Driving with Donna: How to Plan an RV Trip
Posted: August 23, 2022
Categories: Travel & Lifestyle
Lippert Scouts Donna Weathers and Vic Mulieri are retired veterans who have been traveling the U.S. full-time for the past two years. They alternate their time between months-long volunteer gigs at state and national parks and road tripping in between those opportunities. Unencumbered by deadlines, pets or kids, they often have no idea what day it is and have forgotten how to set alarms. Their home on wheels is a 5th wheel toy hauler and they love exploring the outdoors, historic places and great restaurants wherever they visit. To follow Donna and Vic’s RV adventures, be sure to subscribe to Donna’s blog at wheretonowus.travel.blog.
How to Plan an RV Trip
by Donna Weathers
“Time to get moving and do the things…” I said wearily to Vic on a Tuesday morning in June. We had just enjoyed a short week in Salida, Colorado packed with adventure and visits from family, but now it was time to move on. This would be our sixth moving day in three weeks after being stationary for three months. Already, we were growing a little weary but always mindful of the privilege and reward of traveling full-time.
In a perfect world, we would wake up, decide to be somewhere else and magically the contents of the RV would jump into place. Then, we would simply arrive at the next stop refreshed, set up and ready to enjoy the adventure.
Okay, so it’s not a perfect world. I’d settle for ideal. In an ideal world, we would decide to go to a place, turn to page 63 in the “How to Plan an RV trip” manual and follow the step-by-step instructions for choosing the route, finding a campsite, planning the stops and getting there safely. But it’s not an ideal world either, and there is no manual.
Most of the time, we try to do a few pre-packing chores the day before. But having two full days with family and only a short drive to our next stop, we opted to take it easy on Monday and visit a local hot spring. Such a nice relaxing day — I highly recommend it! But that meant all the moving day chores fell to moving day. We are full-time in our RV, so just tossing it all in the camper and dealing with it later isn’t an option!
Packing Up for Moving Day
With barely a cup of coffee, we were faced with dirty laundry, packing up a soaking wet campsite from the monsoon deluge the day before and all the usual packing and hitching up. Since our RV is a toy hauler, with no fixed furniture, packing up also means we must fold up and tie down tables and chairs in addition to the usual securing of loose objects. Then, of course, there’s the driving, arriving and setting up at the next stop. We were in for a long day!
By 8:00 a.m., I’d prepared the bedroom and bathroom for travel and started two loads of laundry. These are the two easiest rooms and least used once we start our day. Vic has gotten started outside, dumping the tanks and putting away grills and chairs. And today, thanks to the rain, we also had to spread out the mats and bicycle covers to dry in the sun. It’s been a busy week with lots of traffic inside the camper because of the rain, so there’s a bit of sweeping and mopping to do while we pack up. No sense taking Salida’s dirt to Dillon!
We’ve let the coffee get cold and have breakfasted on cereal and leftover breakfast burritos while we each tackle our chores. The power is the last to disconnect, so we can use the microwave to reheat whatever we want.
By around 10:00 a.m., I’m waiting for the laundry to dry, he’s packed up outside and we meet up to compare notes and plan our exit. We can’t dawdle after we are hitched up since this campground is tight, and we would block the traffic lane. So, we do everything else but hitch up – pull in the slides, set the RV to hitch height, pack up blocks and extra chocks, reheat the coffee yet again, then disconnect the power.
Finally, by 11:00 the laundry is folded, and we are all hitched up. We hop in the truck, connect the phones to the truck Bluetooth for navigation and entertainment, and we are ready to go! Vic looks over and asks, “Where am I navigating to?” He’s such a trusting soul. If he were ever asked how to plan an RV trip, he’d say “ask Donna.” While he certainly has say-so in where we go, he leaves the “how we get there” part all to me.
Planning is Everything: 5 Steps for a Successful RV Road Trip
What we don’t need to do on moving day is figure out our route, find a place to stay or find rest stops along the way. Not everyone travels this way, but I can’t imagine getting in the truck without knowing where to go and how lunch is happening, or where I’m parking for the night or if we will find a gas station large enough for us to fuel up! I’ve been planning vacations and road trips and international excursions for decades. So, knowing how to plan an RV trip just sort of came naturally to me. The concept is the same, but the tools are a little different. Mostly it comes down to a few basic principles.
1. Know your route.
Which way are we going and how long does it take to get there? Months before moving day, I’ve already figured out our route and made any overnight reservations. I like using RV Life for this. I can input the size and weight of our RV and truck setup, and the routing makes it easy to see where we will need to stop for fuel and for the night and adjust the route if there doesn’t seem to be a suitable place to stop. Our goal is around 250 miles per driving day, give or take 50, stopping for lunch, rest and fuel when needed. For us, this is a six-hour travel day. RV Life, Campendium, and Google all give me a good idea of campgrounds we might like to reserve as well as free overnight parking or camping spots. I can save the route from the website, then open it in the RV Life app to use for navigation while we are on the road.
