Saturday, June 3, 2023


Reader asks: Can one still go camping with no plans or reservations?

Here’s a letter we received this week from reader Jeff B. We have a feeling you’re going to have plenty of answers for him…

He writes:

For years I have only used my truck camper for “camping” on-site at car swap meets and car shows, but there was a time that I could just head off in a direction with no plans or camping reservations. Can a family still do that? I still have dreams of just going down the state roads and seeing what different towns and communities offer as sites to see without worrying that we must plan every detail down to the minute. This would be an interesting article.

Thank you and your staff for the great articles and for having them put together in the email format. I know that it takes a lot of work to keep turning the articles out.

We cover this topic a lot and our writers share their experiences often, but what do you think? Is it still possible to get out on the road with no plans or reservations, or are those days gone, or long gone? Please leave your answers for Jeff in the comments below. We all look forward to reading them. Thank you!



3 10 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mike Schwab
2 days ago

May to Oct 2017 I camped with a (basically a beefed up lounge chair with two bars to hold a tent up over it) and a pickup truck. Not one reservation. One camp site was a church yard with 3 30A pedestals and an portable toilet. But I would suggest staying the weekend wherever you arrive on Thursday.
Illinois, Lake Superior, Vancouver BC, Mt. St. Helens, Dawson City Yukon, Ice Field Parkway, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Devils Tower, Mt Rushmore, Wal Drug, Wounded Knee, St. Joseph, Illinois for Eclipse, New Orleans, Cape Canaveral, Vicksburg, Natchez Parkway to Nashville, and back to Illinois.

4 days ago

Absolutely. I always dispersed camp and my daughter and I travel with no advance plans. Boondocking is the way to go in the western is for sure. Just be prepped for off grid.

Richard Sellwood
4 days ago

The days of spontaneity are somewhat gone forever. Paradoxicly if one chooses different times of the year and not so busy parks it still can be done. Solid planning will help alot.

Vince Sheridan
4 days ago

I think it really comes down to how you’re wired. Do you run on your tanks and use a park on a “need to” only basis or do you prefer parks and only go on tanks if forced? Do you like the community feeling of people everywhere or do you prefer no more than one camp per ten acres?

We run reservation free without much effort but the only time we look for RV parks is laundry day when lots of loads will exceed tank capacities. That’s when hookups become desired. I’ve found if I Google “campground” in Google Maps, it is more accurate than most camping apps and membership apps. I still rely on Campendium,, FreeRoam and The Dyrt for collecting more details though.

We’re wired to the free range side, so I prefer less congested campgrounds if we’re not where we can boondock. As for “camping” in Walmart or Cracker Barrel parking lots? Who buys an RV to fulfill their dream of living in a friggin’ parking lot?

5 days ago

It depends on the time of year and where you want to go. Avoid the high tourist season and/or prepare to camp off site. We travel from NY to AZ and back in the Fall and Spring, we only make reservations if we want to go somewhere specific. Otherwise we travel secondary highways, boondock and use Harvest Host or Boondockers welcome if we can’t find a campground on our route.

Split Shaft
6 days ago

The short answer, NO. Even traveling during 2020 and covid, reservations are a must if planning on having a place to stay other than a rest stop. And now it is far worse after American’s and foreigners are traveling and staying in RV resorts, parks, and campgrounds. “Campground FULL” is the norm much of the year when RV parks and campgrounds are in operation.

6 days ago

Hello! I used to sleep in my minivan at Walmarts & Cracker Barrels & Cabela’s. There were other trailers there too. Then I bought an ALiner A-frame camper. It’s referred to as a popup, meaning that it is not welcome in such overnight spots since it needs to be raised in order to sleep inside. So the past two weeks I’ve been on a trip with not one reservation. Every afternoon around 4-5pm, I check and the dyrt to see what’s in my vicinity. Always there was something, from casinos with hookups (free) to National Forests (free, no hookups, sometimes a loooooong drive in) to smaller places for $10-$20 in a bare field with hookups! There are still spots out there if you take your time and see what’s out there. Indiana to Taos NM and back. I kinda miss just finding a Walmart or Pilot, but I’m so much more comfy in my ALiner Scout.

6 days ago

Traveling cross country St Louis to CA, we rarely book anything in advance unless we have specific need to be in a specific place. There are many out of the way sites as well as the option on dispersed camping in Natl Forest or BLM land. Often we call Rv parks on day of, to reserve for that evening. Much better than the stress of having to be somewhere at a specific date.
We love First Served campgrounds, and are sorry to see Forest Service reducing their number. But there are still quite a few out there to grab.

6 days ago

As the Founders implied, freedom and comfort are inversely proportional — the more comfort you want the less freedom you’re likely to have, and the more freedom you want the less comfort you’re likely to settle for… Full service resorts represent the ultimate in RVing comfort, but they require the most restriction of freedom to obtain; boondocking represents the most freedom, but usually requires compromises on comfort. You gotta pick your minimum level of comfort to determine your level of travel freedom, or vice versus.

6 days ago

That’s how I travel. If something looks interesting, I stop. There’s plenty of overnight stop spots, n BLM land (mostly west). I don’t make reservations anywhere, n mostly boondock.

