Full-Time RV Life: Planning a Route and Choosing Campgrounds

A Bird’s-Eye View

When you first start planning a route, it’s fun and easy.  You can quickly string together some great places to go and things to see.

However, actually living that plan takes far more effort.  Sure, you want to stay near this city, or in that park, etc. – but how do you connect things?  What days will you travel?  What days can you travel?  Getting from point A to point D without having points B and C disappoint can be challenging sometimes.

 

Keeping Travel Days in Check

Before we hit the road, we had heard of other full-timers following the “2-2-2 rule”.  That means that you don’t drive over 200 miles in a day, that you’re in your site by 2pm, and that you stay for at least 2 days.

We don’t strictly follow that rule, but we completely agree with the concepts.  Simply put, driving a big rig is a lot more stressful than driving a car.  Every turn and every slowdown takes a little out of you.  Staying fully alert, watching for tree branches, road hazards, and bad drivers takes effort.  This is particularly important to us since we have a toddler – it’s not fair to her to drive for hours on end.

Our personal guidelines are a little different – we usually drive 150-225 miles (never over 250), which equates to 2.5-4 hours driving on average.  We usually drive over Calla’s nap time, so we usually leave in the late morning and arrive mid afternoon.  And we definitely try to stay at a place for at least 5-7 days.

A word of caution: Google Maps time RARELY EQUALS RV DRIVING TIME.   This is especially true for us since our toad’s manual (Ford Escape) states to never exceed 65MPH when towing behind a motorhome.  Our trips almost always take longer than Google estimated, and that’s because we’re always going under the speed limit.  This can really affect drive time when you spend hundreds of miles doing 63MPH on a major highway that allows 70+MPH.

 

Route Planning – Under the Microscope

Despite the fact that our home has wheels, we try to spend as little time as possible driving it.  It’s expensive and pretty stressful to pack everything where it goes and start rollin’ with 26,000 lbs under you.

Because of that, we try our best to make our routes as efficient as possible while still letting us go where we want.

To do this, we heavily rely on a few specific tools:

  1. RV Trip Wizard
  2. Google Maps
  3. RVParkReviews (and to a lesser degree, Campendium)
  4. Other full-time RVers’ suggestions/blogs
  5. Tarot cards (kidding)

Trust the Wizard – the RV Trip Wizard

Before we started our journey, Hannah’s cousin told us about her friends that use RV Trip Wizard.  It’s a website where you can build out routes, plan trips, track costs, see accommodations, etc.  It’ll even track your fuel usage and costs.  It’s not free – I believe it’s $39 per year – but it’s definitely worth it.

We decided to give it a try (I believe there’s a trial period during which you can get a refund), and thought it looked promising.  As we continued south and started planning ahead, I started to “get in the groove” with RV Trip Wizard and started to really like it.

The real value is in its database of campgrounds and points of interest.  Once you have an idea of where you want to go, you can scroll around, zoom in and out, etc. and easily find places where you could stay.  Once you find a place you want to stay, you can add it to your trip – and also track how much it costs and how much gas it’ll take to get there.  You can set how many miles you want to drive in a given trip – and RV Trip Wizard will show a circle around your starting point (however many miles away you selected) to give an indicator of how far out you may want to look for your destination. Little things like that really help.

 

Hover for more info!  The green icons are campgrounds (we have most points of interest turned off)

 

Another great thing about RV Trip Wizard is that you can easily copy a trip, make drastic changes to it, and see how things pan out and connect.  Maybe you can squeeze in a stop at the awesome place you just heard about.  Or if you’re current spot is disappointing, you can easily scope out alternate spots and figure out how to connect back up to your overall plan.

 

Note the distance circle and the itinerary on the side

 

We don’t use RV Trip Wizard on the road or for directions.  It can share directions with your phone (or you can print them), but I rely on Google Maps for that.  It just works better than everything else.

 

Seek Out First Hand Experience

Once you find a possible place to stay – whether through Google Maps, RV Trip Wizard, whatever – it’s always a good idea to read reviews about the campground.

RVParkReviews.com has reviews for almost every campground out there (private, state parks, national parks, you name it).  Reviews often cover cellular signal, site condition, price, nearby attractions, and other aspects important to RVers.  You can also easily search for campgrounds here, but I usually stick to RV Trip Wizard for that.

Google Maps also has valuable reviews and pictures, but I generally consider them to not be as informative.

Better yet – if you have follow full-time RVers or have friends that are full-time RVers, their suggestions are extremely valuable.  We’re always interested to hear other RVer’s favorite places to stay or suggestions for certain areas.

