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RVing in the Northeast – Lessons Learned & Summer Recap

Back in March, we starting making our plans to spend the summer RVing around the Northeast. An area of the country we had neglected in our prior years of RVing.

In our post announcing these plans, we made these statements:

We know RVing up that way is much more expensive than we’re used to, more traffic, tighter roads, low clearance spots, pricey tolls, denser population and more crowded campgrounds.

But we also know this area of the country has beauty, history, culture, charm and is full of awesome people – so we should suck it up and do it. Cellular coverage should be pretty darn good. So, there’s that.

After so many years of putting these adventures off  – was it worth it? Did the concerns manifest?  How did we avoid most of the common complaints RVers have for avoiding the northeast?

If you’ve been reading along this summer, then you already know we have had an absolutely amazing time exploring new territory.  This post, will recap of those adventures, some metrics of the costs and some things we learned along the way that might help you on a future trip.

If you prefer the video version, we recently did a live cast covering this topic. It’s nearly an hour long, so mind your bandwidth:

First, a Recap of the Summer

"The Census Bureau has defined the Northeast region as comprising nine states: the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont; and the Mid-Atlantic states of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania." - Wikipedia

The Census Bureau has defined the Northeast region as comprising nine states – those in the two darker red colors.

Depending on how you define what states are included in the ‘Northeast’ (we’re going with the US Census Bureau definition, that includes nine states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut) – we entered New Jersey on June 18 and exited pretty much in the same spot on October 6.

A total of 109 nights in the region. Just about 3.5 months.

We visited every state spending at least a few nights in each. All in all, we made camp in 26 spots.

Here’s a recap of all of our blog posts from these adventures:

Roads, Tolls & Low Clearance Spots

15% Grade?? Yeah, no bus here!

15% Grade?? Yeah, no bus here!

Yup, true to predictions – roads are little tighter up here, especially in cities. There are toll roads all over. And many low clearance spots that you need to route around.

And to our surprise, there’s a lot more elevation change. We got caught off guard a couple times routing to campgrounds that had tight curvy roads with steep grades.

There’s a also a lot of road construction during the summer, as road crews can’t do much work over the frozen winters. So do expect delays.

Here’s our tips for navigating up this way to be as low stress as feasible:

Avoid big cities whenever you can

Signs clearly marked going through NYC.

Signs clearly marked going through NYC.

When we were envisioning this summer, somehow we just imagined it would be back-to-back big city after another. As if Boston, Hartford, NYC and Portland would all be merged into one big unending traffic jam.

Much to our surprise, there’s abundant rural areas to explore.

When we did need to cross through big cities, we stuck to major truck routes – they’re clearly marked.

Pay more attention to your day’s routing than you do in other parts of the country

Using Google Street View to confirm bridge heights in advance of routing.

Using Google Street View to confirm bridge heights in advance of routing.

Before setting out, we would check routing on 3 different mapping systems (our Garmin RV 660LMT GPS, Apple Maps and Google Maps) – if all three agreed, we’d go with it.  If they didn’t agree, we investigated further.

We also consulted the Allstays app for low clearance spots & grades.

And when in doubt, we’d bring up Google Street View to confirm low clearance spots that might be along our route.  We’d confirm what the local signs say for height, and make sure we had plenty of headroom for possible re-paving that might have occurred.  (Our bus is 11’3″ to the top of the air conditioners, and right now a solid 12′ with the weBoost OTR antenna installed that we’re testing.)

Ames Brook Campground in Ashland, NH had these instructions on their Passport America listing, but not their website.

Ames Brook Campground in Ashland, NH had these instructions on their Passport America listing, but not their website.

And we always checked the campground’s own directions to see if they had anything specific to say about low clearances or more RV friendly routes.  (This did backfire on us once however, routing into a Pennsylvania State Park that hadn’t updated their directions to reflect long term road closures – we ended up on some rather narrow and steep roads instead.)

