I love taking day trips. Whether it’s a hike on an inspiring trail, exploring a new city, discovering tasty food or beer, or going to a local festival or event, I’m in, excited, and ready to go!
As a full-time RVer I have the added benefit of traveling to many different locations during the course of a year, so day trip opportunities are varied and nearly limitless. I may visit Balboa Park in San Diego one month and find myself hiking in Zion National Park the next. Fun day trips are a big part of why I love to travel.
Day Trips vs. RV Travel Days
So why am I writing an article about day trips and why should you read it? Because I’ve found that while fun-filled day trips can happen naturally, they don’t always – or easily – turn out that way. This is especially true for RVer’s and other perpetual travelers, as even though we’re experienced travelers, we’re also often in places we’ve never been before.
Yes, every day trip beckons you with new byways, towns, food joints, outdoor adventures, and other fun area attractions! But you’re also likely to run into local conditions that can sidetrack your fun. Think traffic jams, no parking (or worse – expensive parking!), construction, overpriced food, crowded events, bad weather, park closures, and more. Then there are times you forget to bring the right gear, food, supplies, or clothing.
Since there’s limits on everyone’s time and money we think it’s worth spending about 30 minutes to plan a successful day trip. In this article I’ll share our planning tips, including websites, apps, and other helpful resources. I’ll also share the gear we bring with us that keeps us well equipped for whatever the day may bring in another article. It may take a little investment up front to be fully prepared – but we know first hand that the payoff in ease-of-use and fun is worth it.
Most full-time RVers don’t equate RV travel days with sightseeing or day trips. You might think it’s convenient as you’re already on the road. But if you full time, there’s really no need to squeeze travel days and sightseeing days together. It already takes a lot of time and energy to break camp in the morning and setup camp again at night – plus driving an RV while towing a car is stressful.
Also – parking an RV while towing a car isn’t easy. Away from the highway Truck Stops it can be difficult to get fuel – and disconnecting a tow vehicle while stuck in traffic is not fun (trust me on this!).
We focus on getting to our destination and setting up camp. After we’ve had a day or two to rest we take our tow car out to see the local sights. It’s a more relaxing way of seeing the country – and it works the best for us.
Class B/Van owners and those with smaller Class Cs – especially those who don’t tow a vehicle (vacationers/rentals) – are in a better position to combine a road trip with their travel day. There’s definitely a benefit to stopping at roadside stands, beaches, and food spots as you travel to your next campground, but it’s a different way to travel. You’re more likely to take back roads, and you may only cover a couple hundred miles per day.
1. Plan for a great day trip!
With so many options, think the best place to start planning is to chat with your partner or family to first assess what everyone really wants out the day. This is the best time to make sure everyone actually wants to go on a trip (super important!). There’s nothing wrong with taking a day at the RV watching a movie or in the Campground at the pool. That said, if everyone is on board then here are the things we discuss:
A. Get clear about your goals for the day
- What the weather going to be like? – Picnics, hikes, and other outdoor activities don’t usually mix with stormy weather and rain, so check to see if the weather is going to limit your day trip options first.
- How much time do you have? – A full day, few hours, or half day?
- Are you on your own or in a group? Obviously, day trips with friends and family require more coordination. The larger the group, the more challenging it is to meet everyone’s needs. Group Events can be fun and rewarding, but we only participate with group trips when we have the energy.
- What’s your budget? A day trip can easily cost from $50 to $500 or more! We love to explore like we’re ‘on vacation’ but just like everyone else we need to live within a budget.
- How far do you want to drive? We travel 300- 600 miles per month in our RVs, so we prefer day trips that are under an hour drive each way – or a 2 hour loop max.
- What types of activities do you want to do? Do you want to exercise, relax, or both? Are looking to do several things, or just a single activity? Are you shopping or dining?
- Do you plan to run any errands? We’ve struggled with this one, as we prefer our day trips to be all about fun. That said, when our campground is located in a remote area we often stop for groceries and other supplies on our way home.
B. Do some Online Research
There are literally dozens of websites and phone applications (apps) that can help you plan great day trips. Yes, there are other ways to learn about upcoming events or to find area attractions, museums, and hiking trails, but the internet makes the process fast, easy, and efficient.
