This summer we completed a major item on our retirement bucket list by taking an RV trip across America … with our 4 dogs! Our trip covered 10,000 miles and 18 states between May and August of 2019, circling the USA in a loop from Georgia to Texas, up through Colorado, out to the Oregon Coast, around the Pacific Northwest and back through Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Wow, what a trip!
Many of you have asked for some details on our trip, so I’m dedicating this post to anyone considering taking an RV trip across America as a retirement travel dream. They say that RV travel is high on the list of retirement dreams for most folks. Since we’ve just done it, it seems appropriate to share what we learned on our adventure. If you share that dream, today’s post is for you!
Throughout this post, I’ll share highlighted tips from the lessons we learned on our journey, as well as a detailed cost breakdown for our trip. I trust you’ll find the tips and costs of interest if you plan on taking an RV trip across American. I’ve also been teaching myself video editing as a personal objective for retirement and will be sharing various YouTube videos of our trip in this post.Today, the inside story of our RV Trip Across America...with 4 dogs! Click To Tweet
Taking An RV Trip Across America … With 4 Dogs!
We’d been dreaming of this trip for years and announced our plans when I published The Great American Road Trip last Spring. That post featured a profile of each of our four dogs that participated in the adventure, so have a quick glance at that post if you’re interested in the story of our dogs. 🙂
It’s time to come full circle, and give you a summary of how the trip went and what we learned. Let’s start with our chosen route. From that original article, here’s the map of our trip:
To best summarize our trip, I’ve broken this post into four “legs”, each of which are highlighted by a relevant YouTube video for that portion of the trip. By watching each of the videos, you’ll be able to participate virtually in taking an RV trip across America! I also shared a ton of photos during our trip on my Instagram account, so have a look here if you’d prefer to see the photo highlights. Here’s one of my favorites, just to give you a taste:
Planning The Trip
I should mention that we booked all of our campsites in advance. We did this based on research which stated the choice campsites book well in advance in the Pacific Northwest. Knowing we wanted to stay in some of the most popular State Parks in the area, we decided to book our entire trip (how else would we know what dates we needed for that State Park on the Oregon Coast?). It was reassuring knowing where we were heading each day, and we never faced anxiety about getting a site. By booking early, we could choose waterfront sites by looking at the maps of the various campgrounds, and we were happy with the places we chose.
Some folks question if we lost a sense of serendipity by having the trip planned, but we never felt that way. We planned plenty of downtime along the way in case we had mechanical issues, which would allow us to “catch up” with our pre-planned itinerary. Fortunately, we never had any issues and stayed at every site we planned except one (see TIP #11), and for us, the peace of mind was worth the loss of flexibility.
Tip 1: Consider booking your campsites in advance, especially if you’re traveling to popular locations.
To plan our trip, we simply opened up Google Maps and searched an area ~200-300 miles out from our starting point. We filtered the search for “camping”, then honed in on State Parks that showed up in our targeted area. We repeated the process all the way across the country (virtually, since we booked everything while we were still home) and were beyond pleased with how it worked out, especially since this was our first RV trip across America.
We were also fortunate to have some friends who were moving to Blue Ridge, so we offered them our home for no charge for the three months we were traveling. They fed our outdoor cat, cut the lawn and forwarded our mail and we had the comfort of knowing our home was in good hands while we traveled.
With that background, let’s start on our RV Trip Across America!
Leg 1: The Deep South (Georgia to Texas)
Our trip started on May 13th with an easy 170-mile drive to Lake Guntersville State Park in Alabama. We had two guidelines we used when planning our trip, both of which were demonstrated on that first day:
Tip 2: Follow the “330 Rule”, by driving less than 330 miles per day, and stopping by 3:30 pm.
We followed with an easy second day to Wall Doxey State Park in Mississipi. One of the special memories from the trip was seeing my childhood friend, David while we were in Mississippi. He moved away when I was 9 years old and I hadn’t seen him in 47 years! To celebrate the reunion, we had some fun re-creating a childhood picture:
We found State Parks to be our preferred environment for camping. They typically had great trails for hiking and mountain biking and often had lakes where I could get in a swim. They are also many State Parks, and we were often able to make them work with our “330 Rule” for travel.
