How To Plan The Perfect RV Road Trip Step By Step

Let’s be honest… planning the perfect RV road trip can sometimes be a headache. Between researching where to go, navigating the stress of booking campgrounds, and trying to plan for the weather, there are a lot of factors to consider.

As full-time RVers, RV trip planning is a part of our everyday lives. Over the last few years, we have refined our RV trip planning process down to a science. Whether you are a seasoned RVer or brand new to RVing, these steps will walk you through how to plan the perfect RV road trip every single time.

Benefits of RV Road Trips

The gently winding road of the Cabot Trail carved into the green cliffside high above the ocean in the northern section of Nova Scotia in eastern Canada
We have gone on breathtaking RV road trips all over the U.S. and Canada

When we first started camping and RVing, we quickly realized how convenient it was.

Instead of sleeping on the cold hard ground in a tent, we now had a comfortable bed and temperature control. Instead of paying for expensive hotels or staying in questionable motels along our road trip route, we now had our own space to stay in each night. Not only that, but we were able to stay in beautiful spaces in nature for far cheaper than the price of a hotel room.

We cooked our own food, saving on dining out. We also enjoyed the luxury of using our own bathroom and showers, without worrying about shared spaces or how they have been cleaned.

And if you enjoy certain amenities when you travel, don’t worry! There are all kinds of places to stay on an RV road trip. Whether you want privacy, peace and quiet, and beautiful views or a stay with a pool and hot tub, waterpark, or on-site dining, you can build the perfect trip for you.

If you like the idea of traveling to beautiful places in nature with all the luxuries of home with you, planning an RV trip might be perfect for you!

Renting vs. owning an RV

A Cruise America RV rental driving on a road trip through the epic mountains of a U.S. National Park

The great news is that you don’t have to make a big purchase and own an RV in order to enjoy the many perks of an RV trip.

There are several great rental options in today’s RV market, ranging from rental companies to private owners renting out their personal RVs.

Here are a few top RV rental options to consider:

RV & Campervan Rental Companies:

Rent From Private RV Owners (Peer-to-Peer Rentals):

Considerations when choosing a rental RV:

When deciding on a rental, it is important to know exactly what you are looking for and ensure the rental you are considering meets those needs.

If you are traveling with a dog and want a full bathroom, you don’t want to end up with a non-pet-friendly rental with only a small removable toilet…

Rental RV Considerations:

  • Price (be sure to check how many daily miles are included, what supplies are included, and what kind of deposit, insurance, or cleaning fees are required)
  • Sleeping and seating space (Consider how you want to travel and who you are traveling with. Campervans will be the smallest option, fifth wheels will feel most roomy, and trailers will be towable by more vehicles)
  • Is the RV towable (you will need an adequate tow vehicle) or is it driveable? (If it is driveable, will you be able to take it where you want to go? Or does it have the option to tow a smaller vehicle for getting around?)
  • What’s included (does it come with camping equipment? bedding? or paper products?)
  • What are the bathroom facilities like? (does it have a wet bath? a full bath? a removable cassette toilet?)
  • If you are traveling with a pet, is the rental pet-friendly? Are there additional costs for traveling with a pet?
  • Does the rental have 1-way options in addition to round trip options? If you are short on time, a 1-way rental can be a great option to see and do more, without having to backtrack

Pro Tip: Be sure to check the size of RVs the spots you want to visit can accommodate. The larger the RV, the more challenging it can be to find campsites or parking spaces. There will always be tradeoffs, try your best to find the sweet spot between comfort, convenience, and maneuverability

How To Plan An RV Road Trip

Our RV trips include a mix of campgrounds with amenities and free dry camping with amazing views

Crafting the perfect RV trip can require meticulous planning.

If you want to be more spontaneous you certainly can be, you will just need to be more flexible in where you stay and what you do. This also becomes easier the smaller your RV is and the more you are willing to camp off-grid or stay in places like Cracker Barrel parking lots.

For the most part, we enjoy planning our RV trips in advance to secure stays in great campsites and ensure we can secure entry into parks or excursions that can be hard to come by or have limited timed entry spots available.

Use the following steps to guide you in planning your perfect RV trip, from choosing the best destinations and time of year to visit to sticking to your budget, and finding the best campsites with the best weather.

Create a destination bucket list

A hiking couple in red and white standing with their arms stretched high next to their brown down in front of a dramatic green cliff on the oceanside in golden hour
Our RV trips are helping us cross off places on our travel bucket list, like Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland!

A great place to start for any trip planning venture is to get your bucket list of destinations you want to visit.

New England in the fall? The Canadian Rockies in the summer? A trip to the National Parks in California?

