U.S.A. Motorhome Travel
7 Mile Bridge, Key West, Florida
Rest areas and free overnight Parking.
Rest areas are mainly found on Interstate highways and tend to mainly cater for the trucking industry. Some do offer facilities for topping up fresh water tanks and emptying waste tanks, but these facilities are not well sign-posted.
Most have toilets, some have food machines and some even have showers. Bear in mind that trucks in the USA are on the road 24/7. You Park at your own risk but many motorhomers seem happy to do this.
Some Shops will let you park overnight in their car parks, they provide no facilities but they are usually larger shopping chains and are open long hours, most have toilets in the shop.
Many Trucks also park in these car parks, which are generally very large. The truckers tend to leave the engine running as they only stop for a couple of hours and especially in the warmer and cooler areas they love the air conditioning to keep going
A third option for free parking is the Truck stop. These all have large parking areas, some do provide for the needs of motorhomers but once again are not sign posted. A website www.truckstops.com has a range of books available to help you out. These books are titled the Truckers Friend, RVer’s Friend and Fuel Finder.
A good set of maps is essential when planning your trip. I found the “Rand McNally” maps good, but you also need a compass or a GPS of some sort. None of the maps I found showed all roads, this can be a little confusing.
Yet another website www.freecampgrounds.com There are 1539 campsites currently listed here, not all are free and some seem a little dodgy but others have stayed at them and listed them here. State and National Parks are great to stay at, they provide almost all the facilities that the Camping Grounds do but are not in the middle of town. Many run ranger led programmes in the evening, about the park you’re in, the wild life or the history of the park. These programmes are free. An entry fee for the park is charged, these vary from park to park and a separate fee to use the campsite but this is generally still very competitive. If you plan on using a few of these parks there is an America the beautiful “Parks pass” available (currently US $80 in 2007) which will get you into the parks but campsites are still charged separately.
The pass is per vehicle up to 4 adults, children under 16 are free. Other passes are available as well.
For more information check the web site www.nps.gov. Senior Citizens are cheaper if you let them know you’re over 62 or 63 years or as they put it, have a “Teenage pass”.
Camping grounds and Parks
There are several large Chain type camping grounds to choose from, many will offer a loyalty card of some kind (e.g. KOA). Price to stay in these grounds varies greatly (we paid as much as US $95.00 to stay in one and as little as US $25.00 for others). There are options for different types of sites within the campground. Many of the bigger chain type grounds are sign posted from Interstate highways.
The facilities are a little different to what you may expect. Yes they do provide the normal toilets, showers and laundries, not too many though, but what is provided is very high quality and usually air-conditioned.
Most sites within these grounds are quite large (due to the size of most of the vehicles), and many you can drive through, but there are some called “back in”, which are still set up for the sweet wee motorhomes. But the sites can be close together and with many vehicles these days having push-outs, things can get very close, some even take up two sites.
At your site you are able to “Hook-up” to high-pressure water, sewerage, power (20, 35 or 60 amp) and cable TV (in most campgrounds). All the motorhomes we saw are set up for these facilities but it’s your choice what you use, This will also determine how much you pay. I might add here, the majority of motorhomes we saw were larger than we are used to seeing on New Zealand roads and most of these are set up for permanent living. Hence the campgrounds cater for them. There seems to be an agreed standard with the set up of motorhomes as to where the hook-ups are positioned on vehicles as each campground was set up the same for hook-ups. Propane (gas) is not yet available at each site we did come across a couple of camping grounds that are setting up to pipe propane to each site. While talking about propane all the hired motorhomes we saw are fitted with propane tanks (approx 9 gallons). We did see some private motorhome with either 3.5 or 5 gallon bottles but not too many and the connections are similar to those in New Zealand . Many of the camping grounds sell propane but not all petrol stations do and the price varies from place to place. When talking of “gas”, remember that is petrol to the folks in America .
There are many of these parks throughout the US , see web site www.nps.gov for these. The ones we stayed in also offered a range of facilities and hook-ups (including cable TV), some as good as camping grounds and others more basic.
One site type that camping grounds do not offer is “Primitive camping”, this can mean one of two things, a site with no hook-ups or a tent site. Having stated above that all motorhomes are set up with all hook-ups it does not mean they do not have tanks and a house battery.
Sites in the parks are roomy with some distance between and there is usually a fire pit and picnic table supplied. Some sites are on concrete or seal but the majority are gravel, we did not find one on grass.
In many places it is a good idea to book ahead if you can, as these camps are very popular and fill up fast in the holiday seasons.
This site allows you to search for sites by state and you will find out straight away if there are any vacancies for your selected dates.
Signage and Roads.
As mention above a good set of maps is a must, even so a detailed map of any city you are going to visit will also be needed. Cities are large and fast moving but I must say the drivers seem very tolerant especially of motorhomes. But once again because of the size of the city not all maps show all the streets and the scale of the maps can be deceiving. E.g. using a map from an information center we headed off to find a particular shop. On the map it looked maybe 3 or 4 blocks. It turned out to be about 7 miles. Preplanning your journey can save many U turns as most of the major roads have multiple lanes and getting across them can be difficult if you need to change lanes fast. The right turn on a red light takes some getting used to, be aware that this rule does not apply to all intersections (often sign posted) and in all states. The Yield rule is also interesting, but basically if you’re at the intersection first you go first.
Road conditions change a great deal from state to state from like driving on a cloud to having my fillings rattling in my teeth. Speed limits also change from state to state and vary a great deal form around 55 mph up to 80 mph. Even though speed limits are well posted don’t expect everyone to take a great deal of notice of them. Speed signage is different to New Zealand , until you get used to it, it can be hard to spot. School zone speeds need to be strictly adhered to and much slower than the other roads in the area. Road works/construction zones seem to go on forever, causing some pretty good traffic hold ups. Not travelling the correct speed in these areas can be expensive as speeding fines are doubled.
On the Interstates, the majority of traffic you are likely to meet will be large, no make that, very large trucks and other motorhomes. In the main the truck drivers are very good but even so the turbulence coming off these trucks can really shake you about, especially if you are in a smaller motorhome. I found signalling to let them know they are past and you are ready for them to move over worked very well. Signage on Interstate highway is very good as long as you know the numbering system or road number you need to turn onto. Before off ramps, information boards display accommodation, fuel, food and campgrounds along with some other handy information as well. Travelling on these roads is not too scenic as they are usually lined with trees or concrete for noise protection.
Travel off interstate roads is more like driving on the main roads of New Zealand , but once again the road conditions range form excellent to really, really bad. Speed limits are a lot slower on these roads averaging 45 to 55mph on the open road to 25mph past schools but if the lights are flashing by the school sign the speed limit is only 15mph. It takes a long time to get anywhere but the scenery is mostly good. Once again a good idea of where you need to be going is good as the road signage is not that good. Few town names are ever mentioned, normally only a road number and a compass direction (north /east/west/south) is all you will get, and these will be close to the corner or right at the corner. Oh and one road can have several numbers as it can be part of another route going to a different place. Occasionally the road has a special name, no number and no town names on the sign.
Monument Valley, Arizona
Thanks to Wayne and Liena for making this page possible
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