Are you planning a family RV road trip in the USA and have questions about doing it in an RV? We try to answer some of the questions and concerns you may have about RV’ing in America and share the cost of our own trip. We also include a handy pdf downloadable list of our full ninety-day itinerary.
Q1: MOTORHOME, CAMPER OR CAR & HOTELS
Lindsy: I p
A self-contained motorhome is ideal for long road trips because it eliminates the schlepp of lugging
Brendan: Get a caravan or tow a car behind the motorhome if you can. That way you can set up camp and have the freedom to explore in the car or truck. The big motorhome was comfortable but it restricted us from driving to particular places where only vehicles under 25ft were allowed.
A quick drive to the shop means unhooking a motorhome and all that jazz, but it didn’t bother us that much because it doesn’t take long and we did all our shopping every third or fourth night when we boondocked at Walmarts anyway.
For motorhome rentals in the US we highly recommend Elmonte RV.
For campervan rentals you won’t go wrong with Escape Campervans. The sales team of Escape Campers were the fastest and most helpful when we were sourcing quotes. Kerry went out of his way to help me plan our route and their website is full of great roadtrip tips and itineraries.
Our choice was swayed to a motorhome because of the length of our trip and because we were heading into sub zero temperatures over fall and winter, we wanted a self contained RV with shower and toilet.
Q2: IS IT HARD WORK TO TRAVEL IN AN RV?
No, it isn’t. We were worried about how complicated it would be to set up camp with the motorhome, about the time it would take to pack up, about maintenance and safety, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as we feared.
Motorhomes require savvy drivers and a small amount of work on your part to keep things going, but if you follow guidelines and do what little needs doing, it’s not hard work at all.
Hooking up at campsites, unhooking, filling up with potable (drinkable) or non-potable (not for drinking) water and dumping the grey and black tanks were, thankfully, B’s job, so I’ll quote him on this one.
B: “It took about 20 to 30 minutes at the most and it only took that long because I had to wait for the water tank to fill up. Dumping black water was quick and easy.”
Keep an eye on the tank levels
The guys at the rental company will give you a rundown of things to do and what not to do. We had a driver’s manual to refer to, which I used once, and there’s always Youtube and Google for everything else.
There was a moment when we stressed about possibly having to use the snow chains so we watched a few great YouTube vlogs just in case we needed to put them on.
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Q3: WHAT’S IT LIKE TO FILL UP AND PAY FOR GAS IN AMERICA?
You’d think it’s the same everywhere, but it’s not.
In South Africa petrol jockeys fill up, take payment, clean your window and check oil, and water for you. You don’t even have to get out of the car unless you need something in the shop.
In England, you do everything yourself, then pay the cashier. In America, it’s self-service, but staff are on hand to help with certain things and, unless your credit card has a US zip code, you pay with cash first, then fill up.
At some stations, you can only pay with a credit card that has a US zip code. And don’t try 90210, because it won’t work! We know.
When you stop at the pump to fill up you’ll often see a little TV screen with instructions that explain every step. It’s mostly super user-friendly.
If you don’t have a credit card with a US postcode and the card machine won’t accept your credit card, you need to go into the shop to pre-pay with cash.
For example, you will pay $100 in cash at the till before you return to your vehicle to fill up. The fuel pump will automatically stop when you reach the prepaid amount, $100 in this case, so you cannot put in more than you paid. If you used less fuel than you paid for, you simply go back into the shop to get your change. Easy as that.
This smart system of prepaying for fuel would work great for all the stations in countries like South Africa where they lose thousands due to stolen fuel. People fill up and speed off without paying. It happens. Most fuel pumps in South Africa already have this technology built-in at their disposable; it just isn’t used for some reason.
Some petrol stations in the USA accepted our UK credit cards as payment, but we mostly had our $100 cash ready to fill up.
Q4: WAS DUMPING BLACK AND GREY WATER MESSY OR HARD?
No. We had a few near misses with the sewage, but nothing as life-threatening or gross as what happened to Robin Williams in the RV movie. B swears he never got anything on his hands.
Q5: HOW DO YOU DUMP THE GREY AND BLACK WATER TANKS?
We found a way that worked well for us.
- Connect the hose to the septic tank/dump station.
- Then connect it to the RV.
- Holding the connection pipe under the lid, open the top of the sewage tank and connect it to the RV outlet.
- Open the black water valve first.
- Wait until it’s clear (there might be a little window in the pipe to show you) and finished dumping completely.
- Now you can open the greywater to flush the pipe and leave it clean.
