops with these amenities.

Fuel Stops

Getting gas used to be another stressful part of RV travel.  Not all gas stations work well for RVs.  And, you do have to pick your fuel stops wisely.  We kept a watch on our gas as we drove.  When the fuel economy readout in our tow vehicle told us that we had 150 miles remaining on our tank.  We started to plan our fuel stop.  We wanted to be sure that we got gas with around 70 miles remaining in our tank.  This allowed us to scope out gas stations that were coming up on our apps.  

We use the Loves and Pilot apps to help us plan our fuel stops.  Both gas stations are typically good places to stop for us.  We travel with our dogs and many Loves have dog parks and places to walk our dogs.  Also, both Loves and Pilots have lots of RV amenities like good food choices, bulk propane, and more.  Pilot and Flying J have some stations with RV lanes.  While not a necessity, it is a huge deal to find a station with RV lanes.  They are easy to get in and out of along the way.  You can see which ones offer this by using their app.  

We look for stations that have a large area for fuelings up with a wide area at the front that would allow for a turn in the RV.  We also try to get into an exterior fuel pump.  But the key is finding one with plenty of space around the pumps to allow for pulling in and making a wide enough turn to get out.  If you keep a watch on your fuel, you can afford to pass up stations that don't have the space and amenities you need.  

Finally, if you are out west or in remote locations that are unfamiliar, don't allow yourself to run out of gas.  On our way to Big Bend, the last town we came to was about 80 miles from our final destination.  We got gas in that last town even though we had half of a tank of gas.  Out west, gas stations are far and few between.  We didn't want to chance it in case something happened on our drive.  It's just better to be safe than sorry.

A backup camera on your RV can provide added peace of mind while towing.

Towing Safely

I think towing safely involves more than just your equipment.  Two things to consider is driving time and your drivers.  We planned to switch drivers every time we got gas.  This meant each of us drove between 2 and 3 hours at a time.  By the time we were getting gas, the person driving needed a break, and the passenger would be rested and ready to drive again.  It worked great for us over our long trip and really broke up the driving!

Other things that make a difference are the actual equipment.  Be sure to check your tires each day that you tow your RV.  Make sure that tires are inflated properly and are safe.  We use the Ryobi Inflator and Deflator to check our tires.  

Before you hit the road for a long trip, it is also a good idea to have your tires checked to make sure that they are still in good condition.  If your tires have more than 10,000 miles on them or if they are more than 18 months old, you could have dry rot starting and could need changing.  Don't take off without making sure your tires are in good condition.  We are about to change the tires on our RV and have ordered Goodyear Endurance tires.  These were recommended by other RVers including my cousin who really knows his stuff!

My husband and I both agree that a sway and weight distribution hitch is very important.  We both feel like it makes a difference in the overall towing experience and couldn't imagine travel without it.  If you don't already have one, you might want to make this investment before a long trip.

Another thing that we recently added is a backup camera.  Our RV was prewired for a backup camera, and this one was easy to install.  The backup camera allows you to see behind you while towing down the road.  This helps when passing so that you can see how much space there is behind you.  It helps with changing lanes and more.  

Your travel to and from a location can greatly affect your trip and memories of it.  If you plan wisely, you can make it to your long haul destination with ease.  You will return home feeling like a champ and won't regret one mile.  Even with minor bumps in the road during our final trip of 2020, we loved every minute and would gladly do it again.  I feel like we learned a lot by taking that long trip this past year, and those experiences have given us the confidence to do it again!

If you have tips about long travel trips in your RV, I'd love to hear from you.  Feel free to add a comment below or drop a link to my email.  RV Travel always includes learning experiences along the way.  We certainly know more than we once did, and we also continue to learn as we travel together.

Until next time...

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