Remember in the last post we chose the anchors for our trip and now we just need to fill in the holes and we will be set. Below is a list of the major actions we take and some of the tools we use in preparing for our trips.
- Decide what routes you want to take to the events.
Is it about the destination or the journey? Do I take the back roads or the interstate? Are there any sights along the way that I really want to see? How much time do I have? These are all questions that you will want to ask yourself as you are deciding which way to travel. In the case of Michigan we are going to end up with a subset of locations that we know we want to visit before we will decide on a route. Defining this “subset” will involve research through the internet and/or by talking to others who have been there. For us, we plan to talk to our neighbors who spent all of last summer in Michigan and should be able to provide us with a lot of insight on destinations as well as campground recommendations. Our initial plan is to head north on the west side of Lake Michigan working our way to the Upper Peninsula and then coming south down through Wisconsin.
- Decide how many miles you want to travel each day.
Chris and Cherie of Technomadia.com are proponents of the 2, 2, 2 plan of rv’ing. Loosely translated 2,2,2 stands for first, drive somewhere around 200 miles a day so you are not too fatigued. There is no need to drive 8 or 9 hours or try to travel 500 miles in a day, unless it is some kind of emergency. Remember, this is supposed to be fun and stress free. Second, arrive at your site by 2 so that you have plenty of time to setup, relax, explore your surroundings, and have a relaxing dinner. Finally, stay at least 2 days so that you are not moving every day which tends to wear you down in a short time and really defeats the purpose of why you probably started rv’ing to begin with. Although we don’t follow this plan exactly, we subscribe to the underlying philosophy. I know when we tell non-rv’ers we are going somewhere and how long it will take us to get there, they are surprised. We realized early on that moving every day will eventually wear you out and, for us, is not the way we want to approach this new lifestyle. Keeping the 2,2,2 philosophy in mind we start looking for a place to stay somewhere between 200 and 300 miles. I know that some people prefer to get up in the morning and start driving and then decide where they are going to stop based on how they feel. I’m not that way, and I at least want to know the area we plan to stop and have identified some options on places to stay. We typically go over the 200 mile mark, but try to keep it under 300 miles. I drove nearly 400 miles once when we had the travel trailer, and I swore I would never do it again. We got the rv to relax and enjoy traveling, not to sprint across the country. Arriving at 2 pm. seems a little early for us. We normally don’t get started before 10 am and we like to be to the rv park by 4 pm. Finally, we usually don’t stay 2 days at every stop. We play this by ear and it seems to work out that after a couple of days there is a place where we would like to stay and tour the area so we mark that location as more than just an overnight stop, which leads us to the next bullet.
- Decide when and where you want to stay overnight and where you may want to spend more than one night.
I usually take a look at a whole segment of our trip at once on either Google Maps or an atlas and determine how many miles it is and where the “natural breaks” occur basing those breaks on a 200 to 300 mile scale. The only exception might be if we need to be in a certain location by a certain date, necessitating adjusting the mileage so that we can make it there on time. Then, since we don’t like to move every day, I pick a location where it makes sense to stay a couple of nights. That might be a casino, a location with sights we want to see, a nice RV park where we just want to relax, or some other relevant factor. Once I’ve done this I have an outline of our trip plan and I just need to fill it in with the details.
- Decide what kind of places you want to stay
First of all, I guess it matters as to whether you are looking for an overnight spot, or one for a week or so, or one for the season and what you are willing to pay. Each person has a “threshhold of pain” on the price. I hate to pay $30 to $40 or more for an overnight stay, especially if we don’t really need the hookups. However, sometimes the higher price can’t be avoided, especially around larger cities or during certain seasons. The longer you plan to stay, the more the park should have the amenities and a style that you are comfortable with. If it’s just overnight or maybe two nights, the choice isn’t as important. For the overnight stops with no hookups needed, many people use the Cracker Barrel or Wal-Mart option. We do occasionally stay at a Cracker Barrel which has worked out well for us. I might suggest that you take a look at the place with the satellite view on Google maps. I have found this to be a tremendous help in determining if it has satisfactory space to park. It may or may not have designated RV spaces. Some apps will tell you whether or not there are rv spaces, but there is nothing like seeing how they are situated and if they appear long enough for the rig and toad. It will also give you an idea if the access in and out of the parking area is reasonable. Always call ahead too, as sometimes there are restrictions on parking and you certainly don’t want to get there only to find out that overnight parking is not allowed. It has happened to us once and we had to scramble for a spot after dark. There are lots of websites that list free or low cost places to stay. My only comment is that you just need to be comfortable with using them. If you go to our Campground Reviews section you will see a map that shows all the places we have stayed since we started rv’ing. It might be helpful if you happen to be heading somewhere we have been. Also, in the Links section there are suggestions on websites that identify free or low cost camping.
