Ultimate RV Trip Planner: A Guide to Planning your RV Road Trip

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RV travel is one of the best ways to explore the United States! Planning an RV vacation can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the RV life. Not to worry! Two years of full time RV living taught me how to easily plan an RV adventure, and in this ultimate RV trip planner you’ll find a complete guide to planning your RV road trip!

Best Time to RV Across America

The good news is that you can RV the USA any time of the year. If you want to RV across the whole country then a shoulder season like Fall/Spring is best. Alternatively, you can plan your trip based on my seasonal recommendations for the best RV destinations below!

The best time for your RV vacation will depend on the type of scenery you’re interested in seeing. Below I share the best areas of the country for each season.

If you’d like to include Canada in your RV adventure I highly recommend it. Read about the best Canada road trips!

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Summer RV Trips

Summer in the Pacific Northwest is absolutely glorious, and not to be missed. If you want to experience gorgeous forest waterfalls, pristine coastal scenery, and crystal clear mountain lakes then summer in Oregon and Washington is your best bet.

Fall RV Trips

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New England is known for it’s striking fall foliage, where the leaves turn brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. Fall also brings milder weather to the humid east coast, and it’s a great time to explore the Eastern United States. 

Winter RV Trips

Snow and ice make RVing much more difficult so for the winter months I’d recommend heading to the southern USA where temperatures are mild and comfortable. 

Southern Florida is a popular winter RV destination, but be prepared to pay high prices for campsites and activities.

If you prefer a more affordable, and, in my opinion, more beautiful option, consider RVing the Southwestern United States. In the Southwest free and cheap campsites are plentiful, the dry air makes outdoor activities easier, and some of the most beautiful desert national parks become more accessible.

Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks are two excellent options for a winter RV vacation.

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Spring RV Trips

Spring is when the high desert really shines, and this is a perfect time to explore all of the beautiful scenery in Northern Arizona and Utah. 

If the Grand Canyon and Utah’s Zion National Park are on your bucket list then a springtime RV trip is the way to go!

Should you Rent an RV or Buy an RV for your RV Trip? 

Whether you should rent or buy an RV for your USA RV travel is a very personal question. Here I’ll discuss some of the pros and cons of either choice!

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How long is your trip?

If you’re only traveling for a week or two then renting an RV makes the most sense. While renting an RV is the more expensive option, it saves a lot of hassle, and is certainly more simple than purchasing an RV. 

RV rentals provide you with the peace of mind that the RV is in good condition, and if you run into any mechanical issues the rental company will have you covered. 

If you’re traveling for a month or more then you may want to consider purchasing an RV and re-selling it when you finish traveling. We met many travelers on the road who used this strategy for their RV journeys. 


How Much Money can you Invest Upfront in your RV Trip?

The major advantage of purchasing a used RV then re-selling it is the fact that you can save the rental fees so that you will only be paying for travel costs (gas, campsites, etc), since you will recoup the cost of the RV at the end of your trip.

The downside to purchasing an RV rather than renting is that you will likely need more money upfront, and you will need to educate yourself on what to look for in a used RV. However, when you’re considering a savings of $7,000 or more (the amount you can expect to spend on a one month RV rental), it may be worth the extra hassle to buy and sell rather than rent.


Where to Rent an RV?

If you decide that RV rental is the best option for your trip then I recommend checking out the rentals on Outdoorsy.

Outdoorsy is a company that manages the rental of privately owned RVs when the owners are not using them.

Renting with Outdoorsy tends to be quite a bit cheaper than renting with a traditional RV rental company, and since you’re renting privately owned RVs you will have lots of different makes and models to choose from. 


Best RVs for Families, Singles, or Couples

Whether you’ve decided to rent an RV or purchase an RV for your RVing adventure, you’ll want to consider the type of RV that best meets your needs. RVs come in many shapes and sizes, and the RV you choose will directly impact the cost of your vacation, as well as the types of campsites you can visit on your travels.


Best RV for Family of 4

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For families with children, a traditional motorhome makes the most sense, because they tend to provide the most space and the most sleeping options. 

Class C motorhomes are an excellent option for families because they feature an over-cab bed that really makes the most of the space in the RV (plus kids love to sleep in these fun, lofted beds). 