Connect the water hose (blue) to the non-potable water connection to flush out and clean the tanks. Let it run for two minutes. Do this every time to clean the hose and keep the tanks fresh.
You can put an antibacterial product into the water tanks if the water is stagnant for days at a time. We used all our water often and flushed the tanks regularly so we didn’t use tablets in the three months we were on the road.
Q6: WHAT EXTRAS DID YOU BUY FOR THE RV TRIP?
- Elbow $15. For the sewage pipe. We bought it from the small store at Yosemite Pines Campground.
- Sat Nav / GPS $90. Like this one from Walmart.
- Extra Pillows: You can get adequate pillows at Walmart for under $5 each.
- Filter coffee machine. The first machine broke on day one.
- Snow chains @$79.99 Never used them. We returned them to Walmart, with the receipt and unopened, for a refund at the end of the trip.
- Mop and broom. Elmonte RV forgot to pack the cleaning kit we paid for, but they kindly refunded the money.
- Septic Tank Toilet sachets to keep things fresh. You really needed those! Especially in warmer weather.
- Antifreeze specifically made for RV’s or boats. You need this to winterize the vehicle for below zero temperatures to avoid burst pipes and damage.
- 1 Ply septic tank toilet paper. One-ply toilet paper is a pet hate of mine, but it’s all you’re allowed to use in an RV and for good reason.
Get RV Antifreeze for winterizing in cold weather. We didn’t use it only because running the furnace through the night with the cupboard doors left open so that the pipes don’t freeze worked where we were. This top tip came from longterm RV’ers Bill and Debbie who we met at Arco KOA.
Q7: WHAT ELSE DO YOU ADVISE TO BUY FOR A FAMILY RV ROAD TRIP?
Bedding. If we do it again, certainly for an extended period like three months or more, I won’t hire the bed bundles from the motorhome rental company.
We’d buy a sleeping bag or duvet, 1 x fitted sheet, 1 flat sheet and 2 x pillows for everyone from Walmart. Just make sure about the bed sizes before you buy fitted sheets. Hire the bed bundles for short trips only.
BBQ Grill. No explanation needed. Not all campsites have them and in hindsight, having our own would’ve been nice.
Sewer Hose Support. We didn’t buy one, and it’s not a necessity, but I think it’s a good idea for long-term RV’ers to have a hose support and you might want one just because all the others have it. We were the odd ones out.
Satellite Phone. It might be worth considering if you plan to spend a lot of time in remote parts of the USA or doing a lot of off-grid hiking and camping. They can be bought or hired.
Satellite phones are expensive with prices ranging from £250 for a mini sat phone like this one, to £1000 and more for a satellite phone kit like this one.
Q8: ANY LESSONS LEARNT THE HARD WAY?
Yes, a few.
Don’t let the kids climb on the roof. The one time we allowed them to get on the roof, Leah stepped right through one of the roof lights and we had to replace it for a cost of $110.
Remember to close the roof flaps before driving.
Stay put during storm winds and bad weather. We tried to drive in galeforce winds from Albuquerque, but we didn’t get far. Somehow, the wind lifted a properly shut roof light flap and pulled it right off, after only a few miles on the road!
We booked into the nearest campsite, Oasis RV Resort just past Caddilac Ranch, and arranged with Elmonte RV to have it replaced the next day. We lost two days on the road, but at least El Monte replaced the roof light under their insurance. Excellent customer support service from Elmonte RV!
Q9: WHAT ABOUT PROPANE? HOW & WHERE TO FILL UP WITH PROPANE
We didn’t know how! After about 2 weeks into the road trip, we needed propane so we stopped at a gas station with propane and went into the shop to ask for help. An attendee came out and did it for us.
You cannot fill up your motorhome with propane by yourself.
Only a trained propane attendant is allowed to handle propane and they must always do it for you. When you pull up to the propane refill area at large petrol stations, you should see a telephone so that you can call for assistance.
Remember: You and all your passengers and pets MUST get out of the RV when you fill up with propane. No-one is allowed inside while filling up with propane.
It cost about $26 to fill up our propane tank and, depending on the weather and how often I used the stove, it lasted about 2-3 weeks. The furnace is run on propane so in the colder north we used more propane than in the south.
Q10: WHICH APPS & WEBSITES DID YOU USE?
These were our favourite and most used apps on the road:
- RV Parky: Wouldn’t have gone far without it. Highly recommend for any RV or road trip in the United States. I used it every day to find somewhere to stay for the night from safe boondocking sites to quiet state parks, private campsites, and where to stay in national parks. All well-reviewed and listed mostly with all available facilities plus useful maps to track your vehicle on route with directions. It’s a great app.
