For RV owners, trip planning is more than just plotting our course on a road map. As big rig RV owners, we truly appreciate the importance of having the best tools to help us navigate our Nation’s roadways safely. Those of us who pull large fifth wheels or drive high-profile motorhomes need to be aware of low clearances, narrow and windy roads, and road obstacles. Any one of those or combination of could spell disaster if we’re not prepared for them. This is precisely why we recently tested the Rand McNally OverDryve 7 RV GPS.
When it comes to trip and destination planning, its a tedious job. Its probably the hardest thing we endure in our travels. Extensive research and considerations are made before we actually make a reservation at a campground, RV park or resort.
One of the most frequented questions we are asked is ‘how do you decide where you’re going to park?’
That’s a good question, because really, there’s no simple answer. We will tell you that in our year and a half OTR (on the road), we’ve learned what works for us and what works for us may or may not work for others who we follow or who follow us. As well, what works at one location may not work for another location. There are so many variables that makes our choosing a bit of a task; it takes considerable research. Admittedly, it can be a little stressful in our planning.
1) SIZE MATTERS!
No really! Joking aside, its probably THE most important issue we contend with when considering a reservation or where we moor. Liberty is 42′ (actually 41′ 6″ but who’s counting, right?) and Captain America (our dually truck) is about 20′ and we now have an 8′ Idaho Tote extension off the back of our coach. So ‘hooked up’, we are 70′. We need space to maneuver to hook, unhook and wiggle ourselves into our site. Typically, to reach our comfort zone, we ask for sites at least 85′ or longer; the more the merrier.
Liberty fully hooked up and ready for the road.
Our leveling jacks and wood blocks not only protects the site surface but also helps reduce shake or instability due to full jack extension.
That said though, if no pull-through sites are available and/or we opt for a back-in site, we can try have our back wheel of our coach on the edge of the concrete or gravel site pad depending on other contingencies (read on). There are times though, campground/park/resort owners will not allow our auto leveling jacks sit on 10″x10″ blocks to sit on the grass aft of the site. As well, if we backed our back coach tires to the most rear of our site, this may not allow proper placement of our utility hookups (electric, water & sewer). That would put our aft leveling jack pads & blocks on the grass which most park and resort owners disapprove of because of landscaping. If we opt for a back-in site, we unload our toys from our Idaho Tote prior to pulling in. Now, not only our length is a determining factor, we also consider site width. When we park, we certainly don’t want to have our coach entry door and steps out into the grass, dirt or mud. Nor do we appreciate ‘tight’ spacing where literally, our awnings touch the coach next to us. That’s too close for our comfort. Most parks or resorts have enough site width to include a small patio with methodical placement of where ‘most’ coach doors ‘would’ be however, depending on the age of the facility or site planning, that’s not always the case. Our width during tow with slides in is 8′ however, when fully set up, our slides add another 4-5′ so typically, we need a site at least 15′ wide or wider. Again, the more the merrier. Older campgrounds, parks and resorts may have been surveyed and designed with narrower sites back before slide-out concepts appeared on RV’s.
Here’s a good example of tree issue. The big front tree doesn’t affect Liberty, however, the rear awning over the slide out cannot be fully extended because of tree branches that hinder extending and retracting.
Then there’s the issue of trees and obstacles (ie. permanent grills, poles, concrete or wood parking barriers, etc.). A lot of older parks or campgrounds may have nice shade trees and think they are doing you a favor however, if they are too close and not pruned or cut back, we run the risk of scratches on our full body paint and slide-outs or awnings being hindered from full operation of extending or retracting. Trees can be a double edged sword for us. Yes, they protect from wind and shade from hot sun, they also can be damaging to our coach.
Older campgrounds, parks and resorts have been surveyed and setup for smaller campers (ie. under 36′), so door placements are quite different than many of the bigger rigs. As well, there’s a difference between entrances of a Class A Motorhome than a 5’er or travel trailer. Most times, entrances to Motorhomes are near the front of the coach with 5’er and travel trailer more centered.
2) PAVED vs. GRAVEL vs. DIRT vs. GRASS:
We try to avoid dirt sites the best we can. Personally, just the idea of tracking in dirt constantly or wind blowing dirt around isn’t our forte’. It’s a choice most don’t mind however, we are finicky. We just put dirt sites last on our list. Nothing worse than the Captain having to go out after a torrential rainstorm to clean up what has splashed up all over the coach and her underbelly…and Captain America (our dually). Grass sites aren’t as bad however, we have to deal with mounds and leveling issues. Not forgetting to mention, critters tend to hide in the grass which can result in a short journey up to our rig in places we wouldn’t think of them entering. Gravel is ‘ok’; prefer finer gravel vs. larger chip stone because finer gravel allows our leveling jacks to settle better and more evenly. We noticed we get less shake. So, paved sites are ideal for us but not a deal breaker if they’re not. Its cleaner and nicer. You can ‘see’ things on the ground (ie. creepy crawlies, etc.) Also, you can store a few things under your coach and not worry about ‘things’ making homes around them as opposed to being on dirt or gravel.
Liberty on a ‘paved’ and level site on Galveston Island, Texas
3) LEVEL…KEEPING LIBERTY ON AN EVEN KEEL:
This is hugely important when parking. Yes, we are gifted with a 6-point hydraulic auto-leveling system and it’s awesome! With a push of the button, Liberty automatically levels itself giving us a message beep when its completed its leveling process. ‘Usually’, its right on within a degree or two. Sometimes though, we have to override the leveling system manually to get it to our liking. Nothing like trying to cook soups or having your peas roll off our plates because were not as level as we thought; kind of like being on a yacht…or a ship…or a boat…or a canoe. You get the picture. We can tell if Liberty is off a degree or two just by how cabinet doors and drawers close. We are now skilled by eye and feel when our coach is off a couple degrees. Captain Dan has this wonderful CLINOMETER app on his phone that he pulls up and places it on the floor if we feel ‘not level’. We always ask parks and resorts how level their sites are when making reservations. Nothing is more unnerving than having part of our site level with a slope or crowning which makes hooking and unhooking frustrating.