Tip 3: Stay in State Parks as often as possible, they have great trails for hiking with the dogs and typically have something of interest to see (why else would there be a State Park there?).
After one night in Alabama and two in Mississipi, we slowed down a bit when we reached Lake Ouachita State Park in Arkansas. The Arkansas State Parks were among the best we saw, and we enjoyed an extended stay with hiking and swimming in the gorgeous lake.
Tip 4: Find an interesting challenge for your trip, like collecting rocks at every lake you swim in.
One of our biggest surprises of the trip was the beauty of Palo Duro State Park in the panhandle of Texas. We’d never heard of the park and simply picked it off the map since it worked well for our route. It ended up being one of our favorite stops on the trip, with excellent camping, hiking and mountain biking on the floor of the beautiful canyon.
Leg 2: Colorado To The Oregon Coast
One of the biggest decisions on our trip was whether or not we were going to take the risk of driving the Million Dollar Highway, a hair-raising road between Durango and Ouray, Colorado. In the end (and after much online research), we decided to give it a go and were rewarded with some of the best scenery of our entire trip (the photo at the top of this article is from a mountain pass along that route).
Tip 5: Be willing to push your comfort limits and have a sense of adventure. Live life!
It was amazing to find that a reader of The Retirement Manifesto was in our campground near Telluride, and I enjoyed chatting with him about a major life decision he had to make that very weekend. I’m glad you chose the non-profit route, Brian. I hope you’re enjoying your new gig! (I should add that we also enjoyed our visits with readers and fellow bloggers in Salt Lake City, Oregon, Washington, and Montana).
We really began settling into a rhythm during the drive across Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Oregon and enjoyed being in a part of the country that was entirely unique from our home area. We all spend so much of our lives living in a routine, and one of the real joys of taking an RV trip across America is the opportunity to spend extended periods of time outside our normal routines.
Tip 6: Realize it’ll take a few weeks to settle into your new routine of living the RV lifestyle and learn to go with the flow.
Savor one of the few times in life where there is something new around every corner. Slow down and enjoy The Present, and take time to smell the roses. You may never pass along this road again, so take full advantage of the opportunity you’ve been given. It’s one of the true joys of the RV lifestyle.
Leg 3: Summer In The Pacific Northwest
The main objective of our trip was to spend an extended period of time near our daughter, her husband, and our 8-month old granddaughter. They moved to the Pacific Northwest a year ago, and our visit with them was the catalyst for our trip.
Having the ability to visit family for over a month made us realize one of the true advantages of retirement; the ability to go where we wanted, and stay as long as we elected to stay. We found a campground just 15 minutes from their house and made it our home base for the summer. Since the campground had a 15-day limit for stays, we took advantage of the policy to build in two smaller loops around the Pacific Northwest when we hit our 15-day limit. We fell in the love with the Pacific Northwest and enjoyed our shorter loops around the Olympic Penisula and through the Northern Cascades.
Tip 7: Consider spending a summer in the Pacific Northwest, one of the best places in the USA to spend a summer.
I enjoyed the opportunity to practice my photography skills by shooting many beautiful sunsets and was amazed by the variety of the sunsets based on whatever beach we happened to be on when the sun went down. Below is one of my favorites shots:
Tip 8: Use the ever-changing scenery when taking an RV trip across America as an opportunity to sharpen your photography and video skills.
Leg 4: Glacier, Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks
If you’re considering taking an RV trip across America, you almost certainly have Glacier, Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons on your bucket list, and for good reason.
These three parks highlight the best of the Northern Rockies, with spectacular mountain vistas and some of the best wilderness in the USA. Unfortunately, they’re also becoming crowded. As an example, the parking area at Logan’s Pass on Glacier’s infamous Going To The Sun Road frequently gets full in the popular months, and you’re requested to continue past the parking lot rather than circle around searching for a spot. Frustrating, but we found a solution:
Tip 9: Plan to visit the popular National Parks early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.
