I’ve always dreamed of RVing across America and while I haven’t explored the entire continent yet, I have been to many states in the northeast, the south, and the west.
I’ve also made it up to Canada one year and that gave me the opportunity to cross through even more states.
When traveling across America in an RV, there are many things you need to plan for.
In this post, I’ll tell you some of the things you should know when planning out your trip.
Travel Time Is Always Longer Than You Think It Will Be
While planning out your route, you’ll probably look at Google Maps to see how long it will take to move from place to place. This is extremely helpful and it’s a great place to start but it doesn’t always tell the whole story.
For starters, Google can’t accurately predict whether or not there will be an accident on the highway you’ll be traveling on two weeks from now.
One accident could potentially add several hours to just one day of driving. Travel through all of America and you’ll most certainly end up being stuck in a multitude of accident-related traffic.
Mapping software can’t predict the weather or road closures either.
For example, what if you plan on driving on an interstate that ends up getting shut down due to a terrible tornado, blizzard, or earthquake?
This could add an entire day of traveling to your trip.
Finally, mapping software works by looking at the speed limits on the roads you’ll travel through. Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to go these speeds.
This is especially true for high ways with high speeds. Legally you shouldn’t be traveling more than 55 miles per hour while towing a camper and you really shouldn’t drive much faster than that in a large motorhome either.
This means that you’ll be driving slower than the mapping software estimates so you know that even under perfect conditions you’ll end up completing your trip more slowly than estimated.
Many Campgrounds Need to Be Booked in Advance
You won’t always be able to just show up to a resort or state park and get a campsite.
This is especially true during holidays and peak seasons. For this reason, whenever possible you may want to book your stays in advance. However, this doesn’t mean you need to show up on time, every time.
If the weather gets bad or you’re just too tired to finish the drive, give the campground a call and let them know that you’ll be showing up late. You may lose a little bit of money but you’ll show up to your destination safely.
Another thought to keep in mind is that peak season might be different depending on the location you’re heading to. For example, many people head to Florida when the weather starts to get cold. In this case, you may find it harder to find a campsite in Florida in the fall or winter.
On the other hand, many people head north in the summer.
This means that you may find it harder to find a campsite in Maine in the summer.
What all of this means is that you may have to book your stay during peak seasons even earlier than you would have to during other times of the year.
In fact, I’ve actually seen some campgrounds and state parks that will take reservations up to 120 days in advance.
Cultures Can Vary Dramatically
People traveling from the United States to South America are usually insightful enough to know that the culture in Argentina will likely be much different than it is in New Jersey.
What many Americans fail to realize however is that the culture within the United States can vary almost just as dramatically.
Sure, we all speak the same language and use the same currency but our local dialects, customs, interests, and eating habits can often be strikingly different.
For example, if you’re from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and you ask for a hoagie in Ohio, they may not have any idea what you’re talking about. (For you people from Ohio, we call our subs hoagies.)
If you’re from St. Paul Minnesota, you may not understand the accent of a man from a rural part of Georgia.
The way you dress might make you look out of place as well. Southerners tend to wear bright colors while New Yorkers tend to dress monochromatically. The political climate may vary dramatically as well. Someone from a blue state might be surprised by the opinions of someone from a red state (and vise versa).
What this all means is that you need to keep an open mind while traveling across the country and be prepared to try new things and meet new people.
This is true within the United States and it is even truer throughout the American continent.
Natural Hazards and Weather Conditions Can Vary
People from southern California are very familiar with wildfires, landslides, and earthquakes.
They know what to do when these events occur and they plan accordingly. The problem arises when these people head to places like Massachusetts in the winter. In places like Boston, you aren’t likely to see wildfires, landslides, and earthquakes but you are likely to get stuck in the snow.
Bostoners will know how to drive in the snow but someone from Los Angelos might not.
When you’re traveling over great distances, you have to be prepared for the weather conditions of each state you travel through. Luckily, this information is readily available online and many of the preparations you’d take for one type of emergency will apply to other types of emergencies.
For example, it is a good idea to always have three days worth of food and water in your vehicle.
This rule will get you through being stuck in your RV during a blizzard and it will get you through being stuck somewhere because of a landslide.
You’re Going to Need to Stop for Maintenance
The average person might put 10,000 miles on their vehicle at most.
This means they might only have to do two or three oil changes each year.
People traveling across the country in a short amount of time can put many more miles on each year.
As a result of heavy usage, you may have to stop to change the oil and rotate the tires on your motorhome every single month. You may also have to get new brake pads and replace other consumables on your motorhome on a regular basis.
Additional maintenance is especially prevalent for tow vehicles. This is because your tow vehicle is braking for two so its brake pads will get worn out more quickly.
Also, the tow vehicle has much more stress on it when it is towing so you may find it needs to be repaired more often.
You May Need to Rest More Than You Think
Do you know that feeling when you come back from a vacation and you feel more tired than you did before you left? Well, this is the feeling you’ll experience if you do not take time to rest while traveling.
While you may or may not be working a job while on the road, you will be expending a lot of energy.
Planning, driving, seeing new sites, and even meeting new people can tire you out.
Not only this, but you’ll probably be physically exerting yourself more often when out on the road. Sightseeing, biking, and hiking are all fun but exhausting activities.
Even changing time zones can make you more tired than you usually are.
On top of this, dealing with different climates and even different allergens in different parts of the country can tire you out fast. Make sure you schedule in some rest time on your trip so that you don’t wear yourself out.
