A Practical Guide on How to Prepare for a 2020 Summer RV Road Trip

Cougar at Glacier

Alright, it’s May 2020, and a lot of us, introverted or extroverted, have had enough of sitting at home. We’ve all missed out on a trip or experience by now, and for many, the itch for travel to re-enter our lives is becoming real. The big question, though, is, “How do we travel again?” Enter the RV road trip!

For the past three weeks, my phone has rung almost every day, with calls from others asking me questions about whether an RV or van rental would work well for them right now. It seems a summer road trip is on just about everyone’s minds.

And perhaps with good reason. Domestic travel is poised for a win this summer. A road trip, and more specifically an RV road trip, would be a comfortable and excellent way to socially distance yourself with your family! You have the opportunity to not only travel relatively contained, but also bring your bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen along with you. Traveling this way drastically reduces the chances of exposing yourself to public or shared amenities. You’ll be able to cook your own food, sleep in your own bed, and use your own bathroom.

Something else contributing to giving many people the idea is the RV press storm that brewed right before Memorial Day weekend. Ever since restrictions have started loosening, there’s been no shortage of articles pointing out cheap gas prices, touting domestic travel, and proclaiming this as “the summer of the RV road trip vacation”!

No, you didn’t notice? Well here are seven examples from the past two weeks alone:

And then there’s also this report from Good Morning Texas with some thoughts from me personally:

These articles all do a great job of pointing out why a summer RV trip would be perfect. But, even though RVing is a fantastic option, we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that travel will look at least a little different this summer. Most of those articles don’t mention the differences you’re going to have to handle on the open road.

Therefore, I’ll be listing out the differences existing right now for an RV road trip, and giving some tips on how to navigate them, so you can still make the most of your 2020 social distancing vacation!

Prepare for a 2020 RV Road Trip Pin

But first, a few reminders on why road trips are awesome!

Before I go into all the things that will be different this summer, I thought a quick reminder of why road trips are fantastic was warranted. For those who are used to taking most of your travels via plane, an RV road trip may be a bit of an adjustment. But here are three simple reminders on how road trips can be better than flights!

  • No baggage fees! You can pack as much as you want.
  • It’s all about the journey, not just the destination. Just the act of getting to your vacation spot will be as adventurous as your time there. Flights are great and all, but no match for the open road!
  • Lastly, your furry friends can come along much more easily! Dogs and even cats can partake in your adventure.

Differences in RV Road Trip Planning

GMC truck and keystone cougar fifth wheel on RV road trip

Check City, County & State Regulations Before Your Visit

Your 2020 RV road trip will entail more research and pre-planning than you’re used to. Even if you’re more of the fly by the seat of your pants type, now is the time to attempt to lock down some form of a plan before taking off.

I’m sure you know by now that every state is handing the loosening of “Stay at Home” a bit different. Be sure to look ahead to the rules and regulations of the areas you’ll be heading to and even the areas you’ll be driving through.

When we were coming out of our parked phase, we did a lot of research about the next state we were headed to. We quickly found out that some cities and counties had appointed stricter regulations than those set at the state level.

Especially in tourist towns. Some of them simply cannot handle an overwhelming amount of tourists becoming ill at the same time. So they have drawn up stricter rules.

AAA has you covered with this interactive map I recommend checking out. It shows state, city and country travel restrictions, border and land closures, and travel checkpoints.

The National Governors Association also has an interactive map that sheds more light on other regulations being enforced at the state level, including limits on gatherings, stay at home orders, quarantine orders for interstate travel, curfews, and mask requirements.

The bottom line, though, is that things are continually changing. Check multiple sources before heading out on the road. You can never know too much about the area you’re about to visit.

Differences in Making RV Park Reservations

RV road trip camping spot

Self-Contained

“Self-contained” is the newest RV buzz phrase!

Essentially, self-contained RVs are ones with a bathroom in the RV, including a toilet and shower.

I’ve seen a fair amount of online notifications lately denying spots to RVs that don’t fit this definition. (AKA: tents and pop-up trailers.)

This is because many campgrounds still have their bathhouses closed. So they’re only accepting people who have lavatory options built into their RVs.