There are plenty of decent Class C motorhomes on the market, and if you’re purchasing an RV you should be able to find one for less than $20,000. Lazy Daze, Gulf Stream, and Jamboree are all brands to keep an eye out for when you’re searching for your class C RV. 


Best RV for Couples

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If you’re planning to travel as a couple, and you’re going to purchase an RV, then I am definitely partial to Toyota motorhomes for roadtripping the USA. Toyota motorhomes are micro-RVs, which means they are about the same size as a campervan but thanks to an over-cab bed they feel much more spacious than a campervan.

Read about why we chose a Toyota Motorhome for our RV travels here!

Toyota motorhomes are the best small RV, and they also hold their value well, making them easy to re-sell quickly. The downside to Toyota motorhomes is their age, as the last ones were built in 1993. This means that you need to VERY thoroughly inspect a Toyota motorhome before purchasing it. 

If you’d prefer to purchase (or rent) something newer, a campervan is the best RV choice for a couple. Campervans have exploded in popularity lately, and for good reason! Campervans are smaller than traditional RVs, which means they are easier to drive, easier to park, and they get better gas milage than a motorhome. 

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Campervans are also cheaper than a motorhome, so you can easily find one for less than $15,000 if you’re planning to purchase an RV for your trip. Trusted campervan brands in that price range include Road Trek, Dodge Pleasure Way, and Horizon. 

If you’re planning to rent an RV, Outdoorsy features LOTS of campervans, and they are cheaper to rent than a motorhome!


Best RV for Singles

If you’re planning to take a solo RV trip then your options are endless because the smallest RV options will work for you.

Campervans, converted mini-vans, SUVs with rooftop tents, and truck campers are all excellent choices for solo travelers since you won’t need as much space as a couple or family would. You can easily find an RV in this category for around $10,000. 

If you’re renting an RV, you will be able to find most of these options on Outdoorsy, especially campervans!


For detailed information on all of the different types of campers, tips for purchasing a camper, and the very best tips and tricks for long term RV travel check out my Ebook- Nomads in Campers: A Step by Step Guide to Living Your Nomadic Adventure.


RV Trip Planner Apps

There are a few apps that make RV trip planning a breeze, and that we use CONSTANTLY on our RV road trips. If you’re the RV road trip planner for your family, then you need these four apps!

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Google Maps

This is an app that most people already have on their phone, and if you don’t it’s free to download.

Click here to download Google Maps for Android, and click here to download Google Maps for Apple IOS.

After trying several different mapping apps that claimed to be “the best”, we always found ourselves using Google Maps as our primary mapping app. Google Maps has the most data of any mapping app, and that really makes a difference when you’re in remote areas of the US.

A sweet hack for Google Maps is to check when you’re going to lose cell phone coverage (use the next app in our list for this), and before you reach that point have Google Maps start the directions to your destination. Once you lose coverage Google Maps will still pick up your GPS signal, and it will complete the directions even though you no longer have cell service!


Maps.Me

Maps.Me is a great secondary app for when you will be outside cellular coverage for long periods of time. It allows you to download maps to access when you’re offline.

Occasionally we will spend several days in an area with no cellular coverage, and in those cases Maps.Me is great as long as we remembered to download a map of the area before we lost coverage!


Coverage 

Coverage is a free and simple app that allows you to check where you will or will not have cell phone coverage. You can filter the maps by cellular carrier and signal type (LTE, 4G, etc), making it easy to figure out how good your cellular coverage will be in any location.


Trail Wallet

Trail Wallet ROCKS for budgeting your RV trip! This vacation budgeting app was designed by travel bloggers for travelers. It allows you to set a daily budget, or a budget for your entire trip, and it alerts you when you’re overspending. 

You can select the categories and currency you want to use for your budget, and it’s free to download! 


Best RV Camping Apps

There are two camping apps that will cover all of your RV trip planning needs. These are the only two apps we ever needed while RVing the United States (we certainly tried plenty of other apps, but these two were the BEST).

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AllStays

AllStays is not free, but it is WELL worth the cost. Allstays lists nearly every single official campground and RV park in the USA, both private and public. This app allows you to filter by all kinds of parameters including cost, facilities, campground type (BLM, KOA, etc.), and much more.