- GAS Buddy was useful to see where we could save on fuel countrywide.
- Tripit kept all our reservation details and flight schedules neatly organized in one place and made it easy to share between us.
- Storm & Hurricane Tracker. At one point we had hurricane Michael in the south and a major storm in the mid-east while we were heading in that direction from the north. We kept a close eye on the weather every day.
- Florida Water Management website. Great to find free wild camping spots.
- State Park websites because they have the best campsites if you want to unplug and really immerse yourself in nature. Usually no wi-fi or reception. Many are reviewed on RV Parky.
- Boondocking blogs are, like many travel blogs, one of my favourite ways to research destinations. That’s how I found out about this boondocking site on the beach of the Bolivar Peninsula of Texas!
Q11: WHAT ABOUT LAUNDRY?
Most campsites have laundry facilities and we used the RV Parky app to book those sites at least once a week to get our laundry done.
The washing machines and dryers at the campground laundromats take quarters (25c coins) and cost between $1,50 to $2,25 per wash or dry. We did two or three bundles about every five days, and we used one or two dryers each time.
Make sure you have at least ten dollar’s worth of quarters for your laundry day. Ask for quarters as change every time you shop and keep them in a box or bag because you use them in many places.
Many laundromats request that you use liquid detergent or tables instead of washing powder to avoid over foaming and flooding.
Some resorts have machines with payment slots that take credit cards. I had issues with these overcharging my card two or three times more than the actual cost. After the first incident, I avoided using them altogether.
The cost of laundry for our family of five was between $6 to $10 per wash, at least five times a month. That’s a monthly cost of $30 to $50 for laundry.
Check out this blogpost by Escape Campervans.
Q12: WHAT ABOUT MOBILE PHONES AND SERVICE PROVIDERS?
We used Lycamobile and Verizon. We would’ve used only Verizon, but my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 was apparently not compatible. Verizon provided the best signal strength as we travelled around the country that’s why we’d recommend it over Lycamobile.
We bought car chargers and fast charging cables from Walmart at good prices.
Lycamobile 90-Day Bundle $180. I didn’t run out of data, but I didn’t have nearly as much reception as B did on his iPhone with Verizon.
Verizon $75 per Month unlimited calls and data.
BUY THIS UNIVERSAL PLUG FROM OUR ONLINE STORE HERE
Q13: WHICH PLUGS DO THEY USE AND DO WE NEED SPECIAL ADAPTERS?
Get a universal adapter for US plugs.
Again, Walmart was our safe zone. We could boondock at most of them and found everything we needed at reasonable prices. Buy an adapter for your gadgets and appliances from Walmart or buy one before you go.
Q14: WILL MY LAPTOP WORK WITH AMERICAN PLUGS?
Yes, your laptop will work as long as you have a universal plug adaptor or something like a UK to US plug adaptor like the one pictured above, which is suitable for 100 to 240 Volts.
You can get them at the airport, Walmart or buy online before you go.
US plugs work at 110 Volts as opposed to 220-volt plugs in places like the UK, Australia and South Africa. The universal adapters handle the conversion well, so you shouldn’t have an issue because ours worked just fine.
Q15: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU RETURN THE MOTORHOME AT THE END OF THE TRIP?
Return of the motorhome to Elmonte RV went smoothly.
We made sure that we arrived before 11 am and parked the motorhome in the clearly designated returns area. You have to sort all kitchen equipment, bedding, towels, etc into clearly marked containers.
An employee came to check over the RV and the tank levels in about five minutes. We then went to the office where B finalised the final account, signed the paperwork, and paid for extra mileage.
We then went to the downstairs waiting area to wait for the shuttle bus. The driver came to get us and dropped us off at the airport, where B picked up a rental car and we drove to a nearby hotel to spend our last three days in San Francisco.
Q16: HOW MUCH DOES IT COST FOR A FAMILY RV ROAD TRIP AROUND AMERICA?
|Motorhome||$ 7300||$ 2433||Incl 10000 FREE miles|
|Fuel||$ 3600||$ 1200||$100 every 300mi (10780mi)|
|Camping||$ 2989||$ 996||See a list of our campsites below|
|Groceries||$ 3000||$ 1000||Incl. restaurants & takeaways|
|Laundry||$ 150||$ 50||$6 to $10 per laundry day|
|Propane||$ 150||$ 50||$26 every 2 to 3 weeks|
|Airtime & Data||$ 400||$ 133||Lycamobile & Verizon Bundles|
|Excursions||$ 4000||$ 1333||Incl, 14 Day Disney World for 5|
Q17: WHERE DID YOU STAY, WHAT DID YOU DO AND HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
I’ve put together a handy list with the places we stayed, the excursions we went on and how much it cost. You can download the PDF list below.