So if you don’t want your family to be stuck in a situation where navigating how to collectively poop in a bucket was one of the highlights of your summer vacation, rent an RV with a bathroom.

If You Can, Make Reservations

Summer, before the virus situation, was already high season for RVing. Combine that with the tremendous number of people who are opting to stay in an RV over a hotel room or Airbnb is making for a perfect storm of rapidly filling reservations.

If you’re trying to make sense of whether or not the RV park you want to go to is open, here are some closure resources that have been created during the pandemic for the RV community:

Don’t Book Online, Call

I’m actually a big proponent of always calling. This is probably due to my background in hotel reservations. But right now, especially, you’ll get such a better feel for what’s open and closed at your destination when you call and speak to an actual human who lives there. Also, talking to someone on the phone will guarantee that the campground is actually open.

If you want to plan early but aren’t 100% sure you’ll want to stay at that RV park, ask about their current cancellation policy. Many, but not all, temporarily have lenient policies due to the virus.

Also, Ask What Amenities Are Open

As mentioned above, many RV parks aren’t opening their restrooms and showers back up yet.

But this also sometimes extends to other amenities, including laundry rooms, game rooms, playgrounds, pools, and gyms.

When you’re making reservations, ask if these amenities are currently open. And if those spaces being closed is a dealbreaker for you, ask them if that’s a decision made by their local government or by the owner. If having those spaces is important to you, and they are closed by the owner, I recommend continuing to call around.

Differences in Grocery Shopping

produce section of grocery store

Generally, on the road, we can trust that some form of a grocery store will be just about anywhere we go. However, I would say that’s not so much the case right now. I mean, yes, they’ll be there and open. But who knows whether you’re walking into a store that’s a desolate utopia or a store that’s just not fit for the size of the town’s summer population.

Shop Locally Before Leaving

The best way to avoid the unknown grocery store scenario is to load up on all of your groceries at home first.

Don’t forget to stock up on basics such as road trip snacks, a first aid kit, allergy meds, sunscreen, and hand sanitizer.

Cook as Much as You Can Before Leaving

To take it one step further, I recommend preparing as many meals as you can at home before leaving.

If You Forgot Something, or Your Trip is Long, and You Have to go to a Grocery Store

Grocery shopping in a store you’re unfamiliar with is already intimidating. Add the masks, standing 6 feet apart, one-way aisles and feeling diseased from every box you touch, and it’s now on a whole other level.

To make this experience less stressful, We’ve been pulling up the google maps breakdown of the grocery store options around us when we get to a new spot. We then pick a store that looks large in size and is about 5-10 miles on the outskirts of town, in less populated areas. Boom! Grocery store paradise.

Also, use the parking lot as a guide. It’s pretty easy to look at the size of the grocery store and then look at the number of cars in the parking lot and decide whether it’s worth going in. We know this because we chose poorly once in the last month, and it was the most stressful shopping trip of either of our lives.

We also tend to follow the recommendation of going grocery shopping during the least popular times of the day, which are before 10 am or after 7 pm. We generally go for the evening time slots, because in some states, early morning times are saved for the people most at risk who need social distancing the most.

Differences on the RV Road Trip

Valley of Fire Welcome Center

Welcome Centers, Rest Areas & Public Restrooms

Public restrooms are going to be more challenging to find on summer road trips this year.

Check the websites for each state’s transportation department in which you intend to drive through ahead of time to know your bathroom options.

If you rent a self-contained RV, you won’t have to worry about this because you’ll have a bathroom with you! Use your RV for bathroom breaks, lunch stops, and even for naps needed on the road to avoid going into public places.

Differences in Tourist Destinations

Mackinac Island Fort Mackinac

Visitor Centers

A lot of destinations are going to reopen before their visitor centers do. Which means once again, there’s a lot of importance in pre-planning, especially if you’re going to a place with poor internet or cell signal.

Check-in with Attractions, Parks, and Restaurants Before Visiting

Visiting big tourist spots will look different.

For example, Rocky Mountain National Park is currently proposing a reservations system to reduce its visitors by 40%.

A quick visit to the attractions Facebook page or website will often tell you everything you need to know before your visit.