 

Anteing Up

Once you start getting a trip put together, you might want to consider making campground reservations.  We often had trouble finding sites at popular state parks in Florida and had to skip some parks that we really wanted to see entirely.  However, the size of your rig is also a large factor here – some of the older parks out there simply don’t have many sites for a rig over 35 feet.  Lots of national parks don’t have any sites for rigs that size from what we’ve heard.

Most state parks use Reserve America for reservations.  The site is pretty poor but it works well enough to reliably get our money.  National parks/forests use recreation.gov to manage reservations.  Make some online reservations at county parks if you want to see truly awful reservation websites – that’s you, Fort De Soto Park (but don’t worry, that park is absolutely worth the headache)!

 

Select Your Site Carefully

There’s another level of depth that we’ve learned to consider.  At many campgrounds, some sites are WAY better than others.  Being near water, or away from the road, or out of the pet loop, etc. can make your stay much better.  Some campgrounds make this information easy to find, but most do not.  This is another benefit of reading reviews on RVParkReviews since many people state what site they were in and the pros and cons to it.

 

Comparison between Google Maps and the campground map on ReserveAmerica

 

Planning a route can be overwhelming, but it’s really not that bad – you just have to break it down and take it step by step.  I’ve actually come to enjoy the planning aspect of our journey more than I expected.  It’s always great when the a site or reservation actually exceeds expectations!

 

The perfect site at Fort De Soto Park (unfortunately it wasn’t our site)

24 Comments

  1. Call me naive but I had NO idea there were so many sites! I guess it’s something I never thought of. Having to sort through the sites and information would be extremely overwhelming for me! The more you share the more I realize that I probably wouldn’t be cut out for the RV life haha. You guys make it look so easy!!

    1. Ya know, I always forget about allstays. I bought the app for my phone (Android) and we’ve used it a few times to find gas stations, etc. But I usually use a laptop for route planning and personally favor other sites. That’s probably just a habit though and allstays seems to be a great resource, too.

      Thanks for reading!

    1. Yep, it’s nice that it’s finally integrated. It was only a few more clicks before but it feels much faster!

      Thanks for reading!

  2. For those without the budget for pay sites (nice shill, there) you can use http://www.freecampsites.net and it’ll not only show you the usual, boring KOA-type campgrounds but an amazing array of free, USFS, BLM and USWR campgrounds offering so much more than hookups will ever provide. You’e not really “getting out there,” if you’re not boondocking.

    1. No shill here – we received nothing in return for this post and honestly had no idea RV Life was going to include us in their newsletter. I don’t think $40/year is bad for RV Trip Wizard anyway considering it’s our main trip planning tool. We also use other sites (Campendium, http://www.freecampsites.net as you mentioned, and http://www.uscampgrounds.info for examples), but none of those offer the trip/route planning, budget, etc. that RVTW offers.

      One area where RVTW fails a bit is dry camping. If we’re looking to boondock, we use other sites – but we mainly stay in state or county parks. Not all RVers are looking to boondock (or are prepared to do so) but it certainly is nice to get “out there” sometimes!

      Thanks for your feedback and additional resource suggestions!

  3. Nice article and suggestions on limiting driving time. We are new to RVing and quickly learned how tiring and sometimes stressful driving a 26,000 lb vehicle can be. Since we are not full time and don’t have toddler, our travel day criteria is different, we keep our travel day between 300-400 miles- which generally makes for an 8 hour day. Looking forward to reading more of your adventures!

    1. Thanks, Mike! We’ve since expanded our “rules” a bit – we now occasionally drive 250-300 miles if it gets us where we want/need to go. We’ve even stopped partway through for lunch and to let Calla stretch her legs. 8 hours of driving a big rig sounds rough! 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Have you tried RVParky as a trip planning tool? It doesn’t have all the features of RV Trip Wizard, but it is free. I have found its database of places to stay is very comprehensive. It also links to RVPark Reviews.

    1. Hi Michael – nope, I haven’t heard of it until now. It looks like a great free alternative to RV Trip Wizard.

      Thanks for the recommendation and thanks for reading!

  5. One suggestion regarding finding the best spots in a campground is to use the old fashioned telephone and call the office! I have found that, even if you must reserve through an on line service, the ranger on duty or manager who answers the phone can suggest the best spots and loops in a campground.

    1. Good point, Rick! That definitely helps. Just be sure you’re calling the actual park and not the online reservation service (like Reserve America) since they’re looking at the same info you are.

      Thanks for reading!

  6. Thank you for all the tips on planning a route and choosing campgrounds for RV’s. My husband and I just bought an RV and we really want to do a road trip this summer. I really like your tip about making sure to have a plan like your “2-2-2 rule.” I think it would be smart to set some rules before we hit the road.

    1. You’ll find your comfort zone with driving days, but it can be rough at first! Glad to hear the post was helpful.

      Thanks for reading, Deb!

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