If you’re looking to explore the United States, there’s no better way than a classic road trip. Whether you want to explore the mountains of Colorado, the vastness of the Grand Canyon, or see major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, getting on the road for an extended road trip is an experience you’ll never forget.
A campervan road trip throughout the USA is your ticket to experiencing some of the most unique and beautiful sights in North America. Whether this is your first time or you’re a seasoned road trip pro, consult these tips before you rent a campervan and hit the road!
If you’re already convinced that you want to road trip, you can probably skip this part. However, if you aren’t sure that a road trip is in your future, consider these points before you make any decision.
Why Road Trip?
Sure, flying is faster, and hotels are more luxurious. However, if you want to be in complete control of your time, a campervan is the best choice. If you decide you want to make a detour and see a unique roadside attraction, the pilot isn’t going to turn the plane around. Hotels are comfortable, to be sure, but those expenses add up quite quickly. Don’t just take my word for it; here are six more reasons to road trip in a campervan.
If nothing else, you’ve probably seen the craze of vanlife on some social media feed over the last couple of years. There’s something at least a little intriguing about that open road lifestyle, no matter who you are. Sure, you probably won’t jump into full-time travel, but investing in a conversion campervan or motorhome can change the game for your future travels. Should you decide you don’t want to road trip for the long-term, you can sell your campervan and make some money back. It’s a lot harder to try that with a plane!
If you don’t have your own road-trip-ready vehicle, here are a couple of your best options. Whether you want to invest in your own or look into a budget-friendly RV rental, here are the two main options to consider!
Hopefully, you’re more convinced that road tripping is the best way to see the USA (or even travel throughout Mexico and Canada). If your one remaining problem is not owning a campervan of sorts, no worries! A fully-loaded campervan rental is the answer to the last problem standing between you and the best road trip of your life!
You might still say, I’m not sure I want to drive a large campervan (and a motorhome is definitely too big)! Enter the minivan. Yes, the kid-hauler loved by soccer moms throughout the USA is actually a great option on road trips. If you want something with plenty of space that isn’t as tall as a campervan or motorhome, a minivan is a mini-hotel on wheels made to save you money.
Where Should I Go?
The beauty of the campervan road trip is you can make that decision and change your mind as many times as you like. Sure, it’s good to have a road trip itinerary and know where the best gas stations and overnight parking options are before you go. However, should you see something cool along the way, you can add it to your itinerary. Your only limitation is how much time and gas you want to spend! So, if you want some help deciding, start with any of these 10 road trips.
Where Should I Stay?
National parks and state parks are popular road trip destinations. Whether you want to park your campervan in the parks themselves or look for free camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is up to you. If this is your first time on a campervan road trip, you’ll probably be best served to pick a popular spot with well-known amenities.
If this is your first road trip, sticking to more traditional accommodations is probably best. For country campgrounds in national parks or state parks tend to have everything you need. Since you’re in a campervan and can carry everything you need, this may not be a gamechanger. However, having park bathrooms, running water, and a fire pit can be a really enjoyable luxury after being on the road. Plus, should you want to get out of the campervan and sleep under the stars, you have that option as well.
Free camping has its advantages. You can find a free spot and be more secluded than you would in a national park. However, free camping, aka boondocking, will mean going without amenities like park bathrooms, running water, or RV park hookups. Also, know that certain states have more BLM land available than others. For example, you’ll find a wealth of BLM land in Utah or Nevada, but not all states are like that. Always know your free camping options before you hit the road.
This is probably the least preferable option, but it’s something to consider. If you’ve had a long day of driving, you may want to look for BLM land to stop at. Certain businesses will allow you to park overnight. Parking lots aren’t the most picturesque road trip stop, but when you’re tired, they can be a helpful, safe option.
While you’re always best off confirming before parking overnight, seasoned RVer’s know that you can park overnight at any Walmart. Still, you’re better off confirming with the business that you plan to park overnight at. If nothing else, it’s good to have someone in the business watching out for you overnight. Simply pull into a parking spot and do your best to be courteous towards other RVer’s with your lights and noise.
What Should I Do Before I Go?
Campervan trips allow you flexibility with your schedule, but you still want to make sure you’re adequately prepared. So before setting out on your USA road trip, make sure you have a few things in order.
Road Trip Itinerary
It helps to know where you’re going! Unless you plan to grab a map of the USA and throw a dart at it, a well-constructed road trip itinerary goes a long way. A good itinerary determines not just where you’ll go but also what you’ll see, where you’ll stop for food and gas, and where you pick up any supplies that you may need.
This is especially pertinent for beginner road trippers. The last thing you want to do is get lost and confused on your first big campervan travel. Of course, it’s always good to leave room for spontaneity, but having a solid plan keeps your stress levels low and allows you to enjoy every moment. Trust us; you’ll thank yourselves for doing it!
Yes, you’re going the RV road trip route to save money, but expenses can add up fast if you aren’t careful. When making your road trip itinerary, look for ways to save money at each stop. If budgeting doesn’t come naturally to you, here are a few budget-friendly road trip tips.
Download Helpful Apps
Make sure you have these helpful road trip apps before your next road trip. Yes, you want Google Maps and a music player, but there’s more out there than just those two. Having apps that show you free camping, the best hikes, and the best exit attractions can go a long way on a long road trip.
Finalize Your Packing List
Yes, you can stop and pick things up as you need them on a road trip or visit an Amazon locker. However, saving money and time will be much easier if you have your packing list in order and everything accounted for. Not a packing expert? Start with these 12 packing tips.
Purchase a National Parks Pass
An American the Beautiful pass is $80 annually and covers most basic fees at all (more than 2,000) federal recreation sites! So if you plan to make at least a few stops in national parks yearly, this pass quickly pays for itself.
Learn to Use a First Aid Kit
While this is a good overall life skill, you’re a bit more self-contained in a campervan. You don’t need to be a skilled medic, but buying a first aid kit that you’re comfortable with and learning to use it will go a long way. While the likelihood that you’ll need to use it for more than cuts and scrapes is low, you’ll never regret knowing how to use your kit.
Learn a Few Simple Recipes
One great way to save money when on a campervan road trip is learning a few easy camping recipes. You don’t have to do anything (unless you want to), but a few recipes for each meal will go a long way. If you want to go ultra-simple, learning a few one-pot or one-pan recipes will keep cleanup to a minimum and savings to a maximum.
Whether your travels take you across the country or just a few hours away, properly preparing for your campervan road trip is of the utmost importance. Adequate preparation can be the difference between a lifetime’s worth of memories or ones you hope to quickly forget.
If you want any more information, consider checking out our guides. Whether you want more beginner-focused information or just the best spots to free camp around the US, you’ll find plenty of useful tips! Also, check out some of our other articles for camping tips, interviews with successful vanlifers, and more!
No matter where your travels take you, we can’t wait to hear all about it when you get back!
Here are some additional articles you may find helpful!
Guide to the Best Campgrounds for Campervans in the USA
Guide to Free Camping in the USA
Van Life Guide for Beginners: Traveling Around the United States in a Campervan
Ultimate Campervan Road Trips for Every Season
Top US National Park Campgrounds & RV Parks to Visit
About the Author
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.