After all, how can you enjoy your trip if you’re constantly tired and run down?
Yearly Passes Can Save You a Lot of Money
Staying at campgrounds and even state parks can end up costing you a lot of money. An overnight stay with full hookups can cost up to $50.00 in a state park and over $100.00 at a resort-style campground.
Even if you stay at campgrounds with electric-only sites, you’ll still end up spending about $30.00 a night.
This might not sound like a lot but it totals out to almost $11,000.00 in a year.
Even without plumbing, you’ll end up paying over $900.00 a month just to park. I’ve rented two bedroom apartments in nice neighborhoods for less than this.
This being said, you can stay at resorts at a huge discount just by buying a yearly pass. Many campground associations and resorts have RV parks throughout the country.
For one modest fee, you can gain free access to all of them. Spend a $1,000.00 on a yearly pass and you may end up with free parking for the entire year.
This averages out to less than $100.00 a month and you’re staying at resorts and nice campgrounds each night!
Other yearly passes can be even less expensive. For instance, membership sites like Harvest Hosts are only $79.00 a year and they give you access to free camping at 417 wineries, 200 farms, 123 museums, and 315 golf courses.
Stay at Harvest Host sites only and you’ll end up spending less than $7.00 a month on parking.
Fuel Isn’t Always Available
Do you drive a diesel motorhome or tow vehicle?
If so, you may not be able to get fuel for your rig in some areas. This means that you’ll have to carefully map out your destinations to ensure that you always have enough fuel to get to the next gas station.
Even if you don’t drive a diesel vehicle, you may still run into trouble from time to time. This is because not all gas stations are large enough to accommodate large RVs. For this reason, you may want to carry a gas can with you for emergencies.
This way, if you end up at a gas station that you can’t get your RV into, you can always fill up the gas can and then fill your RV up using that.
You wouldn’t want to fill your entire tank up this way, but it will help you put enough fuel into your RV to get to a gas station that you can fit your RV into.
Not All Campsites Are Pet-Friendly
Sometimes pet owners forget that their pets aren’t always welcome everywhere.
While there are plenty of parks and campgrounds that are pet-friendly, there are some that are not. For this reason, dog and cat owners should always call ahead to find out whether or not they are allowed to bring their pets with them.
Even if you can bring your pet, you might want to decide whether or not you’d really like to go to a particular campground with your pet.
For example, you may plan on visiting an area that has two pet-friendly campgrounds. One campground is really great for people and while it is pet-friendly it does not have a dog park or a place to easily walk dogs. The other campground might have a dog park, dog sitting services, and many places for you to take your dog. In this case, which one would you choose?
Batteries Shouldn’t Be Drained As Far As You Might Think
If you read our guide on camper batteries, you should already know those camper batteries should not be drained past a certain point.
Unfortunately, you won’t always be able to get your batteries charged while out on the road.
For this reason, you’ll want to make sure you monitor your batteries and stop at sites with electricity before your batteries are discharged lower than the manufacturer’s recommendations.
People who plan on doing a lot of boondocking or primitive camping with their RVs might want to consider adding additional batteries to their system.
In fact, it might even be a good idea to add a solar panel or two to give yourself some additional off-grid power.
Some Resorts Have Camper Restrictions
Did you know that some resorts will prohibit you from staying just because you’re driving an older RV? On top of this, some campgrounds will have restrictions on what types of campers you can bring into the campground.
For instance, you may not be able to bring a truck camper into some resorts.
I’ve even seen some campgrounds that prohibit RVs that do not have their own bathroom facilities. *In most cases, you can get around this rule simply by bringing along a small camping cassette toilet.
In most campgrounds, the restrictions are more practical and obvious.
For example, some state and national parks have campsites that can only fit campers that are smaller than 30 feet long. In this case, they are restricting you and your RV because you simply can’t fit.
For more information on this, take a look at our post titled, “Maximum RV Sizes for State and National Parks“.
You Can’t Always Get the Internet
Some places just aren’t conducive to providing access to the Internet.
These places might be in remote areas or they may be in an area that is somehow shielded from towers and devoid of wiring. If you plan on working while on the road, you may have to choose destinations where you know you’ll have easy access to the Internet.
You can do this by choosing campgrounds that have Internet access within them or you can choose a place that is close to a coffee shop or some other locality that offers wifi.
If you’re boondocking, you may have to upgrade your access equipment. Go here for tips on boondocking long-term.
For example, you could add a range extender to your RV so that you’ll be able to pick up tower signals from further away.
You May Not Always Have Access to Your Cell Phone
Some cell phone companies just don’t provide good service in certain areas. For example, AT&T’s coverage map shows a lot of places out west where it cannot provide service.
Other companies have similar coverage issues in different areas. If being able to use your cell phone is of vital importance, you may want to consider changing phone plans.
Even if you do have coverage, you may not be able to use it.
Did you know that there is a town in the United States that has banned the use of cell phones? The town goes by the name of Green Bank and it is in West Virginia.
They ban cell phones because cell phones interfere with the Green Bank Telescope. Travel through this area and your cell phone simply won’t work.
You’ll never be able to plan for every issue that might come up but you can prepare for most of them.
Spend time thinking about what your particular needs will be while out on the road and make sure that you’ll be able to meet these needs no matter what happens.
This will make your trip a safe and fun experience that you’ll be able to remember forever.
Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.