We’ve completed two “legs” of our full-time RVing journey. We’re currently parked on Hannah’s brother’s property in Pittsburgh and are planning the third leg now. Doing so has given me the opportunity to reflect on our journey so far, and it’s amazing how different the two trips ended up being in hindsight.
The first leg was through somewhat familiar territory – the east coast – and let us get more comfortable RVing. We stayed at old favorite beach locations (the Outer Banks, Hilton Head Island), found new favorites (Santa Rosa Beach, Fort De Soto Park near St. Pete, FL), and spent two winter months exploring the many parts of the Florida peninsula.
The second leg took us out of our comfort zone and pretty much blew the first leg away when it comes to exploration and adventure. Excluding a few short trips/vacations of yesteryear, the furthest west either of us had been before RVing was probably Ohio. Needless to say, the west blew our minds!
We flew back to New Orleans in January 2018 and continued west through TX, NM, AZ, and CA. We then turned around, spent more time in AZ before the highlight of the second leg – Utah – and finally Colorado.
Calla flew back to Pittsburgh from Denver with family and we high-tailed it 1,500 miles in the Fox in 4 days. That 1,500 mile journey will be covered in a later post, but as a teaser, it included two tire blowouts in 20 miles, an overnight stay next to an abandoned murder hotel, and pretty much no fun whatsoever.
Now that I think about it, the first leg was focused on water and the second leg was focused on land. Both have their advantages and both make it crystal clear just how puny we are compared to our home planet and its natural wonders.
One advantage of using RV Trip Wizard is that it allows you to easily track mileage, fuel usage, and camping costs. I’ll also say that RV Trip Wizard has gotten much slower and significantly buggier recently, perhaps since the “integration” between RV Park Reviews and RV Trip Wizard was introduced (both of these sites are owned by the same company so it’s not mind blowing that they work together). the Wizard’s pros outweigh its cons at the moment but we’ll see if we end up renewing in July.
Anyway, I found it interesting to compare a few high-level stats accumulated so far. We started our journey in Trudy and named our trips in the app accordingly. We’re continuing that naming convention in honor of Trudy despite the fact that she has new owners now. These numbers are approximations since some campground fees were recalled from memory and some of the stops weren’t overnights (e.g. stops on long drives, RV storage, the airport). The costs include approximate fuel costs based on an average MPG and average fuel price.
The second leg was significantly cheaper than the first leg despite being over a month longer and including nearly 50% more stops and close to twice the miles. This is mostly due to the east coast’s expensive RV parks – we occasionally paid $60-70 per night on the first leg – and the fact that we boondocked (camped for free on public land) for 25% of the time on the second leg.
We spent 33 out of 79 nights boondocking while making our way through AZ, CA and UT during the second leg, only going to established campgrounds when we had guests, were changing rigs on the road, or when there simply weren’t any good boondocking options around. And that’s not counting the nights we paid a few bucks to dry camp at campgrounds – there were many of those, too. You can probably tell that we are proud boondockers and are comfortable doing it. We’ve had enough practice and own enough gear to be rather comfortable without any amenities whatsoever.
West coast, best coast
It’s become clear to us that the western portion of the country is better for full-time RVing and exploration and adventure in general. There are many reasons for this, but here are our highest priorities when it comes to RVing:
After spending a significant amount of time in very low humidity (<10% pretty often), it’s very clear that humidity sucks. It makes spending time outside uncomfortable and forces us to shut windows and run the A/C and dehumidifier. A damp RV is not good.
It also usually coincides with lush vegetation, which is nice, but also with lots of rain and clouds. It’s rained nearly every day in Pittsburgh since we’ve been here – it feels like we’re in a rain forest. That’s not good when you live in an RV! We’ll take the desert over the rain forest, thank you very much.
There’s very little public land in the eastern half of the country. That means boondocking is pretty much nonexistent. Bummer!
The east coast also feels a lot more “crowded” – everything is built right up against roadways, and the roads themselves have more hills and curves and feel narrower. Add in the fact that there are far more trees in PA than in the arid west and things start to feel a little claustrophobic. I can’t believe we drove Trudy around Pittsburgh as novices – it’s so much harder to navigate in an RV here than out west. The trees, power lines and old bridges are enough to give me pause even now.
It’s not that we don’t enjoy cities, it’s more that it just feels right when you’re surrounded by nature. I’d take the cool breeze, hot sun, and wonderful pine scents of the western backcountry over traffic, pollution, and hustle of most cities any day.
I fully admit that cities do offer far better restaurants and grocery options. Shopping at Walmart or tiny grocery stores gets old pretty quickly, but that’s a pretty small sacrifice in the big picture.
Back to the point: the western side of the country simply has more natural beauty to see. There are far more national parks, monuments, recreation areas and forests in the west – and that’s usually where one finds nature as it existed before strip malls and Walmart took over.
RVing out west also costs less if you’re willing (and have the gear) to boondock for free in dispersed camping areas or dry camp for cheap in established campgrounds on public lands.
There are tons of national forests, national rec areas and BLM areas that offer free dispersed camping (boondocking) or established campgrounds with few amenities but cheap nightly rates. They’re also fairly easy to find with tools like freecampsites.net, Campendium, and Google Maps satellite view (to check out forest roads and dispersed camping options).
Free or cheap camping is rare on the east coast and is probably not available at all anywhere you actually want to be.
We’ll be hitting the road again in the middle of July 2018. We’re currently doing some (early) scheduled maintenance on the Ram and fixing stuff on the Fox – mainly from the blowout extravaganza in Kansas as the second one did damage to the slide, blew a hole in the undercarriage, and bent up the fender sheet metal.
The third leg should take us to many new places and also a few familiar ones. The current lineup includes seeing new places in the the Michigan upper peninsula, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, California, and probably spending some of the winter months back in Arizona. We’re excited to explore the northwest portion of the country in the warm weather.
Have you RVed on both sides of the country? Let us know what your favorite (or least favorite) parts are of each in the comments!