Cross Country RV Trip Without Reservations, Hookups, or a Generator

Have you ever wondered how Vanlife influencers find such picturesque locations? Are you finding yourself relegated to campgrounds with full hookups and unsure how to make it work off grid? Are you putting off a big adventure due to reservations filling up too far in advance?

It is time to stop letting convention deter you. My wife and I traveled across the country in the dead of summer without reservations, without a generator, and without hookups. We stayed cool without AC and got to spend time enjoying stunningly beautiful places. This is how we did it.

Beating The Heat

Drive While Its Hot, Block Out the Sun and Camp High

Our class C motorcoach is not equipped with a generator, which means unless we have a 30amp connection, our roof AC unit is unusable. Yet, traveling with 2 dogs meant keeping it a safe temperature inside the RV was one of our highest priorities.

We tackled the relentless summer heat with a combination of:

  • Driving to our next location with the cab AC on full blast as soon as the sun is up.
  • Using 12 volt and USB fans while driving to circulate the cab AC throughout the entire RV interior.
  • Cutting reflectix to fit in every window, skylight, and roof vent to keep as much sunlight out of the RV as possible while traveling during the hottest portions of the day.
  • Picking out camping locations at higher elevations where the air is naturally cooler and nighttime breezes circulate cold air through open windows.
  • Utilizing solar panels and a solar generator for our power needs.

Using Fans to Circulate the Cab AC on Travel Days

Leaving all the vents and windows open at night while running a roof fan will draw cool night air into the RV interior, dropping interior temps naturally and efficiently. Once cooled, it is much easier to try to keep the heat out than it is to let the beating sun in and try to cool things down again without the roof AC unit. As mentioned, using reflectix in all the unopened windows, vents, and skylights as soon as the sun comes up blocks out a large portion of sun/heat.

However, there comes a point on hot summer travel days at sea-level when the heat rises, and even the best insulation can only do so much. That’s when we batted down the hatches and got ready to drive through the heat of the day. We would close all the vents/windows and insert the reflectix cut to fit each one. Then we’d fire up the RV with the cab AC full blast. As effective as our cab AC is, it wasn’t enough to cool the whole RV interior without a little help.

That’s where the USB fans and solar generator come into play. With one fan clipped onto a cabinet near cab and another plugged into the charging station in the rear they worked in tandem to move the cool air from the cab AC all the way throughout the entire RV interior. Our solar generator is equipped with pass-through charging, so we could have it plugged in and charging from the 12v “cigarette lighter” in the cab while keeping it on to power one of the fans. The rear fan plugged into the charging station was powered by the house batteries.

The engine’s alternator charges both the house batteries and the solar generator (via the cig lighter) while driving. This meant endless runtime while on the road. It also meant that both fan batteries and the solar generator would fully charge while in use as we drove. There is nothing like topped off batteries upon arriving at the campsite.


Probably one of the most intimidating obstacles in planning a cross-country road trip is figuring out where to stay. National Parks seem to be everyone’s first instinct, but reservations can fill up a year in advance. Additionally, dogs are only allowed in campsites or along paved paths, which is very limiting.

State Parks and RV parks also book up really far in advance, so trying to book every single campsite ahead of time would keep us on a very strict schedule without any wiggle room. Having a strict itinerary doesn’t allow time for mishaps, exploring unexpected finds, and can make for a really stressful trip. That’s not how we like to roll.

Focus on Flexibility

We left Pittsburgh PA in June and headed west. We knew there were a lot of low-lying states that promised scorching temperatures ahead of us. We gave ourselves 3-4 days to get from Pennsylvania to Colorado, where the mountains promised higher elevation camping and cooler temperatures. Until then, to keep cool along the way, we’d have to be driving while the sun was up.

So, instead of trying to pre-plan campsites to sleep in and stressing about sticking to an itinerary, we focused on flexibility. We simply drove until we were tired after sunset when it was cool enough to stop. We’d would plug “rest stop” into our GPS an hour or so before we felt like stopping and pull into one for the night. Highway rest stops have bathrooms open all night and places to exercise/empty the dogs. Some even have free water filling stations and septic dump sites. You are allowed to rest as long as you need, just don’t camp out (i.e., don’t bust out the grill and camp chairs.)

Rest stops provided us with a level spot to sleep for the night and a few amenities. We could exercise the dogs again in the morning, have breakfast, and hit the road before it got too hot. They also made for great lunch break spots since most have shade from trees or small shade structures.

Think Outside the Box

When it came time to find places we did actually want to camp and spend a few days, we had to get creative. We let our hobbies be our guide. My wife and I love to hike, and I love to fly fish. So, in the fledgling planning phase of our trip, I would simply Google, “best hiking in…” or “best fly fishing in…” and insert a state or area we wanted to explore.

I took suggestions from Google and did a deep dive into areas that caught our attention. If a hike, river, or lake looked like something worth visiting, I would take a look at the specific area in the Gaia GPS App.

Even though the app is designed for hiking, it is a wealth of information. It displays campgrounds large and small, their elevations, other points of interest, and hiking trails to worthy sidetrips like hotsprings. Best of all, it can be used to navigate to each location offline and without cell phone reception. You just need to download maps of the area in the app ahead of time.

Armed with information gleaned from Gaia, I jumped back to Google for more research on fees, amenities, regulations, and access roads. It was with this system that I found the locations that turned out to be my favorite stops of the whole trip. Just watch the video at the top of the page to see the beautiful places we discovered. Best of all, they were little known spots that are first come, first served. No reservations required! We could stay as long or as little as we liked.

Worried we might drive all the way out there only to find the campgrounds full, I used the Gaia app to scout out places with several camping and boondocking options in close proximity. We were able to get a site every single time.


Rv camping without hookups is otherwise known as wild camping or boondocking. It is a particular way of getting by without water and electrical connections that deserves a whole in-depth post of its own. Boondocking without a generator can be even more complicated.

We relied on solar panels to keep our house batteries charged and utilized our solar generator to power things like our microwave, an air fryer, string lights, and recharge our devices. We used solar powered lanterns for exterior lighting and to help us limit our house battery usage on longer-term stays.

Boondocking Preparation

Before heading off the grid to remote camping we would:

  • Fill freshwater tank
  • Empty black and gray water tanks
  • Fill propane
  • Stock refrigerator
  • Pack extra drinking water

Boondocking successfully takes practice and it takes getting to know your rigs’ capabilities. You also need to get familiar with your water and power usage. Practicing close to home a few times before going too remote is always wise.

To help you better understand the difference between having full hookups and camping without them, I’ve created this video:

I hope this peak at how we pulled it off helps you create your own epic adventures. Comment below with any questions. If you enjoyed this post, please check out my others as well. Stay wild my friends!

See more of our adventures

This post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through them will help fund more adventures at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for your support.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s