Pacing Your RV Travels


By Emily Fagan #99408

When headed out on an extended RV trip the first time, or when taking the plunge into the full-time RV lifestyle, most of us are so excited that we put the pedal to the metal, drive like mad and don’t look back until we’re flat-out exhausted. It is such a thrill to be out from under all the responsibility life has heaped upon us, and all we want to do is get away. Where we run to and what we see along the way gets lost in a blur of driving, maps, guidebooks and visitors centers. The grins on our faces give us away: “We’re free!” But our passion to see it all, and see it all right now, keeps us moving at the modern workaday world’s breakneck speed, and we miss out on one of the greatest joys of being out on the road in our own little rolling homes: integrating into the myriad communities in North America and getting to know each one beneath the facade it wears for tourists.

In our first year of full-time RVing, my husband, Mark, and I criss-crossed the country North to South and East to West, covering 17 states and 12 national parks. We barely skimmed the surface of everything we saw. It was like reading the table of contents but not the book. By the time we circled around to our starting point, we were utterly saturated with travel and totally wiped out. It had been a thrilling, wild ride, but we couldn’t sustain the pace. At last, we slowed waaaaay down.

Our second summer we spent a month at the north rim of the Grand Canyon and then a month at Bryce Canyon. We learned that not everyday has to be a sightseeing day. We discovered it’s okay to stay at home all day and putter about. In fact, we’ve found that’s the best way to absorb all that we’ve seen, letting the wonders of this beautiful continent sink in and giving us ideas of what more we want to see in the area we’re visiting. But then we slowed down a little too much, almost feeling stuck in a rut. Finding a good balance between traveling too much and traveling too little took us a while to figure out.

Find a Theme
Before we left on our travels, we read many blogs and articles written by people who were already out there doing it. One sage travel writer said that, before he’d left on his journey, he’d been advised to find a theme for his travels, something to give a focus to his explorations. He chose to seek out places with extensive wall art, that is, murals on the sides of buildings and graffiti. That’s not exactly our interest, but it gave his photos and essays an interesting twist, and gave him something to look for as he wandered about the countryside.

We have found that this idea of finding a travel theme can be fundamental, in many ways, to having the most fulfilling time on the road possible. Finding the right pacing and figuring out which direction to head next is most happily dictated, for us, by following a theme, one that is a little stronger than “go south for the winter” or “visit the kids.” Some of the themes we’ve heard of that work for other folks are crazy things like visiting all the major league ball parks or chasing down Nascar events or searching for the country’s most stunning waterfalls or attending every RV rally available. Another fun one we heard from a fellow Escapee was getting a junior ranger badge at every national park. You’re never too old to have a happy childhood!

Geocaching, birding, visiting historic sights or battlefields, attending car shows or sampling farmers markets or local artisan shops are all good options. We met a man in his 80s who was happily taking his truck camper deep into the national forests every summer, documenting the beauty he saw with oil paintings on canvas. Many RVers also find their lives immensely enriched when they get involved in volunteer work, from helping out at a national park to assisting with disaster relief efforts when calamity strikes.

For us, our personal rediscoveries of our long-held passions of writing and photography have been the touchstone that have given our travels deeper meaning. Photography is a natural extension of travel, and today’s digital cameras let you click away without reserve, knowing you can always delete later, free of charge. If you have an interest in photography, treat yourself to a good quality camera and shoot away.

We now unabashedly take some 15,000 photos apiece each year. Is there really that much out there to see? Absolutely! In fact, we have found that we see much more whenever we carry a camera with us. There is something about looking for fun photo ops that makes a place come alive. Suddenly the small details jump out. Reviewing the photos later lets us relive the experiences a bit and remember why it is that we are living this lifestyle. There is nothing like being boondocked by the beach in Pensacola and looking at photos from Zion National Park. Once we leave one place and become immersed in another, the vivid immediacy of the first place fades. Our photos quickly bring it back.

Photography has shaped our travels for a while now, and we gravitate towards places where wildflowers are in bloom or a festival is going on or leaves are changing color. This past summer we decided to ratchet up our photography skills a notch, and we attended a photography workshop in Colorado. What a revelation it was to spend a weekend with photography buffs and professionals. We never could have found the time in our workaday lives to study photography books or travel to workshops, but this growing interest is opening a whole new direction for our travels. The stunning images that appear on the cover of each issue of Escapees magazine are testament to the brilliant photography talent that lies among our ranks.

But what the heck do you do with all those photos? We met an RVer who had set up a complete scrapbooking office in her fifth-wheel’s bedroom, and she had shelves of scrapbooks of their life on the road (shelves lovingly built by her husband). Today’s online scrapbooking makes it even easier, as you need a whole lot less equipment to create an even more sophisticated product. Flickr.com and other online photo sharing sites also make it easy to share your best images, and Facebook is great fun for showing off your favorite pics.

However, we’ve found the world of online blogging is the best outlet for sharing travel photos, as each one can be accompanied by a story. Blogging is an absolute boon to anyone that likes to work with words and record their thoughts in writing. It is easy to start a blog, and after a few minutes of setup, you are off and running with an online journal you can share with friends and would-be travelers that might follow in your footsteps. Keeping a blog has given us untold hours of pleasure as we take photos of whatever we see on the road and then go through them later to select the best ones to illustrate our stories online.

In the end, wandering aimlessly by RV can be exciting for a while. Likewise, traveling way too fast is a happy phase that marks the beginning of most peoples’ extended or full-time RV journeys. But to keep our long-term travels fresh and alluring, we’ve found that having a theme, in some ways an occupation, of photography and writing helps us choose a route through the immense maze of travel options and keeps us excited and engaged. Seeking out photogenic areas and trying to capture them at their best on camera, and then uncovering stories to bring them to life, is essentially what we do now, all day every day. And it’s a blast.

Last summer we felt we finally found our ideal RVing pace—no less than five years after we got started in our full-time traveling lifestyle! Neither too fast nor too slow, we stayed in several places for a few weeks and stayed in some others for just a day or two. We balanced rural and more urban locales. We chose officially designated scenic roads wherever we could, took tons of photos and we set aside plenty of at-home days to review our pictures, write about our experiences, read and relax.

If you are planning a long RV trip or are contemplating going full-time, try to put on the brakes as much as possible at the outset. Fewer miles and more sightseeing may add up to more memorable travels and a lot less stress. All those great places will still be there for a second or third trip or season. Also, look for a theme or interest or purpose that can guide you in your voyage and help you decide when and where to head next. Like us, you may find you appreciate your surroundings in greater depth and experience the spirit of each community more fully.

Emily and Mark Fagan #99408 have traveled full-time since 2007. Starting out in a 27-foot travel trailer, they moved up to a 36-foot fifth-wheel, and for two-and-a-half years, boondocked their way across most of the Western and Southern states. Seeking warmer winter destinations, they took their voyaging lifestyle to the sea and now alternate between sailing and RVing. You can follow their adventures at

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