Deciding Where to Go: Full-Time Travel

One of the more common questions we get is, where are you going next? From friends and family, to people we meet at bars or UPS stores, people are curious where we’re heading. I started this blog in December, and since then completely re-wrote it because how we travel in our Home on Wheels has completely changed.

The way we plan is multi-fold: ask locals, focus on specific events, do a lot of research, and use a map. I know, the map is crazy-talk.

Ask the locals

We used to have a pretty good idea of where we were heading and would let people know which place we going next. But then? We stopped. We realized people weren’t actually interested in where we were going– they were hoping we were going somewhere specific. They wanted to tell us where we should go.

Now, we say something along the lines of, “We were thinking of heading North/East/West/South – Where should we go?” Or, “Well, we know for sure we want to go to the ‘big city’ but we’re not sure after that.”

Locals know what is up. Problematically, we often get recommendations to places we definitely aren’t going, or places we’ve already been. Just yesterday we got several recommendations to check out when we head to the Great Smoky Mtns… and we were there about a month ago. But there are other times we’ve gone places we were going to skip over – from Lynchburg, Tennesee to Virginia’s natural bridge.

So, our first step of deciding where to go is asking the locals.

(This does mean we can’t plan in as far advance as I used to prefer. After 8 months of full-time travel, I’m pretty done with planning.)

Using a map, planning events

So, while we try to be flexible, our next step is more structured.

When we plotted out an idea of where to go before we hit the road, our road trip map had us touching down into the Florida Keys by early February. In reality, it was April before we made landfall with Northern Florida. We had just made it to Orlando by mid April, and instead of going further South, we made plans with our Maryland friends, promised them we’d be there before Memorial Day, and started heading north. We are curious to visit the Southern tip of the continental US, just any time soon. As much as I hated this four months ago, plans change.

We are about six weeks behind where we thought we’d be. We definitely had wanted to be in Canada by the 4th of July to avoid fireworks and we’re just leaving Arkansas as I write this, but we’re just rolling with it.

Ultimately, how we decide where to go depends on several factors, mostly event-driven.

In mid-September, we’re meeting my folks in Wyoming to visit the Eastern side of Yellowstone. So, when we decided that over Father’s day, I put the meeting spot on a google map, looked at the various routes we could take, and went from there.

The rule of two

While using Google Maps, I guesstimate places that will be about 2 ½ hours drive from each campground – and then expand and contract my search from there with several apps to find the best place to stay. We follow the rule of 2 as often as possible: travel less than 200 miles a day, be set up by 2 in the afternoon, and stay at least 2 nights.   

Ranking

We do a little bit of priority ranking every so often– talking between each other while I plot a potential route. Our discussion includes things like how important a city is to visit, how many travel days we want over the next couple of weeks, and whether we want to do long hauls, or shorter hauls with more frequent traveling.

We go back and forth, rating how important things are to us at certain times (from balloon festivals to seeing comedians,) talking about things that are non-negotiable (getting our windshield fixed in the great state of Arkansas and a friend’s upcoming nuptials in California,) and then I plan from there. P.S. – I advocate just flying to California because I am not driving on those shitty highways again. My butt is still sore from November.

Tracking Everything, and Research

We use thhe RVtripwizard app, and it has some funky flaws to it, but we track every single stop on it and it produces a pretty cool map. We also utilize a ton of other apps and websites: google maps, campendium.com, allstays.com, freecampsites.net, daysenddirectory, campgroundreviews.com, various state WMA and BLM maps, Passport America and Good Sams websites, and others that I’m surely leaving out. If anyone is interested, I can also link a couple bloggers and instagram accounts we follow for boondocking sites. Bottom line: we research a LOT.

Ultimately, we decide where to go by figuring out the big stops and what’s most important, and I fill in the rest like a connect-the-dots puzzle.

From the bigger picture to the details: Choosing campgrounds

So, how do we connect all those points? There’s a few variables.

  1. Cost
    Price is important to me; I’d rather not pay 35 dollars a night for an rv park when we can find something for 25 that is comparable. Also, RV parks are more often than not big parking lots that happen to have numbered spots. Don’t get me started on RV parks that call themselves resorts: a camp store that sells overpriced Twix bars does not make a resort.

    However, we’re on-board with paying a little more if we are going to be in a big city – and this is because typically an RV park that is close to events, restaurants, and cool places is going to be more expensive. This is usually also an opportunity for us to catch up on laundry, since full hookups can be awesome.
  2. Location
    No matter what, we would almost always prefer being alone without neighbors a sneeze away.

    The best part about this is that all this wild places are often cheaper or free (not ALWAYS – there are some really expensive state parks.) The downside is finding these places can take a decent amount of research. Again, chat with those locals!

    We’ve learned our lesson about boondocking without any hard lessons yet: unhook the car from the motorhome in a big parking lot or large side street, and scout out the sites with the car first. We were able to boondock in the sand South of Joshua Tree, on the beach of South Padre Island in Texas, outside Carlsbad New Mexico, a strange little end-of-the-road spot in Louisiana. Our most recent catch was a cool WMA site by a bayou in Arkansas. Scouting out ahead of time, after researching is essential.
  3. Reviews
    We take reviews with a grain of salt, but we still read them. We’ve found the most helpful pieces of advice are when reviewers comment on better routes to take, and specific sites to stay in at campgrounds. Others leave awesome information like, “Check out the restaurant across the way for all-you-can-eat shrimp and catfish,” or “If it’s been raining, don’t stay here in May because the bugs will eat you alive.”  
  4. Memberships
    We have signed up for several RV memberships over the last 8 months to help keep costs down, and we’re paid for them all in savings almost right away.

    We don’t belong to any expensive memberships like Thousand Trails, mostly because we want the freedom of being able to go wherever we want instead of relying solely on where the Thousand Trails campgrounds are.

    I’ll dedicate a whole blog to our memberships and programs we use – but essentially we do use rv memberships to cut costs when we’re in a high-tourist area, and to help us find the best deals.
  5. Heart-string pullers
    There are certain campgrounds we’ve just insisted at staying at because of the amenities, but these are few and far between.

    One that comes to mind is Crystal Crane Hot Springs.  We had access to the hot springs the entire night. If you’ve never floated in a hot springs beneath the stars, do it. It is magic.

    If you’re only doing week-long trips, things like having hiking trails at your campground might rank highly for you. We’re okay with driving a little to find a good trail or park, but if it’s a shorter vacation you may find your “heart strings” are pulled by things like having trails at your campround.

    For us, we’re not as adamant about the specific place we’re staying at as long as it’s near to places we want to frequent. The hot springs example is rare, but important enough to plan for in advance.
  6. Availability
    This is the kicker. A lot of the places we wanted to stay in Florida weren’t available – and if we decided to stay in Florida next winter, we’ll need to start booking sites now. (Or, ideally, months ago.) We go where there is room – and some of those times we are greeted with some awesome experiences.

Life: Full-time travel is still life

If you’re not an RVer, is every day better than the last? Probably not. Is every meal you eat at a restaurant better than any other meal you’ve eaten? No.

That’s true for us, as well, but on a larger travel scale. Is every place we go more monumental than the one we visited last week/month/year? Nope. Sometimes we stay in parking lots. (No Walmarts, yet, but we did stay at an abandoned restaurant in Virginia.)

We still look forward to the places like Yellowstone, Alaska, and Banff, but we have to get to all those places though – and that means a lot of planning, a lot of flexibility, and remembering to ask the locals.

When you’re planning a road trip or vacation, what do you take into consideration? What wins in the end when you’re deciding where to go? Let us know your tips, and how you think about making travel plans. ­

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