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We’ve traditionally planned our RV travels well in advance over the years, with some changes and flexibility. But recently we decided to mix it up a bit – and UNPLAN most of our RV travels for about six weeks in April/May. To try something new, experiment, have some fun with a more flexible schedule. See where the road take us.
We tend to be more planners (work) but we’re not afraid to change things up. Everyone will develop their own unique travel style. We think this post will be helpful to provide a snapshot of an RV travels lifestyle. It will help provide a baseline and examples to help you create your own style.
Questions we will answer in this post
- What are the pros and cons of this type of RV travel?
- Can we get into campgrounds?
- Where did we stay?
- What nightly fee? What did it cost?
- Where did the road take us?
- What camping memberships and apps came in handy to help us save?
- And tips to share
Pros and Cons
- Can be a fun, freeing feeling, going with the flow
- Open to new places and experiences, people
- Find new places, things you never knew existed, locals recommend
- See what’s around the area you wouldn’t normally go as a destination but may as well while there.
- Helps you better cope with unexpected external influence travel plans. Learn to be more fluid and resourceful
- Learn and trust new ways of traveling, always somewhere to stay, especially out of peak season
- May push your buttons or be stressful, if you’re a planner.. . But it’s good practice for something different.
- Gotta do more on the fly. campground research, call ahead or wing turning up, make faster decisions
- May not always get what you want/when/where or you may even need to stay the night without hookups
- More disruptive to work schedule being on the move, didn’t get as much done.
Quick tips for un-planning your RV travels
- Gotta be more flexible (RV size may impact, campsite amenities)
- Easier during the middle of the week, compared to weekends
- Avoid busy times at most popular places, less crowds
- If you don’t like it move on. OK – not every place will be perfect all part of adventure
- Use some of the tools available to increase efficiency
- Save more by staying at neighboring towns
Details of how our unplanned RV travels worked out
This 6 week period started off in the first week of April, 2019. We had just left Florida after spending the entire winter in the same state. Time to just see where the road takes us, and ‘wing it’ more than we usually do. Being shoulder season, we were confident that we would not have trouble finding campgrounds and other places to stay.
We had a reservation in the Chesapeake Bay, VA area – May 1st – but ended up pushing it back – deciding to spend the time in between unplanned and see where the roads took us.
So what kind of camping did we do and where? How did our RV travels work out? Many of you know we spend a lot of time at Thousand Trails campgrounds but we have some other camping membership that we haven’t used much or talked about and we wanted to use those too.
Boondocking one night in Mobile AL
Our motorhome was due for it’s annual scheduled maintenance. We searched the region for a good place to have the service performed, and settled on a Cummins shop in Mobile, AL. By choosing that shop we felt we could also tie in a visit to our friends Kyle and Olivia from Drivin and Vibin. And our friends Denny and Veronica from RV Outlawz
We only stayed one night in the parking lot of the shop, the night before the appointment. Knowing we would need to be out of the RV (and our offices) all day, we made plans for a fun day off. We drove to relatively nearby Pensacola, Florida.
We had recently learned that the famous Blue Angels practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These performances are free to attend. There is an amazing air museum on base too, also with free admission. It was an awesome day and we would highly recommend it.
Escapees Park, Summerdale, AL
9 nights at Escapees Rainbow Plantation $227 member rate
Join Escapees for $39.95 a year($49.95 for first year)
After our one night stay in Mobile, we settled in at an Escapees park in Summerdale, AL. Summerdale is right next to Fairhope, AL where our friends were staying. We were also able to set up a book signing event at the local bookstore called Page and Palette. The bookstore kept a few additional autographed copies. So if you are in the area, stop by to pick up a special copy.
Funny thing about this stay is that we had originally only planned on staying for about 3 days. We enjoyed the park and the area, so we extended our stay a couple times. It also allowed us to get a better (weekly) rate.
Escapees is far more than just a network of campgrounds. Our primary reasons for joining are that they handle our mail service, and domicile. We also really like that they do a lot of advocacy for RVers, and have great resources and community.
Driveway Surfing in Georgia
Our next stop was driveway surfing at a friends house. They happen to be a boondockers welcome host. We stayed at our friends house for about 10 days. It was great to be able to hang out that long without needing to plug into their power thanks to our solar and Battle Born Lithium batteries. Even with multiple rainy days. Learn more about RV power system in Episode 5 Of RV Makeover Series.