Frustrated by our inability to park at Logan Pass, we took the advice of our local friend Jillian (aka Montana Money Adventures) and made another attempt to hike at Logan Pass in the late afternoon. The parking lot was almost empty when we started our hike at 5:00 pm and we learned a valuable lesson about navigating the crowded National Parks in the summertime! Here’s a pic from our late afternoon hike:
Since we had our four dogs with us, we found that camping in the National Parks wasn’t the best solution. The National Parks don’t allow dogs on any of the trails, and we like to hike every day with our dogs. Therefore, we booked campgrounds in nearby State Parks or private campgrounds with trails at the edge of the National Parks. We particularly enjoyed Henry’s Lake State Park just outside West Yellowstone and would highly recommend it.
Tip 10: lf you’re traveling with dogs, camp outside the National Parks and hike every morning with your dogs before you head into the park.
We found that taking a nice long hike with the dogs in the morning, then leaving them in our RV (with the A/C and radio on) while we toured the National Parks worked well for us. We told our neighbors that our dogs were in the RV and were advised that they never made a peep while we were gone for the day. It worked well for us since our dogs are used to spending time in our home alone when we do activities around our retirement cabin, and would encourage you to consider it if appropriate for your pets.
Finally, a note on booking all of our campsites in advance. On our way back East after leaving The Grand Tetons, we arrived early at our pre-booked campground. The campground didn’t meet our expectations, and we still had the full afternoon to drive a few miles closer to home. The campground was willing to let us cancel our pre-booked reservation without penalty based on our argument that we didn’t want to stop so early in the day.
Tip 11: lf your pre-booked campground doesn’t meet your expectations, don’t be shy about negotiating a cancellation.
What’d It Cost?
One of the first questions people ask when they think about taking an RV trip across America is how much it will cost. Fortunately for you, we tracked all of our relevant incremental expenses.How much does it cost to travel across the USA via RV? Here's the cost breakdown of our trip... Click To Tweet
I was pleased that we averaged 11.6 MPG pulling our loaded trailer, which weighed ~12,000 pounds. Our F250 diesel excelled in pulling the load and consumed 859 gallons of diesel fuel over our 10k mile trip.
Our total fuel cost was $2,635.
We stayed a total of 85 nights in a combination of State Parks, National Parks and private campgrounds. Our total campground fees were $3,583, for an average stay of $42.16 / night. Our most expensive campground, at $82/night, was at the Headwaters campground between Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Our least expensive, at $18/night, was at Hyde Memorial National Monument in New Mexico. Since this was our first trip, we elected to camp in comfort and avoided any “free nights” at Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, or dry-camping in the National Forests (all viable options if you’re looking to reduce your cost).
One of the things we most enjoyed during our travel days was a leisurely lunch. We’d find a nice rest area, or a spacious pull-off on the side of a country road, and extend the living room slide-out on our camper. We’d walk the dogs for a bit, then all relax on the recliner couch in our “home” for 30-45 minutes while we ate whatever we happened to have in the refrigerator for lunch. Given that we were traveling with 4 dogs, we found it more relaxing to enjoy home-cooked food for almost every meal. Since this wasn’t “incremental” to our normal retirement expense, we didn’t track the detail and don’t consider it a marginal cost associated with our trip. Our total “incremental” costs associated with the trip, then, were:Our RV Trip Across America cost an incremental $6,218, or $73/day. Not a bad price for 3 months spent seeing the country! Click To Tweet
Taking an RV trip across America is one the bucket list of many retirees, for good reason. While it took us a few weeks to truly settle into our new way of living, we learned to love the freedom of travel on the open road. A lot of retirees are spending their days traveling around America, and we enjoyed the three months we spent on the road this summer. The beauty of RV’ing is the flexibility it affords – if you’d rather do shorter loops closer to home, there’s no reason not to. If you want to experience full-time living in an RV for a few years, you won’t be alone.
We spent our first summer of retirement doing shorter loops closer to home and our second summer taking an RV trip across America. Both summers were enjoyable, and our future summers will likely continue to see a combination of flexible approaches to spending some of our free time in retirement enjoying traveling in our RV, with the balance of our year spent at our retirement cabin in the Appalachian Mountains of North Georgia.
RV’ing a great way to experience this country.
It’s a great way to live life.
What About You? Have you traveled via an RV in retirement? If so, what tips would you give other readers? If you’re considering traveling via RV, what questions do you have? Let’s chat in the comments…