RV across the USA

Taking An RV Trip Across America … (with 4 dogs!)

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

rv travel across the USA


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.  πŸ™‚

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:

the route for our great american road 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:

We made it to the Oregon Coast!

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.  

Rocks from the 10 lakes I swam in during our trip.

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.  

Visiting family – one of the real benefits of retirement.

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:

A sunset in Olympic National Park, WA

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:

RV trip to Glacier National Park
Hidden Lake, Glacier National Park

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.

A bear in Yellowstone – best to leave the dogs in the RV.

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

Fuel Costs:

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. 

Leg Miles Gallons $ $/Gallon
Outbound 3,863 374.2 $1,171 $3.13
Pacific NW 2,255 157.2 $505 $3.21
Return 3,809 327.3 $959 $2.93
TOTAL 9,927 858.7 $2,635 3.07

Campground Fees

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

Conclusion

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…


 

31 comments

  1. Wow, what an amazing trip – a long holiday slowly discovering more of your great country without the pressures of work to distract you. I am sure your Serpentine training came in handy with the lake swims!

  2. Loved this post! Have taken 2 such trips with 4 kids instead of 4 dogs and loved every minute of it. Our National Parks are truly America’s most prized possession.

  3. Hi Fritz!

    Sure enjoyed your article. I would add that if you are ever at Glacier park, then take the time to camp at Banff National Park. It is located about 100 miles NW of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. One of THE most beautiful areas Carol and I have laid our own eyes on! Been to many places on God’s Earth now. Our first camping trip was to Canada, just 3 months after buying our fifth wheel and Chevy 2500HD. My favorite trip also, followed by a winter trip to AZ and NM. Love camping and meeting new peeps at camp fires and parks. May God bless you and all your readers with a sense of gratefulness, inner peace and adventure! Cheers to you Fritz!

  4. Hi Fritz. I am so glad you found the time to do this. Not only the trip, but documenting it for us as well. Your video editing work was a great touch and added a lot to the written words. You answered so many of my questions as I plan a similar trip in the coming years. Is there anything you would do differently? Different camper style, longer stays, leave the pets (I couldn’t, but curious), hotels/AirBNB instead of camper, etc? Thank you for all that you do.

    1. Great question, Dan. I was considering adding a section on “Things We’d Do Differently”, but the post was already bordering on too long without it. Amazingly, there’s very little we would have done differently. We spent ~5 years before retirement going to RV shows, so we were very confident that the 5th wheel was what we wanted, and our experience proved it out. If anything, we found 3 months to be a bit long to be away from home, and we’ll likely try multiple trips of shorter duration for 2020. Then again, since our daughter is in the PNW, there’s really no good way to get there without making it a full 3 month trip. We’d love to go longer, but it’s hard when you’re also maintaining a permanent residence. And, we really don’t like traveling without our dogs. We’ll take occassional 1-2 week trips to the PNW, flying out and staying in AirBNB’s, but it’s hard to pull off (we typically find a responsible young adult to stay with our dogs when we’re gone).

  5. Holy crap! This post is a perfect example of why you won a Plutus for the best retirement blog. Bravo, my friend. Love the 330 rule, love the videos, and love the cost information. (By the way, your three months in the Western half of the United States cost a little more than half of what it cost me and Mrs. Groovy to visit Australia for one month. And they say America is too pricey for the little guy. Balderdash!)

    1. Mr. G! Thanks for your kind words, glad you liked the post. Ouch on the cost of OZ, that’s an item on our bucket list at some point, though it’s tough to take an extended international trip with 4 dogs at home! Thanks for stopping by. (And, hey, did you just call me a little guy? Smiles).

  6. Great info and beautiful pics! That route is definitely on our travel bucket list as well. We’re researching RV’s now, and weighing the costs/benefits of a trailer vs motorhome vs Car/Hotel.
    While your cost breakdown covered fuel and campground fees, do you spread out your initial and ongoing costs of ownership for the truck & trailer into each day of travel (like the initial purchase, insurance, storage, repairs & maintenance, etc)? And compare those costs to returns they could be getting invested elsewhere. We don’t have dogs, so perhaps that was a limiting factor in your travel options. Thanks Fritz!

    1. You’re absolutely correct, LL, regarding the costs of ownership and opportunity costs. I did not include them, but to be fair in a comparison to your next best option you would want to spread out depreciation, etc. I wanted a truck for our retirement mountain life anyway, so I felt that wasn’t really an RV-related expense. The camper was ~$45k, and we’ll likely have it for 10 years or so (based on our past experience with campers), at which point it will have some residual value. And yes, the dogs were the primary reason we went with camping as our retirement travel option, a major factor in our retirement lifestyle!

      1. Thanks for the response. As I said, we don’t have dogs, so also looking at car travel and hotel stays.
        If I invest the approx $100K initial purchase cost @ 7% = $7K/yr. Savings on storage, insurance, repairs & maintenance of $3K/yr, gives an equivalent $10K/yr travel budget.
        As much as I love the idea of being able to use the bathroom while driving down the road, I can learn to hold it! I promised my wife we’d rent a motorhome this Summer for a short trip to give it a try though!
        Happy Travels!!

