With years of RV trip planning experience under my belt, I am sharing the top tips and tools I use to make the planning process easier, smoother and even fun. Let my lessons learned give YOU back some valuable time in your day!
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Does RV trip planning have to be hard?
If you are like me, you just want to magically show up at a campground, set up your RV, start your campfire, put your kitties in their tent (well, maybe just me and other crazy cat people), pull up your camp chair and make some s’mores! Oh, if it were only that easy! Didn’t someone once say, getting there is half the battle! Well, in the case of planning a trip with your RV, it is getting harder by the minute with so many more RVs on the road. Today, according to the RV Industry Association, there were more than 11 million RV owners, close to 1 million of them being full-timers, in the US. And those numbers are expected to rise.
Add a pandemic to the mix last year (2020) and it has me expecting these numbers to grow dramatically. In light of fears of the coronavirus and social distancing mandates, I feel there will be less traveling to other countries and on planes. Americans will spend more time taking road trips and staying where there won’t be large crowds. This will lead to a surge of RVs being purchased, rented and used by owners who haven’t touched them in years so, planning will be key to getting those campground reservations where you want to travel to and when.
I want to make the process easier for you! It really doesn’t have to be hard you just have to have the right tools in your toolbox to plan your next great adventure or weekend away with the family.
Top Tips and Tools for Easy RV Trip Planning
I have been known to be “THE planner” in my group of friends and family because I LOVE to do it – for the most part. It usually involves getting people I love together so there is always that ulterior motive that fuels me. I use some of the same planning methods I used for planning group trips to now plan our RV travels.
Since I’m essentially planning a road trip, I start with an end destination in mind and work backwards from there. That end destination could be a family event, a bucket list location or just needing to reconnect with family and friends. I also keep in mind some tips/guidelines we’ve set for ourselves after our first year of full-time RVing lessons learned.
- Timing – we limit our travel days to 6 hours max driving time. Anything over that becomes exhausting for us and especially our cats who ride in the truck with us. I mean, you can only take so much meowing in your ear! It’s up to you to determine the amount of travel time you are willing to put in. Also remember that even if the trip says it will take 5 hours, that means 6 – 6.5 in what we like to call “RV time” because you should not be traveling at the same speed in an RV as you would a vehicle and things like getting fuel and making other pit stops may take longer to find a place where you can easily fit.
- Stay Duration – we try to stay in one location at least 2 weeks so that we have at least one full weekend to explore a new area. In the beginning, we were moving too much, almost every weekend. This also became exhausting and at times stressful since my husband still works a full-time job. It didn’t give him much time for relaxation and when you are unhitching and hitching up and moving so often it gives more opportunity for something to break or go wrong. Yep, life isn’t always campfires and s’mores!
- Weather – this is something every traveler needs to be aware of. Looking at the forecast when you are about to move is key to leaving at the safest time. We’ve had to adjust our travel plans by leaving a day early to outrun a snow storm. We’ve also had to pull out of a campground at 4AM when we heard sleet that wasn’t supposed to start for 4 more hours. Tornado warnings can crop up quite unexpectedly. Adjusting where you go and when based on typical weather conditions for that time of year are important in this lifestyle. For this reason, we don’t like to be in Florida during Hurricane season or the plains during tornado season. It’s easy to google “average weather” for certain areas and find all sorts of help to plan the best time to visit.
- Plan Ahead– with so many more couples and families RVing these days, popular locations are becoming more crowded and harder to stay near unless you plan ahead. My advice is to do your homework so you know in advance which locations are going to need major pre-planning. For example, when we knew we wanted to head to Banff National Park in the Fall of 2019 my research told me I had to devote a whole morning in early January on the computer to secure our reservations. It ended up taking 2 hours (so I got some time back) but during that time their system crashed several times and I found myself having to re-enter our information many times over. Planning ahead and knowing that it would be a little frustrating was key to getting to stay where we wanted and when we wanted in this popular destination. For some helpful hints on finding an RV site near national and state parks during peak season, check out this Cinders Travels post, written by my friend and fellow full-time RVer Cindy Scott.
- Be Flexible – now i’m going to contradict the “plan ahead” tip a little here. While I am a planner at heart, I have had to relax a little when it comes to planning. There have been a couple times that we’ve broken down or plans had to change because of a family emergency. You can never plan for these unexpected bumps in the road but having some wiggle room in your schedule can make this easier to manage.
- Amenities – know what YOU need at each campground BEFORE you plan to stay there. The following is a small list of items to consider but only YOU know what is important to make your visit/vacation as stress-free as possible:
- Wifi, cell service, swimming pool, will receive mail, pull-thru/back-in site, allows pets, sells propane, camp store (what if you forgot those s’mores makings), cable TV, full hook-ups, on-site restaurant etc.
- Campground Policies and Directions – know them and have them handy. When possible, I ask for an email confirmation and file that in an electronic travel folder for easy access. You can choose paper copies or write in a planner, either way, have it handy to refer to in a pinch. The two most important parts to note are the cancelation policy and any special route recommendations.