Ha! Boy did we learn our lesson on this one after our first few parking experiences. We would get all cocky thinking we were all set and unhook…well, that was until we start to put our slides out only to see that we were inches from the water spigot or the electric box or couldn’t extend fully. So, we’d have to button it all up and reposition Liberty. Placement of Liberty on a site is contingent on where the utilities are, where our slides coincide when extended and our entry steps. Again, older outdated facilities are more than likely to give us issues because back when they built and configured their campground in the 1940’s, slide-outs didn’t exist. Our electric on our toyhauler was mid-coach but on current Liberty, our electric cord is aft. We now have an extension if we find ourselves in a predicament of odd electrical box placement.
5) WiFi CONNECTIVITY:
WiFi connectivity is extremely important to us. We’ve learned not to depend on their ‘free’ WiFi (*eye roll*); most times is weak at best to nonexistent. Nothing is ‘free’. You always get folks who take more than they should and stream videos or movies leaving the rest of us out of connectivity. So, we need for our own service providers give us data coverage. We have an AT&T hotspot with 40 GB monthly data which we use mostly for Lisa’s work and trip/destination planning and a smaller data bank with Verizon for a backup in case AT&T doesn’t work and for keeping connectivity with family and friends and for leisure. For some RVers who work OTR, that’s a very small data plan; we know others who use upwards to 500 GB per month *GASP*. We have been in areas where neither work; mostly and coincidentally at military bases/posts. We think it has something to do with communication jamming because campgrounds on military bases/posts are usually near air command facilities. Its at those places where we concentrate less on internet and more on going out and doing things. We can always catch up later.
So, there’s the five things we research prior to making a reservation. Those are the necessities. Now that we’ve discussed all that, let’s now talk about our destination planning.
We usually sit together over morning coffee or campfire cocktail and talk about places that interest us (ie. National Parks, great hiking places, friends and family we wish to visit, etc.) Then on trip/destination planning day, we set up our table with laptop, IPad, and both of our cellphones, our road atlas, calendar book, two pencils, two pair of reader glasses and a couple books. This is when we need good connectivity.
We open our laptop up to a website called ‘RV Park Reviews‘ which is a compilation of campground and park reviews of fellow RVers. We rely on their reviews however, they also are ‘opinions’, so we take those into consideration. We also belong to several online forums and network with RVers with ‘like-minded interests’, standards and coach size/requirements. We all keep our own notes and those of us who blog, have our own RV Park Reviews section that we all can resort to; thus, we open a window to their blog or website. We also will open a window or two of potential park or resorts we’ve narrowed down to look at their rates, park site map, rules and other essentials.
We open our IPad to Google Earth. This is an incredible tool for not only locating the park and seeing its location in relation to the roads leading to it but also the park/resort site layout, obstructions, how many trees, close approximities to neighboring sites, how wide roads leading into sites, etc.
We use our phones to check out our interests (ie. National Parks, historic sites, hiking adventures, etc.) on Facebook groups (ie. RV 5th Wheels, Full-Time RVers, etc.) which we will post our queries on Facebook groups. In a matter of minutes, we oftentimes get our answers which is wonderful…and we reciprocate. Its called ‘networking’ and it works. We ask ourselves, ‘how on earth did RVers do it before the internet?’
While one of us is looking up the location we want as a destination, the other will research the park/resort reviews and Google Earth it to make certain of accessibility. We work as a team. Once we narrow down our choices, we make our phone calls to check availability. We have learned, to ALWAYS nail down reservations for holidays well in advance (ie. Memorial Day weekend, July 4th weekend, Labor Day weekend, etc.); sometimes even 6-12 months in advance. We’ve learned the hard way in regards to that subject…which…is a very SORE subject between ourselves and vowed never to leave ourselves without a place to go.
Once we’ve made our phone call and made a concrete reservation, we enter the information in our paper date book. Yeah, call us ‘old school’ but its what works for us. Other’s do it electronically but we like to have a datebook where we can pull it out at moment’s notice and see where we will be, when and for how long. We use highlighters to differentiate reservations. We make notes of the campground/park/resort, phone number, address, confirmation from whom we spoke with, and our total amount. Most places require a credit card to make the reservation and some don’t. For one or two night reservations, we pay cash (and tell them) and longer term, we pay via credit card. We always read the fine print of what the penalty is if we have to cancel a reservation or arrive later due to weather, RV or vehicle repairs or other unforeseen events.
When we arrive at our destination, I always have in hand a) our datebook, b) credit card or cash, c) any discount card (ie. military ID, Good Sam, Passport America, KOA, etc.) and good manners, a smile and patience. Once checked in, we go park; sometimes escorted by staff or volunteers but most times, we do it on our own. We NEVER allow anyone else other than ourselves to direct whomever is driving into our site. We work very well together with hand signals and commands. When we get positioned correctly, we unhook, level up, and plugs into electricity. Captain Dan puts out our yard art, puts up our flagpole, awnings out (if its not windy), outdoor carpet, grill, firepit and outdoor chairs while Lisa puts the slides out, checks for water leaks when Dan hooks up the water, and pretties up the inside and VOILA!