Advice for an Across-the-USA RV Trip?

We're planning a family trip across the US by RV in March, from San Francisco to Cleveland. It's not the kind of thing I've done before (well, not since I was 10), so I'd appreciate any advice anyone might be able to offer.

In particular, I'd want to have phone and internet access while on the road. All the phones we have here in Japan are simlocked 🙁 , so I'd have to probably buy a couple of cheap phones, and perhaps rent a mobile hotspot? Suggestions appreciated...


All 17 comments so far, oldest first...

Mobile hotspot is a great idea. Check the carrier’s coverage map closely once you know the route you are going to take. That’s the only issue I seem to have when driving between AZ to CA. Also coverage would be a concern for any pay as you go phone you might pick up.

— comment by Robert on January 7th, 2015 at 12:27am JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

AT&T Verizon both have excellent coast to coast coverage. I’d go with one of those two for a mobile hot spot. It depends on your data usage but I found that 6GB/month is good enough for a family of four assuming no one streams movies.

Comcast Xfinity, Cablevision and Time Warner offer free wi-fi hotspot access to their cable customers. If you have a friend on either (or both coast) who is a customer and willing to let you use his/her account you can leverage those hotspots as well. Perhaps you can reimburse your friend for internet access (about $40/month).

https://www.verizonwireless.com/wcms/consumer/4g-lte.html
https://www.att.com/shop/wireless/plans/dataplans.html

— comment by Khurt Williams on January 7th, 2015 at 3:06am JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

A mobile hotspot would probably be the best on the road (especially if your phone lets you route calls over WiFi). Since you’ll be driving in the West, though, you’d want to make sure it can fall back to the older 3G network and not just have a 4G radio in it. Even the carrier with the largest area of 4G coverage has sizeable gaps in the Western part of the US.

— comment by Scott on January 7th, 2015 at 3:20am JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

What’s the approximate route you’re considering?

Haven’t really gotten that far yet… it sort of depends on the weather, because you can’t be in a freezing area for too long or RV pipes will freeze. Want to see the Grand Canyon, and maybe Monument Valley, then head northish to Big Sky country? Important considerations are whether there’s photogenic fodder for the blog, and something different for the family to see… other than Silicon Valley, Vegas, and Ohio, they haven’t seen much of the USA. —Jeffrey

— comment by Jeremy Zawodny on January 7th, 2015 at 4:32am JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

From Rockport Tx
i have some basic info/ suggestions.
check out http://www.thedemocratictravelers.com/
“For 704 days we’ve been traveling around the United States, making stops based on suggestions on our map from our friends, family, and followers, making our itinerary a democratic one”

When you rent one check it out very carefully.
Think small to medium size.
Practice driving for a few days before you start your trip.
Get an AAA RVPlus membership
carrying a full load of water will cost you in gas.
a partial load may slosh back and forth and change the center of gravity if the tank does not have baffles.
get a small tent for you son.
Many of the rv parks in Tx are full with the influx of oil workers so book your spots before hand.
If you go to south Tx Let me know.

Good suggestions… definitely will join AAA. Likely won’t get to Texas, though, but thanks! —Jeffrey

— comment by Ed Pouso on January 7th, 2015 at 9:50am JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Check this out for a pretty comprehensive guide to mobile internet access for RV’ers. The authors live on the road full-time.

http://www.rvmobileinternet.com/book

— comment by Greg Barnett on January 7th, 2015 at 11:35am JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

I would suggest Verizon for your hot spot. I’ve been to some of the areas you cited and my ATT coverage is sometimes spotty when my Verizon friends get good coverage. Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico all have remote dead spots in the desert for ATT.

If going to Monument Valley area, you may want to consider Utah and the Moab/Arches NP area as well. Then head towards Durango, Ridgeway, Ouray on your way to Ohio. Lots to see and so little time. You should have a great time.

— comment by Harvey Chin on January 7th, 2015 at 5:50pm JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

You’ll definitely want to take the 40 across if you’re a)driving an RV b) in March. I assure you, you do NOT want to cross the Rockies in a large vehicle in Winter – and Winter in the Rockies last considerably longer then March.

If you’re going to see the Grand Canyon, that will work out better for you, anyway.

And remember, it’s March. I know you don’t have a choice on time of year because of school. But Big Sky Country will be a muddy gray (or white) mess. Texas, on the other hand, will just be coming into spring. And the Texas sky is pretty big, too. 🙂 I”d take the 40 across til you get to Nashville, then head up to Ohio.

— comment by Marcina on January 8th, 2015 at 10:37am JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

I agree with Marcina. It is still late winter above Albuquerque and WY/MN simply won’t be feasible for anything off the interstate in that time frame.

