So you’ve made the jump to a full-time life on the road; free as a bird, able to come and go as you please. However, deciding where to go next isn’t always as simple as filling up the tank, and hitting the road. There are a few things to consider, before you start driving.
Pro-tip: Get a paper road atlas of all 50 states, and also pick up local maps along the way. Paper maps have things a GPS or a cellphone app won’t show you.
Crowds vs No Crowds
Most people new to the RV lifestyle have a few places on their bucket lists; Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park and Yellowstone are a must for many. All are fabulous destinations to spend some time, but, if you go during peak season, there will be crowds. In fact, at places like Yellowstone and Zion National Park, there could be lines of cars, miles long, waiting for hours to get in. Not only that, you’ll be competing for space with thousands of tourists, many of whom do not have the same respect for the land that you do.
If you want to go to a world-famous place, time your trip for the offseason, which is generally early spring or fall. There will be far less competition, and much more room to breathe. However, be sure to make reservations, well in advance; many of the most popular places are booked 6-12 months in advance for campsites. Not exactly the spontaneous life you’ve dreamed of, but sometimes, life on the road means planning far in advance.
A better plan might be to look into lesser-known and less popular state and national parks; there are many hidden gems out there, just waiting to be discovered. Get out a paper map, and study it for state and national parks in the general direction you’re headed. You might find exactly what you’re looking for.
Check the Weather
It’s a good idea to have a weather app on your phone, one in which you can change the location. If you have an idea of where you want to go, punch in that location, and check the extended weather forecast, like for 15 days if you can. One of the advantages of the lifestyle is following the nice weather, and checking a weather app is how you can do that.
Many people who are new to the RV or the van lifestyle assume places like Arizona, Nevada or New Mexico are nothing but sunny, warm deserts, which is not true. The northern parts of those states are mountainous, and can get heavy snow, even in the spring or early fall. It’s good to know what the weather will be like all along your route, for both comfort and safety.
The Road Less Traveled
While punching a destination into a GPS or your cellphone is convenient, it’s likely to simply take you down the big interstates. This is where paper maps can come in handy.
If you know where you’re going, but want to avoid the major interstates, study the map for alternate routes. You can still use your GPS, but set it not for your end destination, but the in-between points along your desired route. The state highways and back roads are not only less stressful, but also more scenic, and full of surprises.
The Mountain Directory is a must-have for all RVers and van dwellers; it comes as paperbacks or as an app, and shows nearly all of the steep grades, hairpin turns, low bridges, and bad roads along the highways. If you want to avoid steep grades, or need to avoid low overpasses, consult the Mountain Directory. With the aid of a paper map, it can help you plan an RV-safe route.
If you are working online, or are simply addicted to social media, head for a destination with 4G cell service. Find the cell coverage map for your carrier, and check it against where you want to go. Also, websites like Campendium have user reviews that include cell coverage, so that’s worth looking into.
In-between Places to Park for the Night
If your ultimate destination is more than a day away, you’ll want to go online and map out places to park for the night; Walmart, truck stops, and rest areas can be good. You may also want to take notes on places to get propane, water, groceries, and dump stations along the way. Paper maps can come in handy for finding rest areas, but how long you can stay varies from state to state.
Also, while you may be headed for a famous place like Yellowstone, it’s nice to check for lesser-known places along the way. Taking it slow and easy is generally the way to go, when you’re living life on the road.