- Cancellations: How much will you be charged if you cancel and when will that charge take effect? Maybe there is no fee if you cancel up to 60 days out or maybe it’s as close as 7 days. This will be helpful should any unexpected situation arises and will help you determine how to plan from that point. Every campground is different, some will work with you and others, not so much. For example, our rig broke a leaf spring and we had a few reservations in a 2 week period that we needed to cancel. When I called, one campground would not refund our deposit no matter what, another one only charged us $10 vs a one night fee of $40 because it was not our fault and another completely refunded and only asked in return that we come back and visit them another time which we will never forget and plan to do in the future. They also helped us get some mail returned that we had sent ahead. Definitely check out Palisade Basecamp if you are looking to stay near the beautiful area of Grand Junction, CO. Their customer service was above and beyond and those are the things that stick with you and you are happy to share with others.
- Directions: I learned this lesson the hard way. We ended up on a very rough road for the RV because I did not pay attention to the Special Note in the email confirmation that told us to NOT follow the GPS directions, even an RV GPS. Listen to the locals when they try to help you avoid these situations. In fact, I’ve learned from that to call on our travel days and ask them if there is any special way to arrive safely and any specific entrance to use. You will be happy you did.
- Pets: Do they allow them and are there any restrictions? Do they need to be leashed? Are you able to have them outside in an enclosure? For example, we have 2 cats and some parks allow them but won’t allow any outside tents or enclosures for them to be in. We learned this the hard way when a campground Manager knocked on our door to tell us we needed to take down our “tent” that we put the cats in. Even though it wasn’t a tent for sleeping but instead a mosquito net type enclosure, they still would not allow it. We had very unhappy kitties! Another time, a county park said NO PETS and I made the assumption (big mistake) that cats were OK because they don’t do their business on the lawn so they don’t need to be outside for any reason. At least that was my reasoning. Well they almost didn’t let us stay there. I was practically in tears because it was July 4th weekend and they were the last place we had checked and all others were booked. They relented but only if the cats were not outside and no one knew they were in the RV. We literally had to sneak them from the truck to the RV. Phew! Don’t learn the hard way.
I hope these tips have been helpful, especially if you are just starting out planning RV trips. Now that you know our lessons learned (that’s how I describe our epic failures, it sounds prettier), let’s explore the tools I use and recommend to make RV trip planning easy and even fun. Yes, it can be fun especially if you are a geek like me and love to look at maps and read reviews about beautiful places you can’t wait to escape to!
RV Trip Wizard (RTW) is a visual RV trip planning tool and has saved me so much time and frustration. It not only allows me to plan trips easily, it also has so many other cool features to excite the planner in me:
- Customized to YOUR RV to avoid low clearance, steep grades and propane restrictions:
- This give me peace of mind knowing ahead what route we need to take to arrive safely
- Tracks expenses such as fuel cost and campground fees;
- I plan all my stops for a specific trip (usually by year), plug in the campground costs and the fuel is calculated automatically based on the miles driven and the fuel mileage average you entered into settings. This helps me to stay on budget or adjust other areas if I have gone over based on a splurge of a fancy campground for example.
- It is also a good tool so you can go back and reflect upon the choices you made financially and look for ways to make improvements. We decided to make some changes to equip our rig to do more dry camping to save money as a result of this type of review.
- Includes access to 20,000+ campgrounds including those affiliated with Good Sam, Passport America and more:
- I normally plot my course choosing the city/attraction I want to be near and then I go back and edit the trip to include the actual campground and add in the fee.
- Gives unbiased campground reviews from fellow RVers:
- An important part of my planning process is hearing from those who have gone before me. It’s a balance though because sometimes you can have analysis paralysis because you’ve looked at too many reviews. I limit myself to 5 reviews and make my decision from there.
- Contains 57,000+ points of interest for exploring:
- I typically have one point of interest I’m planning to see in the area and then add in other points by using this tool.
- Ability to set your preferred driving time and distance:
- This is so great since I talked about the tip of “timing” earlier. The app allows you to set these parameters and will let you know the radius of travel within that window of time to keep you true to your goal.
- Web based, no installation necessary
- Easy peasy, so what’s stopping you from getting started?
There is a really useful bonus that you now get when you sign up for RV Trip Wizard! It dramatically adds to the value the tool already gives me and has me so excited when it comes to making RV trip planning easier. When you sign up, you now get the full RV LIFE app for FREE. That is a $49.99 BONUS. The best part, to me, is that it includes an RV specific GPS built into the app. I didn’t have the app previously and was using a hand held GPS that hasn’t been serving me very well. I really think they are knocking it out of the park with this bonus because you get RV Trip Wizard plus RV Life app for $39.95/year – that’s less than one cent per day for so many necessary tools to keep you safe and give you peace of mind!
Now you get RV LIFE FREE with RV Trip Wizard so, let’s look at how the RV LIFE app will help make your traveling easier:
- RV GPS
- Offline, turn by turn directions with voice navigation. lane guidance and real-time traffic guidance.
