There’s something extra special about travelling in a camper van. The novelty of waking up wherever you want will never be lost on me, nor will the simplicity of slowing life down and taking things one day at a time. That being said, camper travel isn’t exactly easy. Sure, it can be breezy, casual and relaxing, but it can also be stressful, exhausting and overwhelming, especially when you’re travelling in a foreign country.
To help you avoid the same problems that I encountered, I’ve written a few tips for camper travel in the USA, so make sure to read along before planning your next road trip adventure…
Do make sure you’re aware of all costs upfront
Depending on what company you book your camper van through, there are bound to be hidden costs you may not be prepared for. This is something we encountered on our recent road trip throughout the US Southwest. We picked up our camper in Las Vegas from Cruise America, and thought we’d paid all our expenses when we booked online…
Alas, it was not so.
We discovered that we had only paid for 100 miles upfront and considering the fact that we were picking up the van in Las Vegas and returning it in Denver, we were very confused that they hadn’t advised us of this at the time of booking. It was a simple miscommunication, but we were pretty annoyed to learn that we were going to have to pay extra for every mile driven over 100 (and there were plenty of them). This significantly increased the cost of the camper and almost blew out our budget – eeek!
Make sure that you double check all costs at the time of booking, so you don’t get any expensive surprises when it is too late to change your plans! It also helps to try and gauge an estimate for other expenses usually forgotten about when booking camper travel, such as petrol or spending nights in a campground.
Don’t pre-purchase bedding or kitchen necessities
Again, this may only be relevant to Cruise America, but when we booked, we decided to pre-purchase our bedding and kitchen equipment. Considering the fact we were coming from Australia and wouldn’t be able to take anything home, we thought it would be more environmentally conscious and cost effective to use the items provided by the company.
When we picked up our van, however, we discovered that all of our bedding and kitchen equipment was brand new and still in its packaging. Every single item.
This was pretty disappointing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we realised what an absolute waste of money it had been. If we’d known they would be giving everything to us brand new, we would’ve simply bought everything ourselves at Walmart for a fraction of the price. We actually felt pretty ripped off!
Secondly, if they were giving us brand new stuff, what were they doing with it after we returned the van and everything it in? Reusing the items (such as saucepans, chopping boards and frying pans) didn’t seem likely considering they were brand new when we got them. Our guess was that they were possibly tossed out after we used them – what a waste!
If we were to do it again, we’d buy everything ourselves then try to donate the items after the road trip was over. I’m still annoyed at myself that we didn’t do that to begin with but obviously we had no idea. In Australia, when you hire a camper van you get everything included at no extra cost and everything is reused so we figured it would be the same in the States.
Also – the pillows we were given were closer to a sack of potatoes than a pillow, so we ended up having to buy new ones after the first night anyway. Hindsight, god I love to hate you.
Do download the WikiCamps app
If you’re like me, then you’ll scoff at any app that requires you to pay for it. Sure, I’ll spend $7 on a terrible coffee at an expensive resort in Maui but paying $2.99 for an app? No thanks!
Luckily though, I went against my usual stance on paying for apps and spent the $2.99 on WikiCamps. I’m very glad I did, because that app paid for itself with the very first use and I honestly cannot recommend it more.
WikiCamps is the perfect road trip companion; not only does it advise you of all the free camping spots near you, but also all paid campgrounds, dumping spots, points of interest, gas stations, information & visitor centres, hotels, laundry facilities and much more! All you need to do in type in the place you want to explore, and it all comes up.
The best part is that you can download maps for offline use, which was a saviour during times when we didn’t have access to Wi-Fi or Internet reception. We just downloaded the maps for Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Colorado and were able to access all the information we needed without any reception at all. It was almost too easy!
Plus, for each listing, there are user reviews and prices so you can easily see what spots are safe, affordable or should be avoided.
Do make a plan, even if it’s vague
While spontaneity is one of the best parts of camper travel, it is still smart to have a rough plan in place to make sure you utilise your time properly. Before we set off on our US Southwest adventure, we had a growing list of places we wanted to visit, but only had a couple of weeks to do it.
After mapping everything out, we realised that we’d bitten off way more than we could chew, and if we wanted to enjoy even a second of our road trip, we’d have to cull some places off our list. This was okay because that way we were able to be a little more spontaneous with the places we kept on our list. While I still feel like we didn’t have enough time to see it all, without a plan, there’s a good chance we would’ve been rushing between places without enjoying the sights around us.
Don’t forget to take it all in
The beauty of camper travel is that you can quite literally go wherever you want. If you see something spectacular along the way, there is nothing stopping you from pulling over and enjoying it. I lost count of the number of times we pulled our camper onto the side of the road so we could admire a beautiful view.
The best part, however, is the disconnection to the usual distractions of life. Laptops, televisions, phones… we are always within arm’s reach of technology and devices that distract us from the beauty of the world. Taking these away, even just momentarily, really adds value to a trip like this.
One of my favourite memories from our US Southwest road trip was sitting in our camper with a deck of cards teaching Scott how to play solitaire the old fashioned way. The laptop was dead, we had no TV and there was no reception on our phones. So we played cards, and it was bliss.