Before we left for RV life in August 2017, I was so curious what our travel style would be. By travel style, I mean: where we’d be staying (what type of campgrounds? what kind of hookups?), how far we’d travel, how often we’d travel, and how we’d fit together driving time with the timing of Tim working during the week.
It’s not really something you can predict ahead of time. One of the coolest things about RVing is that there are so many ways to do it, and no way is wrong or right, it’s whatever works for you. It can range from boondocking on BLM lands in a tent to staying in a 45′ diesel pusher motorhome at an RV resort with full hookups and multiple pools. I wasn’t sure where we’d fall on this spectrum – and it took us a few months of full-time RVing to find our sweet spot.
Trudy’s Shakedown Trips
They say that when you buy an RV, you should take it on at least one “shakedown” trip before you live in it full-time. We ended up taking Trudy on 2 shakedown trips, and would highly, highly, recommend this to any RV owner! It’s a great way to get to know your RV without being too far from home, and you will learn valuable (read: painful) lessons. Better to learn them sooner rather than later.
We ended up going to Pennsylvania State Parks for a weekend both times. One had full hookups, which allowed us to learn how to connect our water, electric, and sewer. The other had no hookups, so it was a chance to learn to live off of our tanks.
Our shakedown trips gave us small glimpses of what worked and what didn’t. We loved the nature feel of the state parks – being surrounded by trees and lakes, and there was good separation between campsites. We also learned not to arrive anywhere after dark (especially important with a big rig and a state park – no lights) and that 4 hours might be pushing it with Calla. Poor Tim was driving Trudy for only the second time with a screaming infant a couple feet from him for hours. We got lost. It was dark. I believe there was lots of fighting involved. It’s a bad memory but it’s one of the things that we can look back on now and go, “yeah, that had to happen for us to learn”.
We knew that once we left for full-time life, there’d be a learning curve to figure out our travel style, and that was true. The shakedown trips are only a weekend so they aren’t indicative of how you will put all the pieces together when traveling full-time. Despite only being a preview, those shakedown trips were extremely valuable in getting to know our travel style.
Where We Like To Stay
There are a few categories of where to stay in an RV:
-RV Park (also sometimes called an RV Resort, or a private campground) – Usually has full hookups. Sometimes has other amenities such as a pool, playground, camp store, fitness center, etc. Can accommodate rigs of any size.
–State Park / National Park/ County Park (government run) – Sometimes has hookups, but usually not full hookups. Many are electric/water only, or have no hookups at all. More and more are getting full hookups (especially on the East Coast) but most have electric/water only. Many spots are for smaller campers/tents, so it can be hard to find an available spot for a bigger RV at these.
–National Forest Service Campgrounds – Generally more remote than state parks, these campgrounds are beautifully nestled in the forest but can be hard to get to with a big rig. Most won’t accomodate more than a 30′ rig.
Some National Forests also have land you can camp on for free, but with no amenities.
Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds – We have yet to stay at one of these, but hear nothing but good things. Very clean, similar natural environment to a state park or national forest.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land – The government owns land, and you can camp on it for free for up to 14 days. This provides the most rustic, natural experience – but don’t expect any amenities, not even a dumpster. The motto for BLM land camping is, “pack it in, pack it out”. The hardest thing about utilizing this free camping is getting to it. Roads are not paved or graded and are very rocky.
So…what works for us?
I think the easiest way to explain this is to tell you how we search for where we want to stay in a particular area.
First preference: If we want hookups, we look for State Parks. If we don’t care about hookups, we look for National Forest Service campgrounds (the problem is, most of these won’t fit our big rig, but we still try).
At this point, if no State Parks or NFS campgrounds are available, we ask ourselves: do we really need hookups?
If the answer is yes, then we look into private campgrounds. This is kind of a last resort for us. But private campgrounds do come in handy when I need to do laundry, since state parks almost never have those facilities. We’ve also had good luck with Escapee’s Co-Op parks. You have to be an Escapees member to stay at the parks, but they are very reasonably priced and have good laundry facilities. Again, these parks are pretty limited to the West (I think they may have one in Florida, too).
