In the post prior to this, I gave an overview of my scenic road trip from Las Vegas to West Virginia. This post is meant to be more informative, providing further details about the trip itself, apps I found helpful, tips, etc. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!
I use the term ‘campsites’ loosely, because when on a road trip, a spot for the night can just as easily mean a Wal Mart parking lot or a truck stop. I was sleeping in my van on this trip, so really I just needed a safe and legal spot to park every night, but I made it a goal to:
- Stay in the most scenic places possible.
- Stay only at free places. (This would have been impossible in Big Bend National Park, but thanks to the kindness of new friends I made I did not pay for a site, therefore still achieving this goal.)
Out west, this is easily attainable due to an abundance of BLM land (Bureau of Land Management). Although some areas have developed campsites that may require a fee, there is a vast amount of BLM land that allows dispersed camping for free (there are also some free BLM campgrounds scattered about). These were some of my favorite places to stay on the trip- wild open spaces, and usually quite scenic.
BLM maps are available for sale from BLM offices, broken down into different areas of the state. These maps are not available online, but according to a representative I spoke to, you can order them over the phone if you know the specific region you want (useful for reviewing all available land and boundaries). Some BLM land shows up in google map searches; most of my spots were found using google, or the app ‘iOverlander’. The loose rule with BLM is, if there aren’t signs specifically saying no camping/ fences or gates to keep you out, then it’s usually okay to camp out there (again, that’s according to a BLM representative in the Nevada office I spoke with via phone). Whether staying in a developed campground or at a dispersed site, you typically may stay up to 14 days before having to move at least 25 miles from your original spot, and cannot return to that area for 28 consecutive days.
Once I hit Texas, it became much more difficult to find free camping areas. At this point ‘iOverlander’ was invaluable to me. I used the app to search for campsites or overnight parking along my route- you can click on a specific location to get more details, including comments from prior visitors, pictures, etc.
Some of my campsites:
Perhaps my favorite campsite of the entire trip- simply an open dirt parking lot, flanked by a meadow of wildflowers (BLM land near Tuscon, AZ):
I used the app ‘Roadtrippers’ to plan my route out as I went- I would add in points of interest I wanted to possibly check out in the upcoming days, and use the app to plan the most logical order/ route. (You technically cannot add more than 5 points without paying to upgrade to ‘Roadtrippers Plus‘, but I just started fresh every other day or so, since i was making it up as I went along). I suppose you could use google maps for this, but I was usually actively using that to GPS where I was going in that moment. Here’s an idea of my route, via google maps (not all stops are labeled, please disregard):
Another app I found useful was ‘GasBuddy‘- for comparing approximate gas prices in different areas- I would just look on a map in the direction I was heading, and see if it was advantageous to stop in any specific area over another for gas. Also, during stretches when I was trying not to stop, I would use it to make sure I knew where gas stations would be later on.
Planet Fitness catches some flack in the gym world for their approach (and I recently did get chastised for jumping rope in the gym, so trust me I get it) but hands down, I think they are the best gym in the U.S. for travel convenience. Almost everywhere I went I was able to find a Planet Fitness, get a workout in, and most importantly… SHOWER! The ‘PF Black Card’ membership is $21.99 a month, and grants you access to all the locations in the country. On top of that, you can bring a guest with you every time- so if you’ve got a travel companion, you’re both set. (Every club I visited was open 24/7, but there may be some that are not.)
America the Beautiful Pass. GET IT. It costs $80, and grants access into all National Parks & Federal Recreation Lands (most of which have their own entry fees that you would have to pay upon visiting, unless you have this). The pass is good for a full year after purchasing, and along this trip alone I would have spent $80 in entrance fees (Saguaro National Park $20; White Sands National Monument $20; Carlsbad Caverns National Park $15; Big Bend National Park $25).
My goal was to barely eat out this entire trip (with the exception of Texas, because… BBQ.) I had a cooler stocked with groceries, my little camp stove, and a small cast iron skillet (that I used a few times on charcoal, and a wood fire).
Breakfast was normally some combination of yogurt, fruit, and granola. Lunches were simple- wraps or sandwiches with whatever I had in my cooler (being on the road certainly encourages you to be less picky than normal). I figured the less I had to cook, the easier it would be, so both of these meals were normally ‘cold’ meals.
Dinners were more creative: leftover veggies from wraps cooked with eggs and cheese, pasta with whatever add-ins were available, egg salad made from leftover hard boiled eggs (with bottom of the bag chip crumbs as a topping). Cooking outside in windy weather on a tiny camp stove isn’t ideal, but my van step came in really handy as a meal prep area. (I can’t wait to actually have a functioning kitchen inside of the van, but I think I made due without rather well for this trip.)
I usually had coffee with me (not saying I didn’t buy more throughout the day, because coffee is LIFE), and also got in a habit of making tea with hot water from gas stations.
Side note- a cupholder doubles wonderfully as a salsa holder, or a wrap holder… endless possibilities!
To give an idea of how much I spent on this trip, I have included all of my expenditures over my 16 day course. (This trip could have been done cheaper of course, there are almost always expenses that can be cut.)
Gas- $600. (I did a lot of driving, and my van’s MPG isn’t exactly the best.)
Food- $250. It may sound expensive, but that’s including: all groceries, coffee, eating a few meals out, yummy snacks (like homemade ice cream), and a good deal of beer (because what’s a camping trip without campfire beers? Not to mention the multiple breweries I visited.)
Miscellaneous- $60. (A few souvenirs for people, visiting a bouldering gym in TX, etc.)
I like to think of this trip as a “warm up” to full time living and traveling in my van. Surely there are more lessons to be learned in my immediate future- hoping I don’t figure them all out the hard way (normally, the only way I learn).
Cheers to upcoming adventures!