Long-Term RV Travel Mistakes

A 32-foot motorhome is shown on the left side of the photo, against a backdrop of a mountain range and blue skies with some white clouds. A road can be seen on the right side of the photo. Photo by Mariana Abeid-McDougall, taken at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, Arizona

Long-Term RV Travel Mistakes: What We’d do Differently


During our wonderful year of RV travel with kids, we did lots of things right, but we also made some mistakes that we wish we’d thought about before we left. Here are some of the things we’ll do differently if we long-term travel with our kids again.

1. Get an American bank account

When we travelled through the US, we paid for whatever we could with our credit card, and withdrew cash at ATMs when absolutely necessary. This is probably the worst way to deal with American cash as a Canadian. We likely paid through the nose for the exchange rate via the credit card, and in addition to that, there’s an extra charge for each transaction made in American dollars. This meant we wasted a lot of money. Not to mention the ATM fees.

If we were to long-term travel around the US again, we would open an American bank account. There are many options to do this, but our bank doesn’t offer one, which is partly why we put it off and never got it. We have been banking with Simplii Financial (previously President’s Choice Financial) for years, and we are very happy with this arrangement, as we have no banking fees, and everything is easy via online baking or bank machines at CIBC when needed. But the convenience of a bank with no physical branches does come with some inconveniences also, namely not being able to open a US account, not being able to purchase money orders, and a few others that don’t really come into play for our needs.

We like our free bank account with Simplii, but if we were to travel again, we’d bite the bullet and pay for an American account, because that would save us money in the long run. Here’s an excellent article on how to open a US Dollar bank account in Canada.

2. Get a US Credit Card

In the same way that we should have gotten a US bank account, getting a credit card to go along with it would probably have been a good idea. Getting a US credit card would have meant better convenience and, depending on the card we chose, rewards as well. Although most of these come with an annual fee, which the credit cards we currently have don’t, those fees are well worth it, because the rewards are actually higher than the fee, depending on how often you use the credit card.

3. Plan more

Although I absolutely loved our fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants method of travel during our year “off,” I feel that planning a little better next time would suit us. For example, I would have loved to stay for one or two weeks at Jetty Park Campground, but it’s a popular spot, so there were no available campsites for the amount of time we’d have preferred to stay.

If we were to long-term travel again, we may book some campsites ahead of time. However, I still wouldn’t plan every single minute, and I wouldn’t even plan each place we were staying. Part of the thrill of adventuring is not knowing what to expect, and to figure things out as you go. I’d be happy to book some campgrounds, but I’d still want the adventure of finding Walmarts, Cracker Barrels, and Boondockers welcome spaces to stay the night.

Mistakes we made on our Family RV Trip, www.marianamcdougall.com

4. Join Boondockers Welcome

We thought about joining this before we left on our trip, and we kept putting it off and never joined for some reason or another. However, for a trip the magnitude of ours, joining this would have been smart and would have probably saved us some headaches and maybe even some money.

We mostly boondocked during our trip, which is part of the reason we could afford to travel in the first place. But you can’t find a place to boondock everywhere. This was especially true in large centers, where city ordinances often meant that we couldn’t park overnight in a parking lot. In those spots, we often ended up paying through the nose for “campgrounds” that weren’t worth the money we were charged—like the parking lot for RVs in Jersey City. In places like these, Boondockers Welcome may have been an option.

Boondockers Welcome is a membership-based website that travellers can join for a flat fee, which then gives them access to several spaces offered by other members. Once you pay the flat fee to join the website, the stays at private property are free. Hosts can join for free also, and they earn travel credits for hosting.

Joining Boondockers Welcome, planning a little better, and getting a US dollars bank account and US credit card would all have been helpful to save money during our trip. But saving money when you’re long-term travelling is often not enough. You also have to make sure you make money, too.

5. Build my freelance business a little more before we left.

By the time we finally left for this trip, I’d been desperate for the road for over 5 years. Our cycling trip whetted my appetite for travel, but our 3-week foray through Ontario wasn’t enough of an adventure. I longed for the open road, and I was driving myself crazy in a house I neither had the time nor desire to clean and tend. So we may have left a little too soon, though I stand by my conviction that there’s never a “right time” to fulfill a dream. There’ll always be a roadblock, and we’ve too often experienced  the loss of young friends and acquaintances to know that tomorrow may not come. However, we’re not completely reckless, either.

Before we left, we ensured we had renters for our home, and renting the house brought in some cash while we were travelling. I also spent the year before we left working late into the night to ensure I had clients and sold enough articles to help us have some money for our trip, since Dan would be taking a sabbatical and we would have no other income other than the small amount we got from the rent (after paying the mortgage and the property management company).

Even though I worked hard before the trip and during it, I could have been more careful. When we left, I only had 1 large client on retainer, and that client paid me a pretty penny. I was also selling a good amount of articles to online publications and small businesses, and had the odd small retainer client here and there. However, I lost my major client early into the trip, and replacing that client proved nearly impossible with the travel schedule we were keeping. We didn’t stay in any place long enough for me to feel like I had the time to both work and enjoy the trip. Which brings me to my next point.

6. Set work hours and guard my time.

My biggest mistake during this trip was not guarding my time and not setting regular work hours. This was especially difficult because we were not staying at any one place long enough for me to establish a regular working schedule.

I gave in to too many opportunities for adventure and ended up no working the full-time hours required to keep my business going. This meant that once the savings from my business were gone, we did rely on some credit to complete our trip, a decision I was never comfortable with, since we had had no consumer debt before this.

If we had had more time in each place we visited, I’d feel more comfortable setting a schedule and guarding my time (maybe. I still have a hard time demanding that I get my work hours, because I still feel like my freelance work is not taken seriously. But that’s a post for another day).

7. Stay longer in each location.

To solve the problem of not having enough time to both work and enjoy the trip, if we were to long-term travel again, I’d stay longer in each location. 

Because we were travelling with our children, I really wanted to spend a lot of time with them, making memories and enjoying our adventure. Staying in each location for less than a week at a time (often only 1 or 2 days at a time) meant that I didn’t have much time to really check out each place if I stayed in the RV to work. So I prioritized spending time with the kids and enjoying the trip, which I don’t really regret. But it also meant that we weren’t very efficient with how we kept earning money while travelling.

I intend on going full-time travelling again when I’m older. My goal is to leave every winter and spend time in a warmer location—preferably more than one location. When I do that, I’ll choose to stay at each place for a month or two, so that I can sit and write for most of the day and still be able to enjoy the locations I visit on the weekends. I might even work in the afternoons and evenings, so I can check out locations and attractions during the day.

Have you ever travelled long-term? If so, what would you do differently?


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