Do Things During Off Times or Odd Hours

It’s always recommended to take your trip during a time when others are not. Weekends and holidays should be avoided if possible. We’ve seen nothing implying that’s going to be any different this year.

If you have no choice but to travel on weekends and holidays, try doing things in town during odd hours.

Most people, even on pandemic riddled vacation, hate to wake up early.

Keep a Mask on You

Whether you want to wear one or not, some businesses and states will require it this summer.

Don’t have a sewing machine or know how to sew? And can’t find one to purchase? Here’s the no-sew 5-minute tutorial my husband and I used to make ours.

Bring Hand Sanitizer Everywhere

Have a bottle in your car, purse, hiking pack, etc. Basically, have a bottle available for whatever situation may arise. We went out to get a simple coffee the other day. During that walk, I touched a card reader, a doorknob, and a bear box latched trash can.

Any venture out of your RV is more than likely going to involve touching some sort of public item, it’s great to be prepared.

Differences in your Vacation Time and Activities

Bring Extra Entertainment Options Along

In years past, your days and evenings would often be spent out on the town. It’s safe to say though that this summer, you can plan on spending more time either inside your RV or outside at your picnic table.

Be prepared for that by bringing all the digital or non-digital distractions you desire, including board games, yard games, game systems, cards, kindles, iPads, whatever floats your boat.

Additionally, if you’re planning on relying on a hotspot during your trip, you should look up the park on a review site such as Campendium, to investigate the strength of the Wi-Fi and cellular signal at the park. If there’s no Wi-Fi, there won’t be any Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+. So plan accordingly and bring lots of DVDs or Blu-rays!

Differences while Exploring the Great Outdoors

Smoky Mountain National Park Waterfall

Be Prepared for Spending More Time Outdoors

On the flip side of not being able to spend as much time tooling around town, you will probably be spending more time outdoors.

Hikes and long walks are free, a terrific way to explore a vacation destination, and a great way to keep your trip on a budget!

Check out Alltrails for a list of the most satisfying trails located at your destination.

Some other options that will vary in pricing, depending on what you already have at home, include cycling, fishing, kayaking, ATVing, canyoneering, rock climbing, and geocaching!

When Hiking, Have Backup Trail Options

If you’re planning on hiking the most popular trail in the area, you may arrive and find out that everyone else was too.

Trails are often tight and narrow. There’s honestly nothing worse than squishing past people all day when you’re worried about your health.

If the parking lot is packed and you want to have distance between you and everyone else out there, it’s best to have a backup trail option. And honestly, a few times backup trails have ended up being even better than the popular ones ever could have been!

Here are two backup trail examples from our own personal experience:

Cindy at Rainier National Park Pano
Pinnacle Peak Trail in Mount Rainier National Park
Bear Mountain Trail Sedona
Bear Mountain Trail – Sedona, AZ

I hope this article helps you plan out your summer RV road trip! Yes, travel and RVing will look different this summer. However, it is still possible to get out there and have an incredible (and relatively safe) summer trip! Happy planning!

8 Replies to “A Practical Guide on How to Prepare for a 2020 Summer RV Road Trip”

  1. Great post! We are headed from Oregon to Michigan in 2 weeks and these are good pointers!

    1. Cindy Scott says: Reply

      That’s a road trip I grew up doing a few summers during my younger days! 🙂 Have a great trip and glad it helped!

  2. Thank you for the great post. I am planning to hit the road when restrictions are lifted. You have given me a few things to reconsider.

    1. Cindy Scott says: Reply

      Awesome! Glad it was helpful and have a great trip!

  3. Great post for the times. I didn’t think I’d be considering an RV road trip with the guy I’ve been “stuck with” for the last 3 months, but if that’s how we have to travel, I’ll do it! 🙂 Saving this for later!

    1. Cindy Scott says: Reply

      😂😂😂 “Stuck with” ehh? Well, I hope you guys get a road trip in sometime soon and have a great time!! Thanks so much!

  4. It’s definitely the summer of #RVlife! Great info. I would also recommend checking out the “Recreate Responsibly” campaign with tips to help folks enjoy the outdoors safely.

    1. Cindy Scott says: Reply

      Yes, great tip Sarah! 🙂 Here’s a link to that for anyone interested: https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/recreate-responsibly.htm

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