This is (obviously) not a comprehensive list of websites and apps. These are the sites and apps that we use the most – but if you have a site/app you use and love that we didn’t list here, please let us know in the comments.
Stay on top of the weather
Weather Underground and more specifically the Weather Underground App (Android|iPhone) has recently become our go-to for checking the weather. The best thing about the app is that it alerts you to upcoming bad weather. The alerts are unobtrusive and specific: “Thunderstorms likely at 3:30pm” type alerts. Even when we’re not taking day trips, this is really useful info for an RVer (gives you time to retract awnings, fold up chairs, cover the grill, etc..). This is less of an issue in some parts of the country, but we’ve been in the North East for the past few months and it’s saved us from getting wet several times. The app also gives you forecasts, trends, and (moving) satellite maps. Everything you need and then some!
Websites that help you find things to Do:
The TripAdvisor Attractions page is a good place to find popular activities in an area. Just type in the name of the city or town you’re visiting and Trip Advisor will list the most popular things to do, historic sites, museums, points of interest, parks, shows, etc.. all ranked and reviewed by millions of other users. TripAdvisor is usually the first place we check before a day trip. Yes, TripAdvisor will try to sell you tickets, tours, and packages – but these are completely optional and most venues sell tickets directly. TripAdvisor has a smartphone app for both iPhone and android.
Eventbrite is one of the best places to find upcoming events in an area. If you’re interested in concerts, festivals, street fairs – or even classes, art events, and book signings, Eventbrite is the place for you. Simply enter your desired type of event, destination and a date range, and you can search through dozens or even hundreds of events depending on where you are. In most cases you can buy tickets for upcoming events right from the website, and the site will give you updates if your chosen event is modified or cancelled. It’s worth checking every time you move to a new area.
Roadtrippers is a little different in that it requires you to enter your starting point and your destination, and then finds attractions you can add to your trip along the way. It works great for longer road trips, but also works well for day trips, as it will highlight points of interests and things you can do along the route you’re already driving. Even better, Roadtrippers creates an itinerary on a map that you can send right to your smartphone. If you’re in a more rural area a lot of the suggested stops are state or regional parks, but without Roadtrippers we wouldn’t have known about the giant garden Gnome just down the street – so there’s that. 😀
Websites and Apps to find places to Hike, Bike, and Paddle
AllTrails.com is the first place I look when I want to find a good hiking or biking trail. You can search by location and get in depth information about trails, including difficulty, elevation change, terrain, trail surface material and more. All Trails has an active user-base, so most trails are well reviewed and include user photos. All Trails also has an app that lets you download trail maps so you can follow your progress on your hike via GPS on your smart phone. If you like to hike or bike, we recommend it: Android | iPhone
Paddling.com is a great resource for finding nearby places to launch Kayaks, Standup Paddleboards, and other small watercraft. The site provides GPS coordinates, as well as user feedback to help you easily find launch points. Launch sites are denoted by red dots on the map. I think you’ll be surprised at just how many kayak launch points there are in most parts of the country – and that’s why we bring our SeaEagle Kayak with us everywhere we go.
Navigation, Food, & Drinks
Waze.com is a must have navigation app for any and all drivers. Waze is owned by and runs off of Google Maps and functions primarily as a turn by turn navigation app. What makes Waze awesome is the real-time active user feedback so you get up to the second alerts for things like accidents, traffic jams, speed traps, and more. Waze will intelligently route you around as much of this as possible and will always get you on the fastest route to your destination. Also cool – Waze knows the speed limits and tells you how fast you’re going, and it even puts your current speed in red if you’re going over the limit. Get the App now – you won’t regret it: Android | iPhone
Food is an essential part of every day trip for us. If we’re going to leave the campground we’re definitely going to eat and/or drink out! Yelp.com has long been the standard for restaurant ratings, and it’s still the best app for finding nearby places to eat based on food type, price, quality, user rating, and more. The only app we use other than Yelp to find restaurants, breweries, and other places to eat is Google maps – which is also excellent. Get Yelp on: Android | iPhone
Yes it’s possible – and easy – to spend as much time researching a day trip as actually having a day trip. We do not recommend this! 🙂 We give these apps a quick search and take a deeper dive on the activities that interest us – but we also don’t want to know too much before we go. Part of the fun is discovering something new, and if you research too much or look at too many pictures it can spoil some of the fun.