6 days ago

You can provided you don’t plan on events travel. Stay off the Interstates.
We just traveled from the RGV to NE Albama over part of the holiday weekend. No traffic for most of the trip. I could not avoid Houston which was not pleasant. Plan on US highways and State roads. Small RV Parks are available for overnight or longer. LA 167 and Natchez Trace Parkway for most of the north bound routing.
Yes, your end is slower away from the slab, interstate,. But think of all the sights you will see. The farm market, roadside stands , the Holiday displays in the small towns.

Paul Young
6 days ago

The picture, Summersville WV one of the best lakes in WV.. The campgroung is battlerun. No I don’t think you can get in there always booked

6 days ago

Only made reservations at Denali in Alaska . Three month trip. Almost always have to make for weekends unless we boondock. Stay at very few owner camps. State ,national, country and army corp are the way to go for us.

Don G
6 days ago

Great question. My wife and I are on a four month motorhome journey from PA to Canada and Alaska. As other readers have said, we will plan our route just a week or so ahead. Generally speaking, 2 days at Harvest Hosts sites, then a day or so at a campground to refresh the motorhome tanks and take real showers not ship showers. Having said that, we left PA May 1st to beat the crowds. Staying at Yellowstone for four days we saw dramatically increased traffic at the start of Memorial Weekend. Fortunately we are part of a Fantasy RV Tours caravan starting mid-June running through mid-August, so campground reservations are already made for us.Having said THAT, I suspect our unplanned trip back to PA may present some challenges. Time will tell.

Calvin Wing
6 days ago

Yes, it’s still possible! However, you have to be open to the reality that you can’t go at optimal times (or) plan to use locations that are further away from your planned destination.
We went for a Grand Canyon trip experienced no problems in finding an Open RV park. You just need to plan on a Shoulder trip.

Bob P
6 days ago

I think the reservation system using the internet is causing many problems about overcrowding, unused camp sites, etc. I have never used the reservation system and always relied on the telephone talking with a live person at the campground. Only two times have I not been successful and that was when I was going to Pensacola Beach and unknowingly was talking about beach camping, which we don’t do anyway. Even when traveling DW looks in the Good Sam campground guide for the area we’re in and calls a campground by phone and we get in. To many people use the internet system instead of real people and even though computers don’t make mistakes, they are programmed by humans that do make mistakes. As I once was told by customer service “computers don’t lie” to which I replied “yep you’re right, but liars program computers”. So if you’re turned down by a computer reservation pick up the phone, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Mary Anne Pugin
6 days ago
Reply to  Bob P

I’m Deaf and travel solo in my truck camper. Using the phone to communicate with a live person is a huge challenge for me. While I can, with my iPhone or iPad, use a video ASL interpreter relay service to communicate with hearing people, that’s a moot process if I have weak or zero internet access. Finding available campgrounds as I traveled around Arkansas last year was stressful. I’m planning to go to Kentucky this year and, for the first time since I started RVing in 2006 (when I was 56), I am, sadly, throwing spontaneity out the window and making advance campground reservations…now…online.

6 days ago

We make a general overall plan and a few key reservations as kind of anchor points. We then fill in the gaps with stops and drive days. Trying to pick places of interest above camp spots. Alaska bound 6.1, we’ll see how that works out

6 days ago

I used to always just “get up and go” and figure out the day’s plan along the way. Now if I need to be somewhere on a particular day or want to see something in a tourist area I plan ahead and make reservations. If no time constraints I can just wander forward but I am also willing to (and often prefer to) dry camp along the way. This has, to date, provided enough camping options.

Cheryl V Clark
6 days ago

It might be possible if your camper is small. We travel with a 17’ Casita. Our very first night after picking it up at the factory in Texas, we stopped at an RV Park in Vernon, Texas, where the town was celebrating an end of summer blast. Classic cars filled the city and the RV Park appeared full. But when the manager looked out and saw our small trailer, he said, “Oh, I have a spot I can put YOU in.” It was a full hookup site near the restrooms.

Jeff Buckley
6 days ago
Reply to  Cheryl V Clark

That is one reason I have a Travel Lite 625SL truck camper that fits within my bed with the tailgate that closes. I can blend in pretty easy and I can dry camp for up to a week at time without discomfort by myself. On the other hand my wife wouldn’t make it past 24 hours. (Just kidding, please no hate mail from the wifes)

6 days ago
Reply to  Cheryl V Clark

Cheryl, I think you have mentioned a top factor that makes spontaneous RV travel easier. The smaller the better.

My wife and I are on the other end of the spectrum with a 43′ DP towing a full sized pickup. No doubt this complicates finding last minute places to land for the night…especially on weekends.

That said…we spent last October in Texas. I made all the reservations (except return) 2-3 days before leaving, including a week at a beachside campground north of Corpus Christi. I made return reservations the day before leaving. So, time of year and also location can play a big role.

Tom E
6 days ago

Everything changed for us post-COVID. We went from calling ahead to the next campground to reserving a year in advance. Thing is, when we get to those “booked up” campgrounds they are never full – some are half empty. Don’t know why that’s happening but it needs to be fixed. So we’re forced to book months to a year in advance. We use RV Trip Wizard to plan our routes over the next year’s travel, find campgrounds (with contact info) near our next stop, and find fuel. Once completed the program emails the trip and I can open up the email which has live links that when clicked pop up on google maps. I also enter each of the campgrounds & addresses in my RV Garmin.

This last spring the campsite we booked was flooded out in GA days before we were scheduled to travel. It took hours on the phone to finally find the only another available campsite that would fit our 40 ft 5th wheel and tow vehicle. Sure enough when we got there many of the campsites remained empty.

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.