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Our Travel Planning Tools

August 4, 2013

Everyone has their own methods for planning a trip.  Getting from Point A to Point B in a 36 foot motorhome towing a car requires a little more planning than just loading a car, dialing in the GPS, and getting on the road.  I thought I would share how we establish our travel routes, decide where to stay, and get across the country as painlessly as possible.

I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world, and I’m sure more experience RV travelers have better methods, but I do make extensive use of online tools and resources:

RV Trip Wizard – If we’re planning a long route, like the tour from Mount Vernon, Ohio up through upstate New York, across Vermont and New Hampshire into Maine, and back again, I usually start with Trip Wizard.  It lets me set up a profile that shows the maximum number of miles I want to drive in a day, campground memberships we have, such as Good Sam’s and Passport America, and a number of other criteria.  To set up a new trip, I can select the starting city, destination city, and any cities we want to visit along the way.  Once the route is established, I can then zoom in to a particular area and it shows me campgrounds and RV parks nearby.  In many cases, there is a link to the campground’s website, and there’s almost always a contact number.  It has all kinds of handy things you can turn on or off, such as Walmarts that allow overnight parking, Cabellas and major gas stations along the way.

Google Maps –  I’ll usually plot sections of the proposed route to determine drive times.  Those of you who travel for vacations will tend to drive longer in a day, because you’ve got a  limited number of days to get to a destination and back.  Our travel days are a matter of changing locations, and we don’t have the same time constraints.  On “moving day”, we try to leave sometime mid-morning and arrive sometime mid-afternoon.  Four hours is a good driving target.  A planned four hour day often ends up being six anyway, including stops.  I’ve made a vow to avoid arriving at a destination – or even driving – after dark.

Google Street View comes in handy when I have questions about the types of highways we’ll be travelling on.   It may not change the route, but it does give me some peace of mind knowing if part of the way is on divided highway, how wide the shoulder is on two-lane roads, etc.  The little yellow man has shown me a lot of road information.

RV Park Reviews – Once we’ve got a few potential places to stay in a particular location, we’ll go to RV Park Reviews.  While it’s not foolproof, it is a good way to get a feel for what other people thought of a place.  I use all the tools available on RV Park Reviews.  I can read reviews.  I can pull up the location map and switch to satellite view to get an idea how far a place really is from the highway.  And I can go to the park’s website.

Campground and RV Park websites – Websites should be looked at with a grain of salt.  Photos may be several years old.  I’m always a little suspicious when they show me lots of photos of kids on hayrides or seniors in the clubhouse, but no shots of the actual RV sites.  When looking at the rates, be sure to look for a date somewhere on the page.  Sometimes you’ll be looking at last year’s rates.

Once we’ve selected a park or campground, Nell writes the pertinent info, including phone number, in a little notebook she keeps in the side pocket by her co-pilot chair.  We may call the day before to check on space availability, or we may wait and she will call once we get on the road.  So far, we’ve never encountered a park that had nothing for us.  I’ve made reservations a couple of weeks in advance in the past, and have paid a lot of money in date change fees and cancellation fees.  Generally, a call when we’re on the way doesn’t even involve taking much more than our name and the size of our rig.  They are in business to provide a place to park… and they want our money. – We stay closer tuned to the weather than we ever did while living in a sticks-and-bricks home.  I really don’t like driving the motorhome in the rain, but it’s inevitable at some point.  The day before a moving day, I’ll check the weather forecast for the area we have to travel through.  On the morning of a moving day, I’ll check the forecast for our present location and our destination.  Then I’ll look at the “map in motion” and watch the area between the two points.  In most cases, we’ve been fortunate to see a weather “window” that allows us to avoid driving in rain, often arriving at our destination just before the rain starts there.

Garmin – We don’t travel without it.  This year, we upgraded our GPS to the Garmin 760LMT for truckers and RVs.  It allowed us to set up an RV profile so  that the route it selects takes into account the size of our motorhome, whether we want to avoid tolls, and a few other things.  That gives us a fresh confidence that we aren’t likely to end up on a road that’s not appropriate for our rig.  It also has Lane Assist, which gives us plenty of warning as to what lane we need to be in for an upcoming highway interchange or exit.  Our old Garmin stays in the Honda, for use when we’re travelling around in an area where we’re camped or parked.

In general, RV Trip Wizard and Google Maps use the same routing.  Garmin seems to follow the same routes as well.  Since the Garmin has the RV profile programmed into it, Garmin’s directions take priority once we’re on the road.  We do sometimes deviate when we’re close to our destination, using the RV park’s directions to get from the highway to the park.  They know the best way to get in and out of their place.