C. Refine your Plan
Here’s some additional day trip planning we recommend to make sure you have a good time on your trip, and also to avoid having a bad time.
Extra Research Important Restaurant or Brewery Stops Ahead of Time. Social Media, such as Facebook and twitter are a great place to learn about any upcoming events that may interfere with your visit. We’ve run into bottle release parties where we could barely get through the door, restaurants that were booked for special events, and everything in between, so if you have your heart set on a meal or a brew, check quickly ahead of time.
There’s also the occasional place that’s just crazy busy with no way for you to really know what that means – such as this burger and brews spot we wanted to eat at in Austin. The wait was 2 hours minimum, so there was no way to fit it into our schedule.
Double – and triple-check the weather. We’ve been RVing for 5 years and have run into flash floods, thunderstorms, heat waves, severe thunderstorms and even tornadoes. Some weather can be downright dangerous and weather can change quickly. While you can’t change the weather, you can either postpone your trip or adjust it to be indoor focused. Maybe you were going to a park for a hike, but due to weather a museum makes more sense (or vice versa).
Check the area for special events. You may enjoy attending local events, and if you’re on the lookout for one, go for it! But if you aren’t attending, you know that events bring crowds, noise, and traffic delays. A few weekends back we planned a trip to Nashville until we checked upcoming events and realized the city was expecting huge crowds. Apparently the Country Music Awards were happening at the same time the Nashville Predators were hosting a game in the Stanley Cup finals. These sounded like great fun, but since we were looking for a low-key weekend we decided against Nashville!
Keep your plans flexible. I don’t think we’ve ever had a day trip that went 100% according to plan – and many of our day trips were better because of it! Too-rigid planning will rob you of the opportunity to explore points of interest, stores, breweries, or other things that appear in your path.
This is also a good reason to avoid overplanning – and overstuffing – your day. Too much activity will feel like too much, and you’re settings yourself up to feel bad when you don’t accomplish all of your goals. Instead, create a wireframe plan that has room for diversions and flexibility – especially towered the end of the day. We often will have an optional evening stop planned – but we both need to feel up to it at the end of the day. We don’t force it, and that keeps our trips low-stress and easy.
Last – If you have a partner or day-trip buddy you may want to take turns planning. When Rich comes up with an idea for a day trip he gives me a heads up. If I’m interested, he checks into ideas a little more for us that week. Then a day or two before we head out, he runs them by me. We finalize our plans together, checking weather again for any last-minute changes. Taking turns helps us save time because some day trips do take a little more time to research.
Oh, and speaking of travel buddies, you can’t read their mind. 🙂 I’ve been with Rich for a long time, and on a few particular day trips I made the mistake of thinking I knew what he wanted to do. Halfway through the day I found out I was way off base! This is why it’s good to check in and at least make a basic plan.
You can’t see and do it all! People often tell us how nice it is that we can check off our ‘Bucket List’ as we travel around the country. What we’ve found is that the more we travel the longer our bucket list gets! Not only is it impossible to see and do it all in one visit, but in our experience while doing things you learn of more things you’d like to see or do. We typically camp in an area for 2-4 weeks on average we’re able to get an overview of fun things to do, and we usually do 2 – 4 of those things. We’ll also discover another 6-8 things we want to do along the way! And so the bucket list grows.
We’ve learned to go easy and keep our travel days down to 1-2 activities instead of trying to do it all in one go. After that wee usually hit a restaurant or brewery on the way home. We know that we’ll eventually circle through the area again, so there’s no need to be scarce with our time and energy.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the The Ultimate RVer’s Guide to Successful Day Trips Part 1. I’ll be releasing Part 2 – the Day Trip Gear Guide – in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.
Also – your situation and your travel style are unique to you – and what works for us may not work for you. That said, I hope you found some of our tips, ideas, or tools useful. If you have tips or tools you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.
Until next time, happy day trippin’!