Their home was walking distance to downtown. We had a great visit spending time with friends, including spending Easter with their extended family. Our friends had to leave for other business meetings, but invited us to stay after they left. Having a longer stay, we were also able to get some extra work done.
We don’t stay at Boondockers welcome locations very often, but many of our friends use it every month and love it. Memberships are $30 a year or $75 for 3 years. Less if you are also a host. Membership provides access to a huge network of private properties that owners often welcome boondocking visitors. Always call ahead to the host to make sure space is available. Normally stays are limited to much shorter visits than this. We already had an established friendship with this host from previous RV travels.
10 nights boondocking
Walmart, Rome GA
FREE (kinda) – spent $35 on groceries and supplies but we needed them anyway
Furthering our journey north we got a later start than planned. Wanting to to avoid Atlanta Friday afternoon traffic, we checked a map for alternate routes. We knew we would only be able to get a few hours down the road before dark.
So, we decided to stop for the night at a Walmart in Rome Georgia. When we arrived, we found a nice spot by grassy embankment, and headed into the store to stock up on supplies. We cooked up dinner and had a good nights’ sleep.
1 night boondocking
Note: We stay at Walmarts quite a few times per year to break up long drives. When we stay, we are always mindful of respecting the privilege by parking at the edge of the parking lot, doing some shopping, and being as un-obtrusive as possible. After all, it is meant to be overnight parking, not camping. Be sure to call in advance, and/or check in with a supervisor to get approval when you arrive. Not all Walmarts allow overnight stays. This is often dictated by city ordinance, not the Walmart itself.
On our way again. Headed to Tennessee!
$79 a year (current special offer. Save 15% using code RVLOVE).
The next morning, we continued up into Tennessee Valley – Louden area. This time we spontaneously decided to do a couple stays at Harvest Hosts. We found two different wineries in Tennessee. We called them the day before arriving to get permission. Also to make sure they had space and availability for us, and that our 40’ RV with tow vehicle would be able to access it..
The first was Tennessee Valley Winery. Parking was a bit tricky, but we had a fun evening chatting with the two other RVers staying with the host that night. We bought some wine and cheese and items from the store. The host invited us to stay a second night, which we accepted. Harvest Host stays are limited to a single night unless invited to stay longer by the host.
3 nights boondocking
Next we traveled a little farther down the road to Pleasant Hill Winery, Vineyards and Weddings. It was a very spacious property plenty of parking – as long as no wedding/event. We had another great visit with the owner, wine tasting, and other RVers staying the night, and bought a bottle of rose wine.
We love the unique experiences offered with our Harvest Host membership. Hosts include organic vegetable farms, animal farms, tourist attractions, golf resorts, wineries and more. Remember code RVLOVE to save 15%
Great Smoky Mountains – Stayed at Pigeon Forge
Passport America Membership $44 a year – 50% off stays pays for itself in a 2-3 night stay
We had asked our audience on Facebook for recommendations of places to visit in Tennessee, and had a lot of folks recommending the Great Smoky Mountain National park area, including Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg.
So we checked on available parks with our Passport America membership in the area. Being shoulder season, even in this highly touristy area, the park we found was less than 50% full. Our membership provided 50% off for 5 days including the weekend. Rates were normally $46/night, so we saved $115. The savings on this stay alone was double the cost of our annual membership. Clearly more than paying for itself in this single visit.
We stayed at Eagle’s Nest campground for 5 nights. Initially only booking 2 nights, then just kept extending so we could do more exploring in the area. We didn’t get to Dollywood or see much of local Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The area was a little too touristy for us. So most of our time was spent driving around the national parks and other scenic drives in our Jeep.
$115 = 5 nights campground
Notable highlights from this longer stay:
We drove the famous Tail of the Dragon road on the NC/TN border. The road has 318 curves in just 11 miles. We also enjoyed and great smoky national park and Foothills parkway. One of our favorites was the Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail. historic nature trail drive.
We also enjoyed our hike to Clingman’s dome. At 6643 ft, it is the highest point in Tennessee, and third highest peak east of the Mississippi. Fortunate to catch it on a clear (low air pollution) day, we were able to appreciate the expansive views.