Start with some inspiration of where you want to go to make it a bit easier to narrow down where you might like to go – which can then help with deciding when to plan your trip as well.

Feeling stuck? A travel or RV blog (like this one!) can be a good place to start. Social media can also be a great way to get some travel inspiration as well!

READ MORE: RV Travel Destinations

Choose a time frame

There are 2 great ways to go about selecting a destination for your RV trip.

First, you can select a destination and then choose a time to visit based on weather and crowds. For many destinations, shoulder season can be a great time to visit when the weather is likely mild and crowds are smaller.

Second, if you have a certain time available for vacation, you can select a destination based on what places are best to visit that time of year. For example, if you have a chunk of vacation in late April or early May you might want to visit the National Parks in southern Utah, but if you have vacation in the fall, New England might be a great destination.

Once you select your time frame, you can move on confirming that the weather is fit for a visit to the destinations you are considering from your travel bucket list.

Research the weather

DRV four season fifth wheel RV camper in a snow storm
Planning around the weather can help you avoid situations like this day when we arrived at the Grand Canyon to snow

There are a few ways to help you with planning your RV trip around the weather.

First, look up the average monthly temperatures for the location or locations you plan to visit on your trip. Be sure to look up the highs and lows, precipitation, and snowfall to be sure.

  • We often use Time and Date to compare the weather at different times of the year

Second, research NPS resources or other blogs to find out what it is like to visit the destinations you are considering at selected times of the year.

Here is a great example of an NPS article about what to expect when visiting Yosemite National Park in April (shoulder season)

It is important to note that in some parks there may be road or campground closures even when the weather might be getting better, due to heavy seasonal snowfall, damage, or other factors. Be sure to check for these dates on each campground, NPS website, etc.

When it comes to weather there will always be the chance of anomalies, but you can do your best when planning and adjust later if needed.

Getting a head start on planning will pay off handsomely when it comes to securing campgrounds and campsites when compared to waiting until the last minute to see how the weather will be.

This is especially true if you plan to stay in or near popular destinations (like National Parks) or want to stay in one spot for an extended period (more than 1 or 2 nights) or over weekends.

Set a budget

The RV road trip budget planning feature of the RV Trip Wizard software
RV Trip Wizard by RV Life has great features to plan and budget your RV trips

In order to limit financial stress, it can be really helpful to set a budget for any RV trip you plan.

A few costs to keep in mind are:

  • Fuel (note that fuel costs can vary widely by state and that your fuel mileage will be worse when towing an RV or if driving a larger Class A RV)
  • Campground costs (National or State Parks will typically be around $30/night (plus applicable state fees and taxes), BLM or National Forest land is often free or under $30/night, and private parks can range from $40-$150/night)
  • Entrance Fees for parks or destinations of interest (you can save on National Park Entrance Fees with an America the Beautiful Pass (U.S.) or Discovery Pass (Canada), typically worth the cost if you plan to visit 3 or more parks in a year)
  • Entertainment (activities, tours, excursions)
  • Food & Dining Out (it can be a good idea to research a few places in the area to get a feel for prices. The more touristy or remote an area, the pricier dining out and groceries can be)
  • Miscellaneous (mishaps, breakdowns, etc.)

When putting our RV trips together in the RV Trip Wizard planning tool, we can put in campground costs for each of our stays, helping us stay on top of our living costs. We can also put in fuel and other expenses, to get a good idea of how much we are spending overall for our RV trips.

We highly recommend estimating fuel costs prior to your trip to ensure the distance you hope to travel is within your budget.

For example:

  • If you plan to drive 500 miles, you get 10 MPG towing your RV, and gas is $4 / gallon:
    • Your estimated fuel expenses would be 500miles / 10mpg = 50 gallons X $4 = $200 in fuel

Tips For Saving Money On Your RV Trip

RVs set up among the tree-lined campground on a small island in Nova Scotia

For all you savvy budget travelers out there, there are great saving opportunities to take advantage of for your next RV trip as well:

  • Use a fuel savings program
    • We are part of the TSD Open Roads program and receive discounts at truck stops on diesel
    • Pilot has the RV Plus Card which is great for GoodSam members and offers discounts on gas and diesel
    • You can also use an app like GasBuddy to find the cheapest fuel around
  • Consider a campground membership or savings program (popular ones include Passport America, Thousand Trails, and Good Sam)
    • We highly recommend running a quick analysis of the cost of these memberships and how often you will use them to see if the value is there. We do not have any larger camping discount memberships, but do use our Harvest Hosts Membership frequently for overnight stays

Click here to claim 30% off your annual Harvest Hosts Membership!

