Let’s talk travel planning. Among those who travel in a RV fulltime there’s a wide variety of travel styles. At one extreme are those who seldom stay in one place longer than a few days and leave a campground in the morning not knowing for sure where they will be that night. At the other extreme are those who research their trips mile by mile and start making reservations at campgrounds months in advance. In another post I call the two extremes “planners and freelancers.” Between those extremes you’ll find the full range of travel planners.
I doubt it will surprise any of my friends to hear me say I’m a Planner. That was true in my professional life, it’s true in my personal life, and it’s true of my approach to being a traveling fulltime RVer.
To some, putting together a calendar, a map, and a spreadsheet for a future journey would be confining and wearying. For Planners like me, it’s part of the fun of the lifestyle. While there are advantages to being unstructured there are also advantages to being a Planner. Knowing your schedule lets you make reservations at popular campgrounds during the busy summer camping season. In some cases a person can even reserve specific campsites and as a result of doing that I’ve actually had fellow campers ask me how managed to get some prime spot right beside a mountain stream. Also, by planning ahead one can better plan their route to see the things that interest them the most without zigzagging around the countryside (burning expensive fuel in the process). Planning helps control the budget and unless a person has unlimited funds, Planner or not, a certain amount of time with the spreadsheet is almost mandatory.
So, again, let’s talk travel planning.
For us, it starts with a general course of action, like: “lets go to the Pacific northwest for our next big adventure.” From there, I go to my first planning tool, Google maps. I put three or four points on a map, creating a big round trip loop for our trip. That gives me a general outline that will anchor my planning.
Next, I go to Microsoft Streets and Trips. However, I have added some wonderful overlay files from the Discovery Owner’s Club. Using those overlays I have all the Thousand Trails, Corps of Engineers, Passport America, etc. campgrounds filling the map.
There’s a terrific feature on Streets and Trips called “create drivetime zone.” Right click on the starting point, type in the number of minutes you want for your maximum drive (like 360 minutes for 6 hours) and it will create a zigzagging circle around your center point. That circle tells me how far I can expect to drive in any direction in six hours.
Looking at my Google map for reference I know what highway I want to travel (and, of course, I don’t have to take exactly that highway, but I have the general direction in mind) I can look at Streets and Trips and see what campgrounds are within, say, an hour of my six hour maximum.
Enter another tool: I go to a terrific website, RVParkReviews and start reading the reviews of those campgrounds. Taking into account amenities, sightseeing opportunities, etc. I pick a campground and enter it, adding it as a destination to my Google map.
I’m now ready to enter the campground information on a spreadsheet that has columns for campground name, location, general cost, distance traveled to get there, potential start date, and how many days I’d like to stay there. There’s also a column to enter reservation information once I’ve nailed it down.
From here, I start the process again using Streets and Trips, making my campground the new center point for another “drivetime zone.” By repeating the process I build a series of maps with 10-15 stops each (this is with the classic Google Maps) or less than 10 stops (this is with the new Google Maps (yes, they went backwards, allowing fewer destinations).
If you want to add yet another layer of planning, go to Google calendar and create a new calendar for your trip. Start entering your campgrounds into the calendar based on how many days you’ll stay in each. I like doing this because it lets me easily visualize the trip schedule.
Over time I’ll start researching the areas we’ll be in, and by knowing well ahead of time, I can even check out county fairs and other date specific attractions. This information, too, will be noted on either the spreadsheet or the calendar. I also spend time checking out highway conditions like mountain grades or alternatives that will let me avoid city traffic.
By having my route and destinations worked out I’m more alert to discussions about the areas on various forums I visit as well as having a list of places I want to check out on the Internet on quiet winter evenings.
A few notes:
Again, don’t feel obligated to tell me you’ve been traveling for years just playing it by ear. I’m not against your doing that, but I’m a Planner, and we like doing it this way.
Also, don’t get in too big a hurry with the calendar part of the planning. It’s pretty easy to make changes to the Google Maps and your spreadsheet. Once you start a calendar any change of days can potentially create a series of “bumper cars” in which you have to change every one of the entries!