AllStays will help you find the best RV parks on your route, and it also lists free overnight parkings spots like Walmart, Cabelas, and casinos.

The app will use your GPS signal to locate all of the nearby campgrounds in seconds, and the provided campground reviews make it easy to choose a place to park for the night!

Unfortunately, this app is only available on Apple IOS at this time (download it here), but you CAN use the Allstays website on your Android phone to locate the same information.

iOverlander

iOverlander is the best RV app for finding free campsites. This app is free to download, and crowd sources its information. This means that real RV travelers contribute the GPS coordinates for places they camped, and you can contribute to the app as well!

iOverlander features reviews and photos of campsites, and it also lists services that are useful to RVers such as truck stops, mechanics, and dump stations. 

We used iOverlander constantly to find good boondocking sites in both the United States and Mexico.

Best RV Campgrounds

In our experience the best RV campgrounds are not RV parks (in fact, we wrote a whole article about why we avoid RV parks). Instead, we prefer state and federally run campgrounds which tend to be quiet, affordable, and beautiful!

With that said, sometimes you will have to bite the bullet and stay in an RV park. When this happens be sure to read the reviews beforehand, and don’t forget to ask about discounts! Tom often received a discount at RV parks for being a retired firefighter.

The AllStays app lists BLM, USFS, and state park campgrounds when you search for a campsite, and that’s the easiest way to find publicly owned campgrounds.

Check out this guide for all the information you need to find beautiful, affordable RV campsites!


Best RV Road Trip Routes

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The most fun part of planning an RV road trip is choosing where you’ll go! There are so many incredible road trips in the USA it can be tough to choose one! 

Here I’ll list our favorite US RV road trips by region. If you have a few months you may be able to do all of these in one trip! 


Best RV Route in the Eastern United States- Gettysburg and the Blue Ridge Parkway

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is one of the famous historical sites in the United States. Here you can learn all about the history of the American Civil War, and walk the fields of Gettysburg, where one of the most infamous Civil War battles took place.

There are tons of RV parks around Gettysburg, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a campsite, though the camping in this area is quite expensive.

After Gettysburg make your way south to Shenandoah National Park where you can hop on the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest scenic highway!

The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches for 469 miles, and I recommend taking 7 days for this road trip so you can really enjoy all the beautiful sights. The best time for this drive is in the fall when the trees will turn bright red and orange all along the parkway.


Best RV Route in the Southwestern United States- Joshua Tree National Park to Lake Tahoe via Highway 395

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Highway 395 is my favorite US road trip for RVers! This spectacular drive begins in Joshua Tree National Park, then takes you north to Death Valley National Park, and along the mind blowingly beautiful Eastern Sierras to Lake Tahoe in California. 

I can’t think of any other US road trip as jam-packed with beautiful scenery, while also offering plenty of uncrowded, quiet stops.

This route also features tons of gorgeous, affordable campsites, making it a great option if you’re RVing on a budget!

Be sure to stop in the Alabama Hills, just north of Bishop, CA. There you’ll find several BLM campgrounds that cost just $5 per night, and feature the most beautiful mountain views I’ve seen in ANY United States campground. (Just check out the view from our RV window in the picture below!)

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I recommend giving yourself two weeks for this RV trip so you can spend a few days in each national park and still have plenty of time to visit the many sites along the highway (Bishop, the Alabama Hills, Mono Lake, and Lake Tahoe are all must-see stops)!

This drive is best done in the late spring because it will be cool enough to enjoy Joshua Tree and Death Valley, but still warm enough to avoid snowfall in the mountains!


Best RV Route in the Western United States- Highway 101 from Olympic National Park, WA to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, CA

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Highway 101 runs along the Pacific Ocean from Washington all the way to southern California. 

Most RVers only ever drive the southern portion of Highway 101 in California, and that is a huge mistake! Highway 101 is actually at its best along the Oregon coast, where the lack of mansions lining the coast means that you’ll actually get to ride along the ocean for most of the drive. 

Also, Washington and Oregon both feature well-managed state park systems with beautiful, clean, and affordable RV campsites all along this route. While I do recommend you head all the way to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in California (the redwoods are AMAZING), prepare to be disappointed by the campgrounds there. 