Harvest Hosts is the best way to enjoy overnight stops and experiences while RVing
  • Stock up on groceries outside of high tourism, or highly remote, areas (did we mention a bag of apples cost $10-12 in some places while we were RVing Newfoundland compared to $3-$5 we were paying in the Southeast of the U.S.?)
  • If you own an RV, consider a roadside assistance service like CoachNet to save on assistance if you have a blowout, breakdown, or require towing (this would have saved us around $600 when we required towing while RVing in Nova Scotia that our AAA membership did not cover)

Compare campgrounds & book in advance

A map of campgrounds with reviews and estimated costs on the Campendium website for RVers and campers
There are several great options for reading unfiltered reviews and comparing campgrounds, including Campendium

Our favorite resources for comparing campground costs and reading reviews from other RVers include:

  • Campendium (great for free and paid campgrounds and campsites with crowd-sourced reviews)
  • RV Life Campgrounds (great for free and paid campgrounds and campsites with crowd-sourced reviews)
  • Campspot (direct RV site booking platform)
  • Hip Camp (reserve private RV spots)
  • The Dyrt (reserve private RV spots and campgrounds)
  • Harvest Hosts (unique overnight stays at farms, breweries, wineries, golf courses, and more)
  • iOverlander (great for free and stealth camping, very popular among campervans)

plan an RV-friendly route

An RV safe GPS route for an RV trip from Georgia to North Carolina

If you are towing a small RV (such as a teardrop trailer) or something the same size or smaller than average vehicles OR will be traveling in a traditional campervan, what roads you go on for the most part will be less of a concern.

Once you are RVing with a large fifth wheel, in a large motorhome, or longer or taller trailer, you must be well aware of what roads you will be traveling on so that you can choose an RV-safe route.

The biggest concerns to look out for are roads with sharp curves, steep grades, roads or bridges with size or weight limits, and low bridges.

If you will be traveling with a larger RV for your RV trip, we highly recommend using an RV GPS. We personally use RV Life GPS, but many other RVers also swear by their Garmin RV GPS.

The most important thing to remember is that no technology is perfect.

Use your best judgment and use the information you are seeing with your eyes first. If you feel like the GPS is leading you astray, trust yourself. You can always pull over and check the route (or have your copilot check).

That is much better than making a wrong turn and finding yourself stuck in a tricky situation…trust us, we know this from experience!

scout out fuel stops or rest stops along the way

A map with fuel discounts along an RV road trip route
Open Roads has saved us $100s on diesel all over North America

In addition to using an RV-safe GPS, it can also be a good idea to plan out your fuel stops.

Depending on where you go and your fuel mileage, it is possible that you can find yourself on long stretches without fuel stations, so it is best to plan in advance as much as possible!

If you need diesel, the TSD Open Roads app not only shows you the discount prices for fuel at various stops, it also maps them out to show you all of the participating fuel stations within a set mileage of the location you are looking up.

If you will be traveling with a larger RV, it can also be a good idea to use Google Satellite to scout out spots you might stop (like rest areas or to grab a bite to eat) to ensure you will be able to pull in and park easily.

Fast food might be calling, but with a larger RV you might be better off pulling into the truck section of a local rest area and making yourself a snack or meal in the RV… that is one of the perks of traveling with it after all!

plan your departure and arrival time

In addition to planning an RV-safe route and making sure your RV adventure is not de-railed by running out of fuel, it is important not to overlook the importance of arriving in the light.

While smaller RVs and campervans might be more willing to drive around new places in the dark, a general rule of thumb is to travel and arrive at each new destination in the daylight to make setting up easier and safer.

Not only does this save you from stress, it also allows you to get comfortable with your surroundings before dark.

While it can be tempting to cram in as much as possible when planning your RV trip, it is typically better to air on the side of caution and pad your travel times just in case. You never know when there will be traffic, road work, or just additional time involved for towing that leave you arriving later than you anticipated.

Leave early, and arrive in the light. You will be glad to get to explore your new spot before the sun goes down!

Tips & Resources For Planning Your Next RV Road Trip

Looking for more inspiration or pre-planned RV trip itineraries?

Interested in what else we use as full-time RVers or interested in what you actually need? Check out these resources:

Campground & Campsite Resources:

  • Harvest Host: For finding unique experiences and convenient overnight stays at breweries, vineyards, farms, and more! Perfect for a fun weekend getaway or stopover during a long travel stretch.
  • Campspot: For finding and booking great campgrounds and RV parks conveniently and easily all in one place!
  • RV Life: RV safe GPS, RV Trip Wizard route planning, maintenance tracker, campground reviews, and more. Everything any RVer needs, all in one place!
  • Campendium & iOverlander: For finding free camping spots

Internet For RV Travel:

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