Nothing is completely foolproof, of course, but it all seems to work.  And, to be honest, it’s kind of fun to do the planning.  We’ve eliminated almost all of our paper campground directories.  They’re too complicated and time-consuming.  Nell does keep a large road atlas within reach, mainly to have an idea of how far we’ve travelled and how far we are from the destination.  Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but it just seems to help to see the progress on an actual map.  She also has a recently acquired current copy of The Next Exit, which is a handy reference for what’s at each exit on interstate highways.  It’s always good to know if there is a Flying J Truck Stop in our future.

Do I get stressed when we’re on the road?  Absolutely.  Driving a very large, very heavy machine along winding two-lane highways and up long hills and down steep grades is not something done casually, unless one is a professional truck driver.  It requires focus and concentration to a much higher degree than driving a car.  At the end of a moving day, depending on the geography of the land, ibuprofen is my friend.

Yet, at the same time, heading out in the morning carries with it a sense of excitement, of new territory on the horizon.  On those straighter stretches of smooth highway, there is a sense of freedom that is exhilarating.  And arriving at a new location, even through the occasional exhaustion, brings a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of relief for a safe trip, and a little bit of awe at the very idea of such an audacious life.

There’s a lot to see out there.  All we have to do is plot a course.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. jodiwoody permalink
    August 21, 2013 10:29 pm

    Thanks for the good advice, we wont be living the lifestyle for a few more years, but it is nice to educate ourselves before we leave.

    • August 21, 2013 10:47 pm

      Be sure to stay up to date with the latest stuff. Who knows what will be available in a few years!

  2. May 4, 2016 5:25 pm

    A nice write up with some helpful links – thanks! We’re planning on a 6 month trip down the Pacific Coast and over to Texas. I’ll have to read more of your blog.

  3. Mike permalink
    May 4, 2016 6:47 pm

    After three years I no longer use RV trip wizard. The system is very slow and must reboot itself far to often. My complaints and suggestions have fallen on deaf ears and improvements have not been made.

    • June 5, 2016 9:39 pm

      Mike, I did write this post quite a while ago. Sorry to hear that about RV Trip Wizard.

  4. Zaida Sellers permalink
    May 4, 2016 7:25 pm

    Thank you for this information. My husband is retiring in June and we will be starting our full time adventure in Sept. I have been trying to figure out the best way to plan our routes and came across your site. The info you provide is great, I am not to tech savvy either but this is definitely something I can do. Thanks again.

  5. Donald Ford permalink
    May 5, 2016 1:26 am

    Another one to consider is Google’s “My Maps” at
    It allows you to plan a trip with multiple stops and those routes can be sent to your Garmin or phone.
    “Introduction to Google My Maps”

  6. Kevin Rexroad permalink
    May 5, 2016 2:48 am

    Does anybody use any devices/maps for steep grades or low bridges? Just curious. I’d like to start venturing more into the mountains and am a little nervous about doing that. We do most of our trips in FL, since that is where we live.

    • June 5, 2016 9:43 pm

      RV Trip Wizard allows you to adjust your vehicle profile to show height, then warns of low bridges when you plan your trip. I don’t know about steep grades. There is some concern that RV Trip Wizard is becoming slower to use, but I’ll bet there are others out there that are pretty sophisticated now.

    • July 6, 2016 6:20 pm

      We use books called Mountain Directory West and Mountain Directory East (available on Amazon). These two have all of the troublesome mountain roads with grades, locations, a short summary from both directions on the road, elevations, and other pertinent information. These two have helped us often as we travel through the mountains in the West and East. Almost a necessity if you are going to do this.

      • July 6, 2016 6:27 pm

        Let me change that recommendation. Use the author’s/publisher’s web site: to order these books. Mountain Directory East book is $14.95 and the West is $16.95 or you can buy both for $31.90. OR you can get the ebook or the app. Your choice. But, still, great resources if you are driving through the mountains.

      • Eric permalink
        July 6, 2016 10:24 pm

        I use allstays truck. Will give you clearances,rest stops, flying j , pilot, loves. Great app found it to be right on

  7. MSE permalink
    May 5, 2016 4:07 pm

    Thank you for the informative and well written article. We are planning a cross-country trip this summer (2016) and this will be helpful to us. We will spend 9 days going east and then spend 5 days in Philly. We will spend 6 days going back west. Let us know if any other suggestions/recommendations.