I recommend taking at least two weeks to complete this epic RV trip so you can spend time hiking, swimming, and really enjoying all of the scenery you encounter! This trip is best done in late spring, summer, or early fall, as the rest of the year will be cold and rainy in this area of the country. 


Best RV Route in the Northern United States- Yellowstone and Glacier National Park

Yellowstone and Glacier are two of the most beautiful national parks in the United States, and you can visit them both in one epic RV vacation!

Begin this 962 mile journey in Yellowstone National Park, then make your way through Southwest Montana and up to Missoula. From Missoula you’ll make your way to Glacier National Park, and then loop back to Yellowstone.

Expect to encounter epic scenery, incredible wildlife, and plenty of delicious local food and drink options on this trip. There are many campgrounds along the route, but if you want to stay in the national parks reserve in advance- they fill up fast! 

I recommend at least three weeks for this trip, and it should be done in the summer when you won’t have to worry about snow and ice.


Essential RV Road Trip Accessories

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There are a few items that you must have with you for a successful RV road trip (no, a cute dog is not required, just highly recommended)!

These are especially important if you plan to spend any nights in remote, wilderness camping areas (BLM land, for example). In our experience, wilderness campsites are the most beautiful and peaceful campsites in America, so you’ll want to be able to enjoy them!

RV Leveling Blocks

You NEED leveling blocks for any RV road trip. These are an absolute essential item. Leveling blocks slip under the wheels of your RV to make sure that it’s completely level.

Keeping your RV level is really important because RV refrigerators don’t work like a normal, in-home refrigerator. RV refrigerators use an internal chemical reaction to cool them down, and the chemicals won’t combine properly unless your RV is level.

If you try to run your refrigerator when your RV is not level it will break, and RV refrigerators are one of the most expensive items in the entire RV.  A new RV refrigerator costs at least $1000 so be smart and keep your RV level!

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Suitcase Style Portable Solar Panel

Solar power gives you so much more freedom in your RV adventures! 

Why? Well, when you have solar power you don’t need to search out campsites with electrical hookups or run a loud, stinky generator to meet your basic power needs!

A 100 watt folding suitcase-style solar panel is plenty to run your RV’s basic necessities like your lights and your water pump. This panel easily clips on to your coach battery, so there’s no technical know-how required to use this free, clean power source!

Since this solar panel folds up and has a handle, it’s easy to transport. Another huge perk to a portable panel like this is that you can park in the shade, and then set the panel in the sun!

Quality Camping Chairs

Camping chairs are SO important when you’re traveling by RV! Sure, a lot of campsites will have a picnic table, but that won’t allow you to sit around the fire, or turn your chair in the direction of the sunset, or take a nap outdoors…you get the idea.

Having a comfortable camp chair is an absolute must on an RV vacation. Once you’re parked in camp you don’t want to have to sit inside your RV all day! 

There are two camp chairs that we always travel with, and that we highly recommend:

Zero Gravity Camp Chair

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This is the most comfortable camp chair we’ve come across, and we always travel with at least one of these (sometimes two, because we end up fighting over the one)!

This chair reclines back far enough to allow you to take a nap, which means it’s also awesome for reading, sunbathing, and any other relaxing activity.

On a warm night you could easily put a pillow and blankets in this chair and sleep under the stars!

Director’s Camp Chair

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This camp chair provides the best back support of any camp chair we’ve tried, so if you tend to run into back pain this is the chair for you!

This chair is sturdy, and the seat and backrest stay firmly in position, unlike most camp chairs which tend to buckle a bit under weight. This chair also has a side table with a cup holder, which is really convenient for morning coffee, afternoon beers, evening beers…

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Now you’re armed with plenty of information to prepare you for your first big RV trip! 

For much more in depth information on camper travel around North America, check out our Ebook, Nomads in Campers, where we share all of our very best tips and tricks, and tons of other useful information to make your RV travels a success!

We traveled North America full time for two years in a Toyota Dolphin micro-RV! Read about our favorite RV destination, Baja California, Mexico

We don’t just travel by RV! Last winter we spent 6 months traveling Southeast Asia with only carry on backpacks! Read all about that adventure here.

Every summer we return to the western United States for our favorite festivals, including Burning Man!

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