Planning an RV trip? Confused by what you need to do as a beginner? Don't panic- here's everything you need to do and know in one easy RV trip planner – just 6 easy steps to road trip success!
Planning your first RV road trip can seem overwhelming.
(Heck, so can planning your second, third, fourth…)
There are just so many THINGS to think about- route, weather, vehicle, packing, budget, playlist, kids, dogs, partner, snacks… phew.
Planning our first RV trip
I remember how we felt before our first ever trip. I was CONVINCED I had forgotten something vitally important and the whole vacation was going to be ruined because I'd messed up…
SPOILER: That didn't happen. Sure, we forgot a couple of things. But we made do. We made MANY mistakes. But we survived (mostly) unscathed.
Since then, we've spent years touring in a motorhome. I promise, it's not as hard as it seems.
Beginners RV trip planner- where to start
Well, you start here! Follow the 6 easy steps outlined below and you’ll be able to put together a perfect RV trip- whether it’s for a weekend away or a longer road trip adventure.
Also, don't forget to grab your printable road trip planner, so you can make a note of the places you want to visit and plan a route- (but we’ll get to that!)
What do I need to know before planning an RV trip?
Obviously, what you need to know before your RV trip will change depending on the type of trip you’re hoping to have.
But, as a brief outline, you need to know:
- WHERE you’re going (and WHY!)
- How long you’re going for (and the best RV travel route to get there!)
- The type of RV trip you want to have- campsites or boondocking?
- Your budget (and those of anyone you're travelling with!)
- What to pack & the weather/ season
- Some basic technical aspects about your RV you NEED to know before you go
We're going to break these 6 steps down one by one, so you can start creating your perfect RV trip.
Ready? Grab a coffee, a map and let’s get started!
Easy RV trip planner Step 1
Where are you going?
There's nothing wrong with being spontaneous.
Heck, half the time we set out on a trip with no idea where we're going BUT… we've been doing this a long time. We're good at finding places to stay on the road and we don't worry about it anymore.
However, for our first few trips, we planned EVERYTHING- and that made things so much easier.
My husband does most of the driving in our RV, and he likes to have an idea of how far he has to drive that day. It can be hard work driving a long distance in a large vehicle and he likes to mentally prepare himself for how far we’re planning to go.
Also, if we have a destination, we can set a route on the motorhome Sat Nav which he can follow (it helps to know if the RV can actually fit down the roads too!)
So, you should have at least a rough outline and plan.
TOP TIP: Using a printable PDF road trip planner can really help when you’re starting to organise your trip. It helps keeps everything together and helps you visual your journey.
Why are you going there?
This is one of the most important things to consider when you plan a motorhome trip – is there somewhere you need to be by a specific date? Perhaps you’re attending a birthday party or a wedding or visiting people for Christmas? Maybe you have a meeting or a festival to attend?
Planning out where you need to be when can help you see how long you have to travel for in order to meet the deadline.
Even if you don’t have an event to attend, it’s worth thinking about why you’re travelling to the location you’ve chosen. Do you want to show the kids some history, or visit a place from your childhood or experience a National Park?
Easy RV Trip planner Step 2- How long do you have for the trip?
Does your destination make sense in the time frame you have?
If you only have a week to travel and want to visit a place 2000 miles away, you know you’re going to have to do a LOT of driving and not much sightseeing along the way. We frequently do this when planning road trips in the UK– try to cram too much into not enough time!
Traveling with kids or pets can make things much slower- they require more frequent breaks and rest stops, which will slow you down considerably.
There have been many occasions where we’ve planned far too much into too short a time and we’ve always ended those RV trips feeling stressed and frustrated. Learn from our mistakes- less traveling= more fun!
Plan in some downtime- or detour time!
Also, be sure to plan in some downtime during your RV trip. There’s nothing worse than driving, driving, driving- without a break. Ideally, you want a driving-free/ exploring day every 2 or 3 days.
Another tip- don’t have a schedule that’s so rigid you don’t have time to explore places you visit. Otherwise, what’s the point? Allow time for random detours you don’t know about yet.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve visited an area, only to see a sign for a waterfall we didn’t know about, or a local festival taking place. These are some of our favourite adventures- the unplanned ones, so be sure to leave time for those.