- What tools do we use to find a place to stay
There are a multitude of planning tools for the rv’er, many of which are online. We have found that the online resources are usually more convenient to use and many times have the most updated information. However, I have pictured at the top of the page printed versions of many maps that we do have and use on occasion. Maps such as the Motor Carriers and Mountain Guide provide important information that is not as easily obtained online. Most of the time, we start by using the All Stays app. It seems to be our “go to” tool for locating places to stay. It does cost $10 which I think is well worth the money for what it does. You can also get a basic version on your computer. We have found it really lists the majority of campgrounds that would be our first choice to stay. It will also list the Wal-Marts, Cracker Barrels, and truck stops too. In fact you can select a multitude of places including state parks, national parks, Elks Lodges, rest areas, etc. The map can get a little too busy so we usually limit the number of places we request to be searched. Then there is RV Parky (free) which is similar, but sometimes brings in additional options. Both of these apps also allow you to see reviews of the campgrounds and have links to the campground websites which is nice. It is worth checking the reviews too. We have eliminated many parks based on numerous negative reviews. We also use Passport America (PA), which also has an app. PA is a membership club where you get half off the regular price of a stay in participating parks. We use it occasionally, and it usually pays for itself, but we have found that many of the parks are older, some in need of repair and many times not in the most convenient places. However, it is worth checking them out and we have always gotten the price of our membership back ($44). We are also members of KOA, which has a published book of camping locations and an app. KOA, is in my opinion, a little overpriced, but it has two pluses. One, they seem to be strategically located and sometimes the most convenient or best choice in an area. Second, it’s a little like a Holiday Inn in that you pretty much know what to expect when you stay there. As I mentioned earlier, we have many of the published printed maps and guides. Although I don’t use them every time, it is nice sometimes to look at your route on an “old school” map. You can get a nice overview of your entire trip. We just got the one published by FMCA and it has all the Cracker Barrels, Wal-Marts, Flying J’s, etc right on the map so that helps in planning as you can see a larger section of your travel with the map as compared to online. I also mentioned the Motor Carrier’s Guide which shows which roads are safe based on weight and height restrictions. Finally, we have the Mountain Guide, Eastern US right now. It shows the percent grades and elevations of the roads through the mountains so there are no surprises when you are heading through them. It allows you to decide if you want to take a route that may be less of a challenge to drive. There is also a Mountain Guide for the west which we don’t have yet. Finally, there are the state maps published by DeLorme. Pictured above and below is the one from Michigan. As you can see the state is divided into squares and each square has a dedicated page with an expanded view of the area. It makes it very nice when planning for activities in a specific area. It also lists all the campgrounds in the state which makes for an easy reference. All three of these maps can be purchased online. You will find additional information on campground resources in the Links section.
- What about Fuel Stops
I will throw this one in here too as it is an important item, and when we had our trailer always caused me a considerable amount of stress. I used to try to find stations that had their pumps parallel to the building so it was easier to get in and out. Unfortunately, even some truck stops don’t have rv friendly gas pumps so you just have to check. If you have a diesel, it’s pretty easy as you can just use the trucker pumps. Now that we have the diesel, that’s what I do. Some Pilot/Flying J’s have designated pumps for the rv’er, but I have found that these can even be tight width wise. We stopped at one in Jackson, MS that had big
concrete pillars to protect the pumps that barely allowed enough room for the rv to go through. I also got the RV Plus card through Good Sam. It allows me to fill up at any Pilot or Flying J and charge it at the pump. There is no running inside first to give the attendant cash or a card. It also provides a discount for both gasoline and diesel fuel. The Pilot/Flying J app on the phone also helps by allowing us to identify our fuel stops before we leave. There is also a Love’s app, but they do not cater to the rv’er like Pilot so we only use them in an emergency.
- How much ahead of time do I want to reserve a site.
When we first started traveling in 2014 I scheduled all of our stops and made reservations for the entire trip before we even left the house. That may have been fine for a short one or two week trip, but I have found that it isn’t beneficial for a longer trip. In fact, I’m not sure that I would do it for anything over a week now. There are too many occasions that you may want to modify your schedule for some reason, or something beyond your control such as a mechanical problem may force you to alter it. If that happens, and rv park dates are booked, you have to spend a lot of time cancelling reservations and then re-booking them later. On occasion there could be a monetary penalty with the cancellation too. I found that the schedule became the main driver for the trip and was creating a stress of it’s own. Instead of enjoying completely what we were doing, we were just trying to keep up with the schedule that I had created. Not what I wanted. Now, I make the vast majority of our reservations just a few days before we arrive and on occasion the same day. I think the important thing to remember is to build flexibility into your schedule so that you can adjust it in a manner that doesn’t derail the entire trip.
One thing you do need to keep in mind is that certain rv parks do become booked during their busy season which for some is the summer and others the winter. Just be mindful of where you are going and if it’s the “high” season. Also, special events that you may not be aware of can ruin your plans. Things like Nascar races, college football games, large RV shows, etc. are usually well publicized and you can plan for them. It’s the local events that you might not be aware of that happen to be popular regionally and have enough interest that all the available rv spots are reserved. For these situations, you just need to remain flexible and figure out a plan “B”. Remember, your home is on wheels so there is always something you can do.