Pay Attention to Signs

Crossing 123 near Walpole, NH - no resource we used gave us a heads up about this low clearance spot. Thankfully, local signs indicated it was 12'5" - and we had no issues.

Crossing 123 near Walpole, NH – no resource we used gave us a heads up about this low clearance spot. Thankfully, local signs indicated it was 12’5″ – and we had no issues.

But even with all the planning in the world, some tricky spots just weren’t indicated in advance.

We tend to venture a bit off the beaten RV-path (especially when heading out to driveway surfing locations). And more than once low clearance spots or weight restricted roads snuck up on us that weren’t indicated anywhere we checked.

If it wasn’t for carefully paying attention to local signs, we wouldn’t have been prepared for them. We both kept our eyes on the road ahead.

Planning out Tolls

Tolls are tricky, especially for RVers who might be towing. They can vary so much as to how they are charged – by the axle, by the vehicle or by length.

Comparing the TollSmart App to our Garmin GPS for routing.

Comparing the TollSmart App to our Garmin GPS for routing.

While you can look up individual toll plazas along the way and try to figure it out, we thought – ‘Certainly, someone has an app for that’.

Sure enough, there are two out:

We purchased both, and used them head to head.

Overall, we found TollSmart to be easier to use and ended up relying on it the most. We did subscribe in-app ($2.99/mo) to calculate RV + Toad rates.

We found it mostly accurate (we found one toll that charged us differently, and the app creator was extremely responsive in researching it). We re-routed several times to avoid or reduce tolls when we could, and consciously decided when it just made sense to save time & frustration.

At the end of our 109 days in the Northeast, we ended up paying $47.95 in tolls. While we had intentions of picking up an EZ-Pass for discounts and getting through plazas quicker, we never got around to it.

Camping Experience & Costs

Electic only, $42/night.

Electic only, $42/night.

One of our concerns was the higher costs of camping, limited options and how crowded campgrounds might be.

There just aren’t many free boondocking spots on public lands like we experience out west. They’re there, but they require a lot more planning and sleuthing to find them.

As we’re not willing to put in lots of time into researching options, we pretty much stuck to the low hanging fruit (state parks, national parks and occasional commercial parks).

More Info: Guide to Finding Campgrounds & RV Parking

Our 109 nights in the area, can be broken down into these types of stays:

  • Bus Maintenance (over the pit): 8 nights
  • Free Stops (Driveway Surfs, Harvest Hosts, Blacktop Boondocking): 37 nights
  • State or Federal Parks: 38 nights
  • Commercial Parks: 18 nights
  • Elks Club: 8 nights
No hook-ups, but beachside. $27/night.

No hook-ups, but beachside. $27/night.

Our total cost in camping fees for the summer was $1802, which comes out to an average of $16.53/night.

For comparison, in 2014 and 2015, we averaged $13/night. And our average up until this summer was tracking along there as well.

More Info: View our monthly cost log & costs of full timing guide

However, we were only able to hit that number by being blessed with so many driveway surfing invitations.

For us, it’s not about saving money, but about the quality of experience in being in unique places and making new friends. In this case however, driveway surfing saved us nearly a month in camping fees (thank you again to all our amazing hosts!).

More Info: Tips for Driveway Surfing – Being a Great Temporary Neighbor

No

No hook-ups (plenty of sun!) in an amazing location – Scaroon Manor. $30/night.

Our average per night based on paid nights is more around $28/night. But if we hadn’t had the driveway surfs, we would have sought out more stays utilizing our memberships to the Elks Club and Harvest Hosts to balance it out.

In general, we found the campground costs to be higher than our normal but perfectly reasonable and approachable. It was not unusual for dry camping locations to be priced $25-30/night and spots with any hook-ups to be $35+. This seems in line with a lot of other east coast camping options.

After initial sticker shock, we just got over it.

In other areas of the country, we’re more used to paying $10-15/night for developed dry camping (free of course while boondocking) and $20-35 for spots with hook-ups.

