From coast to coast, the United States of America stretches for thousands of miles through small towns, big cities, undulating terrain, and wide-open spaces. It's easy to daydream about the beautiful sights and fabulous people you'll meet, but first, you need a plan to make sure your trip runs as smoothly as possible. Even with meticulous planning, a road trip isn't complete without a few barriers and unknowns. Learn the best way to navigate those ups and downs with a few veteran tips, and make the most of your camper van vacation in America.

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01Get real with your expectations

RV driving takes patience welcomia / Getty Images

Whether you're driving a motor home or towing a camping trailer, RV travel is nothing like driving a car. Aside from the responsibility of maneuvering such a vehicle, you also have to deal with surrounding traffic that may not be willing to share the road. These factors can add stress to your trip, so cut yourself some slack and set realistic goals. Rather than aiming for 400 miles a day, shoot for 200 to 300 miles instead. Give yourself time to decompress at the end of each long haul.

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02Prioritize your stops

Recreational vehicle on a road trip through the Redwood National Forest, California JessicaHarrison / Getty Images

With every unfamiliar territory comes the excitement of the unknown. You'll likely pass lots of roadside signs advertising things like the world's largest ball of yarn or alien jerky. What these signs don't tell you is that you may run into long lines and overpriced admission fees, and you'll also lose precious daylight. Try not to veer too off course when indulging in local delights, and plan your stops whenever possible. The more tourist traps you can avoid, the better.

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03Show the locals some love

food truck with hot dogs and burgers

Driving across the country provides travelers with the opportunity to see new sights and taste adventurous flavors that never make it onto the beaten path. Embrace authentic experiences by visiting local small businesses rather than corporate chains. Order breakfast from the 50-year-old diner down the street and save the drive-thru for rest stops. Instead of buying a shot glass at the gas station, find some local handmade jewelry. When in doubt, ask the locals for advice on where to eat, shop, and find the best souvenirs.

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04Avoid rush hour traffic

Travel Trailer on the Open Road timnewman / Getty Images

Driving through long stretches of desert and prairie lands, you might forget that big cities still exist — and so does rush hour traffic. Don't make the rookie mistake of driving into Chicago or Downtown Los Angeles during peak traffic hours. The locals will be tired and eager to get home and may not be very accommodating. Arrange to take the back roads during rush hour or leave later in the day to arrive in big cities at mid-morning or late in the evening.

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05Don't get hangry; get a proper food stash

Keep the family well-fed Oliver Rossi / Getty Images

Sometimes, you get to a small town only to realize the grocery stores are closed. Other times, you hit gridlock on the highway and miss lunch by an hour or two. Whatever hiccups you might encounter along the way, don't let an unexpected food shortage be one of them. In addition to fresh foods, keep a stockpile of packaged, high energy foods and snacks like trail mix, beef jerky, peanut butter, and jelly sandwich fixings, and pouches of tuna. If you're using a camping stove, don't forget extra fuel.

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06Prepare for the worst

RV Camper Van Accident on the Winding Mountain Road. welcomia / Getty Images

Road trips are full of surprises and challenges. It's best to have an optimistic attitude and embrace the unexpected, but you should prepare for anything to go wrong. In addition to a proper toolkit and spare tires, you should also invest in a roadside assistance plan. Next, check your health insurance policy for out-of-state coverage specifics and get up to date on immunizations, such as a tetanus shot. Discuss emergency protocol with fellow passengers ahead of difficulties — whatever it takes to ensure everyone's safety and enjoyment.

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07Be weather aware

Father sitting in camper van in discussion with young daughter at campsite in woods Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Seasonal weather is a unique experience in different areas of the country. You can find snow on desert mountaintops in mid-summer or fluctuations between day and night temperatures of 30 to 40 degrees. Be ready for any climate by having winter coats handy year-round as well as sturdy shoes or boots. In the summertime, keep track of triple-digit temperatures, stopping every two to three hours to let your tires cool off. A quick cooldown helps to prevent tires from bursting, so be sure to account for it in your schedule.

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08Secure a good spot

Find the perfect spot Oleh_Slobodeniuk / Getty Images

If you're making reservations at an RV park or campground, try reserving a specific campsite, or you're likely to choose on a first-come, first-served basis. If so, get there early for a spot with a great view and privacy. If you're arriving in a strange town and need a safe place to spend the night, look for industrial parks, cul-de-sacs, or parking lots at 24-hour business. You might also consider downloading offline road maps to guide you when there's no wifi.

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09Always be safety conscious

Be vigilant of your surroundings Sisoje / Getty Images

Always stay aware of your surroundings and be vigilant of the people around you and your camper van. While it's nice to engage with the locals in conversation, you should always keep an eye on open doors and belongings to deter petty theft. Be vigilant, not distracted. Keep your doors locked overnight and driver's seat cleared off for a quick getaway if necessary. Back into parking spaces, and make sure you have enough room and a clear pathway to safety. When in doubt, trust your instincts.

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10Keep everything in its place

Interior of a live-in van FatCamera / Getty Images

Misplacing your keys or smartphone at home is one thing. Losing your essentials on the road is another. Avoid playing hide-and-seek with your belongings by designating a specific place for everything, from your wallet to your shoes to hand sanitizer. Keep everything in its place and put it back in the same spot every time, so no one forgets. Not only does the organization limit headaches, but it can also keep you safe in a pinch. Everyone should know where items like bear spray or medications go.