While in the area we also made a day trip to Kentucky to visit a huge motorhome salvage yard in search of a basement door for our RV. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the part we needed. They usually only deal with online orders but we got special permission to take a look around with the staff. It was a really interesting and eye opening visit. Fun to learn what happens to RVs at the end of their lives. Be sure to check out our dedicated blog post and video about this trip here.
Extra Unexpected Stops Added Thanks to Serendipity
Even though we had a reservation starting the 1st of May at Chesapeake – we bumped out our arrival date, to do a bit more exploring on the way.
We left Tennessee and stayed at a cute little campground in Hendersonville, NC (near Asheville) called Red Gate for a couple days to visit friends in the area. Rates tend to be a more expensive around Asheville so we found another Passport America property in a neighboring city.
We were again able to save 50% and nearly $50. During our stay here we caught up with one of Marc’s long time work friends. And also with RVing friends whose wedding we attended in Key West in March. We first met them in Colorado a few years ago. But we have met up with them in many locations around the country. That is one of our favorite things about the RV travels lifestyle. Meeting up with friends in different locations all across the country.
$45 = 2 nights campground
Another Special Stop at an RV Related Shop
We had ordered them about 5 weeks earlier, not expecting to be in the area. When we realized we would be driving right by the area, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet the staff and see where and how they are built. We plan to share more about our new Magne shades and Tire covers soon.
After the install, we stayed the night in the parking lot, dry camping with solar and batteries.
Onto Our Original Destination
We ended up arriving May 8th, one week later than planned. Our book signing event was scheduled for May 11th.
Though we had a great few weeks bouncing around, and found good deals on our stays. We were very excited to be getting back into a Thousand Trails campground, where, thanks to our membership we are able to stay with no nightly fee for weeks at a time. It was especially exciting to stay at this Chesapeake Bay Resort because our favorite TT membership specialists, Jim and Brandy Reneau, work out of this park.
Our book is also sold in the store at this campground, so we autographed the copies they had in stock. If you are in the area, pick up an autographed copy while supplies last. We have written a ton of very popular blog posts about Thousand Trails and how it saves us so much money in our traveling lifestyle. Learn more about Thousand Trails Zone Pass memberships here.
8 nights campground = No Nightly Fee
Last Stop in This 6 Week of RV Travels
County Park – Found using Allstays App
We had some unexpected events that drew us to the Washington DC area. This meant we needed to cut our great free stay at Thousand Trails Chesapeake, VA short. Heading to Washington DC and used Allstays app to find some options. We had previously stayed at Cherry HIll Park. It is a very nice park with great amenities but we wanted to try something different, and a little less expensive.
Through our research, we found a great county park called Lake Fairfax in Reston, Virginia. $40-45 a night instead of $75 for Cherry Hill. It was also only 6 minutes from our friends house. So it made it super convenient to visit friends, and share a drive around wine country.
$240 = 5 nights campground
What did it cost and summary
Our total campground expenses for this six week period were $627. This is not including our RV maintenance service, Walmart supplies, or wine and cheese from Harvest Hosts. It also does not include annual membership fees from any of our camping memberships, or our fuel expenses.
We stayed 29 days in campgrounds with hook-ups. The other 16 days were boondocking without hookups, for a total of 45 nights. Our average nightly camping expense was just under $14. Had we stayed more nights using our Thousand Trails membership, this would have dropped substantially. That is one of the reasons we spend so much time in that system.
Keep in mind that our boondocking expenses were low thanks to our solar and battery system. Without that, we would have needed to pay for fuel for a generator, or pay to stay somewhere with hookups.
Where to from here?
We know we are flying to Colorado for another book signing event and to visit friends and family for a few days. Then we will be flying back to the east coast for a bit more RV travels. We might spend a bit more time in Virginia before heading north, and would love your input on places you recommend we visit while in the ‘Lovers’ state.
Even though we are not 100% sure where we are headed, we already have reservations booked in Thousand Trails all summer long, since we know we can stay there for no nightly fee. Though we had a great time with our ‘unplanned RV travels’ the last month or so, we generally like having reservations during the peak summer and winter months because of the higher demand in peak season especially during the holidays. Many tools in our toolkit – memberships – all different kinds of stays and experiences.
- Campground Memberships
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