Check your RV travel route
You need to be sure that the route you pick is suitable for an RV. How small are the roads you’ll be taking and will your RV fit? Are they smooth roads or cross-country? Are your tyres and the vehicle suitable?
Are you planning on visiting towns or cities? Where will you park so you can visit? Do you need to book the parking or campsites in advance? Are there tolls you need to pay? Do you need to get a toll pass?
Easy RV Travel planner Step 3- What type of trip do you want?
This is often hard for an RV beginner to know. After all, what options are there? Well, we mainly mean do you want to stay on campsites, or free camp? Do you want facilities, or wilderness? Do you want to stay in one place for a week/ the entire trip, or are you planning on moving ever day to explore a larger area?
Where are you staying overnight?
Are you using RV campsites, or are you planning on boondocking or wild camping with your motorhome? Do you need to book campgrounds in advance?
If you’re travelling out of season, or at a time when some sites might be closed (you know, like in a global pandemic), it’s worth phoning or booking online before you travel, so you know what to expect.
Even if you’re planning to boondock, you might need to stay in a campsite every few nights to top up on electricity, empty your waste and fill up your fresh water. If this is you, make sure you pick a site that has these facilities so you don’t waste your time.
If you’re boondocking, do you know how to find places? Have you researched them in advance? You will also want to check that the area you're traveling in allows boondocking, otherwise you could end up in trouble.
Will you need access to powered sites?
Even if you’re planning to stay off-grid, you'll probably want or need to stay in a campsite occasionally. We book into one every few nights to top up on electricity, empty our waste and fill up with fresh water.
TOP TIP: Make sure you pick a site that has these facilities so you don’t waste your time or money!
Also, remember that, if you’re boondocking, you won’t be able to use your normal electrical plugs inside the RV unless you have some form of generator- so things like hairdryers, kettles, toasters etc won't work without some additional power.
We have had to learn how to manage power when staying off-grid, especially for laptops/ phones etc. I highly recommend adding some power packs and portable chargers to your kit, especially if you’re planning to work from the road.
Talking of which…
Easy RV trip planner Step 4- your budget
RV travel can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it, so make sure you think about your budget before you go. We live and travel quite cheaply on the road as we spend a lot of time wild camping/ boondocking, which keeps costs down. We also mostly cook onboard. But we have been to several countries (looking at you, Norway!) which were a LOT more expensive to live/ eat in than normal.
What does it cost to live/ travel in an RV?
If you’re going on a long trip, remember to budget for everything you're going to be spending, including fuel, campsites, activities, tolls, food, electric etc
Big campsites with facilities such as swimming pools and restaurants can add a lot to the running costs of a trip. So can visiting attractions such as National Parks, festivals, amusement parks or other events.
Don't forget to account for miscellaneous expenses, like ice creams or souvenirs.
If you’re hiring your motorhome or RV, be sure to account for the cost of the hire, plus any other expenses they might add, such as a mileage charge, extra equipment, costs for stocking or using their gear. It can all add up to a lot if you don’t keep track.
Traveling with friends/ family
Nothing can ruin a holiday faster than an argument about money.
If you’re travelling with friends or family, make sure you have a conversation with them in advance about budget and costs, so everyone knows what to expect. It can help to rotate who pays for what meals, or divide the shopping list so everyone is contributing.
Also, set expectations on what you want to do and can afford to do from the outset, so everyone knows what’s happening.
Is it better to rent or buy an RV?
This depends a lot on how long your planning your RV trip for! If you're only going for a week, rent. If you're going for a year, it will probably be cheaper to buy.
We always recommend that beginners rent an RV first, so you can get a feel for the lifestyle (and the sort of RV you want!) before you spend a lot of money on the wrong thing. If you want some help, grab our step-by-step buying guide here.
Having said that, we didn’t hire at all before we bought, but we had lived on boats for 15 years first, so we (mostly) knew how not to go crazy in a small space together!
If you’re hiring your RV, be sure to account for the cost of the hire, plus any other expenses, such as an extra mileage charge, equipment you might need to hire or cleaning charges. It can all add up quickly and be a shock at the end!
Can I work from an RV?
Absolutely! My husband and I both work from the road and have very few problems. As long as you have internet/ wifi access in your motorhome and power to charge laptops etc, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Beginners RV Trip planner- Step 5: Packing
You don't want to go on a long RV roadtrip without all the proper kit- it can be difficult to find things on the road, not to mention expensive!
