Top 10 Tips for International Travelers Planning a USA Campervan Trip
By Ornella LeRouzic
Ornella (@ornellalr) and Maxime (@maximetch) are a young French couple who took a road trip in an Escape campervan in Spring 2019. Here are their top tips for other international travelers before they rent a camper van in the USA.
1. National Park Pass
You have to know that the America the Beautiful Pass is profitable! It’s only $80 for all national parks and the validity is for 1 year. For example, the Grand Canyon costs 3$5 a day. If you plan to visit two other parks, you should go for this pass. Moreover, you can buy it at Escape’s office. You just have to show your ID card & the pass at each entrance. Easy!
The question I am most asked! It can be stressful to think about “Where can I park the van tonight?” Don’t worry, if you always check signs, you will not have problems.
- Camping: Operate by reservation or on a first-come-first-served basis. If you’re traveling during the peak season, you should book before coming. Otherwise, you should arrive early in the morning when the previous campers leave and release their parking place. Ask to the reception, maybe some people will withdraw their reservations.
- Wild Camping: You have to know that there are plenty of spots to sleep not far from the national parks. Don’t hesitate to approach other travelers in campervans. Indeed, they always have a good spot to park during the night and they can give you the directions. Yes, you can sleep only 10 minutes away from the Grand Canyon, in a beautiful forest and meet amazing people. But be careful, it’s not allowed everywhere, look at the signs! You can read Escape’s Dispersed Camping 101 blog, too.
- Walmart: There are many Walmarts that allow campervans to sleep on their parking lot. It’s not the best spot to sleep but if you’re tired on the road, if you didn’t find a campsite or a spot to park the campervan, it’s a good solution. Moreover, it’s usually on the roadside near the highway.
Inside the van, there is a kitchen. It’s a good thing for your budget because you can prepare your own meal without going to the restaurant every day. Compose your shopping list before going to the supermarket. You can plan all the recipes you want to make for the next 34 days. For example, it’s super easy to compose different salads with tabbouleh, tomatoes with feta cheese, cucumber Tzatziki with toast, pasta mozzarella pesto, etc…
Do you need a recommendation of where to buy good food in the USA? Here a list of ecological, local, and organic markets: Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Whole Foods.
4. Entertainment on the road
In the USA, the distances are very long and the roads are straight. You have to remember that 1 mile is 1.6 km and there are not many rest areas. (Only viewpoints and fuel stations)
How can I be entertained during the trip? Here is a list of the best activities while driving long distance.
- Music: prepare a playlist with your favorite artists and don’t forget to add classics–rock, country, blues music–to get the perfect road trip!
- Audiobook: You can download audio books to keep you awake. It’s captivating.
- Tell your story: Start writing your trip on a notebook. It’s so good to read and remember the best parts of your trip years later.
- Photo selection: Prepare a photo album by selecting the best pictures of your trip.
- Meditation: take time to clear your head while driving along the most beautiful roads in the world.
- Get information: If you have internet, read blogs and other websites to learn more about the spot you’ll visit. (History, geography, architecture, culture, etc.)
- Deep conversations: While traveling many hours, you can have good and deeper talks with your travel buddies. Whether you are with your family or your friends, a road trip is the best moment to strengthen your relationships.
5. Apps you should have
- Maps me: You’ll not have signal everywhere in the USA during your trip. So you should use a map that works without the internet. The most popular is an application called Maps me. You can select the place you wanna visit, add comments, etc… Moreover, there is plenty of hike path written down. Also, you can find similar applications like Navmii Offline, Sygic Navigation, Scout Navigation, etc…
- Tricount: When you’re traveling with your friends, it’s not always easy to split common payments. That is why you should write down all your expenses on this app called Tricount. Then you can see who you have to pay back at the end.
- Roadtrippers: Create a full travel itinerary with this app. Roadtrippers app allows you to discover interesting places to visit on the world map. You can see what the city you want to explore offers, including hotels, restaurants, scenic routes, cultural activities, sports and outdoor, historical places, etc…
- Spotify: This app lets you download music so you can listen to it without a wifi connection. It’s really convenient when you don’t have time to select and download your music on your phone before starting a road trip.
6. Fuel station
In the USA, you don’t buy fuel in liters but gallons (1 liter = 3.8 liters). The price varies according to the course and obviously the state where you buy it.
- Download GasBuddy: This application will help you to locate the most affordable gas prices on the road. Don’t neglect this recommendation, the difference between states is sometimes unbelievable. You should fill the tank in Utah or Arizona where the fuel is cheaper. As the contrary, it’s more expensive in California.
- Last recommendation: make sure to always have enough fuel. Sometimes the next station is very far and you can easily run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
- Camping: Most of the time, they are equipped with showers but you should check at the reception to be sure. For example, in Zion National Park, the most popular camping for backpackers doesn’t have showers. You have to pay 20$ but only to park your campervan. Not far from this place, you can find a shop that offers showers for $5. If you’re not staying in a campground but you just want to find a shower, you can go and ask to the reception. Most of the time it’s a system of token or it can be $5-10 for an unlimited shower.
- Fuel Station: If you need a shower but the closest camping is far away, you can ask in gas stations. It’s usually more expensive but if you have no other option, you can go there.
Do you need more adventure? You’re going to drive in the countryside and desert with no hotels, campsites, or town around? You can rent a solar shower at Escape’s offices.
Make sure to have both summer and winter clothes, especially when you are traveling during March and April. At the same time of the year, you can enjoy a beautiful sunny day with 37 °C in Death Valley National Park and be under the snow in Bryce Canyon National Park.
9. Make a plan but stay flexible
You want to see a lot of places but don’t make a too tight schedule, you’ll need freedom during this trip. You can write down spot you want to visit and create a route but you have to know that plans can change every day! Maybe you’ll not have enough time to visit what you planned at the beginning but you’ll see other places you didn’t expect to as well. Unexpected spots are always the best part of the trip.
10. Accessories to have?
- Cigarette lighter: Essential for charging your cameras, tablets or smartphones when you drive.
- External Battery: THE accessory to not forget when you’re going to hike for a whole day. Especially when you take pictures/videos and use a GPS on your phone.
- Flashlight: The USA is the best place on earth to observe stars. So it’s really helpful when you’re walking outside during the night.
- Adaptor: Make sure to have your adaptor with you because plugs in the USA are different from Europe or Australia.
- Thermos: If you’re traveling during the spring/summer, I advise you to take a thermos to keep your water cool. You can easily find places to refill it with ice. Death Valley National Park is the hottest place on earth. Make sure to drink a ton of water and visit the park early in the morning.
- Sunscreen & Hat: Are you ready for magnificent sunny days? Sunscreen & hat are a necessity!
- Tire Chains: Travelling during winter? You will need tire chains if you’re going to Sequoia National Park or Yosemite National Park.
With these tips, you’re ready to hit the road! Book your campervan today.