- Avoid low clearances, weight limits and other restrictions to arrive safely.
- Your RV Trip Wizard trips are loaded automatically into the app.
- Campgrounds/RV Parks
- On the go ability to access campgrounds around you.
- Add any campgrounds to your favorites to access anytime.
- Read reviews by other RVers.
- Filter campgrounds by the amenities that are important to YOU!
- Access and leave tips for other RVers who will be in that area. Tips like what to do, what to eat, where to shop.
- Q&A forums for RVers who have stayed at a specific campground/park.
- Offline accessibility – most other RV apps don’t offer this ability and we all know we need it when there is no cell signal to be found!
- Makes you aware of weather conditions in the area of your campground.
- RVing Articles
- Stay current on all that is going on in the RV community – whether full-time or a weekend warrior, this info is helpful when planning many things like upgrading your RV or looking for the tools to make RVing easier.
- This community has worked tirelessly to update all the Campground and National/State Park closures due to Covid-19.
IMPORTANT: Once you sign up for RV Trip Wizard online, you then go to your app store and download the RV Life app and sign in using your RTW login to make it FREE. Don’t set up a new RV LIFE app. Just use your RTW credentials and it will recognize your account and give you the GPS and other RV LIFE functionality for FREE with your paid RV Trip Wizard account.
As you’ve learned, the combination of RV Trip Wizard (RTW) and RV LIFE app give you ALL the tools you need to plan your next RV trip more efficiently! So, what are you waiting for? Try the demo today for FREE by clicking HERE.
Harvest Hosts is by far my favorite and by far the easiest RV trip planning tool. Why would you stay in a noisy and bright Walmart parking lot when you could stay at a beautiful winery, brewery, farm or museum? My goal for this membership is to stay at one of a few Alpaca Farms available at least once! It sounds so fun, doesn’t it? We came close to this at the winery pictured below in Kansas. They had a herd of sheep and goats that brought us so much joy to watch at sunset. And the cats were definitely amused as well.
I use this tool when we need to get from point A to point B and don’t want to go over our typical 6 hour maximum driving time. Harvest Hosts recently added the option to search on your route and this has saved me so much time because all the locations come up that are in our driving path.
Many of the locations offer food as well as tastings of wine and beer. This works out so perfectly since the last thing we want to worry about is cooking on a long travel day. The website clearly gives you all the information you need to pick the location that provides the proper setting for your overnight needs. Sometimes you even get to hear live music! That’s my favorite kind of experience.
I highly recommend that you call each location before planning your RV trip at least 24-48 hours in advance. Harvest Hosts does an amazing job of updating their website but as you know things can change quickly. We usually ask if there is availability for us to stay overnight? Where we should park? Who we should check in with when we arrive? How late their kitchen is open (if available) What is the best route for arrival? And finally, is there anything else we need to know before arriving?
The business owners do not charge for the stay. The only thing that is asked in exchange for your lovely view is that you patron their business in some way. That could be a wine/beer/whiskey tasting, purchasing a nice bottle to toast a long day of travel or ordering food. It is my pleasure to support this business for providing me such a beautiful place to rest. We have met so many amazing business owners who are willing to share their stories and in the case of Shiloh Vineyard, sometimes they go above and beyond and open their tasting rooms just for you.
If you sign up for Harvest Hosts NOW using my link, you will be rewarded with 15% off your first years membership fee. The program gives you access to unlimited FREE overnight stays at over 400 wineries, 120 breweries and distilleries, close to 300 farms and 200 museums and other attractions. For a higher fee, you get all the above along with close to 400 golf courses and country clubs. Click HERE to learn more and start sleeping better on those long travel days!
While RV Trip Wizard houses campground reviews that are from RVers, I find myself still going back to the first website I discovered to help me plan trips – Campendium. It was established by RVers for RVers and is a free resource.
There are two main reasons I still go back to it:
- We have equipped our rig with solar and lithium batteries so when we go out west especially, I use Campendium to search for FREE camping sites. You will find coordinates and explanations about how easy or hard it is to find and/or get into the site based upon those who have done it themselves. It gives me comfort to know that someone with my size rig and towing vehicle is able to get into a site without damaging their rig.
- Since we need good to excellent cell service to work remotely, I find the reviews helpful here because they really go into detail about the speeds available in certain locations especially when dry camping since these locations are usually more remote.
There is no fee to browse their large selection of FREE camping and campgrounds so why not check them out by clicking here.
Start Planning Your Next Adventure NOW
I know it’s crazy times out there right now. A great way to spend the abundance of time at home is to start dreaming of the possibilities. These tools can help you get started so you can turn those dreams into realities when the time is right!
Please share YOUR favorite tips and tools for making RV trip planning easier in the comment section below! I, along with the RV community, am here to help you. All you have to do is ask!
*Credit: Photo courtesy of THOR Industries, Inc. We partnered with THOR to tell our story of why we took the leap to live full-time in our RV, traveling the country. We traded our dream home for our dream life and haven’t looked back. To read our story and view a stunning video of our time in Banff National Park, click here. #thorpartner