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I first learned of the RV lifestyle in college. My professor was a travel writer, and I got the idea while sitting in class, “I want to travel full-time and see all 50 states”.
It was a dream I couldn’t quit, and after years of career changes, saving, and a new fiance, I had a plan.
The new dream: See as many states as we can in our budget-friendly travel trailer with our senior pets, with the goal being all lower 48.
We left Idaho in November 2020, and by August 2021, we were popping champagne in Arkansas, our 48th state together.
Below we’ll give our best advice, RV travel tips, and route planning hacks for RVing the USA.
Why You Should RV the USA
It’s not all about bragging rights, bucket list adventures, or filling up the sticker map.
It’s better than traveling via airplane.
If you’re wanting to get somewhere fast, one of the best ways is to travel via airplane. But some of our favorite memories were made in those flyover states.
Soaking in historic hot springs in Arkansas and watching fireflies dance over a field in Iowa. You’d miss all of this if you were buzzing by them at 30,000 feet.
It’s better than a road trip in a car.
Imagine never having to worry about forgetting to pack something or wondering if that hotel bed is really clean or not. That’s the benefit of traveling with a home on wheels versus a sedan.
Experiencing different cultures around the U.S.
I feel like I could have an enjoyable conversation with just about anybody in this country. I could bond with a good ol’ boy from Alabama talking about my first crawfish-eating experience while also being able to share my favorite hiking trail with a granola girl from Denver.
Traveling in an RV means meeting more people than you would via airplane or car. You’re hanging out in campgrounds and national parks and spending more time at gas station pumps.
RVs are a great ice breaker for people, and some of the best conversations I’ve ever had have been with other RV owners on a cross-country journey.
Discovering hidden gems.
When you’re traveling in an RV, you tend to go at a slower pace. So you have time to discover those hidden gems around our country.
The billboards start tempting you as you’re cruising along at 55 mph. Before you know it, you’re searching for aliens in Roswell or eating the best chicken fried steak of your life from a drug store in West Texas.
Challenges of RVing across the USA
It’s not all Instagram-worthy sunsets and twirling in wildflowers. RVing across the US is not for the faint of heart.
RVs are not fuel-efficient and tend to have big fuel tanks, so you’ll spend a lot of time and money at the pumps. (Use our RV cost gas calculator to estimate your RV trip fuel cost.)
Moving Too Fast
Moving at a fast pace means you’ll miss lots of things. The biggest regret we have with visiting all lower 48 states in less than a year was we missed so many interesting things we wanted to see!
Whether you’re driving a motorhome or even a camper van, parking tends to be a stressful experience. Plan ahead to ensure you have parking covered for things you want to see on the road.
The RV lifestyle is expensive, especially during the peak season of summer months.
Traveling with Pets
Not everywhere is pet friendly, and although it’s easier to travel with pets in an RV as compared to air or car travel, it still comes with safety concerns and extra planning. (You might also want to check out How to Go RVing with Cats).
RV Repairs & Maintenance
\When you drive an RV down the road, it goes through the equivalent of a 5.0 earthquake. Things WILL break often, and never at a convenient time. Not to mention you’ll have to budget enough time for routine maintenance such as waxing your RV, greasing your bearings, and changing the oil in your motorhome or tow vehicle.
Should You Buy or Rent an RV?
There are both pros and cons to using an RV rental or purchasing your own RV for a cross-country road trip.
The pros of RV rentals are avoiding maintenance from wear and tear, which could be cheaper than purchasing based on your budget.
The con of RV rentals – it’s not your RV. You can only enjoy the comfort of your home as much as the rental company will allow. No permanent upgrades, painting, or anything that can’t be easily removed from the RV.
A big pro of owning an RV is it’s yours. You get to make your fifth wheel, travel trailer, or motorhome your own and travel with all the comforts of home! You can travel as long as you’d like, with the only time constraint being the ones you set yourself.
The obvious con is the cost of your RV. RVs can cost as little as a few thousand dollars or be more expensive than a house!
How to Plan to RV Across America
Creating a travel itinerary of the United States is no easy task. I sat down with a map of the country and a pencil with the intention of having to stay at least one night in every state.
Here are 5 crucial tips to start planning your RV trip across the US.