2. Make time for food stops.
Where will Donna get her next meal? This is honestly on our minds even on non-travel days. “Hanger” is a real thing. We try to keep moving day meals simple, often just packing a sandwich for a rest stop picnic. If we are getting tired of the rest stop meals, I like to treat us to a stop at a local restaurant or diner along the route. Driving through Oregon last summer, I had a hankering for oysters. It took some time to figure it out, but I was able to find a great seafood restaurant right along our route that had ample RV parking. I added the stop to our route, and we enjoyed an awesome lunch before continuing our drive. No matter what the plan is, having it already figured out keeps stress levels down and my belly happy!
3. Plan fuel and rest stops.
One thing I don’t do months in advance is determine fuel and rest stops. It’s too tedious to do all at once for a cross-country drive, and sometimes we change our route based on whims or necessity. Typically, I’ll do this a few days before we move. We have both the Gas Buddy and TSD fuel cards to help find good diesel prices in stations we can easily navigate along our route. Gas Buddy, RV Life, and of course Google Maps all offer a satellite view so I can quickly confirm if we can get into and out of the gas station or if they have a parking area for an extended rest stop.
4. Keep safety top-of-mind.
Keeping ourselves, our rig and the truck safe every step of the way is essential. This means driving at reasonable speeds, always checking under and around the RV when hitching up, inspecting and maintaining both the truck and RV and having necessary supplies for roadside emergencies. We use a lot of checklists! This campsite set up and tear down checklist is great if you don’t want to miss crucial steps in the process.
5. Use checklists for everything.
Before we even got the RV, we scoured the internet to glean as much info on how to plan an RV trip as we could. As former U.S. Navy sailors, we are both very accustomed to using checklists to make sure we don't break something or hurt ourselves. Vic created a maintenance checklist for everything from oil changes in the truck to cleaning the A/C filters. This really keeps the truck and RV running and helps avoid trying to find new tires in the middle of Death Valley.
There are always surprises, like that time the suspension equalizer on the RV had a crack in it. But, because “look under the RV for broken or hanging things” was on our pre-departure checklist, Vic caught it before it became a problem, and we were able to adjust our plans to make the repair. Among the other things on the list are checking the tire pressure, testing the lights, making sure steps and awnings are in and the doors are all closed tight. If you’re looking for a good checklist, check out Lippert’s Ultimate RV Maintenance Checklist.
Meanwhile, Back at the Campsite
With the maps loaded and a quick kiss for the road, we started off on our 175-mile drive. This one was uneventful. The rest stops were where they needed to be, food was when it needed to be and the campground was what we expected it to be. Once we navigated through the extremely narrow entrance and got to the site, we each took to our usual set up and unhitching tasks. I will never understand why a campground suitable for large rigs, according to site details and reviews, would have such a narrow entrance! Honestly, a longer 5th wheel or trailer may not have made it around that corner without some scars.
Best Lippert Scouts tip ever!
Disconnecting the 5th wheel used to be a fairly traumatic experience. We would park, chock the wheels, let the front legs down, hope we were “high enough” to move the truck out and usually watch with dismay as the trailer lunged, lurched or just stayed firmly affixed to the truck. And of course, hitch height was never right either. After an exasperated plea for help in the Lippert Scouts Facebook group, it was explained that we simply needed to watch for the 5th wheel plate to slightly lift from the hitch. That’s when we would be “high enough.” WOW! Hitching and unhitching are a cinch now. The backing in and leveling are still works in progress, however.
Ah, Home Sweet Home
After parking and leveling, and sometimes re-leveling, the setup is pretty simple. For this short stay, we left the ebikes inside and only unpacked and set up the basics. It was raining, so we didn’t bother unpacking the outdoor chairs and grill. Vic did set up the solar suitcase and generators since it was a dry campsite, and we are spoiled by our drip coffee machine.
We may not always set up the same way, but the one rule we follow is that we can’t relax until the bed is cleared of whatever has been stored on it for travel. I’ve learned to do this first, so we can call it quits whenever we’d like!
Figure Out What's Important to You
I’ve lost count of the total number of “moving days” we’ve had, and I can say that while we still have the departure and arrival checklists, they don’t come out as often as when we first started. I’ve also gotten a little slack on the rest stop planning since there’s always a truck stop or rest area along major interstates. But food – it’s always part of the plan. Nachos are my go-to arrival day comfort meal. There’s always chips and cheese. On especially fancy nights, or tiresomely long driving days, we opt for cheese and crackers with a glass of wine.
You don’t have to be a natural at knowing how to plan an RV trip, you just need to know what’s important to you and figure the rest out around it.
With that, I’m off to figure out where and what to eat on our drive to Portland, Oregon. Safe RV travels to you!