Overall though, our fears of more crowded & tightly packed campgrounds did not come true. We were able to use our regular planning style of winging it in most locations.

We would look ahead a week or two for where we thought we might like to head and snagged awesome sites all summer long. We pretty much enjoyed the type of campsites we enjoy most – scenic, private, out in nature and lots of space between sites.

Lots of dry camping campgrounds, without access to sun for solar.

Lots of dry camping campgrounds, without access to sun for solar.

The only reservation we made more than a couple weeks in advance was Schoodic Woods Campground in Acadia, and only because of the serendipity of finding a last minute cancellation over Labor Day.

Note on solar: One factor in selecting campgrounds was just how forested this area of the country it – which means dry camping doesn’t always equate to ideal places for solar. While we did score some awesome spots with wide open sun access, we ended up running our generator more often than we’re used to.

Internet

Remember these words?

Cellular coverage should be pretty darn good. So, there’s that.

Installing new antennas on our roof - including the new weBoost 4G-OTR (Trucker/RV).

Installing new antennas on our roof – including the new weBoost 4G-OTR (Trucker/RV).

Hahahaha. Oh boy were we naive.

With the vision in our minds that the northeast was just one big city after another, we really had no clue that cellular internet access would be a struggle.

For sure, near big cities and in denser population areas – no problem.

But get out in the rural areas (which we love), and we were also battling mountainous terrain and lots of trees.

This actually turned out to be an ideal testing ground for some new cellular signal enhancing gear we had on board, including:

We got a lot of great antenna & booster testing done this summer.

We got a lot of great antenna & booster testing done this summer.

We got a lot of great testing in while we were in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. And we were able to turn most spots with unusable signal to places we could comfortably setup with abundant bandwidth, even for video streaming and broadcasting.

We still need to find a few more testing locations as we head south before we’re ready to have any public statements on these products.

If you’re interested, you can track them in our new RV Mobile Internet Review Center we launched over the summer (our premium members get access to our in-depth reviews and field testing results).

As far as carriers, they pretty much tracked like they do across the rest of the country:

  • Verizon continues to be king of coverage for RVers with the best nationwide coverage map. We had the greatest success rate in getting usable signal with them in most places we were.
  • AT&T was second, and there were a couple places where they exceeded Verizon in performance.
  • T-Mobile had some surprising places where they excelled for us – they are definitely the carrier to be watching right now as they continue to aggressively expand their coverage.
  • Sprint, as usual, was the least useful – but as we were in larger cities we did use them more.

For more information on mobile internet:

Overall Impressions

To say we loved this place...

To say we loved this place…

Our time in the Northeast was absolutely amazing, and blew away all expectations we had. We now regret having not spent more time up this way over the years (which is a BIG reason why we’re gearing up to start spending the next few summers up this way exploring by boat).

We really thought we’d be able to explore all 9 states, and even duck into Canada for a bit too this summer.

But the reality is, we feel we just barely started to scratch the surface.

 

 

We never got to the Finger Lakes or Niagara Falls. We feel called back to the Adirondacks and along Lake Champlain. Maine is a huge state. New Hampshire and Vermont are enchanting, and left our hearts aflutter. We totally missed most of Cape Cod and the western portion of Massachusetts. And our time in Groton has us inspired to spend more time along the coast.

And of course, we totally bypassed all of the ‘big’ cities – which all do deserve our focus too.

See you on the horizon...

See you on the horizon…

Ahhh… so little time, and an unending list of awesome out here on the road.

Every time someone suggests that after 10 years on the road that we surely have ‘seen it all’ – we just laugh our butts off.

So overall? We’re in love with the Northeast, and this past summer was one positive amazing memory after another. We met so many awesome people.

I have to say, it’s been one of my top summers on the road thus far.


 

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24 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Hi Cherie and Chris, We live in Florida but are from Connecticut. Before we got our Travel Trailer we would just go up Interstate 95. Since we got our TT we cut off 95 in North Carolina and go all around on I-81 to cross the Tappan Zee Bridge to avoid tunnels and the George Washington Bridge, which years ago you’d have to get off in area that was not very safe you weren’t allowed to cross the bridge. It was pretty crazy. Has that changed? We’re going up again in June. Thanks for any info you can give us.

