How do you decide where to go? How do you decide where to stay? Isn’t it stressful to have to make plans all the time? Isn’t it expensive?
These are some popular questions we get asked so we thought it would be a good idea to give some insight into our current planning process similar to what we did with full-time budgeting. I say “current planning process” because I feel the process will evolve over time as our circumstances change and as we gain experience with a higher level of comfort on the road.
That might sound odd considering we have been traveling and vacationing in a RV for years and have been full-time for nearly a year now. But going on vacations or the weekend warrior life are much different than a full-time RV lifestyle.
Planning a vacation is pretty easy because you typically pick a destination, like a national park, which you book and then work out the details to and from the destination. Typically people pack in as much as they can during an alloted timeframe between leaving and returning home. It’s pretty straightforward and simple as long as you don’t procrastinate. And while some people budget for a vacation many just let it rip and deal with the financial side later.
When living in your RV and traveling, you have several destinations spread out over many months and many states. You are also looking for long-term stays with special rates. This means you have a much smaller pool of resorts and parks to draw from. There is more to take into consideration. In addition to your budget, you must consider location, seasonal time of the year, dates, duration, proximity to and from your last and next stop, fuel costs and where you want to end up in the coldest months of the year. You don’t want to get stuck in a snow storm because you didn’t plan properly!
All of this can be cumbersome before you even get to the point of researching RV parks and resorts you might want to stay. After a year on the road we still feel a little overwhelmed by the process and already knew where we were heading and where we wanted to end up in 2022.
So let’s go over these questions:
How do you decide where to go?
Pick a destination then pick a route. It sounds easy right? But really it depends on what you want to see and do as you travel. For 2022 we know that we are visiting our son back east when he is on summer break. We also know we are staying in Sedona, AZ for the winter. Since these parts are already in place, we looked at the different routing options and what is along the way that we would want to see or experience.
This is probably the hardest part of the process because the options are endless. Paralysis by analysis can become a real problem adding to the stress of it all. We decided to take a southern route heading east and a central route coming back west. This was partially strategic because it means we will be traveling in the south when people are heading west on vacation and snowbirds are heading north returning home. On the way back we will be farther north and traveling west when people are going back east at the end of camping season and when the snowbirds are once again traveling south ahead of the cold months. This is our theory at least.
Since we are not beholden to a schedule, we are trying to stay away from the seasonal flow. This helps save money since you are avoiding peak season at most stops and it’s less stressful for the same reason. Plus some places are amazing in the fall and it just so happens that kids are back in school and campgrounds have more openings during this time.
How do you decide where to stay?
Research, research & more research! With the abundance of people now traveling in RV’s both full-time and for vacation this step is getting tough. So tough in fact we altered our 2022 plan several times to include return routes in the north, central and southern parts of the country. We reseached campgrounds from the upper pennisula of Michigan, all the way down to New Orleans, and everything in between.
To be fair, part of the reason this happened was because we were late in our booking. A great deal of the problem had to do with RV parks either not having a monthly rate or having a rate that was so outrageous we couldn’t even consider staying there. And some parks are just plain gross.
What we like to do is identify RV parks along our chosen route that look interesting and/or are close to areas we would like to visit. We then use several resources like Google, KOA, Good Sam, Tripadvisor, Facebook groups and RV apps to identify the best parks in that area. Once we narrow it down, we start calling for rates and availability. Before booking we usually take a quick glance back at the reviews and location before we settle on a place just to make sure we are not making a mistake.
If you don’t know this already, consider yourself forewarned. Some RV parks are either being deceptive or they hired Peter Lik to take photos of their park and the surrounding area. And I don’t think Mr. Lik has that much time on his hands.
Isn’t it stressful?
Yes it can be. But once done and everything is set, it is exciting to see what you have to look forward to. The best way to mitigate the stress of this process is to make plans early. At least a year in advance if you are heading to popular vacation areas like Yellowstone National Park or the National Parks in Utah.
Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were very late to get our reservations on the books for this year. We found ourselves chasing openings instead of locations which is not an ideal situation. We are lucky it worked for us, although it took a few days and numerous phone calls to get everything sorted out. Going forward we hope to stay on top of planning.
Isn’t it expensive?
This is a hard question to answer because it is subjective. Some people stay at fancy 5-star RV resorts and don’t consider that to be expensive. Some people would look at our budget, which we think is reasonable, and think it is excessive. Really only you can answer this question relative to your budget or willingness to spend.
For our purposes we have a $750 per month or $9k a year budget that we try to live by. For the year with our current reservations we are at $7,769. We are signed up to work camp and that saves us about $1,600 over 2 months. Even if we were paying this amount, we would still be under our annual budget.
That’s the beauty of this lifestyle. There is something for everyone when it comes to budgeting. And if you find yourself getting out of whack on your budget, there is the option to work camp to save some money, get a free spot, and possibly the opportunity to make some additional money.
The hardest part is having to layout money months in advance for deposits to hold spots. Some places make you pay the full amount upfront which can be tough for some. The bright side is when you get to a location, you have likely paid for the largest expense, which feels pretty good. If you stay at or under your annual budget, it all works out in the end.
While at times it can be a tad bit stressful in the moment and pricey if you have to pay in advance to reserve sites, this lifestyle more than makes up for those moments. There is nothing that we have experienced that would make us second guess or reconsider our decision to travel full-time.
As we said above there are ways to mitigate both the stress and financial aspects of planning your travels. Timely planning is the key and the best way to limit any stress. Planning can be fun and exciting once you get started and see it all come together.
Although we started late on our 2022 planning, it worked out and ended up under budget to boot. Below is a map of our route minus the final leg to Sedona, AZ. We haven’t decided what we want to do with the few days in between leaving Oklahoma and arriving in Sedona.
That’s another great part of this lifestyle. We don’t have to decide. Maybe we will boondock for free in the desert for a different experience if we feel like it. Or maybe, since we are under budget, we will splurge on a nice couple of days at a posh resort. Probably not, but who knows!
We hope this helps answer some questions about the full-time RV lifestyle. We had many of the same questions and concerns when we were in the planning phase of our journey. It helped alleviate some of our stress when people actively living on the road posted their real-life experiences. We hope to do that here.
Good luck, safe travels and hopefully we will see you on the road!