It is a bit of a strange, but warm feeling to see so many people embracing the RV and Van adventures for their vacations. In the 18 months of full time traveling in our van, we have heard people say that they were inspired by us but didn’t think #vanlife was for them. Many are now realizing that they can at least embrace it for a week or two. During these uncertain times with flying and hotel stays coming to a halt, there truly is no better time than now to buy/rent an RV and hit the road. You can go slightly off-grid and be totally independent! Here are a few quick tips for you to enjoy your RV road trip!
In the USA, when it comes to RV car seat safety specs, many RVs are NOT crash tested for car seats. They may have seat belts on sideways facing seats. These are not meant to restrain car seats. When shopping/renting for an RV, do not rely on the salesperson to give you accurate information. Look up the model and read what the manufacturer says about the restraints compliance with testing and laws. From there, you can compare with local laws and make the best decision for your family.
Prep and Packing
You need way less than you think you do. The whole idea of travel in an RV is to TRAVEL. To see the world. On our first few trips, we took so many things to entertain the kids. In the end though, most of it never got used. By six months in, we had learned that the kids were happier with a bucket and shovel rather than ten thousand sand toys. My suggestion is to pack and then revisit what you packed at least twice before you leave. You will also accumulate stuff while you are out. You can be more open to souvenirs and trinkets when you aren’t already starting out filled to the max.
Our family has discovered we have four levels of food prep while we are in the van.
- LEVEL ONE: Cold/quick Foods – This includes very little prep and is the most economical. Think fresh fruit, cheese, veggies, ingredients to make wraps and sandwiches. Pretty much anything that does not require actual cooking. Some great no-cook meals include overnight oats, chicken wrap with poppy seeds dressing (buy pre-cooked chicken), and homemade “Lunchables.” We also love pre-cooked hard-boiled eggs.
- LEVEL TWO: Cooking Meals – With limited space, constantly cooking becomes hard work really fast. So, when we cook, we try and keep it simple. Chicken and veggies or a one-pot pasta meal are winners in our family!
- LEVEL THREE: Prepared Meals from the grocery store – this is our favorite. It is more expensive than cooking for yourself, but still a lot less expensive than eating out. We check out the deli area of the grocery store and often get wings and salads or pre-made sandwiches.
- LEVEL FOUR: Dining Out – We usually plan this for our destinations. What is the local cuisine? Are we celebrating something? Is it part of the experience of the day? Sometimes we are just too tired to prep/cook anything.
Other RV Trip Favorites: Cold brewing iced coffee and iced tea! Easy and a time saver for sure.
Overnight Parking En Route
When you are driving from point to point, there will be times that you will need to park overnight. While you can try to plan for a campground, we have found a few options that give you more flexibility.
- Flying J – If you had told me that I would be singing the praises of a truck stop in van life, I would have laughed. However, here we are! We love Flying J. In every one of them, the staff has been friendly. They have lots of fun RV/Truck/Van items and you can even pay for a shower for $12. Overnight parking is safe and they are all over the country! Be sure to get their fuel rewards card if you plan on a long trip or lots of RV road trips!
- Cracker Barrel – This restaurant is the friendliest RV/Van road trip spot. They have larger spots designated for RVs. You can park overnight and then head in for breakfast before you hit the road!
Overnight Parking Destination
Long term/Destination overnight parking is a completely different animal. You want most of your spots to be where you can comfortably and respectfully live and be outside. There are so many options and ways to go about finding spots.
- Reserve America – Reserve Camping spots all over the United States. https://www.reserveamerica.com/
- Encore RV Resorts – Reserve RV spots, campgrounds, and cabins. https://www.rvonthego.com/
- State Parks – Check the websites for the state park you plan on visiting to see what their camping options are. You can start here – https://www.stateparks.org/
- Thousand Trails – This is great if you are looking to enjoy multiple RV trips. Thousand Trails has campsites and cabins all over the USA. You can buy a zone pass OR you can look for an upgraded membership that also gives you reciprocal privileges at other companies, and a cabin rental for 1 week every year. www.thousandtrails.com
- Harvest Host – We LOVE Harvest Host for unique places to stay. A harvest host membership connects you to tons of farms, wineries, and museums that offer 1-2 night stays on their property. Many of the locations are interesting spots like lavender farms, wineries, or cool museums. So, you get a great activity during your RV trip plus a place to park for the night! www.harvesthost.com
Do’s and Don’ts
- Know Local Laws and Restrictions: Is it legal to park your RV on the street? How long can your vehicle be parked in the area? Is sleeping in your vehicle prohibited? Know the laws before you go.
- Read Signs: Some local areas have restrictions on how long a vehicle can be parked on the street. This is for day parking and overnight parking. Many areas also have odd general parking restrictions.
- Extra Fees: For many venues be prepared to pay extra fees for an RV. This also applies to road tolls.
- BE CONSIDERATE: Park in the back of parking lots. Try to avoid taking up several parking spots if there is limited parking. Many of the laws and restrictions put into place could have been avoided if people had been respectful of local laws and residents. So, just remember that if you ignore common courtesy now, others will have to pay for it when cities decide that people are not being considerate.
- Google Maps/My Google Maps – Really this is the only thing we have used. Not just for directions but for planning spots to visit and noting things to be cautious about.
- Know the height of your RV: I cannot stress this enough! Highway bridges have never been an issue, BUT local roads and bridges do not all accommodate larger vehicles. You do not want to have to 5-point turn around on a narrow road OR have a passenger stand outside and spot you as you make it under a low bridge.
- Narrow Roads: Much like knowing your height, be prepared to have to navigate narrow roads and inclines that may be a bit harder for your RV to manage.
- Drive Times: Just a heads up, Google Drive times are not completely accurate for larger vehicles. RVs often cannot maintain the speed that these are calculated for. So know that you will arrive slightly later than you think.
Parking and RV amenities
- Free Campsites
- Free Roam
Find Gas – Gas Buddy
Guides – Guide to the National Parks App
- America the Beautiful Pass – Gets you into every national park in the USA https://www.usparkpass.com/
- Check the state parks – Many states have park passes that will get you into all of the parks within that state. If you plan to stay in a state for an extended time or think you will return within a year, it may be worth your money!
- Reciprocal Museum Passes – Purchase a membership at your local museum and then check reciprocity in the areas you plan to visit.
- 6 Flags Membership- We have not tried this out, but think it sounds awesome! A Six Flags membership gets you into 26 parks across the country- https://www.sixflags.com/greatamerica/store/membership
Have you taken a family RV trip recently? Do you travel the country in a van? We would love to hear your comments below!
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