  8. Bob Siemer permalink
    May 5, 2016 5:27 pm

    Do you see any advantage to RV Trip Wizard over Good Sam Trip Planner? So far the circles indicating distance seem the only advantage. The Good Sam advantage is it can be downloaded to the Good Sam GPS. Have you looked at Co-Pilot?

    • June 5, 2016 9:54 pm

      Bob, we haven’t done much traveling recently, so we haven’t used Good Sam Trip Planner or Co-Pilot. RV Trip Wizard did start getting slower, so I just worked mileage/hours between Google Maps and other applications.

  9. May 5, 2016 6:23 pm

    Thanks for that one. After two years RVing, you showed us two invaluable sites. Greatly appreciated.

  10. Ann Reinhart permalink
    May 6, 2016 6:52 pm

    I agree with all the above! I use similar apps and planning strategies. One thing I have learned since adding the tow vehicle, is how to pick the best gas stations. We drive a 31 foot MH, with the ‘toad’. When we are off the Interstates, going through small towns, most of the stations have easy in/out access to the pumps, because they are parallel to the store, rather than perpendicular. No sharp turns needed. Many times the stations on Interstates have pumps facing the store, requiring tight turns to maneuver in and out of the station (with exceptions of course). Some of the apps I use are: Good Sam Camping; Passport America, RV Parky, ALLSTAYS, Rest Stops, and Trip Advisor.
    Be safe and have fun on the road!

    • June 5, 2016 10:01 pm

      Thanks for the added information, Ann! I remember when we drove through New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, we commented about how nice it was that most gas stations were positioned for easy access. It was almost as if they did it intentionally for large rigs. Made it a lot easier for our 36 foot MH and toad.

  11. Bill and Leslie permalink
    May 7, 2016 12:57 am

    Great words and right on track with the reality of rv’ing. There are sure a lot of folks on the road in these things and they are all captains of their vessels. I appreciate the sharing of info and have the experience, even though fairly new at this, to take all this as excellent advice!

    • June 5, 2016 10:02 pm

      Thanks, Bill and Leslie. Everybody does it a little bit different, but it’s always helpful to do your research.

  12. Renato Feiza permalink
    July 1, 2016 10:07 pm

    Enjoying my Airstream, but need some advise at to where to get parts and reconditioning.

    Please advise. Renato

    • July 6, 2016 6:43 pm

      Renato, I have no idea where to find those things. You’re doing the right thing by searching the internet, though.

  13. Eric Johnsen permalink
    July 3, 2016 2:52 am

    We use the Allstays app for camping. Usually right on and easy to use. Other apps we use ar gas buddy, sanidumps, truck allstays. Make planning easy and fun.

    • July 6, 2016 6:42 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Eric! Our travelling has been seriously curtailed, so my info is a bit out of date.

  14. Robert permalink
    July 5, 2016 7:25 pm

    This info seems to be 3 years old. How about an update?

    • July 6, 2016 6:19 pm

      Sorry, Robert. Our RV travelling has been seriously curtailed in the past year. I don’t have any updates that I can base on experience. Thanks for visiting.

  15. Steve Wainwright permalink
    July 5, 2016 9:33 pm

    For those of you that have smart phone or tablets. It’s much easier. I don’t know about Apple. But you can download and app for every kind of truck stop or use the app “All-stays big truck stops” You can download “All-stays rv & campground” app. Another great app is”ultimate campgrounds”, And for GPS, the best out there is COPILOT. It’s made for RVs and truckers. The ALL-STAYS RV AND CAMPGROUND app tells you where everything on the road is. truck stops, Walmart, Cabellas, Cracker barrels , propane, dump stations , etc. plus the percentage of grades on roads, and low bridges. So don’t bother with a lot of books just get the apps.

    • July 6, 2016 6:22 pm

      We haven’t been able to do any serious RV travelling in the past couple of years, and it appears we may be grounded a lot longer. I have no doubt my info is seriously out of date, so thanks for adding your experience to this, Steve.

  16. July 5, 2016 9:47 pm

    Great info! We also use the State ‘book maps,’ Benchmarks are the favorite (public lands, any/all roads, campgrounds, topo, etc). I love for camping sites too.

    GAS can be an issue but getting better I think, as stations are recognizing the value of parallel pumps (boats, horsetrailers, etc) … since many drive-thru pumps are just diesel. Worst case, we’ve had to unhook dinghy .. 55-foot’r w/dinghy.

  17. Homecrew permalink
    July 6, 2016 2:06 am

    I use trip-it, to keep track of reservations, tickets, attractions, etc. it scans your inbox for trip emails. While it is primarily for business travelers and sometimes doesn’t get the campground information into the right place, it is a great way to keep track of trip details.

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