In my experience the most crucial step in choosing a destination is to do a little background research that can give you a glimpse of what to expect along the way—all while remembering to honor the spirit of full-time RVing by leaving enough room for serendipity and adventure. As you RV along North America’s highways and byways, these general destination guidelines can help you create a memorable itinerary.
Step 1: Skip reservations. Reservations are great when you’re a casual RVer, but unless Jim and I have to be tied down for business reasons, we avoid making RV park reservations. As meandering full-time travelers, we have the luxury of deciding to stay in one place a little longer, or leaving earlier than we anticipated. Freeing ourselves from reservation commitments is also practical; you never know what kind of mechanical issues can happen between Point A and Point B, so when stuff happens, the fewer complications you have to deal with, the better off you’ll be. When your home is on wheels, you never have to worry about not having a place to rest your head at night.
Step 2: Don’t overdo research. The savvy traveler does a little bit of research before hitting the road, but doesn’t place so much weight on others’ opinions that all chances of spontaneous adventure are eliminated.
Our trip through Louisiana’s Cajun country is a great example. While preparing to venture deep into the heart of Acadiana, we went online and found two RV parks in an area we wanted to explore. As a frugal RVer, I quickly decided we would visit the park with cheaper rates, despite the great reviews posted about its competitor. We arrived to find four lovely RV sites situated on a farmer’s property and received a warm welcome by the friendly proprietor. As we were his only customers that day, he had time on his hands and offered to give us an unforgettable crawfish farming experience on his ponds, which we gladly took him up on. Later that day we got a personal tour of the surrounding countryside that his Cajun family has enjoyed for generations. Had we listened to others and gone to the park with the rave reviews, we never would have had this unforgettable privilege.
Step 3: Get Insider Road Information. Although you shouldn’t place too much weight on others’ opinions of your destinations, what you do want to know for certain are the technical aspects and potential complications of getting there. If a seasonal national forest campsite or other rural destination is on your radar (especially in harsh environments like mountains or deserts), you want to know that you and your RV will be OK while in transit.
Although RV discussion forums and GPS units for RVers can tell you where the low bridges are and what mountain passes have dangerously steep grades, what these tools usually can’t do is provide last-minute insider information. For example, only locals know where the snow has just turned to mud, which roads have just been washed out and which passes should be left for mountain goats. We’ve found that the best way to find out precise current road conditions (especially for western mountain regions) is to call the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field office or forest service ranger station nearest to your destination. The local tourism office is your second best bet to get the scoop on local roads.
Step 4: Be Prepared. There’s a reason why campers are consistently bombarded by this old adage: it works! For example, we always carry about a quarter tank of water with us whenever we travel long distances. This is just enough for the basics if we get stuck somewhere, which has happened to us because of both weather setbacks and our own stupidity when we ran out of fuel on a lonely stretch of interstate. Remember: don’t travel without water and never let your RV’s fuel tank drop below the quarter mark, especially if you’re taking the slow, adventurous route to your destination.
Step 5: Avoid Interstates. Interstate travel is easy and sometimes necessary, but it’s oh so boring and shuts you off from the nitty-gritty of America. You might get slightly better fuel mileage and arrive a little quicker, but is it really worth the shortcuts when you lose out on the delicious local flavor that comprises the heart of our American character?
Instead of relying on the idiot-proof interstates, the best way to make the most of the full-timing lifestyle is to put the electronic gadget away and get your hands on a genuine Rand McNally road atlas. Reacquaint your fingertips with the familiar grain of map-grade paper, feast your eyes on the colorful roads that parallel the six-lane concrete behemoths, and then map out a rambling route that can get you to your destination—all while opening your eyes to the sights, sounds and smells of this great country.
Step 6: Find the Deduction. When we first hit the road we didn’t know diddly about what we wanted out of a destination, we just had a vague idea of where we wanted to travel. Now that we have seven full-timing years under our belts, we take a more practical approach toward choosing destinations: if the journey can include legitimate, tax-deductible business travel along the way (for example, presenting at a conference), we’re there! Filling up our fuel-hungry Dodge diesel as we travel cross-country is easier to justify if we have business to attend to along the way. (Whether you volunteer or are self-employed, you can learn more about writing off your RV lifestyle in the book, Can I Write Off My RV?, which I reviewed in the May 2014 issue of RV Life.)
Step 7: Keep Your Sense of Adventure (and Humor). Being a free spirit comes with a price to pay: things can, and will go wrong no matter how well you prepare and research your route. As you travel from Point A to Point B, keep in mind that the traveler’s mantra, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” is so true! When you can’t get to your destination exactly the way you envisioned it happening, there are always new roads to follow that can take you down paths you never knew existed. Never forget: one of the greatest rewards of this offbeat lifestyle is the ability to turn destination surprises and challenges into opportunities for ongoing adventure!
Rene Agredano is a full-time RVer who travels, works and lives along the highways of America. She and her husband, Jim, along with their three-legged dog, Wyatt, share tales of their quirky lifestyle at LiveWorkDream.com.