There have been times when we have enjoyed our private campground experiences, but mostly, they are not our style. Usually the RVs are packed very close together. There’s really no such thing as privacy. And while I do like some of the amenities (pool/hot tub, I’m looking at you), you really miss out on the peaceful experience of being in nature when you’re in an RV park. One of my favorite qualities of a campground is to be able to go for a run or a hike straight from the campsite. This almost never happens at a private RV park, but happens often at state parks.
We know plenty of people who are on the road full-time who camp exclusively in RV parks. There is really no right or wrong way to do this – it’s just finding what’s important to you and aligning your stays accordingly.
If we can do without hookups, then we go boondock on BLM lands. We will miss having this option when we are back East! BLM land camping is only available in the Western states. We have taken advantage of it multiple times now, and have always had a good experience.
With boondocking, more thought goes into the process. You can’t just pull up to a campsite and hook up your electric and water. We have to find water ahead of time, and if we’re staying for awhile, need to figure out how to get water to refill the tanks. We also have to figure out creative solutions for throwing away our trash. So although boondocking is “free”, there are definitely some hidden costs with the effort expended to do so.
Our Travel Pace
Our travel pace used to be determined by Tim’s workweek. We always moved on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday because he had to be at his desk 8-5 Monday through Thursday. So, on average, we moved every 4-7 days. A couple months ago, Tim decided to take a little break between contracts, so now our time is much more flexible. For the first part of our journey, we were on the East Coast. On the East Coast, almost everything requires reservations, and any good state park fills up fast, especially on the weekends. There are no boondocking options. This means that our moves were fairly planned out.
The West has been a different story for us. With our increased flexibility, plus having the options of boondocking and using first come, first served campgrounds (which we LOVE), we never really know where we are going, or when! I think we are finally living up to our name, “Rolling On A Whim”. If we do end up needing a private campground, they don’t have much availability on the weekends, so usually we are forced our after staying Sunday – Thursday. If we can find a first come, first served campsite at a state park or national forest, then we usually stay for 5-7 days. It all depends how much we like a place, how the weather is, how much money we feel like spending – you get the picture! To date, the longest we have stayed at any one place is 12 days.
Travel days. Boo. In general, we don’t like travel days. I don’t think anyone does. By the time you pack up at your current location, get on the road, drive, and then unpack at the new place, an entire day has gone by, and most of it is stressful. Driving a big rig requires constant vigilance. Spending hours in a car with a toddler who wants to be active but is instead restrained in a carseat is difficult. We try to make the best of our travel days, but they’re hard. The best part of a travel day is usually the day after, because you get to see that all of the stress was worth it now that you have (hopefully!) a cool new location to explore.
Our current comfort level on driving days is about 3 hours or 200 miles. Since we’ve been sticking around Arizona for while, we’ve actually had much shorter driving days lately, which has been nice. We’ve also pushed our limits before with driving, mainly to get between the nothingness that is Western Louisiana and Eastern Texas. It ended up going a lot better than expected, but it’s still not something we like to do regularly.
As far as keeping comfort on travel days, I usually pack us a lunch. We make every effort to depart before Calla needs a nap, so she sleeps on the way. This works well, because the check out time at most campgrounds is 11am, and she usually needs a nap somewhere around noon. Speaking of comfort on travel days…one change for me is that our new setup does not allow for bathroom use while going down the road! I took advantage of this in Trudy very often, and I’ll miss it. It’s one of the major perks of a motorhome IMO. To make sure we aren’t pulled over on the side of the highway one hour into our next travel day, I think Tim is going to start rationing my beverages during the morning of a travel day. Only half kidding. A post about driving Trudy vs driving the fifth wheel is to come, once we both get more experience behind the wheel of the truck.
I hope this gives you some insight into how we make our moves. It’s an ever evolving process, but to us, the closer we can get to nature, the better.