1. Research Where You Want to Go
Scroll Instagram for ideas, check Pinterest for inspiration, and read blogs for helpful tips. Make a non-negotiable list of places you have to visit.
2. Check the Weather for that Time of the Year
New England isn’t very enjoyable in January. Instead, plan to visit somewhere warm like the Florida Keys. Avoid Tornado Alley in the spring by enjoying Yellowstone National Park. Arizona in summer isn’t as pleasant as Glacier National Park.
3. Use a Calendar and a Pencil
A calendar will help you better keep track of dates when it comes time to make reservations. I’ve found not to get too attached to a plan until sites are booked, so use a pencil and some patience.
4. Map Your Route
You’re going to want a visual of your route, be sure to factor in elevation and traffic routes. Chances are Google is going to direct you through the heart of Atlanta. Consider an alternate route to a surrounding area to avoid the stress.
5. Research and Book Campgrounds
I personally use Campendium as a starting point to find National Parks, State Parks, RV parks, and free camping options. I then add one-night stops with membership programs such as Harvest Hosts, and Boondockers Welcome. Lastly, I research overnight stay rules in the city I’m interested in visiting to confirm we can use truck stops, Home Depot, Walmart parking lots, and other free overnight options. Then it’s time to book!
Best RV Road Trip Routes
I-40 & I-10
These main highways that run west and east are the easiest for your first RV road trip, but not as scenic as other choices.
Nevertheless, there are still tons of great places to see along these routes. Including Joshua Tree National Park, Graceland, the Alamo, Saguaro National Park (shown above), and the Grand Ole Opry.
The ultimate road trip. You can still drive portions of the original Mother Road that runs from Chicago to Santa Monica, which have some of the best roadside attractions in the U.S.
Also, the Grand Canyon National Park is only about 60 miles off the route, the perfect place to add to your RV trip bucket list.
PCH (Pacific Coast Highway)
One of the most scenic drives in the U.S., the Pacific Coast Highway is an iconic road trip route that hugs the California coastline. It runs from Dana Point in Southern Cali to Leggett in Northern California (approximately 650 miles).
It’s one of the most challenging drives in an RV and is best done in a small motorhome. Portions of Highway 1 are extremely narrow, with steep cliffs. But you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs, and gorgeous beaches along the route.
Another iconic scenic coastal route is on the east coast and spans the length of Florida. The A1A stretches from Key West all the way to Fernandina Beach, Florida.
This road trip route offers breathtaking ocean views, charming beach towns, and a glimpse into the region’s rich history and natural beauty. There are many popular locations on this route, so be sure to book campsites early!
READ NEXT: Start planning your RV trip around the county with our nine best RV road trips in the USA.
6 Tips for RVing the USA
Here are a few of my best tips for a successful RV trip around the US.
1. BOOK EARLY. This is number one for a reason. RVing has never been more popular!
2. KNOW YOUR RIG. Know both the height and length of your rig, and pay attention to warning signs on the road.
3. TRAVEL SLOW. Low and slow is the name of the game. Plan for short drive days of no more than 250 miles at a time. These travel habits will allow you ample time to enjoy the natural wonders you’re here to see and embrace slow travel.
4. TRAVEL WITH TOOLS. You don’t want to end up on the side of the road unprepared. You’ll need some RV essentials for maintenance and safety on your trip.
5. PAD YOUR SAVINGS. Make sure you have extra savings. You’re going to experience both good and bad unexpected expenses with this RV lifestyle. Tire blowouts, as well as unplanned adventures, are bound to happen.
6. SIGN UP FOR RV MEMBERSHIPS. Save on RV expenses where you can by joining RV discount clubs.
- A Good Sam membership gives you discounts at Camping World and offers fuel discounts at Flying J & Pilot stations.
- Sign up for campground discounts such as Passport America and Thousand Trails to save on camping spot costs.
- Don’t forget to ask for weekly discounts if you’re staying at a park longer than a week.
Whether it takes you six months or six years to see all lower 48 states, my biggest piece of advice I can give you is JUST DO IT!
Want more beginner tips on RV living and travel?
Check out our guide to preparing for full-time RV living, including info on choosing an RV, the pros and cons of the lifestyle, RV gear, and more.
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