In fact, Yosemite will be an in-and-out of the valley from S.F., as the Tioga Pass will still be closed, so there is no way to get over into the White Mtn or Death Valley area except south via 40 and out (and I actually hate that drive till I hit Arizona) or up and over the high passes in the snow to Reno, etc., and across to Salt Lake City – with heavy winter clothes. ALL the parks and recreation areas north of Alb will still be closed. If you check you your map you will see that the northern route forces you across to Salt Lake or up 95 to Boise, ID before you can get to Mn or WY. FYI, people go up to Yellowstone at this time of the year to see “winter wolves” in the Lamar Valley, in -10 f. temps, and only one entrance is open, with almost all the facilities closed.

If you want a “winter trip” that’s the route. If you don’t, plan on heading south and doing 40 across to Flagstaff. If the weather is clear you can hit the Grand Canyon. Same for Monument Valley area a day before Flagstaff.

If you can provide more detail on available time and sightseeing desires/limitations, I am sure several of us could help you more.

— comment by Gene Forsythe on January 8th, 2015 at 1:06pm JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

First post here – really appreciate your Lightroom plugins and posts/photos about Japan!

Taking an RV trip through middle America will be great. A couple years ago my in-laws from Japan came and we drove from SF to Montana/Wyoming for a couple weeks – it was a great experience, even with 6 people in an RV! So much so, that we are taking another RV trip in early April – to southern Utah this time, to visit Zion, Arches and other Parks in that area.

Your March timing should be great and you’ll be able to avoid the larger crowds that will start late March/early April when school breaks begin. Unfortunately, Marcina is correct that getting further north will be difficult. Big Sky country or the area around Yellowstone/Grand Teton will still be fully in winter. Those parks usually don’t open until late May and getting around in an RV will be difficult. The National Parks (look up the “utah mighty 5”) in southern Utah, the Grand Canyon, etc., should give you plenty of photogenics fodder – I look forward to seeing what you do and getting ideas of what to shoot before I go!

As you plan your trip and where to stay, one thing to note is that you can park overnight at most Wal-Marts across the country! If you don’t need electrical or water hookups that night, it can be pretty convenient.

— comment by James Adams on January 8th, 2015 at 2:00pm JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

How cheap is cheap for the phone requirement? I would suggest an Android phone, maybe a Motorola Moto G. It can be had unlocked for around $200, and you can get international or USA versions of it.

If you need cheaper, the Moto E is even cheaper, but it’s not that great a phone.

— comment by Alvin on January 9th, 2015 at 5:34am JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey:

You were rather vague about the type of advice you’re looking for. Someone with your computer skills would have no problems figuring out how to get pay as you go cell phone in the US, so I’m assuming that’s not it. If you’re looking for interesting places to stop you need to first determine your route, and then I’d suggest asking here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/forum/index.php?board=2.0 If you’re looking for information on traveling by RV, then here is a good place to begin: http://rvtravel.com/

Enjoy the journey.

Mike.

— comment by Mike Nelson Pedde on January 9th, 2015 at 11:21am JST (2 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

I have good memories of Bryce Canyon, the Death Valley, Arches NP and the Mono lake, among others. White Sands is also great, but probably (waaay) too far south. It’s impossible to do everything of course, but when I went there as a kid we took the 40 from Vegas and the 191 north after the Grand Canyon and the Monument Valley. After that you could take the 70 to Denver etc. Lots of possibilities!! 🙂

— comment by Damien on January 12th, 2015 at 7:54pm JST (2 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I can’t offer the advice from experience but I have a friend who recently started RV’ing full time. I sent him a link and if he has the time you’ll find his advice helpful.
-Pablo

— comment by Pablo on January 16th, 2015 at 10:37am JST (2 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Sounds like fun! We are currently full-time RVers traveling across the US (and I’m a software dev and avid Lightroom user). Our web site (LifeRebooted.net) documents our travels. I second the suggestion about the RV Mobile Internet book. The folks who wrote it also have a Facebook group called “Internet For RVers” which I recommend. Feel free to get in touch if you want to compare notes about RVing cross-country! -Mike

— comment by Mike Fisher on January 16th, 2015 at 10:42am JST (2 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink
— comment by Greg Barnett on February 15th, 2015 at 1:33am JST (2 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Just found this again. Hope you have a good trip. I would suggest staying off the Interstate highways but you might not have the time to do that. Utah has the most outstanding scenery so I would focus on that state.

— comment by RBMann on March 3rd, 2015 at 3:49am JST (2 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink
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