  2. Glad you enjoyed your trip to the northeast. We’ve been poking around here for a few years and finally took a winter trip around the southeast during the 2015-2016 winter. We left Cape Cod in November and got back in May – 16 states, 6000 miles. Once we got out of the northeast, we noticed how much nicer people are to strangers. I think it has to do with how little personal space you get in this area of the country. My comment was “Once you leave New England, you realize how far up the ass the stick is around here”.

    Horseneck Beach was one of our favorite beaches growing up and I’m glad you got to see it. There are several hundred more like that with 50 miles of Westport. Hope you come back.

  3. If and when you make it to Canada, get up to the points just past Barrie on the 400, but you folks will want to take HWY 17 up from the Toronto area. If you are coming to Canada, contact me, I drove truck all over this country and yours also, so I know my way around.

      • If your doing it by boat, do the Trent Severn Lock system, Look it up and make sure your boat can make it through all the locks. Do check in with Canada Customs before you come though

  4. Love reading Yall”s blog. Especially the low clearance info. Northeast travels for us 2017 so will definitely reread the info. Wife wants to do some river cruising 2017. Not buy a boat like Yall, but with tour company r something like that. So will be checking that out. Keep up the great work.

  5. Thank you SO MUCH for this review. I’ve been stressing over RVing around the northeast, and this is a great rundown of what to expect. I wouldn’t have expected the internet to be questionable either, so great heads up. Looks like an amazing time!

  6. Another app you may want to try is the subscription app “Smart RV Route”. It allows you to put your RV data (height, weight, etc) in, and calculates the route based on your requirements and traffic. It has taken me on some really nice drives off the main interstates that were just as fast but with less traffic and better views. http://www.smartrvroute.com/

  7. Hi Cherie—-found your blog and am thoroughly enjoying reading about your travels. One question though—how many incidents have you had where you encountered snakes? It is my “travel phobia”, one might say. No matter how many fantastic places I read about and want to experience myself, I am always hesitant because of this fear of mine. With the extensive travelling you have done, I’d feel better knowing the “truth” about what I should expect.

    • Yup, wildlife is a fact of life if you choose to explore nature. Can’t really get around it. We’ve certainly encountered snakes, just two yesterday on our morning bike ride out on the trails. We personally love them, usually.

      Now rattlers, we get spooked by. Think we’ve encountered 3 in the wild, and one of them bit our cat. But mostly the wildlife just leaves you alone and wants to stay out of your way.

  8. GREAT SUMMARY and good posts all summer. The northeast gets little coverage in blogs so your posts were very welcome and will be helpful when we head that way.

  9. I have enjoyed all your adventures over the last few years on the road. We are not full-timers, but have used a lot of your tips and suggestions of places to visit. I will miss you.

  10. We enjoyed having you follow us around some of the summer. We are both native New Englander’s who have been away 20 years. Love reading your information, do well done!

    • Yes, most require you to be a member to utilize the benefit of being a traveling Elk. (We have seen a handful that have campgrounds that are open to the public, but charge a higher fee for non-members). We completed our membership earlier this year. Well worth it!

  11. Cool update, chock full of useful info! I lived there 20 years and am going back there nexr summer. Alreadt realized it will take me at least two trips/years (ducking south for the winter between) to see it all it is a big little region 🙂

  12. Thanks for your detailed and insightful,posts. I haven’t spent much time in th northeast and your summer travels have inspired me! Just recently started following you and my husband and I intend to make some long RVIng journeys now that we’re retired. You’ve given us much to think about in our pla. I got. Thanks!

  13. Thanks for the post and the webcast. We are currently living sticks and bricks in MA but are in the midst of planning our nomadic adventure. We are glad you enjoyed your adventure in our area. New England is beautiful.

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