In our travels and discussions with folks, one of the things we often get asked is: How do you decide where to go? It’s actually quite a process!
We have two overarching goals: follow nice weather and see cool stuff. Like most snowbirds, we aim to head north in the spring, explore the northerly sections of the US in the summertime, and swing back south as winter approaches to stay out of ice and snow as much as possible. We joke about following 70 degrees, which is a great goal, but not always easy to do! This means that each year we’re crafting a “loop” which takes us north around and through various scenic spots and back south to a winter-over spot in either Florida or Arizona. We typically stay in one place the longest over winter, waiting for nice weather to arrive at points north.
Going into this fulltime RV life, we already had developed a fairly extensive bucket list of things we want to see and do. This includes National Parks, cultural and historical sites, mountain biking areas, favorite vacation spots, and areas where we can visit family and friends. For example, in our first year of full timing we completed a West Coast loop, focusing on visiting National Parks and mountain biking areas. (You can see a summary of our past itineraries by clicking on the “Our Travels” tab at the top of the page).
So, the first thing we do is to pick a general route — do we want to loop through the East, West, or somewhere in the middle? We’ll pull out our personal bucket lists, research “best things to do” in the States we’ll travel through, and highlight areas of interest.
Then, we use the Allstays app to identify campgrounds in and around each area of interest. We check reviews on TripAdvisor and Campground Review web sites and look at the aerial photographs on Google Earth. We’re too big to stay just anywhere, so we are very particular to check big-rig friendliness: Are the roads wide? Are the sites level? Do they have 50 amp electrical hookup? Is it easy to get in and out? Not too many trees? We will venture farther away from our point of interest in order to stay at a campground with good reviews and big-rig-friendly, open sites.
Once we have our areas and campgrounds identified, we decide how long we’d like to stay in each area, depending on how much there is to do. Because it’s a lot of effort to move this beast, we generally stay no less than 1 week and may stay up to a month at any given location. We have found that we enjoy ourselves more when we take our time at each place, moving less frequently. We then chain the campgrounds together into a rough route with desired time frames. We typically plan a route that departs our winter spot around April 1 and returns south by late October to mid-November.
THEN, we start booking campgrounds. The need for advance booking varies wildly depending on the campground. Some campgrounds don’t open their booking window until January of that year. Some campgrounds can be booked almost at the last minute. Some campgrounds fill up more than a year in advance! Because we’re big, and like to stay longer than a few days, we try to book a year ahead – especially around holidays. We can always adjust later, if needed. You do have to watch for campground cancellation fees, however, that can be hefty if it’s done at the last minute.
Completing route planning initially takes several days of research to rough out the year’s schedule. Making the actual campground reservations requires several months of follow-up, depending on their booking windows. Sometimes we have to adjust our route around campground availability. I keep track of everything on a spreadsheet, including deposits paid and site notes.
We always have a rough idea of what we want to do a year or two out. The first year was West Coast. This year is a Midwest loop and next year will be the Northeast. The year after that will be West Coast again, hitting areas we missed the first time along with some favorite locations. After that who knows?? It’s nice to have a plan, although we’re never locked in. We can always change it up as we go along, and we certainly have done that!
And that’s how we do it!