Q18: HOW COULD YOU AFFORD A THREE-MONTH FAMILY RV ROAD TRIP IN AMERICA?
The short version: we rented out our house, sold our cars, held a massive garden sale, had side income from a self-catering unit, travelled the UK for 6 months on a tight budget while B did contract work and we saved for our three-month family RV road trip and six weeks in Spain.
The fact that we did not have any monthly expenses back home made it possible to save more for this adventure.
We both used our credit cards to pay for flights, car rental and hotels.
For six years we did not go on any special holidays or trips as a family. Before we left in February 2018, we knew our time in South Africa had come to an end.
We took the year out to be together, see the world and decide the best way forward for our family. This ninety-day Family RV road trip around America was epic and worth every penny.
Q19: WILL YOU DO IT AGAIN?
Yes! We can’t wait to go on another RV adventure. The kids miss it too and often bring it up, smiling from ear to ear.
We talk about the highs and lows of the trip often and have belly laughs at all the funny moments. Just today the kids remembered the swamp exhibit at Omaha Zoo and the new and strange animals we saw there; a rare white crocodile and a giant snapping turtle!
Q20: WILL YOU DO IT PERMANENTLY?
Not with a toddler, no. We’d go mad. Three months in a motorhome was enough to cement the fact that we love road trips and that we prefer to see a new country by road. However, we’re not built for a year-long family RV road trip. Three months was just long enough.
B and I will do it for extended periods at a time without the kids one day, or if they’re all older, providing we have the right rig.
I can see us doing that when the chicks have flown the nest, but there are a surprising number of homeschooling families who travel around America long-term or permanently in luxury RV’s, some even with more than five children!
Q21: ANY LAST WORDS OF ADVICE?
Leave the kids with Granny.
Ha-Ha! Just kidding. Take them along. America is a family-friendly country with many fun and inspiring things to see and do for both kids and adults. The roads are easy to navigate and driving, in general, is a doddle.
We found the people to be friendly and helpful where-ever we went.
We’ve only scratched the surface of America in our ninety days. It is such a diverse country and there are tons that we still hope to experience.
Definitely, without a doubt, go on a family RV road trip around America if you get the chance! It was a dream come true for me and the whole family loved it.
Please feel free to ask any other questions by commenting below or email me at lindsy at familytravelexplore dot com.
Read our round-up post about this epic Family RV Road Trip in the USA
Pingback: WE DID IT! THREE MONTH USA FAMILY RV ROAD TRIP - Family Travel Explore
Love this post with great tips on RV travel. Also love how you both share tips. You make it look fun and easy. And with these tips, we have no doubt it will be.
Great post, Lynsey. Think we are kindred souls! I love going off in the RV and exploring North America (though right now I’m in an RV in Scotland!) and everything you describe here makes perfect sense. It’s just the two of us though; not sure I would cope with family in a restricted space! Hope there were no injuries from the spotlight incident? We were in a dilemma about motor home or trailer for exactly the point Brendan makes, but in the end we went with motor home and motorbike on the back -great, apart from when there is snow! Incidentally, did you find an app showing where you can find propane? We have struggled in some states and had to resort to KOA.
Thank you Oli. With your positive feedback I think I’ve accomplished what I wanted with this post. Much appreciated ❤
Kindred spirits indeed Jane. As for an app needed to find propane, great point! This is the one thing we struggled with finding, but reviews on RVparky often included info on establishment facilities and wether they had propane or not. That helped a bit, but other times we didn’t know which gas/service stations had propane or where to go. Enjoy your roadtrip in Scotland. Hope you get some nice weather up there this summer.
This is pure Gold! Thank you so much and hope you enjoyed The US!!!
Fantastic experience ! We are getting so much information from you , thank you so much . Planning on buying a motorhome ourselves , had one back in South Africa during the early eighties . Groete Bos en Illana Steyn .
Hi Bos, Sorry for the later reply! Glad the post is helpful. Did you ever buy your motorhome? We are now buying our first own motorhome in the UK hopefully this month to tour Europe. Still looking for the right fit, but very excited. Mooi bly!
Thank you! Happy you enjoyed it. And yes, we loved the US and hope to be back soon.