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
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:
- Zephyr’s First Ferry Ride: Pocomoke River State Park, Cape May-Lewes Ferry & Vineland
- Not Lacking in Pennsylvania: Philly Area Stop & Lackawanna State Park (Dalton, PA)
- Entering Upstate New York: Chenango Forks & Herkimer
- Stepping Back In Time at Scaroon Manor: Schroon Lake, N. Y.
- Exporing Burlington, Vermont – Post-Escapade
- Catching Up, Rest and Exploring Warren, Vermont
- Hello New Hampshire – Another Amazing Driveway Surf
- Taking Care of Chores in Ashland, NH – Ames Brook Campground
- Exploring the White Mountains of New Hampshire
- Hanging out with Loons along China Lake, Maine
- Quick Stop in Trenton, Maine – Narrows Too RV Resort
- Amazing Acadia National Park – Schoodic Woods Campground
- Two Finals Ports in Maine: Driveway Surf in Searsport & L.L Bean Overnight in Freeport
- Beach Life in Eastern Massachusetts – Salisbury Beach State Reserve
- Catching Up at Horseneck Beach State Reserve, Massachusetts
- There’s Nothing Rotten About Groton
- Exiting the Northeast Just Like We Entered – More Bus Maintenance
Roads, Tolls & Low Clearance Spots
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
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
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.)
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
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.
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
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
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.
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!).
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.
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.
Remember these words?
Cellular coverage should be pretty darn good. So, there’s that.
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:
- The new weBoost 4G-X Booster and 4G OTR Trucker/RV antenna
- BoatAnt2 MIMO antenna
- Just released Maximum Signal Amp
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.
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:
- The Four Carriers – Which is Best for RVers?
- Overview of Mobile Internet Options for RVers
- Our personal Mobile Internet Setup
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.
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.