It can be useful to make or download an RV packing checklist, so that you can keep track of what you already have on board and what you still need. It also helps to have one for setting off and getting to the campsites, so you don’t forget anything!
Some of the most commonly forgotten items include:
- Essential RV motorhome accessories– don't forget the basics!
- Medication: Ensure that you all have enough medication for the trip.
- Contacts and/ or spare glasses: so easy to forget
- Food, especially if you have dietary restrictions or fussy kids. Remember, what you might be used to buying might not be available in another area. See 15 easy RV meal ideas here
- Chargers: Make sure you have a charger for everything that needs to be charged and make sure everything is fully charged before you go.
- Extra batteries for camera, drone, Go Pro etc
- USB sticks/ hard drive- to store all your photos!
- Dog road trip gear: Don’t forget paperwork, lead, water bowl and chew toy
- Stuff for the kids. Including quiet activities for kids and easy childrens road trip car games
- RV journal road trip log to record the adventure- makes a beautiful keepsake of your journey
Personally, I would also recommend bringing some power packs and portable chargers too- ESPECIALLY with kids. These are useful to charge phones, iPads and even laptops on the go. If you take pictures/videos on you phone, you’ll find the battery dies much quicker than you might be used to.
Grab these printable RV packing checklists to help you remember everything you need for your trip.
Pack everything up securely
Make sure you pack your RV securely. It’s easy to forget something on the side, or leave it loose in a locker, only for it to break during the journey.
Do a quick checkover before you set off. If you find you have a lot of rattles in your motorhome, you can stuff cupboards with blankets or clothes if you need to. You just want to make sure things aren't sliding around whilst you're driving.
Weather and season
Make sure you check the predicted weather forecast before you set off on your RV trip. Is it winter time? Do you need special equipment, like snowchains or winter tyres? Are there local rules which require you to carry certain things in winter?
Also, check your RV. Do all the hatches/windows seal properly? Are there any gaps where water can leak through? If you have cracks in your windows, you might find excessive heat or cold makes these worse, so get them fixed before you travel.
Easy RV Trip planner Step 6- RV Basics
Ok, there are some basics checks and things you need to know BEFORE you set off on your RV trip.
Know your RV weight, height and length
Do you know your RV height, length and width? It’s important that you keep it on a note near the driver (perhaps behind the sun visor so it's easy to find quickly.)
If you happen to find a narrow country lane (which we always seem to do!), you’ll need to know your width, plus height and weight for bridges or road restrictions.
Also, many campsites have either height restrictions or maximum vehicle lengths for their spaces. If you have RV slideouts, you’ll want to know your width with extensions, so you know if you fit onto a pitch. Some campsites can make it unclear, so if in doubt, phone and ask in advance.
Legal documents and paperwork
Obviously, you need to make sure you can legally drive your vehicle and you're properly insured.. Make sure you carry your licence and possibly also your passport: it never hurts to make extra identification. You might also need an international driving permit for some places/ countries- find out in advance.
Some pre-trip checks which are always useful include:
- Engine Oil- does it need topping up?
- Windscreen wipers- do the blades need changing
- Windscreen washer fluid- does it need a refill?
- Tyres- is the tread ok?
- Gas (LPG) – do you have enough in your tank or bottles if you use it for cooking/ heating?
- Gas (fuel)- do you need to top up before you start your long journey?
- Water- have you topped up the fresh water tank
- Waste- have you emptied out your waste tanks
On the road
Lastly, make sure you know how to use your RV when out on the road. If you’re renting, make sure you listen closely to the handover and ask as many questions as you need to. It can be a good idea to video certain parts so you can refer back to it later.
If it’s your vehicle, try and have a night in it before you travel. This can really help you find out what you’re missing when in the RV, and also what systems you need to figure out!
Also, be sure you understand electrical loads and restrictions in an RV. You can’t just turn on everything when you get to a campsite and expect it all to work- you’ll blow a lot of fuses. If you're not sure, here's a step-by-step guide to your first time on a campsite.
RV travel is awesome… once you get your head around it. It's a huge learning curve, so be kind to yourself and your partner as you figure things out and take notes so you remember things for next time.
Let me know where you end up- feel free to tag me on Instagram!