Detailed tips on how to plan for an RV trip when you’re not a planner

We often get suggestions, comments and requests from our readers. We received this email from one of those readers, Walter B., asking for help with trip planning.

Walter wrote, ”I so enjoy reading the various articles but would greatly appreciate an article (or series) on trip planning for dummies. Maybe trip planning examples for part-time RVers, full-time RVers, boondockers, etc. In my case, I am married. We are both retired with a 38-year-old mentally disabled, but functioning, son at home with us and have aging parents living behind us who, though they are physically/mentally good and independent, need help every once in a while.

“Planning has never been a strength of mine; however, I would like to learn from those who are [planners]. A bucket list trip objective for us would be a month-long trip out West in our ’99 Foretravel Class A motorhome to show my wife and son the beauty of Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

“Has anyone planned memorable trips similar to this in the past that they could share in terms of places visited, time of year, duration per location, anything special to visit or see while there?”


Planning 101

Well, Walter, I am glad to go through some of the things that I do to plan our trips. readers are all such a well-informed group of RVers that I think all of them could provide some great advice.

Planning steps

Being full-time RVers we always need a campsite. This season has been particularly difficult for us in terms of planning and traveling with two deaths in the family, crowded campgrounds and what seems a constant disruption of plans. Here are some of my suggestions:

  1. It seems obvious but, first, you need to be clear about where ALL of you want to go. No use planning a trip to the Great Smokey Mountains when your spouse is counting on finally seeing the Redwood National Forest.
  2. Plan early! Reserve campsites early! The earlier the better in this current season of camping frenzy.
  3. Most states have visitor and camping info available online or by mail. Request by mail or check the info out online (the quicker of the two options).
  4. Take out an atlas or map to get the overall idea of the trip, where you want to end up and the general route. It is at this point I sometimes realize that I am thinking about doing a two-month trip in two weeks and need to scale back.
  5. There are several websites that can plot routes between major destinations of a trip and show a rough route. When we did the “Big Five” in Utah – Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyon Land, Bryce and Arches National Parks – it was pretty easy to plan a loop stopping at each park and then locating camping areas in or around the destination. If can’t actually camp in one of the National Parks, consider finding a site within 50-60 miles of the attraction.
  6. Do the math and figure out the total days/weeks needed. Divide the number of miles of the trip by the number of miles you prefer to drive per day to get the total number of travel days. Add in the number of days staying at campgrounds and then add in a few “emergency” days. Those emergency days can cover breakdowns, minor repairs, weather days, or I-just-need-to-relax days. We have needed to wait out the wind in Oklahoma several times and having built in a few extra days meant still keeping reservations at major destinations.
  7. I use a distance app to figure out the approximate distances between stops. Some apps figure out the distance between campsites but I generally want to find out where 200 to 250 miles takes us and then look for campsites in that area.
  8. There are a variety of apps and websites to locate campgrounds both on the way and near the destination. Some are free and some have a nominal charge.These are a few of the apps I use to find sites:
    Pocket Ranger
    USFS and BLM Campgrounds
    Oh Ranger!
    Ultimate Campgrounds
    RV Life
    US Public Lands
    Campground Reviews
    and National Parks and some state park apps as well.
  9. Read the reviews but do so with a grain of salt. Someone’s negative review on the spa and pool may not be a factor when you are not going to step foot in a pool. Pull-through sites may be important for one- or two-night stops, but not as scenic for a week’s stay. Decide what is important when evaluating the campsites. The most important thing for me is usually the space between sites, working utilities, upkeep and the park owner’s attitude.
  10. Decide if you want to make sure a site is available while traveling or if you’re comfortable winging it. Winging it used to be much easier a few years ago than it is now, particularly on weekends and near urban or destination spots.
  11. If winging it, decide how far you plan to go for a few days and check out campsites near the area. Call a couple of days before to check availability. If they have lots of room, I don’t commit until I know how far we will be driving. In the past, though, that method has meant that there are no sites available when we really needed it.
  12. Warning! Weekends are crowded! Lots of retired folks book weekdays and let the weekend warriors have Friday and Saturday. If you need a weekend, book ahead.
  13. When looking for a site online and all the sites are booked for the week or two weeks, break up the days and see if you can find a site for a day or two. It will usually require moving sites but you may be able to get into the park you like.
  14. If arriving at a site early in the day and have some time, Google “Things to do near me now” and see what is available. We discovered the Buffalo Soldiers Museum, a butterfly house, art exhibits, and a restored Western jail.

    Booking windows

    National Parks, State Parks and some County and Corps of Engineers parks have a booking window. Check the websites to see when that window opens. The booking window could be taking reservations only three months or up to a year ahead of the desired camping date. I put those booking dates on my calendar.

    These are some tips to snag that sought-after, popular spot when the booking time opens.

    1. Be ready to book the minute that window opens.
    2. Know the site or sites you want and make sure your RV will fit. Parks will turn you away if your RV is over the limit.
    3. Sign up for an account ahead of time. Remember your password!
    4. Have your credit card available.
    5. Be signed in when the site opens.
    6. Be prepared to pick an alternative site or date.

    Good luck!

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