  7. That looks like an awesome trip! My family and I will do the same next year with our Grand Design Reflection 311BHS.

    Question for you: what model Reflection do you have? Did you have any issues with the F250? We’re looking at an F350 owing to the ~13,900 GVWR of our rig.

    Thanks! -ch

    1. Hey Chris, we’ve got a 2018 337 RLS, and it pulls like a dream with the F250. I really wanted to avoid a dually since the truck is my daily driver, and couldn’t be happier with how it tows the Reflection. We’re at ~12k lbs, loaded, you’re smart to fully understand the towing capability of whatever truck you decide on, it definitely has to be a “fit” with your chosen trailer!

  8. Wow, I was following your trip on the socials and have to admit I was more than a bit jealous. What’s so great about America is that you could do something like that over again and hit totally different places. There’s just so much to see. I love my foreign travel experiences, but I also have so much more to focus on right at home

    1. You’re absolutely right, Dave. We’ve already been looking over maps imagining the next viable route to see our daughter & her family. We can make it an entirely unique route, and will likely due so in a coming summer. BTW, you’ve made me “a bit jealous” as well with some of your awesome mountain climbing stories. We’ll call it even. Smiles.

  9. Fantastic post Fritz! Thank you. I particularly liked your: “You may never pass along this road again, so take full advantage of the opportunity you’ve been given.”

  10. The 330 rule sounds like a great rule. We’ve had to break it as we had time constraints, but pulling a trailer longer and into the night, really does wear you out.

    We did a 10-State, 17-day trip with all 6 of our kids when they were younger. Great trip, but we were ready to be home. :O)

    I would add a Tip about making sure you have enough gas stations on your route or carry a couple of 5 gallon gas cans. We have twice been towing on fumes and that isn’t a lot of fun. We took High 50 from California to Utah. Not a ton of gas stations along the way. High 80 has many, many more.

    cd :O)

    1. Great addition about the gas stations, Chris! We got very low going across New Mexico, and paid a fortune at the first gas station for about 200 miles (yep, he was clearly taking advantage of his location!). I can empathize with your stress of running on fumes. I should have added our “1/2 tank” rule: whenever we got to half tank or less, we’d always fill up at the first gas station we saw. You never know how far it may be to the next one, especially out West!

  11. PERFECT ! We’re starting the RV experience in 2020. Just bought a used Class C to start. We knew the seller and it will be a great start with out β€œ1” high maintenance Aussie. Love the β€œ330” rule!

  12. More power to you! I don’t see dragging that big RV around as fun. In fact, we generally comment on them as we pass them and when they get in our way on the road! lol The wife and I prefer just hitting and missing places, and staying in a nice hotel. What you paid for that RV pays for a lot of hotels. To each his own I guess? Our next stop is going to be Toronto. We live in Illinois, so the mid west is especially our oyster. Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Ok Fritz…you know that I have been waiting anxiously for your summary of your Great American Road trip! I watched each video more than once, and some of the vistas and photos actually made me tear up they were so beautiful!
    The info you provided and your advice is so valuable to us as we plan a similar trip starting next October. We will be stretching out our trip to about 10 months…spending the winter in the desert SW and making our way north as the weather improves. We have family in San Antonio which is where we will spend Christmas, then spend a month in S. Texas, then a month or two in Arizona, and then into NM, Utah, west to CA, and up the coast. Also plan to go to Vancouver Island from Washington…anxious to meet blogging colleagues there and explore the island. Of course, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton are on our list.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the videos, photos, and commentary along with sage advice about taking the time to “smell the roses”. We will not go this way again.

  14. I love how you put the actual costs together – it makes the dream much more realistic.

    On dry camping: we had our RV for over a year before we took it dry camping. The first night we slept in a highway rest stop, I felt like “real RVers” πŸ™‚

  15. We are very proud of our state parks in Arkansas, thank you for mentioning them! During the summer months we seek out US Army Corp of Engineers lakeside parks for their level sites and easy access to water. We travel with a teardrop trailer and a Subaru making US Forest Service campgrounds perfect for us. Next month we travel to Big Bend National Park and Palo Duro .. great article Fritz!

    1. Marianne, I’ve heard good things about “COE” campgrounds, we’ve definitely got them on our list to try on our next trip. You’re fortunate to live in Arkansas, beautiful state, beautiful State Parks! Enjoy your trip to TX, I think you’re going to love Palo Duro!

  16. Great documentary on your trip Fritz. I noticed the truck was often unhooked from the trailer. Did you need to do that often and why (other than the national part dog walking issue)? Just wondering, because I may consider a motorhome but concerned about mobility.

    1. Observant question, Ron. Yes, once we arrived at a location, we always unhooked the truck (excluding a few one-night stops en route). It was our primary reason for choosing a 5th wheel over a motorhome. Sure, you can pull a car behind your motorhome for the same purpose, but we wanted to have our camper feel as much like a “home” as possible, and prefer the “feel” of the 5th wheel vs. the motorhome (not to mention, there’s less maintenance since we don’t have an extra engine to take care of). Finally, I needed a truck for our mountain living in retirement, so it led to the 5th wheel being an obvious choice for us.

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