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How to Pick the Perfect RV Destination — and Resources for Finding the Best Route

Tips & Tools

RV trips are one of the most liberating and flexible ways to travel. You have all the freedom of a road trip with none of the uncertainty — after all, your accommodations and your means of transport are one and the same!

But when it comes time to plan your route, you might find all that freedom a little overwhelming. With so many roads to choose from, which one(s) should you take? How do you plan the adventure of a lifetime?

I’ll be honest; it isn’t easy. And in the end, a lot of it’s simply up to personal preference — which means you’ll have to just make some decisions off the best information you have and hope for the best. While it can be scary to think about missing out on an awesome destination or activity because you didn’t do enough planning and research, the beautiful thing about RV travel is that it’s fairly FOMO-proof. No matter where your RV takes you, you’re sure to have a good time.

But the very first step in planning your route is to choose your destination. Then, you can dig into the legwork of actually mapping your trip.

So, ready to get a better idea of where the road will lead? Here are a few easy questions to ask yourself to help get you started.

Where To? 3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing an RV Destination

These three questions will help you figure out which direction to go — an important precursor to figuring out how to get there!

1. Where are you starting from, and how much time do you have?

It’s true that the U.S. interstate system makes the whole country into your oyster. You could even venture into Mexico or Canada!

But unless you have an unlimited amount of time, where you start your trip will have a large part in determining your destination(s). Most of us don’t want to eat up all our vacation time driving, so you’ll probably want to choose somewhere at least relatively close to your point of origin.

Fortunately, this isn’t much of a problem, because there are tons to see no matter where you start. While the sweeping landscapes of the American west are the stuff of road trip legend, you could just as easily enjoy the charming cities of the south (Savannah! Charleston!) or the quaint burgs in New England. And if your starting point is in the Midwest, you’re in luck: A day’s drive can get you pretty far in either direction.

Of course, if you work remotely or find ways to make money along the way, you could conceivably spend months on the road — which makes a great western road trip totally possible, even if your home base is in Florida.

But if you’re short on time and relatively long on budget, and you want to hit the road somewhere far away, you could consider flying to a good starting spot and renting an RV there. Many RV rental dealerships are situated close to major airports to help make this tactic more convenient.

2. What’s your budget?

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can change the shape of your vacation. After all, at the end of the day, you only have so much cash to spend.

Figuring out where your road trip will take you (and what your stops will entail along the way) is basically a math problem, where your two main variables are time and money. The more you have of either, generally, the further you can go… but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an excellent vacation on a modest budget or over a specified amount of vacation days!

One of the best ways to get the most out of your vacation money is to find the means to cut costs without cutting value — that is, ways to spend less money for the same (or better!) ends. One way to try this out if you’re renting your RV is by heading to the peer-to-peer rental market. RVShare is the largest such marketplace out there, and much like Airbnb matches private RV owners to trustworthy renters like you. Since private owners don’t have business overheads to deal with, they can make a profit at a fraction of the rental price of big, commercial outlets. In some areas, rentals start at less than $10 per night!

Other ways to watch your budget while you RV include finding places to dry-camp or “boondock” along your route, cooking most of your meals yourself and finding fun, free forms of entertainment. At its best, RV camping is all about reconnecting with nature and the ones you love with a little bit of added comfort, so it’s not too hard to make it an affordable adventure!

3. What do you want to do?

Although all RV travel is technically called “camping,” some resort destination campgrounds will make your trip feel like anything but roughing it. 

On the other hand, maybe you do want to commune with nature, getting as far off the grid as possible and dry-camping in the woods.

The point of your vacation, after all, is for you to enjoy your experience, so make sure you’re planning your trip with your interests in mind! If you’re the adventurous type, it makes sense to load up all your hiking gear and do a circuit of the National Parks in the American West. But if you’re just looking for a getaway, maybe an easy trip to an all-inclusive resort on a beach somewhere is just the ticket.

Of course, you should always be open to trying new things. Even if you’ve never owned a pair of hiking boots in your life, you might be surprised at how much walking around outside can do for your peace of mind.

But it’s equally important to structure your vacation around the activities you know mean the most to you and your family. Maybe that’s the Adirondacks, or maybe it’s Disney World — it’s all up to you!

Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty: Route Planning Resources

Once you have an idea of where you’re going and what you want to see, it’s time to plan out your actual itinerary. I promise it’s not as hard as it seems!

You’ll need to figure out the total distance you’ll need to travel and divide it by however many miles you’re comfortable driving each day. (If you average about 60 miles per hour, 300 miles is a good base point for a pleasant day trip — that’s about six hours’ worth of driving.)

Then, plug your destinations into your map and find a safe route that connects them, adding in any additional stops you’ll need for a night’s sleep between long drives.

As far as choosing actual roads goes, you can obviously head to Google maps, which will offer you the quickest and most efficient pathway. Keep in mind that Google’s recently rolled out a new feature allowing you to add in multiple stops along the way, so planning your entire itinerary isn’t just possible — it’s easy!

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide:

  1. Go to Google Maps and enter your final destination. Click “Get Directions,” and use your current location (or your planned starting point) to create the first itinerary
  1. Looking at the projected pathway, add in any other sites along the way you’re planning on seeing by clicking the plus symbol inside the circle that reads “Add Destination” when you mouse-over it. You can drag and drop these into the order that makes the most sense for your trip, playing with the route.
  1. Google will list both actual directions as well as distance and estimated travel time to get there. If you see a leg of the trip that’s simply too much driving for one day, look along the projected route to find good stopping sites along the way. You don’t even necessarily need to find a campground for these brief stop-overs since you can save money by spending the night in a Walmart parking lot.

If you’re not comfortable planning your route on your own with Google Maps (or even good, old-fashioned paper), there are plenty of resources you can turn to for help. These are also good options if you’re interested in taking a more scenic route since Google Maps plans trips with a focus on efficiency and a paper map offers little insight into what each road has to offer!

The Rand McNally Road Atlas series is one of the best on the market and includes full road maps of the entire United States as well as insights into the best things to see in each region. If you want full explanations and recommendations for natural parks and wonders no matter where you’re going — and tips about the best routes to link them together — these books are a great and affordable place to start.

But if you want a higher-tech way to plan the trip of a lifetime, you don’t have to look much further than your smartphone, which offers a variety of free or affordable apps built specifically to help you create the best possible route. Try the Roadtrippers app for Apple and Android, which quickly shows you the coolest sites to see and how to get to them, no matter where you are. You can even find apps to help you plan a trip around a particular interest — say, food, for example. The TV Food Maps app aggregates restaurants and eateries that have appeared on the Food Network, so you won’t miss trying the best thing Alton Brown ever ate or Guy Fieri’s favorite burger. And, of course, good old Google Maps offers site-seeing suggestions of its own on its smartphone app.

You have all the tools at your fingertips. The rest is up to you! Happy travels.

  • Keith Sims

    We learned the hard way that you always need to double check the GPS against a road map. We also love our Rand Mc Rally Truckers road map. It has kept us out of many a sticky situation.

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